October 5, 2013
RX100 Mk II impressions

So, I’ve been living with the RX100 Mk II for nearly two weeks now. I’ve quite deliberately spent most of that time shooting solely with that camera, in order to get a good honest feel for its strengths and weaknesses. In that time I’ve shot over 2,000 frames.

First of all, everything you’ve heard about the RX100 Mk II is true; it’s an incredibly capable compact. And the image quality is superb in most conditions. 

But ultimately it is still a compact, with all the compromises that entails. If your daily shooter is a DSLR (as mine is), spending a week with only a compact is occasionally gonna frustrate.

I actually find that frustration healthy, in reasonable doses - after all, it’s part of the very raison d’etre of this blog. But the important thing is to realise that an RX100 - or any compact - is not going to replace your DSLR anytime soon.

What I love

The stuff I love about the RX100 Mk II is pretty much the stuff everyone else has been raving about. In particular:

  • The lovely fast lens (Fast at the wide end, anyway)
  • High ISO performance. I hesitate to use the 7D at more than ISO 640 for most things. The RX100 Mk 2 sensor is a couple of generations ahead, and it shows. ISO 1600 is eminently usable, and while ISO 3200 is grainy, it’s not objectionable in many cases.
  • The tilting screen. It’s surprisingly handy for high and low-angle shots, as well as for shooting discreetly from the hip. A fully articulated screen would be even better (since the tilting screen does not work for vertical-oriented shooting or for “selfies”), but the Canon G-series cameras, which have one, are too bulky for an EDC camera (and not as capable besides).

What I don’t love so much

  • The camera is slow to turn off. Very slow if there are more than a couple of shots waiting to be written to the card. If I’m walking about, taking a sneaky shot here or there, and then want to “holster” the camera again, waiting 20 seconds for the lens to retract is pretty ridiculous.
    I understand that preserving images is a high priority, but surely it would wouldn’t be unreasonable to tweak the firmware so that closing the lens happens first, and then writing to the card continues. A “writing to memory, do not remove card” message could be displayed until power down.

  • In bright conditions, it’s impossible to take advantage of that gorgeous f/1.8 lens. A built-in ND filter (as featured on the Ricoh GR),  a lower ISO setting than 100, or perhaps more realistically, a faster top shutter speed (like the Olympus PEN E-P5’s 1/8000 second) is really needed.
  • Likewise, the minimum aperture is f/11, which, along with the minimum ISO setting of 100, makes any kind of slow shutter time exposures impossible even in overcast daylight conditions.
  • I’m not normally a big fan of “scene modes”. But they can be fun and interesting, and can even serve as inspiration for different ways of approaching a situation (in terms of capture and/or processing). Of course, if you shoot with the quality set to RAW, as I always do, scene modes are not available. I understand that - since they are based on in-camera processing (and sometimes on multiple captures, in the case of the HDR modes). But they’re also not available in RAW + JPEG mode - they only work when shooting JPEG only.
    I would love to be able to have my cake and eat it, too -  by shooting in a scene mode in RAW + JPEG, and being able to see the camera’s interpretation of the scene, as well as still having a RAW file to work from.
  • Manual focus mode, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is almost useless. The focus peaking to help identify areas that are in focus is a plus. But the two things that kill this potentially important and useful feature, are the extreme - and non-adjustable, as far as I can tell - magnification that comes with it; and the strange feel of the control ring. It’s very hard to tell what’s happening as you turn it. 
    In fact, the feel of the ring is kinda weird in all modes - it’s just that it’s only a serious problem when using it for focusing. I wish Sony would have taken a leaf out of Canon’s book and looked at the control ring on the S90 (and presumably the S95/100/105), which has nice detents. The Fujifilm control rings also seem to work pretty well.
  • Most of the above dislikes are really only quibbles. Unfortunately this last one is, for me, a total deal-breaker (and why I won’t be keeping the camera).
    A few days in, I started to see SENSOR DUST on my images, especially at smaller apertures. Yes, I had been on a beach walk, but I had clean hands and never put the camera down, sat down, kicked up sand, or anything that would even remotely constitute abusive or careless handling of the camera. If it’s that susceptible to sensor dust, it’s totally not going to work as a take-everywhere camera. At least with a DSLR you can clean your sensor. Sending the camera away for cleaning every time I go for a beach walk is not going to work!

The verdict

Everything you’ve heard about RX100 image quality is true. It’s capable of making superb images for a camera of any size - never mind one with a form factor this compact. 

Handling is a mixed bag, but mostly sensible and enjoyable. The external controls work well (with the exception of the front lens ring, which while very nice in principle, provides poor feedback in actual use).

Image quality and handling are of course the “biggies” when it comes to judging a camera. And on the whole, the RX100 delivers in those departments. While it’s not perfect, there’s not much that comes close to it as an all-rounder, especially in such a compact package. But I just cannot get over the sensor dust thing. Maybe my particular example of the camera is poorly sealed, or maybe I’m just unlucky. But a bit of sniffing around online leads me to believe I’m not alone. 

I can’t tell you whether this camera is for you or not… but sadly, I’ll be disposing of mine, as soon as it comes back from sensor cleaning. What will I replace it with? That’s another thought for another time…

  1. steven-pam posted this