Sony Cybershot DSCRX1R II Compact Digital Camera
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With a full-frame image sensor featuring elevated pixel count, an advanced processor, a bright ZEISS® fixed focal length lens, and optical variable low-pass filter that you can adjust internally, the RX1R II packs extraordinary full-frame imaging capability into an incredibly compact form.
|Dimensions||113.3 x 65.4 x 72.0 mm|
|Focus Range||Normal: 11.81" (30 cm) - Infinity|
|Memory Card||SD/ SDHC/ SDXC Memory Card|
|Power||1x NP-BX1 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack|
|Screen Size||3.0" LCD Screen|
|Sensitivity||Auto, 100-25600 (Extended Mode: 50-102400)|
|Shutter Speed||Speed: 1/4000 - 30 seconds|
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- "...worth every cent"| by CAMERA MagazineRight, let’s talk money. If you like the idea of Sony’s Cyber-shot RX1R II then you’re up for the best part of five-and-a-half grand. Your change will be precisely a dollar. If you spent another $500 – possibly even less – you could have Leica’s fabulous Q… which is a Leica. A proper one, made in Germany and all that. So what’s a ‘new world’ camera doing locking horns with one from photography’s ‘old world’ aristocracy? It should be no contest, right? Well, er… no.
The Q is sheer Leica brilliance. Beautiful to look at in that classic Leica rangefinder camera way. Even nicer to handle and a superb performer, especially the 28mm f1.7 Summilux lens. Alongside it, the RX1R II looks like it was designed in crayon by a three-year-old and, somewhere along the line, it got a lens intended for a bigger camera body so the proportions are all a bit
awkward. You wouldn’t call it pretty, but then beauty is really only ever skin deep and there’s much more to the Sony than its slightly gawky appearance. For starters, it is really small… the Q looks massive in comparison. And to put the RX1R II’s compact size into some context, it’s worth remembering that it matches a full-35mm format sensor with a 35mm f2.0 fast prime lens, a built-in EVF, and a tilt-adjustable monitor screen.
Here’s where the heavy hitting commences. This sensor is Sony’s 43.6 megapixels ‘Exmor’ BSI CMOS – as is used in the pro-level A7R II mirrorless camera and A99 II D-SLR – and the lens is a Zeiss Sonnar allglass design. So suddenly the RX1R II doesn’t look out of its league at all… it’s dancing all around the Q, saying “C’mon, c’mon, give us your best shot then”. The Leica has the wider angle 28mm lens – arguably the perfect prime focal length on 35mm – but the Sony hits back with all the cropping potential that’s available when you’ve got 42.4 megapixels of effective resolution on tap… not far off twice the Q’s 24.2 MP. What the Sony really needs is a wide-angle converter – such as Fujifilm offers for its X100 Series models – to at least give 28mm or perhaps even 24mm.
A really clever feature on the RX1R II is called ‘Clear Image Zoom’ which operates up to 2.0x – to give the equivalent of a 70mm focal length – but with no loss of resolution. After the image is cropped, in-camera processing using analysis and interpolation returns it to 42 MP. A ‘Digital Zoom’ function then allows you to go up to 140mm, but with a cropped image at a lower resolution (still 18 MP though). Alternatively, there’s a ‘Smart Zoom’ which operates when you shoot at the medium and small JPEG sizes (effectively 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverter settings), and uses the extra pixels to give the magnified view while retaining the same image size. However, there’s no image stabilisation when shooting stills with the Sony (only an electronic shift for movies) whereas the Q’s lens incorporates an optical image stabiliser. Presumably the ultra-compact body precludes fitting the sensor-shift ‘SteadyShot’ IS Sony uses in its A7 mirrorless models.
It’s worth noting at this point that Sony further optimises the RX1R II’s ultra-high resolution via a variable optical low-pass filter which can be switched off altogether, set to ‘Hi’ to deliver the maximum correction for moiré patterns or set to ‘Standard’ which works like a conventional OLPF, balancing resolution and correction.
Not surprisingly given Sony’s heritage, the RX1R II is also a fairly handy video camera (see the Making Movies panel for the full story here), and while the Q is also actually quite capable here, it lacks some pretty important features such as a stereo audio input for external microphones.
While the Sony is a marvel of miniaturisation, there are some inevitable compromises. While the Mark I model had a builtin pop-up flash, but no EVF, the Mark II has it the other way around.
The lack of a flash isn’t so much of a problem (the Leica Q doesn’t have one either), but the EVF suffers because of the lack of space even though Sony has come up with an ingenious arrangement for its design. The 0.39-inch OLED panel and the multi-lens eyepiece are located in a pop-up module which is released via a sprung-loaded lever and retracted by simply pushing it down. The design allows the eyepiece to move into place by itself (i.e. it doesn’t need to be manually pulled or pushed) and there’s still a strength adjustment. It all works really well mechanically. However, while the panel’s resolution is still a crispy 2.359 megadots, it’s truly tiny and the rubber eyecup has to be attached and detached every time you use the EVF. The cup was missing from our test camera which is probably an indication of what will happen to lots of them along the way. The Leica Q’s EVF is, of course, a triumph… it’s a LCOS-type display (Liquid Crystal On Silicon) with a resolution of 3.68 million dots and it’s big, bright and a lot more comfortable to use.
Even more unexpectedly, the Q’s monitor screen has touch controls – including for autofocusing and shutter release – while the RX1R II’s panel doesn’t, but it is adjustable for tilt which, in particular, is very useful for low-level shooting.
On the subject of autofocusing, the RX1R II has the same hybrid system as its big brother A7R II which uses a total of 399 points for phase difference detection measurements and 25 points for contrast-detection measurements. It’s fast – Sony claims a 30 percent speed increase over the previous model – and the scene coverage is extensive enough to snare objects virtually right at the edges of the frame.
These two attributes also contribute to excellent subject tracking and face (or even eye) detection capabilities, with continuous shooting at up to 5.0 fps. The Q’s AF is impressively fast too, and it can do up to 10 fps with continuous adjustment, but then it’s only handling around half the amount of data per frame. Focus mode selection is via a switch on the Sony’s front panel which has the standard single-shot, continuous and manual settings plus one labelled ‘DMF’ which stands for Direct Manual Focus. DMF provides a continuous manual
override so you can fine-tune the AF by simply using the focusing collar on the lens. Manual focus assist is via a magnified image and a focus peaking display which can be set to red, yellow or white and at one of three intensity levels. The Leica Q offers the same assists and its focusing mode switching is a little more elegant, especially the nifty sliding scales for the normal and macro distance ranges. On the Sony’s lens, the macro mode is selected by switching a control ring, with the close-up range spanning 20 to 35 centimetres.
The third control on the lens is the aperture collar which spans f2.0 to f22 in one-third f-stop increments. There’s a main mode dial and a second for setting exposure compensation between +/-3.0 EV (again in one-third increments). Exposure control is based on the same
1200-point sensor-based evaluative metering Sony uses on all its interchangeable lens cameras, with the options of centre-weighted average and spot measurements. The auto exposure modes are supplemented by an AE lock, the aforementioned compensation and
auto bracketing over sequences of three, five or nine frames. In terms of exposure control, the RX1R II and Q pretty well match each other with some small variations such as the aperture range (i.e. f2.0-22 versus f1.7-16) and another surprise in that the Leica has a sensor-based shutter to supplement its in-lens leaf-type (enabling a top speed of 1/16,000 second versus 1/4000 second) and the Sony doesn’t, but from here on, the two cameras diverge quite dramatically.
Like Panasonic, Sony brings its expertise in video to its still cameras so the RX1R II is as capable in this application as it is for photography. Unlike the A7R II, it doesn’t shoot 4K video – sensor overheating is potentially an issue with such a small body shell – but Full HD footage (1920x1080 pixels) can be recorded in the AVCHD, MP4 or XAVC S formats at 50 or 25 fps (PAL), the latter codec giving a bit rate of 50 Mbps. There’s also the option of shooting slow-motion clips at 100 fps in XAVC S at the HD resolution (1280x720 pixels), also at a high quality 50 Mbps. Stereo microphones are built-in with manual levels control and a wind-cut filter. A standard 3.5 mm minijack terminal is provided for connecting an external microphone, but there’s no stereo audio output. Audio level meters can be shown in the monitor
screen. Sony offers a number of external microphones which can connect to the camera via its ‘Multi Interface Accessory Shoe’ – a hotshoe with extra connections – and this can also be used for fitting an external monitor.
The video functionality is extensive and includes the ‘PASM’ exposure control models, exposure compensation, the ‘Creative Style’ presets, the special effects, dynamic range expansion processing, noise reduction, lens corrections, and continuous autofocusing with subject tracking and face/eye detection.
Manual focus is assisted by a magnified image and/or a focus peaking display which is available ,in a choice of colours and intensity levels. A zebra pattern is provided to warn of overexposed highlights and can be set between 70 and 100 percent of the maximum image brightness.
The sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 100 to 25,600 with auto or manual adjustment during recording. A dedicated record start/stop button is located on the thumb rest. An uncompressed video feed (8-bit 4:2:2 colour) is available for recording to an external device via the camera’s micro HDMI terminal.
The Full HD image quality is excellent, particularly with Sony’s XAVC S codec, and the AF tracking works smoothly and reliably. While not as small – or as lightweight – as an actioncam, the RX1R II is still small enough to be considered for similar applications with the advantage of greater control and creative potential. However, just whether you’d want to risk around $5500 worth of camera on a car mount or slung under a drone is debatable.
With our reference memory card – Lexar’s 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/ U3 (Speed Class 3) Professional – loaded up, the RX1R II captured a burst of 26 JPEG/large/extrafine files in 5.223 seconds, representing a shooting speed of 4.97 fps. This is as close to Sony’s quoted spec as makes no difference and, incidentally, the average test file size was a hefty 35.5 MB. For the record, a RAW file from this camera can exceed 80 MB in size.
Not surprisingly then, the image quality is superlative particularly in terms of sharpness and definition. The tiniest of details are crisply resolved, likewise the patterns in textures which is where the variable OPLF comes into its own because, when it’s not needed, you can max out the resolution in all its glory. The colour reproduction is very accurate across the spectrum with slightly enhanced saturation which gives a very pleasing look and nicely compliments the definition and detailing. Of course, the ‘Creative Style’ presets allow for the finetuning of colour, contrast and sharpness to suit personal tastes or the subject matter. Noise levels are very low up to ISO 3200 when slight chroma (colour) noise starts to become evident, but it’s still not really a big issue at either ISO 6400 and 12,800 with the correction algorithms achieving a good balance of reduction while maintaining saturation and sharpness. However, beyond this there is a steady deterioration and chroma noise increases and the NR correction becomes rather more aggressive.
So, let’s talk money again. If you’re spending between $5500 and $6000 on a fixed-lens camera, you’re entitled to expect something pretty special. You get that with the Leica Q and not just because it’s a pukka Leica with all the right credentials, but because it’s an exceptionally fine camera.
Sony has to work a bit harder to earn the same kudos, but the RX1R II gets pretty close by virtue of being the most accomplished digital compact camera on the planet. The 42 MP full-35mm sensor packs a real punch in image quality terms, but the pop-up EVF, Zeiss Sonnar lens and long list of features – all packaged in such a small body – make this camera a real gem.
It’s a toss-up whether the 28mm focal length would ultimately be more useful overall than 35mm and a touchscreen would definitely be a bonus, but the RX1R II truly works as the camera to have when image quality is still a major priority, but something more portable and more low-key is almost equally desirable.
It gets results which would be harder or more challenging to get otherwise and, accordingly, it’s arguably worth every cent.
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