Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II: Slowing Down the Competition

 
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II

Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II

The 1-inch sensor battle is getting interesting. With the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II, the company has pulled out all its guns on speed, and yet, on slowness. Shridhar Kunte reviews this pricey, but feature-packed slow-mo specialist.

The Sony RX10 II’s uniqueness can be best expressed by citing a simple fact. It has only three competitors that are similar in any way, and one of those is its predecessor. Along with the older RX10 and the Panasonic FZ1000 and Canon PowerShot G3X, this is a class of cameras that not only packs in a 1-inch sensor, but also includes a reasonably long lens. Between themselves, they have some key differences in features and functionality that determine whether their prime target audience is the wildlife enthusiast or the traveller.

Features
The RX10 II has a lesser zoom range than the Panasonic and Canon, but its lens still has a trick up its sleeve. The maximum aperture is f/2.8, all through the 24–200mm zoom range of the camera. Not only does this give the RX10 II a serious low light advantage over any other superzoom camera in the market, it also allows a great amount of depth separation, for effective portraiture. The background blur managed by a 1-inch sensor at 200mm f/2.8, can easily rival the background blur produced by an APS-C DSLR with its kit lens.

The RAW capture gave me a good amount of recoverable detail in both highlights and shadows. Exposure: 1/250sec at f/2.8 (ISO 100). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

The RAW capture gave me a good amount of recoverable detail in both highlights and shadows. Exposure: 1/250sec at f/2.8 (ISO 100). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

A bit of historical perspective is necessary. The older RX10 was unique when it was first announced, but it quickly lost its sheen, when Panasonic announced the FZ1000, with 4k video (that the older Sony couldn’t do). The FZ1000 has dropped in price since, and considering that the RX10 II is much more expensive (Rs. 94,990 as opposed to the Panasonic, which is only Rs. 58,990), Sony has a lot to prove.

And so, the company has unleashed all its technological prowess when it comes to the hardware of the camera. One can shoot 4k video in XAVC S format, at a frame rate of 24,25 or 30fps at a bit rate as high as 100Mbit/sec. This new camera also gains all the slow-motion goodies that we saw in the RX100 IV. One can shoot nearly Full HD video at 250fps, 720p HD video at 500fps, and for lower-resolution video, one can go up up to a crazy 1000fps!

Interestingly, the RX10 II has an end trigger mode, which actually captures footage two or four seconds before the Movie button has been pressed! It’s strange we have reached a point in technology where these new features have almost done away with the whole idea and philosophy of the ‘decisive’ moment.

The 20.2MP sensor is the same as the one used in the RX100 IV. In Speed Priority Continuous mode, the camera now shoots upto 14fps (with focus locked), and with continuous AF, managed 5fps—both of which are big improvements. The buffer has been expanded, and now accomodates 44 Extra Fine JPEG frames or 29 RAW frames (as per our tests), a big leap forward than the original RX10’s 21 JPEG or 10 RAW frames. The camera allows you to shoot at an incredibly fast shutterspeed of 1/32000sec, which, aside from freezing action, can be used to shoot in bright light at large apertures.

Handling
While the innards have got a complete overhaul, on the exterior, the looks remain deceptive, as the II looks nearly identical to the older RX10. It’s a form factor rather similar to a DSLR with its kit lens. The outer shell is made of magnesium alloy and feels solid and premium. The camera offers a good amount of protection against dust and splashes. The largely manual operation, with the large barrel and clear markings, improve its on-field handling.

The aperture ring offers clicks at every setting and you can control the aperture with 1/3-stop intervals. The zoom action can be controlled by two ways with the zoom ring on the lens or the lever surrounding the shutter release button. This is an electro-mechanical action and is slower than mechanical zoom action found on conventional interchangeable lens cameras. The EVF’s resolution has been upgraded and it is quite comfortable to use.

Performance
I must say that the focusing speed of the camera is good and I did not have any issues while shooting outdoors. The Tracking AF does a very commendable job, especially when compared to other compact cameras.

The background blur that is possible with the RX10 II is even better than entry-level DSLRs used with their kit lenses. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/2.8 (ISO 125). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

The background blur that is possible with the RX10 II is even better than entry-level DSLRs used with their kit lenses. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/2.8 (ISO 125). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Up to ISO 800, the image quality is nearly as good as that of any entry-level DSLR, with the lens resolving a good amount of detail, more than what a regular kit lens would achieve. Beyond ISO 800 though, the 1-inch sensor starts showing the limitations. JPEGs get smudgy, and the JPEG engine does not do full justice to how good the RAW files are.

Conclusion
There is no faulting the RX10 II as a camera. The only thing you need to ask yourself is whether its steep price justifies your needs. If you are primarily a stills shooter, you may want to look at the Canon PowerShot G3X, which has equivalent image quality and far more reach (600mm). But its lack of EVF makes the Sony seem like a better option, if you don’t need the extra zoom.

Video enthusiasts, on the other hand, may well be advised to look at the FZ1000 as a far more value-for-money 4k-shooting proposition. Where the Sony scores is its super slow-mo modes and low light shooting (courtesy its f/2.8 lens). But if price is no consideration, the Sony RX10 II is at the top of the pack, and one can only marvel at where the 1-inch brigade will go next.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Fast lens, 4k video, 1000fps slow-mo video
19/20
Performance
Excellent sharpness and detail, sluggish AF in low light at the telephoto end
36/40
Build Quality
Magnesium alloy body, good grip
13/15
Ergonomics
Lightweight, aperture ring, custom buttons
17/20
Warranty & Support
Three-year warranty, 200 service centres around the country
4/5
MRP Rs. 94,990
OVERALL 89%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3.5/5
Who should buy it? Travellers who shoot a lot of video and want an all rounder without compromising quality
Why? The RX10 II has several video features, that are unique in the superzoom world, and its constant f/2.8 lens makes it an effective travel companion in difficult light conditions.
Tags: February 2016, RX10 II, RX10 II Price India, Shridhar Kunte, Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II, Sony RX10 II review