Zeiss ZX1 at long last: Lightroom inside wide-angle compact

The long-awaited Zeiss ZX1 that we’ve heard very little from or about since 2018, has finally been released by Zeiss. The camera is spectacular for including Adobe Lightroom CC running inside Android on the camera itself. Interaction is through the 4.3 inches (diagonal) rear multitouch display at 720p resolution. The electronic viewfinder, however, is FullHD.

In spite of these image-editing capabilities, the ZX1 is also a camera. It packs a 37.4 megapixel full frame sensor and 35mm f/2 Distagon design lens with aperture and focus rings. A removable lens hood is included. Closest focus distance is 30cm, or 23cm from the front of the lens, and the lens has a 52mm filter thread. The focus ring is electronic and focus throw decreases when you rotate faster, so that fine adjustments are made by turning slowly (quite a nice idea, actually). There is a hotshoe for flash, and it is Sigma-SA-TTL compliant.

Still photography features

Top shutter speed is a modest 1/2000 of a second. If you want to go long, the limit is 30 seconds. Sensitivity runs from ISO 80 to 51,200.

Curiously, aperture and ISO are in 1/3 EV steps, while shutter speed is in 1/2 EV steps, so you cannot exactly compensate with shutter speed for a change in aperture or ISO. Exposure compensation is in 1/3 EV steps, so apparently cannot apply to shutter speed. However, the exposure modes include aperture priority, which traditionally means varying shutter speed to get a correct exposure. Perhaps the spec sheet contains a mistake. The other exposure modes are auto, shutter speed priority, and manual.

AE bracketing is supported, but it’s unclear if this can use shutter speed as the phrasing is, “3 or 5 photos, from 1/3 to 2 EV increments”. Continuous drive, as previously reported, tops out at 3fps for full resolution stills.

There is a panorama mode – I assume this means images are stitched automatically.

Raw files are around 77 megabytes in size, but JPEGs are only around 4MB, which means you can record about 6000 raw images on the built-in drive (and about the same if recording raw+JPEG – the JPEG hardly matters) or something like 120,000 images if shooting JPEG-only.

Some important specs are only available as rumour, not as official information – this includes the camera being good for 250 CIPA-rated shots. Given the 3190mAh battery, which is quite a reasonable capacity, and the fact the camera does video, the 250 shot rating sounds conservative to me. I would expect more shots per battery, and would consider it a surprising flaw if it were really as limited as the rumour says. One of the challenges for this camera is going to be that the battery will need plenty of extra juice left over for running Lightroom and any photo sharing apps you may need, to allow you to “> edit > share”, as the marketing material has it.

According to my current understanding, the camera has no image stabilisation of any kind.

Preliminary investigations of raw files provided by Zeiss suggest the sensor isn’t one of the usual suspects, and produces some banding in the shadows as well as more noise at higher ISOs (one ISO 2500 sample was affected by this) compared to the typical competition.

Videography and live view features

The camera is capable of recording 4k30p video (H.265 encoded) as well as FullHD at 60fps (H.264 encoded), and includes a stereo mic, built in. Live view supports “depth of field”, which I understand to be focus peaking, as well as electronic level, “histogram” and “grid”, the latter presumably being a compositional aid for “rule of thirds” and similar compositional templates.

Connectivity

Pictures can be transferred from the device via USB 3.1 (type C port) or WiFi/Bluetooth. It seems the camera can also serve as an SMB (“Samba”) network server. The USB port does double duty as HDMI, so if I’m reading the specs correctly, you cannot have both at the same time.

Total weight is 837 grams.

As per Zeiss’ marketing, the goal is to let you keep your flow, and go through your picture taking, editing and sharing all on one device.

Illustration of Lightroom use on the ZX1, from Zeiss’ promotional website

It remains to be seen how quickly you can switch back from editing to shooting, which is the other aspect of flow I’d be concerned about. You want to still be able to take every good shot that’s in front of you, in spite of the camera tempting you to edit and share. For some, this will be a process of adjustment.

Pricing and questions over continued support

But let’s unpack the big item – the camera will indeed cost the previously rumoured 6000 Eurodollars, BUT you do get a 500GB internal SSD and Adobe Lightroom CC (on the camera) thrown into the deal – but with only one year’s use of Adobe’s 1TB Photography Plan, all of which threw up a bunch of questions for me:

  • Can one transfer and edit images not taken with the camera? (One source says: “full compatibility”)
  • The camera includes a 500GB solid state drive – but how much of that is taken up by the operating system and Lightroom? I’m guessing you’d have about 480GB left if you install no additional apps
    • Can you even install additional, standard Android apps? Since Zeiss no longer states that the operating system is Android, it’s unclear whether something like the Google Play Store would be accessible. (The operating system is clearly some sort of version of Android, to be able to run Lightroom CC, but it may be significantly customised by Zeiss, so it’s not altogether clear whether Play Store would be included, installable or run at all.)
  • When the Adobe subscription runs out, is there a guarantee that the basic version of LR CC will remain free, or is this ultimately just a gateway device for perpetual servitude to Adobe?
  • Is Adobe Lightroom CC/Photography Plan pre-registered for the camera, or does one have to jump through hoops? Is a credit card required, and does one automatically commit to a subscription?
  • Is the license tied to the camera, or in the event that I register the plan and then sell the camera, am I damning the next person to pay the subscription all over again to get the camera working?
  • Does the camera need to connect to the internet at least once every 90 days?
  • Is cloud storage obligatory (the specs just say “Cloud storage: yes”)
  • Is the raw format proprietary and only shared with Adobe, or can it be used with other photo editing solutions down the line? (The format was stated by Zeiss to be DNG and was confirmed to be openable and editable with a current desktop version of Lightroom, but that’s still saying very little.)
  • What will Zeiss charge when the SSD needs replacing, and how long will that be possible outside of warranty?

At this point, it looks like the ZX1 is targeting customers whose wallets are open to novelty with relatively few questions asked. I hope that Zeiss or reviewers will supply some of the essential details soon, and I will try to update this as much as I can with details as they become available.

 

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2 comments

    • It is a lot of money. I think it will have *some* success, with certain groups of professionals where it may give an edge to deliver results faster. But I share your concern that this may not justify the years of research and development that have already gone into this. On the other hand, it may explain the pricing.

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