Sony RX10 II Conclusion
Sony RX10 II Conclusion
by Mike Tomkins
2013's Sony RX10 was a camera that went unrivaled, a fact due in no small part to the fact that it had no direct rivals. The closest alternatives were a long-zoom whose image quality was crippled by its smaller sensor size, or an interchangeable-lens camera which couldn't compete on size and weight -- at least not if you wanted the same focal length range and bright f/2.8 constant aperture.
But time has moved on, and two years later that is no longer the case. Where the original RX10 launched into a market of its own creation, the Sony RX10 II must now do battle with cameras from both Panasonic and Canon.
There's no question about it: The Sony RX10 II is an even better camera than ever before. The same great body, lens, and resolution are retained, but 2015's model focuses faster, shoots faster for longer, has an even more enjoyable viewfinder and -- for those who favor using that finder -- even boasts just slightly better battery life.
And then there is its Wi-Fi wireless communication capability, far and away the most intuitive I've ever seen -- at least if you're an Android user. (And if you're not, well you only have Apple to blame for refusing to allow a similarly-slick experience on the iOS platform.)
Nor is that all. With the RX10 II, Sony catches up with its rivals by offering in-camera 4K video capture, and then takes things to the next level with really fun (and frankly, useful) slow-motion capture capabilities. Sure, the camera upsamples these to Full HD post-capture and I'd really rather that it didn't, but even prior to upsampling the resolution of its high frame-rate video is far beyond anything seen in consumer cameras before.
With all of that said, there are still some flies in the ointment. While image quality has improved since the original RX10, arguably the Panasonic FZ1000 still has a slight edge in this area. The rear control dial is also still unnecessary small and has an unsatisfying feel.
And while the bright constant aperture of the Sony RX10 II's lens is really great, that lens can't pull subjects up close from as far away as can those of its direct rivals. Nor are versatile features like a tilt/swivel LCD or touch control included in the RX10 II's design, which is something of a shame. Instead, there's a tilt-only screen which can bind up on tripod mounts, can't be used for selfies, and doesn't help when shooting over your head in portrait orientation.
But the real elephant in the room is the list price, a whopping US$1,300. This hasn't come down even slightly since the launch of the original RX10 two years ago, and nor have I yet seen the Sony RX10 II selling for more than a few dollars below list. (As of this writing in late September 2015, that is.)
By contrast, the Canon G3X lists for US$1,000, saving you several hundred dollars that could instead be spent on an external strobe, batteries, flash cards and other accessories, or on transporting yourself and your new camera to some cool locations at which to shoot great photos.
And the margin to the Panasonic FZ1000 is even greater. Even at its US$900 list price you'll save a full 30% of the cash you'd have proffered for the RX10 II. And with street prices for the FZ1000 now sometimes reaching as low as $750, you're very close indeed to being able to buy two of Panasonic's cameras for the price of a single RX10 II. That's a pretty big ask.
Of course, an argument can be made that Sony's price would have dropped were RX10 IIs not flying off the shelf even at their current, rather stiff price. But it's not easy to recommend a camera when you can get another which can do most of the same things -- and with as good or better image quality -- for half as much cash.
Of course, therein lies the rub: I did say most of the same things. There are some features the Panasonic FZ1000 simply can't give you. It lacks any way to monitor audio levels, for example, and has no built-in neutral density filter to help you blur backgrounds and motion. And if you're a raw shooter, the RX10 II's greater buffer depth will also be very welcome.
Not to mention the Sony's oh-so-cool high frame rate capability, which is unique among long-zoom cameras of this writing. Sure, you can also get that in the more affordable and pocket-friendly RX100 IV, but the RX10 II's far more powerful lens makes it a much more useful tool.
If those features don't matter to you, there's really no reason to hesitate. Go ahead and read our Panasonic FZ1000 review right now, and have your wallet ready: You're going to want one.
But if they do matter -- and for many of you they will -- then it seems that the RX10 II is still the cream of the crop. And for that, you'll certainly pay a premium, but a worthwhile one I think. Brace yourself, put thoughts of the bank manager from your mind and click that buy button: This is one heck of a camera, and you're really not going to regret it.
But what of our Dave's Pick award? I hemmed and hawed a little over this, I must admit. But despite reservations over that pricetag, I have to look at this camera for what it is, what it can do, and in particular its completely unique capabilities, of which high frame-rate video is key. And when I think about those, there can really be no question: The Sony RX10 II is very clearly worthy of a Dave's Pick, and that hallowed spot in your camera bag!
Pros & Cons
- Excellent image quality at low to moderate ISOs, very similar to the RX10
- Very good detail levels for a fixed-lens, long-zoom camera
- Prints to an impressive 24 x 36 inches, or perhaps even 30 x 40 inches in a pinch
- Excellent dynamic range for 1"-type sensor
- Very good high ISO performance for its class
- Even at maximum ISO can yield a usable 4 x 6-inch print
- Good long-exposure image quality, too
- Accurate exposure metering
- Pleasing colors are for the most part true-to-life
- Even better results can be had from raw files
- Noise reduction becomes obtrusive at higher sensitivities
- Default colors somewhat muted compared to most cameras
- Yellows are undersaturated and shifted toward green
- Occasional aliasing artifacts with some subjects
- Uncorrected raw files show high distortion and high chromatic aberration at wide angle (that's not unusual in this class of camera, though)
- Very fast autofocus, about 30% faster than its predecessor
- Extremely low prefocused shutter lag
- Really fast electronic shutter
- Very good cycle times
- Very fast 14 fps JPEG burst mode
- Fast 8 fps burst mode for raw files
- Generous buffer depths
- Buffer clearing is slower than typical
- Performance is degraded slightly if you shoot in raw format
- 4K video capture has excellent image quality
- 4K is useful even if you plan to output at lower resolution (potential for cropping, stabilizing or just increasing image quality by downsampling post-capture)
- High-quality XAVC S recording for 4K
- XAVC S is also available for Full HD capture
- Superb, relatively high-res and very fun high frame rate / slow motion video capture from 4x to 40x
- High frame-rate video allows shutter to either start capture, or pre-buffer and then stop capture at the decisive moment
- Can shoot high-res 16.8-megapixel stills during HD capture at 60p or slower
- External microphone jack for better audio; can also use proprietary Sony mics on the Multi-Interface Shoe
- External headset jack for audio levels monitoring
- High frame-rate video is limited to two or four-second capture (but honestly, this should really be a positive; longer clips are likely to prove very boring in slow-motion)
- Upsamples high frame-rate video to 1080p instead of recording at actual resolution, wasting time and battery and potentially missing shots
- High frame-rate mode locks down all camera functions, even the zoom lens, once the mode is activated and ready to record
- User interface for high frame-rate mode could use some work to simplify and improve ease-of-use
- Superb build quality
- Predominantly very good ergonomics
- Excellent electronic viewfinder with high resolution and accurate coverage
- Really intuitive Wi-Fi wireless transfer for Android (but not for iOS, since Apple won't allow similar functionality)
- Wi-Fi transfers are impressively swift
- Auto-tagging function can be a nice time-saver
- Feature-rich wireless live view and remote control
- Face detection with eye autofocus function
- DRO and HDR functions help balance difficult exposures
- Decent battery life (and better than before for viewfinder shooting)
- Camera functionality can be extended with downloadable PlayMemories Camera Apps
- Very expensive compared to its nearest rivals
- No tilt/swivel for LCD monitor, only tilting (so no good for selfies or portrait-orientation shots over your head)
- No touch-screen control, either
- Rear control dial is too small and has poor feel with little feedback
- Menus aren't always logically grouped
- Auto-tagging doesn't work on all social networks, and a tag you didn't ask for (#PlayMemoriesMobile) is always added if you've chosen at least one other tag
- Movie transfer via Wi-Fi is limited
- PlayMemories Camera Apps have their own siloed menu systems which often mirror settings from other modes, but ignore their most recent values
- Many apps are payware, and often surprisingly expensive compared to much more complex smartphone apps
- Very versatile 24 to 200mm-equivalent zoom range
- Bright and constant f/2.8 maximum aperture
- Excellent optical performance for its type
- Good macro performance at wide or telephoto
- Fairly low levels of chromatic aberration across the zoom range
- Only mild vignetting
- Corners can be a bit soft wide-open, especially at telephoto
- Good flash range from built-in strobe
- Hot shoe for external strobes
- Somewhat narrow and vertically uneven coverage from built in strobe at wide-angle
- Hot shoe is proprietary to Sony