Sony RX100 II Review

 
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Sony RX100 II Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Sony RX100 II -- Exmor R versus standard 1/2.3 sensor

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.

Sony was the first company to commercialize backside-illuminated sensors, and the chip in the RX100 II is by far the largest BSI chip mass-produced to date. Potential downsides of the technology include reduced yield (especially at this sensor size), leading to higher cost per sensor; crosstalk between adjacent pixels; and the fact that base sensitivity is raised, making low-ISO imaging more challenging. (Below the native sensitivity of the chip, you essentially trade off dynamic range to achieve lower sensitivities.)

Sony RX100 II -- front-illuminated versus back-illuminated structure

Sensitivity. The default sensitivity of the RX100 II's image sensor ranges from ISO 160 to 12,800 equivalents, where the original RX100 had a default range of ISO 125 to 6,400 equivalents. You can still extend the lower end of the range below base sensitivity, but where the RX100 allowed you to extend to ISO 80 or 100, the RX100 II offers up ISO 100 and 125 extended positions.

There's still a multi-shot function that reduces image noise by averaging subsequent exposures, and this Multi-Frame NR function still has an upper limit of ISO 25,600 equivalent.

Sony RX100 II review -- Bionz image processor

Performance. The new sensor is coupled with Sony's BIONZ image processor. Together, these allow a burst rate of up to 10 frames per second in Speed Priority Advance mode, which locks focus and exposure from the first frame. Burst depth is 13 raw, 12 JPEG or 10 Raw+JPEG frames.

Lens. The Sony RX100 II's 3.6x optical zoom lens is unchanged from that in the original RX100, and still bears Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* branding. 35mm-equivalent focal lengths range from a 28mm-equivalent wide angle to a 100mm-equivalent telephoto. Across this range, the maximum aperture falls from a bright f/1.8 at wide angle to f/4.9 at telephoto. The latter is rather dim, albeit understandably so, given the lens and sensor sizes. Focusing is possible to as close as 1.9 inches at wide angle, or 21.6 inches at telephoto/

The lens' optical formula includes seven elements in six groups, of which four elements are aspherics, and one of these is an advanced aspheric. There's also a seven-bladed rounded aperture, and a T* coating which reduces ghosting and flare.

Sony RX100 II -- lens in cutaway

Stabilization. Sony has included the same Optical SteadyShot lens-based image stabilization in the RX100 II as in the RX100. For video capture, the system provides a greater corrective range; Active Mode, in Sony parlance.

While the SteadyShot system hasn't changed, the greater sensitivity of the image sensor in the RX100 II means that -- all other things being equal -- you should need to rely on image stabilization less often in the first place.

Focusing. Autofocus, too, is another area in which the new sensor in the Sony RX100 II should have a positive impact. Like almost all compact cameras, the RX100 relies on contrast detection autofocus, which takes data from the image sensor and uses it to determine the point of focus. By providing a cleaner image with lower noise levels, the Sony RX100 II's image sensor gives the autofocus algorithms more to work with, and the company predicts around a 10% improvement in autofocus speed as a result of this.

Just like the earlier model, the Sony RX100 II still offers up an autofocus assist lamp to help out with focusing on nearby subjects in low-light conditions. The AF system provides 25 autofocus points, plus center spot, flexible spot, and tracking modes, including face tracking. You can also focus manually, with both peaking and an optional AF operation to get you in the ballpark (otherwise known as Direct Manual Focus.)

Sony RX100 II review -- RX100 II with electronic viewfinder

Viewfinder. Unlike the RX100, the Sony RX100 II can accept an external, electronic viewfinder. It's not included in the kit, but the optional viewfinder accessory will give the RX100 II a more SLR-like feel when in use. Since it shares the same shoe used for flash strobes, you're limited to using the internal flash if framing through the EVF.

The accessory is the same one offered for the flagship RX1 camera, the Sony FDA-EV1MK. It's very crisp for an EVF finder, thanks to its 0.5-inch Organic LED-based display with a very high resolution of 2,359,000 dots. In reviewing the RX1, we also felt the EVF accessory was noticeably better in terms of its dynamic range than many, although highlight and shadow detail still gets lost.

However, it's going to be a much tougher sell for RX100 II owners, thanks to its high cost. When you've just purchased a US$2,800 RX1, it's much easier to justify spending another US$450 (16%) on a viewfinder, but when the viewfinder alone costs only 40% less than your camera did, it's a bit more of a stretch to tell yourself it's something you really need.

Tilting display. For that reason, we think most RX100 II owners will want to stick with the LCD monitor, instead. It's the same VGA, RGBW WhiteMagic unit used in the original RX100, which is great news because it pairs good resolution with excellent outdoor visibility -- even under sunlight. (And indoors, the design saves power, something that helped the original RX100 turn in pretty respectable battery life.)

Sony RX100 II review -- side profile of the tilting LCD

There's an important change in the RX100 II's panel, though. (Or rather, in the way in which it's mounted.) It is now articulated to allow tilting upwards by 84 degrees, or downward by 45 degrees. That's great for shooting from the hip, low to the ground, or over your head, and makes the RX100 II significantly more versatile than its predecessor. With the original RX100, you were limited to point-and-hope shooting, if you couldn't see the LCD panel properly, making accurate framing and level horizons something of a pipe dream.

Twin dials. Just like its predecessor, the RX100 II sports a twin-dial design with a ring around the lens barrel acting as the front ring. As well as the generous selection of functions that could already be controlled with this front ring, there's now a step zoom control that quickly adjusts the focal length in five steps -- 28, 35, 50, 70, and 100mm, in 35mm-equivalents -- without you needing to precisely adjust the ring's position. If you want to mimic the shooting style of multiple prime lenses, this is going to be pretty handy.

Flash. Another area of change from the original RX100 is in the new camera's flash options. There's still a small popup strobe that's unchanged from that in the RX100, but the new image sensor should see it's useful range extended somewhat by dint of the fact that you can increase the ISO sensitivity while retaining the same noise levels of the earlier camera.

Sony RX100 II review -- detail of flash and hot shoe

It was already a great flash at wide angle, but was -- and still is -- pretty weak for telephoto shooting. Using the maximum ISO 12,800-equivalent sensitivity, range is rated at slightly over 98 feet (30m) at wide-angle and 37 feet (11.3m) at telephoto. Using ISO Auto, that falls to 49 feet (15m) at wide angle, and a little under 19 feet (5.7m) at telephoto. At ISO 100, it's the equivalent of just 8.7 feet (2.7m) at wide angle, and 3.3 feet (1m) at telephoto.

But if you like flash photography, you're going to have a lot more fun with the RX100 II thanks to the new Multi Interface Shoe, a Sony-proprietary intelligent flash hot shoe that's based on the standard ISO 518 hot shoe. This accepts strobes including the HVL-F20M, HVL-F60M, and the new HVL-F43M. (This last is, essentially, an HVL-F43AM with the new Multi Interface Shoe mount, and an LED video light.) You can also mount older strobes including the HVL-F20AM and HVL-F43AM using an ADP-MAA Multi-Interface Shoe Adapter.

Sony RX100 II -- hot shoe with accessory contacts

Sony doesn't state flash sync speed of the DSC-RX100M2.

Accessory Terminal. As noted, the RX100 II's flash hot shoe also doubles as an accessory terminal that accepts a variety of accessories. (Hence, the name Multi Interface Shoe). Not all of these will make sense -- for example, there's a Wi-Fi accessory, but this would duplicate the RX100 II's own built-in Wi-Fi radio -- but there are nevertheless quite a few options available beyond flash strobes. We've already mentioned the ADP-MAA shoe adapter and FDA-EV1MK electronic viewfinder. Other accessories you can attach include the HVL-LEIR1 video light, ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone, and CLM-V55 clip-on LCD monitor.

Exposure. The Sony DSC-RX100 II includes the usual array of operating modes -- Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual -- that you'd find on a consumer-oriented SLR or system camera. It also offers the single-shot Intelligent Auto and multi-shot Superior Auto modes often found on Cyber-shot models, and a Memory Recall function that lets you save three settings groups for quick access. And, of course, there's a generous selection of user-friendly Scene modes.

Metering modes include Multi-Segment, Center-weighted, and Spot. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 30 seconds, plus Bulb, although the longest time varies depending on exposure mode.

Sony RX100 II -- Mode dial

Auto on steroids. Like its predecessor, the Sony RX100 II features a wide variety of Sony-specific tools aimed at making it easier to get great photos. (Or at least, what the camera feels to be great photos, greatness being a rather subjective thing.) Most are unchanged, but there's one new tool that builds on the existing ones. We've seen it previously in the Sony A58 Translucent Mirror camera and NEX-3N mirrorless, but before we get into that, let's quickly recap what's retained.

The Clear Image Zoom function is based on what Sony calls By Pixel Super Resolution algorithms. In essence, a digital zoom that tries to improve quality by using pattern matching. It still interpolates (read: guesses) missing data, but does so in a more intelligent manner. Those same pattern-matching, interpolating algorithms also come into play for Auto Portrait Framing, which uses face detection to locate your subject, and then recrops the image based on a rule-of-thirds algorithm for a more pleasing layout. After cropping, your image is interpolated back up to the same resolution as the original shot. Both your original and the new shot are saved separately, so if you don't like the results, nothing is lost.

The new feature is quite similar, but instead of using face detection, it has algorithms that attempt to identify the dominant object in a scene -- and then it does much the same thing as Auto Portrait Framing, applying a rule-of-thirds crop and resampling.

There's also still a Self Portrait Self-timer function, which automatically starts a countdown timer when either one or two faces are detected in the scene, saving you the trouble of pressing the shutter button at all. Since the tilting display still can't face forwards, though, you're flying blind with this function.

The RX100 II retains Sony's 13-option Picture Effects function for soft focus, watercolor, miniature, and many more effects, as well as the other creative functions we've come to expect: High Dynamic Range, Dynamic Range Optimizer, and 2D Sweep Panorama.

Sony RX100 II review -- system photo

Level gauge. The RX100 II also retains its sibling's dual-axis level display function, which helps you avoid tilted horizons and converging verticals.

Movies. One last area in which Sony predicts a significant improvement thanks to its new sensor is in movie capture. The company promises a "profound impact" in low-light movie quality, something we'll be putting to the test.

Beyond the new sensor, the RX100 II's movie mode is largely unchanged from that of the RX100, but with one notable exception. Like the RX100, it can capture 1080p video with AVCHD version 2.0 compression at rates of 60i or 60p, but the RX100 II also adds a more film-like 24p mode. There's also HDV (Anamorphic HD) and VGA capture with MPEG-4 AVC compression at a rate of 30p, but strangely, still no 720p mode.

The video feature set remains quite rich compared to typical fixed-lens cameras, and even to some interchangeale-lens models. Manual exposure control is available, along with SteadyShot image stabilization and a wind noise reduction function. Audio is recorded with an onboard stereo microphone, situated on the top deck, straddling the flash hot shoe.

Sony RX100 II review -- Wi-Fi wireless transfer

Wireless networking. The final significant upgrade in the Sony RX100 II is its new, built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communications radios. This is big news if you're a fan of social networking, because it means you can get your photos and videos off the camera via your smart device, without the need for third-party hardware.

And if you have an NFC-compatible device, you can even establish a connection without any intervention at all -- just enable NFC on the smart device if necessary, and then hold the two devices together briefly. This is enough for a Wi-Fi connection to be negotiated between both devices, and your data then transfers via that high-speed connection.

Unfortunately for iPhone and iPad users, Apple has yet to implement NFC in any of its devices, but many newer and more sophisticated Android and Windows Phone devices support NFC.

Once paired, you can not only transfer data between camera and smart device, but also remotely control the camera's shutter, and view a live view feed. That could prove very handy, whether you're looking to film skittish wildlife without getting too close yourself, or just want to confirm everybody's standing in the right place before tripping the shutter on a group portrait.

Sony RX100 II -- seen from above

Wired connectivity. Two ports sit under flaps on the right side of the camera: a micro HDMI port for high-definition video output (formerly located right next to the tripod mount; the new location is much better), and what Sony dubs the Multi Terminal. The latter is both a USB port, and a wired remote control port compatible with the RM-VPR1 remote commander, and tripods such as the GP-VPT1, VCT-VPR1, VCT-VPR10, and VCT-VPR100 which feature built-in wired remotes.

There's also the aforementioned Multi Interface Shoe on the top deck, which allows a variety of accessories to be connected to the camera.

Sony RX100 II -- Battery

Power. Sony has retained the same NP-BX1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery type used in the original RX100. The company rates the RX100 II as good for 350 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards, or for 80 minutes of video capture. The still image battery life is improved by around 6% from that stated for the original RX100.

Storage. The Sony RX100 stores data on SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards, or Sony's own Pro Duo / Pro HG Duo types. Eye-Fi cards are still supported, although the camera has its own built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.

 



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