Around about a year ago, Sony took the camera market by storm with the RX100, a pocket-sized expert compact with a 1" 20-Megapixel sensor and a 3.6x optical zoom lens. And the RX100 proved its worth, with five-star performances and healthy sales figures to match. So for 2013, Sony has decided to out a second version of its hit expert compact, the Cyber-shot RX100 II (or Mark 2), which brings a few keenly awaited modifications such as a tilt LCD, Wi-Fi connectivity and, above all, a 1" CMOS sensor with BSI technology promising improved digital noise control.
The RX100 II is similar to its predecessor in very many ways. It has a similarly understated and compact design, and, like the RX100, it fits easily into a trouser pocket—a nice touch. The camera's front face is still smooth and flat, with no sign of a grip handle to help you keep hold of the camera body. But if that's a problem, Sony has just the thing—the AG-R1 grip attachment sold as a separate accessory for around £15. Still, given that the RX100 II is launching at a pretty hefty £650, users may have appreciated getting that accessory thrown in as standard.
The RX100 II is still pretty heavy for a compact camera. In fact, at 270 g when loaded and ready to use, it's even heavier than the original RX100. It therefore feels more noticeably weighty in your pocket, but it's a feeling that's quite reassuring in terms of build quality.
One of the key new features in this model is a tilt LCD with a twin-hinge system that allows the screen to tilt both upwards (90°) and downwards (45°). The screen is a quite glossy and a little prone to scratches. It may therefore be a good idea to add a screen protector—also sold as an optional extra by Sony. This RGBW display has 1,223,000 dots and VGA resolution (640 x 480 pixels).
The RX100 II is a relatively straight-forward camera to handle. It has a host of fully automatic modes and assisted shooting functions (face detection, scene recognition, smile shutter, etc.). Semi-manual PASM modes are also on hand for more advanced users, as is a RAW mode shooting in the proprietary .ARW format. The camera interface can be customised, notably thanks to the Fn button which can be assigned a variety of settings. Plus, the MR (Memory Recall) function saves three custom profiles with different combinations of favourite settings. You can therefore set up one mode for snapping square-format photos, one for black and white shots and one for shooting with a high dynamic range. Plus, the settings ring around the lens can be set to control lens aperture, zoom, shutter speed and more.
While the RX100 II does have a built-in flash, this isn't particularly powerful. It's therefore nice to see that an accessories hot-shoe has appeared in this model—something that was clearly missing from the first RX100. And Sony hasn't done things by halves, as this is no bog-standard hot-shoe. This advanced pocket camera has a multi-interface accessory shoe with electrical contacts allowing communication between accessories and the camera. You can therefore hook up an electronic viewfinder, an LED lamp, a stereo microphone, etc.
It's a shame that Sony hasn't taken this opportunity to move the SD card slot onto the side of the RX100 II. Like in the original model, the memory card slot is located on the camera's underside with the battery. It's therefore tricky to change the memory card when using the RX100 II on a tripod. The battery has been inherited from the RX100 and Sony still doesn't see fit to supply a stand-alone battery charger. That means you have to hook the camera up to the mains directly via micro-USB, which effectively grounds it while charging. Still, it's nice to see that the RX100 Mark 2 has been treated to Wi-Fi connectivity (see inset, below).
The RX100 II isn't the fastest compact on the market. It takes well over two seconds to switch on, get the lens into position and take a first photo. Thankfully, the autofocus is much speedier, working in under a second in all conditions. The boosted performances promised with BSI technology shave around two tenths of a second off the focusing time. Surprisingly, though—and contrary to what we were expecting—the RX100 II hasn't got any quicker at focusing in low light.
Photo-to-photo turnaround is fast as pictures are quick to save. The burst mode shoots at 7 fps in JPG mode and just under 5 fps in RAW. We've got no complaints there, especially since this breezy continuous shooting speed makes way for an effective sweep panorama function.
But what everyone really wants to know about the RX100 II is whether its BSI CMOS sensor really improves picture quality, especially when it comes to keeping digital nose in check. On that front, the added BSI technology keeps its promise, as digital noise is less visible with the RX100 II than with the RX100. The newer version can therefore push ISO sensitivity up to 12800 ISO, whereas the RX100 maxed out at 6400 ISO. The improvement is subtle, but it doesn't go entirely unnoticed.
Picture quality is impeccable up to 1600 ISO and you can still shoot comfortably at 3200 ISO. Smoothing is certainly present at 6400 ISO, but it's not as heavy as with the RX100 and shots don't look as grainy or coarse. The 12800 ISO setting isn't great, however.
With a sensor practically four times bigger than those used in competitor models, the RX100 II—like the RX100—out-performs other pocket cameras by a mile. That said, we found the pictures a little dense and dark, and the dynamic range drops off quickly beyond 800 ISO. To improve dynamic range, you'll need to shoot in RAW mode (.ARW).
On top of the quality electronics, the RX100 II lens is very good too. Sharpness holds up well in the middle of the frame at wide-angle, even if the edges are typically a little softer. At telephoto, sharpness levels drop slightly, but not to a worrying degree.
Video is another strong point for the RX100 II. It films in AVCHD (1920 x 1080, 50p) or MP4 (1440 x 1080, 30 fps) video for easy editing and sharing. Image quality is good. The picture is a little dark but it's still perfectly pleasant. The stereo sound is nice too. The optical zoom stays reasonably slow for smooth transitions and the AF tracking function works well. The camera films in fully automatic mode by default, but can also be used in M mode if you want to play around changing its various settings. In certain modes, you can even shoot 17-Megapixel 16:9 still photos while filming. On the whole, we really don't have many complaints here. The RX100 II does an excellent job for a compact camera.