Sony RX100 White Balance Woes

In one of my first posts on this blog I covered the subject of setting white balance with the Sony RX100.

It may be useful to have a quick recap on the topic:

  • For pictures setting a custom white balance is not useful if you shoot in RAW as the amount of correction in post processing is far superior*
  • For video (that is shot in compressed format) setting the appropriate white balance for your shots is essential

There are exceptions to this rule, some people like to set custom white balance even in RAW when they shoot ambient light pictures. This is because changing the white balance shifts the histogram and therefore if you had taken a shot with an incorrect white balance you may retrieve wrong information from the histogram. Personally I do not do this most of the ambient light shots I judge by eye and not histogram or are silhouettes anyway but may be useful to know.

The other exception is when you shoot a raw video format with bit rates in excess of 100 Mbps, in that case the footage is captured in a bland format lacking any real depth and contrast and things are corrected in post processing. This does not apply to any consumer camera that works in AVCHD or Mp4 with bit rate lower than 50 Mbps in any case.

It follows that setting the appropriate white balance for our videos is something that is important otherwise our clips will look dull, green or have some sort of color cast we do not like.

As many of you RX100 I have experience with the infamous Custom White Balance 9900K error. In theory if you set your custom white balance with the camera in P mode over a neutral target this error should only occur if the color temperature is out of range (>9900K) unfortunately this is not the case and you get this error pretty much always with our beloved camera. At the beginning I thought that this was due to my cheap PADI slate, but after various attempts against my hand, sand, buddy’s tank, the sun I have to think there is some genuine issue here.

So I got myself whibal card, that on my test on land performs amazingly well with both the RX100 and the Nikon D7100.

The first thing we can realize is that the auto white balance setting is rather cool in outdoor scenes, whilst it tends to be warmer in indoor scenes with artificial light.

Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance

When you take a custom white balance the colors appear warmer and the bluish cast departs and the yellows come back.


This is particularly bad news if you shoot underwater without a filter and think of using auto white balance as those results will be pretty ugly.

The whibal card has a specific black mark that if illuminated tells you the white balance reading is incorrect because of reflections. I thought this was the key to the 9900 Error, unfortunately I was wrong.

It just fails 100% reliably really painful so I could not get rid of my trusted red filter for the Galapagos trip. I even tried setting the white balance with the filter and it would fail as well.

So I went back to auto white balance and red filter and I am pretty happy with the results, many people have asked me if I have manipulated the footage in post processing as the colors look very deep and some have even said unnatural. Even so shooting at 1/50 means a relatively low ISO and in the specific trip another f/stop of aperture was not really significant but I would have like to have the option of working without the filter, sadly this was not an option.

For what concerns white balance just a few things I want to say:

1. At depth there is no color anyway so what your eye can see it is not what it is, the proof is when you use lights or strobes things look much better than the naked eye. Using your visual as a reference can produce dull results.

2. You have to set an appropriate white balance for your scene, this means removing the cast. If a scene has no cast and the colors look saturated this is not a white balance issue on its own but may due to the camera settings. The RX100II is one of the less saturated camera on the market. The mark I instead is pretty saturated take this into account.

3. Footage that looks dull IS in fact ugly. The fact you set custom white balance with or without a filter does not mean that results is the perfect result, there is no such thing in fact and as colors disappear at depth white balance is not that effective anyway

Nick Hope sometime ago published some interesting tests on wetpixel

It turns out that there is more than meets the eye.

Just to clarify the only color correction in my Galapagos clip is:

1. In the scene of the dolphins I was pointing the camera upwards and did not have time to take the filter off so ended up with a red cast, I performed a white balance adjustment in iMovie on the opposite value of the tint I was getting until I liked it.

2. In the scene where there is a group of Galapagos sharks and the close up of the eagle ray I have reduced the blue gain as it was over saturated

In all other cases the only changes were increase of contrast or reduction of brightness. When the water was green like at the end in the Punta Vicente Roca scene I did not touch it to make it look artificially blue.

Again for those who ask I use a deeproof push on filter for the Inon UWL-H100 this filter is my preferred for the only reason that is actually the only one available on the market that fits on the lens. Personally I would much prefer a plastic filter like the ikelite/URPRO but this one is glass. It seems to correspond to a deep sunset 2700K with magenta tint of +5 on the RX100 but I have no tools to measure it I can only say it works.

So my recommendation for the RX100 is to get this solution as the Inon lens has the best optical quality and a hood that comes very handy to reduce flare. There are other lenses that fit the RX100 but have no hood. Obviously an not even considering the fisheye style lenses as distortion is ugly and placing a filter under the lens is a very bad idea.

6 thoughts on “Sony RX100 White Balance Woes”

  1. HI interceptor121

    first I want u to know that regard you as the guru of the underwater rx100 experience. I have been following very closely what you have painstakingly recommended and have got pretty good results

    However since i was not able to get the deeproof filter for my inon uwlh100 type 2 M67 lens in time i had no choice but to use a orange filter under the lens. Why do you think this is a very bad idea? I did not seem to have any issues other than the fact that the M67 screw thread was not easy to screw and unscrew

    Second question: can the deeproof filter be used under the dome

    third question is : as per your previous advice to change everything to bayonet mounting to facilitate lens switching, you also mentioned a service part to convert existing M67 lenses. Are you referring to the inon M67 LD adaptor? if so the disclaimer on the box seems to be that this is NOT meant for the UWLH100 wide angle lens and that there may be very bad vignetting. Do you think that by using the FIX M67 LD adaptor for the housing AND Inon M67 LD mount adaptors, that the extensions will badly affect the final image on this rx100 setup?

    final question: regarding macro lenses, you seemed to recommend 2 +6 macro lenses stacked for optimal focussing . It is true that the +10 solution doesnt allow me much flexibility when zooming into very small critters and sometimes I had to draw very close. Is there any point mounting these 2 lenses with a swivel so that I have the easy flexibility of +6 or +12?

    appreciate your input my guru!

    1. Hi Ken. I am glad you like the blog I have put a donation button on the screen so if you feel you are getting value feel free to buy me a beer. Onto your questions the Inon as anti reflection coating a filter under it may create reflections and deteriorate the image. If you are not experiencing that no problem. With the dome it will most likely vignette and definitely create quality issue. Has to be said dome for video is ugly with distorted images so not sure why you would use it for video. To convert the lens from M67 to LD you need to talk to an Inon dealer and they have to order a special part. The M67-LD adapter is not going to work vignette badly and ruin the image quality, that part is to connect an M67 diopter to the LD mount. For close up lenses it depends from what you want to shoot. Ideally you should have the whole set of +3 +6 +10 or you can choose two +6 if you shoot small things or one +3 and one +6 for medium small and portrait. It really depends on the subjects I have all the lenses and I decide what to take in water based on the fish I will see

  2. I’m so glad to see it’s not just me with the WB error. Thanks for this if only to stop my paranoia 😀

  3. Hey Interceptor,

    I realize you may have moved on from the rx100 world but I have a few questions that I’d like to know if you have an opinion about:

    1) Are you familiar with the howshot red filter for the uwl-h100 being sold @ divervision? If so would you recommend this over the deeproof one you’ve used?

    2) Are there any filters you’d recommend for snorkeling with the rx100? I’ve tried a Ur/pro and it’s overkill near the surface, but no filter at all seems too blue/green.

    3) Earlier this year new firmware was released with an Underwater auto white balance mode for the rx100 iii, iv, and v. Are you aware of how well this performs? I’m wondering if it warrants moving on from my rx100 ii.

    1. 1 No. The deeproof is not that good as it has a purple cast, the Urpro has a yellow cast. I find the magic filter gives the best colours in auto but you need to put it inside the housing. Frankly all filters have a cast that can be corrected fine tuning the auto setting. 2 for snorkelling I recommend the bare port with no filter you can use the cloudy setting if you really need to. 3.
      I have not tried the underwater mode but usually this pushes reds into the auto white balance and generally is not very useful unless you use the internal flash and you should never do that

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