I lost my much-beloved Canon S100 by leaving it on an airplane — how stupid is that? — so I got the new RX100 II (Sony, DPR, Amazon); also called the M2 in places including its photos’ EXIF data, but “II” seems more official.
The choice was easy, given my previously-stated belief that the best camera inventory is a large-sensor interchangeable-lens body wearing an opinionated prime lens, and a decent pocket cam with a zoom: “If you really need a zoom lens, why not get one that has a pretty good camera built-in?”. And many reviewers have asserted that the RX100 is the best pocket zoom you can get.
So I got one, but I hate it.
I’ll say why, but first let’s get some important things out of the way.
Can it take good pictures? · Specifically, can it take pictures of cats? Yes it can!
Can it do close-ups? You bet! (But there are issues; see below).
Can you hold it out the side of a boat traveling at 21 knots (about 39kph) and shoot one-handed at what you’re leaving behind you? No problemo!
Can you close down the aperture and get infinite depth-of-field? As if you needed to ask!
Can you grab an interior shot in ambient after-dark light without thinking too much about it? Easy-peasy!
Can you stick it in your pocket for a (small-)mountain-climbing expedition and capture loads of detail? That’s a no-brainer!
So given all these capabilities, do you still hate it, Tim? Unfortunately, yes; here’s why:
Bulkiness · So it’s got a mega-cool lens and its sensor is really expansive for a compact; see this DPR graphic.
But these things have costs, namely size. Yeah, the RX100 is pocketable, as in Just. Barely. If you’re a medium large male person like me, given to wearing vests and jackets with lotsa pockets, it’s only mildly irritating. I suspect it just wouldn’t work in a high proportion of women’s garments.
Here’s a picture of the Sony and my wife’s Canon (same form factor as the S100 I lost) side by side.
The Sony’s extra thickness is really obtrusive, but it’s the weight that’s the problem: swing this mini-brick on its tether and I think it’d take out most muggers at the first impact. So if you meet me and my vest is drooping awkwardly on one side, this is why.
Fufilm envy · I think I’ve been spoiled by the controls on my Fujifilm X-E1. It has no “mode dial”; you look down at the camera and there are dials for aperture and shutter speed; both have “A” for automatic. If you want to control either or both, there you go, and that’s really all you need most of the time.
On the Sony, you can spin the lens ring and, well, nothing happens. Oh wait; after a half-second or so a couple of nicely anti-aliased on-screen circular readouts show up and let you trade off aperture and shutter speed. Which is sort of reasonable, but after working with the Fujifilm it feels like trying to type with boxing gloves on.
The menu system is pretty decent; but shifting to manual focus takes at least three clicks. Feaugh.
Macro pain · The first time I took the camera out to a nice botanical garden, I stopped in front of a flower I liked and tried to photograph it. And failed, and failed and failed; the camera just wouldn’t focus, either automatically or manually. Eventually I was using language really unsuitable for the audience, which was my mother and my daughter.
Eventually, by asking around on the network, I figured out that if you want to shoot macro, the lens has to be wide open. Zoom at all and the nearest usable focus distance becomes, well, a lot further away than you’d want to be from an interesting flower or pebble or seashell.
I’ve had it explained to me that the weird focus-distance behavior is a consequence of the admirably-large sensor and admirably-big lens. Oh well. Note that this didn’t bother my 7-year-old at all; she took the yellow flower above, so I imagine I can get used to it.
But I don’t totally hate it · There are things to like. Most important, the image quality is really remarkable; the limiting factor is my modest talent not the camera’s capabilities. In particular, the amount of detail in the files is immense; even though the sensor is smaller than those of my Fujifilm and Pentax, it’s got more pixels. And it seems to get good use of them; there is more fine stuff in the data than the relatively minor difference between 16 and 20 MP would lead you to expect.
Also, video: It’s good! Which is a welcome addition, since the Fujifilm is feeble in the moving-pictures department. I took a clip, into the sun, of kids cannonballing off the dock, with whoops and splashes, and the camera produced excellent footage in demanding conditions.
Also on the plus side, auto-focus is nicely quick, even in low light.
And — grant me an intangible here — it seems to have a gift for faces, which I’m not going to show you because they’ve been of kids, and friends whom I’m not putting on the Net unasked. But there’s no more important photographic subject, and it seems Sony put some special effort in.
Undiscovered · It’s got an articulated (on one axis) rear screen, so you can make like a toy Hasselblad and look down to compose. Haven’t tried it.
You can put it on your home WiFi and with custom Mac or Windows apps, suck photos off the SD card. Haven’t tried it.
Take-away · At the moment, if someone offered me a trade, straight-up, for whatever the latest Canon S-series is, I’d think about it. But I probably wouldn’t take it, because dealing with the Sony’s entirely new and different way of approaching picture-taking is probably good for me. Just like cauliflower and lentils and tofu.
And I have to say, I’m getting some pretty pleasing pictures.