I have done this review after reading some great stuff from Thom Hogan’s article titled “The Nikon Customer Leak Problem”
In short, it was a commentary about Nikon losing their customers who are using DX cameras and adopting new systems to match what they need. It offer how Nikon has somehow missed the boat when it comes to their crop sensor offerings that people has no other choice but to jump ship. More often than not it was due to the lack of good alternatives in terms of lens and professional bodies for the DX owners. It also offers what is the market condition is like for the big camera companies at the moment.
So what has it got to do with this review of the Sony‘s latest compact camera the RX100 Mark 2? A lot of things apparently. Chief of which is the ability of Sony to look at the Smartphone market and see how they can deal with it. There are a lot of smartphones that are vying to replace the low cost compact camera market – the Nokia Lumia 1020 41MP behemoth, the HTC One‘s Ultra Pixel, ASUS Padfone Infinity Pixel Master and of course Apple’s own true tone dual LED.
All of them have one common goal in mind – to shoot pictures as though they are full fledged compact camera that is able to capture shots in low light conditions and using the Smartphone Operating system to meet the demand of Social Media specific need of the user.
The inability to control the camera and image quality of the camera on old phones has prompted most people to at least buy a good compact camera such as the Sony RX100, Canon S120 and Fujifilm X20. Samsung itself has came out with their Galaxy Camera and the Galaxy S4 Zoom to attract upgraders. Some even skip the whole upgrade path and go straight to DSLRs.
The last couple of years was interesting with introduction of Android as a viable competitor to iOS has in actual fact freed the phone manufacturers from the need to maintain their own proprietary operating systems and use all their resources to concentrate on the the features and functions of the smartphones.
In a crowded market where smartphones are starting to become commodities or worse still white goods, the manufacturers has to find unique aspects of their hardware to compete and stand out from the crowd. After everyone upgraded tp Full HD screen, good sounds (Beats anyone?) and sleek unibody design, the only thing left would be the camera functions and features.
Can RX100 Mark 2 (we shall called it Mark 2), be different enough to exist on its own? On paper it does and judging by the reception its predecessor got from the market, there is a high demand for a very capable compact camera indeed.
Sony has wisely opted to keep most of the specification intact except to pare down the ISO settings range to 160-12800. The specification of note are the use of the excellent 1 inch Back Side Illuminated CMOS Sensor and the new Bionz image processor.
They have also kept the aluminium casing and that adds to the good, solid feeling worthy of the jewelry box except for the wriggly zoom lever and shutter button. The semi-articulate viewing screen is also good and has its uses. In short (not short skirts I hope), the Mark 2 took over from the Mark 1 has left off and do it equally well.
My Asian hands felt big on the camera with the fourth and little finger left hanging for dear life. A bit of rubber grip for the middle finger to grab hold of would be a good inclusion and is available as an accessory. The buttons are small but not tough to engage so that’s a relief.
For people who are used to direct control afforded by a big camera such as D300s, D700 or D800, navigating through the Mark 2 actual menu can be a chore. The good thing is that the Fn (function button) acts like the Q(uick) button so that the common settings such as Exposure Value Compensation, ISO, White Balance, Dynamic Range (or High Dynamic Range) and effects can be easily accessible.
Then there is also the multi-functional barrel ring that can change settings depending on the mode one is using. In full manual mode, the ring is effectively an aperture ring and the rear wheel will control the shutter speed allowing fast change in settings. Again the size of the camera did inhibit the movement of the fingers around the camera.
The Mark 2 is essentially Social Media Centric. Using the Near Field Communication (NFC) connection setting up the Smartphone to use with the Mark 2 is quick and relatively hassle free.
Once that’s out of the way, the PlayMemories App and the phone worked pretty well. I do encounter some lag due to the use the congested WiFi airwaves to control the camera remotely. One can actually zoom and use the timer via the app and shoot with the camera facing back at you. One don’t even need to run to the front of the camera for the group shot. To share photos taken with the camera, the app will receive the pictures from the camera and then share the photos using whatever app one is comfortable with.
What’s missing is the Mark 2’s inability to shoot tethered to the smartphone like the latest Sony A7/R Full Frame Mirrorless and from competitors such as Samsung NX300. At the moment the camera is forced to relinquish control over to the smartphone app whenever both devices are connected.
So how was the Image Quality like? In summary the Mark 2 performed remarkably well for a 1 inch sensor. The noise at 12800 ISO settings was a revelation on how a good sensor and image processor work together can control ISO noise.
It won’t be as silky smooth as lower ISO settings but the picture can be used for snap shots and for sharing. It is so good I can just allow Auto ISO and P Mode for most of my test shots. I could do the typical slow shutter speed silky water effect but once it can pass my “any-o-how-shoot-also-nice” test, going for advanced shoot settings would be a breeze thanks to the presence of PASM modes.
Like most manual cameras there is the inclusion of the bulb setting (under shutter) but there wasn’t any shutter remote cable in the official accessory list. The Bulb mode allows one to open and shut the shutter manually so it has to work with the shutter release cable. Such settings would be useful for capturing the flowering fireworks in the night sky.
Providing the bulb mode without a proper shutter release cable is like giving a car as a gift without the car key. The Bulb mode, the tripod and the cable shutter release has to work as a system if not it doesn’t make any sense. This is something Sony should look into.
Here are some of the sample shots.
Taken during the Mark 2’s Singapore launch. Shot totally with no experience with the camera at all (meaning everything was in auto mode).
Zoomed in optically and the aperture setting is now at f4.9. No obvious hand shake and sharp.
Indoor shot of The Arts House with Halogen/Yellow lighting. White Balance is spot on but would it be good to have yellow tinge instead? The exposure is pretty good. Shot overhead with the screen pointing downwards.
Night Scene Low Light High ISO Test. Impressive.
Again indoor, very low light. Even tougher purple hue deco lights. Nailed.
Daylight test. Colour, transparency, reflection are good. Would prefer a bit more contrast that can be easily solved in post otherwise just do a simple EV negative.
Skin tone test. Neon Blue light mixed with warm yellow. A bit cool perhaps due to the blue light hue but generally pleasing effect.
Indoor warm yellow. Skin tone looks great with Chinese, Central Asian and Sun Kissed Asian skin tones well represented.
Outdoor shade. Nice pinkish red. A tad yellow but is ok. Exposure to the face.
Bokeh? Although bigger than most compact cameras, the 1 incher is still too small to induce very shallow depth of field even if you zoom out wide and utilises the f1.8. That would mean shooting it at macro distances such as the shot below.
Baby skin tone in warm yellow indoor lighting. She’s moving around quite a bit but the camera response time is pretty good. Good details in the eyes too! Do note. High ISO!!
So what’s the conclusion? If I have to get a compact camera, the Mark 2 is one of the top 3 that I would recommend with the Canon S120 and Fujifilm X20 as my pile to fight for compact camera supremacy.
Some people would take the Made in China label a wee bit too far. Do remember that Nikon build some of its DSLRs in Thailand too. In the end, it is not where the camera is made but how good the Quality Control is.
As for smartphones taking over the compact cameras? At the moment the Mark 2 won’t be in danger any time soon. With full manual control, good image quality, small size and wireless link to the smartphone for photo sharing, the Mark 2 is still a useful tool to have around.
A phone is after all a communication device and I would leave my battery juice for more critical phone functions and leave the Mark 2 for photography. This is also why Nokia felt it is important to have a battery pack built into the phone grip as an accessory for the Nokia Lumia 1020.
The Sony RX100 Mark 2 is now available at all Sony outlets at the suggested retail price of SGD999.
More sample shots can be seen at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilzworkz/sets/72157634885731971/