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Sony RX100 II Review

by Mike Tomkins and Dave Etchells
First Impressions posted: 06/27/2013

Shooter's Report by
Posted:

In the summer of 2012, the debut of the Sony RX100 answered the prayers of enthusiast shooters looking for a capable yet compact second camera. More than a few photographers who'd resisted trading up to an interchangeable lens-camera due to the size, even for mirrorless models, also found much to love in the Sony RX100, which punches above its weight thanks to a much larger sensor than can be found in the majority of fixed-lens cameras. The RX100 also sports a handy optical zoom lens, something that's absent from the majority of its large-sensor compact camera competitors. (And it's far smaller than the rare models which pair a large sensor with a fixed zoom.) Not surprisingly, the RX100 was a big seller for Sony, and we loved it too, awarding it our Pocket Camera of the Year for 2012. The Sony RX100 II has repeated that performance, winning our Camera of the Year award for Pocket Camera of the Year for 2013.

Sony RX100 II review -- three quarter shot

Happy family. As you'd expect from its name, the Sony RX100 II builds upon its predecessor, but it's important to note that it doesn't replace it. Both will continue to be sold side-by-side for the time being, and Sony has indicated to us that it sees the new model as being more attractive to photographers wanting a system within which to grow -- in other words, step-up buyers from a compact camera. The original RX100, meanwhile, is expected to remain attractive as a second camera alongside an interchangeable-lens model, being slightly smaller and quite a bit lighter than the new camera.

As it happens, Imaging Resource News Editor Mike Tomkins bought the original Sony RX100, so we put his camera back in the studio to shoot the side-by-side comparisons below. Click each image to see a (much) larger version in a new window.

Sony RX100 vs Sony RX100 II -- Body Comparison



Sony RX100 II review -- side comparison with RX100

New sensor. A key difference between the Sony RX100 II and its sibling is the presence of a backside-illuminated image sensor, instead of a standard CMOS chip. It's still a 1"-type, but it's nonetheless ground-breaking: To date no other manufacturer has commercialized a BSI sensor this large. Previous BSI chips have typically been 1/2"-type or smaller, with only a little more than 1/4 the surface area of the RX100-series camera sensors.

Sony RX100 II review -- Exmor R CMOS sensor

That's partly because the advantages of BSI technology -- increased sensitivity and an improved signal-to-noise ratio -- are felt more strongly with the higher pixel densities common on small compact camera sensors. The lower the pixel density, the lower the proportion of circuitry to light-gathering area on the chip's surface, and the less the advantage in moving that circuitry to the rear of the sensor.

Still, Sony clearly believes there's enough of an advantage over a standard 1"-type chip to make the reduced yield and additional manufacturing complexity of a BSI chip at this size worthwhile. The company is claiming a one-stop improvement over the original RX100, with ISO 3200 on the RX100 II predicted to yield similar noise levels to ISO 1600 on the RX100. Our lab testing showed that this claim was actually slightly conservative for JPEGs.

Sensitivity. The base sensitivity has been increased from ISO 125 to ISO 160 equivalent, and the upper limit has jumped from ISO 6400 to ISO 12,800 equivalent. The expanded range of the original camera allowed shooting at ISO 80 equivalent, and this has been raised slightly to ISO 100 equivalent. The range in Multi-Frame NR mode is unchanged, though, still topping-out at ISO 25,600 equivalent.

Sony RX100 II review -- tilting viewfinder

The improved sensitivity and noise characteristics of the sensor will likely show themselves in other respects, as well. In particular, Sony claims a 10% improvement in the time taken to achieve an auto-focus lock when shooting in low light when compared to the RX100, since the contrast detection system should have higher-quality data from the new image sensor to work with. The company also promises a "profound impact" on low-light video. Big words, indeed!

Expandability. Another important change is aimed at turning the RX100 II into something of a system camera, albeit one with a fixed lens. Unlike the RX100, the new camera now sports a flash hot shoe. Specifically, it's the same Multi Interface Shoe that debuted in last fall's flagship Sony A99 and RX1 cameras, integrating 21 data contacts that provide compatibility not only with external strobes, but also with accessories such as an electronic viewfinder, clip-on LCD monitor, or external microphone adapter.

And that's not all for the expandability: The Sony RX100 II's USB port has also been updated to become what Sony calls the Multi Terminal. This provides not only for USB data transfer and battery charging, but also adds compatibility with a wired remote control unit.

Wireless connectivity. Another very important change is the addition of built-in Near Field Communications and Wi-Fi wireless networking. NFC is used to establish a connection with a compatible phone or tablet automatically, simply by touching the two devices to each other briefly. Once paired via NFC, the camera and smart device will negotiate a much faster Wi-Fi connection automatically, without the need to manually select a network or enter security information. And when connected, you can control your RX100 II remotely from the smart device, including a remote live view stream on the screen of your Android / OS device, using a free app. The same app is also capable of transferring images and video to get them on their way to social networks and more.

If your smart device doesn't support NFC -- which is true of all Apple devices, and many older or less expensive Android devices, you'll still be able to pair via Wi-Fi manually. (But you're missing out: using NFC couldn't be simpler, and typically puts a silly grin on people's faces the first time they try it.)

Sony RX100 II review -- tilting LCD monitor

Tilting display. And in case the ability to connect an external, electronic viewfinder to the Sony RX100 II wasn't exciting enough, there's now an articulated LCD display, as well. It's solely a tilting type, rather than a tilt-swivel, and it doesn't provide for framing images from in front of the camera, but it nonetheless makes the RX100 II much more versatile when framing shots low to the ground, or over your head. And impressively, it adds barely anything to the camera's thickness -- there's only a scant 0.1 inch (2.4mm) increase over the original model.

That's still just enough to stop the RX100 II from fitting in the optionally-available leather jacket case for the original RX100, though, so Sony simultaneously released an updated jacket case. The new case will entirely replace the original one in Sony's inventory, and is listed as compatible with both cameras.

And more besides. There are a few other tweaks since the RX100 II, but they're not as significant as those mentioned so far. You can now shoot Full HD movies at a movie-like rate of 24 frames per second, in addition to the previous 60 frames / fields per second options. There's also a new step zoom function for the ring encircling the lens, which allows quick access to predefined focal lengths of 28, 35, 50, 70, and 100mm without the need to adjust the dial precisely. Sony has also added the Auto Object Framing function seen previously in the Sony A58 and NEX-3N cameras, supplementing the RX100's Auto Portrait Framing.

Accessories. The company will also be offering a couple of new accessories. There's a new AG-R1 finger rest grip, mirroring those available from third-parties for the RX100. This attaches to the camera body with adhesive, so if you later decide you prefer the unadorned body, it should be removable without damaging the camera. While the Sony grip is only $14.99, we personally like the beautiful anodized aluminum grips from Richard Franiec, which you can see attached to an RX100 below.

Get a grip. Richard Franiec's camera grips are some of our favorite accessories at IR. You can get this one for the RX100 II (or any of his models for other cameras) from his Kleptography site.

If you like playing with filters -- another way in which to build something of a system around your camera -- you should appreciate the new filter kit, which will also be compatible with the RX100.

Keeping the good stuff. In other respects, the Sony RX100 II is largely similar to its predecessor. Notably, the very good lens from the original RX100 -- offering lengths of 28-100mm equivalent, and a maximum aperture of f/1.8-4.9 across the zoom range -- is retained, and so is the bright, attractive Sony White Magic LCD panel.

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Sony RX100 II Review -- Video Tour

by Dave Etchells

Video tour of the Sony RX100 II large-sensor compact camera.

 

Sony RX100 II Review -- Walk-around

by Mike Tomkins

When we reviewed last year's Sony RX100, we felt its compact body to be one of the highlights of its design. Sure, it looked a whole lot like the Canon S90 and its successors, but that didn't detract from the fact that it was clean, attractive, reasonably pocket-friendly, and yet packed in a good number of controls including both a lens ring and rear dial.

With the Sony RX100 II, that basic design has been retained and expanded upon. That's good news indeed, as far as we're concerned. Let's take a quick trip around the RX100 II's body, and see what's new.

Sony RX100 II review -- front view

Seen from the front, the Sony RX100 II is almost indistinguishable from its sibling. From the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar branded 3.6x optical zoom lens to the styling, all remains unchanged, with but one notable exception. The presence of a flash hot shoe projecting from above the lens (and just slightly despoiling the otherwise almost rectangular front profile) tips you off to the fact that you're looking at the RX100 II, and not the RX100.

Sony RX100 II review -- top view

From above, there are a few more clues to tip you off to which camera you're dealing with, although the basic layout is largely unchanged. As well as the aforementioned hot shoe, you'll also see that the two ports for the stereo microphone that straddle this new addition have shrunk in size, and been rotated 90 degrees to free up space. The top of the tilting LCD assembly stands proud from the rear of the camera slightly, and its top surface becomes home to various screen-printed badges, including the new Exmor R badge. (If you're not familiar with this, it indicates that the Sony RX100 II sports a backside-illuminated image sensor, in place of the previous, traditional chip.)

The whole body has also grown subtly but is noticeably thicker, enough so that the RX100 II will no longer fit in the leather jacket case sold for the original RX100. (A replacement version will fit both cameras, although it will presumably now be slightly loose on the earlier model.) Note, though, that while the lens may appear a little deeper in our side-by-side comparison with the Sony RX100 further up the page, that's definitely not the case. It's simply an optical illusion brought on by the other changes.

Sony RX100 II review -- rear view

From behind the lens, you could again completely miss the changes in the Sony RX100 II, at a casual glance. The control layout is absolutely identical to that on the earlier camera, which is great news if you plan on upgrading from that model to the new one. There is literally no learning curve at all; in terms of the basic controls, and you'll feel right at home.

The only differences between the RX100 II and RX100 from this angle have already been noted in the other views: an articulated, tilting LCD monitor, and a flash hot shoe. From this angle, you can see the intelligent contacts in the latter, which allow it to serve double duty as an accessory shoe for the electronic viewfinder, clip-on LCD, and microphone accessories.

Sony RX100 II review -- right view

From the sides, there are a couple of more subtle changes on the Sony RX100 II. These don't involve new features, but are simply adjustments to the overall packaging of the camera. On the right of the body is the relocated HDMI high-definition video output, located under a small flap, and beneath the multi-terminal. This was previously to be found in a frankly terrible position on the base of the camera, snugged right up against the tripod socket. The new location is much more intelligent. Previously, you couldn't really use the HDMI output unless the camera was held in your hand, or laying on its back. Now if you desire -- and admittedly, few RX100 II users will likely do so -- you could even hook the RX100 II up to a large high-def display while shooting tripod mounted, something you certainly couldn't do before without resorting to some very carefully-selected adapters.

The multi-terminal port is, in essence, the USB port with a new name and a new capability. It was in much the same position previously, but it didn't allow use of Sony's wired remote control units. Now, it does. It's also how you charge the camera's battery.

Sony RX100 II review -- left view

On the other side of the RX100 II are two even more subtle changes -- one addition, and one subtraction. The new arrival is the small screen-printed Wi-Fi logo, hinting at the camera's wireless networking connectivity. (It also supports Near Field Communications, for an instant connection simply by touching it to a compatible device.) The absentee feature is the small three-hole speaker port from the original RX100. So, where has it gone?

Sony RX100 II review -- bottom view

Flipping the camera over once more soon answers that question. You'll now find a three-hole speaker port on the left-hand end (as seen from the rear) of the camera's base. Nearby is a new screen-printed NFC logo, and of course you can also see the base of the tilting LCD assembly from this angle. As we've noted, the small, rubber HDMI port cover is gone, with the port relocated to the camera's right side. Sadly, the metal tripod socket remains well away from the central axis of the lens, so if you plan on shooting a lot of tripod-mounted panoramas, you'll want to invest in an adapter to reduce the impact of parallax.

And that, in a nutshell, is the Sony RX100 II camera body: a little larger, and bearing several important new features, but in most respects near-identical to that of the RX100 in terms of basic layout and styling.

 

In the Box

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Sony RX100 II Technical Info

In-depth with all the technical details of the RX100 II

by Mike Tomkins |

Sensor. Like the RX100 before it, the Sony RX100 II is based around a 1.0"-type CMOS image sensor with a resolution of 20.2 megapixels. Only one other manufacturer uses this same size: Nikon's 1-series (CX-mount) compact system cameras are also based around 1.0"-type sensors. Nikon derives its CX-format sensor supply from Aptina, however, so far leaving the RX100 and RX100 II's chips as Sony exclusives.

The RX100 II's image sensor has double the area of the 2/3"-type sensor used by certain Fuji premium compacts, and nearly triple the area of 1/1.7"-type sensors used in most enthusiast compacts. Compared to typical point-and shoots on a 1/2.3"-type sensor, the difference is vast: the RX100 II's sensor is almost 4.1x larger. On the other side of the coin, though, its area is a little less than half that of the sensor in the Canon G1 X, and about one-third the size of an APS-C sensor, as used by most DSLRs and some CSCs.

Backside illumination. There's an important difference between the sensors in the RX100 II and its predecessor. The newer camera uses an Exmor R-branded chip, indicating that it's a backside-illuminated design. By contrast, the RX100 used a standard Exmor CMOS chip. That difference gives the Sony RX100 II a significant advantage in terms of sensitivity and noise performance.

Click to read about the Sony RX100 II's technical details!

Tech Info

Sony RX100 II Shooter's Report

Small wonder

by Dan Havlik |

The 20.2MP Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 took the photo world by storm when it was introduced in 2012, ending up on several "best of" lists including our own, where we named it our Pocket Camera of the Year for 2012. And it's a swell camera, for sure, providing near SLR-level image quality with a quality zoom lens in a compact body you can take anywhere. The camera proved quite popular for Sony and just a year after it debuted, the company unveiled a quasi-follow-up to that model in summer 2013: the Sony RX100 II. I say "quasi" follow-up, because, according to Sony, the RX100 II is not going to replace the previous model but sit alongside it in the line.

As noted above, the new camera looks very similar to its predecessor, but has a number of important updates. Rather than repeating them here, though, let's just jump into what it's like to shoot with the Sony RX100 II.

In the hand. Like its predecessor, the Sony RX100 II won't win any awards for originality of design, but it's still a very nice looking little camera. As we noted earlier, the first RX100 and now the Mark II version are both derivative of Canon's groundbreaking S90 camera from 2009. This isn't the first time the elegant, all-black Canon S90 has been imitated and it probably won't be the last. It's just a classic, simple design, which the Sony RX100 II takes another step further.

Read on to find out how the Sony RX100 II fared in the real world.

Shooter's Report

Sony RX100 II Image Quality Comparison

Can the Sony RX100 II compete with larger cameras?

by Dave Pardue

The Sony RX100 II wins hands down compared to other pocket cameras using smaller sensors, but how does it do against its predecessor, the well-regarded RX100? And how does it compare against another 1"-type model such as the Nikon J3, and even to cameras with larger Four Thirds sensors such as the Olympus E-PL5 and Panasonic GM1?  Check the crops and decide for yourself!

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All interchangeable lens cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

See our Sony RX100 II Image Quality Comparison!

Image Quality Comparison

Sony RX100 II vs RX100 Low Light Comparison

A full stop improvement in JPEG high-ISO noise?

by Dave Etchells |

As we've said elsewhere, the biggest news with the Sony RX100 II is its sensor: The first 1-inch type backside illuminated sensor to hit the streets. Sony's claims of a full 1-stop improvement in high-ISO noise seems well-justified by our own experience -- the difference between JPEGs from the new and old models is pretty dramatic.

The RX100's sensor was already an excellent one, and its high-ISO performance outstripped anything near its size. The new Mark II version takes it to an entirely new level, though. And all of this is without taking into consideration Sony's highly effective multi-shot modes, which use multiple, rapid-fire shots to cut noise, while giving the exposure effect of a much longer exposure, combined with the anti-camera-shake effect of a much shorter one.

All in all, the Sony RX100 II really blows away the competition when it comes to after-dark shooting with a compact, pocketable camera. As Dave said in his YouTube video on the RX100 II, the improvements are enough that we think a lot of current RX100 users will be looking to trade up. Very impressive!

Read our Sony RX100 II versus RX100 Low Light Comparison.

Low Light Image Quality Comparison

Sony RX100 II Conclusion

New pocket camera king?

by Dan Havlik |

The original RX100 shook up the compact camera market, and the new Sony RX100 II continues in that mold, picking up our award for 2013 Best Pocket Camera of the Year. While superficially very similar to the original model, the new RX100 II brings a number of key enhancements.

The most obvious change is the addition of a 3-inch tilting LCD screen on the back. This uses the same "White Magic" technology as on the original (for better viewing in bright conditions), but the tilting configuration makes it much easier taking over-the-head or ground-level shots. A new Multi Interface Shoe supports not only an external flash, but a number of other accessories as well, including a stereo microphone and high-quality electronic viewfinder.

Perhaps the most important upgrade, though, is to the RX100 II's sensor, which now uses backside-illuminated technology, conservatively providing a full f-stop of improved high-ISO performance over its predecessor when combined with the Mark II's revised JPEG processing. In our testing, JPEGs from the RX100 II looked better at ISO 6400 than those from the original model at ISO 3200, however RAW files showed less improvement, around a third to half an f-stop. Still, any improvement over the RX100's already excellent high-ISO performance is welcome, and combined with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 at its widest-angle setting, the Sony RX100 II is truly a fantastic low-light performer.

Read the Sony RX100 II Conclusion for our final verdict!

Sony RX100 II Conclusion