Friday, September 13, 2013

Sony Cybershot RX100 M II - Full Review

Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review
August 2013, Carl Garrard
Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review- Sony's Cybershot RX100II (mark II) camera adds some upgrades (minor or major depending on their value to you) to the RX100 and sells for about $100.00 more than the RX100 at introductory resale prices. For those that have lived under a rock, it sports a 1" size 20mp BSI CMOS sensor, a 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 Vario-Sonnar branded Zeiss lens (bye bye Carl...) w/auto lens cover, tilting LCD, multi-interface hot shoe, add on grip option, user customizable front control ring, all metal case, near field wi-fi, full video compliment, and much more. Take a look at what I think of the second version of this camera.


  

Best RX100 II Instant Price Check
Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review: Quick Cybershot History

Sony's Cybershot division used to be the only still imaging division under it's umbrella, and had quite a good run making cameras of all types to appeal to a wide ranging audience. Cybershot did quite well as the #1 overall selling brand of digital cameras at one point. That all changed in 2006 when Sony bought Minolta and dropped all the enthusiast level cameras from production- suddenly and abruptly there were no more enthusiast cameras being churned out from that division. Gone were the (glory) days of the S, F, and V series Cybershots. But, Sony at least recently managed to revive the R designation  with the introduction of the RX100 and RX1 last year, and now the RX1R and of course the RX100 MII.

The Cybershot division of yesteryear made some cameras that still today get cheers from photographers that use them, despite some being nearly a decade or older. Some honorable mentions are the Sony F7XX and F828 cameras, the Sony V3, and Sony R1. All of them still appeal to me today because they have raw capability, and some have laser af assist and infrared modes that have been long dropped from the lineup (bring them back I say!) that no cameras have today, making them very unique.

Today Cybershot still makes many cameras and seems to be trying to entice the enthusiast back to its domain. What, no raw capability? Haha, we were just kidding- for 6 years. Enter the new R series cameras which seem to be all about packing the largest sensor in the smallest of bodies. Those bodies are loaded with features both video and stills, and also command a premium price. What do you get for your money? Let's take a peak!  Best RX100 II Instant Price Check


Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review: First Observations

This section merely points out items or features that I noticed about the camera right away. These are items I noticed while going through my normal motions of getting used to a camrera so that I can know it well enough to shoot with, and thus write a review. No opinion is made in this section one  way or the other about the following- my opinion will follow later.



  • No CD supplied for software (free online to download it)
  • No full printed manual (free online to download it)
  • Machined build quality, all metal
  • Finish is slick- this camera really needs a grip
  • Pop up flash can be pulled back to bounce
  • AF illuminator lamp included
  • Macro only available on wide end
  • Step zoom feature available in menu
  • Hotshoe fits my GV-2 28mm wide optical finder
  • Lens takes up a lot of real estate on the front
  • Built in lens cover
  • Well tensioned precision dials and controls


Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review: Handling the RX100 II

This section of the review is a freelance commentary on the handling of the RX100 II.  Best RX100 II Instant Price Check

One of my favorite settings on the RX100 II is the DMF focus mode, also called Direct Manual Focus. In this mode the RX100 II will autofocus then allow fine tuning manually with the front ring. If you turn on focus peaking, you can see the colored contrast lines during autofocusing and manual focusing alike. This gives you a fast and accurate account of what is focused in the image. It's brilliant to use it this way, well implemented, and most of all easy to see.  I preferred to shoot with this focusing method more than any that you can choose.



The RX100 II really needs a grip to enjoy shooting with it the most. The Sony optional grip shouldn't really be optional, it should be included on the body from the factory. That small grip doesn't add anything to the bulk or weight that is noticeable in the least, so the lack of one has to be a sales decision and not a designers decision. Sales get your hands off the camera designs, and stop worrying so much about how a camera looks. In fact, I think the RX100 II looks better with a grip- if looks are that important to you.

RX100 with a grip, see, looks nice right? And its much better to shoot with in this configuration

With a grip, the RX100 II is light years more practical (and fun) to shoot with, and it adds a serious look to the camera that attracts enthusiasts as well. Without the grip, the RX100 II gets a big knock down in a score for me because it's weight lends to two handed shooting more than I'd prefer with a "pocket camera".  A pocket camera should be able to be held one handed very confidently in many shooting positions and for very long period of time.

Sony's cost to produce the grip (plastic and rubber)? Probably less than a dollar, but it sells for about $20.00 on Sony's website, Amazon, etc.  Sony, get a grip.

Menu System Notes 

Best RX100 II Instant Price Check

I used to break down the Menu System into a separate category in my reviews, but these days I find that it's just as pertinent to discuss it within the handling parameters because its something I have to use quite often. A good or bad menu system to me is different than good or bad button placement, grip or no grip, weight of the camera etc. At the end of the day a menu system can make or break the experience of a camera.

So how does the RX100 II do in this area? Actually quite good. Because the RX100 II has a Sony Alpha DSLR/SLT style menu system, it's very logical and quick to navigate. It's got two sides to its use, one is an interactive wheel of fortune style menu for normal every day shooting modes like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance... etc. It's a bit over fancied, but it's relatively quick and gets the job done. This style menu system was first seen on Sony's last DSLR's the Sony A560 and A580, and has been fine tuned a bit since.



The second part of its menu system is the main menu. It's a tabbed style menu system with easy to read orange lettering and a black background. It will let you carry over to the next page going up or down or left or right and has a "menu resume" choice that remembers where you were the last time you were in the menu. This system is ideal. It's fast, easy to remember when you don't remember, and should be the defacto menu system on ALL of Sony's cameras. And it even has a memory recall function, just like the Alpha DSLR/SLT cameras that will remember almost all of your current adjustments for future use.





Cybershot gets it. Smart decision, and a big bonus to the camera design for me. Had the RX100/II cameras used the NEX style menu system I'd never spent the time to review them. It's horrendous and Sony's stubborn insistence to keep it in NEX cameras is even more laudable. Thank goodness the Cybershot division has it's wits about it. They even managed to put in my favorite "new" feature, zoom memory. This feature will automatically zoom to a popular focal length and stop, in steps. Ricoh pioneered this feature, but it took years for other companies to get on board. Welcome aboard the SSS-Focal length I say. Better late than never.






Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review: Image Quality

This section details the image quality found from Jpeg and Raw shooting.  Best RX100 II Instant Price Check

Raw Image Quality

Sensor wise, the image quality really stands out amongst compacts, every ISO setting is useable. DXOMark while a very valuable resource doesn't always tell the full story on image quality, for example... high ISO.

There may be noise measurements there in the testing, but banding, color blotching, etc. aren't mentioned in the score. To me a camera's high ISO score should be increased or decreased based on how much or little banding or color bleeding are in the raw files at a given ISO- because those traits highly affect a given ISO's useability. 


Amazing DR at base ISO, shadows hold detail well and aren't riddled with excessive noise (DSLR quality IQ here)

Explanation: I don't care for example, if one camera has a higher ISO score than another if it exhibits banding or color tearing in a given ISO compared to a competing camera at the same ISO that doesn't exhibit banding or color tearing- and has useable files. The one with the lower score that is clear from banding and color tearing w/useable files is the one most useable and in my opinion deserves the higher score. Period. Banding and color tearing often ruin files, and when I've used cameras that do that, I just avoid those ISO's period. If an ISO setting isn't useable, what good is it?

In this regard the RX100 II beats out EVERY m4/3 camera I've used (bar the EM5), and many DSLR's I've used from all brands, in how the RX100 II handles image quality in the higher ISO's. It's simply stunning and I'd not hesitate to use all ISO's because there is no banding, and color bleeding is kept to an absolute bare minimum. Considering this is a pretty packed sensor and smaller than m4/3 sensors, this is a highly impressive feat. Now lets look at the ISO test here and take a look at the sensor/grain quality.


ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400


ISO 12800 (a little color shift)

Noise grain in raw files is simply wonderful, and the RX100 II keep the dynamic range above 9 full stops even at ISO 1600- and it really shows. Marvelous!  Best RX100 II Instant Price Check Pretty impressive image quality no matter how you look at it from the RX100 II. Even color shift (blue hue) is kept to a bare minimum which also helps preserve the usability of your files. Many DSLRS suffer from this above 6400 ISO as well, so you get the point?

Jpeg Image Quality

On the other side of the coin is the Jpeg image quality. Sony just can't keep noise reduction out of their Jpegs to save their life. And subsequently, the 20mp of resolution you are paying for gets invaded and degraded for every image you shoot. Since most people shoot Jpeg only (surprisingly even many enthusiasts do), I find this to be sheer robbery.

 In order to get the full resolution potential of the RX100 II Sony is effectively telling you (not giving you the choice), to shoot Raw and process from Raw. Forget all those cool art filters, HDR settings, MFNR ISO settings too, because you can't turn off noise reduction for any of them.  A simple choice, allowing the user to turn off noise reduction completely, and at will, is the only way to effectively make good looking detailed Jpeg files.

Period.


So even with the "NR" setting turned to low (which by the way Sony calls Hi ISO NR) images are robbed of fine detail at every ISO setting, not just above 1600 ISO as they claim, to the point of effectively making Raw the only option for large prints, or crops, or whatever. Yes, you can make a pretty image using Jpegs, but why should you not have the choice to use all of the resolution you paid for? To be fair, Sony isn't the only manufacturer doing it. However the manufacturers that don't use NR on Jpegs or, at least let you turn it off... you can bet amateurs, enthusiasts, and pro's alike appreciate the most. 

It all adds up on camera designs, and IQ is a big one, isn't it?


ISO 1600 Jpeg, zoom in, look at the detail lost in the flower

That said, I'm sure you've figured out by now that I'm not happy with the Jpeg output. It's not the worst I've seen but for a near $800.00 camera it's simply intolerable to me. Sony are trying to court serious shooters by doing pulling an amateur move. Not smart.
 


Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review: Conclusion

Best RX100 II Instant Price Check


Overall the RX100II is a camera that I enjoyed shooting with for the most part. Two simple changes in design would have made me love it to death- including a grip on the front (optional or fixed) and a choice for allowing a true NR off for all ISO settings. If Sony allowed simultaneous raw shooting for all of its fun modes like Auto HDR, the MFNR  ISO settings, and art filters- I'd be beside myself about this camera. So while the RX100 II does indeed address many of my criticisms of the RX100, it still has a couple areas it can and should definitely improve. Perhaps the RX200 will. There are other nitpicks I have but they are minor in comparison to the two big ones above.

That said, the best experience with the RX100 II is developing it's raw files. This camera truly has a seriously nice sensor that is useable at nearly every single ISO setting in almost any shooting circumstance. It doesn't exhibit any nasty banding at all, or color tearing in almost all ISO settings. Using raw files is simply the only way to go if you really want to get the full potential out of the RX100 II.

Once you add a grip to it, get used to it, its combination of a decent lens and zoom range, good menu systems, flip screen, and decent level of customization options and feature set makes this camera quite a good one. The price? If you factor in heavily the image quality coming from raw files from the sensor, it's probably worth it. If you shoot Jpeg only, you're wasting your money for the most part.

As always, be safe, and happy shooting.

-Carl Garrard

Check it out:  Best RX100 II Instant Price Check



Sony Cybershot RX100 M II Review: Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages
  • Best sensor in a compact I've used to date (and better than many older DSLRS)
  • Raw files exhibit no bad traits at all ISO levels (no banding or bad color tearing)
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Lots of detail and resolution in raw files (at sharpest apertures)
  • Jpegs show good color and dynamic range *
  • Jpegs look best using auto HDR
  • Well built
  • Compact **
  • Good menu system overall
  • Good LCD screen w/flip options/fits nicely to body (almost cant tell its a flip screen)
  • Optional EVF/hot shoe for optical finders
  • Step Zoom feature
  • Focus peaking feature
  • Auto HDR feature
  • Hi Contrast B/W mode very nice
  • Decent level of customization
  • Comfortable if you add the optional grip
  • Flash can be pulled back to act as a small bounce flash

Disadvantages

  • Jpeg engine inadequate for a 10mp sensor, let alone a 20mp sensor (detail wise)- NR intrusive even on lowest settings *
  • Optics don't live up to Zeiss reputation (however, useable) from f1.8-f2.8
  • Macro capability very limited on wide end only (not even a focus type option)
  • Cannot use art effects, HDR etc. when shooting raw
  • FN button doesn't have AEL lock option (HUH?)
  • Slippery to hold unless you purchase the optional grip
  • Pretty heavy for a pocket camera (although compact) **
  • Needs a manual release switch for its flash
  • Access doors for HDMI and Multi ports fiddly and cheap
  • Digital level and Histogram cannot be simultaneously displayed on one screen

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

good review- fair analysis and good break down

sony should just keep updating the camera with improvements to its weaknesses and keep its strong suits

I've used this camera and agree with your assessment

Alpha Rob

September 15, 2013 at 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup, the grip issue is highly annoying as its price and handling improvement demand it.I use this camera after using its predecessor, for everything and the results easily mirror my friends D800..the video is perfectly acceptable with really good colors. Not entirely happy with the design of the screens hinge mechanism, if you just pull it out from the bottom the top gets caught on a ledge, there are better designs...Sometimes you really wonder how they get the testing done as the items we have mentioned are just so dam obvious, even to someone who has never handled a camera before..otherwise its exceptional 4.5 out of 5

September 18, 2013 at 6:04 AM  
Anonymous Lightime81 said...

I like this review. Already have the camera and I feel compelled to read more reviews, mostly to glean potential tips.

Curious about your statement that the hot shoe allows placement of your Ricoh GV2 viewfinder. This would be as an approximate reference only when shooting at 28mm on the RX, correct? Or am I missing something? If so, I bet a lot of folks on DP Review will be buying one!

Best,
Steve

September 19, 2013 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Thanks Steve!

The viewfinder has marks for the 28mm field of view in 3:2 format, so its just right on the wide end :) It's super small, well built, super bright, and has a huge view. It's excellent!

September 19, 2013 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Yael said...

Hi Carl!
I recently obtained an RX100 reconditioned. Have you found significant differences between the Image Quality of the RX100 and the RX100 II? So far as I can tell, they have the same sensor. Wouldn't that mean the same image quality (perhaps save the firmware?)?

Thanks,
Yael

June 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Significant? No, subtle- maybe :). I quit believing most press releases years ago. Testing tells all and manufacturers usually over claim ;).

C

June 19, 2014 at 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Carl. Its nice to a very balanced review that calls it as it is - there's too many Rx100 (fanboy) jump on the bandwagon praises abound.
I would really like you to review the Canon G7x since it must be one of the hottest compact camera debates of 2014 ( G7x vs Rx100Mk3)

December 4, 2014 at 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Carl. Its nice to a very balanced review that calls it as it is - there's too many Rx100 (fanboy) jump on the bandwagon praises abound.
I would really like you to review the Canon G7x since it must be one of the hottest compact camera debates of 2014 ( G7x vs Rx100Mk3)

December 4, 2014 at 8:03 PM  

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