Wednesday, August 28, 2013

REVIEW: Sony DSC-RX100M2 vs RX100 with Real World Sample Photos (Review Part 2 of 2)


We took the Sony RX100 II for a trip to New Orleans to give it a real family vacation test
f/5.6 @ 25.32 mm, 1/640, ISO 160, No Flash, In-Camera JPEG, Vivid Mode (no edits)

In the first part of my review (click here), I just shared some pics. In this review I dig a little deeper in my thoughts about living with the RX100 II, and compare it to the RX100.  If you serious about purchasing this camera you should probably start with my RX100 review that I did in January of this year as this review will focus mostly on improvements that I discovered in this model.

The Same but Different

All of the things I liked and disliked about the RX100M1 carry over to this model, but there’s also some nice improvements that make it worth the upgrade. First and foremost improvements in its backlit sensor results in a noticeable improvement in image quality. In fact, I’d call this the best image quality I’ve ever tested in a camera this small.

NOTE: This camera does have a optical low pass filter.

Sony has a great web page discussing the features of this camera, but sadly they don’t do a good job of showing what’s new. Essentially what you get with this model are features to help it catch up (and surpass) the competition in the areas of WiFi, remote control from the phone (see below), and better video support.

This camera also supports NFC which really means a subset of Android based phones (Windows Mobile not supported), but I was unable to test it. It’s cool that it does it, but most won’t really get a chance to enjoy this feature. Click here to see a PDF with more info about this and other WiFi integration features.

This camera boasts 10 fps continuous shooting, but in real life at full resolution it’s no Canon 1D X that’s for sure. In fact, I’d go so far as saying don’t bother with continuous shooting with this camera unless you are in full manual mode as it does a pretty bad job out of the box (i.e., you’ll have mostly blurry shots nearly all of the time from what I saw in my real world testing).

Remote Control / WiFi Features

Join the RX100 II's private WiFi network from your phone
Join the RX100 II's private WiFi network from your phone
which is easily published using the Ctrl with Smartphone menu option

Install & Use the Play Memories App on your phone
Install & Use the Play Memories App on your phone
It features real-time preview and remote zoom and shoot

Once you do this, the camera is locked and may only be controlled remotely as shown here:

You can not operate the camera while connected remotely, but photos can get saved automatically on your phone!
You can not operate the camera while connected remotely,
but photos can get saved automatically on your phone!

Click here to iterate through some more of the screen captures I did from my phone when I was using this feature. The controls are very basic so advanced users will quickly find it frustrating, but having this ability can be handy for group photos where you want to include yourself in the shot. Sadly it doesn’t support bulb mode or any custom mode, so it appears to default to an auto mode when using this feature.

The only modes are Photo and Movie, but both work okay with some latency that can be a little problematic sometimes.

Photo taken with my cell phone as the remote control
Photo taken with my cell phone as the remote control using a GTI light box for lighting

You can also wirelessly connect to the camera from your computer better than any device I’ve used to date. Here’s a shot of the bundled Play Memories software for the PC while it’s automatically importing photos over WiFi using the Send to Computer feature:

image

If you have a WPS capable router at home, you simply need to press the WPS menu item on your camera and do the same on your router and pairing happens automatically with no typing. If you have to do it manually it’s a bit more cumbersome, but it works as expected.

Unlike some cameras where these features are more gimmicks, I was very satisfied with what I could do with this Sony camera. In fact, I wish my Canon DSLR’s and Fujifilm cameras had this level of WiFi integration!

Video

Using my GTI lightbox to light up my face, I took a little video using the remote control phone app and was very impressed with the high quality of the video of this camera:

In fact, it’s so good I wish I would have shaved my face and fixed my hair before doing the video!

Bookshelf Pics


f/2.8 @ 10.4 mm, 3.2s, ISO 160, No Flash


f/2.8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/15, ISO 6400, No Flash


f/2.8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 12800, No Flash


f/11 @ 10.4 mm, 30s, ISO 160, No Flash


f/4.9 @ 37.1 mm, 6s, ISO 160, No Flash

If your only criteria for deciding which camera to buy is image quality, then the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC RX100 II should rank very high on your list of cameras to buy. The image quality and color is excellent, especially when I compare it to its predecessor. Much of the improvement in image quality comes from improvements to its backlit sensor. This modification results in jaw dropping great image quality when you stabilize the camera or ensure that its using an appropriate shutter speed to freeze subject movement.

As usual, all bookshelf shots are done on a tripod using camera default settings with image stabilization (aka Steady Shot) and DRO turned OFF. I also set auto white balance and set noise reduction to LOW for this test as I felt the default noise reduction was aggressive.

I have RAW’s available upon request, but only upload in-camera JPEG to the web.

See part 2 of my RX100 review (click here) to see sample bookshelf images from the RX100 II’s predecessor.

The Wife Verdict

Nothing really changes from my previous review. My wife loved the size of this camera, but this camera’s love affair with 1/30 sec in aperture priority and 1/250 sec in full automatic (on very sunny days) resulted in a majority of the photos being blurry in real world use (even with Steady Shot on). The reason for this was often due the camera choosing the incorrect shutter speed (as previously mentioned) even in the auto modes, and its quick to jump to f/1.8. At such a shallow depth of field, even on this small sensor camera, incorrect auto AF selections put faces slightly out of focus.

If I wanted a sharp shot, I had to switch to manual which was a no-go for my wife. What’s worse is that manual doesn’t support Auto ISO, so manual is really old school manual which isn’t very family friendly. These are non issues for people who will use this camera like a manual DSLR, but cell phone point and shoot mom’s are not going to like this camera.

Given the fact that this camera is $100 more than its predecessor ($748 at the time of this writing), it’s price isn’t very family friendly either. As a result, it gets a “oh hell no” verdict from my wife who says she’ll stick with our Fujifilm X20

More Real World Sample Images

Starting with this image, all of the photos in the gallery (excluding the bookshelf images) used the Vivid mode with Medium noise reduction (the default). Many shots were done using the Auto modes because most were taken by my wife on our vacation. A few of my contributions to the gallery (like the cathedral interior shots) were done using manual mode settings.

All images below also had DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) set to Auto.

Click these images to view their original in-camera jpeg’s with only filename and metadata changes from their in-camera originals.


f/5.6 @10.4 mm, 1/500, ISO 160
It took pretty harsh sun like I had here for this camera
to jump out of its f/1.8 @ 1/30 or 1/200 sec comfort zone


f/8 @ 37.1 mm,1/200, ISO 160
Out of hundreds of gator shots during our tour,
we had only a handful come out that were not blurry - despite the blistering sun


f/4 @ 10.4 mm, 1/250, ISO 160, No Flash
Steady Shot worked properly here and extreme sun allowed for a good shutter speed


f/2 @ 10.4 mm, 1/200, ISO 160
The swamp pics turned out nice, but when compared to a 5D Mark III equivalents
I was glad that I didn’t ‘t leave the DSLR at home!


f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/200, ISO 200
This is here just to annoy my son for not listening to me about poking his nose,
but I was impressed with how well the quality of this image was right out of the camera


f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/125, ISO 3200, No Flash
User error here led to the wrong aperture and excessive shutter speed,
but I was very satisfied with the in-camera color and result


f/2 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 160, No Flash
DRO did its job properly here


f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 500, No Flash
DRO still is no substitute for HDR when dealing with wide range lighting conditions,
but it does a good job with backlit scenarios


f/2.5 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 640
This was one of the few shots that reminded me that this wasn’t a wide dynamic range DSLR,
but it was easy to forgive its shortcomings when seeing how well it exposed the rest of the scene


f/5.6 @ 26.57 mm, 1/200, ISO 160
The geek in me got pretty excited at the detail in this shot that my wife took.
There is zero post-processing and zero additional sharpening here – WOW!


f/2.5 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 250
If your subject is static, then the slow default shutter speeds are
easily overcome by Steady Shot stabilization to give you an amazingly sharp result


f/4 @ 10.4 mm, 1/4, ISO 160, No Flash
This shot required stabilizing the camera with a stack of unsteady books
and holding very still. It took a few shots before I got one, but I was
really wishing I had a tripod about now!


f/2.5 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 200
DRO worked very well here to produce one of the best auto exposed shot
I’ve ever seen of stained glass. Typically this requires an HDR shot.


12416x1856 pixels pano at f/8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/500, ISO 160
Despite moving water, the stitching was excellent but the shot was more grainy
and had more chromatic aberrations than I’d expect under these conditions
with these camera default settings.


f/2.8 @ 10.4 mm, 1/30, ISO 160, No Flash,
Image quality was great, but I did struggle with white balance sometimes


f/9 @ 20.64 mm, 1/250, ISO 160
My railing acting as a tripod ended up being crooked so my horizon was off – sorry!
There was plenty of detail in this shot

Conclusion

The RX100 is still on sale these days for much less, but the improved image quality and new features make this camera worth the upgrade.In fact, the WiFi and wireless features had me calling this camera a phone about a dozen times in this article because it felt so phone like!

While the wonderfully compact design of this camera and its fantastic image quality suggests that it is a brilliant point and shoot, personally I found it to be horrible at that task. This camera demands the photographers attention and manual intervention in all situations except outdoors on sunny days. If you give this camera that attention (i.e., shoot manual) you’ll be rewarded with fantastic results from this tiny camera, but this simply is not a point and shoot for the non-geek photographer.

I love so many things about this camera, but alas I’ll have to send it back to B&H because it failed its job as a point and shoot just as bad as its predecessor. If you are the patient type who has a different camera as your point and shoot, then using this camera in manual mode will delight you with the gorgeous images its sensor captures. For this reason, I love this camera and so desperately hope that Sony will make it a better point and shoot in the next iteration. If they do that, I’ll buy one for sure – despite its obnoxious price. It really is that good!

If you do decide to pick one up and treat it as a point and shoot, just set your expectations low about the number of blurry images you’ll get (typically not discovered until you get them on your computer at home). If you do, you’ll probably love this camera – especially when it does occasionally nail a shot (typically because the subject can handle the f/1.8 at 1/30 sec camera default settings).

Click here to see the Sony support page with more information about this camera.

Where to order

Click here to order the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II Digital Camera from B&H.

I had significant scratching to the LCD that occurred during my review, even before I took it outside of my home. As a result I HIGHLY recommend a protective product like Expert Shield - THE Screen Protector for the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II. I prefer these over the ones offered by B&H.

BlackRapid SnapR 10 Camera Bag + Sling Strap is a great camera bag to consider for this camera as well!

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9 comments:

bgood said...

Good review that aligns pretty well with my experience with the older RX100. I've tried repeatedly to like the RX100 and it's just frustrating to use for the reasons you mention. You nailed the need to control both depth of field (via aperture) and shutter speed for clear shots and having auto ISO in manual mode would make this relatively easy (as Sony has done with the RX1). That is one of the reasons I like the RX1 but not the RX100. But I agree with your other point that a "point and shoot" should make it easy for anyone to get good shots (without having to use those lame scene modes).

Locke42 said...

Just FYI, but the RX100M2 doesn't remove the optical low-pass filter. The RX1R does. In fact, from what I've read online, the RX100M2 should actually have slightly softer images than the RX100M1 because the default in-camera sharpening of the JPEGs is lower.

Ron Martinsen said...

Locke42,

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. It seems the info I had been given prior to the review had mixed this fact up as well. I've updated the article to clearly point out that the low pass filter is still present.

With that said, I still felt that the image quality was better with the II based on what I saw with my own eyes. I also stick to my conclusion - it's a nice camera but I'm not paying over $700 to get one.

Ben Stull said...

The real win with this camera over other point and shoots is its performance in low light environments...the 1" backlit sensor blows away other cameras this size. I use point and shoots exclusively for night time portraits and action shots (parties, concerts, restaurants, cars) and typically carry something bigger for daytime activities. I'm likely the only demographic that can justify purchasing this camera; need something that fits in my jacket pocket, takes great low light photos, and am ok futzing around with manual settings (though the lack of auto-ISO is a pretty inexcusable gap). I agree that this is the wrong purchase for the vast majority of people out there, but a few of us are in absolute heaven :)

Connie said...

Ron,

Thanks for the recent review on the RX100/RX100M2.

I recently bought and sent back a Fuji XQ1 ($450), and I am searching again for the family's go-to compact camera. The original RX100 might work as the prices are falling after the holidays.

The most annoying problem I had with the Fuji is the Auto Program's default 1/30 flash sync shutter speed. Any movement trying to get pictures of the kids or the dog running around resulted in blurry photos. IS might work but there is nothing better than a faster shutter speed to stop movement.

I recently spoke with a Sony Tech and he said the RX100/Rx100m2 default Auto Program flash sync is 1/160. Have you found this to be true? If so, this is noticeably better than the XQ1.

The Fuji, like the Sony RXs seemed to default to Wide open (1.8) when ever possible. It would be nice if the camera selected mid range apertures settings without having to find the sun.

Do you have a comparison between then the XQ1 and the Sony? You mentioned having the Fuji X20 but I am looking for something more compact. Can you recommend a good low light, high ISO compact with that doesn't require too much "futzing" around with settings and is user friendly for non photographers?

It seems that for above average prices the camera manufacturers are putting too much emphasis on cute novelty features like "Toy Camera, Miniature, Posterization, Pop Color, etc…".



Thanks again,
Frank

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Frank (Connie?),

Whoever you talked with at Sony was mistaken. You can see very clearly in the sample images in this article that the Sony lives at 1/30 sec too. The reason is simple the formula the camera uses is 1/ as a minimum shutter speed and it goes up from there if at a minimum auto or fixed ISO when the lighting conditions allow for faster shutter speeds. This is true of all cameras but some with longer lenses will use larger numbers because of the larger focal length.

The behavior you saw with the XQ1 is what you will see with any camera I have ever tested - including the most expensive DSLR's. It's also the #1 complaint I get from my Photography 101 students, but I could speak for hours as to why the cameras need to do it that way.

Sadly the only workaround is to be in manual mode where you select your desired aperture and shutter speed then leave the camera in auto ISO and add flash as necessary. What's more, some cameras - including the XQ1 you returned - offer a minimum shutter speed feature for aperture priority to handle the scenario you are frustrated by without requiring too much futzing around.

Remember, camera's are complex computers - they do require reading the manual to learn about things like a fixed minimum shutter speed.

I can't remember offhand if the Sony has that feature but I think it does. Sadly most salespeople don't know the product they work with very well so they can't be very useful answering questions like this.

The XQ1 you sent back and the RX100M2 are the best I've tested thus far for what you look for.

Go read this article and look at the pic of my son holding a phone. That paragraph describes the problem that a lot of people face in the real world and the reality about what's required to solve that problem.

Ron

Unknown said...

Hi Ron, great blog and reviews!
I want to buy the rx100m2, in your opinion besides features(wifi, nfc,etc), what's the best thing about picture quality, night shots about rx100m2 as compared to rx100?

Rodolfo Rocha said...

Hi,I'm looking for a camera that takes great night pics especially of cars. I've been looking at entry level slr's (Nikon d3200) as my new nexus 6p even though it has a good camera it's not working for those fancy night pics of cars or nature I want. Would you recommend this camera over the Nikon? I have heard this song is sometimes better thank an slr and if I can get the pictures I want with this size camera it would be great. Thanks you.

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Rodolfo,

The #1 thing you are going to need for cars at night is a good tripod, and that alone is a big investment. The reason why is that you'll want to do long exposures to keep the ISO down which means the camera must be perfectly still during that entire time. The D3200 would do an okay job, but a good tripod is a must. Here's my tripod advice.

I don't think this camera will outperform the D3200 but the MARK IV could give it a run for its money - but it's more expensive than a dSLR.