2 Stores22 Reviews
Pros: Outstanding image quality, metal build, Carl Zeiss lens
Cons: Expensive, optional EVF very expensive, lens slow at long end.
The Sony RX100 ii (I hate alpha-numeric product names) is not an ordinary pocket camera. Sure, it is very small, can be set for full automation and has all of those face and smile detector features that consumers like. Forget all of that, this is a serious tool, aimed at serious photographers.
First off, at almost $700, this camera costs as much as other serious cameras. Look at Canon, Nikon and Sony’s entry-level DSLR cameras with kit lens and you will find most of them are cheaper, like up to $300 cheaper than this pocket camera. Other pocket cameras with similar zoom range and megapixels (resolution) start at just over $100. This is NOT a consumer-grade camera.
As a very serious amateur photographer I really like using a camera with not only full manual controls, but I also demand very high image quality. Now my current small camera is a Leica X2, and my serious cameras are a Canon 6D full-frame DSLR and a Leica M Monochrom black-and-white only rangefinder. The X2 is very small and easy to carry, but it is still about 50% larger and heavier than this Sony, and has a fixed focal length (prime) lens that while versatile at 35mm equivalent, is not ideal in many situations where longer or wider lenses are required. Sure, I have two interchangeable lens cameras and plenty of high-end glass for them, but even the small Leica is far too large or heavy to put in a small pocket. The Sony RX100 ii is small enough to put even in a normal pants pocket, and is just the thing for when you don’t want to carry a camera with you. I carry the X2 in that situation, but I bought the RX100 ii more for when I'm carrying my 6D or Monochrom and want something in the bag that I can just pass off to my wife or to a stranger and still get a good picture. I also tend to carry the RX100 ii when even the X2 is just too large, such as when wearing a suit and not carrying even a small bag. Finally, while $700 is quite expensive, it is still a lot easier to replace than the Leica X2 ($2000).
While this is not a consumer-grade point-and-shoot, it most definitely can replace one. I used to have a Canon S95 that my wife would often use when we traveled, and that camera produced excellent results within the limitations of its tiny lens and really tiny sensor. This Sony, when set to full automatic is every bit as easy to use, but with image quality, even in low-light and/or high-ISO that is far closer to the Canon 6D than it is to the Canon S95. You can pass the RX100 ii to anyone and set to auto it will take outstanding pictures. Used like that, it is simply the worlds best point-and-shoot as of this writing. The real magic, however, is when you take it off of auto mode.
This camera uses a 1” sensor, which is considerably smaller than full-frame 35mm, APSC or even Micro 4/3, but much larger than the usual point-and-shoot sensor and positively gargantuan compared to a smart phone camera sensor. Everything being equal (it rarely is) with camera sensors, bigger is better. At the same resolution, in this case 20 megapixels, the individual pixels on the full-frame 35mm Canon 6D are 2.7 times larger than on the Sony, which in turn are over 5 times larger than on a standard point-and-shoot sensor at the same resolution. So each pixels or sensor lets in 2.7 times more light on the 6D, allowing less distortion, or noise at a given ISO and correspondingly higher detail.
The 20 megapixel 1” sensor on the Sony is a great sensor, as all things with camera sensors are not equal. Sony’s Backlit Exmor sensor is currently the state-of-the art in digital camera sensors and is used not only in Sony cameras, but in Nikon and other brands as well. Canon makes their own sensors, and while they are excellent, the general consensus among serious photographers is that Canon is currently behind Sony in the sensor technology race. This is a simple way of saying that Sony’s 1” sensor has noise and sensitivity capabilities that are bout equal to Canon’s APS-C sensors of similar resolution. No, it won’t match a Canon full frame or a Sony APS-C, but we are talking about image quality that would be considered professional level just a few short years ago.
There is more to image quality than sharpness and noise, like color. Here again the Sony sensor (and processor) does a wonderful job. Out-of-camera JPEGs have rich, vibrant color that is well-saturated, but not unrealistic. It is a bolder and less natural color than my Leica X2 produces, with a punchier look especially to blues and greens, but most casual users will likely prefer this. Auto White balance is quite accurate, about the same as the Leica X2 again, producing JPEGs that are print-ready the vast majority of the time, even in difficult lighting.
In RAW mode, however, you can really see the quality of color that this sensor records. I use Adobe Lightroom 5 for my photo editing and the RX100 ii files respond very well to post and even to B&W conversion, with rich tonality that makes for nice black and white prints. No, it won't come close to the Leica Monochrom, but it easily matches the tonal quality of the Leica X2 in black and white.
So image quality and color are very good. How good? Well, 16”X20” or even larger prints are easy from this camera’s files, and images remain very clean up to 800 ISO at those print sizes. Printing smaller? I’ve got 8”X10” prints from ISO 3200 files with no visible noise. 8”X10” has been easy for digital cameras for at least a decade, but even full-frame cameras had trouble doing noise-free 8X10s at ISO 3200 until pretty recently, and only the very best APS-C cameras can do it today. The Sony RX100 ii can make noise-free 8X10s at ISO 3200, easily and without a lot of mucking around in software. Put another way, my Leica X2 (larger Sony APS-C sensor, previous EXMOR technology) is slightly noisier at ISO 3200, and that is with a larger APS-C sensor. My X2 8X10s I stay at or under ISO 1600.
Okay, so the sensor in the RX100 ii is very impressive, how about the rest of the package? The lens is the same Carl Zeiss10.4-37.1mm f/1.8-4.9 (28-100mm equivalent) Vario Sonnar lens that was used in the older RX100, and it is every bit as good as a Carl Zeiss lens should be. This lens is very flare resistant (good thing as there is no lens hood), sharp at all focal lengths and apertures, and while there is some barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion at the telephoto end, it is less than on most cameras in this size class. Furthermore, the distortion is compensated for by software in the camera for JPEGs, and in Adobe Lightroom (and possibly other software) for RAW images.
That lens, by the way, in additiom to being very sharp, is also very fast, at least at the wide end. As an f/1.8 lens, it is possible to take pictures in low light, at moderate ISO without flash. Even at the long end the f/4.9 aperture is faster than the kit lenses of most DSLR cameras at the same equivalent focal length, and is fast enough to get mild background blur when focused on close subjects.
The camera body itself matches the price as well, with a very solid metal construction, firm detents on the mode dial and a ring around the lens that can control aperture, shutter speed or zoom, depending on how the camera is configured. I always use the RX100 ii on A mode (aperture priority) and in that setting the ring controls the aperture. There is also a hot shoe (Sony’s latest, not the old Minolta shoe) that will accept the latest Sony flash units, but also the same EVF (electronic viewfinder) as the RX1 full-frame camera. I do not have either an external flash nor the EVF, so I cannot discuss them other than to say that the EVF is the same electronically as the excellent EVFs built into the NEX7 and A77 cameras I reviewed in 2012 and 2013, which is to say, outstanding. The final interesting (to me) aspect of the body is the rear LCD, which is a tilting design not unlike that of the NEX7 that makes it very easy to hold the camera up and shoot over the heads of crowds, or down low to shoot at waist or even ground level. That LCD itself is far better than the one of the NEX7 in that it is far more resistant to bright sunlight and remains useable. I’m not a fan of using an LCD to compose, but the one on the RX100 ii is the best I’ve ever used, vastly superior to the lower resolution panel on the three times more expensive Leica X2.
In conclusion, nobody will spend the money on this camera because it is well made or has lots of features as any $250 camera can match it in that regard. No, they will buy it for the image quality, and the Sony does not disappoint. The Leica X2 or Sony NEX7 do offer better image quality up to and including ISO 1600. Even a Micro 4/3 camera offers more ability to isolate subjects with shallow depth of field both due to the larger sensor and the many fast Micro 4/3 lenses available. That said, no other pocket camera (except for the slightly older RX100) comes close to this one in terms of image quality.
Simply put, nothing as small can match (and very few even come close) to its image quality, and nothing with this level of image quality is anywhere near as small. So, if you are a serious photographer and want the absolute best image quality possible that will fit in a not-so-loose pants pocket, look no further than the Sony RX100 ii.