A Few Thoughts About the Sony RX10-2 and Why a Smart Working Photographer might want to have one around.

Continuing in the vein of our recent glorification of cameras with one inch sensors I thought I would draw your closer attention to the current king of the one inch sensor cameras, the Sony RX10 ii. It might just be the contemporary Swiss Army Knife(tm) of cameras aimed at workaday journalists and corporate public relations staffers. The camera is almost identical to its predecessor on the outside, using the same lens, the same rear screen and the same control interfaces, but the camera is much improved in some regards. The two big improvements being a higher (kinder) resolution EVF, and the inclusion of a very professionally fitted out 4K video capability.

If I were a journalist today, working for a newspaper (how quaint) or an online news channel, this would be a compelling tool. I would be able to use it to capture most subjects (with the exception of fast moving, hard news and sports) as high resolution, very high quality photographs and I would also be able to hit the video switch and record a 4K video signal that uses full sensor read out for very high quality imaging with very few artifacts. Much cleaner and sharper video than you will get out of a $3200 Nikon D810 or a similarly priced Canon 5Dmk3. All of this in a small, complete and unintimidating package that can go anywhere. In any kind of weather. 

On the video side the camera features time code, zebras, focus peaking, a microphone port and (vital) a headphone jack. It can write its 4K, 100 mbs onto any U3 SDXC memory card --- in camera. The RX10 ii is also a great tool for creating conventional 1080p video content when you need to conserve card space...

It's a very nice and very worthwhile upgrade to the Sony RX10 (original model) but, with the recent upgrade from ACVHD to XAVC S in the RX10's video codec the need for most videographer to upgrade seems less urgent. The RX10 is now a more powerful and clean 1080p machine! The reason to upgrade would be the need for 4K video or the desire to have the more detailed and enjoyable EVF.  A secondary reason might be the deeper buffer and more complex file processing enabled by the new BSI sensor, with on chip processing and buffering. You'll be able to shoot more
more quickly and you might see some improvements in shadow detail, when compared to the original.

Why did I want the new one? Well, I have had much success shooting stills with the original and I believe that if you are using a camera for professional work you should always have a back up that handles exactly the same way, has almost identical menus and shares the same battery platform. My recent purchase of a used RX10 (silly to have sold my first one...) has me rediscovering the benefits and the image quality of that camera. The addition, in firmware 2.x, of a very much improved video codec also has me planning a series of video projects around the one inch camera format. Since I am pressing the camera into commerce I'm hewing to my rule of having a twinsy, redundant back-up on hand for every job. I've tried the under equipped mode wherein I pack the camera I want to shoot and then cobble together something to cover my ass from assorted parts of another system that represents a different format. It sucks if you have to switch and the combination of systems and mismatched batteries is already annoying and clumsy. 

As soon as I had two good commercial shoots under my belt with the RX10 I started looking for a bargain on a second one as a back up. The ones I found in "like new" condition were all around $600 but I had a line on a RX10 ii (new model) that a video producer friend had bought new in December, used once or twice and the decided he would rather use his A7S2 for the situations he first imagined he would be using the smaller camera for. My purchase of his RX10 ii in perfect condition would only be $350 more than a used older model. Seems to make sense to me.

Let me be very clear here about one thing though, I would not have bought either camera if I didn't see the benefits of using them as video cameras over what I already own! While the 4K files out of the Panasonic fz 1000 are great (perfect B-roll cameras) the lack of a headphone jack makes me too nervous to use them for interviews, etc. The big Nikons have lots of space to plug stuff in but a quick, A - B comparison shows that the Sonys; either of them, are just a leap better when it comes to image quality. Seems like you just can't have everything you want in one convenient package since the Nikons give me more depth of field control while the Panasonics trump the Sonys for fast, sure auto focusing. 

What is my imagined use for the RX10 ii in the short term? Hmmm. I am currently bidding on a video project that will take three or four days to shoot, with all the shooting happening at remote, very industrial locations. I envision handling these shoots with the two Sony cameras. One as the main camera and the second as a back up....just in case. Most of the shots require some movement so I'll be working handheld (with a small gimbal) as well as on a slider and perhaps even a skate. I'd like to shoot 4K so I have a lot of cropping capability in post processing. I would much rather get to the locations with a small backpack than a hand truck full of bigger gear. 

Is my purchase of the second camera a gratuitous waste of hard earned money? Maybe, except that the first shooting day's fee will cover the cost of both cameras... Will it make my job easier.? Yes; both in the shooting and in post. 

There's one additional feature of the new version of the RX10 that makes me pretty happy and that's the ability to power the camera through the USB port. I was just given an external battery pack device. It's one of those six inch long by one inch square devices that's intended to allow you to charge your phone or other digital device in the field. The charging device holds about triple the capacity of the Sony batteries and is a great field back up. I'll be taking it along even though I now have five of the Sony batteries to use between the two cameras. 

So, I entitled this post:  A Few Thoughts About the Sony RX10-2 and Why a Smart Workinghotographer might want to have one around. So I guess I should dive into that. After my first ten jobs of the new year I am firm in the belief that most photographers are seeing the ground shift below their feet. Nearly every client this year has either asked for a bid to shoot video in addition to making still photographs or has assumed that we can provide that additional service and asked for it either during or before we started working on their projects. Most of us got cameras in the last three years from Canon or Nikon that shoot pretty decent 1080p video but they all have foibles that either require buying additional, expensive gear or devising workarounds that are clumsy and don't yield state of the art video imaging. 

In the case of both Canon and Nikon you'd need to add an external monitor to get focus peaking so you can reliably focus during a video take. The lensed designed for full frame are big, heavy and most of them focus by wire so you can't "mark" focus points on the lenses and reliably hit focus. In most of the conventional cameras you are limited, in camera, to shooting 1080p (three minutes at a whack doesn't count) in a very so-so codec, at lower bit rates. The files are apt to fall apart more quickly in post if you need to make big color or exposure changes. To add insult to injury most of the bigger, professional cameras can barely autofocus at all when shooting video. 

On the other hand you probably are accustomed to using your full frame cameras for the kind of work you like to do. You like the super fast, phase detection autofocus you get when shooting stills. You like to be able to drop backgrounds out of focus easily. You like the huge files with lots and lots of detail so you are loathe to trade off the "known" and "comfortable" for video features that you might not use on a daily basis (right now) in your core business. 

The smartest strategy I can see is something like the RX10 ii. The video is just flat out better. The camera can continuously focus during video and does very well, without hunting, in good light. The focus peaking will save you in iffy light. The zebras, set at 95%, are nice reminder that your highlights are getting up into the nose bleed area. And the big, 4K files, downsized to 1080p in post, are easy and fun to edit. Add to that a very convincing 120 fps slow motion capability and you have a tool that's a perfect complement to your "big irons" while adding new and superior video capabilities. 

As a photographer you just have to do the math. You can turn down assignments that have a required video component, but why should you? Most clients are looking for quick chunks of well done video to add to social media marketing. Some need quick interviews to put up on websites and to send to news channels. Most are not asking you to have the technical expertise to make Star Wars movies. 

If a great, little video camera, that can do double duty as a great little still photography camera, can ride along in your camera bag for about $1300 and you get to charge every time you pull it out and use it, how does that not make sense?

In the upcoming video project I mentioned above I'll mostly shoot video of our product in various locations but I will also switch the camera to the photo mode to take wide establishing shots as stills. With 20 megapixel files at my disposal I'll have lots of additional content to pan and scan across for rock solid moving images in post (Ken Burn's effect). We may find locations that are perfect for our client's message and having a hybrid solution in hand will allow us to capture stills that might be perfect for printed advertising use. All without carrying multiple systems!

If you bill the same rates for your video production as you do for photography having a great, little video camera that exceeds the video capabilities of your more expensive, stills oriented camera along for the ride means that you double your potential client engagements and also keep your various competitors at bay. You may not warm up to doing video but I guarantee you that your client, if disposed toward having video, will go out and find a resource. That resource may be your mirror image. He or she may be a videographer first but also a decent still photographer. Entree to a client account goes in both directions.

Me? I'll keep a high performing hybrid camera close by. Just in case I want to make a little bit more money....

After testing the RX10 ii I can't understand why many more people with an interest in multimedia haven't acquired one. Seems like a well honed solution for the person who has a foot in both camps. And it's small enough and cheap enough to have just in case. 

Anyway, that's my rationale. Yours may vary.

One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and 
still one of the best! 

I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable 
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as 
cool places around the U.S.

How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.


John Holmes said...

Kirk you are so right as long as there is plenty of light ... either natural or lit by you. The downfall with such cameras, I expect, is in darker conditions where more of us end up taking pictures. I wonder what percent of the world's photographers do it in your world of light.

Kirk Tuck said...

John, I know lots of places north of Austin have shorter days and lower light levels but I also shoot lots of stuff in interiors and on dim stages. I think we have to light places where the light isn't strong enough (or beautiful enough). I have many videographer friends who feel that high ISO cameras like the Sony A7S2 solve everything but ugly lighting is ugly lighting even if you can get the exposure right. Supplementing the existing light is nearly always fair. That being said I have gotten really good stuff out of the RX10 in ISO 800-1600 light situations. If you routinely shoot in light that's worse than that you might not be the candidate for smaller sensor cameras ---- yet.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem is with too much light. One of the features of the Sony is the built in ND filter. When I'm shooting in bright sun and want to use a wide aperture it's nice to be able to activate the filter and go. Not enough light? Don't shoot at night.

Mister Ian said...

I love my RX10 Mk II. I'm just trying to figure out how to use a colour chart to calibrate the S-Log videos. It's so handy one camera for everything and never a sensor spot! I shot this this morning with it. As long as you keep the ISO down for stills if you are fussy, why get a larger sensor for anything? http://misterian.com/2016/02/calgary-sunrise/

Peter F. said...

Hi Kirk. Do you have a preference ergonomically between the RX10 and FZ1000?

Kirk Tuck said...

Peter, The RX10-2 is a slightly better camera but the Panasonic is just the right size and shape for my hands.

Ken said...

Hi Kirk. I asked you this before and you actually devoted a post to your response, but in light of these recent posts it seems relevant again. To paraphrase: Do you ever contemplate the GH4 as a camera that has features you miss or wish that you had held onto? It would seem that most of the video-related qualities you desire in the new 1" cameras are there in spades in the GH4, plus it gives you access to your existing collection of m43 lenses. Granted, it doesn't have a built-in wide range zoom, but that can be looked at as a double-edged sword. Interested to hear how this fits into your evolving philosophy of work and workflow practicality.

James Weekes said...

I have yet another question. I do not now and do not plan on using video in the future for any thing other than a quick shot for home enjoyment. Video aside, is the RX10-1 any less a camera? It's being sold at very attractive prices.

Eric S. said...

Kirk, what kind of hot shoe is Sony using on this model? A more-or-less standard one, or the old Minolta-based design?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Eric, It was the old Minolta hot shoe. Or should I say "warm shoe..."?

Kirk Tuck said...

Ken, I regret selling most cameras. But then my sense of objective realism kicks in and I realize that I was making way for something new. If video was the largest part of my business I would definitely be holding onto the GH4. I only wish they had a long zoom that was also fast. Barebones configuration the RX10 is very close in imaging quality to the GH4 in video.

Kirk Tuck said...

James, at the time I was using the RX10 classic a lot I was not using it much for video and I still liked it very much. It is an excellent still camera. And the prices are good now.

tnargs said...

Kirk, I get the impression that you are more excited about the RX10 than about the FZ1000. Is that a fair comment?

Kirk Tuck said...

The RX10's are seductive because of the refined styling and solid construction. The fz 1000 might be a slightly better photographer's camera while the RX10 ii is without a doubt the better camera for someone only interested in video....

Daniel Walker said...

I understand you interest in video for the RX 10. Please comment if you would have the same interest in a one inch sensor if you shoot 90% stills. If that was the case would 4/3 be a better choice.

Kirk Tuck said...

Daniel, it's not really an "either or" situation and you can't just look at the sensors. The whole package taken together is the value proposition. If quality is your only metric then the bigger sensor "might" always be better. But if you look to DXO you might find that the new Olympus EM5.2 measures 75 overall while the Sony RX10.2 is just a tiny bit behind at 70. Five points isn't very big. An overall difference of about a third of a stop in combined image quality. But then factor in the lens on the Sony and you quickly realize that the value of any camera is contextual to your subject matter and style of shooting. As you can see, I have not made a choice. I have both. And I see the value there.