Sony RX100M2– First Impressions

I have  been fortunate to receive one of the first RX100M2 that have reached the market so I thought of sharing with you my first impression and what I believe will be the potential for underwater imaging use.

This is the link to the unboxing video of the camera

I posted a summary of the RX100 capabilities for underwater video some time ago on this blog the post is here:

Probably the best thing is to revisit my review and update any significant differences between the RX100 Mark 2 and the original version which is still on the market and will remain at least until the end of 2013.

Key Strengths

Bright Lens –  Not changed

The RX100M2 has exactly the same lens of its predecessor RX100, it is true that when zoomed the minimum aperture drops down to f/4.9 however this is not a concern for underwater imaging as usually long focal lengths are for macro and we are interested in very small aperture to allow for greater depth of field.

Low Noise – Improvement!

In virtue of the new retro illuminated sensor the mark 2 has one full f-stop advantage over the original RX100. This means that ISO800 is a breeze and potentially we could go as low as ISO1600. I would not do that but what it means is a cleaner image at depth in ambient light.

Image Quality – Improvement

Image quality is outstanding and the lack of aggressive contract and sharpness filters in the default settings means more room for correction in post processing.

Video Mode Control – no change

The RX100 had complete control on video mode and the mark 2 maintains the standard. Very important is that the program mode is excellent and keeps the shutter speed at 1/100 or 1/125 when used in active mode which is ideal for 50/60p smooth footage.

Manual Focus – no change

Same as for the RX100

Battery Life – Improvement

According to Sony battery life has improved from an already outstanding CIPA 330 to a declared value of CIPA 350. The new Mark 2 has also an hot shoe so in theory if any manufactures produces a wired TTL enabled housing this means plenty of shooting before changing the battery pack. We suspect though that only ikelite will have this option on the housing.

Active Steadyshot – no change

I initially slagged the RX100 stabilization system based on performance on land. However at a more in depth analysis it turns out that the RX100 active steadyshot, even if at cost of an image crop is very effective for sudden camera movement and for high magnification macro. The Stabilizer is not as sticky as others so when you eventually vibrate it does not jump. Although the performance for stills is poor to irrelevant and so is the normal mode the active mode is very effective for underwater use. The mark 2 is built exactly with the same algorithm and combination of optical and electronic.

Tedious Workarounds Comparison

Some of the ergonomics of the RX100 are not the best and seriously deduct from an otherwise excellent experience, the most annoying issues:

Lack of focus lock – no change

For some reason Sony decided to skip on this essential feature, the workaround involves switching to manual focus however it is then possible to accidentally change focus if the front ring is set to control focus. The RX100M2 has the same issue.

Setting Custom White Balance in Video – No change

Setting custom white balance is only possible in the still modes, while in fact if you shoot RAW don’t actually need white balancing. This is the largest non sense of this camera that requires the user to navigate out into Program to ensure white balance is set correctly and you don’t end up with the Custom WB Error message. Though this is annoying is not such a killer as it would initially seem if you take your movies in one of this still modes which is valid for wide angle and ambient light shot. For macro you will need to switch to movie mode aperture priority in AWB. If you keep this discipline this is issue is mitigated. The RX100M2 does not change this and I believe this is due to the fact that the shutter button that is used to set custom white balance is disabled in video.

Lack of 24/25/30 progressive modes at 1080HD – Improvement!

The RX100M2 shoots at 50/60p as well as 25/24p in addition to that you can switch between PAL and NTSC which is great!!!

AVCHD – Improvement!

The RX100M2 has not only the progressive modes at double frame rate but also AVCHD 1.0 compliant format, this means that if you choose the 24M 24/25 p mode you can import with all editing programs without issue. Not only that but if you use the wireless import utility this converts also the AVCHD progressive files in mp4 for you. This is  great improvement

Key Weaknesses comparison

The RX100 had also some key weaknesses let’s see how the mark 2 fares.

Macro Performance – no change 

Exactly the same as its predecessor the RX100M2 has a minimum focus distance of 5cm on land that becomes around 7 in water. Like with the RX100 because of the large capture area you will need diopters for macro shots. On a positive note once you have a close up lens the performance is incredible when coupled with manual focus with peaking.

Stabilizer

Sony has adopted a lens shift approach in this camera instead of the sensor shift of the higher end alpha, maybe due to large size of the sensor compared to the camera body. They have then added some software processing in camera but the results are just average. There are many other cameras that do better than the RX100.

Soft Corners at Wide End – Improvement

The RX100 first generation had soft corners until f/5.6 the situation changes dramatically as we can see in this test card comparison shot. Not sure if there was an issue with the RX100 original sensor but this looks excellent and as sharp as the panasonic LX7 or Canon G15.

Look for yourself!!!

Left RX100M2 Right RX100
Left RX100M2 Right RX100

No Neutral Density Filter – marginal deterioration

As its predecessor there is no neutral density also on the mark2. A little tip for video is to shoot with filters that take away 1 1/3 f-stop. This is not ideal but helps. There were some speculation that because the minimum ISO in RAW is now 100 instead of 80 sunballs would be more difficult to shoot. 1/3 of an f-stop does not really make any difference I believe this is more a statement so that the RX100 housing that are in stock sell out at full price.

Other features

I have to say that the tilting screen is fantastic to shoot on a tripod on lens. I doubt any housing can accommodate for this but the feature is outstanding

IMG_6772
Tilt screen side view

And this is the rear

RX100M2 tilt screen
RX100M2 tilt screen

Conclusion

So the question is should I buy the RX100M2 or the RX100 maybe grabbing a deal? Recsea has already announced a housing for the mark 2 and Nauticam is working on it. I believe that when it comes to still photography the difference between the two cameras are not substantial as many shots are with strobes I have however noticed a much faster internal flash cycle time. I do not want to be definite but looks like a full dump takes around  seconds to recharge. Also to be considered that in US the price difference is $100 so definitely the Mark2 is the way forward. In UK/Europe the difference on the list price is £150/€180 which is much more.

So I would say if you are planning to use the camera for video go for the RX100M2 the improvements are significant both in terms of video formats but also in terms of sharpness at wide apertures. If your main interest is photography and you live in US go for the mark 2 in Europe instead I would grab a deal on the RX100 when the price of the housing drops.

I am waiting for a test housing from Nauticam as soon as I have it I will post an unboxing video followed by some pool tests.

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Underwater Video Tips: Best video settings for Panasonic LX7

I thought of doing a debrief of the settings I use as I see few people that have bought this camera and have few niggles to go through and the obvious learning curve of new equipment so here we go.

Which Video Setting

It is always possible to reduce detail if needed so always shoot in the highest mode AVCHD progressive that in the menu is called PSH this records at 28 Mbps.

Which Mode to Use for Video

The LX7 has a one touch video mode that is accessible in still mode. When you press this button, even if the camera is in Aperture or Shutter priority and even in Manual, the movie clip is recorded in Program mode.

It follows that the mode to use to have full control is the creative video mode accessible through the mode dial.

Standard Setting for Creative Video Mode

I use the Shutter priority setting submenu in this mode. This is because the LX7 does not follow the 180 degrees shutter rule in video program mode.

Set your shutter speed to 1/100 for PAL and 1/125 for NTSC so that your shutter speed is double of the frame rate (1/50 for PAL and 1/60 for NTSC).

Exposure Lock Button

I never use the manual or the aperture priority mode as I find the lens fairly sharp even in macro and very small subjects. When I have changing light I point the camera to the exposure I want and the click Exposure Lock. To disable focus lock you need to go into the menu and set the button to AE lock only.

Exposure Control

I personally find the standard exposure of the LX7 underwater far too bright. So using the exposure compensation dial found by pressing the shutter speed wheel I dial down to -2/3. This is personal sometimes I even go down to -1.

ISO and Max ISO

The LX7 has a very bright lens even at telephoto end and this lens produces also a very sharp image. In the worst case of deep water with low light I found that having an underexposed but cleaner picture at ISO400 is better than letting the camera go all the way to high ISO. So in the menu I set ISO MAX to 400 or in some cases I push this down to 800. I set the ISO to Auto as the camera generally keeps it very low anyway.

Autofocus

I leave autofocus for video mode to on and I ensure that the autofocus is set to single area. Be careful as the default setting is face detection and that does not work well underwater! Multi area and tracking are not available in video mode.

Zoom

In video you can extend the 90mm lens to 180 with the iZoom and to 360mm with digital zoom. I set iZoom to on and Digital zoom to off as I have seen that the iZoom is very useful in macro and the picture quality is not visibly affected.

Metering Mode

I use multi metering for landscapes and centred weighted for close ups and macro.

iDynamic

This is a tricky setting; generally I keep it off or on Low as the standard settings clip the highlights. In doubt turn it off.

Photo Style

This setting controls contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction. I use the standard setting that is a little bit oversaturated. If you do a lot of colour corrections in post processing use the Natural setting. The footage will be less saturated and a bit less sharp with less noise reduction.

White Balance

I use two custom settings WB1 and WB2 one for shooting with ambient light and the other one with lights that I only use in special circumstances.

Stabiliser

I leave this on and it does not affect the field of view.

Zoom Resume

Zoom resume has to be left off as this delays the camera ready to shoot time and ends up with missed opportunities.

Menu Resume

It is useful to leave this on.

Custom Menus

I record all my settings for shooting in ambient light in the C1 mode this has all the settings are describes and recalls the Custom White Balance 1.

I then set another menu C2-1 with auto white balance for shooting with lights and menu C2-2 for shooting with lights and WB2.

This is an example video shot with those settings and no additional lenses this is with video lights and auto white balance little to no correction in post processing.

This other video is with some grading applied and ambient light for most

I hope you found this useful and happy shooting!