#461 Sony RX1 II: the perfect pocket rocket?

By philberphoto | Review

Mar 05

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!

DSC06561 - Sony RX1R2 test

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.

DSC06564 - Sony RX1R2 test

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.

DSC06562 - Sony RX1R2 test

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.DSC06575 - Sony RX1R2 test

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.

DSC06565 - Sony RX1R2 test

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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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Sigh – I wish to hell the makers would come up with the goods – I NEED a pocketable cam, and I’m not really happy with my Nikon compact, the sensor’s not up to the job, it’s way too small for what I want, and the LCD screen isn’t capable of delivering all I need from a viewfinder.

    But sitting around waiting till someone “does it” has been like reading Ming Thein’s article of November 3, 2015, on mirrorless cameras – “Close, but no cigar”! (Hi, Ming!)

    I can point to a number of them that – between them all – have the features I’d like. But not ONE of them that pushes all the buttons, for me.

    • Artuk says:

      You obviously don’t “need” a pocketable camera that much, otherwise an imperfect tool would be better than no tool at all. It’s funny that people who say they prefer a camera with just manual controls and a viewfinder often then bemoan the implementation of various features (often by Sony) when those features have nothing to do with the”purity” of what they say they want, and can simply be ignored or turned off.

      I took a look at the RX1mk2 last year and thought it nice, but agree it doesn’t really tread any path the original didn’t – it just does the same but with greater aplomb. I wont be buying one as it solves a problem I don’t have, and again I agree that for the price, an A7 body and choice of lens is probably more capable, but won’t go in a pocket.

      I’ve never understood the fascination to the point of borderline obsession with all things Leitz. Their lenses are very nice, and well aped at some times by Minolta, but their cameras for the most part seem to be stuck in a dewey eyed nostalgic time warp. I saw the Q at the same time I saw the RX1mk2 and thought it too large for a fixed lens camera, and ridiculously expensive (I Asia the price difference is much wider than 20%).

      Just my personal opinion, of course.

      • philberphoto says:

        Ha, Artuk, I dig your comment about “all things Leitz”. Soon there will be a new column on DS, called GBU (the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and you will see how, whereas there is some really good Leica gear, some of it makes a great target for witticism and criticism

        • Artuk says:

          I’m not flaming Leitz some of their lenses and the look they have has been truly excellent. However, its easy to make excellent products when you don’t compromise components, materials and design and retail at 3 times the price of more mainstream brands. In fairness, some of their recent digital cameras seem to have got their technical act together and reportedly work well. However, when I heard they had solved the problem of focusing on the M series by implementing live view I almost laughed out loud – about 15 years after every pocket camera and phone on the planet had live view, for example. As for purity, it only works for certain types of photographer who shoot street and talk about HCB too much, since the rangefinder is almost entirely unsuited to so many other genres. Just my opinion, of course.

    • philberphoto says:

      I know this frustration well. It used to be that I had the lightest kit in town, with a NEX 5 and Zeiss primes, then a 5N, then a 7 with Leica Elmar 24. I held lightness/compactness to be the key to taking gear with me everywhere every time. Then gear fever struck, and I went FF. Then darstadly Pascal connived with Zeiss to let me try an Otus 55, and now I have the heaviest gear in town, except when he pulls out his Otus 85. So I tried the RX1 as a way to resurrect my love of light gear. Unfortunately, light gear today has in common with light beer that it is rather tasteless when you have tried the full-bodied Real Thing.
      So, until then, we need to continue ranting and grunting, and hoping that, one day…

      • artuk says:

        It’s funny that I think for several years now we have been going through another “golden era” for (digital) cameras with so many new models and new formats to choose from. We have Leica Qs and X’s and Fuji 100s and RX1s and Ricoh GRs and Panasonic LX100s and… Not to mention any number of smaller interchangeable lens systems in different sized formats… And yet some people are still waiting for their “perfect” camera! Strangely, in my film days, some.of my favourite cameras were far from perfect – Rollei QZ W, Konica Hexar AF, Minolta TC-1- or were hugely simpler (Ricoh R10, Olympus Mju-2) but could be used to take great photos. I think perhaps we are spoilt.

  • Jeff says:

    @Jean-Pierre; Have you checked out the Hasselblad Stellar? Currently priced at ridiculously high discounts, it offers pocketability and an outstandin Zeiss lens. Otherwise, what about Fuji Xseries?
    My X10 is a bit fat for the pocket, but a lot of value for the process. Justmy2cents. 🙂

    • philberphoto says:

      To the best of my knowledge, the Stellar is a rebadged Sony RX-100 MkI, grafted with a wood handle. Definitely a good pocketable device in its day, but just as definitely not a world-beater today IMHO.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    ROTFLMHAO, as they say on the internet these days.

    Philippe, you and Pascal have a bigger budget than I can manage any more – old age eventually turns into a pain everywhere, including one’s wallet. Whether I did “the right thing” or not, last year, when I re-equipped, I’ve no idea. But I can’t see any likelihood of doing it again and this gear is going to have to last.

    The Otus 85 and the new wide angle aren’t tantalising me – what I did work out, was that the VAST majority of my shots have always been on a standard prime (50 or 55 mm, on a full frame) and for the sake of the odd few on a wide angle or a tele lens I was prepared to lower the bar. So I’m happy with the Sigma ART 24 mm wide angle and my Zeiss makro (at 100mm) doubles as a tele lens for the odd shot where I care.

    And I love the 55mm Otus. My only thought on it is that the Cankon tribe have pushed the world into AF and away from the traditional split image rangefinders of the old SLRs, and only the new ELV rangefinders really address the fallout. When live view is an option, I use that – but of course that’s extremely difficult unless you shoot from a ‘pod, with a bag over your head, if you’re outdoors and have the sun behind you (which is normal – since you generally want it to illuminate the subject).

    Notwithstanding that, I do still like using the D7200 – with its kit zoom – it take “quite good” shots, and when all my Dobermann friends and I get together, it’s great for taking shots of all the dogs flying around in all directions. As Ming Thein said of the mirrorless cameras, they’re “almost” but “not quite” – the industry COULD hit the target, but keeps missing.

    The compact is simply an insurance against having “NO” shots – I can make sure I never miss another “once in a lifetime” shot, for the lack of a backpack filled with all that our favourite toyshops can offer us. I’d still like to upgrade it – but there’s nothing out there that really suits my needs.

  • Daniel Brussell says:

    Well, they haven t even filled the orders of those willing to pay $3299 so why would they do that?

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