Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II at a glance:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Introduction

Sony announced its Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II alongside the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R on 27 June this year. As the name makes clear, the RX100 II is an upgraded version of the original Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 that impressed us greatly when we tested it in AP 14 July 2012. It was part of the recent wave of advanced compact cameras and, for its size, it was top of the class for image quality.

Since the RX100’s release, competitors such as the Fujifilm X100S and X20 have turned up, as well as the Nikon Coolpix A. However, only the Fujifilm X20 is comparable in size to the RX100 II.

While much of the core design remains the same as the original RX100, Sony has listened to customer feedback and made some significant improvements. The company has taken an already successful, high-performance camera and made it better by improving sensor design and adding a tiltable LCD screen, Wi-Fi connectivity, a multi-interface hotshoe, and more.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Features

Inside the RX100 II is an Exmor R 1in (13.2×8.8mm) sensor with the same 20.2-million-pixel resolution as the original RX100. However, this sensor now features back-illumination that Sony claims will improve low-light performance by a whole stop. Sony also claims that the sensor is approximately 40% more sensitive in comparison to that of the RX100.

Sony has continued to use the excellent Carl Zeiss 10.4-37.1mm (28-100mm equivalent) lens in the RX100 II, which has a very impressive maximum aperture of f/1.8-4.9 and a minimum of f/11. The aperture blades have a near-circular design, which gives very pleasing shallow depth of field with great bokeh when used at wider settings.

A few people considered Sony to have missed a trick with the RX100 by not including Wi-Fi at a time when other manufacturers were introducing it into their own cameras. Well, the company has rectified this by adding Wi-Fi connectivity to the RX100 II, which, of course, makes it easy to share photos directly with a smartphone or tablet and publish them online.

The new compact also supports remote shooting directly from a smartphone or tablet. Although settings cannot be altered when using a device, the zoom and shutter are fully operable. Interestingly, Sony has also provided Near Field Communication (NFC) connectivity. This allows NFC-compatible devices to instantly connect with the RX100 II without the need for passwords or extensive menu diving, just by touching the bottom of the camera.

A further great addition to the RX100 II is a multi-interface hotshoe, as we have seen recently in cameras such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1/RX1R. The hotshoe has special terminals at the back which transfer more information to the camera than a regular hotshoe. This means Sony’s range of external flashes, microphones and the EV1MK electronic viewfinder can all be used with the RX100 II.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Build and handling

In the hand, the camera feels solid and sturdy, thanks to a notably well-constructed, all-black aluminium body measuring 101.6×58.1×38.3mm. Surprisingly, the addition of a tilting LCD screen has only increased the depth of the body by 2.2mm from the original RX100, so the new camera will still fit comfortably into the pocket of a pair of jeans or a shirt – something that most premium large-sensor compacts cannot do.

Some other changes from the previous camera have also been made. The positioning of the HDMI port has been moved from the underside to the right side of the camera, next to the Micro USB port. Another addition is the facility to select predetermined focal lengths simply by moving the lens control ring.

I paired my smartphone with the camera and I was able to both shoot and control the zoom directly from my device using the Play Memories mobile app. This is also possible using iPads and other tablets. The new NFC connectivity enabled me to touch the camera and my smartphone together and instantly connect the two devices. This is much easier than using standard Wi-Fi connection.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Metering

Image: The metering finds a great balance between foreground and skies, with no highlight detail lost

Like most of Sony’s compact cameras the RX100 II has multi-segment, centreweighted and spot metering modes. Across a range of different scenes the metering performed well, much like on the original RX100.

There are 176 different areas that can be selected for spot metering, which gave me great flexibility when shooting high-contrast scenes. In all its metering modes, I found the RX100 II to be very accurate. There is a ±3EV compensation dial but I only needed to alter this for creative control rather than metering correction.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Dynamic range

Image: With a raw image I was able to recover lots of highlight detail

Compared to a typical compact camera, the dynamic range of the RX100 II is very good, aided by its 1in-type sensor. A high level of detail is retained in both shadow and highlight areas, and a large amount of detail can be recovered from raw files.

I browsed through all my images taken with the RX100 in Adobe Lightroom 5 and, by using Lightroom’s highlight clipping warning, I noticed there were hardly any blown highlights. I was also very impressed with the amount of detail retained by the RX100 II, and in Adobe Lightroom 5 I was able to tweak some high-contrast landscapes to make highlight detail more prominent, particularly in the skies.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Autofocus

No changes have been made to the AF system for the RX100 II. In good light, focus is very snappy, and while it is a little slower in low-light situations, it still focuses accurately and at a decent speed.

Focus tracking is impressively accurate, allowing me to lock onto flowers that were swaying in the wind; I was able to select my focus point, frame the shot and wait for the optimum time to take the picture. On top of this, manual focusing is possible using the lens ring, and focus peaking aids accuracy.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 50mm focal length at f/3.2. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.

The previous RX100 scored an impressive 28/30 on noise, resolution and sensitivity, and overall image quality was much better than the competition. This was due to its large 1in (13.2×8.8mm) sensor, which was considerably bigger than the 1/1.7in (7.6×5.7mm) sensors found in the Canon PowerShot S110 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. For the RX100 II, Sony has back-illuminated the sensor to allow more light to reach the photodiodes. This means the sensor can gather around 40% more light and is capable of a whole extra stop of noise suppression in comparison to its predeccesor.

Due to this suppression of noise, the RX100 II now has an expanded sensitivity range of ISO 160-12,800, or up to ISO 25,600 when using the multi-frame noise reduction mode.

At the lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 160, slight luminance noise is present in areas of low detail in both JPEGs and raw files. At ISO 2000, there is no colour noise but luminance noise starts to become noticeable. The JPEG images do appear slightly smudgy at upwards of ISO 2000 but this doesn’t become an issue until ISO 3200.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – White balance and colour

Images straight from the RX100 II have great colour rendition without appearing oversaturated. Only in challenging situations where it is expected that the camera will struggle to achieve true colour rendition did I find that was there a need to change from AWB. There are 10 presets to choose from, including four for fluorescent light.

Overall, the colours were very accurate and consistently true to the scene. When shooting landscapes, skies were punchy and colour-correct most the time.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video

Like the original RX100, the RX100 II carries a 3in, TFT LCD screen with an impressive 1.23-million-dot resolution. However, customer feedback has seen the addition of a tilt function capable of an upward angle of 86° and a downward angle of 45°. This makes shooting from waist-level or at a high angle much easier.

The introduction of the multi-interface hotshoe allows the use of Sony’s EV1MK EVF. Though brilliant to have, at £360 it is an expensive option for most enthusiasts.

Below the mode dial is the movie record button, which will shoot movies at full HD 1080p resolution, at 60p, 60i or 24p and saves as AVCHD or MP4. Manual controls are available in this mode.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review – Our verdict

On paper, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II could appear to be a simple upgrade but it is far more than that. As a result of customer feedback about the original Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, lots of very useful features have been implemented or improved for use in the RX100 II. These additions unlock a huge amount of potential from an already brilliant camera.

The previous RX100 was class-leading for being pocketable, easy to use and customisable, and for its impressive image quality. The RX100 II is no different, ticking all these boxes but with reduced noise and therefore better performance in low light due to its new back-illuminated sensor. The NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity is among the best available, and on top of all that, the camera is compatible with Sony’s externals flashes, microphones and other accessories.

The RX100 II has a wealth of manual controls that are all customisable, yet it remains easy to use. This is a great camera for both beginners and more advanced users.

Image: The minimum focusing distance is 5cm at the widest focal length while at the longest focal length it’s 55cm. This is not ideal for macro work, although 20.2 million pixels allows for satisfactory cropping