First Look: Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II
By Theano Nikitas
The latest bridge camera from Sony, the 20.2-megapixel Cyber-shot RX10 II looks and feels much like its RX10 predecessor. Equipped with a constant f/2.8, 24-200mm-equivalent (8.8-73.3mm) Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*zoom lens, the body measures 5.125 x 3.5 x 4.125 inches and weighs about 1 pound 12.7 ounces with battery and media card. A nice-sized grip provides a comfortable handhold, while the lens, even at its widest angle, is easily supported with the left hand. An eye sensor automatically switches between the bright and clear electronic XGA OLED viewfinder and a 3-inch, 1.2 million-dot tiltable LCD. The latter’s brightness can be adjusted manually if necessary and has a Sunny Weather option. Controls, including a custom button that can be assigned one of about 40 functions, are well-placed and generally responsive to the touch.
While the RX10 II looks similar to its predecessor, there are a few key differences, most notably a new sensor. While the 20.2-megapixel resolution is the same as the original RX10, the sensor similarity ends there. The latest Sony sensor is a 1-inch stacked CMOS image sensor, which is also used in the compact Sony RX100 IV. Unlike other sensors, where the photodiodes and circuit share the same space, on this Exmor RS CMOS sensor, the pixel area and high-speed signal processing circuit are stacked one atop the other, with an attached DRAM memory chip. This provides multiple end benefits, including faster readout of image data, 4K and slow motion video capture, up to 14fps continuous shooting (in speed priority continuous shooting) and a maximum 1/32,000-second shutter speed.
Like other Sony cameras, the RX10 II is equipped with Wi-Fi and is NFC compatible. A free PlayMemories Mobile app (iOS and Android) is available for remote camera operation and image transfer/sharing. PlayMemories Camera Apps such as multiple exposure, timelapse and other add-ons are free or cost $5 to $10 and are well worth exploring for both fun and function.
I spent time with the RX10 II during and after a Sony press trip to Portland, Oregon. It’s been a long time since I shot with a bridge camera and since Sony also provided production units of the a7R II on the trip, I was hard pressed (at least initially) to spend much time with the RX10 II. After shooting with it on a more regular basis when I returned home, I realize that the RX10 II deserved much more attention than I had previously given it.
Ergonomically, the RX10 II is a good fit for pretty much any size hands. Mine are average to small for a woman. But my male colleagues found the camera equally as comfortable to hold and use. It’s heavy and sturdy enough to support the zoom lens at telephoto but compact enough to carry all day without any strain. Its 24-200mm focal range is modest compared to other bridge cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix P900 with its 83X 24-2,000mm optical zoom, but I rarely needed more zoom or wide angle, even when photographing Oregon’s Mt. Hood from a distance. In fact, it was a relief not to lug around extra lenses and have to stop to change them. The zoom operated smoothly, and Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization worked well for telephoto shots.
The top image is taken at the 200mm equivalent, and the one above at 24mm equivalent. ©Theano Nikitas
Image quality is quite good and while it doesn’t match that of the a7R II, color rendition is pleasing and exposure (albeit with a slight tendency to clip bright highlights) was accurate. The lens is capable of reproducing details well and autofocus is generally very responsive. Manual assist and focus peaking are also available.
This still life is taken for 1/250 second at f/2.8, ISO 3200 in auto exposure mode. ©Theano Nikitas
Pushing the ISO to its upper limits of 12,800 wasn’t much of an issue given the bright, constant f/2.8 lens and SteadyShot, but I tried to keep ISO at 3200 or below. Auto ISO can be set with lower and upper limits, although I found that it sometimes pushed ISO higher than I liked under moderately low light conditions.
On the video front, I still haven’t explored the camera’s 4K capabilities, but the footage I’ve seen is quite nice, and the RX10 II has more than enough features to satisfy most photographers who want to start shooting 4K. Importantly, users have the choice of XAVC S or AVCHD recording. The former’s high bit rate and lower compression delivers higher quality results; clean HDMI out is also available.
I suppose one of the reasons I haven’t made good use of the RX10 II’s 4K videos is that I am moderately obsessed with its slow motion video. As someone who has been dreaming about shooting with a Phantom high-speed camera ever since I first saw its slow motion video, I was thrilled to learn that the RX10 II offered a trio of high frame rates for slow motion video up to (nearly) full HD at 240fps. Frame rates of 480fps and 960fps are also available but unless you have a lot of light and super fast movement, try to avoid the upper limits. The 960fps is super slow (you’ll get bored) and the camera ups the resolution so quality isn’t quite as good as the other recording options. The camera records 2 or 4 seconds of action and processes it in camera, which takes a few seconds or more, rendering the camera inoperable.
Timing is, of course, critical but there’s a start trigger and end trigger, which buffers before or after you start recording to help ensure you capture the key action. It takes a little practice to get the timing down. The camera needs to be in HFR (high frame rate) standby mode first, and then you hit the movie button when you’re ready to record. The camera uses auto AF in HFR mode, and I found that it sometimes back focused, but that could be user error as well.
The slow motion capture is amazing as you can see in the samples as the pieces of a cracked walnut flutter and spin. The dancer was shot at 960fps, which was a little too slow for her movements, but you get the idea. I may be overly obsessed with this feature but I think it can add a spot of interest when interspersed with other video footage especially for dance, sports, nature (birds, butterflies), sports, weddings, and any scenario or subject that moves.
From my brief experience with the camera, I think it’s a solid option for anyone who wants a bridge camera to complement or supplement DSLR and/or a mirrorless model. The RX10 II has a surprisingly full feature set for its class. With 4K video, high speed shutter, slow motion and a long list of other features and functions, I think that Sony has produced yet another winning combination. At $1,300, it’s pricier than I had hoped. Still, if the form factor and features appeal to you, it’s well worth a closer look.