Sony RX1R II Field Test Part II
Sony RX1R II Field Test Part II
Performance testing: C-AF, Variable Low-Pass Filter, Video & Wi-Fi
by William Brawley | Posted 03/07/2016
A deeper look at performance and new features
In the first section of my Field Test, I mainly focused on the Sony RX1R II's design and build quality as well as its general-use performance and image quality. In this follow-up Field Test, I'll take a closer look at some of its new features, including the improved autofocus system and the variable low-pass filter. Plus, I'll test out the video capabilities and wireless connectivity, before wrapping things up with my final thoughts.
Off the street & onto the court: the RX1R II as a sports camera?
Unlike the original pair of RX1-series cameras, the new "Mark II" version features on-sensor phase-detect autofocus similar to the A7 II and A7R II cameras. This should lead to speedier autofocus, particularly with continuous AF. In fact, the original RX1 didn't have continuous AF capabilities for still images at all!
To really put the RX1R II's continuous autofocus performance to the test, I was lucky yet again to have the opportunity to photograph a Georgia State men's basketball game. The relatively dim, artificial indoor lighting, plus fast-moving subjects, made for a good way to put the camera through its paces.
Fixed 35mm lens can be a limited factor for sports shooting
Now, for starters, the Sony RX1R II is most assuredly not a "sports camera," the most obvious evidence of this being its fixed 35mm lens. For a vast majority of sporting events, you'll likely not be right up against the action, and therefore need a longer focal length to really zero-in on the action. Luckily, with basketball you can often find yourself right up under the basket, and so a wide-angle lens in this case isn't a deal-breaker.
The 35mm lens feels a little too wide for this shot. A tighter focal lens could probably worked better. However, with 42 megapixels to work with, you can certainly crop in.
|f/2, 1/1250s, ISO 2000. JPEG conversion from RAW using Capture One 9.
Click here for in-camera JPEG & RAW file.
But, 42MP images allows for room to crop!
Nevertheless, I found the 35mm f/2 lens on the RX1R II to be a little too wide for most basketball shots unless the players were battling it out right at the basket -- which can make for some pretty cool, dramatic shots, though. Still, I think something like a fast 50mm prime or a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens would be more appropriate for this, but now we're talking using a completely different camera. Thankfully, given the RX1R II's 42MP sensor, you have some leeway to crop in as needed.
Burst rate is not the quickest, but you can work around it
So, how did it perform? Surprisingly well, actually. For starters, the burst speed of the Sony RX1R II isn't particularly fast, at a maximum of 5fps. For most things, a 5fps burst with C-AF is decent, but during a high-speed basketball game with players rushing past up toward the basket, this burst rate can be a bit tricky to work with. Sometimes I'd only get about 5-6 frames shot before action was over, for instance, and all of those frames may not all be "winners," so to speak.
Phase-detect AF provides quick, accurate focus most of the time
Continuous focusing performance was quite good, though there were some hit-or-miss scenarios here and there. Providing a solid, objective assessment of continuous AF performance based on a basketball game feels rather tricky. The RX1R II was quick to acquire focus most of the time, and small focus adjustments were also fast.
On the other hand, sometimes user error, like panning poorly or failing to keep up with the pace of the player, can cause the AF point to move off your intended subject, resulting in missed, out-of-focus shots. Using the camera's "Expand Flexible Spot" AF mode, which features smaller "helper" AF points surrounding a primary point, can help maintain focus when a subject moves slightly out of alignment with your AF point. However, other times, the situation just didn't work in my favor; a group of players move apart, and I ended up focusing on the background, for example. I can't fault the camera in that situation.
f/2, 1/1250s, ISO 2500. In-camera JPEG.
There were times, however, when the camera simply did not focus as expected once I began reviewing the files. Sadly, there's no way to display the AF point location on playback (either in-camera on via desktop software), so it's difficult to tell if the camera was at fault or if I was.
In this first sequence above, the RX1R II simply did not lock-on to the subject throughout the entire burst, despite being prominently in the central region of the frame. At other times, as shown below, the camera focused only intermittently throughout a burst, providing a mix of sharp and out-of-focus images.
Overall, I felt the C-AF performance worked well. With the slower burst speeds, I often relied more on timing and snapped off a small burst of frames right at the opportune time. I found the AF was quick to catch the intended subject in focus most of the time. And while the ISO was particularly high in this indoor environment and fine detail is decreased due to noise (and NR processing for JPEGs), you can clearly see subjects are more in focus compared to the background.
Better sharpness or moiré protection? Get both with a variable LPF
One of the major innovations with the RX1R II is its variable-strength optical low-pass filter. Somewhat similar to what Ricoh does in a few of their DSLRs, like the K-3 II, the Sony RX1R II can adjust the strength of the low-pass filtering effect or disable it entirely. However, while the Pentax version simulates an OLPF by moving the sensor itself ever so slightly, the Sony version is a true optical low-pass filter with varying voltage applied to the optical materials to alter the strength of the effect.
The Sony RX1R II offers three levels of LPF adjustment: Off, Standard or "Hi," though it defaults to the "Off" setting. As with other cameras, capturing images without an optical low-pass filter can result is better fine detail resolving power, but at the risk of unsightly and difficult-to-remove moiré and aliasing artifacts. Often, when shooting things like landscapes and other natural scenes, it's fine to disable the LPF for maximum detail. However, if you're more of a fashion or architectural photographer, who photographs lots of fabrics or buildings with loads of fine, repeating patterns, these subjects can be highly susceptible to moiré issues.
I recently took the camera around midtown Atlanta, as I wanted to see just what effect the variable low-pass filter had on image detail and if the LPF does a good job at reducing or eliminating moiré if and when it happens. The variety of buildings and other man-made structures offered nice, potentially moiré-inducing subject matter.
Low-pass filter bracketing removes the guess work
One especially nice feature about the RX1R II is the Low Pass Filter Bracketing mode. Are you out shooting and can't decide which LPF strength is the optimal choice for a particular subject? No matter, as you can capture a quick burst of three frames each with a different LPF strength. You've saved yourself a lot of hassle if moiré issues do appear, but if not, you then have a sharper, more finely-detailed photo.
Moiré issues can appear, as expected, but it's not too bad
For the most part, I found the RX1R II handles moiré and aliasing rather well, even with the LPF disabled. As expected, moiré and aliasing artifacts can appear when the LPF is disabled -- and at "Standard" strength to a lesser degree -- but I often had to look closely to see evidence of artifacts. Nevertheless, the risk of moiré is there, and so for critical applications on subjects that might show these artifacts, I'd recommend enabling the LPF to at least the "Standard" strength setting -- or better yet, use bracketing!
Variable Low-Pass Filter Moiré & Aliasing Comparison
Low-Pass Filter "Standard"
Low-Pass Filter "Hi"
Low-Pass Filter "Off"
f/8, 1/250s, ISO 50.
In terms of the fine detail gained when disabling the low-pass filter, the difference is certainly visible, but only if you're looking at images near or at 100%. The RX1R II's 42MP sensor provides tons of fine detail already, but if you need that extra push of detail, then disabling the LPF completely will give you a bit more fine detail.
Nice set of video features, though lack of 4K is disappointing
The video featureset on the Sony RX1R II is quite robust, and altogether very similar to the features of the A7-series cameras, with the big exception of 4K video support. The RX1R II's video resolutions top-out at 1080p, though it does support up to 60fps at full HD. The 60p option is great if you want to shoot any kind of fast action, sports or other quick-moving subjects, as it provides nice, smooth motion on playback and can be slowed down in post-production for better-looking slow-mo.
For even better results at slow-motion video, the RX1R II offers 120fps video, but the resolution dips to 720p. If you're okay with the reduction in pixels, the results are even more pleasing with crisper, smoother slow-motion video.
The RX1R II offers a variety of video formats, as well. Alongside the high-quality 50Mbps XAVC S format, there are also AVCHD and mobile-friendly H.264 MP4 options. Confusingly, the Sony menus do not indicate what video resolution matches to a particular framerate when in XAVC or AVCHD mode, which seems rather odd since resolutions are listed clearly for MP4 mode. I had forgotten that XAVC S 120fps video was only 720p and was rather surprised to find a batch of smaller-resolution videos together with the other 1080p ones.
Video quality looks very nice, with lots of fine detail using XAVC S-format video. Shooting mostly during mid-day sun, I was pleased to see good dynamic range performance as well, with nice detail in the shadows and decent control of the highlights. Continuous AF in video functions quite well, though it seems to lag and struggle on low-contrast subjects or in low lighting conditions. Most of the time, it works well, with nice, smooth transitions between different subjects and no hunting or wobbling. The camera provides manual focusing as well for video with optional focus peaking and magnification.
Sony RX1R II Sample Video #1
1920 x 1080, 60p, XAVC S, 50Mbps
Download Original (108.1MB MP4)
Handy "Dual Record" feature is like RAW+JPEG for video
Like other recent Sony cameras, the RX1R II also offers a neat Dual Record function, that lets you record the same video in two different file formats. In a way similar to RAW+JPEG for stills, you can record video in the high-bitrate XAVC S format to save for later editing or simply to preserve a higher quality file, and then also have a lower resolution H.264 MP4 file for easier, quicker social sharing and viewing on mobile devices. There's a few limitations to this Dual Record mode, however. Firstly, the function is disabled for XAVC S at 60fps, and then there's no configuration for resolution or frame rate for the smaller "side-car" MP4 files -- it's 720/30p only. Still, it's a rather handy feature, especially if you plan to share lots of videos via mobile devices.
Sony RX1R II Sample Video #2
1920 x 1080, 60p, XAVC S, 50Mbps
Download Original (161.4MB MP4)
Wi-Fi works, but be sure to update the in-camera app
The Sony RX1R II, like many of Sony's recent cameras, all share a rather similar array of wireless connectivity features. Utilizing built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, both iOS and Android devices can play nicely with the RX1R II and wirelessly transfer media and remotely trigger the camera for hands-free shooting.
I'm an iOS guy, so I couldn't make use of the quick and easy NFC pairing feature, but as with most other Wi-Fi-capable cameras, the RX1R II can act as its own hotspot, to which you then connect your smart device. The process was very straightforward and getting up and running took only a few moments, though my iPhone 6S sometimes took quite a while to "see" the camera's Wi-Fi network.
Out-of-the-box wireless features are sparse
Out of the box, I was a little disappointed in the featureset of the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app. Transferring media worked well -- no surprises there really. For videos, you can only view XAVC S files via the app; no transferring. However, there's no viewing or transferring of AVCHD video files with the app. The smaller H.264 MP4 videos can be transferred, however.
What did surprise me, though, was the remote control features, which were severely lacking, at least initially. All I could do was trigger the shutter release and adjust exposure compensation (which interestingly allows for +/-5EVs of adjustment rather the +/-3EVs of the RX1R II's physical EC dial). Thankfully, Sony updated the remote control features a lot since the release of the RX1R II, adding much-needed functionality, such as tap-to-focus, touch shutter and full exposure adjustments. However, rather than updating the phone app to bring new remote features, you instead need to update the companion "Smart Remote Control" software that runs on the camera itself.
In-camera "app store" is frustrating to use. Better to update & purchase apps via a PC
The RX1R II, like other recent Sony cameras, features it's own in-camera "app store," which let's you download and install additional apps to expand the functionality of the camera. You can also download (and in some cases, purchase) these apps on a computer and install them via USB onto the camera. However, going the in-camera route is slow and time-consuming, I found.
First, you must make a Sony PlayMemories account on a computer, then go back to the camera and one-by-one enter your email and password letter by letter using the 4-way control wheel. Yuck. Plus, even if I wasn't planning on buying extra apps (like the $9.99 Star Trails app) or installing any of the free apps, you still need a Sony account and login to install updates to the preexisting Smart Remote Control app. (Again, you could opt to download the updated app via a computer and transfer them to the camera.) However, all said and done, once the Smart Remote Control app was updated, the wireless functionality was much more robust.
Wireless performance can be sluggish, but usable range is nice
Operation-wise, the wireless system worked pretty well. My main gripe was that the live view display in the app had a tendency to lag every now and then -- even with the phone right next to the camera. There was also a noticeable delay when tapping the screen to set the focus point, although the delay wasn't too bad to the point of frustration. The range of the wireless connectivity was pretty good, too. I was able to get about 30 feet way, even indoors and through a couple walls, before the connection finally dropped.
You can also adjust a number of settings and dials on the camera itself without interrupting the wireless connection, which is nice. You have a limited subset of in-camera menu options while the Smart Remote Control app is up and running -- you don't have access to the full in-camera menu system. Nevertheless, despite a few downsides and hurdles to overcome, wireless functionality worked rather well. Just be sure to update the in-camera Smart Remote Control before heading out.
Summary: Expensive, yes, but is it the ultimate compact camera?
All in all, the Sony RX1R II is a stunning camera, plain and simple. The original RX1 was an impressive feat of engineering to get such a large sensored camera down to such a small physical size. The image quality produced from that original camera was amazing, and now the new RX1R II takes a big leap forward. The 42MP sensor produces fantastic images, even at very high ISOs. Plus, the innovative variable low-pass filter combines two cameras in one: one for ultimate resolution and one that protects you from unsightly artifacts. And finally, the built-in EVF and tilting LCD add much-welcomed convenience and flexibility in varying shooting conditions.
There are a few compromises and downsides, the main one that I experienced being the lackluster battery life. The RX1R II is such a powerful camera with such a high resolution sensor that the compact-camera-sized battery pack struggles to provide a lot of juice for extended shooting periods. Luckily, the batteries are relatively inexpensive and small, so you can carry a lot of them. Also, depending on your shooting style and subject matter, the fixed 35mm lens can feel a bit limiting. However, for travel photography, street photography and a wide range of general-use applications, the Sony RX1R II is perhaps the ultimate compact camera.