Sony RX1R II: the small wonder - The Visual Experience
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_G052011The Sony RX1R II represents the “normal” evolution for a photographer with an addiction for small cameras with great image quality. Over the course of the “digital” years, starting from 2008, I’ve followed my path towards the “small cameras” world. From the “venerable” Panasonic LX3, passing in 2011 to the Fuji X100 and , in 2013 to the X100s, coming to the Ricoh GR, and now the RX1R mark II.

Before listing the great things about this camera let me state, straight away, things I don’t like and the ways I found to solve some of the encountered “issues”.

  • The commands on the back are somehow fiddly. Worse that the ones on the A7R. Cannot understand why, especially given the price tag. You can still survive with them but they’re not in line with the rest of the camera that inspires, overall, quality.
  • The menu are the “traditional” Sony kitchen sink. An advantage is that all the buttons are well customisable so you wont need to use menu too much and, for me, now familiar for my two years of use of the sibling A7R.
  • Battery life is… Not that that bad, indeed. In my typical use I managed to get north of 220 shots per battery. Which means turning the camera off and on again when needed and using a combination of viewfinder+display. Being born with film photography and being used to 12 shots per 6×6 roll this is not a big issue. I’m not a spray-and-pray kind of shooter. This Mark II iteration is much more prompt in waking up then the A7R, so on-off-on is not anymore a source of pain. The camera is small and the battery are really small, really pocketable in fact. I carry 3–4 for one day of shooting. Much better then my Sigma DP3 Merrill, but very far DSRL or even Ricoh GR.
  • General usability is OK, but not stellar as in the case of the Ricoh GR. Menu, buttons, not fantastic, as I wrote above. Manual focus ring ok but a bit small. Aperture ring ok, but not great. The two rings are “inverted” if you think in Leica terms: focus ring is where you would expect aperture and vice versa. Not the best choice, but you get used with it.
  • Color, straight out of the camera, especially for skin tones are somehow greenish. So I tweaked camera profiles and now I’m happy with the results. But this is something I do in most of my cameras, until I don’t find the colours pleasing to my eyes.
  • It’s small and a bit hard to grasp: so I needed some kind of grip. I’ve chosen a Fotodiox grip as I tried the Gariz half-case on my A7R and didn’t find the quality in line with the price. Moreover I considered that for this camera an half case is nearly useless as if would physically cover a very small portion of the body itself. The full case produced by Sony if far too big for my use and a bit strange indeed. So this was the choice. I’m pleased with the quality and the ergonomics are ok.
  • The shutter button has a too long excursion and the spring on it is a bit strange… The threaded hole is quite big and you feel it clearly. So I needed to add a small, inexpensive Soft Release Button from JJC. Red, cool and make the shutter OK. And comes with a small rubber o-ring that prevent the soft-release button to unscrew.
  • The neck strap from Sony is not adequate and, for this camera size, I don’t like a neck strap solution at all. I got the fantastic Komboloi wrist strap from a Tie Her Up in Greece. Red as the JJC soft release.
  • To carry the camera, since I don’t like the neck strap, I got the Think Tank Mirrorless mover 5. Perfect for the Sony+FotodioxGrip+JJC+FotodioxLensShade. Good protection, small enough.

sony-rx1r-mkii

That’s all for the (relatively) bad news.
And now the good stuff. The lens is amazing. Sharp and natural in the transition between front and back layers. The sensors is so “organic” that the resulting images do not look digital. The high ISO are fabulous and noise somehow pleasant. You shoot at ISO 12800 and the looks is similar to a scan of my beloved 6×6 Provia 160C… If you pair this with the 3D look that this lens is able to produce, I should say that this the first camera giving me something similar to the look I’ve always lusted after on my Rollei+80Planar, including the Pentax 645Z: tested the latter with the 55mm and could not replicate the same tridimensionality I’m finally having with the RX1R II.

The 36Mpixel sensor of the Sony A7R is a good one but does not posses the same “analogic” look. It’s more cynical. Especially when you pair if with the really sharp Sony 55mm 1.8. I know, the RX1R II and the A7R II share the same sensor of the A7R II and all wonders have been already said on it so I would not entertain you further on it.

Autofocus is finally OK. It hits and it’s reasonably fast, much better then the A7R (of course, I would say). 399 Hybrid detection points according to the specs. I don’t care much, I generally use the flexible spot M or S in the center. For sure it works much better then everything I had so far, especially in dim lights.

Viewfinder is very good. I use it “naked”, without the additional circular element.sony-rx1r-ii-think-tank-mirrorless-mover

The fact is that, it’s really true, there is a special power on those cameras with fixed lenses. Everything is perfectly optimised for the lens-sensor pair. My Ricoh GR, my Sigma DP3 Merrill, this small Sony: they’re all great in terms of resulting image quality with obvious differences in final resolution, look, usability etc. The Sigma is super-sharp and totally “Foveon”. Unusable above ISO400. The Ricoh is a good sensor paired with a very good lens. But APS-C and not a great deal of “3D” effect. But fantastic usability, good battery life, very small size.

The RX1RII is, finally, what I’ve looked for in the last years. A great imaging machine, full of resolution for my big prints, with an excellent output quality.

Is Leica Q a competitor? Not really. Beside the 28mm vs the circa 33mm of the Sony the quality of the resulting file is really different. I mean, the lens on the Q is OK, but the sensor is far, far behind. I had the Q on loan for a week and found the resulting files not acceptable in pure IQ. If you just try to push a bit the shadows noise come, sometimes with banding. The Q, in terms of pure IQ, is more comparable to the Ricoh Gr, not to the Sony.

Sure: the Leica man-machine interface is better, and usability also. But for me Image Quality is the very first parameter of a camera judgement and I could not accept a more expensive camera with a sensor still in the class of something I had in 2012.

Now, if you came that far and are not yet tired about reading, you are probably curious to see  some images out of this camera. I do not shoot targets or walls so I will use some of the images taken during the Easter processing in Trapani, I Misteri. The annual ‘Procession of the Mysteries’ in Trapani, Sicily, is a 400-year-old ritual brought to Sicily by its Spanish colonizers of the 15th century. The procession begins at 3:00 pm on Good Friday and continues for 24 hours. In the procession, townsmen carry one-ton statues depicting the Stations of the Cross. The last statue is that of the Madonna, who ‘searches’ for her lost son, Christ, until she ‘returns’ to the town church on Holy Saturday. One of the most interesting characteristic of this procession is the “annacata”: statue holders walks making the statues moving left-to-right, following the, slow, funeral, rhythm played by the accompanying band, making the atmosphere almost surreal.

By clicking on the images you should be able to see the whole gallery. In it all but three images are taken with the RX1R II. The other three are taken by A7R+Sony 55mm f1.8. Among the ones shot with the A7R this is not Manhattan :-), it’s Trapani:

Trapani, I Misteri, Easter 2016

This is the third collection of photographs that I dedicate to this incredible procession. The first photographs, ten years ago, a second time in 2008. The first two collections are in Black and White, this time in colours.

Trapani, I Misteri, Easter 2016

1/250sec, f/2, ISO 1600

Funny enough I was able to recognise some of the subject of the first photographs this year: it was great to find them in great shape, especially the not anymore younger ones.

Trapani, I Misteri, Easter 2016

1/125sec, f/5.6, ISO 160

That’s all for now. Feel free to make questions using the comments below.

Massimo Cristaldi



{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin Johnson May 12, 2016 at 07:17

Nice review.
I too am a big fan of the Ricoh GR but after having shot black and white and all kinds of ME with it for the past year, it's time for some color again 🙂
I own 2x A7r II's but they are too big and klunky for street photography.
I tried silent mode with a Loxia 35 and got awful distortion, so that was out.
When it worked it was excellent, but I am hoping the RX1r II is it.
I like silent leaf shutters and the ability to shoot one handed without a viewfinder, which is how I use my GR and GR1v cameras.

Nice work BTW

Colin Johnson
San Francisco
http://www.sfstreetz.com

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tve May 12, 2016 at 11:45

Hi Colin,

thank you for your feedback. The good thing, in the scenario you're depicting, is that you may tilt the display and actually see what you're framing.
Other great thing: autofocus is way better then the GR, so you'll love the improvements

Massimo

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Colin Johnson May 12, 2016 at 12:58

Yeah, but I need reading glasses these days and I'm not walking around with those on my head and a tilt screen 🙂
I just frame it in my mind and trust to god for the shot 🙂

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Robert May 12, 2016 at 19:51

Hello, Massimo– Good review. You and I like the same cameras. I have all three Merrills, and since I work only in B&W they are good up to ISO 1600. I love them. I like the Ricoh GR too, but don't use it much since acquiring the RX1RII. That camera is just about perfect for my needs. A small firmware fix would make it perfect, but I doubt Sony will care enough to do that fix. They like to keep innovating, not ever improving the cameras they have already sold.

The fix would be to make the manual focus distance survive turning the camera off. Even better, of course, would be distance markings on the lens itself, but apparently that is a harder problem with an autofocus lens.

I also shoot with a Sony NEX-7 plus Sigma 60mm lens, which is a lovely setup. I like to carry that and the RX. Because the RX can resolve so well, and the NEX-7 gives me a 90mm equivalent, I have not been using the Merrills lately. They are fun to shoot, and yield wonderful files, but Sigma Photo Pro is a pain to use.

Thanks for sharing your work.

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AndyF_HH December 14, 2016 at 17:35

Hi Robert,
hi Massimo,

if I may post a link to another website: I just read a description of an incredible trick to force the Sony RX1R ii to remember the focus distance after turning the camera off. It is a step-by-step description down in the comments of Sven Kräuter's review of the camera. The comment was written last week.
http://blog.svenkraeuterphotography.com/2016/stre

Cheers, Andy

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tve January 17, 2017 at 15:16

Thank you Andy!

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Robert May 12, 2016 at 21:15

Hi, again. I just began following you on flickr. Your work is terrific. I'm glad we met.

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tve May 13, 2016 at 08:07

Dear Robert,

thank you for the kind words. I also followed you back on Flickr: nice B&W!
Sure, these small cameras are all great even if so different. For it's lowlight capabilities, autofocus, lens and dynamic range I believe the Sony is really a good synthesis of the previous ones. Unless there is the need of anything above 50mm, where I use the DP3m or an A7R+70-200Adpted Canon, I think I'm done for some good years!

M.

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