Tag Archives: SONY RX100

2014 Compact Camera for Underwater Photo & Video Round Up

After the various Backscatter, Bluewater photo, and other shops compact cameras reviews I thought of putting my 10 pence in as well.

Most of those reviews you find are written by people who shoot DSLR and then occasionally go and take a compact in water to see how it goes. For what concerns underwater use I only shoot compact and I believe I know how to navigate into features and limitations of compact camera quite well so here is my view on the subject.

The first hint when you look at a high-end compact camera is to check if Nauticam makes a housing for it. If not maybe your camera is not as good after all. There are some exceptions of course.

Categories

I have ranked compacts according to the following shooting categories:

  1. Movie
  2. Ambient Light
  3. Macro
  4. Portraits
  5. Close Focus Wide Angle
  6. All purpose cameras

When possible there will be a top 3 in each category.

The Compacts

I have considered only the following cameras

  1. Canon G16
  2. Canon S120
  3. Olympus XZ-2
  4. Panasonic LX7
  5. Sony RX100II

The Fuji X20 is a potential addition but I have not found anyone that actually shoots it underwater so I abstain from judging here.

Best Cameras for Movie

In order to score in this category the cameras need to have full manual exposure control in movie mode and be able to shoot double frame rates for the system of choice PAL or NTSC.

This is my appraisal:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. N/A

Canon cameras do not offer exposure control in movie mode, Olympus video is pathetic. Not possible to even consider a number 3 here.

Best Cameras for Ambient Light

1st Cave@Jackfish Alley

Here I consider shots without strobes with a view angle of 100º diagonal you need a wet wide-angle lens to take those shots.

Here are the rankings:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. Canon S120

Olympus lags behind in image quality and the Canon G16 does not have any wet lens that allows to take those shots without strobes.

Best Cameras for Macro

P1000463-.jpg

I am looking here at shots are real 1:1 reproduction ratio and how easy is to take those shots in terms of autofocus and depth of field. In order to achieve this level of magnification a close up wet lens is necessary for all cameras. No compact camera achieves real macro with the bare port underwater.

Here are the results:

  1. Canon G16
  2. Canon S120
  3. Panasonic LX7

The Canon G16 in virtue of a 140mm focal length at telephoto end gives the highest magnification ratio, the Canon S120 follows closely same image quality less magnification. The Panasonic LX7 has only a 90mm equivalent lens however the autofocus is incredible so you can use +10 diopters very easily and it is the only camera to really offer Bokeh.

The Olympus XZ-2 lags in terms of image quality, the RX100II has great image quality but little magnification, you need a +10 diopter to give a 1:1 reproduction ratio and focus is difficult because of shallow depth of field due to the large sensor.

Best Cameras for Portraits

Look Right in

Here we are considering shots with the bare port at 35mm focal length using strobes. Here is the ranking:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. Canon S120 & Canon G16

Whilst the RX100II has the best image quality it comes a bit as a surprise why the LX7 gives better images than the Canon. The reason is that Canon tend to have a very unbalanced color range with over saturated red. This does not go away with RAW images as it affects the whole spectrum. It is possible to correct this using blue diffusers for strobe but this is just a patch, the LX7 tend to give much better balanced images.

Best Cameras for CFWA

Side Shot

Close focus wide-angle is shot with a fisheye like lens, using strobes typically at small apertures here are the rankings:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Canon G16
  3. Canon S120

It is quite clear that the RX100II with the widest choice of fisheye lens and the highest dynamic range is the best camera for the job, but the addition of the Inon Zoom lens helps getting the G16 in this category, the S120 follows with similar results. The LX7 does not offer a fisheye options sadly and the XZ-2 lags behind in image quality compared to the two canons.

Best Versatile Still Cameras

Here I look at cameras that can shoot all type of shots from macro to ambient light.

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Canon S120
  3. Olympus XZ-2

The lack of fisheye options cuts out the LX7 and the poor performance of zoom wide-angle lens at wide end kicks the G16 out.

Best Overall Camera Still and Movie

Taking the previous list and eliminating the cameras that do not offer exposure control in movie mode this is the result

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. NA
  3. NA

So the Sony RX100II is the only real all round camera and this explains why it beats the other in terms of sales.

Tuition Day with Martin Edge

During the London Dive Show I attended a talk from Martin where he covered a number of shooting situations and how to deal with them in terms of composition and settings.

There was a promotion for a two for one tuition day with him that my buddy was keen to take so few months later we made our way to Dorset for a day of underwater photography with Martin.

This will be my first day of shooting with the RX100 Mark II albeit in a pool with my new arms and lenses so I was looking forward to it.

We arrived in Poole the night before and got ready for an 8.30 start with Martin.

We started off with a review of some basic exposure concepts and then looked at competition winning pictures and trying to identify what makes a wow picture. It was extremely useful!

Afterwards we went through our trips pictures so he could see what needed improving. Then look at what was needed for the next trip.

With that in mind we set up to jump in the pool to take some pictures the objective was to improve my buddy close ups and portraits as apparently her wide angle is as good as it gets with the Canon S95 used see featured image on this post.

Pool conditions were low visibility and plenty of suspended particles as the pool is used for kids swimming lessons let me give you an idea!

Pool Conditions
Pool Conditions

The first task was to shoot a frog with a view of eliminating shadows in its mouth. Start with one strobe and finish off with two.

Frog at 28mm
Frog at 28mm

The frog with the bare port gives you an idea of the size and the complexity of the task with one strobe. There are shadows in his mouth.

Frog at 50mm
Frog at 50mm

I then shot a portrait at 50mm, the reason why you see shadows more on the left is because I set the strobe at different powers.

Frog single diopter
Frog single diopter

The magnification of the RX100 is little so I went on with a first Inon UCL-165 and full zoom at 100mm equivalent. Note that everything is pretty much sharp at f/11.

Frog Double Diopter
Frog Double Diopter

With two Inon UCL-165 focusing on the mouth will result in this and the eyes being in focus and the rest blurred because of lack of depth of field.

Octopus fisheye
Octopus fisheye

I then moved to an Octopus rich of textures. I took the first shot with my Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome.

Octopus at 28mm
Octopus at 28mm

The same octo at 28mm fills the frame much more of course.

Octopus at 50mm
Octopus at 50mm

The Octopus at 50mm looks even better. I have topped up the lighting on this one.

Octopus single diopter
Octopus single diopter

I then took this guy with a single UCL-165 note the depth of field insufficient to keep the back of the head in focus, results though are exceptional.

Octopus double diopter
Octopus double diopter

With two close up lenses we go back to the depth of field problem even at f/11.

I thought I had at that point nailed all focus and strobe issues, especially considering I shot with single auto focus, I did not bother using manual focus at all with exception of some double diopter shots.

I then tried a few surface reflections with the fisheye this being the best.

Falcon Fisheye
Falcon Fisheye

You can see the outside of the pool and the windows on the top.

Family Fisheye
Family Fisheye

Afterwards made my own composition of statues for a fisheye shot that I think came out very well. The Z240 performed extremely well in both TTL and external auto as well as manual.

Child with dog
Child with dog

Martin asked me to have a go at the child with the dog as it is extremely difficult to lit up properly.

I went for an alternative strobe placement with light from the bottom as if it was in a gallery. He was impressed with the results.

Lion Mouth Single Diopter
Lion Mouth Single Diopter

To finish off my last task was the tongue and eyes of a lion that I shot with a single UCL-165.

Overall a great day and I definitely recommend you the tuition day with Martin. He is a great person and extremely good at teaching I can see the benefits my buddy had right away.

Lessons learned on the RX100

There were a few things that I learned about my RX100 still rig mode that I want to share with you.

  • The autofocus is incredible. I even used this for macro. If the camera does not focus is because you don’t have enough depth of field and that is it.
  • Best macro performance is with a single diopter and also had a benefit of an increased working distance, this means the shots will need cropping for extremely small critters
  • Two diopters resulted in near bokeh with less than 1mm in focus and difficult to autofocus (though the LCD is great and I could see if things were in focus or not I think this is personal and I would recommend DMF to others)
  • Performance at wide angle with the UWL-100 28AD with dome is stellar
  • Inon float arms (I used two 6″ segments) were perfect with lens holders on it.
  • Inon Z240 twin set with one in TTL and the second in external auto delivered creative lighting without headaches, remember to buy the AUTO diffuser that does not come with the strobe
  • Strobes in manual allowed for even more creativity and the level of precision compared to sea and sea was staggering
  • Despite pool conditions the RX100 focused well in low light and much better than the Canon S95 that was returning focus error on the same exposures. I will not bother having a focus light with this camera and only have a single sola on night dives

That’s all for now any question just drop a comment

 

Sony RX100 – In depth into digital settings

Over a year ago I wrote a set of posts for the RX100 and some of the quirks of this wonderful little camera.

Steadyshot – aka Image Stabilizer

The RX100 has a specific Active mode for video not available when taking stills. I described the differences between those two modes in this post

Everyone is so obsessed of having the widest possible field of view that other more important considerations are completely missed out.

If you have ever shot a video with a GoPro underwater you know how bad is the quality of the image in the corners, this is because the flat port combined with the gopro lens create many optical aberrations.

Our RX100, especially the original Mark I, also has an issue in the corners, this is not just an underwater issue is also true on land. The lens on the camera has a lot of distortion and when corrections are applied to the image this effectively creates corner softness.

When we add a wide angle lens the image quality in the corners deteriorates further especially if the lens is flat creating a lot of chromatic aberrations that you can see in pictures with a blue or yellow halo around the edges.

Standard Mode
Standard Steadyshot

Now the good news the Active steady shot mode crops the image of a factor of 1.15x getting rid of the majority of the corner softness.

There is of course a price to pay which is the loss of some of the angle of view. According to my calculation if you use an Inon UWL-H100 you start from more than the declared 100.8º more around 104º in fact. When the active mode is on this drops to around 95º. Remember all those values represent the largest incident angle that means the diagonal field of view.

Active Steadyshot
Active Steadyshot

A lens with 100º diagonal field of view means 90º horizontal. So after the active mode is engaged our horizontal field of view looks more like 84º which is equivalent to a 20mm lens. This is sufficient for most close wide angle shots and plenty for ambient light videos of large fish or wrecks. I generally suggest to keep the Active mode on, of course if you can be in a fixed position and hold the camera really steady you can also use the standard mode and obtain more field of view. There is a chance though that you will need to crop the extra field of view if you need to stabilize in the editing phase.

For macro shots without a tripod the steadyshot is a must and helps greatly. I do not even see a reason to take it off if you have a tripod as the RX100 does not have a particularly small capture area.

Digital Zoom

This brings the second subject: digital zoom, if you shoot pictures you avoid it as what you are doing is to crop the image, something you can do yourself in processing. In video though there is very little quality loss as we use just 2 megapixels of the 20 of the RX100 camera. In my test you can use digital zoom until the 2x multiplier is reached, this corresponds to 7.2x magnification and see no noticeable degradation in the image quality. The other benefit is that the depth of field is the same despite the magnification so you can save yourself stacking two diopters with all the difficulties that follow in terms of focus.

Max Optical Zoom with UCL-165
Max Optical Zoom with UCL-165

Digital zoom is always on in video mode and I recommend to use it with a single close up lens before embarking on dual diopters or a strong single diopter. Also take into account that with a single +6 diopter your working distance is around 4″ which is ideal for most critters except pygmy seahorse and bobtail squid or some shrimps.

Digital Zoom 2x with UCL-165
Digital Zoom 2x with UCL-165

Video Lights

In another post I have explained that getting hung up about light angle coverage is not really the only thing to consider, there is also luminous flux and quality of light. With my Sola 1200 I can cover something between 2 and 4 feet away with decent results further away is just back scatter. Generally this is ok for some close portrait work and close wide angle and of course not sufficient to cover part of a wreck or much larger subjects. You may decide not to bother at all with lights for wide angle and just render your deep wreck dives in black and white in this case consider that a pair of Sola Dive 800 at $399 are a high quality macro set up, function as dive light and provide some decent close wide angle portrait illumination. For macro shots you need much less than that, I set my fill light at minimum (300 lumens) and the main light at 2/3 which is 600 lumens, I can shoot at f/11 with this light intensity. You can see me shooting in the feature image.

My Sony RX100 Mark II Photo Rig Analysis

So the time has come to talk about photography more in depth. I have actually given up stills in favor of video since a few years as I find video gets me closer to behaviors than stills do, I guess am just not patient enough to capture behaviors on still as that involves waiting!

Anyway this is the rig as it is today without the floats.

Sony RX100 Mark II Still Rig as of 2014 January 20th
Sony RX100 Mark II Still Rig as of 2014 January 20th

The RX100 is a demanding compact for the very same reason why it is the best compact the huge sensor it sports. If you come from shooting a canon or panasonic or even Olympus on a 1/1.7″ sensor you find the RX100 to be very unforgiving. In essence you can’t really just point and shoot you need to put some more thinking into your shots.

The rig that I have put together for stills has the same meticulous attention to detail than my video rig has, you would say OCD probably but here it is.

So let’s start with the housing, Nauticam just makes the best most ergonomic housing for the RX100 period. There is nothing you can think of improving about this housing. Even if the bulkhead connector is useless you can actually put a vacuum valve on it to put it to full use.

Nauticam do offer an M67 thread native on all their compact housings but I find this tedious to say the least. The beauty of a compact is that you can shoot wide and macro on the same dive, the M67 thread in essence negates this as it makes virtually impossible to change lenses on a dive. This is the reason why I went for the Inon 28AD mount for my rig using an inexpensive 10 bar adapter priced at $20 or £15.

M67-ADF adapter with Inon UWL-100 attached
M67-ADF adapter with Inon UWL-100 attached

Once you connect the Inon UWL-100 28AD the lens is very close to the housing to the point of nearly touching the port. This means you get no vignette with this lens with the added dome, and actually a larger field of view in water than you get with the UWL-H100. Why is that? The UWL-100 28AD has less magnification so it does not vignette even on land, once you add the dome you get almost the same field of view in water around 150º. The lens is just a tad lighter than the UWL-H100 with an in water weight of 400 grams.

The choice of the 28AD mount means you can only use the UCL-165AD close up lenses, that if attached would crash into the glass, you need therefore a 28AD->AD adapter from Inon.

28AD to AD adapter with UCL-165AD attached
28AD to AD adapter with UCL-165AD attached

You do get vignette until 50mm however this is not an issue as you shoot those lenses at the tele-end.

This is the whole lens set with the two adapters.

Two UCL-165AD, UWL-100 28AD with dome, 28AD->ADF adapter, M67-28ADF adapter
Two UCL-165AD, UWL-100 28AD with dome, 28AD->ADF adapter, M67-28ADF adapter

As discussed in other posts the two stacked diopters give you super macro, they are also light with 35 grams each in water. The small amount of fringing they give can be eliminated in lightroom with a single click.

Inon UCL-165AD x2 with Inon 28AD to AD adapter
Inon UCL-165AD x2 with Inon 28AD to AD adapter

The wide angle lens sports a 115mm optical glass dome with inner anti-reflection coating. If you are into observing fine detail you will notice that the dome is not actually a full semicircle but flatter, if you add the special coating this means no flare and increased contrast. If you wonder why shots taken with Inon dome lenses are sharper is because only 1% of the incoming light is reflected, against 3% of an acrylic dome, the glass dome due to the coating don’t flare, plastic ones do as simple as that.

Inon UWL-100 28AD with Dome
Inon UWL-100 28AD with Dome

Now let’s move on to the strobes a twin Inon Z240 set. I have been a sea and sea user for years until I managed to damage my YS-01 and got no assistance at all from S&S since then I decided to go elsewhere.

What I love about the Z240 is the variety of controls to manage shadows, the sharp aiming light with a red filter good for the most skittish critters. Contrary to what many people think I aim directly at the subject in macro as the distance is short and backscatter is not an issue so no point aiming the strobes away for me.

FIT Sea and Sea adapter for Inon Strobes
FIT Sea and Sea adapter for Inon Strobes

I happened to have a pair of Sea and Sea optical L cable that served me well and had no will to change, FIT produces this cost effective adapter that goes on your Z240 and makes it compatible, I just love it.

Inon Z MV Strobe adapter
Inon Z MV Strobe adapter

I believe Inon Z MV strobe head adapter has no equal in ergonomics but for some reason a part that is $20 in Japan sells at over $40 in US and £30 in UK so is not that popular. My second choice would be the Nauticam strobe adapter that has got the small feet needed to correctly lock on the strobe head.

Sola 1200 on Loc line mount
Sola 1200 on Loc line mount

With the Z240 doing wonders as aiming light there is no real room for a focus light however I have a set of Sola Video 1200 and what I like is that you can use them as dive light. I have connected them with a locline cold shoe, this will soon change to a ball mount, as the cold shoe is on the left side. Probably I will get a Sola Dive 800 so I can leave my two trays set for video and stills on the boat.

Left Handle Ultralight TR-DHB
Left Handle Ultralight TR-DHB

Looking at the tray I use ultralight, it simple and sturdy and allows me to center the port in the middle of the tray.

The most attentive will see that the two handles have different colors.

Right Handle Ultralight AC-H
Right Handle Ultralight AC-H

Why is that? Firstly I want to place the handles at maximum distance, second by placing two different handle I can ensure the ball is at the same height, this would not be true if I was using the same handle on both sides. I use a TR-DM with a TR-DUPL long extension to make the tray 30cm or 12″.

Sony RX100 Mark II Still Rig as of 2014 January 20th
Sony RX100 Mark II Still Rig as of 2014 January 20th

So this is what it looks like, there will be floats on it, I estimate I need 8 floats to make the rig neutral with the lenses off. I am planning to place 3 on each 8″ arm segment and two on the tray however I might change this to 2 on each arm and a bespoke float on the tray bottom. I will run some test to see what works best.

So that’s all folks surely there will be questions and I look forward to answer them.

Just want to remind you that if you are in the market for a compact still or video rig I provide a personal shopper service for £30 or $45 that provides an end to end service on your budget where all you have to do is to call the shop to pay. Of course we would discuss any observations about the set up before this gets finalized, but am sure better to spend a little amount instead of making expensive mistakes!

UPDATE 9 June 2014 I have made some more changes to the rig the current version (never say final) is here

Photo Rig Current

Sony RX100 Mark II Bulkhead Connection Flop

In this post I will investigate for your enjoyment the bulkhead connector available for the Sony RX100 Mark II and will see why this is unfortunately an accessory that is not worth buying. There are other ways to put the M16 port to use for example with a leak detection system but if were thinking of firing strobes using electrical sync cords then think again.

I was today at the London International Dive Show where I met Dr Alex Tattersall of Nauticam UK that also introduced me to Catherine Lai, daughter of Edward CEO and founder of Nauticam and herself operations director.

I felt a bit sorry when I had to explain why the bulkhead was not a workable solution and if you have a look at the youtube video you will understand why, this has been shot by my fiance’ on an iPhone so apologies for the portrait format and occasional shake.

Right so if you didn’t manage to hear the audio or understand the subtitles here is the plain text explanation.

The bulkhead has a single X pin that connects to the center of the RX100 multi-shoe, now this is the same interface that is on the newer Nex and on the A7. The Sony multi-shoe has a complex 21 pin interface that used with compatible accessories can trigger an external TTL flash.

In order for an external device to be recognized the interface of the connector need to connect to the 21 pin slot not just to the center. Nauticam bulkhead adapter is not so complex and only connect only on the center pin.

So the result is that the external connection is not recognized and if you leave the flash set to fill flash, as you would do with an optical connection, the internal RX100 flash pops out and fires away negating the benefit of the electrical connection.

So in order to make it work you need to set the internal flash to OFF. As the pin on the multi-shoe is always live this works perfectly so when you press the shutter the nikonos interface triggers the external strobe which is what should happen.

The little but significant inconvenient is that if you set the flash to off the LCD goes pretty much black as the RX100 has live view on the LCD and only lights up when you half press the shutter. This means is practically impossible to compose any shot unless you have a really bright focus light or there is sufficient ambient light. In any case for a close focus wide angle shot that you will take with this camera with apertures between f/8 and f/11 the screen will look pitch black as in the video even if you set the LCD to sunny weather.

Whilst the A7 and Nex have an option to disable live view in the LCD, the RX100 does not have such option so you are pretty much done and this accessory is not worth buying as it also introduces an additional point of failure for the housing and one for each strobe.

So the supposed big advantage of the Mark II goes out of the window, time to despair? Not at all!!!

As previously anticipated in my first impression post https://interceptor121.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/sony-rx100m2-first-impressions/

I had the impression that the internal flash was recycling much faster than the original RX100, well I have done some tests and I can confirm what imaging-resource has measured: the flash recycling time at full power goes from 7.2 sec of the RX100 down to 4.4 seconds of the Mark II.

Now this is significant because after your shot you need anyway 2 seconds to recharge the strobes and look at the image preview after the shot and probably another 2 seconds to recompose the shot, at that time the RX100 Mark II will be ready to shoot again at full power.

The improved CIPA rating of the Mark II also means well in excess of 200 shots at full flash before having to change the battery so there is no big deal that the electrical option is not workable, get yourself a twin set of Inon Z240 (my current favourite) or Sea and Sea YS-D1 and you will have no issues compared to any other compact as the RX100 Mark II has the highest CIPA rating of all compacts on the market that are good underwater.

In fact the most significant improvement of the RX100 Mark II in addition to the better performance in low light is certainly the strobe recycle time, from 7.2 to 4.4 is nearly a 40% improvement and the Mark II is faster to recycle than a Canon S120 although not as fast as the G15 or as fast as the Panasonic LX7 or Olympus XZ2. However we are talking about 1.2 seconds difference I doubt that is such a big deal

Clearly the RX100 Mark II is the best compact camera for both still and videos and I look forward to shooting more stills with it.

 

Barbados: First Sony RX100 Mark II Feature

So after a few months since I got the Nauticam housing I finally had the time to get in the water and try it on.

I was in Barbados for a week and although the diving was not exactly outstanding I did have enough to test the camera behavior.
The link to the videos are here for YouTube at 1080p

or if you prefer Vimeo at 720p

The footage was all taken at 1080p50 the highest mode of the RX100. The RX1oo can work in both PAL and NTSC standard but I chose the PAL mode just to avoid the annoying NTSC message at startup. The clip has been edited with iMovie 9.0.9 and then exported in 1080p25 using Xencoder codec for quicktime in high profile. Youtube then reconverts it to its own specifications, but at least I have the highest possible starting point.

As mentioned the RX100 shoots at shutter speed of 1/100 in 50p mode and this suited me fine in case I wanted to produce a 60p clip for viewing on the computer as currently no online system supports it.

As discussed in the previous post I shot all wide angle in camera Program mode. This allowed me to use the left control wheel button to call the white balance set menu that in video is not available. I set the picture format to 16:9 so that would show similar on the screen. I did notice that when I actually started the movie recording the crop of the active steadyshot kicked in with a reduction of field of view of around 9 degrees or a 1.14 zoom equivalent.

However the active steady shot was well worth it as I have not used any stabilization for any part of this clip and therefore not introduced any extra cropping.

The wide angle shots with the RX100 are an absolute breeze when you use a filter and there is no need for custom white balance until it gets too deep to actually use a filter. I struggled getting decent results with custom white balance, the 9900 K error came pretty much every time except when in shallow water and balancing on sand. Also the results were off with too much magenta tint to the point I had always to correct it.

Ultimately I kept the filter and the camera in Auto White balance and did not bother doing a custom reading at all. The results were excellent.

SS Stavronikita
SS Stavronikita AWB

In deeper water the filter started making the image a bit dark so I took it off and used a temperature setting of 9900K with Magenta and Amber at the maximum.

For close up at distances over 20cm I still shot in program and had good results. When getting super close or macro I used Movie mode in Aperture priority mode with aperture set at f/11. Towards the end of the clip you can see a shot of a small pink frogfish that is done like that. The close up on the eye is shot with two stacked Inon UCL165 the depth of field is really small as you can see but still workable considering I hand held the camera at all time.

Pink Frogfish f/11
Pink Frogfish f/11

When I shot this arrow crab I had left the camera in program mode so it chose an aperture of f/5.6 you can see that whilst the mouth is in focus the arrow is not

Arrow Crab
Arrow Crab f/5.6

Similar situation with the pedersen shrimp where not everything is sharp in focus

Pedersen Shrimp
Pedersen Shrimp f/5.6

Obviously I am being very exigent with my footage and in normal condition this is already good to very good.

So what I liked and what I did not like about the RX100 Mark II:

I liked:

  • The ergonomics and ease of use are outstanding
  • The camera performs incredibly well with a filter in auto white balance
  • The manual focus with peaking works extremely well
  • Dynamic range and colors are outstanding and not just for a compact
  • Image crisp even in the corners at f/1.8 compared to the Mark I this is extremely significant
  • The active stabilizer was great and meant to manipulation in post
  • Battery life is incredible
  • Performance in low light is excellent and better than the Mark I the camera never reached the ISO MAX of 800 I had set hitting a top of 640 at 30 meters
  • Autofocus at wide end in bright conditions is superb

The only think I hated was the custom white balance results an absolute disgrace, to the point that there is no benefit doing it. Not only that the few parts of the clip I had used it and correct it were still a bit off and required correction in post to a small extent.

Also to consider some of the topside capabilities of the RX100 Mark II just to give an idea though this is not exactly the same location have a look as this shot with a Nikon D7100 with sigma 17-70 in comparison with the RX100 Mark II

Nikon D7100 Beach Landscape
Nikon D7100 Beach Landscape
RX100 Beach Landscape
RX100 Beach Landscape

There is a difference but considering the size of the RX100 and the fact it fits in a pocket I don’t think there can be that many complains. Obviously once you look at specific lenses for the DSLR things change but in the 28-100mm all purpose range I would say that the gap is not as much as double as the price of the two set ups.

So is the Sony RX100 the best compact underwater video set up? Definitely

Is the Mark II better than the original RX100? Yes and well worth an upgrade for video

How does it compare with the Panasonic LX7? The dynamic range and the colors are superior and produces footage that is simply better and sharper. Where the LX7 excels is at macro in clear waters, this is not because of magnification as the RX100 and LX7 perform exactly the same with diopters, and this is because of the LX7 amazing autofocus. However with a bit of silt or other objects in range there is need to switch to manual focus and there the RX100 is actually superior when using peaking even if the depth of field is actually less, the manual focus on the LX7 with the magnifier is not as good unfortunately.

So my ranking for video is:

1. Sony RX100 Mark II

2. Panasonic LX7

3. Sony RX100

I would also add that for stills the LX7 is even more rewarding at macro range due to the performance of autofocus.

Any questions please drop a comment

Underwater Video Tips: Best video settings for Sony RX100

It is not a mystery that the RX100 is capable of shooting excellent video. In fact in some comparisons with SLRs cameras there is little to no difference in the footage quality. The RX100 has many settings and options so which ones are important for underwater video? I will go and explain those that I find useful.

RX100 Video Behavior

Although the RX100 offers full manual control in video this option is not as useful as it seems. Now that many video editors support AVCHD progressive the 50p or 60p options are the more relevant as the footage can be slowed down to half speed and still offer a standard frame rate (50/60p at half speed is 25/30p).

The RX100 shoots video in program mode with shutter speeds of double the frame rate so 1/100 for PAL and 1/125 for NTSC that is excellent news. The camera will then drop to 1/50 or 1/60 when the max ISO is reached which is still acceptable. In Movie Program mode the camera shoots at the lowest possible ISO for the set shutter speed at the widest required aperture. The RX100 has a minimum ISO in video of 125 and the RX100 has it at 160, which is quite high.

Shooting Wide angle

I shoot all my wide-angle footage with the camera in Program Mode. By that I actually mean Photo Program Mode. Pressing the movie button in P mode results in the same behavior that shooting video in P mode. In order to be able to frame correctly I set the image format to 16:9 also for stills. This is also useful to capture ambient light landscapes. I started shooting in P because this allowed me to white balance quickly however I found out that the custom white balance on the RX100 Mark II is a total disaster and in fact I never use it as it gives weird results. I shoot with a red filter with Auto white balance on until approximately 25/27 meters and then I move to White Balance set to K (colour temperature) 9900K Tint set to M7+Y7. When shooting with lights I also use auto white balance. Generally speaking I only use the movie button and the white balance settings for wide angle.

Deep Wreck in Program Mode
Deep Wreck in Program Mode

Shooting Macro

When shooting with diopter at tiny subjects focus with the RX100 is a challenge. I set my video mode to Aperture priority with an aperture of f/11 and Auto ISO, the camera will always keep a shutter speed of double the frame rate which is ideal. If you light the subject properly the RX100 will always shoot at the lowest ISO maybe at 200 but not more. I use auto white balance for all my macro. I find it convenient to leave the video mode like this so that I only have P for wide angle and Movie – Aperture priority for video. If you prefer you can set those as memory recall 1 and 2 but I find that not as useful except you don’t need to use the control dial.

Frogfish at f/11
Frogfish at f/11

Settings for the Function Buttons

Many features that can be assigned to the function button are not available in video or not useful. I only have 4 settings in the function wheel:

  1. ISO
  2. Metering Mode – Always on evaluative
  3. DRO – I set it to auto
  4. Focus Mode – in video only constant and manual are available

To be perfectly honest I rarely change any of those except for testing the camera exposure. Even the metering mode can be left to evaluative all the time as when you shoot macro the area is so small and evenly illuminated that I have never had an issue with exposure.

Settings for the Control Wheel

I use the following assignments and I find them very useful:

  • Left: White balance
  • Centre: Manual Focus Toggle
  • Right: Exposure Lock

The bottom arrow is always assigned to exposure compensation and can’t be changed I set it to -0.3 eV all the time.

White Balance

The performance of custom white balance with the RX100 Mark II is shocking worse than the original RX100, 9 out of 10 I get a white balance error and the results are usually off with too much magenta. The only occasions where I do not get an error is in 6 meters or water (20 feet) on a sandy bottom. In other conditions it does not matter if you try with sand, tanks, hand, slates the outcome is shocking. The results can be used changing the tint to an M2 or even zero but generally using a filter and auto is just much easier and better. I assign the K setting to 9900K M7 for shooting at depth, This is painful because it means that unless you have a flat lens like an Epoque or Inon you can basically forget shooting video with the RX100 as the custom white balance is erratic at least.

The Inon UWL-H100 has only one red filter that is compatible and is made by deeproof. I find this filter excellent though I prefer plastic to glass I have to say it works a treat.

Results with White Balance Error 9900
Results with White Balance Error 9900 Note the Magenta tinge
Similar scene with auto white balance and red filter
Similar scene with auto white balance and red filter

Focus

The RX100 focus automatically on the center when shooting video and does it very well,. Tracking focus is not as useful and by assigning the center button to manual focus it can be eliminated. When shooting macro it is essential to use peaking. I set it to low with white color. Generally with diopters there is only one focus distance so I move the camera until the peaking shows nice white and then press record trying to be steady. That’s pretty much it.

DRO

I keep the dynamic range optimizer to Auto. This means the ISO is most of the times set automatically to 200 to preserve dynamic range. When the scene is perfectly lit the ISO is chosen to be 160. I don’t see much difference between ISO 160 and 200 but if this bothers you set the DRO to off which means the camera will mostly shoot at ISO 160 in good light conditions.

ISO and Max ISO

I set the ISO Max to 800, having analysed a lot of my footage I have not found one example where the camera shot at ISO800 yet unless I had a filter and was at 30 meters. However I prefer the camera to drop the shutter speed and keep the ISO to 800 instead of going all the way down to 3200.

Zoom

In video the RX100 activates digital zoom even when you set it to off. This deteriorates the image so you need to pay attention that the middle notch corresponding to 3.6x is not exceeded or you will see artifacts in your footage.

Stabilizer

I use active steady shot thought this reduces the field of view as it does help with shake quite a lot with macro footage.

Other Settings to disable

There are a number of settings that are harmful in video either because they use battery or because they are counter productive I disable them all list includes:

  • Smile / Face Detection
  • Picture effects
  • Audio recording ( I do not like bubble sound)
  • Wind Noise Reduction

The following are only relevant for still but I like them off regardless.

  • AF illuminator
  • Red eye reduction
  • MF Assist

Sony RX100 – Which close up lens gives real macro?

As we know the Sony RX100 cameras, we will refer to both Mark I and II as the lens is the same, do not offer the best out of the box super close up performance.

To be clear no compact camera really does macro, as no compact can capture an area 36×24 mm in size without being on top of the subject and having a shadow cast on it.

The RX100 however are particularly unexciting as the capture area is pretty large at 76x51mm at the minimum focus distance of 5cm. This means a reproduction factor of less than 1:2 so things are half life size in traditional terms.

In water the minimum focus distance increases and so does magnification so performance is all in all the same.

This means that a typical small subject like a medium size nudibranch measuring 4cm will fill a bit more than half the frame, not great.

The problem can be addressed by close up lenses that have a set power that determines the focal length and working distance where we can use the full camera zoom.

So the close up lens sets the working distance whilst the camera zoom sets the magnification.

A typical close up lens will have a power of 5 or 6 diopters with a working distance in water of 200 or 165mm, what does it mean for the RX100?

I have done some testing in water using a ruler and an Inon UCL165 this is the result:

Single +6 diopter Inon UCL165
Single +6 diopter Inon UCL165

Our capture width is now 46mm so our 4cm nudibranch will nearly fill the frame. The working distance of this lens is 165mm so this is a very versatile solution as most critters have no problem being approached so close.

What happens with a +10 close up lens with a focal length of 100mm, this is another test

+10 Diopter UCL100
+10 Diopter UCL100

A +10 diopter like the Subsee or Inon UCL100 achieves exactly 35mm so life size macro. However a lens like this will not focus at longer focal distances without zooming out, furthermore there are plenty of subject that do not need this magnification.

Close up lenses can be stacked so this is the result of two + 6 diopters

Two stacked Inon UCL165
Two stacked Inon UCL165

The width is now 32mm which is 1.1:1 so more than macro. This is adequate even for pygmy seahorse and with the incredible resolution of the RX100 cropping is not a big issue. Working distance is around 8.5cm which is still tolerated by small critters.

For completeness I have also tested a +16 combination

16 Diopters
16 Diopters

At around 26mm this is 1.4:1 so real super macro, the working distance is however only 6.25cm which is really close and will scare most critters away.

Conclusions:

  1. Without any close up lens the RX100 can only capture 5cm objects without extensive cropping
  2. A close up lens with a working distance of 165mm allows for most of the critters we consider small but without super macro effects unless cropped
  3. Two stacked +6 diopters offer super macro and can also be cropped for more suggestive effect
  4. A single +10 close up lens achieves real macro however it is not versatile enough for every day usage
  5. Stacking lenses does introduce chromatic aberration but this can be eliminated in photos and is barely noticed in video

Pay attention when you select your close up lenses that the focal distance that is in the specification is measured in water otherwise you will find yourself with a useless purchase

Sony RX100 Mark II – Nauticam Housing Review

I have just received this week the NA-RX100II housing also known with product code 17408

This housing is essentially identically to the already very successful NA-RX100 more specifically it looks identically to the NA-RX100V video version.

DSC00059

This looks apparent if we look at the left side of the housing where a screw can attach a bulkhead

HDMI/Electric Sync port
HDMI/Electric Sync port

According to Nauticam you can attach both the SmallHD 4.3 LCD monitor to use as external monitoring for video or an electrical sync cord to attach a strobe via a hot shoe 5 pin connector. This will not support TTL but will allow to fire an external strobe without triggering the internal flash. This means that there will not be any issue of recycle time especially true at wide angle or when using strobe with edge lighting.

Now I believe this is great news for those underwater photographer that are downgrading from DSLR as this was probably one of the key limitation of the RX100 that will now be overcome.

Remember that the RX100II seems to have other significant improvements with respect to the Mark I in terms of corner sharpness that can make this already excellent camera an absolute killer.

I wonder if it is possible to enable and disable the hot shoe and use both electrical and optical connectors as in macro TTL the camera performs very well indeed and this would only be available with optical connections.

If you are interested in the mini video review of this housing you can find it here

I will do some tank tests for corner sharpness in the next days so stay tuned

The housing is priced at £699 in UK as it was with the Mark I so should be $950 in US. Great value for the additional bulk head port!

Update the M16 port on the side will have an hot shoe accessory but won’t have an HDMI bulkhead, this because there is not enough space to connect the HDMI cable on the bottom of the RX100. The V version will have some more space under the camera to allow the cable to go in

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.