4.02.2016

The new Sony RX10iii is an interesting adjunct to an existing, small sensor system. An easy choice for videographers, a tougher choice for "still only" shooters....

The Sony RX10iii. 
Long, long, long. 

Sony continues to create new iterations of existing cameras at a rapid clip. I purchased one of their RX10ii cameras right around the end of last year and I have pressed into use for an impressive number of photographic and video projects which would have been the realm of APS-C or micro fourth-thirds cameras previously. The RX10ii is a good, all around photography tool that would suit the needs of many photographers for many kinds of projects. It's not right for everything, but then no camera is.

I also have the first version of the RX10 which I refer to as "the classic." After Sony came out with their firmware upgrade (improving the video codec) I didn't think I would want to upgrade to the "version 2" but I was lured by the 4K video as well as the newer, higher resolution EVF. I'm happy to have the newer camera because the image quality is slightly improved (mostly in the shadows) and the two cameras together make a good pair of production cameras for video when I am shooting 1080p on both, simultaneously.

I've discussed the merits of the RX10 (both iterations) several times here on the blog but as a reminder: 20 megapixels is good for at least 90% of our projects. The video is probably among the best quality of any 1080p camera out there limited to (in camera) 8 bit 4:2:0 output. The build quality is great. The lens is a good (for me) range of 24mm to 200mm. The image stabilization is quite good. For most purposes they are fully loaded for video work: microphone in, headphone out, zebras, good profiles, focus peaking, etc. To my mind Sony has done a great job of producing a serious compact system which is a great adjunct to the usual inventory of a working photographer.

If the Sony RX10ii is so well implemented then why would we also be interested in the Sony RX10-3?

The camera adds only one thing to the overall system. It adds a zoom lens that yields the equivalent angle of view of a 600mm lens on a full frame camera and it does so on a sensor that's big enough to take advantage of the reach. In my shooting universe the need for anything longer than the 400mm on the Panasonic fz 1000 is rare, but there are times when I do need the reach and those times might become more frequent if the potential were part of my conscious thought process. A thought process sometimes driven by what is at hand. Meaning: If I had "it" I'd probably use it.

From a non-professional point of view there's no reason to own both a Sony RX10ii and the RX10iii. If you need the longer reach you would just choose the newest camera and you'll be able to take advantage of all the things I love about the RX10ii along with the added reach of the new lens. And, importantly, Sony doesn't make you give up the wider end in a focal length compromise. If you always shoot wide, never long, and you like the lighter weight and smaller overall size of the originals you would go for the RX10ii. If you want the basic performance of the RX10ii but don't need the latest finder technology and 4K video --- but would love to save about half the purchase price --- you can buy the original and few if any will see a difference in sensor performance or pipeline performance between the three.

But some professionals have different needs than their enthusiast counterparts and so may want to consider owning two different models from the RX10 system of cameras. I like photographing P.R. exterior events with the RX10 cameras for both the reach of the lenses and the ability to work without endless chimping. (Yes, I know that many of you are OVF genii would can estimate all exposure parameters to within one sixth of a stop. I am not Vulcan, only human and I love the ability to fine tune, through the finder, on the fly. It's a time saver).

I am a bit eccentric and, even though I keep a raft of full frame Nikon DSLR cameras for client work (where necessary or implied...) I am starting to look at the RX10 family of cameras as an alternative professional imaging system of the future. Narrow depth of field has been a style for a long time now but there are numerous situations in which deeper focus is more or less demanded. Products, group shots, landscapes, most video, etc. With the improved performance metrics of Sony's BSI 20 megapixel sensor and the very good performance of the Zeiss branded zoom lenses the only two places that require different cameras choices are quickly becoming situations requiring very narrow depth of field and situations that call for the use of very, very high ISOs. For nearly everything else all of the formats are capable of good results on a wide variety of media.

I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone need change a system that works for them and that they like I am trying to outline why someone in my occupation may be interested in the one inch cameras as an alternative or an adjunct to a more traditional system.

The zoom lens on the front of the RX10iii, if it lives up to its marketing spin, will give many of us our first real taste of extreme telephoto reach, coupled with a good performing imaging sensor. And we would be getting this reach at a fraction of the cost of the same sort of lens from, well, anyone.

If you need the reach of a 600mm but can't handle the weight, price, size and logistics of handling a traditional lens this camera will be logical and almost mandatory. I can hardly wait to put the long reach to the test at the next big swim competition. In most lighting conditions for swimming concerns about AF performance aren't vital. But being able to reach across a pool from the audience bleachers and get tight close ups of competitors could be amazingly fun. I also love a good compression shot and this is a camera/lens choice that would handle that superbly. It comes with a small penalty over it's sister cameras in terms of weight but, apparently, nothing else.

When I go out to shoot video I want to take two cameras with me for a number of reasons. The first being the need/desire for nearly identical, redundant back-up. With so many resources being focused on a specific time frame it's folly to go out without a second camera. Cameras don't just fail on their own, they also get dropped, mishandled, splashed and stolen. $1300-$1500 more, spent on a second camera is just like buying insurance. You may never need it (in a back up capacity) but if you do it can be a job saver...

The other compelling reason is the ability to use two cameras to video capture the same scene or interview from two different angles and two different focal lengths. Having more material with which to edit is never a bad thing. That the 2 and the 3 are mostly identical except for the difference in lenses is a great thing. When you are in the middle of a series of interviews, with short windows of available time, being able to go back and forth between cameras with identical menus, codecs, profiles and setting is an enormous time saver and reduces anxiety on important projects.

I could write more things about the cameras but I have covered most of the big features in my review of the RX10ii. The important thing to remember is that I'm not necessarily using any of the cameras exclusively. My purchase of an RX10iii does not mean that I would use it all the time, instead of any other camera. It would be a nod to the idea that there is no one perfect cameras that's perfect for everything you might want to throw at it.

The bottom line for me is that I've been shooting with the RX10 products since their inception and have found them to be reliable,  functional, easy to handle pieces of equipment that do many of the things I like to do with a camera well.

I've asked my supplier for a "review" camera when the "type 3" comes out so I can put it through its paces and write a knowledgeable review of it. Until then I am actively resisting the pre-order hype, mostly because I am so darn happy with the RX10ii. We'll see....

Also, quick question for video inclined readers: Have you used the Sony PXW X70 HD422 video camera?  If you have I'd love hear/read your impressions. Thanks.

6 comments:

Frank Grygier said...

This is forum that you may find useful:
http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/sony-pxw-x70-fdr-ax100/

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Frank. I'll head there and check it out. Much appreciated.

Kepano said...

I bought the X70 to replace my Sony NX30 as a run-and-gun camera. The NX30 was a small chip video handycam with a phenomenal OIS (where the whole lens-sensor block was stabilized). The X70 promised better low light performance with it's 1" chip, but gave up the active OIS.

Typical use: following someone around giving a tour or a site/facility. These gigs are very impromptu in nature, and the X70 does well as an ENG style camera. Dual SD cards allow mirrored recording, which I value - solid state storage rarely fails, but I've had cards go bad on me in the past. Built in NDs make dynamic situations much more manageable - no more dealing with vari-NDs on the lens which is huge when moving from indoors to outdoors, or on one gig touring a hospital, indoors, outdoors, indoors, outdoors, into the generator building, out to the water back up tank, back indoors... You get the idea - built-in ND FTW.

Image: it's okay. You can get nice looking shots out of this camera with good latitude. In a pinch, I'll do a talking head with the X70, especially if I want to include the environment in the background. But, for sit downs, I prefer a larger sensor with a fast lens to knock the background out of focus, as I'm often shooting in crappy locations.

Of course, built-in XLRs and phantom power are nice (thought the XLR-K2M on my A7s serves equally well). My go-to indoor boom mic (Audix SCX-1 which sounds awesome) and long shotgun (Rode NTG-3) need phantom power.

I assume you are asking about the X70 as it's a distant cousin (by virtue of the 1" sensor) to the RX series. For me, it is the long record times (I have to shoot presentations sometimes) and the all-in-one form factor. I much prefer setting up my A7s (though it's early days yet for my FS5, that will likely assume the A-cam role for less dynamic work). The A7s with my 35mm and 85mm f/1.4 primes can cover so much of my work so long as I am relatively stationary. But, if I have to move, the X70 is usually a better choice.

If you are on Facebook, join the X70 user group. It's pretty active.

Kirk Tuck said...

Kepano, Thanks for the great information! I'm bidding on a vid project that will require a lot of shooting out in the sun and impromptu interviews in exterior locations. I've been using the Nikon D750 and it's great under controlled conditions but requires an external mixer/pre-amp for good audio and I would also like the 10 bit 4:2:2 for a bit more wiggle room in color correction and exposure correction. The X70 looks like the minimum standard to provide that codec+XLRs in a manageable package. My need is pretty project specific but seven to eight days of rental just about equals "go ahead and buy one." It's all contingent on being the successful bidder. I'll let you know how it goes.

My other option is an external digital recorder which gets me 8 bit 4:2:2 with the Nikon but with a large layer of complexity and actually about the same overall cost (new media, batteries, etc.)

Thanks for your quick response, I meet with the client this week.

Anonymous said...

This will be a brilliant camera for video shooters. Ultra long at 120 fps? Cool.

Kepano said...

Good luck with the bid!