The real Sony "cult" camera of our time.
This is a review of two cameras. The original Sony RX10 and it's updated self, the RX10ii. I bought the original RX10 when it first came out in 2013 and bought a slightly used RX10ii right after the start of this year. There are many similarities between the two cameras but there are also a few differences between them and, if you do various kinds of work, you'll want to know what those differences are and how they might apply to the kinds of projects or assignments you might use one of these two cameras for.
I'll start with the usual disclaimer. I bought both of these cameras with my own funds, out of my own pocket. I am not a Sony explorer or visionary or an exploder of light. I am not a member of their professional club; I don't even know if they have one. I bought the first camera from Precision Camera and Video in Austin, Texas and, other than having shopped there for nearly 30 years, I have no connection, obligation, quid pro quo or other relationship with them and, as both these products have been on the market for a while, no one is kicking down my door trying to motivate me to type faster or say nice things about the cameras.
I am writing about them because I think they are powerful tools that work well for many of the professional, commercial assignments I use them on, and I think if more people knew more about these cameras they might find that they have far more choices in the tools they can use for successful photography and video than they might currently think. In some ways I am writing this to shift the collective idea of what constitutes a "professional" camera a bit.
Before we dive in let me write a quick summary of what these cameras are. For want of a better term, these are "bridge cameras." That designation was first coined to describe cameras that were more than point-and-shoots but somehow "less" than DSLRs. The basic formula is to make an all-in-one camera with a non-detachable lens that can, in many situations, take the place of bigger, traditional cameras. A substitute for a Canon Rebel or A Nikon D3x00 camera. For over a decade the cameras in this class came with long lenses and small sensors. The lenses could have a lot of magnification just because the sensor was smaller. But the lenses were not often great. Most sacrificed a bit of image quality performance for sheer range and sacrificed fast apertures (as the lenses zoomed out) for smaller package sizes.
The first model to shift the parameters, and shift our thinking about bridge cameras, was also a Sony. It was a model called the R1 and it was introduced around 2005, shipped mostly in 2006. It was a different beast in that it used a much bigger imaging sensor. Almost APS-C in size! And it combined that big sensor with a very, very high quality Zeiss zoom lens that was specifically designed to get the maximum in image quality from its matched sensor. That camera came with a decent EVF and a very useful (and movable) rear screen that could even be used as a waist level viewer.
The lens was a 24-120mm equivalent that started with f2.8 at the wide end and ended up with f4.8 at the longer end. Here's the review from the granddaddy of review sites: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sonydscr1
While it was a contrast detect AF system, in good light it was pretty fast and it also allowed for manual focusing with image magnification. The camera shot raw but in the raw mode the buffer was painfully slow. Two shot and a freeze up for a few seconds. I ended up shooting Jpegs with mine for everything but studio still life work.
The R1 was a very interesting camera but I think it never sold well. Certainly not at its introductory price of $1995. So, after a year or two on the market the camera got killed by Sony and nothing in that space came along that challenged the R1's camera technology high points or did much of anything interesting.
In 2013 Sony woke me up from my bridge camera slumber by introducing the original RX10 camera. It's based around a very, very good and very low noise, one inch sensor and a really well designed and implemented Zeiss 24-200mm constant aperture, f2.8 lens. The first model has a really good EVF while the second model has a great one. But the thing that made most of us who initially wanted one sit up and take notice was it's video capabilities. In some ways I suspect that both of the RX10 cameras are just great video cameras that also take wonderful, high resolution photographs.
I bought one of the first RX10s to hit Austin and started experimenting with it right away. I shot architecture for a magazine with it and also shot stage shows, concerts and even portraits with it and nearly always walked away a bit amazed. Of all the cameras I own, these are the ones I grab when I walk out the door not knowing what I'll want to end up shooting. And I rarely need more. So, let's dive in...
In the best of all worlds who do I think Sony designed these cameras for? When I think about these cameras I imagine that the following discussion took place among the top camera designers and photographic thinkers at Sony. I think they looked at the overall market for photography and, for a moment, focused on professional journalists. They knew that more and more writers were being asked to take photographs for their own articles. It's always cheaper to send one person who can write well and take passable images than it is to send two salaried professionals out on the same job. The Sony designers could point to examples of dedicated photographers around the world being tossed out the doors of newspapers and multi-media content producers while the writers at the same companies were being trained to become jacks of all trades.
At the same time there was also a strong shift in what had been tradition commercial (non-retail) and corporate photography. Younger photographers were blurring the lines between conventional photographic service and video production. After all the new photographers coming into the market had, in many cases, grown up comfortable with taking, and sharing, video. The designers at Sony imagined the pressures that the "new" journalist would be under. They would need a camera that could serve a one person crew. It would have to be relatively easy to operate, easy to handle and also have the capability to take video that would be good enough, technically, to be used on web channels and even local television broadcasts.
I believe that the RX10 represented Sony's vision of
a competent, multi-media tool for a working journalists of all kinds. The 20 megapixel files that the RX10 can generate would certainly be usable up to a double truck magazine spread while the video was, in the first model, best in its class -- even though it was limited to 1080p.
The inclusion of image stabilization would be a good hand up for newbie users as would the automatic modes on the camera. But, I'm sure the Sony designers were also quite clear about designing and producing a camera that could absolutely shine in the hands of a really good professional image maker, or movie maker. To that end the camera included lots of extras. For photographers it included a raw file format, easy to access aperture ring, separate dial for shutter speeds, good auto focusing, zebras and the ability to be highly customized.
For the videographer with knowledge the camera delivered a good, basic codec which was later (through a firmware update) converted into a great (XAVCs) one that yields very good footage. Also for the videographer are things like manual microphone controls with two channel level meters, focus peaking, microphone inputs and a headphone jack. It also sports a neutral density filter and the ability to go "click-less" on the aperture ring. Put everything together with a good EVF and you've got a good news gathering, video production camera. Which, of course, also takes good still images!
Sony designers capped off the design with a very flexible, non-removable lens that covers a wide range of mostly used focal lengths, and also helps the camera perform better by ensuring a tighter tolerances between the lens and the sensor. Not being able to remove the lens means no worries about dust on sensors and also makes it easier for designers to "weatherproof" the camera more effectively.
If I were the strategic manager at a newspaper that also tries to leverage a wide social presence this is exactly the direction in which I would go. By replacing scores of very expensive Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses with an all around performer like the Sony RX10 (or the Panasonic fz 1000) the organization would rationalize their gear across everyone who creates content within their eco-system. Old hands might fight the change but there is very little work that was done on DSLR cameras; intended for web or newsprint, that could not be done just as well with the smaller, lighter, faster, cheaper cameras.
The kit I would send people out the door with, for general news gathering and fluff articles, would be: The basic camera with a 64GB U3 memory card, two extra batteries, a small tripod, one interview style microphone and a small set of headphones. With this basic kit our journalist would be able to
conduct a video interview (which would also provide digital notes for the written article) and, with something like a Rode Reporter dynamic microphone and the camera on a tripod, you can swap the one mic back and forth between the person interviewing and the interviewee. Interview done you could move on to taking your typical newsy photographs. Everything mentioned (tripod excluded) would fit in a small camera bag or purse freeing one up to move quickly.
I am convinced that this is the primary market Sony had in mind for this particular camera. It is too well thought out (and too pricey) to be considered as "just another consumer indulgence."
While not aiming for "nose bleed" territory occupied by the Nikon D810 or Sony A7R2 I find the quality of the files, under wide ranging conditions, is more than satisfactory for me. There are times when nothing but the best will do for advertising shoots but, really, it's the day to day stuff that makes an imaging business work, and the RX10 or RX10ii is competent to handle a very wide range.
What are the main differences between the original RX10 and the upgraded version; the RX10ii?
For the sake of this review I'll assume that we're comparing the two models after the firmware upgrade to 2.0 in the original model. That upgrade made the first version's video in 1080p really sing.
Externally the two cameras are pretty much identical. The newer one says, "4K" on the side but that's the only real difference. It's the internals that are the real story. Much has been written about the new, BSI sensor but most tests (and my own shooting) indicate that the actual performance of the sensors (20 megapixels) are largely the same. The improvements in the newer model stem more from the way information is sucked off the sensor and processed. A much faster processing pipeline means that more intricate file improvements are made at speed. This means that noise reduction is handled with a bit more finesse and that there is a bit more shadow detail as a result of more highlight headroom. The camera handles files quicker which means the buffer clears more quickly and allows a higher number of successive shots can be made.
As far as image quality in the still photography realm goes I would be hard pressed to make the case that the new camera is more than one or two percent better than the older model, and that would be pushing it. For all intents and purposes I treat them as though they are identical photographic machines.
The two major differences between the cameras come in the form of a much improved EVF and the addition of 4K video. Which is not a gimmick.
I'll start with the EVF since that's pretty simple and straightforward. Essentially Sony doubled the resolution of the finder to make it easier do do things like: look at it for a long time and to have finer discrimination in focusing. It's gorgeous and while it's different from an OVF the ability to pre-chimp and to see exactly what you will get when you push the shutter button is priceless. I also find that I am more apt to use the camera at eye level for video if I can use a really nice EVF. While it's a nice upgrade I am not so finicky about finders that it would be a "make it or break" it feature for me. If I needed a camera that shot great stills (relatively speaking) and I also wanted a camera with good 1080p video chops but didn't need 4K video I would probably go with the original model and save nearly half the price (buying new).
Moving on to video... With every generation Sony makes the video they put in their cameras better. When Sony introduced the first version of the RX10 it came with ACVHD as the choice for its video codec. That's a codec that usually tops out at about 28 megabits of information per second. It's a very efficient codec for the camera because it's highly compressed and a lot of video can fit on one memory card. An added "benefit" is that the low bit rate meant that lots of SD cards could keep up as the camera wrote video to the card. While Sony did a good job on their implementation of the ACVHD it's not a codec that professionals were anxious to edit. The compression on the camera end meant one needed lots of processing power on the editing end in order to turn the files into a format professionals wanted to edit in. In its first iteration the video from the RX10 was "good enough" but no better, really than video from, say a Canon 70D.
After a firmware upgrade to 2.0 the camera is capable of shooting in a much preferred, 50 mbs, XAVCs 1080p format. It even has a 120 frames per second mode (albeit at 720p, for slow motion).
The new version of the camera (RX10ii) goes way beyond in terms of video capabilities. You get either 2K or 4K (actually the UD size is 3840X2160) files in XAVCs at a up to 100 mbs. The 4k is always 100 mbs while the 2k is at 50 mbs up to 60p and 100 mbs at the higher 120p setting. But it's 120 fps at full HD resolution.
One very positive thing to mention is that the IS works well in the video mode of the type 2 camera and does its job without cropping into the video frame. That's nice. There is also an "image distortion" control that minimizes rolling shutter. But the biggest news, of course, is that the camera performs a full sensor readout which means higher quality, and fewer artifacts.
The RX10ii has lots of additional video controls including the capacity to use an S-log profile. I personally find using the S-log profile generates such a flat file that my own dire learning curve of anticipating how the final images would look precludes me from really feeling comfortable using this control. I prefer to set the camera to its neutral or standard setting and turning down the sharpening in the parameters submenu provided. I'm a big believer in using WSIWYG profiles in any but the most complex and contrasty lighting conditions....
The RX10ii has professional time code built in while the original does not. The RX10ii is also a "world wide" camera which can be switched between PAL and NTSC standards. The original is not. The RX10ii has electronic shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 and mechanical shutter speeds to 1/3,200th of second while the original has only the mechanical speeds and only to 1/3,200th.
One caveat you should know if you are considering either camera as a video camera, primarily, is that you only get two AF functions in video. You can leave the camera set in "S" or "C" but you won't be able to get a typical, single frame lock on. In video the camera always defaults to continuous focus. Always! If you want to "lock" focus make sure the camera is focused where you want it to be and then click the selector knobs on the front of the camera to manual. This "C" default will mess you up if you don't know about it and want to frame something off to the side --- the camera will try to focus on whatever is in the middle.
But while we are talking about this I have to say that the camera doesn't really do an obnoxious focus hunt. The focus shifts are slowed down in video mode and, for the most part, look pretty natural. I've had good luck doing interviews with the camera and leaving it in "C" mode to follow my interviewee as the gesture and move in and out of their initial set up zone. For complete control set up the focus peaking and use it along with manual focus. Once you put the camera into MF the lens ring switches from zoom mode to focus mode and, even though it is fly-by-wire, feels nice and smooth and well damped.
Camera handling. I have to say right up front that this is one of the best handling digital cameras I have used. While the lens seems (visually) to front load the camera it doesn't impact the feel in your hands. As you can see in the image just above the camera controls that you use all the time are right where you want them. The aperture is set on a ring around the lens that feels like something Leica would make. Smooth and with nice, third stop detents. If you prefer a clickless ring for video shooting (no audible aperture change noise during filming...) you have a switch to enable that feature. This effectively makes the RX10s "two dial" cameras since you have separate controls for shutter speed and apertures (the shutter speed dial is on the back, just below the top plate. It's perfectly positioned for my thumb). I also like the placement of the exposure compensation dial at the back, right, top of the camera. It also is easily controlled by my right thumb. The detents are firm and the dial very accessible. The EV dials feel identical on both cameras.
The mode dial is located on the other side of the camera and is typical of most modern cameras. I like the external control better than the menu driven mode control of my Nikon DSLRs. I can see the mode and change it at a glance.
The cameras are incredibly well built and feel like they are made out of high quality materials, perfectly assembled. The hand grip on the right is a perfect match for the camera and there are some nice touches that clearly elevate the user experience of the camera over their rival, the Panasonic fz 1000. The first that comes to mind is that the memory card slot resides on the right side of the camera instead of being crammed into the bottom positioned battery compartment. This means card changes are easy even when the camera is mounted on a stout tripod with a big baseplate.
I don't measure how many milliseconds it takes for a camera to start up or shut down. I don't measure bursts of shots. I know that the RX10s are a bit slower to start up than my traditional DSLRs but I also know that they are pretty much ready to go when I've turned them on and brought them up to eye level.
I generally shoot the RX10s using the EVF and I think it's one of the best EVF eyepiece implementations out there. The rubber cup is firm but contoured to subtly follow the curve of one's face. The diopter is generous and stays in place once set. So, after I've made all of my menu adjustments I tend to shoot with these particular cameras in the manual mode with the "setting effect" mode set in the menu. This means that the camera tries to show you the effect of your shutter speed/aperture/ISO setting. It also shows you color temperature effects and contrast effects, if you have set them. A full information viewfinder is a wonderful improvement over traditional finders in that you can detect issues before you commit and rectify them. You can watch your scenes change as you dial in exposure compensation (not in manual) and you can preview the effects of different white balance settings. If you choose to shoot in black and white you can set "monotone" and see that effect in your finder as well. It's a wonderful aid to black and white "previsualization."
Some people think that the zoom control on both models is too slow and that might be true for people used to mechanical zoom rings. So far, the speed of the zoom hasn't made much of a difference to me but I thought I would mention it for anyone fond of doing "snap zooms" while shooting video or doing long still exposures.
Image Quality in Stills. I have experience shooting many different Sony cameras and I used to think that they did a stinky job with their Jpeg files. In previous Sony cameras I tended to stick with RAW files instead. That changed when Sony introduced the newer generations of RX100 cameras and the first RX10. I'm pretty confident now that I can change the parameters available with each color profile and get images that are very, very good in Jpeg. If I'm shooting for clients I tend to shoot more in RAW just so I have the opportunity to jump into post processing and save myself from something I might have done incorrectly on a paying shoot. One never knows when ones brain will go into idle and let some color balance or exposure issue creep past the checklist gatekeepers.
Lightroom does a very good job with these RAW camera files and, I'm convinced that Abobe also thinks of the RX10s as professional cameras since they have a full list of camera color profiles to choose from in the menu. Most non-DSLR camera files don't have the ability to select their own, dedicated profiles in post, depending on the canned Adobe profiles instead.
So, how is the picture quality? At first I treated the cameras gingerly; buying into the hysteria that leads most people to believe that only full frame cameras can have high quality images. But little by little I pushed the camera to do more and more types of photography, some of which seemed almost counterintuitive for a small sensor camera.
I shot a David Bowie stage show two years ago in an older theater, complete with crappy and low wattage stage lights. I had to keep the camera at ISO 1250 and the aperture wide open to get the exposures I needed. When I came back to the studio to do my post production I was amazed at how low the noise was, how much detail was in the files and the fact that the higher ISO didn't appreciably effect the saturation. On top of that the images were much sharper than I expected from shooting handheld and wide open.
With those images under my belt I got braver and used the original camera to shoot some stage show rehearsals at Zach Theatre. The light levels were much better and in those instances I was able to shoot at ISO 800 with very little noise and very sharp images. The thing that impressed me on those occasions was how well the focus dug into the right spots, even with longer focal lengths. I missed very few shots from punked focus.
Which ultimately led me to consider using the camera for a shelter magazine assignment. I tested the camera using ISOs all the way down to a marked 80. The images looked uniformly good. High sharpness, very low noise and a good, balanced contrast rendering. If I had to describe the character of the images in one word it would be, "rich."
I decided to use the original RX10 for the assignment but I packed along some traditional cameras and lenses just in case I got cold feet. My working methodology was to compose a scene and then look at the composition to see if it needed some lighting in order to put more detail in shadows or to balance light falling off from side to side. Once I figured out whether or not I needed to light the scenes I tried using the DRO (dynamic range optimization) controls to see if that solved the problem instead. In many cases a little DRO to boost shadows was just right.
With the tiny camera on a huge tripod I'd fine tune my composition in the EVF, set the self-timer to two seconds and gently trips the shutter. Working in manual, at f8.0 and at ISO 80, many of my exposures were longer than a second. The camera handled all of this very well. In fact, I also noticed that the camera automatically corrected for lens geometry distortion even in RAW. The Zeiss 24-200mm (equivalent angle of view) lens is superb at f5.6 or f8.0!!! Every bit competitive with any of the Nikon lenses that I like and use.
Zach Theatre. Alice in Wonderland.
©2016 Kirk Tuck.
The one that changed my mind entirely.
©2014 Kirk Tuck
The shoot was a very big success and the magazine ran eight pages of my photographs. Each frame looked well balanced and sharp. The dynamic range exceeded that of the Canon 5Dmk2 I had been using the year before. But the amazing thing to me was not just the performance of the sensor alone but also of the lens. Even at a 24mm equivalent angle of view it was corner to corner sharp and crisp at f8.0
On the way home from that particular shoot I was driving through the Texas Hill Country when I spotted this landscape (above). I pulled over and started shooting, mostly at 24mm but also at some longer focal lengths. It's one of my favorite Texas landscapes.
There was a hiatus in my shooting with the RX10 as I headed into the labyrinth of micro four-thirds cameras but when one of my friends bought a new RX10ii and then decided it wasn't the right camera for him I bought back into the Sony one inch "system,' buying first his "like new" camera and then finding a pristine, used RX10 to use as a back up.
In the first few months of this year alone I've shot several larger jobs using the RX10s as part of a selection of cameras or, in several cases, as the primary shooting camera for the job. A high tech hardware maker is currently using images of their product on large, trade show prints. That's a job I thought I would have shot on a full frame, high res camera until the realities of depth of field moved me to experiment with the smaller cameras. The RX10ii was more effective at helping me get sharp focus throughout the entire product and actually required less "after the fact" color and contrast correction that the bigger camera.
At my recent, three day shoot for a private school here in Austin, I started shooting with traditional cameras only to discover that, for me on this assignment, the RX10ii helped me get more discreet frames with more natural expressions and gestures from the kids. The Sony was small and not very intimidating, the ability to "see" the results while shooting was useful, and the high image quality performance of the sensor+lens combination meant that I gained flexibility and invisibility but had to give up very little in return.
What I am finding with all cameras, regardless of the size of their sensors, is that correct exposure makes the biggest impact on reducing overall sensor noise. If your exposures are right on the money you can get very, very good images from one inch sensor cameras even at ISOs as high as 3200. With a bit of post production noise reduction it's even possible to go to 6400 but....you've got to nail it with the exposures. A perfect exposure in a one inch camera with the latest Sony sensor technology will, to my mind, trump an APS-C or even full frame camera that's plagued with underexposure.
My assessment of image quality overall, for stills, is that the latest RX10ii is capable of extremely good results. It's better than many previous generations of APS-C and even full frame cameras. With an overall DXO score of 70 the RX10ii matches the image quality of the current Canon 7D mark 2 and is only two points behind Olympus's current top camera, the EM-5 mk2. When you consider that the Sony RX10ii delivers this kind of performance for the same initial price as the Olympus but you also get a remarkably competent, fast Zeiss zoom, and much better video specs, you start to see why we need to constantly be aware of shifting standards and changing paradigms.
I would use this camera, in good light, for just about anything. But let's move outside my sphere of experience and also see what they say about the overall quality of the RX10ii at Imaging-Resource.com. Here they comment on the visual quality of actual test prints:
"ISO 64/100 prints show impressive detail and pleasing colors all the way up to 24 x 36 inches. Even with larger 30 x 40 prints, there is very little visible pixelation from this 20-megapixel image, making this size just fine for wall display."
Suffice it to say, the still photography performance Sony is squeezing from this sensor and lens combination is incredible. Add to that great in-camera processing and well done image stabilization and it's hard to see how one would go wrong.
The one caveat is situation where you want minimal depth of field at various angles of view. The physics of sensor size and lens aperture just don't allow the same dramatic fall off of focus that full frame cameras, coupled with fast lenses, provide. On the other hand, when you need deep focus the whole scenario is flipped on its head.
Video Quality. I was nervous the first time I used the RX10ii for an interview situation. I'd set up the studio and was going to interview an attorney so he could use the video for a 60 second introduction on his website. I'd used the D750 and D810 with good results in previous shoots but I wanted to see if I could do as well or better with a smaller, newer camera. And I was interested in getting my first really good, on the job, look at the Sony's 4K video.
I hooked up an Audio Technica Pro70 lavaliere microphone to the attorney's shirt and ran the cable back to a Tascam 60D v.2 digital audio recorder. The output from the audio recorder was hooked up to the Sony's microphone inputs and I was monitoring with headphones out of the camera's headphone jack. I output a test tone from the Tascam and used it to set a minus twelve db threshold on the Sony's audio meters. In this way I could control the audio with a fingertip on a physical knob instead of working with menu driven settings, and still get perfect levels. I wired it up this way in the belief that the Tascam has better sounding microphone pre-amps and would deliver a stronger, cleaner signal to the camera but I could have just as well gone straight into the camera with the microphone.
I lit the attorney with two medium soft boxes. I'd taken out the internal baffles (for more light output) and was using two of the RPS CooLED 100W LED lights in them. There was one smaller LED light on the gray background and one more small LED light as a hair light for separation.
I had the camera set for ISO 250 and was shooting at f4.0 and 1/60th of a second. I was shooting 30 fps in UHD 4K. Since I controlled the light intensity and ratios I was happy to select "neutral" as a camera profile, modifying it by dropping down the sharpness by two clicks from the default. With my (patient) attorney in place I experimented with the continuous autofocus and found it, under good lighting, to be rock solid. We shot for about 25 minutes, alternately actuating and then pausing the recording so I could ask questions or make suggestions and then continue.
The UHD video, examined in Final Cut Pro X (after being converted to ProRes for editing) looked very, very sharp. Almost as sharp as footage from my older Panasonic GH4. Exposure was right on the money and, as hard as I tried, I could not see evidence of moiré or aliasing anywhere in the frame.
Having made a custom white balance in the camera I was pretty certain I'd be happy with the flesh tones and I was.
On a different project I was doing an interview of a doctor and the art director and I were interested in trying the camera handheld to "stress" the look a bit. I worked in a little closer to the doctor so I could use a wider focal length, along with the image stabilization. In this situation we were shooting in 1080p and down at 24 fps. While not as "spectacularly" detailed as the UHD footage the 1080p footage was somehow just a bit richer. The colors a bit more "dense."
At 1080p it's a sharper and nicer looking file than what I get from the D810. Or the D750. When I first started writing this I think I made the point that these Sony cameras are really miniaturized professional video cameras vaguely disguised as photography cameras. To my taste the files from the RX10ii are the nicest and most livable files I've seen out of any non-dedicated video camera regardless of price = if we are comparing 8 bit 1080p to the same file specs in any other brand.
A couple of caveats: Shoot your video exactly as you want the files to look because with only 8 bits of color information you don't have a lot of leeway to make big changes in post production without killing the quality and introducing a brittle look to your work.
Second, if you go much beyond ISO 400 you will start to see some noise creeping in. My recent experiences, doing collaborations with more experienced film makers, informs me that everyone has different thresholds when it comes to how much noise they notice and, ultimately, how much noise they will tolerate. I have a much higher tolerance for noise than one friend who can't bear to look at the Sony footage if I shoot it at 800 or higher. In my case, if the visual content is interesting, I tend to ignore the noise even at settings as high as 3200.
What do I think of the quality if I use all my skills, set low ISOs, provide adequate and pretty light? Well, I shot the original RX10 as a "B" camera to a friend's $20,000+ Sony F55 camera with a Zeiss prime on the front and when the footage was intercut it seemed to match up pretty well to me. No clear advantage to over $30,000 in expenditures. Now I'll be quick to point out that the reason to use the F55 has to do with things that would make a difference in a high production quality project. Things like being able to shoot bit rates over 400 mbs. Being able to work in 10 bit 4:4:4 if need be and much more. My friend can make that camera sing when it's called for. But our work together was a simple project to promote someone else's project and we didn't get fancy. Still, for our cameras to match as closely as they did was pretty amazing and reminded me of Michael Reichmann's test with the Phase One camera and the Canon G10 camera. Even printed large most of his friends (all photographers) couldn't see a real quality difference in identically done prints made from each camera.
Can you use it for professional work? You bet. Just be aware that the codec isn't enormous and bulletproof and that there are no professional microphone connectors unless you drop another $800 to buy Sony's proprietary pre-amp/XLR connector package that fits in the semi- proprietary hot shoe.
Where do I think this camera shines? Man on the street interviews. Handheld video art. B-roll camera on a slider. On vacation or just about anywhere you need good, detailed video with less fuss. It's a keeper for sure.
Caveats. No camera is perfect and I've got several critiques to offer about the cameras and also the way they are delivered. I think it flat out sucks not to deliver one of these cameras without an outboard battery charger. The way the camera ships you are required to use a USB charger, plugged into the camera to charge. That means the camera is out of commission the entire time you are charging batteries. If you are a casual user I guess it's no big deal. You shoot some shots of your lunch, later you try to talk your girlfriend into posing without her shirt on, then you toss the camera on the charger and fall into bed drunk.
But if you are using the camera for production, especially video production you'll need a more powerful set of solutions. Five minutes after buying the first camera I went onto Amazon.com and bought a package that included two Wasabi batteries for the camera, along with a plug in wall charger. When I bought the second camera I repeated the same exercise of high commerce. Together, the four batteries and two chargers cost me about what Sony charges for one, naked Sony battery.
A nice upgrade on the RX10ii is the fact that you can now use the camera with external battery packs that plug into the USB port. There is even a setting to enable this in the menu. The battery packs I refer to are bigger battery packs that can recharge phones and even computers in the field. I got one free in a gift bag from Craftsy when I went for some training. It works great and increases the life of the internal battery many times over.
That brings me to my next caveat. The batteries for the Sony RX10ii and RX10 are the same one's currently in use across Sony's complete A7series cameras. The run life of the batteries is very, very crappy compared to fill sized batteries for professional series Canon and Nikon cameras. If you plan to shoot video with the RX10s you'll want to buy pockets full of these batteries. maybe six or seven to get through a regular video shooting day.
It's a trade off. To make the cameras small and svelte something had to be sacrificed and Sony decided that one sacrifice would be battery size. Well, the silver lining is that they keep using the same battery so as you upgrade to new cameras your ever growing stash of batteries continues to maintain its relevance.
The wrap up. I have to state right now that I am not necessarily a Sony fanboy who must only shoot with Sony. I still shoot with big, dinosaur Nikon cameras. I also have two of the Panasonic fz 1000 cameras that I like. If anything I am an EVF/one inch sensor fanboy. I love the format and the implementation from these two future thinking camera makers. The Sony is the star by dint of its ergonomics and capabilities. The headphone jack alone is a key differentiator...
When it comes time to shoot I'll happily pull out an fz 1000. I guess what I am trying to say is that the sensor, the format and the cool lenses are the attraction to both of these premium bridge cameras. Both the fz 1000 and the RX10ii have similar resolution EVFs and also feature sensors from the same family. Both do 4K. both have killer lenses. You can find good arguments for shooting with either one. This review is of the Sony version. It's the better video camera. In some ways the Panasonic is the better still camera. Both are better than they should be.
So, if I were that owner of the Washington Post, and I had just fired all the great photographers with the premise that the public will never see the difference, I'd toss out all the past century camera gear, buy a couple cases full of the RX10ii cameras and invest in lots of multi-media training for my remaining (and beleaguered) staff. This would suffice for content creation across two media until we can get the news gathering robots and drones up to speed and install the artificial intelligence programs that can write in order to replace the last of the employees. It seems inevitable that the introduction of bridge cameras to reporters is just the interim step so it's a good thing that the RX10ii is robustly built, easy to operate and not nearly as expensive as our previous gear.
If you are a normal, happy, good photographer (with a penchant for video) and you want to downsize your load without compromising away all the quality you need in order to be happy with your images you might consider the RX10ii. I think it's the single coolest camera in the market today.
But that might all change after breakfast tomorrow.
Oh, by the way, the question will surely come up... "Why do you have two of these cameras?"
Here is my consistent rational. If I decide that I am leaving all other cameras at home and will be shooting exclusively with an RX10ii for an out of town assignment, then what is the most logical back-up camera. You know, in case my main camera gets broken, stolen, etc.? Yes, it's an identical (or almost identical) camera that has mostly the same menus (no new learning curve) the same battery type, the same owner's manual (.pdf) and the same feel and finish I am used to.
If I am shooting a video project there are many times I want two angles of the same action in order to have editing options. An "A" camera and a "B" camera. Why would I want to waste time and energy trying to match up files from two different cameras with two different looks? With identical cameras you will be able to intercut video without spending a lot of time matching the color, the contrast and even the grain structure (noise). It's a time saver.
Next time I go out of town just to shoot for myself these are the cameras I think I'll take. They don't take up a lot of physical or mental space. They do what I need in a way I like. That's great in my book.
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.