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dvincent
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Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:49 pm

I picked up a new toy today: The Sony RX-100. This little camera, I believe, will find its way into the pockets and bags of many aviation photographers. That's a tall order for a fixed lens digital camera, but there's so much to like about this that even if you don't buy the RX-100, it will certainly make its competitors take notice. The camera is only 3/16 of an inch thicker than a Canon S100, yet it has a sensor three times the size and a lens with a brighter effective aperture on the short and long ends. It still fits in your pants pocket and nobody would notice it's there, unless your pants are skin tight.

I've been looking for a small alternative to my walkaround kit and to have as a partner to my SLR. For taking window shots and in-terminal shots, a big SLR attracts way too much attention. I also wanted something I could take on vacation and leave the big kit at home without feeling like I was sacrificing image quality or manual controls. Thankfully, the camera delivers on both fronts.

I considered mirrorless cameras (Specifically, the Sony NEX series) but decided against them due to cost and the fact that I don't really want to get into another lens system. They deliver in terms of IQ and controls (especially the NEX-7), but the price and investment was too much for me, even though I'd be able to use many of my Alpha accessories.

Its chief inspiration (and rival) is the Canon S100, which is a nice camera, and I did like the S90 when I used it, but small-sensor IQ leaves a bit to be desired. The larger sensor compacts either had fixed lenses or were not pocketable. The RX-100 looks like the Goldilocks camera that I was searching for. The sensor is the same size as the Nikon 1 series (1 inch diagonal), but with twice the megapixels and (perversely enough) better image quality. The lens is also excellent, though in my short period of time testing the corners at wide angle can be a little soft at wide apertures.

The physical controls look similar to the Canon S100, save for a few changes. A rotating ring circles the lens barrel, and this ring can change its function based on the user's preference or the Fn key. You can have SLR-like full manual control with the front and rear control rings. Manual focusing is a breeze, because it has both focus peaking and magnification - the in-focus areas light up like a Christmas tree. Combine that with the very smooth lens barrel, and it's hard not to like manual work. The focus acceleration could use some tweaks as sometimes it feels slow to change focus when turning the barrel, but that's usually a consequence of focus-by-wire systems.

The GUI is taken right from Sony's flagship SLR, the a77 (not the NEX series). This is very good news, as the a77 has lots of configurability and great features like multi-frame noise reduction, HDR compositing, and sweep panorama. These aren't a.net features, but they will make your life easier in average shooting. You can customize the majority of the buttons to your preference of functions, making for a powerful camera that an advanced user will love. This isn't the Nikon 1, there are no training wheels here (save for Auto/iAuto modes). The lens is small enough to poke through a fence, which is always a plus. It also has a built-in pitch/roll level, which will hopefully cut down on those pesky level rejections.  

A big plus is that camera does shoot RAW. Adobe Lightroom/Camera RAW doesn't support it yet, but I expect that will be rectified soon. Based on results from Luminous Landscape, the camera is perfectly usable up to ISO 1600, while 3200 is acceptable and 6400 is only OK in a pinch. This is about the same usable range as most DSLRs that are a few years old, which is quite impressive. The JPEG engine is not as good, but I'm not buying this to shoot JPEGs. Fortunately, the camera empties its buffer quickly, and its continuous shooting (2.5 FPS with continuous AF and 10 FPS with focus fixed on the first frame) gives enough options that you'd be able to grab what you need. I believe the IQ of this camera will be perfectly fine for a.net and I will be putting it through its paces when I go traveling during August.

The camera feels like it's built for work. The body is all metal, and the buttons and controls feel responsive and tough. There's no digicam lag in any of the operations. The barrel ring has no click stops; it's completely smooth. It does play a clicking sound through the speakers. This is better for focusing and zooming, but less so for discrete operations like changing the aperture or shutter speed. Operations are always fast and responsive, and I don't feel like I have to wait for the camera to change settings, modes, focus, or fire the shutter.

If you are looking for a discreet camera with good controls and image quality, you'd be remiss not to check out the RX-100. No, it won't unseat your SLR, but it does punch well above its weight class and it's definitely a worthy tool.
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viv
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Wed Jul 25, 2012 11:38 am

The one-inch sensor will seriously limit the capabilities of the camera.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 80-400, Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35 f/1.4, Fujinon 18 f/2
 
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dvincent
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Wed Jul 25, 2012 3:06 pm

Quoting viv (Reply 1):
The one-inch sensor will seriously limit the capabilities of the camera.

I don't find this to be the case at all. Obviously it's not a full frame camera, but I've been seriously impressed by what it's been producing even in the limited testing I've been able to do so far. A one inch sensor is still far bigger than any point and shoot sensor. Plus, you can actually fit it into your pocket, which you can't do with the mirrorless cameras or a G1X. Noise only starts getting obnoxious at ISO 3200. It's really the combination of teeny tiny size, image quality, lens range, and controllability that really makes this camera shine.

I wouldn't write it off based on the Nikon 1 series, if that's what you're thinking, since the RX-100 has a completely different Sony engineered Exmor CMOS sensor (not the Aptina sensors on the 1 series).

Take it from a former screener, this camera's a winner.   
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viv
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Wed Jul 25, 2012 3:15 pm

I do not write it off, not at all. In good light, it is probably capable of excellent results.

I have the feeling that, for general photography, the DSLR has peaked in both sales and capability and will gradually be replaced by smaller, lighter cameras. The Nikon D800 is undoubtedly wonderful, but weighs a ton. 36mp images necessitate a lot of computer power to process.

I have recently bought a Fuji X Pro 1 (1.5 crop factor) and am amazed by the image quality.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 80-400, Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35 f/1.4, Fujinon 18 f/2
 
ckw
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Wed Jul 25, 2012 4:31 pm

Quoting viv (Reply 3):
I have the feeling that, for general photography, the DSLR has peaked in both sales and capability and will gradually be replaced by smaller, lighter cameras.

I'm pretty sure that's what Nikon and Canon are counting on - but they come to the party too late and with too little to offer at the moment. Its very hard to see what the new Canon M thing has to offer over current offerings by Fuji or the 4/3 brigade. But this is just a start - for certain Canon & Nikon would not be introducing new lens mounts without some significant long term plans.

I have no doubt that DSLR sales will fall in the near future. Capability - no, I think this will increase. The Nikon 800 offers incredible value for money in terms of sheer potential image quality (this is medium format territory at 1/10th the price). The Canon 1Dx seems to have hit unheard of levels of AF performance. BUT I do think the DSLR will become a specialist's tool. I would not be surprised to see the demise of the entry-level DSLR in the not too distant future. But I do think we will see a very large sensor Canon fairly soon; as well as a Nikon D4 -like camera with the 800 sensor.


Cheers,

Colin
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Fri Aug 03, 2012 5:04 pm

Nikon will not be able to compete here because Sony will not give them their best sensors anymore. They will still manufacture sensors for Nikon DSLR line but not for mirrorless cams, because Sony really cares for that market. Impressive camera really for its size. Saw some great samples at Sony RX100 Review

[Edited 2012-08-03 10:06:26]
 
bre16
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Fri Aug 03, 2012 7:17 pm

Quoting viv (Reply 3):
I have recently bought a Fuji X Pro 1 (1.5 crop factor) and am amazed by the image quality.

Isn't that the one reviewers are raving about, and is billed as the new Leica?
 
ckw
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Sun Aug 05, 2012 9:00 pm

Quoting bre16 (Reply 6):

Isn't that the one reviewers are raving about, and is billed as the new Leica?

Yes, but for me, for all its pros, it has a killer con - no viewfinder, and as far as I can make out, no add on available.

Real shame - I really like this camera, but having spent a long time with the GF1, I've learned (for me at least) a viewfinder is just something I can't live without.

(I don't think a Leica has ever been produced without one  )

Cheers,

Colin
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viv
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Mon Aug 06, 2012 9:08 am

Quoting ckw (Reply 7):
no viewfinder

It has an optical viewfinder AND an electronic vioewfinder.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 80-400, Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35 f/1.4, Fujinon 18 f/2
 
ckw
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Mon Aug 06, 2012 4:20 pm

Sorry Viv - my mistake ... I thought we were still talking about the RX100!

Yes the Fuji is quite 'Leica like' (including the price  ). I do know someone who has been using one for a while, and he seems to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. Biggest issue seems to be AF speed - how are you finding it?

Despite the cost, it is very tempting - but I'm not sure tempting enough to woo me away from my micro 4/3 lenses.

Cheers,

Colin
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dvincent
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Mon Aug 06, 2012 5:31 pm

If you're considering a mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D or the Sony NEX-7 are the best choices right now, though they don't come cheap. The Fuji is half-baked, unfortunately, and I really liked some of their ideas.

I did use the RX100 for some walkaround shots at the Westover air show this weekend, and the quality at ISO 125 is superb. I will hopefully have some in the queue soon.
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Tue Aug 07, 2012 2:56 am

Quoting dvincent (Thread starter):


I am quite curious about this little Sony. From the link on luminous landscape, the photos seem not very vivid. Sometime, which is quite ironic in digital camera, specification does not always tell the whole story. I owned X10 before and guess what, I am always know away from the photo taken by this camera, despite its image sensor size not on the attractive side.
 
viv
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Tue Aug 07, 2012 10:22 am

Quoting ckw (Reply 9):
Yes the Fuji is quite 'Leica like' (including the price &nbsp . I do know someone who has been using one for a while, and he seems to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. Biggest issue seems to be AF speed - how are you finding it?

You could buy four Fujis for the price of the Leica.

The AF speed is quite acceptable, although not fast. Manual focus is so slow it's a real pain in the arse.

Image quality is amazing, on a par with the Leica M9. The 35/1.4 lens is as good as the equivalent lenses from Zeiss and Leica.

Since I got the Fuji, I have sold my Leica M9 because it was gathering dust on the shelf.

My D700 gets taken out for sports and aviation photography, nothing else.

[Edited 2012-08-07 03:32:10]

[Edited 2012-08-07 03:32:56]
Nikon D700, Nikkor 80-400, Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35 f/1.4, Fujinon 18 f/2
 
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dvincent
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Tue Aug 07, 2012 2:35 pm

Quoting celestar (Reply 11):
I am quite curious about this little Sony. From the link on luminous landscape, the photos seem not very vivid. Sometime, which is quite ironic in digital camera, specification does not always tell the whole story. I owned X10 before and guess what, I am always know away from the photo taken by this camera, despite its image sensor size not on the attractive side.

It highly depends on one's taste and processing. My optimal workflow is not in place yet (RAW in Lightroom) so I am working using Sony's IDC Raw converter to make TIFFs and Lightroom to do the rest. Sony tends to be a bit conservative in their defaults; they do not push saturation too much and their color filter arrays tend to be a bit less dense. I find the color separation is very good and that skin tones come through very well, even at high ISOs. It does not have that Velvia-esque punch that the Fuji cameras usually have by default; that is Fuji's trademark and I expect them to push that. But that may not be appropriate for all users, and even then you can do quite a lot in post-processing (which is what Fuji is doing in camera). Are you shooting JPEGs or RAWs? The JPEG engine is good, but the real potential of this camera is unlocked with a good RAW converter, hence the LuLa review which shows the difference.

The camera does have an interesting "look," mostly due to the lens. There are a lot of people on the DPReview Sony forum posting a lot of interesting images; I'd browse through them. http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/forum.asp?forum=1009

I do have a shot in the queue that will go through today; if it gets accepted I'll post it in here. I've been busy at work so I haven't had an opportunity to do much post work without full Lightroom support. The real test for this camera will be when I'm on vacation in Washington state next week.
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dvincent
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:02 pm

As mentioned earlier...


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Photo © Dan Vincent - New England Airports

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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Tue Aug 07, 2012 11:12 pm

The biggest knock on the Fuji X100 and the full frame Sigma before it are the wide, fixed lens. They suck for airplanes, And people, unless you want your nose to look like Jamie Farr.

Cameras like the GX 1 and the RX-100 are much more suited to aviation photography.

Dan, make sure you pack that thing next week, I'm looking forward to checking it out.
 
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dvincent
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RE: Sony RX-100: The Spotter's Pocket Rocket

Wed Aug 08, 2012 12:35 am

Quoting clickhappy (Reply 15):
Dan, make sure you pack that thing next week, I'm looking forward to checking it out.

I plan on using it as my primary wide angle, so don't worry. Bring an SD card, you can take some samples.
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