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24 March 2014 Comments (0) Views: 1100 Gadget Reviews, Imaging, Non Mobile Tech

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC RX100 II review – a professional compact?

The lines between mobile and technology continue to blur and as a mobile site, we often need to look outside the mobile sphere to find the devices that can influence the next generation of mobile technology. The Sony RX-100 Mark II camera is arguably one of these devices as despite roots in the point and shoot camera market, it’s already impacted on mobile thanks to Sony’s QX range of wireless cameras. Let’s take a look at Sony’s top-end point and shoot camera in more detail…

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The Sony RX-100 Mark II aims to bridge the world between point and shoot and professional digital SLR cameras by offering the compact portability of the point and shoot market coupled with the professional capabilities of a DSLR. Available for £450-£500, it definitely encroaches on the entry level DSLR price point whilst also being at the top of the point and shoot price range. Have Sony succeeded in delivering a point and shoot camera that is as good, if not better, than the DSLRs it hopes to replace?

The Tech Specs

Let’s take a look at exactly what the Sony RX-100 Mark II offers – here’s the Key Specs:

  • 1″ Exmor-R BSI-CMOS sensor
  • 20.2 megapixels (effective)
  • 28-100 mm focus length, F/1.8-4.9 aperture
  • Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens
  • Tiltable 3″ Xtra Fine WhiteMagic LCD display
  • Steady-Shot Image Stabilisation
  • ISO 160 – 12800
  • NFC & Wi-Fi
  • Rear Control Dial
  • Customisable front control ring
  • 1080p video recording @ 60 frames per second
  • Built-in stereo microphones
  • 330-shot battery life

You can see the full in-depth specs list at the bottom of this review.

Design

The design of the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II is almost identical to its predecessor, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100. Aside from a few changes such as a tiltable display, it features the same design and one-handed friendly operation that made the first RX-100 a success in the market.

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The back of the Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II features the the large 3 inch tiltable display alongside the 4 way controller, which sadly retains the clickless effect from its predecessor. Alongside the four way controller, there’s also the Fn key that brings up a function menu can be customised to have up to seven functions assigned.

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Alongside Fn keys and four way controller, there’s also quick access to the Gallery with the play button, a ? button that brings up the help guide and access to the system menu using the Menu key. The four way controller brings quick access to display options, the flash, shooting mode/self timer and contrast / exposure settings. You’ve also got a quick access Movie button that allows you to start recording video from any exposure mode.

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On top of the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II, you can find the exposure mode dial, the zoom collar, power button and the hotshoe. The hotshoe is one of the big differences against the original DSC-RX100 and is a must have for anyone with a DSLR as it allows you to mount a range of accessories including an optional electronic viewfinder, microphone or external flash. The power button, zoom collar and exposure mode dial are all standard features that we’ve come to expect from digital cameras.

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The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II features a pop-up Xenon flash that can be activated or deactivated automatically or using the four way controller. There’s no mechanical release for the flash so you’ll need to use the four way controller to activate it and when finished, you’ll need to close it manually (it doesn’t automatically recede back into the body).

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On the bottom, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II brings access to the battery/SD card compartment and the tripod mount. The HDMI port is located on the right of the camera, next to the multi port that is used to charge the camera. One downside to the design of the RX100 II we noticed is that you can’t access the battery or SD card if the camera is mounted to a tripod or if the tripod mount is still attached to the camera.

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Whilst the Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II brings the style of a point and shoot camera, it’s complexity is apparent as soon as you begin to use it. The large sensor and lens result in a hefty body and despite a slightly matte finish, it’s slippery even though the back thumb grip helps to improve this. The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II comes with an enclosed wrist strap and we’d definitely recommend attaching this straight away – it adds some much needed surety that the camera won’t hit the ground if you lose your grip.

User Interface

The user interface on the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II is inherited from the RX-100 and has a few key elements including the Quick Menu and Menu settings. The quick menu is accessed using the Function button and allows you to quickly access to up to seven settings. Once set, the on-screen quick menu allows you to rotate between each function using the four way controller wheel on the back of the camera.

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Whilst the user interface is easy to navigate, the RX-100 II’s main feature is its wireless connectivity but the “send to smartphone” and “send to Computer” options are a little nifty to use. They’re accessed via the main menu’s playback tab but the option to use your smartphone as a wireless remote is in another tab.

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Overall the user interface is intuitive but definitely has improvements that Sony could made. Whilst the interface would certainly be easier to use on a touch screen, using the four way controller as navigation keys is a satisfactory alternative. The lack of tactile feedback when using the controller is something that Sony should address in the next version of its RX-range.

Connectivity

One of the biggest selling points of the RX-100 II over the RX-100 is the added Wireless and NFC options. Pairing via NFC is the simplest way to connect with the RX-100 II but if you have a smartphone without NFC, you can also connect by creating a Wi-Fi connection between your smartphone and camera.

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To transfer images directly to your phone, you need an Android or iOS smartphone and the PlayMemories Mobile application. Just like the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-QX10 wireless camera, Sony’s mobile application is key to being able to transfer images and video directly to your smartphone. This does mean that anyone who uses Windows Phone won’t be able to use the Send to Smartphone option as PlayMemories Mobile isn’t available for the platform.

We did notice that during Mobile World Congress 2014, the Wi-Fi connectivity did have a few issues. We often found that the camera wouldn’t connect to a smartphone and it would take multiple connection attempts to be able to transfer images across. This could be due to the number of people using wireless connections at the conference or due to issues with the camera (we tested this on numerous smartphones) but we can’t say for sure.

Being able to transfer images directly to your smartphone or computer is useful, especially if you to upload pictures to a photo service (such as Flickr or Instagram) straight away. Whilst it’s not the most intuitive way of doing so (and this is something Sony can work on in future devices), it’s one of the key selling points to the Cyber-Shot RX100 II over its predecessor.

Camera

Focus

The camera on the RX-100 II is one of the reasons to buy the Cyber-Shot RX100 II – whilst other point and shoot cameras often lack in one department or another, the RX100 II is impressive in every department. Compared to the original RX100, the RX100 II delivers improved auto focus speed (key for any point and shoot) with a top AF speed of just 0.13 seconds.

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In low light conditions, the large sensor size of the RX100 II is shown clearly – whilst modern compact cameras focus slower in low light than good light, the RX100 II doesn’t exhibit a dramatic decline in focus speed in less-than-ideal conditions. The RX100 II does have a habit of reverting to wide-area focus versus the chosen point in low light conditions but it does this quickly and at max zoom, focus slows down ever so slightly.

There are single, multi and continuous autofocus modes along with manual and we found that the continuous autofocus mode is generally reliable but does produce less than sharp images when using continuous AF at full telephoto length. Overall the RX100 II is remarkably fast for a compact camera but you may be able to find faster entry-level DSLRs at a similar price to the RX100 II.

Image Quality

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During MWC 2014, we used the RX100 II exclusively in JPEG mode and noticed some very impressive results. Whilst shooting in ideal conditions was very impressive, it was in low-light conditions that the RX100 II really stood out. The 20 megapixel CMOS sensor at the heart of the RX100 II is backside illuminated and is very effective at collecting light – whereas a scene may have appeared to be dark, the RX100 II sensor and post-processing produced images that were sharp, in focus and well-lit.

The RX100 II also supports RAW impact capture, which will appeal to the photography enthusiasts. Files are output in Sony’s .ARW proprietary RAW format and sadly, there is no in-camera RAW conversion. The RX100 II large sensor and lens produce sharp, detailed images in RAW mode and the RAW format allows you to do more with the images in post-capture processing including recovering tone, reducing noise and adjusting exposure.

Check out all of our MWC 2014 galleries for images captured on the RX100 II but here’s a selection of other shots we captured in Barcelona that were impressive and stood out.

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Video

The Sony RX100 II comes with best-in-class video recording, offerign 1920 x 1080 Full HD video at 60p, 60i and 24p with AVCHD compression. For those preferring to shoot in MP4, recording is available in either 1080p or VGA resolution. The camera offers continuous Autofocus and there’s also manual focus available – focus peaking can be used in movie mode meaning the rotating control dial is a great controller for manual focus whilst recording video.

The RX100 II comes with Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation in both ‘standard’ and ‘active’ modes – the ‘active’ mode really shows off the quality of Optical SteadyShot as it noticeably reduces the shake produced in handheld videos. One of the benefits of the tilting LCD is most noticeable in video – as we found at MWC 2014, the titling LCD allows you to view the point of view even when recording from a tall height above your head or on the ground.

Compared to our usage of the Canon EOS M as our main camera, the RX100 II produces excellent video which is definitely good enough for a mobile blogger. We used it to cover the entire event and you can check out all of the results in our MWC YouTube playlist.

Impact on mobile technology

How has the RX100 II impacted on mobile technology? Most compact or DSLR cameras have very little tangible effect on the mobile industry but in the case of Sony and the RX100 II, there’s a resemblance between their cameras and mobile offerings. First we look at smartphones – the 20MP camera on the RX100 II is just one of the influencers of the 20MP cameras found in the Xperia Z2, Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z1 Compact. Granted the smartphones feature cameras that have been influenced by other parts of Sony’s portfolio but as the company’s slogan goes, “The best of Sony for the best in you” and the quality of the RX100 II has definitely helped Sony improve it’s mobile offering.

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The Sony DSC-QX10 Wireless Smart Camera

The Sony QX range is where the RX100 II has the biggest influence – whilst the Sony QX10 is a smart lens camera designed to offer 10x Optical Zoom, the Sony QX100 is a Wireless smart camera that offers all the quality of the RX100 II at a very similar price (it costs around £350-£400). With the same sensor as the RX100 II, the QX100 offers the same manual controls, RAW and JPEG image shooting and 3.6X Optical Zoom that Sony’s professional compact offers. As we covered in our QX10 review, we’re hoping that the QX range is not a one-off wonder and if we’re able to get attachable wireless cameras that offer the same quality of the RX100 II (and its successors), then Sony have definitely hit the mark.

Sony RX-100 Mark II review – a professional point and shoot?

We don’t profess to be imaging experts, especially when it comes to cameras themselves. However from the experience of using a wide range of cameras during the past few years, it’s clear that the RX100 II has definitely left a lasting impression. The usability and size of the RX100 II mean it offers more to a mobile blogger than a traditional DSLR does and with a range of advanced features, it’s more than capable of becoming the go-to imaging solution for mobile bloggers.

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Granted there are some aspects that we’d have liked to have improved and the lack of free oscillating LCD is one downside to not using a traditional DSLR but the wireless connectivity and tangible effect on the Sony QX range mean that the RX100 II leaves us with a lasting positive impression. We hope that the successor is better and irons out the niggles we’ve found but we’re looking forward to seeing what else Sony offer. If you’re in doubt about whether to go for an entry-level DSLR or the RX100 II, we have to say that the RX100 II did everything we asked of it and more.

Did you like this review? Was it well-though out and written or did we miss something you’d have liked to have seen included in the review? As it’s our first camera review, we’re looking for your feedback – let us know in the comments below what can be improved and whether we should review more non-mobile devices!

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II Specs

In case you need more information on the technical specs of the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II, we’ve included more detailed specs in the table below:

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