The RX1Rii Review
So you want to take DSLR quality pictures but you don’t want to carry around a huge camera and point and shoots aren’t really your thing. Have I got a camera for you. I Took an rx1rii along to Washington DC, San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Cruz, Monteray, Disneyland, and the Mexican cities of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Cancun. After a couple of weeks I can say I have a pretty good feel for the camera.
Now my previous travel camera of the year was the Sony A7Rii. Specifically mated to the wonderful Sony 28mm F/2.0 lens. This combo traveled all over Europe and the US, as well as Japan with me. I had made a pact to shoot only with the 28mm for a year. I didn’t quite make it, but 10 months is a victory in my book. Either way the RX1R looks like the best travel camera ever made and I had to review it. I know this review is well off it’s release date but it’s better late than never. Let’s find out how good this camera is for travel.
So, I know that this is an RX1Rii (for the love of god Sony, you can’t come up with a better name than this?) review but I will be comparing it to the A7Rii as these two cameras have a lot in common, as they share a 42MP back-lit sensor, Bionz processor and similarly terrible menus.
First things first.
Handling: The handling of the RX1Rii takes some getting used to. It has no grip whatsoever and while it is a good bit smaller than the A7Rii it is quite a bit more difficult to hold. I’m not a fan of adding a bunch of accessories to a camera, especially ones that make it bigger and defeat the purpose of having a nice small camera, thus no grip for me. So while I can comfortably shoot the A7RII with one hand all day long, I cannot say the same for the RX1RII. It constantly feels like it’s trying to squirm out of my hand. Consequently, one cannot operate the controls with one hand. You had better have two hands on this camera at all times. When I shoot I generally wrap the neck strap around my wrist as it gives me a bit more confidence, but I found myself double wrapping the RX1Rii. The A7Rii can be completely operated with one hand if you so desire. While this seems like a little niggle I can say that when you’re holding a child in one arm, to keep them from terrorizing a small animal or something, and a camera in the other, one handed shooting is a GREAT feature.
Ok so one-handed operation is out. How’s it feel with two hands? When holding the tiny little camera its awkward to place in the other hand as well. It’s not really big enough to comfortably palm and hold close like a DSLR or even the A7 series cameras. It feels painfully un-natural. You will, being the most adaptable creature on earth, get used to this. It will take you some time. You have been warned.
As for the operation of the camera beyond the terrible physical ergonomics…I have a notorious hatred for software interfaces on mechanical things. I’m looking at you auto industry. I have zero desire to deal with touch screens and un-intuitive menus to do simple things like change the aperture or in my cars case the fader or radio station. These should not be in menus. Get with the program people. Personal issues aside I LOVE the aperture ring on the RX1Rii its solid, easy to read at a glance, and requires no screen time to set. I stare at screens constantly. One less screen is giant bonus to me. I see a shot I look down and I can see what the aperture is as I bring it up to my face. No, it is not faster than the A7Rii wheel, yes it is difficult to operate with the camera to your face, yes, it’s too close to the camera body, no I would not change it for the world. Ok that was a lie…In my estimation they could have swapped the aperture and the focus distance ring and it would greatly improve the handling, but hey nobody is perfect.
On a “nobody is perfect” note, the placement and operation of the focus mode selector is terrible. It’s stiff, it protrudes from the front of the camera by the lens and has a tiny bit of ribbing on it. The problem here is that the ribbing doesn’t extend off the side of the camera body, and it’s really tight so it’s difficult to manipulate with human hands. You have to lay the camera flat in your palm with the lens pointing up collecting rain drops while you try to finagle that little bastard to the position you are looking for. Did I mention that people are extremely adaptable? I can go ahead and assume you will get used to it, even if I didn’t. I’ll take a bad switch over bad software any day, so I’m not complaining.
The software is god awful and un-intuitive. For the record the menu isn’t the same as the A7Rii, It’s somehow worse. I didn’t think that was possible. But, hey, you learn something new every day. What makes it worse is probably more a product of “me” than the actual menu system. I assumed everything would be in the same place as it is in the A7Rii as they share, sensors, buttons and other such things. NOPE. Everything is just a little different in placement. Though, the menu in the A7Rii is pretty terrible anyway.
The Lack of custom buttons is a bummer, as is the lack of a dedicated “send to smartphone” button which the A7Rii has, but space is limited. I know, useless feature but I love taking a pic of the kids and sending it straight to grandma, or my wife while she is rotting in a conference and I’m out having fun. I am a terrific husband.
It occurs to me that the handling is filled with dislikes. Let me pepper that with the fact that I actually love the handling of it. No, really I do. It takes some getting used to is all I’m trying to warn you about.
The pop up viewfinder is a marvel of modern engineering, my hats to Sony for adding this. I love it. I have it when I want it and it’s away when I don’t. The eye cup that goes with it is a tacked on afterthought. It has a worthless little thumbscrew to hold it on. I tend to lose afterthoughts like this so I don’t even bother with it. The viewfinder itself feels nice and solid. It gives the impression of a nicely thought out solid piece of engineering. I was expecting the viewfinder to be flimsy but I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite solid. Sometimes it’s a bit too solid. It does take some pressure to push it back into the camera. It feels like you’re going to harm the camera the first couple of times you push it back in. Again, you will get used to it.
The placement of the video button is an abomination. I inadvertently took 36 videos in the course of two weeks. I highly suggest you remap that button to the C1 spot on the camera.
The battery life is atrocious. I get between 150 and 220 pictures depending on usage. God help you if you take video or use the viewfinder a lot. If I’m being honest with myself its really no more terrible than the A7Rii. While the battery is quite a bit smaller than the A7Rii it isn’t operating an image stabilization system or the auto focus of a larger lens with heavier elements. So I have found them to be equivalent. This means you will have a pocket full of batteries. I’m Ok with this trade-off. I prefer to hold less in my hand. For cheap replacement batteries Ihave been using THESE Wasabi batteries for over a year. They don’t last quite as long as the Sony original does but for $8 a battery they are hard to beat.
The lack of image stabilization coupled with the high density of pixels necessitates a much higher shutter speed than I would like for indoor shooting but the ISO is damn good so it makes up for it to some extent.
The Lens: I was never much of a 35mm shooter. As a matter of personal preference I usually like to shoot wide, or really, really close. I find myself using the 16-28 range and the 200mm range a lot. So, the focal length took some getting used to for me. This tiny little thing packs a punch though. It really pops quite a bit more than the FE 28 f/2 wide open. I absolutely hate it when people say that… let me rephrase, it gives a very nice separation of foreground and background and isolates the subject beautifully. It’s not a portrait lens but the transitions are fantastic and the subject really jumps out at you. It’s plenty sharp to my eye more so in the center but I’m not one that worries about corner sharpness. Flare was well controlled for the most part but I did manage to get some crazy flare by pointing it directly into the sun. Chromatic Aberration is also well controlled unless you are really trying to create it. I find it’s quite a bit better than the Sony FE 28 F/2 which is a purple fringe machine. I do find that the FE 28 f/2 cleans up a bit better in Lightroom with the standard algorithms for whatever reason. Speaking of Post processing, there is so much contrast in this little lens I have yet to add any in post.
Oh, here is something I missed on my first revision of this review that is VERY important. This camera has a leaf shutter in the lens. This allows for higher flash sync speeds but it also means that the maximum shutter speed is only 1/4000 of a second. The A7Rii has a 1/8000 of a second. The Rx1Rii also steps up its shutter speed as the aperture shrinks. At f/2 you’re only getting 1/2000 at f/4 that jumps to 1/3200 and finally f/5.6 brings you to 1/4000. I know in practice this generally isn’t that big of deal, but there were a few times I really needed the extra shutter speed for the depth of field I had and I had to pocket some ND filters to accomplish that goal.
Build quality: Here is where my major complaint comes in. I ordered one of these and it felt as though there was sand in the overly tight manual focus ring. I returned it (thanks Amazon!) and the second one has a loose manual focus ring with a much less sandy feeling but it still feels awful to use. The FE 28 f/2 is silky smooth and the 35 f/2 feels like a pile a crap in comparison. It’s so off putting that I don’t use the manual focus unless I actually have to. Having this much variation in copies tells me that there is something wrong with Sony quality control. I perused some forums and found similar complaints so I can’t say that is an isolated incident and move on. For the price of this camera there shouldn’t be issues like this. That said, I will be forgiving in that no one else is packing this much camera in such a small space.
This issue aside, the camera feels solid as a brick. The rest of the switches feel of high quality both to the touch and in operation. I expect that the stiff switch movements that give a feeling of solidity will loosen up a bit over time and become just perfect with use.
Picture quality: I’m not going to rehash this point too much. If you are reading this you have read all the other reviews of this camera that nitpick the picture quality. Suffice to say it is spectacular, the dynamic range is amazing and the bokeh is buttery. The Zeiss lens is a magnificent tiny little piece of engineering and this camera can take better pictures than I can. The pictures are sharp enough to crop your way to a 50mm lens without breaking a sweat. The color sucks, but some people like that dead cool Sony color and it isn’t anything you can’t fix in post. The pictures coming out of this camera, in the right hands, are stunning. It blows my 5D3 out of the water for detail and dynamic range. It’s really mind blowing what Sony has created here with image quality in such a small package.
Honestly though, the picture quality in most modern cameras is just amazing. You can take some award winning shots with an iphone if you’re not looking to blow it up. But the depth of field is really what makes a big sensor special now-a-days and in this regard the 35 f/2 delivers what no crop sensor can. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words and I don’t want to bore you with what you have already read on a thousand other sites about the picture quality of this camera. I will say this though; it gives ultimate image quality and plenty of range to play with in post.
I take sharper photos with my 28 F/2 on the A7RII. I say this because I take a lot of shots indoors and the Image stabilization gives my shaky hands an edge. Shooting fast moving kids indoors can also be problematic as the focus system on the RX1Rii isn’t as quick or as bang on as it is in the A7Rii. This is just something to keep in mind if you’re looking at this as your only camera.
The focusing system: It’s by no means a DSLR. You are not going to be shooting sports with this camera. That said, it is within reason for chasing the kids. It’s not as fast as the A7RII but it’s plenty fast enough for a variety of situations. As an every day camera it’s just fine. It did fail to focus in low light and couldn’t effectively grab the kids running at me. However, most systems have trouble in those areas and this is no exception. I will give it a 3.5 out of five stars making it squarely average.
I used this as my only camera for the latter half of my American tour. I used it for birds, I used it for portraits, I used it for landscapes for museums and even chasing the kids. What I didn’t do was bother with the variable low pass filter. I’m fine without it. See my sons shirt below.
Conclusion: If you are looking at this camera you already know your cameras. You are an advanced enthusiast or at the very least are looking for the absolute best picture quality in the smallest possible package. This camera will give you that in spades and fit neatly in a coat pocket. The handling will take some getting used to, but once you adjust its very rewarding. For a street photographer no one gives it a second thought about which is priceless. For a travel photographer it provides some peace of mind in that you aren’t as much of a target. As a Dad, I like that kids can operate it due to its small size and the kids behavior doesn’t change when the big ol’ camera isn’t up to my face. I get maximum image quality with little fuss and I can get pictures I wouldn’t otherwise get. I can take it anywhere without hesitation and to me that’s worth its weight in gold, or apparently 3 and half grand. Your mileage may vary. For what it’s worth I bought this camera to review and sell. I have since decided to completely switch systems and sell my Canon gear to fund keeping this little gem. I can’t give higher praise than that. The A7Rii is still a better camera dynamically and you can switch lenses with it and it has image stabilization. But, the Rx1Rii is noticeably smaller. So as I see it the argument really boils down to the fixed lens and small size, versus the jack of all trades for a little bit more bag space. If I HAD to pick one it would depend on the circumstances I was traveling in. If I were going to a lot of places with high crime and or I was a street photographer i would opt for the RX1Rii, otherwise, the A7Rii remains the better camera.
Update! Jan 29th 2017: I took this camera, all by its lonesome, to South East Asia. On day 3 I got an e61:00 error flashing on the screen. There was no auto focus whatsoever and there was a database error at the same time. Restarting and resetting did no good. I was unable to rebuild the database (I have had a database error on Sony cameras before and generally it will auto-rebuild the database) I pulled out the ol’ Iphone and googled away to find the solution to this problem as I had no backup camera with me. The solution? Bang the camera on a hard surface while it is booting. No, seriously bang it on a hard surface while booting. This worked. The camera has functioned flawlessly ever since. I did however lose my photos up to that point (my fault for not backing up) When I returned home I used “Get Data Back” And Sandisk recovery programs to no avail. However, I was able to retrieve everything with the “Lexar Image Rescue program” Hopefully someone will find this useful someday.
Update February 2017: I have now taken this camera through New York City, USA, Athens, Greece: Cairo, Egypt: Paris, France and Venice, Italy. It has performed admirably in every place under every condition. Additionally, the little camera is quite tough. It’s taken some abuse by my children and keeps on ticking. It’s also quite a bit more weather resistant than I believed it would be, for whatever some light rain is worth. As I suspected I have gotten quite used to the various eccentricities of the handling of the camera with the notable exception of the auto-focus switch. I played with the macro mode a little bit and frustrated myself greatly when forgetting to switch it back. It’s a nifty little addition however and below is an example.
Update March 2017: This is now my primary camera. My wonderful wife pointed out to me the other day that every time I reach for a camera It’s this little guy. It’s fun to use, it’s quirks I find interesting, I love the way it renders photos, I have fun with the macro mode and manual controls. It’s like an old British car, there’s just something endearing about it. I really have grown to love this thing.
Update April 2017: E61:00 error AGAIN. This time it wouldn’t go away after several attempts at smacking the bottom of it while it was booting. I gave up on it and stuffed it back in my bag. An hour after that I gave it one last good solid smack and it started working again.
UPDATE June 11 2017: Rx1r II won’t turn on. The Rx1r II has died. I tried several different batteries. I went to support and they told me to take the battery and card out of the camera and hold down the shutter for 30 seconds. This didn’t fix the problem. The rep told me to call Sony at 1 (800) 222-7669 which is Sony’s support line. I called them and was routed to a call center in the Philippines. They told me my camera was two weeks out of warranty and therefore not eligible for repair under warranty. I noted the two times it had locked up and they put me on hold for a while and came and offered a percentage of the repair. However, they wouldn’t tell me what that percentage was until I got a repair estimate. The repair estimate is an auto job from precisioncamera.com which is in Connecticut. Precision camera however doesn’t have the DSC-Rx1rm2 in their drop down menu so it requires you to fill out an email form. To be fair, you have to fill out an email form anyway, but this adds an extra form, hooray. Unfortunately, I leave for Peru in two days and the camera is currently a brick. Hopefully though there will be a good resolution to this problematic camera. I will say that I am happy it died today and not while in Peru like it did in Cambodia.
I am going to go ahead and take my recommendation for this camera away. This camera is extremely unreliable. The first one I received was no good out of the box. The second one has had several crippling issues and now is dead. Keep in mind this camera isn’t used professionally is always wrapped up in two layers of protection inside a bag and has never been dropped. Normally I would crop this up to a fluke but this is camera number two. I have thus far been very unimpressed with Sony service in comparison to my canon gear.
Update August 9 2017: I have received the camera back from Precision Camera. When it arrived there were dead pixels manifesting themselves as red and green dots all over the LCD screen. This morning they were gone. What this means is that the camera Maps the dead pixels so you don’t see them. I was billed 376.50 for the repair by precision camera. I am now trying to find out why I was billed for a repair that Sony had covered. I will update with more. I can say that it took around two months to get my camera approved for repair, repaired at precision camera, and finally back to me. In fairness this includes shipping to and from Hawaii. Furthermore my Camera was about two weeks out of warranty so technically Sony didn’t have to do a damn thing for me. On that note a big thanks to Sony for taking care of the camera for me.
Update August 18th 2017: Precision Camera has sent me a pre-paid fedex label to return the camera tot hem for repair. However, Sony was kind enough to stand behind their product and they are going to replace the camera entirely for me. I am somewhat shocked that they are willing to replace the camera but I must say that I am THRILLED. As they are 100% STANDING BEHIND THEIR PRODUCT, which is nearly impossible to find these days, I have decided to reinstate my recommendation for this camera.
Update September 9th 2017: Finally, I have an Rx1r II again. Finally after a 3 month ordeal of dealing with Sony Service and Precision Camera (awful, awful service at precision camera) I have a new replacement camera from Sony. This one has a dead pixel on the sensor but I’m done dealing with this. I’m going to write an article on the process of the repair and eventual replacement and when I do I’ll ad a link at the bottom of this page.
Full disclosure I went out and spent my own money on this camera to write a review on it with the intent of selling it when I was through.
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