The lure of the Sony RX10.2. It's the opposite of full frame but that doesn't mean it lacks its own compelling sales pitch.

I shot the image just above on the way back from an assignment on a ranch, just outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, last year. I'd been hired by a "shelter" magazine to document the house of a collector whose specialty is early Americana. Her house was filled with art, furniture, and utensils that dated back to the earliest days of our country's massive European immigration.

I took other, statistically more capable cameras on the assignment and I only brought along the original Sony RX10 with me because it was still a novelty camera in my collection. I hadn't really put it through any sort of exhausting "break-in" ritual; but I was up to speed on the menus and settings, the features and foibles.

When I got to the house I'd be working in I noticed that the light coming through the windows was very good. Most frames just needed a nudge of additional light to open up shadows and clean up crossed color casts. For some capricious reason I put the RX10 on a tripod and lined up a shot on the rear screen. I shot it and it was pretty good. Then I clicked in the DRO settings that increase apparent dynamic range and the shot looked fantastic. At ISO 80 and 100 the shots were noise free and wonderfully saturated. While I intended to bring out the "big guns" and shoot the rest of the assignment with "real cameras" (meaning full frame or at least micro four thirds) when Iooked up from the screen, after the last of many, many shots, I realized that I had just completed my first full assignment with the smallest sensor camera in my inventory. And one with a fixed zoom lens at that.

I was a bit nervous as I drove back to Austin. I'd been shooting for this particular shelter magazine since 1981 and in the past I had delivered images to them on four by five inch, transparency film and then on Hasselblad, medium format color transparencies. Even as late as 2004 I was delivering large format (fueled by a short re-engagement with big film) before I regained my senses and realized the sheer time and film costs involved. To shoot this interior architectural assignment on a "bridge" camera seemed ---- one bridge too far.

I was ruminating about this when I spied the field of red flowers just off Highway 290, between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Texas. I grabbed my baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and I grabbed the little Sony and went out to grab a few fun shots. Over time, this has evolved to become one of my favorite central Texas landscape photographs. At least, one of the favorite images taken by me.

While I had other good adventures with the camera it was removed from inventory during one of the never ending purges in which I try to rationalize my equipment into smaller and smaller circles of confusion. Fewer menus, fewer options = less user error; that's the theory, at any rate.  When the smoke cleared this year I woke up one day with no small, play cameras. Just the serious big cameras and the serious smaller cameras. The two Nikon full frame cameras and the very professional Olympus EM5.2 cameras. I will say that a stripped down Olympus OMD camera can masquerade pretty effectively as a "fun" and whimsical camera but there is still something about the IDEA of having an all-in-one machine that can make great, high res images, kick out remarkably good video and do it all without me having to make a single lens choice. I get the trade offs in visual style and high ISO capability in comparison with something like the Nikon D750 but there are always those scenarios that play around in my head were the knapsack with the combo-cam and a neoprene bag full of batteries is delightfully seductive...

I had effectively fought off the siren call of the ├╝ber all-in-one camera until I made the mistake of agreeing to meet a friend for lunch. I had been forewarned; I knew he intended to bring his latest purchase. I knew he meant to come sporting the new iteration of the Sony; the RX10 type 2.

At the outset I'll say that part of the subliminal attraction of the camera is the fact that it is externally almost identical to its ancestor. To me this means that the engineers and the market agreed that this design was as nearly perfect as it should be. Why wouldn't it be? There would be a move to change it if not. The difference is, of course, in the guts.

I handled the camera and put it to my eye. I'd forgotten what a nice job Sony had done on the EVF finder. It's not truly transparent, but damn close for the money. I remember using the camera almost exclusively with the eye-level finder, using the rear screen only when using the camera on a tripod at some squirrelly angle or altitude. I grudgingly remembered the utility and addictive ease of having a long zoom (24-200mm equiv.) at my fingertips.

Then I started diving into the menus and playing with the video. The camera's implied selling point is its 4K (UHD) video which is very well done and makes very nice imaging. Another selling point is the ability to run the camera at higher frame per second rates to yield fun slow motion. In practice the 120 fps (most usable without calling attention to itself in a leisure suit sort of way) is fun but it operates in bursts of about 8 seconds which makes it less useful for most traditional slow motion work. The real value of all this video power is the fact that using the camera at 4K and downsampling to 1080 makes for wonderfully detailed images that work now, in the real world.

When one considers this camera one must also consider the downsides. You'll be charging batteries as an ongoing hobby. At all but the longest focal lengths you'll be getting ample (more, more, more) depth of field than most people might want in this age of edgy slivers of sharp focus. And the zoom is a bit slow in operation.

But the flip side is the fantasy of traveling around the world with only one camera in your hands (and, of course, the identical back-up camera in your camera bag or backpack. The rich part of the fantasy is that the camera's actual performance leaves bigger cameras we were using just a few years ago moaning in the dust. The 20 megapixel sensor is part and parcel of the new Sony Supremacy. Rich saturation, low noise and market leading dynamic range. It's a lovely mix. If you shoot this camera the way I like to shoot you'll be working at the lowest ISO ranges and taking advantage of the well implemented in body image stabilization to get convincingly good files.

Do I want one? Now that I've actually handled on in person, a resounding yes! Am I going to run out and buy one? Hmmm. We'll see.

Here's my current rationalization: I have two big event jobs coming up. One at the end of this month and the next in the third week of October. Both are for clients I've worked with for years. Both need images almost exclusively for their websites and for presentations in PowerPoint and in video programming. It's basically faux journalism but it takes place in the well lit, climate controlled environs that our corporate types enjoy. Most of the speakers and panels will be well illuminated with stage lighting, etc. How delicious it would be to show up with just one camera, lens already permanently selected, and to shoot the entire show that way. No camera bag over the shoulder, just a pocketful of batteries and memory cards.

There are a couple of flies in the ointment. I think I might get tired of the deep focus compared to the full frame cameras or even the more narrow field of focus I can get with fast lenses on the OMD cameras. While I know the noise beats the pants off cameras like the Nikon D200's and D300's, Canon 7D's, and Olympus E-3's and E-5's I've used for shows like these in the past, the new Nikons and the new Oly cameras are bound to be much better.

If you have too much time on your hands and too many choices it's so easy for your brain to turn against you and start fomenting new plans; even though they may not be in your own best interests. Smart money says, "stick with what you have and use it well..." but the brain is always trying to fill in what should be calm moments between assignments with more excitement and adventure. The hard cost is to your wallet. The second cost is that plunge back into multiple menu hell. The long term damage comes, inevitably, from the hubris of trying to wedge all these "square cameras" into the round holes of assignments --- just to prove that you can do it. It's a sucker's bet.

But that's never stopped me before.


Cpt Kent said...

Sales pitch, to help with your upcoming assignments:



Over to you...

Unknown said...

I just bought an RX10 ii to use as a light and easy to carry travel and backpacking camera. I just don't enjoy carrying around ten to twenty pound bag full of equipment any more. As a video camera, I have been very pleased with the quality of the 4K files and I love the range of the lens. I don't color grad, but it is nice to know that if I decide to in the future, using log files is an option. I was surprised with the quality of the photos I have taken with the RX10 ii - I primarily shoot full-frame cameras. It is not cheap, but given its capability and usefulness to me, I'm very pleased with my purchase. Being a Sony I bet the price with drop by $200 in the next six months if someone wants to wait for a better price, but I'm glad I'm using and enjoying it now!

Dave said...

My po boy budget dictated the RX100 IV (used for less than $800). Small enough to fit into a pants pocket though people will ask if you are happy to see them.

Between the Rx10 v1 and the RX100 I'd have zero hesitation about traveling and getting about anything I needed photo or video wise.

amolitor said...

I like the way you review. You're not carrying water for anyone, you're just helplessly in love with gear. And that's cool.

Craig Yuill said...

I posted a response to a question on an online video forum. I suggested the Olympus E-M5 II and Sony RX10.2 might be good stills/video cameras to consider. What intrigues me about the E-M5 II is how good the image stabilization is when handheld. How would the RX10.2 do compared to the E-M5 II?

Richard Jones said...


You wrote:
"I grudgingly remembered the utility and addictive ease of having a long zoom (24-200mm equiv.) at my fingertips."

Each morning I welcome the new day with gratitude for my long zoom camera (Panasonic FZ1000 -- 25-400mm)! I am sooooo happy not to have to carry a bag of lenses when engaged in my primary photographic interest: nature photography.

You mentioned you " might get tired of the deep focus compared to the full frame cameras or even the more narrow field of focus I can get with fast lenses on the OMD cameras."

In my nature photography I find it possible to control DOF with judicious use of working distance and subject to background distance to make up for the limitations of a smaller sensor (same 20 mpx sensor as the Sony):

Butterfly Photograph

Deer Photograph

While I still use my m4/3 system for various situations, the long zoom camera is all I take on nature photography outings.


Richard Jones

Anonymous said...

"After having shot with the Nikon D810 for a good portion of the week, and with the Olympus EM5.2 for the remainder of the week I am happy with both systems and am having a rare period in which I have absolutely no camera "gear lust" of which to speak or write about."

Squirrel! :)

Kirk in PDX said...

We seem to be running on a similar wavelength right now. I've thought more than once about selling the zooms I have for m43 and instead using the RX10II as two zooms in one. That way I keep my E-M5II for the primes I love. Since I tend to only use zooms outside anyway, in theory I should have plenty of light to feed the 1" sensor.

But, I have been a one system guy for a while. Not sure I have enough free brain capacity to remember the setup on two complicated cameras. And I really strongly prefer the 4:3 aspect ratio. Oh, choices...

G Gudmundsson said...

Love this: "I try to rationalize my equipment into smaller and smaller circles of confusion. ..." brilliant ....!

Ken said...

I've had an RX10 for about 18 months and have enjoyed it quite a lot. I mainly got it for the video and the RX10 mII seems to up the game quite a bit with the 4k and color grad. For stills, they are about the same....or at least very close from what I've seen. As a stills cam, the RX10, frankly, drives me a bit batty. Why?

While it's incredibly useful range and all-in-one design appeals to my practical nature, the rendering of images just misses the "magic" quality of what I get from my Fuji X system. I can shoot two virtually identical images, with comparable apertures to minimize the bokeh between then, edit the color balance to be similar for the Sony, etc. and even at ISO 200, I can always spot the difference. Not sure what it is, but I haven't ever been able to just have the RX10 as a main camera. I've tried and tried. Oh, how I've tried. I too, am tired of lenses with me all the time. I've even tried an LX100/Typ 109 and it's the same vs. the Fuji's....I can't part. Argh.

For video, I can make a strong case for the RX10 mII. For the stills, I just can't personally anymore. I tend to shoot a lot at aperture of ISO 1600-6400 and wide open on the Fuji's with abandon and not a care in the world. With the Sony, I try and stay at ISO 1600 and under (of course) and make sure there is ample light.

I'd love to see a gen II of the LX100 and then put that 4/3 sensor is an RX10 sized body (down from the FZ1000) with a 24-200mm Pan-Leica lens. That may be the ticket I'm looking for. 4/3 sensors are great IMO (I was a long time E-1 / E-3 shooter) but that LX100 missed the mark for some reason...can't put my finger on why.

Back to the RX10 mII....as a secondary camera for specific situations or macro work & video, it's great! :-)

Andrea said...

I travel the world with my E-M1 and the 25mm lens in a little pouch. Just like I did with an OM1 and 50mm many years ago.
But I'm terribly old-fashioned, you know...

BPete said...

And ... Kirk, think, RX10-2 entire camera about the cost of a lens (Canon L/ Nikon Pro ) mmm-mmm- and 4k video ohooo and slo-mo. big RAW files. Ok I admit they reeled me in about 2 weeks ago. My Mark III has been a little lonely during the get acquainted honeymoon, and yet I keep loading keepers into Lightroom. Can this be?