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 http://mizamook.com/?p=196 ) 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.  http://youtu.be/u-w0-blQA4U  Update:  Here are a few handheld interior shots: http://youtu.be/eCOXRb_rlok

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 – http://mizamook.com/?page_id=49 and I’ll do my best to answer then I can use that info to update this page.

Cheers,

Gene

 

Relocation!

Over the summer of 2013, Michele and I moved from our place in Homer to Haines, Alaska.  Autumn is in the air, the woods are wet, the firewood is not in, and wild mushroom and berry-picking add to the many distractions this wonderful place offers to keep us busy as all-get-out.
I expect to be back in production soon, editing clips shot over the summer as well as current shots.  Once winter sets in, I should, I hope, have time to start publishing my content shot over the summer (three trips across Alaska and Yukon Territory!) as well as many other small trips and day sojourns with my camera.
Due to prehistoric internet service here in Haines, my uploading will be slower and more selective – but if you need Alaskan or Canadian mountain/tundra scenics (timelapses, pans, vistas, and variations with trucks, RV’s, etc) or driving POV shots, feel free to ask – I may have just the shot for you on my drives!

A Step Up- Sony’s NEX-FS700

I’ll admit it – I’m one of the FS700’s early adopters. By early I mean within the first year it was available. Who knows what nightmares the future may bring as its shortcomings and gotchas come into the light. What marvelous new product might pop up just around the corner, putting this otherwise amazing bit of technological marvelousness to shame, and oh, what angst will I feel at not having waited just a bit longer to step up from the HDV cams, HVR-Z5U and HVR-V1U, that I had been using for years?

There was a bit of a quandary just before my purchase. I thought perhaps the new PMW-200 might suit me better, and I still think it might be a “better” camera. But ultimately, the lure of interchangeable lenses, the hope that the FS700 was better in low light, and yes, even the prospect of Super Slow Motion all conspired (among other things) to sway me to the contraption known as the NEX-FS700.

In short, I like it, but I also kinda hate it. Being used to the Z5, (which is what the PMW-200 looks like) I really hate having weird configuration doodads and cables hanging off every which direction, and it takes me many addition (crucial!) seconds to get set up and shooting. This will get better with use, and with the further development of a rig that I can trust, and possibly even toss about as I would the Z5 or V1. Hopefully it survives.

The internal codec is certainly superior to that of HDV in color depth and the lack of hideous, blocky artifacts, especially in slate-blue skies and clouds, but when it comes to finely detailed motion, it falls apart pretty fast. What this camera has going for it is the fact that the larger sensor affords the use of shallower depth-of-field, thus keeping distracting detail from being lost, since it’s not there in the first place…case in point: Tracking a soaring eagle past distant trees. It’s a lot better if you can get that background blurred – not only for the artistic sense of it, but also to hide the unsightly mush.

I will be doing tests with the PIX220 fairly soon, after winter preparations slow down and allow me to spend more time mucking about with gear and driving myself nuts pixel-peeping. Nothing too scientific will be going on here, mind you – I leave that to the trained professionals. I’m just looking for solutions to problems that plague me in everyday shooting, where I don’t know what I’ll be pointing the camera at from one moment to the next.

I’m hoping the aliasing I’ve seen hints of here and there don’t become a problem. One thing I do is to always shoot at 60fps. I may be wrong in this, or foolish to admit it, but I figure if you want that “film-look” judder or pacing, then it’s fairly easy to create that from something shot at 60fps. Obviously it’s not so easy the other way around. But I notice that shooting at 24fps and 30fps, the lower bit rate of these as implemented in the FS700 tends to be a little lacking when it comes to re-creation of fine diagonal and horizontal lines, and also patterns, especially if they are moving…..and these are things I shoot a lot, so it’s not like I’m in the position of asking an actor to change out of that striped shirt. Artifacting due to aliasing is not so evident at the 28Mb/s 60p. I also use this when shooting slow-motion…..for the same reason, but more so, as the SSM does cause a noticeable loss of visual quality. Almost too much to stomach, actually, but it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

I’m messing about with Picture Profiles, like everyone else seems to be. I’m about to dial in this one, as suggested by Alister Chapman, whose articles have been extremely helpful to me. It will be interesting to me to compare the settings I’m about to try to the settings I currently have, which are as follows (slightly modified and intermixed settings gleaned from multiple sites):

Black Level -2
Gamma Cine 2 (interesting – I thought it was on Cine 4 – I must have been messing around and forgot!)
Black Gamma Range Low, Level -5
Knee Mode Manual, Manual Set: Point 80, Slope -2
Colour Mode Cinema Level 8
Colour Level 0
Detail Level 0 Manual Set On (all 0 except B/W Balance = Type3, Limit 7)
Color Phase 0
Color Depth R 0, G 0, B 0, C 0, M 0, Y 0

OK…so I must have been messing about in my sleep. But I do know that of the various PP settings in camera at the moment (most have been slightly modified, if not more, by me) this one is what IU like best so far. So now we look at Alister’s latest Picture Profile, designed to maximise dynamic range, and allow for maximum grading decisions….something I prefer, as I tend to make the wrong decisions in the field, and would rather have all my attention available for framing, focus, exposure, and not falling off whatever I’m balanced on, getting hit by a truck, or getting eaten.

Alister’s Profile:

Black Level +1
Gamma Cine 4
Black Gamma Range Low, Level +7
Knee Mode Manual, Manual Set: Point 105, Slope +5
Colour Mode Pro Level 8
Colour Level -2
Detail Level -7 Manual Set Off
Color Phase -2
Color Depth R+2, G-1, B 0, C-1, M+2, Y 0

I’ll report later, and after I settle in for the winter a bit, I’ll post some footage or something….maybe even some Aurora footage, if I can work with what I got last night!

OK….finally, a note about lenses. I purchased the kit lens with this camera. I kinda hate it. Worst $600 I’ve spent….maybe I should have sprung for a faster Sony prime so I could play with the autofocus tricks and the stabilization, but there are a few things I can’t stand – like the fact that there is already dust inside the lens! And I’ve been taking care of it too…I haven’t had a chance to abuse anything yet! Also, it’s darn slow. And when I put the Metabones adapter on, and stuck a Canon 100-400mm L lens on that, the difference was immediately apparent in the dinky little thing Sony calls an LCD screen. Yes, the screen is too small for real use, but hey, it’s just there so you can smudge something. Anyway, the Canon glass really rocks, and this is supposed to be an “OK” lens…not great…so what does that make the Sony 17-200mm kit lens?

Anyway, in case you really like my drivel, here’s the text from my review as written on B&H – I’ll leave you with this, for now, and promise some sort of positive write-up after I get better acquainted with this camera!

Review on B&H http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/853660-REG/Sony_NEX_FS700UK_NEX_FS700UK_Super35_Camcorder_with.html (I will re-edit and update this original review now that a year has passed! See Reviews section on this site)

Cheers,

Gene

Strange Seedpod/Seedhead ID!

If I’m going to keyword these clips correctly, I should know what this plant is…I’m looking mainly at the seedpods or seedheads (which become burrs, apparently) but also curious about the dark red stranded plant with the spindly stalk in the second photo.

Spiral Snow Labyrinth mk I

I’ll NEVER be bored in winter again….not that I’m ever actually bored, but now I’ll be looking forward to each storm on the windswept slopes across from the house!

Glacial Ice Treasure!











How to Deal with Computer Problems (Apple G4 computer death by fire)

I took the most effective path to dealing with my issues with a broken computer. Trial by fire if you will. I figured if it survived having 12 volts DC and 120 volts AC (60hz) applied randomly to the various wires protruding from the motherboard connector, it might be worth fixing. No such luck.


A Video on a Video Site! Amazing. Alaska 2011

PJPEG Rendering Test: Percentage Difference Masks

I was doing what I was told, and wondered. Now I no longer wonder. At least I won’t wonder about this until another bit of information comes along to cast that bit of doubt that will have me seeking another level of learning, which is where I’m at usually on one point or another. But we’ll build this castle one stone at a time, OK?

Disclaimer: I may well expose a lack of understanding or incomplete knowledge in this article. Should you detect that I am doing so, and have a moment, I’d appreciate a heads-up! If you are here because you, too are seeking knowledge, then understand that you should back up anything you think you learn from this article by doing your own research.

They said that rendering with the PJPEG codec in a .mov wrapper was the way to go. OK. That’s the “industry standard” as it were. Who am I to complain? I didn’t then, and still don’t now, know enough to argue the point, although with some new information, I am beginning to get suspicious. But that is not for this post. At any rate, for best results (quality/filesize considerations) they told me to render out at a quality level of at least 75% but no point in going up over 90%, at least not by much, certainly not 100%, as the resultant files get bigger, and you can’t see a difference in results.

Today I did a test. I rendered the same clip 4 times, and compared the results with each other, and with the original prior to rendering, using difference masking. Difference masking allows one to see the difference between two (or more, apparently) frames when situated one over the other on different timeline tracks. A perfect copy will yield either perfect black or perfect grey, depending on who you ask.

In my case it was black, or very nearly so, and the differences were apparent as slightly lighter areas. If I moved one of the clips over by a frame, or more, these differences became much more pronounced. It was intriguing that one could move them a LOT and end up with some really strange and interesting effects.

The bottom line is that I am going to continue rendering my PJPEG files at 88.5%. The test I performed was at 8 bits – I did not bother with the 32-bit renders. I could not discern a difference worth worrying about as far as the time to render the file, and while I could see the difference between the 75.4% render and the 86.8%, it was very slight. One had to REALLY look at the masks. The biggest difference was the file sizes, and being that the differences were negligible, I will stay at 88.5%.

It is said that at 100%, the resulting clip is a RGB 4:4:4, in other words, NOT subjected to “chroma subsampling”, that is, all the color information is there, whereas lesser percentages result in chroma subsampling, Y’CrBr 4:2:2 files. You’ll have to read up on this yourself if you are not conversant…..this is a big topic.

It may well be that a clip subjected to chroma subsampling will be more difficult to color correct, and will degrade more quickly in situations with multiple generations of heavy effects, compositing, etc. In these situations, you would want something as close to the source as possible, and in your workflow, you would want to render multiple stages uncompressed, or at least into an advanced intermediate codec such as Avid’s DNxHD, Cineform, or Apple ProRes. These codecs have several different “flavors” being choices between bit rates; usually the higher (or highest) available bit rates of each are 4:4:4, and the lesser are 4:2:2.

Being that my camera shoots HDV, a 25Mb/s 4:2:0, transcoding or rendering up to to 4:2:2 is sufficient for most situations. NOTE: If you are a potential buyer, and you want either the original .m2t file, or a render of an existing clip at uncompressed or at a higher bit rate or different codec than PJPEG, drop me a line.

Transcoding to a less compressed intermediate codec DOES NOT add information, or make the picture any prettier, or more colorful. The purpose for doing such a transcoding or recording in a better codec with higher bit rate is to preserve the information that is already there, and for longer. This gives you more room to work. In some experimental situations where I have color-graded HDV clips, rendered to PJPEG .mov, and then done further work with the resultant files, I have noticed increased latitude in the ability to mess with the colors, the contrast, brightness, and anything else that affects the “look” of the clip.

All this will change for me soon, as the PIX 220 will be arriving next week, but that’s yet another story. I’m sure there will be a lot of interesting caveats and learning. For one thing, I’ve recently begun to understand why when speaking of different bit rates, different codecs are more efficient and others not, so it depends on how you are using the numbers! Right. Let’s get back to our test, shall we?

This was a 21-second clip of snowy meadow and bright blue sky with gradients lightening to a brilliant sun as the camera panned. Significant color correction was applied. I’m working on my laptop since my Puget machine is in for servicing, so the render times are considerable.

Here are the numbers I’ve gleaned from the render test:

75.4% 48 min. 48 sec. 254 MB
86.8% 44 min. 36 sec. 297 MB
93.4% 46 min. 41 sec. 337 MB
100% 48 min. 41 sec. 368 MB

This isn’t very suffisticaded, but for these stills, which are full-rez, I recommend opening each in its own tab so you can click between them and see the differences without delay. Feel free to download them to do your own tests.

Here is the original clip, with processing plugins, but not rendered: OG Snowfield Clip

Here is the “worst” of them all, the 75% render: 75% Snowfield Render

Here is the 86.8% render: 86.8% Snowfield Render

Here is the 93.4% render: 93.4% Snowfield Render

Here is the 100% render: 100% Snowfield Render

Just to keep things from getting TOO tedious, there are only three or four more frame grabs, where if I was really going to do this fully, there would be many more iterations….and I think what I’ve shown here is that as far as the percentage choices go, given the tradeoff between perceived and real quality and file size, existing faults that won’t go away due to the PJPEG codec itself and the 4:2:0 HDV source, the 88.5% Quality setting is just fine for general stock work.

Here is the result of the difference mask between the 100% render and the 75.4% render: Difference Snowfield 100-75%

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Here is the difference between 86.8% render and the original before render: Difference Snowfield 86.8

Here is the difference between 100% and original: Oops…nevermind….not worth it!!

I could do all the other combinations, but it’s tedious, and I don’t see the need.

See a lot of difference? Neither do I. I might be doing something wrong, but here, wait, before you get bored and go away, this “proves” that if there is a difference between renders, you’ll see it with this technique.

Difference between 100% render on one track, duplicated, compared against the same clip, but with contrast increased to 0.10 on one of them:
Snowfield Difference 100/100 + contrast 0.10

And finally, for fun, here is the result of the 100% render, one on each track, no contrast difference, with an offset of 3 frames.
Snowfield 100%/100% offset by 3 frames

And finally again, a crazy offset of 15 seconds or so: Wierdness

OK….I think I’m done. Let me know if I screwed something up, and I’ll get onto finding something else to do that is exciting and wonderful.

Wild Alaska Weather Rocks Our Reality

This is quite mild, relatively speaking, but when the house shakes, the outlets gush cold air, the windows flex, and we are still cold despite the wood disappearing at a prodigious rate, it’s still intense. I feel for the folks out there on the west coast – they are being hammered, for sure!

It’s a balmy 12 degrees now, the wind howling like a whole band of banshees, whipping the trees and the snow into frenzied dances, and I’m heading out to see if I can’t capture some more exciting footage!

Here are some examples: