Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: Sony RX100

The RX100

So, you've seen my teaser and wanted to know more, here comes my first impressions review on the hot Sony RX100, why did I get one? How does it perform? And is it really the best P&S out there? Hit the jump.

THE "WHY"

Before I start talking about the "what" or the "how", I'd like to talk about the "why" for a little, let's start by going back a little bit, to the time when I had my Sony T10, this was my first P&S that I bought with my own money, I took it almost everywhere with me since it was very small.

Fast forward to the Canon G11, my first true photography camera, I also took that one everywhere, I remember taking it with me to work everyday, and I used to shoot lots of things during lunch breaks, or whenever needed, it was great fun.

Fast forward again to the Canon 550D, hmm, large, not practical to take to work everyday, doesn't fit in the laptop bag, and I get caught every time I use it because of the chee-chkeeeen shutter sound it produced every time I took a picture, same with the 60D, the 5D2 and the 5D3, which I was even lazy to take with me on regular family visits where there are kids; which by just being kids creates several interesting photo opportunities.

So, ever since the DSLR move, I only took the camera when I knew I'd need it and use it, otherwise, home sweet home; it stayed at. I have long since wanted a small take-every-where camera, my initial requirements were a viewfinder, a relatively large sensor, fast focusing, fast lens, and of course it had to be small and quite cheap, my eyes were always set on the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) since they started becoming popular, but they were never cheap enough, nor small enough to satisfy me, and I would have to buy an external viewfinder like Kirk Tuck to be able to use it, one more thing is that MFT is a system, and I didn't want to open a new expenditure channel for photography, so I never really thought about it, besides, I was quite scared that I'd get a small camera and I would take everywhere and leave my big DSLR and fancy lenses back at home collecting dust. I was not attracted to the newer 1/1.7" sensor cameras, having owned the G11 before. So what happened?
 
Rain and Gloom!

Having sold the mighty 5D Mark III and all that, I decided I had enough spare money beside my Olympus OM-D EM-5 system to buy a fancy little camera, all of that with just the price of selling the 5D3 body alone, at least I'd be able to shoot pictures of each camera with the other one to post on this blog (see? I am paying money for your entertainment :-p). They say the best camera is the one that you have with you, and the one I always have with me is in my Galaxy S3 phone, which I don't like, it produces noisy little pictures in all situations, and with that 28mm equivalent wide angle fixed lens, composition is a hateful experience, I mostly shoot people and I don't like doing it with such a wide lens, and if I were to crop, 8 megapixels are not enough. So I went hunting for a little powerful camera.

THE "WHAT"

That was a tricky part, as is any camera purchase, which one to choose, I was quite attracted to the Nikon V1 with its one inch 10 MP sensor, I found it on Amazon for $500 with the 10-30 kit lens, it had superb focusing, a good viewfinder, respectable noise performance, but it was large and I never really warmed up to it, I wanted small. And for smaller I had to choose between the 1/1.7" and the 2/3" sensor cameras, mainly represented by the Canon S110, G15, Fuji X10, XF1, Nikon P7700 and Panasonic LX7, of course there was always the larger sensor Sony RX100.

To cut the story short, after scanning the whole internet, I narrowed it down to the Canon G15 and the Sony RX100, I knew I had to let go of my viewfinder dream, so I was choosing between the G15 because of its very fast lens (1.8 - 2.8), familiarity, external controls, unlimited 1/4000 sync speed and a hot shoe, and on the other hand the much raved about P&S of the year with its larger and better sensor, but not-so-fast lens, 1/2000 maximum shutter speed and lack of hot shoe. It was a tie for me and I almost bought the G15, but the RX100 won my heart mainly because of size.

More Rain, Wind & Gloom!


THE "HOW"

So how did the Sony RX100 perform? Splendid, I have to say. It has passed the most important test, portability, it goes with me everywhere, same as my phone, wallet and keys. As for performance, it has certainly exceeded my expectations, I didn't think putting 20 MP in a 1" sensor was a good idea when my 60D struggled with noise with it's 18 MP APS-C sensor, but I was pleasantly surprised, it actually does very well, and it's a point and shoot, so I can just give it to anyone and they will be able to take pictures of me. It zooms like normal P&S cameras with a lever around the shutter button, and it can auto-detect faces and focus on them on its own without special face-detection modes, although it's not as accurate as the OMD. Here is a picture of me taken during waiting for lunch by one of my casual non-photographer friends.

Me, me & me!

As you can see, the camera nailed the focus, exposure and colors quite perfectly, I did notice that it usually preferred a cooler white balance when in AWB mode, but I was happy to discover that I can adjust the auto white balance setting, so I added 2 clicks to the warm side (might reduce it to one) and now I like the AWB. Focus is quite quick in good light, and acceptably quick in very dim light (I turn off the AF illumination on all of my cameras, "ZAP, sorry, I'm trying to take a picture, ZAP, sorry, can't focus, ZAP, oh well, I won't take a picture").

Noise performance is exceptionally well for such a densely packed sensor, if you look carefully you'll find noise even at low ISO 400 images, but it is very fine and not intrusive, it keeps increasing until it becomes quite apparent at ISO 1600 and 3200 (it goes to ISO 6400 by the way). What do you think the ISO of this picture is?

Water Glass, Very Dim Restaurant, 1/20 sec, f/1.8, ISO ??

100% Crop, Default NR in Lightroom, did you guess the ISO yet?

And here is the noise cleaned up in an Topaz DeNoise

That was ISO 3200! Unbelievable. Another strong point is the dynamic range, it is simply brilliant at low ISO figures, up there with the larger sensors.

Now let's talk about DOF for a second, don't even think it can produce any sort of shallow DOF at normal shooting distances, it just won't happen unless you're shooting very close objects like the example below, I think if it had a faster lens, it might have got a slightly shallower DOF at the long end, but that's not why I bought the RX100, I have the OMD for that. And that is one advantage for this camera, you can never complain from not-deep-enough DOF, even at f/1.8 on the wide end, you get lots of stuff in focus. The Carl Zeiss lens is very sharp, with nice colors, I wish it would have been faster, but it would have been bigger (if you don't know, it starts from f/1.8 on the wide end and goes to f/4.9 on the long end). Zooming with the lever is ok but not very fast, and optical zoom works in video as well.

A Leaf! Notice the creamy bokeh.

For some reason the camera keeps auto-focusing all the time on the selected focus point, even when I'm not shooting, it doesn't bother me, but I guess it uses up the battery. Video mode is ok with the built-in image stabilization (called Steady Shot), it has 1080p @ 60 fps which is great for slow motion, however I have two major issues with the video mode, first, the sound, it is just too loud and very sensitive with no settings other than wind noise reduction, and the other one is the noise which is very apparent when shooting in semi-low light at higher ISOs. I can counter the first issue by using my relatively HUGE external mic (Zoom H1), but I wish it had better audio for casual family videos.

There are a few things that I don't like about the RX100, first and foremost is the external ring around the lens, I read in the reviews that people found it very useful, however I find it very stiff and hard to turn, I wish it were smoother, maybe it will break-in with more use, but I simply don't use it because of that, imagine using it for manual focus during video (camera has focus peaking by the way), it is very stiff that you would shake the whole thing to move the ring, I now have it assigned to ISO choice. My other issue is the rear dial, it is very good, and very easy to use, but many times when I'm just turning the dial I could click it to any of the four directions and end up selecting something I didn't want. I would also want to move the focus point directly using the arrows without having to press the center OK button first, and if I wanted to select any of the functions assigned to the four directions I'd have to press OK first.

Yet More Rain!

The menus on the RX100 needs better work, it's almost impossible to remember where to find functions, even if they are in front of your eyes. Despite the complaints from the OMD menu system, I find it much more logical and easier to use. A custom menu would have helped as well, a separate tab where you could add your most used settings like on the Canons. A select-and-delete several pictures at once would have been a nice addition as well, to delete several pictures you have to view it one by one, then press the weirdly labeled "?" button and then down to choose the "Yes" option, then the center button to confirm the deletion. At least with the OMD I can configure it to delete pictures by just pressing the delete button once.

The RX100 is a pleasurable camera to use, it has an excellent screen at the back, the sharpest one I have seen yet, and it has a nice feeling when holding it, quite solid, and it comes with a nice little wrist strap, finally someone who knows how I carry cameras, I have used wrist straps for all of my cameras without a single exception. One area that makes the camera feel sluggish is the image playback, it is quite slow, and when you zoom in on a picture, it takes a while to display the 100% magnification where it jumps too with one press on the zoom lever. I tried using 45 MB/s UHS-1 cards and it didn't make it any faster.

Backside

What makes the RX100 a very valuable addition to my kit, is that I have it with me everywhere, forcing me sometimes to stop and take a picture that I wouldn't think of taking otherwise, now that I know I have a powerful camera with me, take these rainy gloomy pictures for example, I drove last Friday 7 continuous hours from 7am till 2pm in some of the worst weather conditions seen in Egypt, with just 3 hours of sleep. We're not a country used to or prepared for rain, so when light rain hits it might cause traffic problems, but last Friday, it was all-taps-open, lots of heavy rain (at some stages it became little hard ice balls) and strong wind, it was quite an adventure for me, a risky one for sure, but I enjoyed it nevertheless, and I wanted to document some parts of the journey, so I used my phone mounted to the windshield on the car kit to capture some video, and I used the RX100 to take the rainy photos you see above, and I am very proud of it, they remind me of the adventure, and they are not crap, they look cool. When I reached home safely, I stopped for a few moments and took several photos of all the rainy surroundings from inside the car.

I wouldn't have done that if I only had my DSLR which would usually stay at home, and even if I had it, it would have been in the car trunk and I would never stop and try to get it out in such conditions, so there you go, here's one last picture that reminds me of the rainy day.

Running Water

When I ordered the RX100, Amazon suggested a kit that includes a genuine Sony case, a genuine Sony Class 10 SD card, a Zeikos hand grip (gifted to someone already), and a pack of screen protectors, all for the same price as the camera alone. The memory card and the case are of course very useful, and I am glad I ordered them. I also ordered a couple of spare batteries with a wall charger and a car plug, the batteries were no-name batteries, but they are a 100% imitation of a 3rd party battery brand called Wasabi, they work well, especially that the OEM battery can be only be charged from inside the camera with the provided USB cable.

I also ordered a Lowepro Apex 30AW case for the RX100, it is very well built, can carry a spare battery and memory card, and has a weather-protection cover, here's how they look like:

Lowepro Apex 30AW & Sony Genuine Case

One final thing I would like to tell you about the Sony is the unlimited flash sync speed, the camera has a tiny popup flash that could be bounced to the ceiling, I thought of using that flash on its own and bounce it to a near wall or something, but I found that it's not powerful enough on its own, but used with ambient it can create some very good results, but I'll keep that for another post.

Teen Weenie Little Flash


One more thing is to use the popup flash to trigger external flashes, hmm, can it sync at 1/2000 sec? I used my YN-560 II flashes in S2 slave mode, and I was able to sync them successfully all the way up to 1/2000 sec, how cool is that? Have a look at my previous teaser post to see a picture (and a 100% crop) taken with external flashes and no ambient at 1/2000 sec. But what about the exposure coming from the popup flash itself? Easy, despite not having manual power control, I decreased the flash exposure compensation down to -2, and I blocked the direct flash and bounced it behind me using a white card, you can hold that card in your hand (shaky shaky, no viewfinder) or simply cut something simple from a thick white like I did:

Front View

Side View

The mshafik Bouncer TM

I used gorilla tape to make sure no light goes through the white paper, and to give it more structural integrity. I am still not used to the stinky-baby-diaper hold (TM Kirk Tuck) with the camera in front of me, especially with low shutter speeds, but the built-in image stabilization works nicely (I'd give it a maximum of two stops of stabilization), and it's a no problem at all in good light.

OM-D EM-5 (45mm f/1.8) vs Sony RX100

Despite my huge love for the OMD, and it being a significantly quicker and more fun camera to operate, I have to admit that the Sony has taken a special place in my heart very slowly and without me noticing until I reached this paragraph (really!), mainly because it's the camera that I always have when I need one, it is by no means the fastest camera to operate, nor does it have the best quality or the fastest focus, but it is the most versatile one I have ever had, and for that I give it my recommended seal of approval, not that I have ever recommended a camera on this blog before. I fully understand now why this is the best P&S camera produced in 2012 and perhaps in all time, well done Sony.


Lights

Deserted

24 comments:

  1. Very nice review. Well done!
    I had a G15 but sold it for an RX100 and don't regret it. Far better image quality and ( once you've got it set up ) much faster to use.

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  2. Nice one bro! At first, I purchase the Panasonic Lumix 7 but returned it a day after and changed it to Sony rx100. Damn! this camera is just amzing!

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  3. Hmm, good job! This is really something!

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  4. stunning and pratical review love it !!!!!

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  5. Hmm, good job! This is really something!

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  6. Thanks for the write-up especially on AWB and flash reflector :) never thought of that. I love the way you write the review. It depicted emotion of RX100 owners.

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  7. Thanks for this article. I'm in the midst of deciding between both the Olympus OMD and Sony RX100 and this helped me get some focus. Especially now with the RX100 ii that's about to be released, having a quality camera with me all the time is what really matters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, glad I helped you make up your mind.

      Delete
  8. Thanks for this article. I'm in the midst of deciding between both the Olympus OMD and Sony RX100 and this helped me get some focus. Especially now with the RX100 ii that's about to be released, having a quality camera with me all the time is what really matters.

    ReplyDelete
  9. السلام عليكم لو سمحت يا مستر محمد انا مهتم بشراء الكاميرا Olympus OM-D E-M5 ممكن نتواصل و شكرا

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. و عليكم السلام، من قال أنى أريد بيع الكاميرا؟ ليست للبيع حتى الآن.

      Delete
  10. طيب ممكن لو سمحت يا مستر محمد انا عايز اشتري كاميرا اوليمبوس زيها ممكن تساعدني و شكرا

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are two options that I know of:

      1. Find someone traveling abroad, and he can buy it for you, which is what I did.

      2. Use a service like edfa3ly.com.eg, more expensive but possible, go to their website or call them, and they will explain everything.

      Delete
  11. Hi shafik. Do u think if i change frm my current nex3 to rx100 is upgrade or downgrade?

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    Replies
    1. Well, the NEX-3 has a good sensor, it will depend on the lenses you have and your end purpose of the photos.

      I'd say the NEX has the advantage of interchangeable lenses and less noise at high ISOs, but the RX100 is a better all rounder mainly due to the smaller size and the fixed lens.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your reply. I plan to sell my NEX-3 with kit lens plus two auto prime lenses and a manual 50mm and jump ship to rx100. I agree with you, NEX series have good sensor but IMO RX100 is still better. I'm always facing with problem where I want to go out and had a dilemma: which lens should I take with me?19mm or 30mm?or 18-55mm? The latter one always have a problem in low light and slow. The other two is a prime, what if u have to zoom out or zoom in. Manual lens is out of story here. Not to mention one camera bag that I have to carry.

      As a conclusion, buy RX100 (or other P&S) better. Can fit my jeans or even my wife's handbag! Am I correct?

      Delete
    3. Well, whatever suits you. The RX100 has a great sensor, but mind that the lens is only f/1.8 wide open, it quickly reaches f/4.9 at the long end.

      It certainly can fit your wife's purse, and a jeans pocket if it's not too tight. But I would not want to carry my RX100 like that, it would get scratched every time you take it out of your pocket.

      Delete
  12. Hi! Why are you using a DIY flash reflector to bounce the light to the ceiling? You can just tilt the popup flash to direct the beam straight up! =) It's one of the best design features of this camera!

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  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  14. My bad! I just noted that the reason of the white card is to block the light to use the popup flash as a trigger for the slave unit. Great post and great pictures!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No worries, there is also a couple of other reasons in fact:

      1- When I want to use bounce flash, I don't want to be busy holding and pointing the flash at the ceiling, instead I put the bounce card and concentrate on taking pictures.

      2- When bouncing the flash to the cieleing by hand, some of it will hit the subject's face directly. The bounce card prevents any direct flash going through.

      And you know what, I also use it to bounce the flash to different directions, not always to the ceiling, I used it a few times to bounce to my right side, or behind my back.

      Delete
  15. I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the RX100 for some time. I love it's low light ability for a pocket cam and of course the dynamic range easily trumps my Canon S95. I love the fact that when it has trouble focusing, in most cases, it almost instantly switches to the huge focus area. However, the color accuracy is horrendous - approximately 50% worse than my Canon according to Imaging Resource. It's a pain to HAVE to post-process (PP) images from a P&S, but what's even more frustrating is that no amount of PP will get the color quite right in many cases. Some of the other issues are the extremely slow startup/shutdown times, the terrible IS, and the unreliable/inconsistent metering system. I am on my 3rd one, having sold/returned the other 2 and ready to ditch this one as well. I wonder if I will return though since I am certain that I will not find an equivalent pocket cam and the larger cams often get left home. Perhaps the Nikon P8000 will do the trick or the rumored Oly 1" sensor cam will turn out to be a reality ...

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