Over the years, the generation and acceleration of ultra-short, high quality electron beams has attracted more and more interest in accelerator science. Electron bunches with these properties are necessary to operate and test novel diagnostics and advanced high-gradient accelerating schemes, such as plasma accelerators and dielectric laser accelerators. Furthermore, several medical and industrial applications require high-brightness electron beams. The dedicated R&D facility ARES at DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) will provide such probe beams in the upcoming years. After the setup of the normal-conducting, radio-frequency (RF) photoinjector and linear accelerating structures, ARES successfully started the beam commissioning of the RF gun. This paper gives an overview of the ARES photoinjector setup and summarizes the results of the gun commissioning process. The quality of the first electron beams is characterized in terms of charge, momentum, momentum spread and beam size. Additionally, the dependencies of the beam parameters on RF settings are described. All measurement results of the characterized beams fulfill the requirements for operating the ARES linac with this RF photoinjector.