Many of us would love a camera that would be small enough as to be pocketable (even if it takes a large-ish pocket), yet offer really superb IQ. When Sony released the RX1, 3 years ago, it caused quite a stir. Because Sony, who until then had seemed to struggle in the footsteps of Canikon, there took a bold step where no-one else had gone in the digital age. The RX1 was far, far smaller than any FF compact camera.
Some photographers bought it and there are many great pictures to show for their efforts, helped in no small measure by the 24Mp sensor and excellent, built-in Sony-Zeiss 35mm f:2.0 lens. But not everyone loved it. I liked it (see review here), but not enough to fork out the not inconsiderable price.
So, how does the second iteration measure up, including relative to the Leica Q and its 28mm lens?
Basically, the newer model cures my 2 deal-breakers: the LCD is now tiltable, and the camera incorporates a pop-up EVF. So we are headed for a slam-dunk, right?
Not so fast. That there are no longer any deal-breakers doesn’t mean that 3500€ have left my pockets. How does the IQ measure up to my “normal system”, the A7R II and Zeiss Otus 55mm f:1.4? Because, to be fair, if Sony expect to get top price for their camera, buyers expect top performance.
In a nutshell, because a bloated review for a diminutive camera would be an oxymoron, whoever loved the RX1 will love the type II even more. Better sensor, better processor, EVF, tiltable LCD. No downside. Slam-dunk!
But, if you begin to think that the Leica Q is “only” 20% more money, is the Sony in Leica territory in terms of haptics? Nope. Yes, it is nice, but no different, or not much, from the 1st generation. Meanwhile, the A7 has improved markedly, and the Q, while minimalistic, shows how easy it can be. The RX1 II feels nice and well made, but not luxo like the Leica.
Then there is the other aspect: IQ. Now I will readily admit that I am in the minority in not liking the Sony-Zeiss “look”. Many people love it, and more power to their elbows. But there is something in the (lack of) colour differentiation that bothers me. For some strange reason (because the Sony-Zeiss products are designed by Sony), it doesn’t seem to be there in the Sony G and Master G series. And the (for me) dreaded “look” strikes again. Yes, the lens is beautifully sharp, including wide open. Yes, it works very well indeed up close (including a pseudo-macro mode). No, it is no longer weaker at infinity than close up, as seemed to be the case of the original RX1. Yes, it has lovely bokeh, if you like it structured rather than totally creamy. Yes the AF is effective and snappy, much more so than before.
So, in many ways, yes, it is indeed a pocket rocket for street photo lovers, and for any and all situations where small size in a must. Eat you heart out Fuji and Micro 4/3 lovers, real ‘togs do it in FF! (special dispensation to Paul Perton, who is a real ‘tog by any measurement). But, if I had a choice, and I do, I prefer the “look” of a real Zeiss f:2.0 lens like the Loxia 50mm over that of a Sony-Zeiss. Again, feel free to opine otherwise and to character assasinate me over my lack of enjoyment of my erstwhile FE 55 f:1.8.
So, in summary, yes it is a worthy upgrade, and yes, for those who liked the original one, it is a no-brainer. But will it get Sony new customers? My guess is that it will split the market with the Q. It has more pixels and a better sensor, a more common focal length, and wider distribution. The Q has more chachet, is more fun to use, is stabilised, offers a better EVF, but has no tilt LCD, and is larger, heavier and costlier.
Overall, isn’t it great that Sony are innovating and pushing the envelope, even if their efforts aren’t perfect (after all, how many years did it take Da Vinci to finish the Mona Lisa? Nobody knows, because he was still touching it up when he died), forcing others to hit back or fall back?
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