Rise of the 1 Inch Sensors

Colorful Performance, Bat Bar on 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Colorful Performance, Bat Bar on 6th Street – Austin, Texas

At a time when the camera industry is in decline and compact cameras have been decimated, there’s one area which still show life — enthusiast cameras with 1 inch sensors. This category is dominated by Sony with their RX100 series. Sony makes these sensors and also sells them to Canon and Panasonic.

Sony introduced the first RX100 in 2012 and has released a new version nearly every year. Canon responded with the G7X in 2014 and Panasonic with their ZS100 in 2016. Why are these cameras popular? They combine a comparably large sensor in a pocketable, compact form factor. These premium compacts are a significant step up from smartphones and offer a capable take-anywhere second camera for interchange lens camera shooters.

With the RX10, Sony extended the 1 inch form factor to premium super zooms. Panasonic responded with the FZ1000. These cameras with their extremely long zoom ranges, 24mm to 400mm equivalent and longer, combine the best of still and video cameras. They offer much of the advantages of interchangeable lens cameras in an all in one solution.

Ironically, Nikon’s ill-fated mirrorless camera, the Nikon 1 series, was the first 1 inch camera that I know of. It was introduced in 2011, 8 months before the industry changing Sony RX100. Nikon battled uphill to convince users of the usefulness of this new sensor size. While it made for a small interchangeable lens camera, it didn’t have the benefit of the RX100’s pocket-ability.

I also believe Nikon misjudged the market, making 1 inch mirrorless cameras for step up users, rather than concentrating on enthusiasts downsizing from a larger cameras. The RX100 and their competition, instead, positioned themselves as premium products, with advanced features, that catered to experienced users.

Back in 2014, I experimented with the Nikon J1, which I bought at a fire sale price of $199. I thought the $650 introductory price was entirely too expensive for its features. The J1, limited with its 10MP and usable ISO 2200, at best, created colorful photos with fast focus. I had a fun time playing with it, until I moved on to more capable cameras. I dug up this vibrant photo from 6th street that I shot 4 years ago with the J1.

Believe it or not, with the over 50 cameras that I have, I still don’t own a 1 inch compact. The Sony RX100s have called a few times as has their competition and I’ve finally decided to get one. As expected, I’ve done a bunch of analysis. Stay tuned to find out which 1 inch premium compact I decided to buy.


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8 thoughts on “Rise of the 1 Inch Sensors

  1. I’ll be very interested to hear your observations. I’m still hunting for that compact camera that really gives great pictures. I got a little Leica that does okay, but it doesn’t have the precision I hoped for. I keep hoping that the camera I want really IS out there. Somewhere.

    1. There’s always going to be some compromises but I’m putting the new camera through its paces. I’ll do the reveal of the new camera in a couple of days.

  2. The Sony RX100 is incredible. I used one to shoot video for part of this concert type thing. It was very dark inside but the camera recorded what looked like daylight. The low-light performance is very good.

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