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Sony RX1R II review: unscientific first impression

[Update: spent quite some time with the Sony RX1R II and it actually replaced my Leica M9 during my recent two week New York trip. See how that’s possible & check if the Sony replaced the Leica permanently reading the updated post here. You may also find my experience taking the Sony RX1RII & Leica M9 on my Tokyo street photography trip interesting.]

Quite some of you seem to be interested in how it performs, so here is a first Sony RX1R II review after two weeks of medium usage. Having just written a little story to give you some context – I realize that this story may not be your main reason for visiting. I just copy pasted it _after_ the review, so you’ll find it there just in case you do care about for example why the heck I am writing a tech review here in the first place. Additionally, you’ll find am unfair Sony RX1R II vs. Leica M9 comparison down there, so you might want to read to the end.

Sony RX1R II on the road - click for full size version

Currently on a busy traveling schedule the Sony RX1R II is my steady companion – click for full size version

So here are the insights so far:

The Autofocus

Not having used autofocus since my analog days (manual on M-system, zone focus on Ricoh GR) and being shocked by the original RX1’s AF, I may be not the perfect guy to judge the speed, but: I think it’s pretty amazing and works for street photography. I use the AEF button as AF trigger in MF mode with a center AF area per default. Regarding continuous AF I have to say that I reserve one of the three custom settings for AF-C actually, but it’s more of an experiment right now. It works great for people moving towards you, locking in and keeping the person in focus.

The Image Quality & Raw render engine support

  • preliminary support in Capture One 8 looks nice – but again, being used to the Leica M9 I am the wrong person to judge.
  • ISO invariance / contrast wise I’d say you can go for ISO 6400 easily. I attached some low light full size jpgs to download and check, I’m also not the most experienced pixel peeper and you may help here
  • Capture One 8 & 9 offer support for the raw files, but neither Expression Media nor Media Pro can process the Sony RX1II files yet. If these are your editing tools of choice: either Phase One or Apple have to come up with support here, which will happen soon I guess. The standalone Adobe & Sony raw converters work like a charm. Update: Apple released an update with Sony RX1R II raw file support for Mac OS El Capitan. Media Pro works now, Expression Media 2 does not.
  • The file size is 83 MB for uncompressed raw files, the in cam counter says this lasts for roundabout 360 pictures for a 32GB card. Ordered a bigger SD card immediately after seeing this, too late for the first session. But actually my 4 batteries ran out before I had to change to the second 32GB card I had with me (see battery life)
Sony RX1R II on the road

Rushing though airports, surprising moments of silence strike my eye from time to time – click for full size version

The Form Factor & Ease Of Use

Nice and small. Silent. Just like the RX1, and compared to the quite stealthy M9, here’s what an artist I portrait since a year said. “Do you have a new camera? I could hardly hear it. It is way less intrusive than your old one.” – again, that’s comparing to the quite stealthy M9. And we were coincidentally meeting on a street in Berlin Friedrichshain on a Saturday night. But still ;-).

The Internal Electronic Viewfinder

  • Less hassle & better overall form factor
  • Nice mechanics to pop out & slide in again
  • My nose is not pressed to the back of the camera any more. Again, being spoiled by the Leica rangefinder here.
  • Great eyepiece, potentially making it work in bright light without setting it to max brightness – can’t tell, wear glasses but I imagine this round rubber eyepiece to help save battery life tremendously in bright light

Talking of being spoiled by the Leica M9: although this might be one of the best EVFs on the market, I look through it and don’t really recognize people. I was sitting at C/O Berlin‘s lovely cafe and went through pictures I took that day. A couple sat next to me & she seemed to recognize me. I had no clue where we knew each other from, and we did not start to talk. I went through the pictures of that day on the back screen. After some time I saw some frames and realized that I was taking pictures of that couple in some nice evening light. Looking up from the screen, they were gone already. So the bottom line: this can be one of the few reasons to stick to Leica: the viewfinders are brilliant in so many aspects.

Sony RX1R II on the road

Maybe not the most interesting composition, but an example of higher ISO performance – click for full size version

The Battery Life

I went out with 4 batteries and they lasted 4h (fresh ones and old ones mixed). I used flight mode, and had the EVF turned on. It’s just responding too slow for having it turned to auto. I also tortured the little thing with continuous AF burst shooting just to see if it works. Will keep an eye on it for regular usage and really hope this is not the normal performance. One could see this as an advantage: an argument in favor of film is that you sometimes have to slow down & change film. If you miss this, be assured that with this camera it definitely feels you change batteries like you changed film back then ;-).

The Optical Variable Low-Pass Filter, aka: what about all the other killer features?

Although being aware that the variable optical low pass filter is revolutionary, I never felt to use it yet. Maybe it will find its way in my workflow, but for now I have to confess I did not check it. Same will be true for one killer feature or the other that you are missing. Just ask, maybe I can check & tell you in the comments.

Sony RX1R II on the road

I came for the potentially great light, I stayed despite the clouds and somehow was rewarded by some nice people I met

The Story

To give some context on how the Sony RX1R II review is relevant for me: I have a love hate relationship with my Leica M9 and my Contax T3. I love the M9’s form factor and the M-lenses interaction design, but hate the ‘suffering in low light’ to quote a famous book title. ISO 1250 is the limit basically.

I kept in the back of my mind that there must be something special about this camera. Later, I realized that Chien-Chi Chang – a Magnum colleague of Jonas and a photographer famous for his analog Leica use – had an RX1 dangling around his neck on his back then current profile picture.

I love the T3 for being pocketable & tack sharp, but really don’t want to work analog anymore. When participating on Jonas Bendikson’s workshop, we chatted about how I like the Contax T3 and how nice it is to have a small camera with me that people don’t take seriously. Jonas grabbed in his bag and showed me his RX1. I checked, did not really like the EVF and pocketable is definitely somthing else. But I kept in the back of my mind that there must be something special about this camera. Later, I realized that Chien-Chi Chang – a Magnum colleague of Jonas and a photographer famous for his analog Leica use – had an RX1 dangling around his neck on his back then current profile picture. Shortly after my mate & more relevant in this context professional documentary photographer Gregor Zielke told me this little camera would be at least on par with his Canon 5D Mark III, I was offered to buy a used RX1 (Mark I).

Sony RX1R II on the road

That cute fellow took me a hundred frames. Not sure if that’s the best one but it shows the details in the highlights rather nice at least.

So the initial RX1 is a camera I recently bought used. I fell in love with the form factor and the image quality. I thought: all right, it’s worth to invest time in getting used to its strange manual focus mode and then I have a great tool for street photography. The autofocus was just too slow. But the focus by wire lacked one of the Ricoh GR’s killer features I was used to: a digital depth of field scale and the ability to keep the focus distance constant when being switched off. I most of the time thought: yes, I really miss the M9 here, but I have to invest more time to get used to that little Rx1.

Nowadays with the mirrorless trend, Leica seems to be back. But can hardly live up to their promise of the past: providing smaller, lighter and technically superior cameras.

Shortly after some of these sessions there came the news about the RX1R II. I checked one at a great local camera store & tested the autofocus. I did not check much else and under the assumption that image quality will be at least on par, although I did not plan for this to happen, I spontaneously bought the amazing little fellow. I have not regretted it one day. I feel this will fix the low light issues of the M9 and also become my standard camera for street and documentary. But let’s see about this.

Sony RX1R II on the road

Asking a team of experts whether the Leica M240 would be the better match compared to the Sony RX1R II they checked their wish-list feedback forms. Given I use 35mm mainly on my Leica M9 they advised getting the camera with the better specs and lower price, and investing the money saved in traveling the world for maximized satisfaction.

What’s for sure now: I don’t want to buy a M240 since it does neither feel Leica M-System any more, nor can I justify the price tag. I also can’t see Leica as a company focussing on photography products any more, they focus on luxury products. Leica historically was the company providing sturdy brassy cameras that defied all rules of the market by being innovative. They basically invented 35mm film photography in a time when medium format was the way to go. Then they somehow lost it to the SLRs and their superior compositional qualities, seeing directly through the lens. Nowadays with the mirrorless trend, Leica seems to be back. But can hardly live up to their promise of the past: providing smaller, lighter and technically superior cameras. Apart from the Leica Q and the very unique S-System, in my opinion all the camera systems like the T and SL are just plain copies of the Fuji X and Sony A7 system. My personal opinion on the Q is that it is a very good Sony RX1 copy, with two major advantages: mechanical focus and a built-in viewfinder.

This will be one of the iconic cameras to remember when we look back some decades ago. I see the potential for the Sony RX1R II become the Contax T3 of our times.

The digital M-System on the other side just lives through the heritage of the M-lenses. I still love my M9, but I hope the Sony RX1R II will not only be my low light backup, but also my standard tool of choice: it’s light, it’s easy to use & although having its quirks, just is the best feeling camera I used during the last years. Again, this is just my personal taste and the special field of work I use my cameras in. Still I think this will be one of the iconic cameras to remember when we look back some decades ago. I see the potential for the Sony RX1R II become the Contax T3 of our times and hope that the good first impression I described here will last. I may keep you posted.


There are 6 comments

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  1. Maurice Schönen

    I am a Sony A7 II user but I have to admit I love the Leica Q. It is nowhere an RX1 copy, but feels much more like a smaller version of the M6. You have to try it by yourself. The Focus tab is just like an M lens and it’s mechanical focusing, so it’s damn smooth. The touchscreen implementation and the EVF are just superb. Technically the RII is better, but the Q has a soul.

    • Sven Kräuter

      Hi Maurice, I admit that the ‘copy-statement’ might be a little exaggerated for the Q. But you might admit that there is this concept of full frame fixed lens compact camera from Japan that maybe inspired the Q’s creators a little. And I confess that, using an M9 & 35 Summicron for quite a while now, the thing I missed the most within the RX1RII features was the mechanical focus. Meanwhile, I use the autofocus a lot, only missing the manual focus accuracy in very low light. I guess it’s not as fast as DSLR autofocus, but it’s as fast as me with an M lens. By the way, can’t say which camera is better technically, the Q or the RX1RII. But you might be right with your point concerning the soul: the original RX1 felt like a hot rod car: amazing engine, and some random frame around it. Especially if you attached the external EVF. It feels rounder with the built-in pop up EVF now. But you can’t compete with the Q I guess, definitely not with an M. By the way, where can I find your photographs? You mde me curious ;-)!

  2. Filipe Varela

    Hey again Sven, really nice review.

    I share much of your thoughts, with exception of the Leica comparison maybe because I came from a DSLR background before the original RX1.

    Like you, I really appreciate and can see real-world usage for a bunch of this iteration’s features, like the high-ISO usability, the form factor (oh my, the form factor), the fantastic EFV, and the upgraded image quality and size that the lens-sensor combo enables. And like you, I haven’t found much use for the Optical Variable Low-Pass Filter, though it’s good to know it’s there in case I run into some unique conditions that require it.

    Two highlights for me:

    – Good: the AF slightly increased speed, but hugely increased reliability. The original RX1 wasn’t slow, but damn was it inaccurate. I’m glad to see the A7SII sensor doing all sort of great focusing decisions on this RX1 form factor.

    – Bad: battery life. I haven’t run into the same situation you describe here, but mine has been inconsistent to say the least. I’ve been getting much better times without the EVF, and after a couple of battery cycles. Still uncertain of the exact times I’m getting, I’ve been using mine sparingly and on a bunch of different settings — we’ll see, but first impressions are that it consumes more power than the RX1 and that the EVF plays a big part on that (which was announced early).

    I don’t mind the battery life thing too much to be perfectly honest, since I have a few and they’re pretty small and lightweight, so I don’t mind carrying an extra around.

    Cheers!

    • Sven Kräuter

      Enjoyed reading your review too :-). A thing I realized reading your comment: battery life may get better after I put the new batteries through some loading cycles. And one “almost con” I would add now after some thousand frames: I don’t need 42MP ;-). It takes time to process plus it consumes a lot of disk space. Even with compression turned on it’s still 42MB disk space per picture. But disk space is cheap, I just need to upgrade my NAS. And I started using the JPG that’s in the RAW-file for editing, which makes my workflow fast again.

  3. David

    Nice review 🙂 It would be nice to see you try Leica Q and compare it with RX1R II and M cameras. Not image quality, but the feel of shooting with it.

    I am deciding between Rx1r II and Q, but probably will go Q, because image quality I think is more then good for today even in entry level dslr, but the joy of shooting is something that can not be replicated.

    I have never ever had Leicas, but from other reviews it seem to be that Q is close to M system and it has soul. Really would appreciate your toughts on this, because from your review I can see you are familiar with cameras with soul and also with computers taking pictures. Would be good to know where you put the Q.

    • Sven Kräuter

      Hi David,

      thanks for sharing that idea. I think if I would be a 28mm guy I would probably go for the Q. For some reason, the focal lengths that fit me are 21/24mm and 35mm. Can’t explain why, but 28 somehow does not work for me. So the Q review wouldn’t really be of use I guess.

      I wouldn’t say the RX1R II is a computer. It’s more like a hot rod: a massive lens on a tiny body. Also, the tank is pretty small ;-).


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