Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II Hands-on: Premium compact camera returns
June 29, 2013
COMMENTS

The Sony CyberShot RX 100 won critical acclaim from both critics and users alike, and was coronated the top-selling premium compact camera last year. And now it gets an upgrade…

The Sony RX100 Mark II maintains the specs that made its successor a hit, while offering a number of significant improvements.

What makes this camera so special is its 1-inch (type) sensor, significantly larger than what you can find on cameras in the same class – premium compact camers such as the Canon G15, the Fuji X20, and the Nikon P7700.

T3 Middle East

The new 20.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor is Sony’s first to feature back-side illumination, and therefore this camera is supposed to perform better in low-light conditions.

Sony RX100 II: Size and build

Packing a f1.8 Carl Zeiss lens,the RX100 II looks more or less the same as the original RX100, although it is slightly thicker, due to the new tiltable screen. Measuring 101.6 x 58.1 x 38.3mm and tipping the scales at 281g, it’s still easily pocketable and the metal construction is undeniably premium.

Sony RX100 II: Features

The upgrade to a BSI sensor means maximum sensitivity jumped from ISO 6400 on the Mark I to 12,800 on the Mark II.

Unlike CSC cameras with interchangeable lens, you are stuck here with a (frankly excellent) 3.6x optical zoom Carl Zeiss glass having the 35mm equivalent of 28-100, and a wide maximum aperture of f/1.8. The wide aperture was a crowd favorite and Sony deicded to keep it.

The Mark II features the same 3-inch, 1,229k dot high-res screen of its ancestor, but can now tilt upwards and downwards – perfect for catching that tricky/awkward shot. Oh, and it’s still NOT of the touch variety.

T3 Middle East

The most notable jump from the previous model is the addition of Wi-Fi (and NFC) connectivity. This means you can control the snapper from your smart device / phone or forgo cables when shuttling images to your PC.

Another welcome addition is the Sony’s Multi Interface Shoe (hotshoe) that allows you to attach accessories (mics, viewfinder etc.) as you would do on other Sony Alpha or NEX cameras.

The only downpont is the accompanying jump in price, from $650 for the R100 (which will still sell until Christmas 2013) to almost $1000 for the RX100 Mark II.

Performance

Let’s start by properly placing this camera in its appropriate class. The RX100 Mark II sits beneath APS-C DSLRs or ultra-premium full-frame compact cameras (and their exorbitant price) such as the Nikon Coolpix A and the Fujifilm X100S,

It’s 1-inch sensor makes it the equivalent of the one found on the Nikon 1 (interchangeable lens), but it is probably most closely matched by the Panasonic LF1 or Olympus XZ-2.

Handling and Usability

It’s sleek, sturdy by virtue of its metal chassis, and slips comfortably into a bag (or a large pocket).

T3 Middle East

As you can see, the top features a mode-dial that has automatic, panoramic mode, and P/A/S/M modes.
 You’ll also find a new step zoom which lets you speedily choose from five focal lengths using the manual control ring – a handy feature for when you’re trying to compose a shot in a hurry. But you have to activate this feature, for initially turning the ring controls the aperture instead.

T3 Middle East

A jog-wheel in the back lets you alter Exposure variables quickly. And in typical ony fashion most of the buttons in the back can be customized.

At  first inspection we couldn’t find the delete button. It turned out that the help (? button) which offers you shooting tips turns into a delete button once in playback mode.

Including Wi-Fi and NFC on this camera elevates it above the majority of its biggest competitors, aside from perhaps the Panasonic LF1. We  tried pairing the camera with the Xperia Z smartphone and the process was flawless. But even without NFC, you can always connect the standard way (Wi-Fi and passwords).

One of the most appealing aspects of cameras such as this is the ability to shoot in raw format. However, Sony remains stubbornly committed to not allowing certain functions to be shot in raw format, including digital filters and Clear Image zoom.

RX100 Mark II: Performance and Image quality

  • With the 1-inch backlit sensor and the excellent f/1.8 lens, this camera is able to deliver, even in low light
  • Colors are bright and pack a punch without showing signs of excessive saturation
  • Lots of detail from the 20.2 megapixels sensor
  • Noise does start to creep-in at midrange ISOs, but detail is impressively maintained

One of the things that budding photographers will appreciate is Dynamic Range Optimiser, something that was originally found on Sony’s range of DSLTs but was also included on the Sony RX100 last year. It works by analysing a scene for areas of dark and light and adjusting the exposure accordingly. You can pick from 5 levels, but we recommend keeping it on Automatic mode.

T3 Middle East

Dynamic Range Optimizer off

T3 Middle East

Dynamic Range Optimizer Level 5

The f/1.8 lens with the 3.6x optical zoom can be used for some very interesting shallow depth-of-field:

T3 Middle East

And at higher apertures, say f/8, the sharpness of the excellent Zeiss lens is revealed, down to the corners.

Like we stated earlier, noise is well controlled throughout the sensitivity range. This image has been taken at ISO 1600, and while noise is present, it’s smooth and the image still contains plenty of detail.

T3 Middle East

You also get a number of “Filters” (artistic effects) such as HDR Painting, Soft Focus, Miniature (Diorama), as long as you’re not shooting in RAW mode:

Sony RX100 Mark II review

Toy Camera filter

Sony RX100 Mark II review

Soft focus filter

Miniature

Miniature filter

Sony RX100 Mark II review

T3 Verdict

Pros
There’s plenty to like about the Sony RX100 Mark II, from its small, pocketable size to its excellent image quality. We’re most pleased about the improvement to low light performance, which is significantly better than its predecessor, thanks to that new backlit sensor. It might not be able to beat cameras with larger sensors (such as the Fuji X100S) but it is also more pocketable, has variable zoom and costs less.

The addition of Wi-Fi and NFC is also a welcome one. It’s nice to be able to remote-control your camera from your phone, or copying shots

Cons
We’re a bit disappointed that there’s still no a touchscreen, and a little annoyed by the functions that can’t be shot in raw format, leading to some pretty tedious menu diving.
Still, if you predominantly shoot in JPEG only, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue for you.

That makes the price our biggest concern with the RX100 Mark II, but hopefully Sony would slash it by the time this camera hits the market.

The RX100 was crowned as the best compact camera in its class (smaller than APS-C sensor) and it would be fair to say that the title was passed to the RX100 Mar II.

by Simon Khoury
Molecular Biologist turned technology journalist, Simon moved from browsing genomes to dissecting gadgets and putting them through T3's battery of tests. He is currently the Editor for T3me.com, and a contributing editor to the Arabic and English editions of T3 Middle East magazine. He takes special interest in high performance computer systems, high-end smartphones, the indie gaming scene, and productivity boosting software. He is also an avid reader, science afficionado and a picky gamer. You can contact him at webeditor(at)t3me.com.
Read More