Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sony RX100: Pocket Rocket

 

The Sony RX100 has been in my posession for one year to date, and since my initial review, I hardly mentioned it, so I think it is time now to give it some front page headlines.

 

The RX100 has a serious advantage over any other camera I have ever owned before (not including my phone), it goes with me everywhere, even when I don't want to take a camera, just like you take your wallet and keys when you're going out, even if it doesn't get any use.

For some reason, our family outdoor outings decreased significantly in the last couple of months, and thus my EM-5 saw little use indeed. Instead, I've been using the RX100 and my Galaxy S4 a lot more to take photos that otherwise I wouldn't have taken, even with the EM-5 over my shoulder. I can safely say now that the EM-5 is my "large & serious" camera that is used in special occasions (especially with the long 12-50 lens if you need versatile focal length), while the RX100 is a more portable option, that is very good as a serious camera.

 

 

Over the time, I learned to respect the RX100 more and more, it produces very detailed shots with manageable noise up to ISO 3200, which is remarkable given that Sony crammed 20 megapixels in a small 1" sensor (all indoor pictures shown here are shot at either ISO 1600 or 3200), it produces lovely, smooth bokeh whenever it produces background blur, which it does strangely sometimes when shooting wide-open (f/1.8 for those who don't know) @ 28mm, look at that shot below (ISO 3200).

 

 

The RX100 also produces accurate and pleasant colors even when shooting in difficult light situations, it manages to convey the sense of the place and the mood. Have a look at the next picture, that's exactly how I remember the delicious dish at the restaurant.

 

 

There are a few niggles however, the camera can be operated directly with the external buttons and dials without delving into the menus, and there is a "Fn" button that you can assign a few functions to for quick access. I use it to set the focus mode, white balance, and flash exposure compensation. But despite that, I keep forgetting how to change things quickly (white balance, exposure comp, etc...) when I am in a hurry, a quick menu like the Canon or Olympus ones would have been better.

 

 

The other niggle is Auto ISO, while I leave it on most of the time, you cannot set the minimum shutter speed, so at low light situations, it picks ridiculously slow shutter speeds that risk motion blur, so I have to force it to manual ISO via the large ring around the lens, which is still quite stiff, it didn't get loose with time as I hoped.

 

 

Dynamic range for the little sensor in this camera is quite good, especially in shadow recovery, just like my Olympus camera and Mic's Nikon sensors, it doesn't like blown highlights much, but it is very good with recovering shadows.

 

 

The RX100 is also my go to quick video camera (did you know it can shoot 1080p @ 60 fps for smooth slow motion?), it can produce some good looking footage. I use flat picture styles (least contrast, least sharpness and least saturation), and the audio with the built-in mic isn't so bad. It also has built-in optical image stabilization, which works ok to make the motion a little smoother. The camera has three memory positions for your favorite settings for quick recall, I use it to store my settings for stills and video shooting.

 

 

I've mentioned this before, but having a camera that can sync up to 1/2000 sec is an excellent facility in many situations, it helps kill the ambient light without having to use a very strong flash. The RX100 can trigger my Yongnuo flashes optically, I turn the FEC to -2 or -3 (can't remember), and bounce it behind me using a white card.

 

 

My final niggle with the RX100 is the closest focusing distance, it is not so bad at the widest viewing angle (5cm I believe), but when you fully zoom in to get less distortion or avoid shadows, especially when shooting products, the minimum focusing distance becmoes something like one meter, which is really frustrating.

 

 

Sony did a very good job with the RX100 and the RX100 II, I hope to see an even faster (and better corrected) lens across the whole range in their next iteration, and less confusing menus. It is a very good performer in an incredibly small package. Despite the excellent GM1 reviews, I would not trade my RX100 for the GM1, I believe the Sony has better direct controls, without the wonky electronic shutter that is needed for most fast shutter speeds, and is a smaller package with more reach with it's built-in lens.