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Cameras

Sony packs even more power into its full-frame compact

Useful new technology and features make this update to Sony's full-frame compacts look mighty tempting.

Sony's full-frame fixed-lens camera: still pocketable after all these years. Lori Grunin/CNET

Another day, another new ground-breaking technology from Sony's digital-imaging folks. This one comes in as a sibling to the two-year-old RX1R and RX1 , the company's two full-frame compacts, and the RX1R II seems to improve on most of the weaknesses in its preceding models.

It'll cost, though: when it ships in November, the camera will run you $3,300 (€3,500, or directly converted, £2,134 and AU$4,550). It's been announced in the UK, but nary a peep in Austraila.

What's new

  • Imaging path. The big technology breakthrough in the RX1R II is fairly subtle: the variable optical low-pass filter. To recap the role of the OLPF, it slightly blurs the image to compensate for interference between the sensor grid and fine textures that cause unsightly wavy patterns and false color artifacts (together, it's called moire). To date, you've had two choices: buy a camera with an OLFP-free sensor, like the previous RX1R or the Leica Q, or buy one with an OLPF and lose some sharpness. Sony's variable OLPF uses changes in voltage to determine the diffusion power of the filter. So you can determine the balance. Plus, Sony added an OLPF bracketing mode to take advantage of this tech. In addition, the RX1R II upgrades to the same 42.4MP BSI sensor that's in the A7R II.
  • Autofocus system. One of the biggest issues with the earlier RX1 models was Sony's poorly performing 25-area contrast autofocus system. The RX1R II inherits the much-improved hybrid system -- 399 phase-detection points in addition to the contrast AF -- that's in the A7R II.
  • Built-in viewfinder and tilting LCD. Although the optional viewfinder (FDA-EVM1K) for the older models is really nice and can tilt to 90 degrees, I think the compromise of building in the smaller pop-up electronic viewfinder and tilting LCD like those of the RX100 IV is a lot more convenient. Especially since Sony managed to include them without increasing the size of the camera. Plus, Sony improved on the RX100-series viewfinder, which pops up but then has to be manually pulled horizontally, by having the RX1R II's automatically pop up and push out. It will also ship with a big, removable eyecup which should make shooting with the tiny viewfinder a lot more comfortable.
  • More modernizations. Sony also took the opportunity to bring the camera up to date in other ways, such as adding Wi-Fi/NFC for file transfer and remote shooting, the recent firmware which supports uncompressed 14-bit raw, and Sony's newest XAVC S codec for higher-bitrate video (though the camera still does 1080/60p).

My take

Notably, the camera's already mediocre battery life drops -- it's down to 220 shots from 250 with the LCD and a meager 200 shots with the viewfinder. All those new features are a big power drain. It's almost like going back to film days, but instead of being parsimonious with photos because of the expense, we're doing it to hoard power.

And it's interesting that even though the RX1R is 2 years old and now has a higher-end sibling, its price seems to be remaining the same.

As much as I love the Leica Q, the RX1R II sounds like it presents a formidable -- and significantly less expensive -- competitor.

Comparative specs

Leica Q Sony RX1R Sony RX1R II
Sensor effective resolution 24.2MP CMOS
14-bit
24.3MP Exmor CMOS
14-bit
42.4MP Exmor R CMOS
14-bit
Sensor size 36 x 24mm
35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF No No Variable
Lens 28mm
f.1.7
35mm
f2.0
35mm
f2.0
Closest focus 6.7 in
17 cm
7.9 in
20 cm
7.9 in
20 cm
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 50,000 ISO 50
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 25600
ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 25600/102400 (exp)
Burst shooting 10fps
n/a raw/unlimited JPEG
2.5fps
24 JPEG/15 raw
(with fixed exposure and focus)
5fps
n/a
(with continuous AF but fixed exposure)
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Electronic
100% coverage
3.68MP LCOS
n/a
Optional
Tilting OLED EVF
OLED electronic
0.4 in/10.2 mm
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.74x
Hot Shoe Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
25-area
contrast AF
399-point phase-detection AF, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity
(at center point)
n/a 0 - 20 EV n/a
Shutter speed 1/2,000 to 30 secs (to 1/6,000 with electronic shutter); bulb; 1/500 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb
Metering n/a n/a 1,200 zones
Metering sensitivity n/a 0 - 20 EV n/a
Best video H.264 MP4
1080/60p
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps XAVC S 1080/60p @ 50Mbps
Audio Stereo
Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Electronic (movies only) Electronic (movies only)
LCD 3 in/7.5 cm
Fixed touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5 cm
Fixed
921,000 dots plus extra set of white dots
3 in/7.5cm
Tilting
921,600 dots plus extra set of white dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC None Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash No No No
Wireless flash No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) n/a
(1,200 mAh)
270 shots
(1,080 mAh)
200 shots (viewfinder); 220 shots (LCD)
(1,080 mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.1 x 3.1 x 3.7 in
130 x 80 x 93mm
4.5 x 2.6 x 2.8 in
113 x 65 x 72 mm
4.5 x 2.6 x 2.8 in
113 x 65 x 72 mm
Body operating weight 22.6 oz
640 g
17 oz (est.)
482 g (est.)
17.9 oz (est.)
507 g (est.)
Mfr. price (body only) $4,250
£2,900
$2,800
£2,800
AU$3,500
$3,300
€3,500
Release date June 2015 June 2013 November 2015

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