Sony RX1R II Conclusion

Sony RX1R II Field Test -- Gallery Image
f/4, 1/250s, ISO 100

Similar exterior with even more impressive technology inside

Before the Sony A7, there was the RX1 (and the AA-filterless RX1R version), Sony's first foray into the combination of a full-frame sensor and a small, highly portable camera body. The RX1 and RX1R were stunning but expensive cameras, yet the images they produced were excellent. Now, with the introduction of the Sony RX1R II, Sony's uber-premium compact camera takes a big leap forward with nearly double the pixel count, vastly improved autofocus performance, and a rather innovative adjustable optical low-pass filter system. The camera is still as expensive as ever and keeps the same 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens, so despite image quality performance and new features, there are still some limitations, be it price or its fixed focal length lens. Nevertheless, the Sony RX1R II is very tempting camera...

Sony RX1R II Field Test -- Gallery Image
f/8, 1/125s, ISO 100. Low-Pass Filter OFF.
See variants: LPF Standard & LPF HI.

Mega resolution upgrade offers stunning image quality

As mentioned, the predecessors' image quality was excellent, and that is still true with this new model, but even more so. With a 42-megapixel backside-illuminated full-frame sensor, the camera packs in even more resolving power. In fact, the camera shares much of the same imaging pipeline as the highly acclaimed Sony A7R II. Image quality is fantastic, particularly at low to moderate ISO's straight out of the camera. The Sony RX1R II also allows for some impressively high ISO sensitivities, and the resulting images are very good -- especially if you edit from RAW and apply noise reduction yourself. Furthermore, as is characteristic of recent Sony cameras, the dynamic range performance from the RX1R II is outstanding.

Sony RX1R II Field Test -- Gallery Image
f/2.5, 1/100s, ISO 20,000

Variable low-pass filter provides helpful versatility

One of the all-new features of this camera is its unique variable optical low-pass filter. Unlike the predecessor, which was offered in two models -- one with an OLPF and one without -- the Sony RX1R II lets you adjust the strength of an actual optical low-pass filter, or disable it completely. It's like two cameras in one: no filter for ultimate sharpness and detail, and two "on" modes for protection against unsightly moiré and aliasing artifacts. The system works very well. Images do indeed show increased detail when not using the OLPF, and if you can't decide which filter setting to choose for a given subject, the camera includes an OLPF bracketing mode! (Don't miss our Field Test Part II for more on this!)

Single focal length can be limiting, but it's a sharp lens nonetheless

The camera keeps the same fixed Zeiss-branded 35mm f/2 lens as its predecessor. While overall, the lens is nice and sharp, we did find noticeable vignetting if in-camera shading correction is turned off (the camera also bakes-in vignetting correction to RAWs, so keep that in mind if you like to do you own corrections). The macro-mode performance of the lens is also a little lacking, as we found with the earlier RX1 models, too. Furthermore, the fixed, single focal length lens could be a limitation depending on what you photograph the most. For street photography, traveling and some landscapes, the 35mm lens is perfectly suited to handle these subjects, and the added resolution makes cropping even more practical.

Sony RX1R II Field Test -- Gallery Image
f/2, 1/1250s, ISO 2500. JPEG conversion from RAW using Capture One 9.
Click here for in-camera JPEG & RAW file.

While no pure sports shooter, AF performance is much improved

The predecessor was not a speed-demon camera, and the same can be said for this updated model for the most part, though there are a number of performance improvements. Despite nearly double the megapixels of the earlier model, the camera offers an improved buffer depth and maintains a respectable 5fps burst rate with continuous AF. The 5fps burst rate is respectable for a camera of this size and given its massive resolution, but it can be a bit slow for really high-speed fast action subjects.

The C-AF note is an important one, given the earlier RX1's complete lack of C-AF functionality (its 5fps Speed Priority mode locked focus on the first frame). However, the RX1R II now sports on-chip phase-detect sensors, like the A7R II, which provides continuous autofocus capabilities with rather respectable performance. Despite lab tests not indicating significant AF speed improvements, in real-world shooting, AF performance was quick and snappy in most situations, though AF speeds can sometimes slow down when attempting to focus on lower contast subjects.

Disappointing battery life is its primary performance weakness

Overall performance drawbacks and downsides are relatively minor. Buffer clearing is rather slow, for starters, but the poor battery life leaves a lot to be desired. The camera uses the same compact-camera battery pack as the predecessor (and a number of other Sony compacts), and these tiny rechargeable batteries don't pack a lot of juice for such a high-resolution, high-performance camera. Luckily, the batteries are small enough and relatively inexpensive that it's easy to carry a bunch of spares.

Sony RX1R II Review -- Product Image

Pop-up EVF adds clever, handy convenience

Not a lot has changed design-wise compared to the original, at least at first glance. The relatively large protruding lens is again paired onto a similarly sized compact, bar-shaped camera body. There's not much in the way of contours or a handgrip, but it can still be operated with one hand. However, given the nice, solid heft to the camera, two hands are recommended.

The big design changes are the tilting LCD screen and the very handy built-in, pop-up EVF -- similar to the one on the RX100 IV. The pop-up EVF is a much-welcomed feature, especially when in bright, sunny conditions, and does away with the necessity of the bulky, pricey add-on EVF we saw on the original RX1. The Sony RX1R II's EVF functions very well -- more or less like the built-in EVFs of the A7-series cameras. The nice pop-up and push-down mechanism makes it very simple and convenient to use and stow the EVF quickly. The rear LCD also works nicely and resists glare somewhat, but our biggest gripe here is the lack of touch functionality.

The best compact camera around?

The Sony RX1R II takes what made the original so remarkable -- compact size, massive full-frame sensor and stunning image quality -- and takes it up to a new, even more impressive level. The image quality, at both low and high ISOs, is just as impressive, if not more so, thanks to the big resolution increase. Plus, the nifty variable low-pass filter technology adds flexibility and convenience by combining what used to require two separate cameras into one device. The autofocus system gets a major upgrade, and now the RX1R II is a much more capable camera in a wider variety of situations. And although its fixed 35mm lens and a $3,300 price tag can be a limiting factor or a big strain on the wallet -- or both -- it's nevertheless an excellent camera and a stunning feat of engineering. As our pick for the Best Enthusiast Fixed-lens Camera of 2015 in our Camera of Year Awards, there's no question that the Sony RX1R II is a solid choice for a Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Same superb fixed Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens as its predecessor
  • Excellent image quality straight out of the camera at low to moderate ISOs
  • Extremely high resolution
  • Surprisingly good high ISO performance
  • Outstanding dynamic range
  • Variable low-pass filter works well, and supports bracketing for when you don't know which setting to use
  • Built-in, pop-up high-res EVF
  • Titling LCD
  • Good autofocus speeds
  • Can autofocus in very low light
  • Incredibly low prefocused shutter lag
  • Hybrid AF supports continuous autofocus in both burst mode and movies
  • Decent 5fps burst speed for a full-frame compact
  • Improved buffer depth despite the much larger files
  • Uncompressed RAW now offered (though we wish lossless compressed was an option)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with NFC
  • Supports Sony's PlayMemories Camera Apps
  • 1080/60p video
  • High-speed video (120fps at 720p)
  • Now ships with dedicated battery charger in addition to USB charger
  • Excellent build quality
  • Fixed, single focal length lens
  • Significant corner shading wide open without shading compensation
  • Shading compensation baked into RAW files (so shoot with it disabled if you want to compensate it yourself)
  • Macro focus setting doesn't get you very close
  • 1/2000s max shutter speed at f/2, but "extended" ISO 50 helps
  • Poor battery life
  • No built-in flash
  • Not a touchscreen LCD
  • Slow buffer clearing
  • Can't access menus while buffer is clearing
  • Lousy documentation
  • Pricey (but nothing else like it on the market)
  • No image stabilization for stills
  • No 4K video


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