The Sony RX10ii—the underappreciated middle child gets even better!

Sony RX10ii at ISO 1600 @1/125th of a second on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ Photo © Bob Krist
Sony RX10ii at ISO 1600 @1/125th of a second on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ Photo © Bob Krist

Birth order is a strange and powerful force….more and more, the research points to the fact that in most families, a lot of your personality is not only developed because of your innate qualities, but also where you appeared in the birth order of your siblings.

This is certainly case for the Sony RX10 series….the first one was introduced with one of the Sony A7 series, the flashy big brother, and the Sony RX100ii, the precocious baby, and so of course, the uber-talented middle child was overlooked (and no, I’m an eldest child, so this isn’t my life story disguised as a camera review:-).

And this same thing has happened with the introduction of the RX10ii, which was completely lost in the kerfuffle about the A7Rii and the RX100iv cameras in the same release.

Not sure if it's the hatching of the pod people, or a Boardwalk amusement at Wildwood, NJ...
Not sure if it’s the hatching of the pod people, or a Boardwalk amusement at Wildwood, NJ…The backlit sensor of the RX10ii does a good job in low light Photo © Bob Krist

Which was a shame, because in many ways the RX10 was the dream machine for the traveling multi-media photographer who had to produce great stills and pro quality video with one compact, weather-sealed, well-designed camera with a built in 24-200mm f/2.8 (in 35mm equivalent) Zeiss freakin’ T* lens!

But alas, there were only a few of us who seemed to appreciate the qualities of this camera. Steve Northrup, longtime contract shooter for Time Magazine, called it the “best travel camera I’ve ever used.”  And Kirk Tuck, commercial photographer and thinking man’s photo blogger extraordinaire (and damn good spy novelist—his Lisbon Portfolio is a terrific book, and the hero is a corporate photographer!), loved the RX10. But Kirk buys new cameras more often than I buy red wine (hard to believe, but I really think its true:-), so it looks more like a fling and less like a marriage for him with the RX10.

But not me…I’m in it for the long haul with the RX10 series. And since this “appreciation” of the RX10ii is a little late (because I like to actually get out and use a camera for a few months before I open my big mouth about it, and I don’t call these “reviews” because you can get all the tech specs elsewhere, these are more my subjective findings and tips).

Out for an evening drive in Bucks County, looking for pictures with my pal Reid in his vintage MG....it's all good! Photo © Bob Krist, RX10ii
Out for an evening drive in Bucks County, looking for pictures with my pal Reid in his vintage MG….it’s all good! Photo © Bob Krist, RX10ii

So you can get the specs of both the new RX10 and the version ii elsewhere, but let’s get the obvious ones right out of the way first:

  1. It shoots beautiful 4K video internally. No external recorders needed. You get gorgeous, 100mpbs non-artifacting 4K in a very compact footprint.
  2. It shoots amazing slow-motion HD footage up to 900+frames per second. It’s true that these faster frame rates-960, 480, 240–are shot at lower resolution than HD and up-rezzed, and you can only record about 2-4 seconds of footage at a time, but still, the creative possibilities are amazing. And the 240fps setting is just slightly less than HD resolution and looks sensational blown up (and that’s a 10x slow mo that is buttery smooth).
  3. But the 120fps HD slow motion setting is just a normal mode and you can shoot it all day with no time limit. This is, again, a very fast bit-rate (100mbps) non-pixel binning HD video that looks great and is much easier to shoot than the higher frame rates, which are shootable in two-second clips only. But now for sports, wildlife, etc. you can get amazing slo-mo all day.
Sony RX10ii (courtesy Sony)
Sony RX10ii (courtesy Sony)

Okay, those are the improvements that you can read in any two bit review of the camera, but here are the less obvious improvements that I’ve not seen pointed out in in other review, but have made the camera even more useful for me.

  1. It now accepts the Sony Playstation apps so you can finally do timelapses. Yes, if the original RX10 had an Achilles heel, it was its inability to do timelapses…the camera wouldn’t take the app, and there were no wired intervalometers available that would do it through the remote terminal. Now, you can use the much improved Sony timelapse app, or there are now also new third party wired intervalometers that mate up with this camera (and the A7 series).
  2. TheRX10ii allows dedicated on camera flash sync speeds up to 1/4000th of a second. This is, as a certain media personality might say, “yuuuge” And this isn’t the typical “high speed sync” where the flash is basically flickering and putting out a fraction of its power, this is a full pop of flash. And even if you use a non-dedicated flash and trigger it with the hotshoe, you’ll still get an amazing sync speed of 1/1600th of a second. For you outdoor fill flash enthusiasts, your world has been rocked…you can use heavy diffusion with small strobes to get beautiful, soft fill light in bright sunlight.
  3. There’s now a selectable zoom speed!  Since Sony really spec’ed this camera out for video, in the first version, there was a very smooth, but often painfully s-l-o-w zoom action, whether you used the rocker switch or the zoom collar on the lens. The new model thankfully has a “zoom speed” option in the menu…set the “fast” setting (it’s still not lightning fast) and you’ll be a happy camper.
  4. There’s an easy, heavy duty battery solution for long timelapses and event coverage. Much has been made of how the Sony NP-FW50 batteries for the A7 and RX10 series cameras are not as powerful as one might want, and how you need a few of them to get through the day. This is less of an issue with this camera than its A7 series big brothers, but if you want to run an all-night timelapse, or you have to cover hours-long events (poor you:-), you can now power this camera (as well as the mark II series of the A7s and A7r, and the RX100iv) using the USB port when you select USB Power Supply in the menu.

This is a big deal, because it means you can use that same battery pack that you use to recharge your smartphones on the go to run your camera…no more buying expensive battery solutions that have dummy FW-50 shaped battery modules attached to huge batteries, taking the battery compartment door off, etc. etc. This is clean and simple.

I got two of these 10,000 mAh batteries for $14 each from Amazon (tip of the hat to fellow Sony Artisan Dennis Biela for the lead) and they are relatively compact and will run the cameras all day and most of the night, not to mention power up and charge my iPad and iPod if needed.

Colorful Cape May with the RX10ii
Colorful Cape May with the RX10ii

A couple of other “unsung” aspects of the RX10 series; it is about the most weather resistant camera in the Sony line…I’ve used mine in pouring rain in Iceland, blowing sand in the Kalahari desert, dirt and dust in a Gobi Desert horse race…you name it and the camera holds up. And video shooters, this is, well, again “yuuuuuge”—it’s a fixed lens (albeit an equivalent 24-200mm f/2.8 zoom) so you never have to worry about sensor dust! 

For still shooters, sensor dirt and dust is a minor inconvenience correctable with one hit of the clone tool…for video shooters? Well think about it…would you like to correct 120 frames per second of a moving dust spot? It can be done with masks and key frames and such, but it ain’t easy.

So, downsides? Yes, there are a few. It’s expensive $1298…but think about the lens range (and the straight f/2.8 aperture) you get with the camera and price it against a DSLR or mirrorless with detachable lenses and think about what you’d spend to cover that zoom range at that speed, and suddenly, you’ll see that it isn’t that expensive.

And although the new backlit 1″ sensor is even better in low light (I’ll shoot the RX10ii happily at up to ISO 3200, a full stop higher than its predecessor), it’s still tricky to get that creamy soft bokeh out of this camera…you need the right conditions. As you know, the smaller the chip, the greater the inherent depth of field, but in the right circumstances (see below) you can get really smooth bokeh…just not as easily as with your full frame or APSC  chipped cameras.

Shot with the RX10 last May. In the right circumstances, you can get nice bokeh with this camera (shot in Rich B&W mode)
Shot with the RX10 last May. In the right circumstances, you can get nice bokeh with this camera (shot in Rich B&W mode) Photo ©Bob Krist

So there you have it, my admittedly subjective appreciation of what will no doubt become my workhorse camera in the upcoming year of what will be possibly my heaviest travel schedule in a long time. Do I love my A7s and my A7Rii? You bet I do, but for run and gun travel video and stills, this is the camera I reach for first.

If you want to indulge your inner geek and go for a full bore tear down of the camera, these guys at Imaging Resource do the best in-depth camera reviews on the net, I think.

 

 

35 thoughts on “The Sony RX10ii—the underappreciated middle child gets even better!

    1. Patrick: You should play with one in the flesh first. There are some guys of our generation who can’t stand the fly-by-wire zoom and focus feel of the lens. But it’s not an issue once you get used to it.

  1. Interesting article,i use Panasonic and Sony cameras ,my FZ1000 is a similar beast.At first i was unsure how much i would use it but now i am sold on this “bridge type”camera; it’s very useful.I find the Sony impressive and the price well look what it can do and you don’t need to sell it in 12 months,we just think we do!.

    1. Keith: I know, sometimes I wish they’d slow the pace of innovation down a tad, so we could live with the current gear a while longer. Most of the improvements I need for my films have nothing to do with gear, but a lot to do with technique, knowledge, and talent:-)

  2. I bought into the previous RX10, in part after reading your recommendations and seeing the possibilities. After a few months I sold off my DSLR and 4 months later have zero regrets. In fact I splurged on the RX100 IV and it pretty nearly goes everyplace with me. Between the combination I’ve never had more fun and better utility in daily photo/video. I’m considering the mark 2 RX10 for some of the reasons you talk about (4k, 120FPs video and apps) but also because I really like the PP7 flat profile (which I oddly find great for photos too). All in all Sony has found the recipe for general utility shooters who want great video.

  3. Great review, I’ve been using this camera for video gigs the past few months in place of the 5DMK3 and even in place of the FS700 for a few slow motion jobs, for the price the features are unmatched! If only the lens was s little wider and you could output a 10 bit signal but I’ll take s-log2, internal ND, the MI hot shoe with audio and time code, and the EVF is amazing, big and bright! I plan to try a screw on fish eye for action sports on this camera and also on a Ronin gimbal soon.

    I used to work with your son Brian at Sirens Media in ’09!

    1. Keir: Great to hear from you…I’ll let Brian know. Keep us posted on how the screw in wide lens works out…I’ve been thinking of trying the same thing to get a wider angle of view too.

  4. Bob:

    Thanks for the blog post ! I was anticipating your comments about version II. One question:

    Several forum entries in a pro oriented website mention problems with lens wobble when zooming. Have you encountered this issue? Any comments?

    Thanks.

    1. I haven’t noticed an wobbliness on this one or the previous model. it’s not going to be built like a premium zoom because it is a built in lens, but the previous model held up in all kinds of conditions and I expect and hope this one will as well.

      1. Thanks.

        To be more descriptive, the complaints are that while zooming, the lens wobble is apparent in the video footage. Have you experienced this ?

  5. Bob,

    Great post–in fact your posts about Sony have been so convincing that we now own the A7R II, A7S and the RX100IV. While we appreciate the RX 10, we don’t own it since most fo our needs are covered with these other amazing Sony products. Love them all. As all of us are shooting stills plus video, so back-up storage needs (portable memory card backup devices) “on the road” have grown considerably. B & H sells three storage devices (the Necto D1, the HyperDrive and the Digital Focci). Do you have any recommendations on these devices—or do you think the best way to go is to use a small, portable computer (such as the Apple Airbook) with plenty of storage capacity?

    Charles and Mary Love

    1. Glad you’re satisfied with the Sony products…as far as the storage devices go…I have researched this myself in the past and I could never get past the fact that I could buy a small MacBook Air and several 2TB drives for less than some of those Nexto’s, which are basically glorified harddrives with a card reader built in. Get an 11″ Airbook and buy small BU drives as necessary, and I think you’re better off.

        1. Bob,

          Just wondering now about your opinion of the new Sony A7S II….if one already owns the A7S, do you think the improvements on the II version are tempting, aside from the internal 4K? Thanks.

          Charles

  6. Roaming around Bucks County on a pleasant evening in a well-sorted MG-TC — one you don’t have to maintain!
    Does it get any better?

  7. Years ago my first digital camera was actually a bridge one, Olympus C-2100UZ with whooping 2MP, video at 320 x 240 and a beautiful 38-380 mm eq. F2.8 – F3.5 lens.

    Coming back to the present, 15 years later, it is simply impressive what I just read about this camera, especially because you explained what are the main differences between the original RX10 and the ii, with points not mentioned anywhere. Unfortunately in Australia the exchange rate is making this camera very pricey at 65% of the RX10 or double the price of the FZ1000 but perhaps after the Xmas season, prices will be more attractive and hopefully I’ll be the proud owner of one of them. I remember your articles about travelling as light as possible but keeping great gear in the bag and I believe that the RX100ii fills most ticks of having great gear in the most comfortable way.

    I’m experimenting with timelapse photography, so from here I understand that the best option on this case should be the ii over the original one, is because the old can’t accept an external intervalometer besides the app?

    1. That’s right, Jose, the old RX10 would not accept the Sony app or any kind of intervalometer. This may have changed with the introduction of several third party intervalometers I’ve seen on Amazon, but best to check their compatability with the old RX10 before buying!

  8. Bob, thanks for the review of a terrific camera. One think, though; I can’t install the Sony PlayMemories Time Lapse from my Mac running OS X El Capitan Ver.10.11.2. I’ve read on a number sites that Sony doesn’t currently support El Capitan, but that they’re “working on it.” If true, astonishing, as we’re several months in to EC now. I’ve emailed Sony support, but have not heard back. Have you heard of this problem? Cheers, Jim.

    1. Jim: I tend to use my older laptop, running Yosemite, or maybe the OS before, to do any updates or firmware upgrades from Sony. They are a little slow dealing with Mac OS upgrades. In fact, back in the days of Sony (and Panasonic) making all their prosumer video cameras use the AVCHD codec, the most Mac-unfriendly codec on the planet, one could have made a case for them not wanting any Mac user to be able to use their products at all. I’ve not upgraded to El Capitan yet, so I haven’t experienced this, but it sounds typical. Have an older computer lying around?

      1. Thanks, Bob, for getting back to me. OK, that’s what I get for being a can’t-wait-to-upgrade-my-Mac-OS person! I don’t have an older computer, so I’ll just be patient. Luckily, I have an RX100mk4 also and installed the PM time lapse before I upgraded my Macs to El Capitan. Cheers, Jim.

  9. Thank you for this review. I’m a TV field producer by trade. Particularly for Weather Channel assignments, I frequently have to run and gun for news elements and SOTs. One of my other tasks is social media, so my audio gear needs to be multi-device. This disqualifies most video cameras as they take XLR. After extensive research your article sealed the deal.

  10. Just curious, Bob. Might the announcement of that Nikon DL 18-50 pull you back into the Nikon camp? That really looks like a great travel and documentary camera.

    1. It does, but there are so many other attributes of the Sony system that I’ve become dependent upon for the kind of work I do now, that I don’t see myself going back. One camera does not a system make!

  11. That flighty Mr. Tuck is currently shooting with an RX10, an RX10ii, an a6000, an a6300, and an A7R2. And loving each one for its own personality and charm..

  12. Great work Bob – I’m a big fan!

    Two gear questions for you:
    1) now that the RX10 III is out, will you be adding it to your gear bag?
    2) I see you often use APS lenses… but on a full frame body. Does the (FF) A7R have advantages over the (APS) A6300?

    All the best!

  13. Hi, Bob… I tried watching your “Behind the Scenes in Algarve” video but it says I need a password. Is it the Vimeo password or something else>

    Thanks!

  14. Hi again, Bob. I’m deciding between a Sony A6300 with the kit lens and a Sony RX10ii that will mainly be used for traveling. If you had to choose one or the other, what would it be. I know you probably hate shopping questions, but I’m really debating between these two.

    I probably will not add another lens to carry with the A6300. I’m at the point in my life now where I want to keep it as simple as possible. I like the range of the RX10ii, but I’m hesitant because of the smaller sensor.

    Your opinion would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

  15. The image of the fair ground ride is just amazing working with light in this way is some of the most satisfying ways to take photographs, nicely done Bob.

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