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Review: Sony RX10 II
3:05 am | August 28, 2015

Author: admin | Category: Cameras | Comments: None

Review: Sony RX10 II

Introduction and features

Sony first introduced its convention-defying RX10 bridge camera range back in 2013. Most bridge cameras offer monster-sized zoom ranges you might never use fully, which forces the makers to use tiny 1/2.3-inch sensors that compromise the image quality.

But Sony went for quality not quantity, and stuck to a relatively modest 24-200mm zoom. It doesn’t have the telephoto reach of regular bridge cameras, but it still covers the everyday focal lengths most of us use, most of the time. What this lens does offer is a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, even at full zoom, which means it’s going to be much better for low-light photography.

That’s not all. The less ambitious focal range has allowed for a more ambitious 1-inch sensor that’s much larger than a regular bridge camera’s and delivers much higher picture quality.

With the RX10 II Sony has kept to this winning lens and sensor combination and concentrated instead on processing power and speed, and 4K video in particular.

Sony RX10 II review

In terms of pixel count, The RX10 II is the same as its predecessor at 20.2 million, but there’s a brand new sensor design here – it’s the first Sony Exmor RS sensor, and it features a stacked design. There’s a DRAM (memory) chip attached to the sensor itself, which allows for a quicker readout that is promised to be 5x faster than the previous design. It also facilitates such features as 40x super slow motion, and it’s joined by a Bionz X processor which is also designed for speed.

Another new feature is an anti-distortion (electronic) shutter which is designed to combat rolling shutter in video and enable shooting at up to 1/32000 of a second for stills. This is particularly useful for shooting with wide apertures in bright sunlight, or when you want to capture something particularly fast moving. Sony claims an autofocus speed of around 0.09 seconds, and you can shoot continuously at up to 14fps (frames per second).

The viewfinder has been upgraded too, and now boasts 2,359k dots compared with the 1,440k dots of the original RX10. The rear screen is a 1,228k-dot device which tilts downwards and upwards to help with shooting from awkward angles – it’s not fully articulating, though, so it’s less useful for portrait-format images. Like its predecessor, the screen isn’t touch sensitive, as Sony continues to show resistance to including this feature in its high-end cameras.

Sony RX10 II review

A constant aperture of f/2.8 can be maintained throughout the RX10 II’s 24-200mm (focal length equivalent) zoom range, which is the same as found on the original RX10. The 8.3x zoom range is a lot shorter than the average bridge camera, and quite a bit shorter than some of the 50x, 60x and even 83x zoom bridge cameras which you can find on the market at the moment – but it’s important to remember that very few of these offer an aperture of f/2.8 at the wide-angle end, let alone throughout their zoom range.

Sony has introduced 4K video shooting for this iteration of the RX10, but unlike the RX100 IV announced at the same time it can shoot for 29 minutes and 59 seconds at a time, compared with just five minutes for the smaller camera. Super slow motion video recording is also available, which gives you the option to shoot two- or four-second bursts of video and play them back at speeds up to 40x slower than real time.

One of the criticisms of the original RX10 was its battery life, but Sony has managed to improve that for the updated version, offering a claimed 400 shots compared with 340 for the RX10.

There aren’t too many direct competitors for the RX10 II, aside from Panasonic’s FZ1000, which also features a one-inch sensor but has a larger 16x (25-400mm equivalent) zoom range. The new Canon G3X, which also features a one-inch sensor but has a 24-600mm equivalent (25x optical zoom) lens also comes reasonably close. Both cameras have variable-aperture zooms, though – only the Sony offers a constant f/2.8 throughout the range.

Build Quality and Handling

Sony has kept pretty much the same body design and layout for the second generation of the RX10 as for the first – it’s the interior specifications which have changed. If you’ve used the original RX10, you’re going to find the RX10 II very familiar.

This is a substantial bridge camera which could easily be mistaken for a DSLR. It does have a large, chunky grip with a textured coating that makes it feel nice in the hand, but while it’s possible to use the camera one-handed, it’s more likely that you’ll want to use a second hand to steady the lens.

On the top of the camera is an LCD screen which displays key settings, such as aperture and shutter speed. It’s useful for quickly checking that you have the settings you want selected, and it can be illuminated if you’re shooting in low light.

Also on the top of the camera, within easy reach of your thumb, is an exposure compensation dial, which has just the right amount of stiffness to ensure that you’re not going to accidentally knock it in everyday operation. On the opposite side of the top plate is a mode dial on which you’ll find one new addition: the HFR mode (high frame rate), which is used for creating super slow motion movies.

Sony RX10 II review

Most of the RX10 II’s buttons are positioned on the back right of the camera, which makes it easy to change most settings with your right thumb. One notable exception is the main menu button, which is located just next to the viewfinder – it’s a button you may find you don’t need to press all that often though.

There’s also a switch for altering the focusing mode, just next to the lens on the front of the camera – here you can switch between Single, Continuous, DMF (Direct Manual Focus) and Manual Focus. DMF is useful for making fine adjustments after autofocus has been confirmed by the camera, such as when shooting a macro subject.

There are two rings around the RX10’s substantial lens. One of those is an aperture ring, which should be appreciated by enthusiasts. A nice touch here is that you can either have it click as you move through the stops, or have a smooth motion – the latter is particularly handy when you’re shooting video.

The second ring can be used to extend the zoom lens (alternatively you can use the zoom switch around the shutter release), or for adjusting focus when using Manual Focus.

A ‘quick’-type menu can be accessed by pressing the function (Fn) button. This menu is completely customisable, enabling you to switch out functions you use rarely for those you want to change more often. It’s very handy to have, and works well in conjunction with the two dedicated customisable buttons. Both the left and right key can also be assigned to a function of your choice too.

Sony RX10 II review

By default, to set the autofocus point (if you have Focus Area set to Flexible Spot), you press the central button on the navigational pad, and then use the directional keys to choose the point you need. Although it’s quite an easy process, it would be so much quicker if the camera screen was touch-sensitive. You can also set the central button to access another function if you prefer.

Like its predecessor, the RX10 II’s screen is not fully articulated, but instead tilts downwards and upwards for help with shooting from some awkward angles, such as low down. You can’t flip the screen forward for shooting selfies though.

The RX10 II’s viewfinder is excellent, and the increase in resolution over the original RX10 has given it a good boost. There’s a sensor that detects when the camera is lifted to your eye and switches the viewfinder on and the screen off – this is a seamless operation that feels very natural. What’s more, there’s an eyecup around the viewfinder which helps to block out distracting surroundings when you’re composing images.

Performance

It comes as no surprise that the RX10 Mark II is capable of producing fantastic images. The Mark II builds on the great heritage of the original camera, and we’ve also seen this sensor working very well in the RX100 IV.

Images (JPEG) straight from the camera are nicely saturated, but still appear realistic when shooting with the Standard Creative Style setting. If you wish to, you can experiment with different Styles depending on the subject you’re shooting – some may suit a more vibrant treatment, while others will benefit from a more muted palette.

An impressive amount of detail can be seen in images at the lower end of the sensitivity scale, even when zooming in to 100% – take a look at the feathers on the image of the bird below at full resolution to see what we’re talking about.

Images maintain a superb overall impression of detail almost to the very top of the sensitivity scale when viewed at normal printing and screen sizes. It’s possible to make a usable A3 print from images shot at ISO 6400, while even images shot at 12800 are usable at smaller sizes if you’re really struggling with the light.

Sony RX10 II review

Sample image: Having an electronic shutter enables you to shoot at fast shutter speeds while keeping the aperture wide. This image was shot at 1/3200 sec; the fastest speed available from the mechanical shutter is 1/2000 sec. Click here to see the full-size image.

Sony RX10 II reviewSony RX10 II reviewSony RX10 II review

Sample image: This shot offers a great example of how much detail the RX10 II is capable of resolving – have a look at the feathers at 100%. Click here to see the full-size image.

Looking at the corresponding raw images it’s clear that significant noise reduction is being applied to JPEG images from around ISO 800 and above. Without this applied to the raw files you can see a degree of coloured speckling throughout the image from around ISO 1600, but there’s barely any banding. This means that you can use image processing software to extract a little more detail than is in the matching JPEG, so long as you’re okay with a little bit of noise remaining.

Our labs test indicate that the RX10 II’s resolution capability outstrips the original camera by some margin, but the signal to noise ratio tests appear to favour the Mark I. This suggests that for this camera Sony has favoured detail resolution over noise reduction, which is good news for detail fans – and remember, if you shoot in raw format you can apply your own preferred amount of noise reduction.

Our sensitivity table images show that the second generation camera is less prone to image smoothing at higher sensitivities. It’s also possible to see a better representation of colour tones at the higher end of the scale, which is good news for those who like to shoot in low light.

Sony RX10 II review

Sample image: At the widest end of its lens, the RX10 II offers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24mm, making it ideal for landscape images. Click here to see the full-size image.

Sony RX10 II review

Sample image: The same scene shot at the RX10 II’s maximum focal length of 200mm (equivalent). Although the RX10 II’s zoom range isn’t as impressive as some of the 50, 60 and 83x behemoths on the market, you’ve still got a good degree of flexibility. Click here to see the full-size image.

The Panasonic FZ1000 does outperform the Sony in our labs tests, especially for signal to noise ratio, but the two are very closely matched for detail resolution.

For the majority of shots, the RX10 II’s automatic white balance system copes well with different lighting conditions. Under artificial light, colours are very realistic and I felt little need to select a white balance preset. The Cloudy setting can be used to warm up images if you’re finding that shots look a little cool under an overcast sky.

Similarly, the RX10 II’s general purpose metering system works well to produce accurate and well balanced exposures in a variety of conditions. Most of the time, I elected to leave the DRO Optimiser on automatic. This works by evaluating the scene and adjusting the processing for different areas of the image depending on how much highlights and shadows should be retained.

It’s particularly useful (and apparent) when photographing subjects or scenes with areas of high contrast. It can be beneficial to push the DRO Level up to 5 for very high-contrast scenes, although the resulting image can look a little artificial.

Sony RX10 II review

Sample image: At ISO 1600 an impressive level of detail retained, while noise is almost non-existent. Click here to see the full-size image.

Sony RX10 II review

Sample image: Unlike with Picture Effects, you can use Creative Styles to change the look of images while simultaneously shooting in raw format if you want to rescue a ‘clean’ version of the image later. Click here to see the full-size image.

Sony’s Fast AF system works well to enable very quick focus acquisition, and it’s generally accurate too. In lower light, the camera may hunt around for a little longer than the quoted 0.09 seconds, but it always gets there in the end.

Although the zoom range of the RX10 II is limited compared to other bridge models, it should be enough for most situations. Images taken throughout the focal length range are of a good quality, while optical image stabilisation helps to keep shake-induced blur to a minimum at the furthest reach. The fact that you can shoot at f/2.8 throughout the range is also a bonus, of course, enabling fast shutter speeds when shooting handheld.

Sony has been keen to shout about the video capability of its new cameras – not just the RX10 II but the RX100 IV too. Video quality at full HD and 4K from the RX10 II is very good, and the longer shooting time of up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds in 4K makes it more useful for holiday videos and the like than the RX100 IV.

It’s possible to see a rolling shutter (jello effect) if you’re panning quickly, but this shouldn’t be a problem for most amateur videographers, and the effect is less obvious when you’re shooting full HD (1080p) video.

Lab tests: Resolution

We’ve carried out our full range of lab tests on the Sony RX10 II, but we’ve also pitted it against three key rivals so that you can see how it compares. We’ve included the Canon G3 X, which also has a 1-inch sensor but a longer zoom range, and the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 – another bridge camera with a 1-inch sensor. For comparison, our third rival is the Nikon P900, which is a more typical bridge camera, featuring a huge zoom range but a small sensor.

We’ve carried out lab tests on the Sony RX10 II across its full ISO range for resolution, noise (including signal to noise ratio) and dynamic range. We test the JPEGs shot by the camera, but we also check the performance with raw files. Most enthusiasts and pros prefer to shoot raw, and the results can often be quite different.

Sony RX10 II resolution charts

We test camera resolution using an industry-standard ISO test chart that allows precise visual comparisons. This gives us numerical values for resolution in line widths/picture height, and you can see how the Sony RX10 II compares with its rivals in the charts below.

Sony RX10 II review

JPEG resolution analysis: The RX10 II comes out at the top of the group for resolution, closely matched by the camera most would consider its main rival, the Panasonic FZ1000. The Canon G3 X lags slightly behind, particularly at higher ISO settings, while the Nikon P900 has the lowest resolution figures of all – exactly what we would expect from a small-sensor bridge camera.

Sony RX10 II review

Raw (converted to TIFF) resolution analysis: Again, the RX10 II delivers the sharpest results, though the Panasonic and Canon match it pretty closely at low-to-medium ISO settings. The Nikon P900 doesn’t figure in our raw test charts, as it doesn’t offer raw format shooting.

Sample resolution charts

This is the chart we use for testing camera resolution. The key area is just to the right of centre, where a series of converging lines indicates the point at which the camera can no longer resolve them individually. We shoot this chart at all of the camera’s ISO settings, and here are two samples at ISO 200 and ISO 6400.

Sony RX10 II review

ISO 200: Click here for a full-size version.

Sony RX10 II review

ISO 6400: Click here for a full-size version.

Lab tests: Dynamic range

Dynamic range is a measure of the range of tones the sensor can capture. Cameras with low dynamic range will often show ‘blown’ highlights or blocked-in shadows. This test is carried out in controlled conditions using DxO hardware and analysis tools.

Sony RX10 II review

Read: Noise and dynamic range results explained

Dynamic range is measured in exposure values (EV). The higher the number the wider the range of brightness levels the camera can capture. This falls off with increasing ISO settings because the camera is having to amplify a weaker signal. Raw files capture a higher dynamic range because the image data is unprocessed.

Sony RX10 II dynamic range charts

Sony RX10 II review

JPEG dynamic range analysis: Disappointingly, the RX10 II lags a little behind the rest for dynamic range when shooting JPEG images – even the Nikon P900 comes out ahead.

Sony RX10 II review

Raw (converted to TIFF) dynamic range analysis: The results are similar for raw files. The RX10 II can’t quite match the dynamic range of the Panasonic FZ1000, though it’s close to the performance of the G3 X if you take the whole ISO range into account.

Lab tests: Signal to noise ratio

This is a test of the camera’s noise levels. The higher the signal to noise ratio, the greater the difference in strength between the real image data and random background noise, so the ‘cleaner’ the image will look. The higher the signal to noise ratio, the better.

Sony RX10 II signal to noise ratio charts

Sony RX10 II review

JPEG signal to noise ratio analysis: Again, the RX10 II puts in a slightly disappointing result, some way below the signal to noise ratio of the Canon, Panasonic and even the Nikon. All this means in practice, though, is that Sony may have decided to reduce the level of noise reduction in its JPEG files for more natural, if noisier, detail rendition.

Sony RX10 II review

Raw (converted to TIFF) signal to noise ratio analysis: In fact the signal to noise ratio of the RX10 II’s raw files is much closer to the rest, though it still lags noticeably behind its big rival, the Panasonic FZ1000, right across the ISO range.

Sample Sony RX10 II ISO test results

The signal to noise ratio charts use laboratory test equipment, but we also shoot a real-world scene to get a visual indication of the camera’s noise levels across the ISO range. The right side of the scene is darkened deliberately because this makes noise more obvious.

Sony RX10 II review

ISO 200: Click here for a full-size version.

Sony RX10 II review

ISO 6400: Click here for a full-size version.

Verdict

Despite its strengths, the RX10 II is, like its predecessor, likely to find favour only with a fairly niche audience. It’s by no means a cheap camera, but for those looking for something which is a fantastic all-round model, and which delivers real quality without the hassle (and expense) of interchangeable lenses, it’s a serious option.

Its image quality is fantastic, and the new sensor really delivers, producing excellent, vibrant images with bags of detail. Some bridge camera users are fans of huge zoom ranges while others put a premium on image quality, and if you fall into the latter camp you may be very tempted by the RX10 II.

However, if you think you’re likely to need extra reach then the Panasonic FZ1000 may be more appealing, offering as it does a 400mm (equivalent) maximum focal length, which is twice the Sony’s 200mm maximum – although the Panasonic’s maximum aperture does drop to f/4 at full zoom.

The RX10 II is also a little on the large side; some will love that, some will hate it. Most of the bulk comes from the large lens, which facilitates the wide maximum aperture, and for those who are used to shooting with DSLRs it won’t be a problem. However, if you’re looking for something small and light then you’d do better to look elsewhere.

I found the camera very practical to use, with the aperture ring being a favourite feature. The fact that you can customise many of the buttons to work exactly how you want them too is also a bonus, and it seems like Sony has put some serious thought into how enthusiast photographers want to work.

The viewfinder is excellent, offering a clear and bright view of the scene, while the integrated eye sensor makes it seamless to use. The screen is also good, but because it only tilts, rather than being fully articulating, it’s not as useful for portrait-format images. It’s also not possible to tilt it fully forward, so selfie lovers may be a little disappointed. There’s still no touchscreen here either, and we’re not entirely sure why.

We liked

There’s still lots to like about the RX10 in its second iteration, but it’s the image quality that remains the most impressive feature, even more so with the new stacked sensor design. Being able to shoot at up to 1/32000 of a second is incredibly useful when you want to shoot wide open in bright light, enabling you to keep those creative shallow depth of field effects without overexposing shots.

We disliked

This is a common complaint we have with Sony cameras, but it would be nice to have better flexibility with raw format shooting. You have to switch it off if you want to use Picture Effects or Digital Zoom for example, which adds a frustrating layer of faff and means that you don’t have a clean version of the image to work with if you need it down the line.

Most other manufacturers offer you the ability to shoot digital filters in raw, so it’s a shame that it’s not possible here. A quicker way to switch off (and on again) raw format shooting would be welcome if Sony is particularly reluctant to facilitate dual shooting.

Final verdict

Like its predecessor, the RX10 II is an expensive investment, although you could argue that it represents good value for money. While it’s true that a beginner-level DSLR won’t cost you anywhere near this amount, you won’t find a DSLR lens that offers an f/2.8 maximum aperture over a 24-200mm (equivalent) zoom range.

It’s not a question of price – they simply don’t exist. So for those who don’t want to worry about lugging around a huge kit bag full of different optics it’s a great option – travelling photographers in particular may find it appealing. For those on a more limited budget however, the Panasonic FZ1000 can be picked up for a much, much cheaper price at the moment, and offers comparable levels of quality.

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