Sony RX10 II First Impressions: Super Slow Mo & S-Log2

Cameras these days come and go. Blink and you’ll probably miss a new camera announcement. But in the over-abundant sea of choice, it’s not easy for manufacturers, especially those with a magnitude of product lines spanning from cheap consumer fare to high-end digital cinema cameras to stand out from the crowd. Having a 4K internal recording feature in a compact/bridge/mirrorless camera by itself is not enough today. Consumers on all levels are becoming a lot more tech savvy and demanding more features such as better low-light performance, faster lenses and high frame rates.

Sony has managed to carve out quite the niche for themselves not just with their full-frame Alpha 7 series, but also with their latest RX10 II and RX100 IV lines. With shorter product cycles and evolving digital sensor technology, Sony kicked it up a notch with their latest back illuminated CMOS sensors in the latest A7R II (full-frame) and smaller 1-inch stacked versions in the smaller RX10 2 and RX100 IV enabling super slow motion on the latter two and giving them internal 4K XAVC-S recording.

GH4 Honu cage Sony RX10 2

My RX10 2 snug fit in my GH4 Honu 2.0 cage.

Quite frankly I admire what Sony are doing at the moment – getting ahead of the competition by giving users more than what is usually expected. Sure, some will say – but it comes a price. Well, consider this – I bought my Sony RX10 II for £1,200 (inc. VAT) in the UK, which is way more than the $1,298 that it sells for in the US, but we always pay more because of imports, VAT and other financial trickeries that I don’t want to get into right now.

The point is – the RX1o II is significantly cheaper than the Canon XC10, which has similar specs – a 1-inch CMOS chip, a fixed lens (although slower, but slightly longer), internal 4K recording and slow-motion (limited to 720p/120). However, the XC10 records 4K onto expensive CFast 2.0 cards, and also costs $2,500! But this post is not about the XC10 vs the RX10 II, although I smell a post like this coming up, as soon as I get my hands on an XC10, which is proving to be very difficult at the moment.

I recently sold my GH4 and bought an RX10 II, yep – I chose a fixed lens body over an interchangeable lens one. The fixed lens on the RX10 II is quite good actually, holding a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout the 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range. Sure, it’s not a f/2.8 FF equivalent, but on the 1-inch sensor, it can still deliver pleasing bokeh when shooting at longer focal lengths at f/4.0 or wide open.

Here’s a taste of what 250fps slow-mo looks like on the RX10 II:

Sony RX10 II Slow Motion Rain at 250fps Kholi Cine2/Pro Profile from 4K Shooters on Vimeo.

For the above shots, I used Kholi’s Cine2/Pro PicPro (picture profile) that he developed for the Sony A7s, but as the Sony RX10 II shares all but Cine gamma 3 and 4 with the A7s, as I wanted to try a non-Slog2 picture profile; out of the camera it looked pretty well and should work for situations where I don’t want to shoot S-log2 for a quicker turnaround. My workflow for the above was simply import into Premiere Pro, cut a few shots together, slap a simple S-curve and export. It took me a couple of minutes. There are a few more profile like this one I’d like to try and also possibly modify this one slightly for different environments – exterior daylight, overcast, night etc., but that’s for another post.

As for S-log2, it does give you the maximum dynamic range out of the camera but the trade off is you have to use a minimum ISO is 800, which in daylight exteriors necessitates the use of the built-in ND filter (3 stop) or even more via screw-on ND’s or 4×4 filters in a mattebox, but for this camera I prefer a screw-on filter like the Hoya ProND8 62mm (3 stops) in case I need more ND, but if you use Cine 1 or Cine 2 gamma for example, you can use lower ISO’s.

This past Saturday we had some lovely sunny weather and I took my new RX10 II for a walkabout through some well known bits of London. Here’s a couple of slow motion samples in Slog-2, completely ungraded.

Sony RX10 II Slow Motion 100fps S-Log2 1080p from 4K Shooters on Vimeo.

One of the most awesome features of the RX10 II is the fact that it can shoot 1080p/120 (100fps in PAL) in continuos recording mode, you don’t have to fiddle with the pain of HFR mode as you’d need for the higher frame rates. Somehow, the 1080p/120 was kind of brushed over or not even mentioned in the Sony promos, but it’s one is super useful. One more note about Slog-2 – it can be quite tricky to expose for on the back LCD screen or in the viewfinder. For the shots above I aimed to overexpose by 1.3 to 2.0 stops over the cameras built in meter.

As for the higher frame rates higher than 100/120fps you have to go into the dreaded HFR (high frame rate) mode, which is at least located right after the MOVIE mode on the dial. However, once you put the camera in HFR (and PRESS the Center Pad) you can’t really adjust anything – your exposure, focus and focal length are locked. The camera automatically adjusts your shutter speed and exposure, which is a reason why I was seeing the LCD was giving me a darker exposure when I was shooting 250fps and higher.

However, you do have the ability to adjust your focus, aperture and focal length before you press the middle button (standby mode). I came across this on the shoot, but for me it didn’t work each time, possibly due to the fact I didn’t read the manual and just went for it. This video by Jakub Gorajek shows it better than I can explain it.

RX10 II Slog-2 Frame grab 1080/100fps Ungraded

RX10 II Slog-2 Frame grab 1080/100fps Ungraded

After a few underexposed shots in 250ps I cranked up the exposure in Movie mode to more than 2 stops over – I can’t see how many exactly as the meter isn’t showing me exact numbers when you hit 2.0 stops and more over – it just says 2.0+. Again, I have to flick back the dial to Movie, adjust my focal length, ISO focus, then flip back to HFR, hit the centre pad and wait for the moment I want to capture in super slow-mo.

I shot only in Quality Priority mode, which buffers only 2 seconds of slow-mo (Shoot priority mode gets you 4 seconds but at lower res), which translates to about 20 seconds in real time when you shoot 240/250fps or a whopping 40 seconds real time in 480/500fps. The quality of 240fps/250fps is really decent and quite usable, although a bit below Full HD, but still very nice at 1824 x 1026. Switch to 500fps and the resolution drops to 1676 x 566 with a lot more moire and aliasing artefacts plus it’s more softer and noisier. Still it can be a lot of fun for web based stuff.

Here’s a clip of the Sony RX10 II at 500fps in Slog-2 Ungraded:

The slow motion capabilities (especially 240fps and 120fps) and the inclusion of Slog-2 were the two main reasons why I switched to the RX10 II from the Panasonic GH4. The more I get to know my new camera and shoot with it, the more I love these features and don’t regret letting go of my GH4, which I did like quite a bit as well.

Stay tuned for the next part in which I’ll go over ergonomics, media cards, accessories and of course 4K recording.

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