New Blog Up : Sony RX 100 mini review (Update 8/23/2012)

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I’ve been absent far too long and have far too much on my plate to play catch up with everyone else out so please bare with me a little bit.

I’m off to Thailand in a few days and decided that for this vacation I didn’t want to spend all my time taking photos and video. This of course meant I didn’t want to lug around a DSLR, lenses and any other accessories. Friends have chimed in saying I should bring a Canon 7D with the new Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens, light and low profile. Unfortunately, my DSLRs will be staying home. FORTUNATELY, this meant I could now go out and buy myself a new compact camera, something I haven’t done since buying my wife her Canon IXY.

I wanted a camera that had the quality of a DSLR in a small package. Dreaming right? Well, enter the Sony RX 100. What sold me on this camera were the following:

28-100mm (equiv), f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with ‘Advanced Aspherical’ element
Steady-Shot image stabilization
Rear control dial and customizable front ‘Control Ring’
10fps continuous shooting in ‘Speed Priority’ mode
1080 60p video (AVCHD) with MP4 option
Built-in stereo microphone

The lens, after some short mucking around with the camera, produces a nice sharp picture at f/1.8. Unfortunately, that number drops quickly when you begin to zoom out. Still, if you need to slow down your shutter speed or boost your ISO to get the shot, the camera is well prepared to do either or.

The image stabilization is insanely good. As I said, that f/1.8 quickly takes a dive and when you’re forced to drop your shutter speed to compensate, the IS does a great job of keeping things steady in your hands.

The control dial and control ring make using this camera in manual mode a cinch. Sony has obviously taken a good look at what’s worked from their competition ie. the Canon S series cameras. The control ring can be used to change any number of controls such as shutter speed/aperture/ISO/focus…I mean the list goes on. It makes using this camera a delight!

At 10fps you can comfortably shoot in situations where you’re not sure when the action is going to happen. A great camera to bring to sporting events like the Olympics (Go CANADA!!)

The video quality is great, in fact so great that I’ve heard that some in the indy cinema industry have suggested they would be very willing to cut footage from the Sony RX 100 with footage from the Canon C300, a 15,000USD camera. Not too shabby for a sub 1000USD compact (More about price later).

The microphone actually captures audio quite well. You aren’t going to use it in professional settings but it’s certainly good for pet projects you might have going on and most certainly for home videos of the kids.

Now for the cons, there are always going to be cons. The biggest of them is the price. At 650USD, it’s going to have a hard time getting customers to upgrade from their trusty Canon S100’s and the like. BUT because I’m a gear freak, I like to be the first to test out the newest while leaving the old behind. Other issues I have are: lack of battery charger (Must be charged in the camera via USB), would’ve liked some sort of ‘grip’ like material on it making it easier to hold, a better location for the micro-HDMI out port (As first pointed out by Philip Bloom) because it’s right next to the tripod mount making it ‘almost’ impossible to use an external monitor while on a tripod (See how Phillip Bloom overcame this problem on his blog)

The real test will be when I’m on vacation and how well things work for me ‘in the field’. Right now, ACR doesn’t support the Sony RAW files which means I’m stuck shooting RAW/jpeg and working with the jpeg files until ARC comes out with a new release. Sony does provide a RAW conversion software but anybody who has used Lightroom or anything of that sorts will cringe at the thought of using what Sony provides.

So there you have it, a brief review. More to come in about 2 weeks after I’m back from Thailand.

(Update 8/23/2012)

So, I had my vacation and fun and now I’m back in the real world of work and stress and more work!! The Sony RX 100 was well worth the money I put down for it, although there were some disappointments and some surprising features I learned to actually like.

First, I should mention that the most important thing for me on this trip and the photography I’d be taking was that I didn’t want to be bogged down carrying around a large amount of equipment. At the same time I wanted quality images. The RX 100 delivered on both and so I can say I’m very happy with it from just those 2 points. It was always out of the way while I was enjoying the beautiful weather, scenery, food, animals, everything. Being in Thailand and seeing how beautiful everything is I think if I had my 1Dm4 with me I would have been taking way more pictures and enjoy my vacation a whole lot less. When it came time to pull out the RX 100 it delivered great quality pictures. I loved it.

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The first thing I want to talk about is the manual controls. If you are moving from a DSLR and want to have full control over everything, like I do, then getting use to the controls is something that happens very fast. If you have to hand the camera off to someone else however, switching the dial into (P) program mode allows for the camera to take well exposed shots without having to worry about checking the camera every time someone snaps a picture of you.

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The first surprise I really had was with how well the camera was able to stitch together panorama scenes. There are 2 settings as well, regular and wide. With the wide setting you can almost do a complete circle, it’s insane.

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Also, a great little button that I used on a occasion was the dedicated record button. It would automatically get your scene properly exposed and from there you would make your own personal tweaks to it. While I didn’t use this for a whole lot of video this time around, I was surprised by the quality. I took a view impromptu videos when my video camera wasn’t at my side.

I went to Thailand and shot most of my video on the Panasonic TM-750 at 60p.

The shots were taken when I didn't have my Panasonic on me but wanted some video. I live in a 60p world but unfortunately, the only way to get an English menu is to buy the European version here in Japan.

Shot 1: Monkey Island. The monkeys wait for the speedboats to pull up because they know they're going to get some bananas. They jump on the boat and have some breakfast/lunch. If they miss the boat or if they can't get back to the cliffs, the can swim very well. Unfortunately, I didn't get the swim back.

Shot 2: After our elephant trek we decided to feed the monkeys. These 2 guys were very friendly. The one on the cage was very calm while the other was quite a naughty little fella. While filming he managed to jump and grab the tomatoes out of my hand…thus my calling him 'A sly little fella.'

Shot 3: A man and a woman walking around Bangla Road in Patong with little lima monkeys. Cost 200 Baht to take pictures with a pair of them. I tried getting some video as well.

Shot 4: This is underwater at Khai Nok island using the DICAPac WP-H10 Waterproof case For Mid-size Digital camera. I also had a waterproof case for the Panasonic. There were more fish, I just wanted to test out the underwater video of the Sony RX 100.

Shot 5: Also underwater as my wife passes by. I wanted to capture the bubbles she made splashing her feet in the water. I plan on playing around with some slow-motion stuff later in the week.

There was no color grading done to the video. I was using the standard picture profile. In shot 1 everything is well exposed and in focus. Shot 2 starts off OK but the LCD screen and sun through me off as far as getting proper exposure and focus. Shot 3 with all the lights and music on the road and not wanting to stand in one place too long, I decided to get a little clip regardless of exposure or focus. The last 2 shots were in P mode, so the camera was doing all the work. Using these types of waterproof casings makes it impossible to go manual.

Music: Back To Wisconsin by Cranston (http://cranston.bandcamp.com/)

While I was happy with the camera for the most part, a couple of things troubled me. First, the front ‘Control Ring’ wasn’t as useful as I thought it would be. I had it set to control the aperture with the back dial controlling the shutter speed. However, I found that simply switching from shutter speed to aperture on the back control dial went a lot faster. So did most of the other options. I do however see this as something that WILL be useful when manually focusing, something I haven’t had to do yet.

The other slight quirk was with the portrait optimizer option in the menu where if turned on (Which my was by default) it would review your photography and crop it in a way it felt would make your photograph look better. And for some reason, not knowing this option was on, I was cropped out of some of the shots I had waiters and waitresses take our pictures. My wife would be left in the picture and I was cropped out. At first I thought they were having a laugh at me, but after a little mucking around I found the option and turned it off. I’m not sure why they would crop out an entire individual…maybe I upset Sony somehow and this was their revenge.

In the end, after going through all the photos from our vacation, I’m glad I brought this little bad boy along with me. Expensive, yes. Worth it, well for me it was. I should add that my wife decided to buy a new Canon IXY 430F Wifi (This version was only available in Japan at the time of this post) and she constantly complained that her photos looked nothing like mine. Although she was very happy to be able to upload her files to her Ipad and then to Facebook etc. That’s about the only thing I wish the Sony RX 100 had…it was kind of fun to see her photos pop up on Facebook so quickly. Oh well, we can’t have it all, at least not now.

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