ON TRIAL SONY CY­BER-SHOT RX1R II

The Mark II model of Sony’s fixed-lens full-35mm com­pact heads into Le­ica Q ter­ri­tory as far as pric­ing is con­cerned, but it delivers twice the res­o­lu­tion and is close to half the size, so who’s quib­bling?

Camera - - CONTENTS -

If you have a spare five-and-a-half grand to play with, Sony would like to tempt you with its Mark II ver­sion of its fixed-lens full-35mm com­pact. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but Sony packs a lot of cam­era into the RX1R II.

Right, 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.

MINI MARVEL

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.

POINT­ING UP

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

NOT ONLY DOES SONY TICK JUST ABOUT EV­ERY POS­SI­BLE BOX FOR FEATURES, IT CRE­ATES A FEW OF ITS OWN.

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.

ES­SEN­TIALS & EX­TRAS

The Q fol­lows Le­ica’s phi­los­o­phy of “Dast Wesentliche” which trans­lates as “the es­sen­tial” and means it’s al­most pu­ri­tan­i­cally no-frills… for ex­am­ple, there’s only one JPEG com­pres­sion set­ting (but a choice of four im­age sizes), no pic­ture pre­sets (al­though the JPEGs can be fine­tuned for sharp­ness, con­trast and sat­u­ra­tion), no dy­namic range ex­pan­sion or HDR cap­ture, and most cer­tainly no special ef­fects.

On the other hand, the RX1R II hap­pily em­braces ev­ery­thing that the dig­i­tal imag­ing tech­nolo­gies make pos­si­ble. Not only does Sony tick just about ev­ery pos­si­ble box for features, it cre­ates a few of its own such as the ‘Smile Shut­ter’, ‘Soft Skin Ef­fect’ re­touch­ing and ‘Auto Object Fram­ing’ which uses sub­ject/scene anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine the fram­ing. There’s a choice of 14 ‘Cre­ative Style’ pre­sets (with ad­just­ments for con­trast, sharp­ness and colour sat­u­ra­tion from which you can cre­ate up to six user-de­fined ‘Cre­ative Styles), 13 ‘Pic­ture Ef­fects’, ad­justable as­pect ratios (3:2, 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1), au­to­matic sub­ject/scene mode se­lec­tion (44 in all), in-cam­era lens corrections (for vi­gnetting, chro­matic aber­ra­tions and dis­tor­tion), panorama stitch­ing (with stan­dard and wide modes), multi-frame noise re­duc­tion (us­ing four images), a myr­iad of self-timer con­fig­u­ra­tions, multi-

shot HDR cap­ture with auto or man­ual ex­po­sure ad­just­ment, and auto brack­et­ing not just for ex­po­sure, but also white bal­ance, flash, dy­namic range ex­pan­sion pro­cess­ing and low-pass fil­ter set­tings. In an­other un­ex­pected turn­around, the Sony has a good old ca­ble re­lease socket in its shut­ter re­lease… some­thing you’d ac­tu­ally ex­pect on the Le­ica.

And a coup for RAW shoot­ers is that the 14-bit un­com­pressed files are han­dled in Phase One’s Cap­ture One Ex­press avail­able as a free down­load for own­ers and ar­guably the best RAW con­verter on the planet.

Of course, some pho­tog­ra­phers may pre­fer the com­par­a­tive aus­ter­ity of the Le­ica Q – and it ac­tu­ally does have ev­ery­thing that’s really needed – but there’s no deny­ing the cre­ative po­ten­tial of the Sony’s ex­ten­sive ‘in-house’ fa­cil­i­ties. And how does it stack up against the leg­endary Le­ica fit and feel? Well, while it may not look as el­e­gantly classy, there’s no fault­ing the RX1R II’s build qual­ity and over­all so­lid­ity. It may be small, but it still weighs in at over 500 grams when op­er­a­tional so it has real pres­tige cam­era ‘heft’ and all the di­als have very pos­i­tive ac­tions. You’re not likely to ac­ci­den­tally set any ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion, for ex­am­ple. While it’s def­i­nitely more pocket-sized than the Le­ica Q, we’re still talk­ing a big jacket pocket here and that weight is go­ing to up­set any tailored lines should you be at all fash­ion­con­scious. If so, splash out a bit more and buy the lovely leather case so you can wear the RX1R II on the out­side.

GET­TING AROUND

And this is a cam­era that def­i­nitely grows on you the more that you use it and be­come fa­mil­iar with where ev­ery­thing is, es­pe­cially in the menu sys­tem. The menu de­sign will be very fa­mil­iar to any­body who has used a Sony Al­pha cam­era of any flavour and it’s pretty log­i­cally ar­ranged, but like on Canon’s D-SLRs, each page is self-con­tin­ued so there’s

It may be small, but Sony’s RX1R II packs a real punch… start­ing with its 43.6 megapix­els full-35mm sen­sor.

The pop-up EVF ar­range­ment is very clever in­deed, but it’s small and the eye­cup needs to be man­u­ally at­tached and detached ev­ery time you use it. Mon­i­tor screen has tilt ad­just­ments, but a bit sur­pris­ingly, no touch con­trols. Main in­put wheel is well po­si­tioned and per­forms a myr­iad of set­ting and nav­i­ga­tion du­ties.

The top panel is largely tra­di­tional, in­clud­ing di­als for mode set­ting and ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion. The pop-up EVF is con­cealed at left. Yes, that is a ca­ble re­lease socket you see in the shut­ter re­lease. On a Sony! Main mode dial in­cludes three set­tings for cus­tomised cam­era set-ups. The aper­ture col­lar is grad­u­ated in onethird stop in­cre­ments. Fo­cus­ing ring is the fly-by-wire type. Ex­po­sure comp dial needs a vig­or­ous shove to move… so no accidental set­tings here.

The re­play screens in­clude a full im­age with ba­sic cap­ture data, and a thumb­nail with bright­ness and RGB his­tograms.

Menu sys­tem is the same de­sign as used on Sony’s D-SLRs and mir­ror­less cam­eras. It’s busy, but easy to get around.

The mon­i­tor-based info panel is very com­pre­hen­sive and in­cludes both a real-time his­togram and a dual-axis level dis­play.

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