Sony RX100 mk2 Review

This is a “quickie” review.  (hah!) Nothing in-depth, but to say for the most part I’m pretty amazed by this little camera!  I don’t, for the most part, do stills, but having it handy for things here and there is nice, and I was pretty stoked when, during a forest hike with Michele, I took the same shot that she did (it was a dark, gloomy late afternoon) and my shot with the RX100 came out clearer, with lots less noise, than with her Canon 5dmkll.  Now, get this, I am so sure that this was a fluke, but what I’m saying  is that given the fact that this thing really does fit in my jeans pocket, yet can produce an image like this (the weird mushroom), it’s pretty cool. (shot at f1.8, ISO 800, 1/20 sec).  The second shot was taken at f3.5, ISO 160, 1/15 sec on a lighter day/different forest and angle, both RAW (unprocessed except for resizing)  Click for PNG files (resized from 20MP RAW)

Weird Mushroom    Mushroom Colony and Birch Forest

But as cool as stills are (aren’t mushroom stills fun?) I bought this camera to give me video capabilities while hiking – liberating me from the onerous task of carrying the FS700, the Vinten tripod, and a shoulder bag with lenses and batteries.  That’s nearly 40 lbs of crap to lug around, and it certainly slows one down!  Enter the RX100 mk2.  Now, should I come across some lovely scene and want to get a shot of it on video, I can (or at least have a chance!), and my back and shoulders don’t ache from the weight.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it imperfect in ways that make me regret buying it?  Hell no!  While I did consider the Panasonic GH3 and the Black Magic Cinema Pocket Camera, both of these would give me more opportunities to complicate my life, and neither of them would fit into my pocket.

So yes, I love the camera, and yes, in many cases it produces video of a quality that is quite acceptable.  Were I to pixel-peep overmuch, the AVCHD codec does leave much to be desired, and the lack of a decent zoom (especially as it loses light transmission FAST, as in from full wide, at f1.8, zoom in about 10%, and it drops to f2.2, halfway in the optical zoom range take one to f3.5, and full zoom (which is about 3x) sets you back to f4.9, so in other words, if in lower light situation, use your feet to reframe, not the zoom) it’s still quite useful – as in despite the fact that the widest you can get (28mm) is not quite as wide as you would like sometimes, it’s still a very natural focal length, which, for the most part, I use quite happily, and when I see the results on the monitor at home, the framing is certainly not a problem.  The 28mm equivalent seems a lot more natural as a POV than that of the GoPro, which is really too wide, except in immersive POV scenarios, where it excels (more on that in another review).

The wide end of the lens is such that it feels just about perfect for use with a slider or crane.  Seems that little amounts of motion result in large amounts of depth perception  – parallax magnified by subtle distortion?  Not so much distortion that it is really objectionable, like the GoPro effect, but enough so that, combined with a narrower field of view than many “wide” lenses, it makes motion look more interesting.  At least – I like it.

Update: An objectionable side-effect (part of the price one pays for pocketable practicality in real life) is that the lens does produce a significant amount of chromatic aberration (in this case purple fringing) most noticeable in ice highlights and water shimmers. For video I have a pretty effective preset that I use for these occurrences in Sony Vegas, using the Secondary Color Correcter. It’s not so bad that I have lost clips to it, but it is significant.

I have not yet figured out whether to use the Dynamic Range Extender at all – and I am “hoping” that my adjustments in the menu where I turned the saturation, contrast, and sharpness down all the way are having an effect on the video.  It seems so, but I have not perfected or completed my testing of this.  I do feel the dynamic range and gradability would be better were I able to control these settings with more surety.   Noise is very low, unless I’m just being stupid with high ISO.  Fairly high ISO’s are usable depending on the scene.

When in video mode the Autofocus works nice and slow, when tracking a moving subject is accurate, most times, but can also “Gotcha!” and shift focus inappropriately at times, so use with care.  The display includes a horizon and tilt indicator, which is really cool, as is the tracking focus function.  The Auto White Balance actually works well – so far I have not had any reason to try to “color correct”.  The stabilizer works pretty well, although I did purchase a Steadicam Smoothee for walking shots after I saw how close this looked to “natural” when hiking through the forest.  I’ll review the Steadicam later.

The articulating screen is awesome, but doesn’t swivel to either side, though. I have not had problems using this LCD to frame shots, although sometimes critical focus is hard.  Audio recording is fine – I’ve had worse on some cameras, and depending on what you are recording, it’s suitable.  A little light on the bass, if anything, but the levels are fine, and it’s clear.

The camera fires up quite quickly, and gets into record/fires off shots also quickly.  When changing modes it is important to learn to either use or ignore the mode screen that you can’t turn off.  It goes away quickly enough by pushing the “set” button.

A SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM: This camera is not smart enough to reserve enough battery power for terminating the active recording properly and to retract the lens. I was in a situation where I needed that one last shot, and knew the battery was low. No help for it – I shot anyway after warming the battery. This was a “no reshoot possible” shot, so I took the chance. The camera went into record, and looked fine, but for the low battery indicator. Then a note: “Battery Exhausted”. Then the screen went dead. I was able to get the lens to retract by taking the battery out, waiting a moment, then putting it back in, turning the camera “on” then off. Later, I found that the clip I shot was not to be seen! I managed to find the file with “Recuva” a free software for recovering deleted or damaged files. I had tried to record again after doing as the camera insisted (that I let it repair the database file) and had wiped over the first part of the clip. But I ended up getting the middle bit, and just enough of it, before the low battery caused shutdown. Worst case scenario: I would be stuck out in the rain with a camera with its lens poking out and have no file to use. Just know about this, and keep a spare battery in your pocket! (Mine was back at home charging….)

Once I get the waterproof enclosure for this camera, I suspect it will replace the GoPro Hero3 in most cases.  I can’t wait to strap it to the undercarriage of an airplane!  The output looks tons better than the GoPro, and there is a lot more control.  When automatic anything is desired, it works a LOT better than the GoPro, which is one of my main complaints with that camera.

What about aliasing/moire?  Thankfully, nothing I’ve noticed, and I do notice!  Yet there is plenty of detail unless the codec is being overly challenged by motion.

Setting up and using this camera is a wonderfully complex but rewarding task.  Although it is true that in many cases I leave at least some of the functions in automatic (all of which work nicely for the most part), once basic orientations have been accomplished, finding one’s way around the various controls is for the most part intuitive.  Using the focus ring to also change ISO is a little weird, and there are a few times I find myself standing there trying to remember how to change some setting or another, but I don’t feel it is nonsensical or overly complicated.  I think for what it is, this thing is set up pretty well.

I’m using this camera in ways I could not use the FS700, and I don’t think it is fair to compare the two.  However, we are all curious, are we not?  Especially since they both record to the same 28Mb/s 60p AVCHD Codec.  So I did a little test.  With the RX100 mk2 on an adjustable arm affixed to the cold shoe of the FS700 (with kit lens), I framed things as close as I was able, set up the shutter speed and ISO to be about as close as I could tell, and did some scenic pans.  All this showed me was that the color balance was totally different (I shoot with a pretty flat custom profile, see ) but that were I so inclined, and actually took the time to set the white balance on each, I could match these cameras very well.  What I used was a wide shot, and to my eye, all the detail was there, although some of the dynamic range was lost.  I wanted to include this in the video I am posting to accompany this article, but it would have taken too much color correction to get the two to match, which pretty much blows the whole point.  Maybe I’ll try that experiment again later.

Yes, I did mention a video to accompany this article.  You heard me right.  The settings vary wildly, the situations even more.  Basically I grabbed a bunch of different shots that I have on disk from the few weeks with this camera, and stuck them together, forgetting even a soundtrack.  Nothing is cropped, color corrected, or stabilized.  This is, to the best I can present for your perusal, what it looks like out of camera, minus the render to MP4 (1080 @ 10Mb/s), and minus the YouTube Re-render.  Update:  Here are a few handheld interior shots:

In finality, yes, I wish this camera shot in a less-compressed codec, even at the expense of recording time or battery (which, by the way, is fine for general shooting – I have an extra, and switch them out every once in a while), and I wish the diminutive zoom didn’t “auto darken”, but when I get charged by that bear at least I have half a chance of getting a shot of it, whereas the FS700 would serve only as a club to fend off the attack.  Which would you rather have?  Footage or a clumsy, inefficient club?  In the cases when I don’t have the FS700, I’m VERY happy to have this camera in my pocket!

There is a lot I did not mention.  I have already written too much, and my own head is swimming.  If there is something you want to know about, go ahead and ask – and I’ll do my best to answer then I can use that info to update this page.