Out of curiosity for this ultra-compact „full frame“ camera we asked Sony to lend us a specimen of the RX1R MarkII (in short the RX1RII). They agreed, so it was possible to get the camera here for about one month and take it through it’s paces.
When the camera arrived it was early February and the days were just grey. Bleak light and the cold that lingers around for a while until it gets into your bones. Thus ideal circumstances to test a camera with a gorgeous and fast Zeiss lens. (For camera specifications just click here.) Fortunately the weather sometimes changed to the sunny side. 😉
Zeiss and Sony had a close cooperation in the previous model and built this camera for ideal image quality. The lens and the sensor were perfectly matched in the RX1/RX1R. But the previous model had some quirks- it was a bit on the slow side. The autofocus was accurate but slow and there were some „minor“ things that could have been better in handling. Now, what about the RX1RII? Is this now Sony’s holy grail of cameras? Is this the ultimate choice for all 35mm-shooters out there? Well, not easy to answer these questions.
For me this camera is all about the lens. The 35mm f2 Sonnar is a lens that I would like to see in Nikon or better Fuji-X-Mount. It renders beautifully, has a good 3D-pop and high microcontrast. The bokeh is delicious (for a 35mm lens!) and it is quite small. So… everything done right. Right?! See for yourself in the pictures.
Sony couples the lens to a 42 megapixel sensor… and I think this is too much for the lens. Scientifically there may be more reserves in resolution, but out in the field the 42mp don’t do the lens any good. Or the other way round – the lens does not resolve enough detail for the sensor, I think. The previous model had 24mp and I think that may be just the sweet spot for 35mm-sensors (or „full frame“, whatever „full“ means in that). I was always eyeing at the previous model just because of that lens, 24mp would be enough, so maybe…, er, no. The problem about wanting that great premium lens is that you have to cope with that little camera-thing to get it.
The camera itself is tiny and light but solid. You can take it in one hand and stuff it into your coat pocket. For the RX1RII Sony even implemented a very good (and I mean very! good) electronic viewfinder (EVF) in this tiny camera body. The viewfinder pops out of the camera when you release it. A nice and easy solution. You can also choose whether to use just the display, just the viewfinder or let a sensor find out whether you try looking through the finder and thus the camera switches between the options automatically. The controls are well placed – mostly – and have a very nice tactile feel to them. In this regard the camera is really premium. The function button down to the bottom right at the backside of the camera is just a bit too close to the hand when shooting. I pressed this button quite often accidentaly with the base of my thumb/palm.
You can also flip the LCD up and down, which is a nice touch – the camera is so small that you will like to try out different angles in your photography. All the easier with that LCD.
But there are downsides: The firmware and menu system… Oh well. The menus are horrible in my opinion. You have to look for the things you change most. Of course you can define a custom short cut menu. And you can set three custom settings for the whole camera to be chosen by the main wheel on top of the camera. But staying in one mode and just change the ISO by menu will drive you nuts. It is too difficult to find and to navigate (especially left and right in the menu system will not do what you expect if you are used to other cameras). So you will assign changing ISO to a wheel. You can configure several buttons as function buttons. But sometimes things are a little crazy. I chose the button right next to the shutter release to be responsible for changing AF-points. Usually you would expect: „press button and change the point by the four-way-controller“, but no! The RX1RII gives you a choice of AF-point mode first. So you choose that by pressing „ok“ and then you are able to change the AF-point itself. Not thinking of this in the first place I quite often changed the AF-mode. 😉 This is something that really got on my nerves. Focus-recompose is an option, too. But when you try this in an object distance under 3m at f2… beware! This lens-sensor-combination is not forgiving. It clearly shows misfocus. So better work correctly. On the other hand, AF was reliable and actually quite fast. Not DSLR-fast, but fast. This is really the biggest step upwards from the RX1R (+ the viewfinder of course!).
But there are more crazy things. The camera will show symbols onscreen that don’t belong there. It will show you the recommended OIS-mode. Well, this model does not sport OIS. So why have it in the firmware? I guess, that Sony used parts of the firmware of the RX100 line and implemented this in this premium camera. Maybe this saves a bit of programming and thus a bit of money (in the first place ;)), but really, if you want to build a premium camera and use a lens that was built onto that sensor in the best possible way for ultimate image quality, please, don’t use a crappy firmware like this one! Build an own firmware. Reduce a bit. This would make the camera a bit more reliable and a bit faster. 42mp – this is a lot of data. The computer in that camera would be more suitable for the previous 24mp.
Maybe it would be nice to really think about that 42mp again. This camera is light. It has a fast lens. High-ISO is „ok“. You can push in post-processing quite well (there are better choices for ISO-less photography). It is a camera, that you can and will take everywhere you go. It is a really good travel companion. So maybe build a next model that has some very substantial changes (now comes a little wish-list): 1. 16 or 24 mp is enough; 2. faster processing 3. rework the menu system (look at Fuji for example) 4. Find another battery solution. When these wishes would be met, that could have been the last camera I bought (because of that lens!). I don’t need 90MB of raw data in each shot. I really don’t see the need for 42mp in that camera. And the battery… well. No.
The battery is ridiculous. Sorry to say. It lasted for about 80-100 shots per charge. I charged it at every possibility via the micro-USB port. Interestingly you have to turn that function on in the menu… So, in the car I would charge the camera. At my desk I would charge the camera. Since Sony supplied just one battery I used an external power bank to charge the camera while it was in the bag. Nice, eh?!
Now, you read that and it looks like a rant, but really it is not. I really liked that little camera despite all these shortcomings. But if you consider the „premium“ thinking behind this product, they really have to do better with this. The asking price is about 3400€ – a lot for a non-interchangeable lens camera that is not made by Leica. :p So, for that price and with that premium lens, Sony better built a fitting computer to sport that gorgeous Zeiss 35mm Sonnar!
The image quality is great, though. I really like the BW-jpgs from the camera. 😉