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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review: The best enthusiast compact to date

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II delivers excellent photos, speedy performance, and a broad feature set in an attractive, compact package.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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9 min read

I'm a believer.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
8.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II

The Good

The <b>Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II</b> delivers excellent photos, speedy performance, and a broad feature set in an attractive, compact package.

The Bad

The camera tends to clip bright highlights more than we typically see, and the slippery body lacks a grip. Plus, the lack of a manually triggered macro mode might put off some fans of close-up photography.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II's combination of looks, speed, flexibility, and photo quality makes it a great choice for enthusiasts who can afford the price tag.

When Sony swapped the 1-inch standard CMOS of the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 for a BSI (backside-illuminated) sensor in the DSC-RX100 II, I expressed some skepticism. My experience with BSI sensors has always been that what they gain in low-light latitude they lose in bright light. But the RX100 II delivers better photo quality than the RX100 across the entire ISO sensitivity range, and better quality than the rest of its similarly priced competition. Add in the new features like a hot shoe -- for accessories like an electronic viewfinder or microphone, as well as a flash -- plus Wi-Fi and a tilting LCD, and despite slightly slower performance the RX100 II is the best sub-$1,000 camera I've seen to date. (For a discussion of the importance of sensor sizes, see the RX100 review.)

Image quality
Overall, JPEG photos look excellent up through ISO 400, good through ISO 1600, and usable depending upon scene content through ISO 3200. Despite the rated ISO sensitivity range having been raised to ISO 12800, it's still -- unsurprisingly -- bad at ISO 6400 and ISO 12800. You don't gain much by shooting raw except perhaps retaining a little more detail in the midrange sensitivities and the ability to bring back shadow detail without too much noise. Like the RX100, it clips highlights more than I like and you can only recover some of the highlight detail.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II photo samples

See all photos

Colors look saturated and contrasty, typical for Sony, and a camera at this price really deserves a neutral-color preset.

Click to view/download ISO 200



ISO 800

ISO 3200

Video looks very similar to the RX100's, with possibly a hair more detail resolution. It's bright, saturated, and reasonably sharp, with no notable artifacts in bright light, and is relatively noise-free in dim. The lens is sufficiently quiet while zooming. Audio comes through loud and clear and doesn't sound too compressed or tinny.

Performance
Though it's still fast -- and certainly faster than most of its competitors -- the autofocus seems to bog down the RX100 II a little more than the RX100. It takes 2.5 seconds to power up, focus, and shoot, which is a little on the high side for its class. In good light, focusing and shooting takes about 0.4 second, rising to about 0.5 second in dim conditions. It's really fast going from shot to shot, running about 0.1 second for JPEG and 0.2 for raw, and a mere 0.3 second with flash enabled. It sustained a continuous JPEG burst for more than 30 shots at 3 frames per second and a respectable 15 raw shots at 2.7fps (using a 95MBps SD card). Those speeds should suffice for typical kids-and-pets photography. And during field testing, the camera focused and snapped quickly most of the time.

I did run into a couple of autofocus issues with the RX100 II, some of which are simply settings-related. In my initial testing I used the center-focus option, but it consistently focused at the bottom of the focus area, resulting in incorrect focus and unusable test samples. Switching to the Flexible Spot setting, which offers a smaller focus area, fixed that.

Autofocus at night is a bit more troublesome. Sony's cameras routinely expand the focus area to the whole screen in dim light. But turning off the focus-assist illuminator (and there are a lot of times you really don't want a huge orange beam lighting up the vicinity) and shooting with the Flexible Spot to prevent the full-screen AF area left the camera frequently unable to focus, even on high-contrast subjects that other cameras had no trouble with, like the neon lights of my test restaurant. When shooting video, I had to switch to manual focus -- which is very nice thanks to the intense focus-peaking setting.

Design and features
For good or ill, Sony made no changes to the design of the camera save the addition of the hot shoe and tilting LCD. So while I still think the camera is well-designed overall and a great size, my biggest problem remains the lack of a grip. That combined with the slippery metal body means I'm constantly in fear of dropping it, and forced to grip it extra-tightly, which can get really tiring if you shoot one-handed a lot. This time around I also found myself accidentally hitting buttons -- hitting movie instead of menu, hitting power when trying to plug the camera in to charge. There's now an accessory grip option, but the camera already costs $750; charging another $15 bucks for a piece of plastic that you adhere to the camera seems like Sony nickel-and-diming us.

As with its predecessor, I like the control ring, which you can program to operate for one default setting (such as zoom or shutter speed) and to use in conjunction with the Fn button, which you can program to access up to seven more settings. The camera can be customized quite a bit. In addition to the Fn button, you can also reprogram the operation of the left and right navigation keys on the back dial as well as the center button. And there's a Memory Recall option on the mode dial so you can select from three custom settings slots.

Still a problem: no grip on the camera makes it slippery and difficult to hold. Sarah Tew/CNET

The top mode dial offers the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes, plus a dedicated movie mode (with a full set of manual and semimanual exposure controls) and Sweep Panorama.

I think that the RX100 II, like the RX100 (like a lot of cameras, actually), offers too many automatic mode options: a scene program mode, intelligent auto, and Superior auto. I always thought the whole point of automatic was to not have to make any choices. On the flip side, there are too many functions that are only available in auto mode. The M2 adds control-ring stepped zoom for 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, and 100mm, which would be really great for people who need to replicate exact framing (like me). But it's only available in complete auto mode. Also available only in auto mode: auto flash. The rest of us need to continually toggle between always on or always off. Stupid and irritating in a camera at this price level. Same goes for the inability to manually invoke macro mode.

The movie button on the back is a bit hard to press because the location demands it be too recessed in order to keep from accidentally hitting it. The rest of the controls have just enough travel to keep them from being difficult to operate.

The LCD is good and visible in direct sunlight, but the tilting range is limited compared with on the company's NEX models, many of which now flip completely upward for selfies. It's fine for shooting from the hip or above your head, though.

Like the RX100, you can manually tilt the flash while shooting, an excellent flash feature to have; it allows you to quickly control intensity and direction to bounce the light or simply prevent hot spots.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Fujifilm X20 Ricoh GR Sony Cyber- shot DSC- RX100 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
Sensor (effective resolution) 14.3MP CMOS 12MP X-Trans CMOS 16.2MP CMOS 20.2MP Exmor CMOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS
1.5-inch
(18.7 x 14mm)
2/3-inch 23.7 x 15.7mm
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 160 - ISO 12800
Lens
(35mm-equivalent focal-length multiplier)
28 - 112mm
f2.8-5.8
4x
28 - 112mm
f2-2.8
4x
28mm
f2.8
28 - 100mm
f1.8-4.9
3.6x
28 - 100mm
f1.8-4.9
3.6x
Closest focus (inches) 7.9 3.9 3.9 1.9 1.9
Continuous shooting 4.5fps
6 JPEG
12fps
11 JPEG/n/a raw
4fps
4 raw/ unlimited JPEG
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/12 JPEG
Viewfinder Optical Optical Optional
Reverse Galilean
(est $250)
None Optional
EVF

Tilting OLED
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
($449.99)
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
n/a
Contrast AF
190-point hybrid AF 25-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
Metering n/a 256 zones n/a n/a n/a
Shutter 60 - 1/4,000 sec 30 - 1/4,000 sec 300 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb; time 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes yes Yes No Yes
LCD 3-inch articulated, 922,000 dots 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Image stabilization Optical Optical None Optical Optical
Video
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/24p
Stereo
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p Stereo
Motion JPEG AVI
1080/30p/ 25p/24p
Stereo
AVCHD
1080/60p/50p
Stereo
AVCHD
1080/60p/ 50p/25p/24p
Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video No No Yes Yes Yes
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes n/a Yes Yes
External mic support No Yes No No Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 250 shots 270 shots 290 shots 330 shots 350 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.6 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 4.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 4 x 2.4 x 1.4 4 x 2.3 x 1.5
Weight (ounces) 18.8 12.8 8.6 (est) 8.5 9.9
Mfr. price $799 $599.99 $799.95 $599.99 $749.99
Availability February 2012 March 2013 May 2013 July 2012 July 2013

Compared with the RX100, the RX100 II has a bounteous feature set. Though it still lacks geotagging, you can tag photos via your mobile device. The addition of NFC (near-field communication) makes connecting the phone to your mobile device a lot less annoying than with most Wi-Fi camera connections -- provided your device has NFC. That leaves out Apple folks, but you can still use the clunky manual process to connect. It's still not the most streamlined operation. For instance, you have to invoke the connection differently if you want to transfer photos (initiate from the playback menu in the camera) than if you want to remotely control the camera (initiate from the PlayMemories Mobile app on the phone).

As an aside, thus far NFC in cameras is solely used to invoke automatic Wi-Fi connections between the mobile device and the camera via proximity; it basically puts the tap in the tap devices together to connect.

For effects junkies, the RX100 offers a handful, with a few very nice and unusual ones. But you've got to scroll through every variation -- a rotating cornucopia of 33 slots when there are really only 13 filters -- which gets seriously annoying. They're not accessible in raw or raw+JPEG mode (though the camera doesn't bother to tell you that's why they're grayed out) so you can't save a simultaneous version without effects, and you can't control any of the parameters.

Also, the RX100 II offers an EVF option, albeit a really expensive one: I don't know that I'd be willing to pay for a $450 EVF on a $750 camera. The EVF's price makes more sense relative to the $2,800 price tag of the DSC-RX1, for which it was designed.

For a complete rundown of the RX100 II's features and operation, download the PDF manual.

Conclusion
For a compact camera, $750 seems like a lot, but if you're looking for an all-around solid option with good performance, a flexible feature set, and excellent photo quality it's worth it. The RX100 is still a fine alternative if you don't need the connectivity, tilting screen, or hot shoe, or simply can't spend the extra $150. I haven't yet tested the similarly priced Ricoh GR, the only other camera I can see possibly outperforming it at this point. But even if the photo quality is better, the RX100 II is a more generally appealling package, with a decent zoom lens, a tilting LCD, and a real video codec.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Canon PowerShot G15
2.3
2.6
1.9
0.6
0.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
2.1
0.2
0.2
0.3
0.3


2.5
0.2
0.1
0.5
0.4

Nikon Coolpix P7700
1.8
3.2
1.5
1.1
0.4

Canon PowerShot G1 X
1.9
3.2
2.4
0.7
0.4

Fujifilm X20
1.5
0.7
0.7
0.4
0.4

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
8.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 9
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