2.26.2017

In "Sony Time" it seem like we're getting close to a refresh of the RX10 series. What would I like to see?

The Sony RX10iii in a Camvate cage topped with a Zoom H5 audio recorder equipped with an SSH-6 stereo/shotgun microphone. 

I'm a huge fan of the Sony RX10 series of cameras but I am not blind to their shortcomings. I get a sense that we'll be seeing another RX10 (or two) in the next few months and I'm hoping that Sony makes a few tweaks to the RX10iii product to make it even better. At the same time I'm hoping they introduce a new, more niche-y variant which I'll flesh out below.

The original Sony RX10 was a breakthrough product; a highly capable video camera, wrapped up in a high performance, one inch sensor photography camera. The two things that made the original such an important camera (for me) were the introduction of a really good sensor, at an interesting size, as well as a remarkably good zoom lens with a range I found to be just about perfect.

The original camera had a mediocre video codec but this was remedied in a firmware update which elevated the camera from having an AVCHD video file system that capped out at 28 mbs to a more advanced XAVC-S video file system that delivered 50 mbs; which delivered more detailed video images.

The next generation; the RX10ii kept the lens and body pretty much the same but delivered UHD 4K video and a much improved (higher resolution) EVF. Along with the UHD implementation the camera also offered faster fps settings in 1080p.

The current generation; the RX10iii, more of less blew the lid off
what we've come to expect from the lenses on fixed lens cameras. It delivers a 24-600mm (35mm equivalent angle of view) lens with relatively wide apertures, fleshes out the high speed modes and matches the EVF improvements of the previous generation. Two things were removed from the newest model that many miss. First, it lost the built in neutral density filer of the RX10ii. Second, it lost the constant maximum aperture on the lens. Now the aperture shifts as one zooms, from f2.4 at the widest focal length, to f4.0 at the longer focal lengths.

While all three cameras are very good image makers they all suffer (in some use scenarios) from conventional contrast detect autofocus. It can be slower to find focus that more advanced systems and it can be difficult to lock onto moving subjects because of the way CD-AF works. Finally, the magnification of camera shake at the longest focal lengths hampers the focusing system because there can be too much movement to allow the system the temporal discrimination to achieve a lock.

On the other hand the last two generations are wonderful platforms with which to shoot video. Once you've successfully grappled with focus and learning how to optimize your technique to help the camera in dicey situations you will be rewarded with exemplary UHD and 1080p video that is sharp, detailed, color-rich and (relatively) un-noisy.

Here's my hope for the next model: I think it is sensible to assume that the RX10iv will use the latest one inch sensor that arrived this winter in the company's smaller camera; the RX100v. The difference that I am most interested in is the inclusion of phase detection auto focus on the chip. Adding PD-AF to the sensor would go a long way toward ensuring accurate focus tracking and much faster lock in for acquiring locked focus. If Sony does nothing else to the camera I will consider it a success and a "must buy."

But I'm hoping for a few more improvements. Here they are: I would like to see the camera get a second SD card slot so I can record smaller, proxy video files on one card and bigger files on the other card. Or use both slots for simultaneous back-up. I would dearly love to see Sony ditch the micro-HDMI port and replace it with a mini-HDMI or even (wishes can come true!) a full sized HDMI port. I'd like to stop worrying about the functional integrity of the ultra tiny micro port.

With faster SD cards coming to market and faster processing in the camera I would love it if Sony could give us the 10 bit, 4:2:2 1080p XAVC-L codec that they currently use in cameras like the PXW-Z150 camera and the FS-5... If we could also get 4:2:2 color in the UHD files that would be an extra bonus.

My final request in an updated version of the existing camera is to do whatever it is that Panasonic has done with the viewfinder of the FZ-2500/2000. The magnification is greater and the screen seems just a bit more pleasant to look at.

Those are all my wishes for an update to the current product but I would also like to see Sony step into the niche more strongly and offer a variant of their current model with a much shorter and faster lens. A street shooter's delight. An available light shooter's ultimate tool.

What am I looking for? Same body style but instead of going for ultimate range, this model would give us a 24-105mm f1.8 (the aperture being constant through the range). Everything else as wished for in the RX10iii upgrade but with the option to use a lens that covers an important and more traditional range of focal lengths with a great Zeiss zoom lens design.

That's it. That would line me up for two Sony purchases this year, without hesitation. These cameras are already amazingly great tools for the price. The additions I anticipate would make them cult-worthy. Get the ceremonial robes ready....

14 comments:

Fred said...

Kirk,
Good overview and upgrade path that Sony obviously should take :-). The (potential) camera with the 24-105 f1.8 would be very interesting to me. I would think with a lens that fast that bringing back an internal ND filter would be a good idea. Your thoughts? Maybe it is time for me to start saving some money.
Fred

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Fred, I would hope that Sony has seen the (too much) light and goes back to putting NDs in all new RX10 bodies. I'm saving up money and looking behind the couch cushions. If either prediction (RX10iv or RX10fast) comes true I want to be first in line... Tired of not buying cameras!!!

Ralph DiFronzo said...

Imagine is Sony made a camera with the same specs as the ii, but with a comparably performing stacked ASP-C size sensor...

Kirk Tuck said...

There are tons of APS-C sensor cameras out there. I conjecture that it's part of photo history that no longer matters. A bigger sensor means bigger, heavier lenses. More expense. Less speed. And it's a market that's well covered. But Ralph, maybe I'm just not understanding it right.

Kenneth Voigt said...

I would pre-order the 24-105mm f1.8 version in a Cramer Entrance.

cfw said...

Is there a reason you (or anyone for than matter) use a "hybrid" video/still camera when shooting video professionally, instead of a dedicated video camera? Is there an aesthetic difference to the end product, or is it simply price and size?

Kirk Tuck said...

cfw, I am assuming you know that up until recently even the top line ENG (electronic news gathering) video cameras usually had a one half inch sensor size. Most had 1/3rd inch sensors. As you can imagine it was tremendously hard to get backgrounds out of focus unless you were fully zoomed in, with the subject close to the camera and the background far away. When the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D mk2 came out and could shoot a FULL FRAME 1080p frame it made an amazing impact on the video profession. All of a sudden everyone wanted full frame. Or at least a big enough sensor to be able to do effects with. There's one good reason.

Secondly, now that professional video cameras with bigger (still only APS-C size!!!!!) have hit the market they've more or less standardized on cameras like the Sony FS-7 for professional use. Have you picked on up and carried it around for a while? With the bigger batteries and all the attachments the cameras are bulky, heavy and slow to use.

So, what do you gain? The a6300 has less noisy files in 4K than the Sony FS-5 at $6500. You can see the difference on the screen. The 4K video out of the RX10iii is equally sharp. So, when you get a full on dedicated video camera with the performance of, say, a Sony A7rii you get a smaller sensor, a much bigger, heavier and more expensive package, more choice of file codecs, XLR mic inputs and ...... that's about it.

But here's the catch. If I dump all my still cameras, reject the "hybrid" idea of shooting both video and stills with the cameras at hand and settled on a professional, interchangeable lens camera like a FS-7 then I don't get to shoot full frame files or high resolution still files ever again. Nope. Sadly, the benefits don't travel in both directions.

When I shoot with an A7Rii I'm getting great files. If I need even better files I can hook it up to an inexpensive digital recorder and spool off 4:2:2 files that are really good.

But, you know that I'm a working photographer, right? On a good number of my jobs we're doing a video interview and then following up by shooting high res portraits. Doesn't it kinda make sense to you that I might want to use the same lighting, readjust the framing, drop into photo mode and snap away? All the material in one spot. All with one perfectly chosen lens? With the same color characteristics?

If that's the case then why would I want to drop $10K to $15K on still cameras and lenses and then go out and spend another $10K or $15K on a video camera? Of course I could rent a video camera for every engagement but I'd still be packing the photo gear and dragging it along.

No thanks. I'll be happy to buy an inexpensive audio recorder or an interface that allows me to use pro microphones. And the $100 VND filter gives me lots of exposure control and can be used across a lot of different lenses. With my current systems I have my choice of shooting 4K video on a full frame sensor, and APS-C sensor and a one inch sensor. Two of the three allow for infinitely interchangeable lenses. Two have very, very good image stabilization built in.

All three can be carried with less strain that one dedicated video camera. Even the EVFs on the still cameras are better than the ones on the FS-5 and FS-7s.

Nope, not a hard choice. To be honest, I'd love to have a dedicated video camera in addition but I would probably get something like the Sony z150 which uses the same kind of sensor that's in the RX10iii but has some niceties like bigger batteries that last longer as well as having no recording time limits.

The split between the two kinds of cameras seems to me to be very much a "last decade" thing. Kind of like trying to argue Henri Cartier-Bresson into packing a Speed Graphic 4x5 camera along with his Leica because, you know, it would be more professional......

Hope that's a good answer for you. KT

Ross said...

That's why i was interested in the Nikon DL 24-85..... But obviously won't be now. However I am looking at the Panny LX100 for just this sort of work....

cfw said...

Thanks. I had no idea. When it comes to video, I'm not a "last decade" sort of person, but more a "last century" type.

Anonymous said...

Kirk

Everything in your post may come to pass. Any predictions you have certainly have a greater chance of being true then mine. But.

B and H currently show the original rx10, released in 2013(?) selling for $898.00, but is backordered and expected to arrive in 7 to 14 days. The rx10 ii is backordered and still selling, briskly I understand, at the original list price of $1398 in July 2015. The rx10 iii, released May of last year at $1598, is at a bargain price of $1498.

Why would Sony kill the golden geese? Why not get the new design ready with all your upgrades ready to kill the next Panasonic threat?

Jay

PhotED said...

Kirk- a 24-105 F1.8 version of the RX-20 would be very intriguing indeed. I never really jumped at the RX-100 partly because of the more limited tele end of the lens as well as the form factor (too small). I have been using my RX-10 with great results for personal photography and as a video camera for my son's school activities. Been really happy with it, but recently got a Mkii for a steal on eBay, so may sell the Mk 1 to help cover some of the costs. Looking forward to the better EVF and video on the Mk 2. BTW, I completely parted with all my 4/3rds he's a few weeks back to focus on using the Rx-10 and A7. Been very happy with that decision, even if it's the first time I've been without an Olympus as my main camera in nearly 35 years.

Andrzej Rojek said...

Kirk, your response to cfw on why you prefer video-enabled still cameras over dedicated video cameras for video would be an excellent stand-alone VSL post. Although it's a sensible idea to chart one's own course as far as gear related decision making goes, such informative posts might help a lot.

Anonymous said...

i've got the RX10ii and use it for both photo and video regularly. i must say that i am always concerned about the two main drawbacks of using it for important video related content... the recording time limit, and the potential (if uses for several lengthy clips in succession) for it to overheat. The overheating part is rare for the RX10ii, but with some of the other Sonys like the a6300, it's a big issue when taking that particular camera on an important shoot. You can't be using a camera that occasionally fails to function properly on a paid gig. I wish somehow Sony could work past that ever being an issue with their cameras sometime soon. And do whatever is necessary to get rid of the 30 minute limit (charge more to cover the additional taxes involved for "video camera" classification or whatever the reason for it is). For event shooters, sometimes you need to record uninterrupted for over 30 minutes. For these reasons, I grab the AX100 video camera (same 1 inch sensor as the RX10ii) for important video shoots, rather than try to make the RX10ii serve as an "all in one."

Kirk Tuck said...

I've used the RX10ii and RX10iii in all kinds of Summer weather here in Texas and have never experienced overheating. I agree with you about the 30 min. time limit.