There’s no question that Sony has left its mark on the camera market over the past few years with what looks (superficially at least) like a simple strategy: Put big sensors into little cameras. They did it with the a7, the first mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor, and they did it in 2012 with the RX1, a compact camera with a 35mm-sized sensor. Like the a7 family, the RX1 has evolved. With the third generation RX1R II, Sony has refined its advanced compact still further.
Though it looks the part of a compact camera, the RX1R II has more in common with an a7R II than your average point-and-shoot. It boasts a 42-megapixel backside-illuminated EXMOR R sensor with a native ISO range of 100-25,600. Like many of Sony’s recent introductions, the sensor has a new copper wiring design which Sony says delivers 3.5x faster data output than the original RXI. It captures a 14-bit RAW file with an option for compressed or uncompressed RAW image recording.
The autofocusing system has 399 phase detect points and 25 contrast detect points covering a wide area of the image sensor.
Optically, you’ll find a fixed Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm, f/2 lens that stops down to f/22. It offers a macro mode with a minimum focusing distance of 7.9 inches from the front of the lens and a 0.26x magnification or about 1:4—not a “true” macro lens for the hairsplitters but a nice option for when you want to get close.
Mechanical shutter speeds top out at 1/4000 sec. Unlike earlier models, the RXIR II offers an option for 1:1 and 4:3 image aspect ratios alongside 3:2 and 16:9. If you shoot in 1:1, you’ll drop down to a 28-megapixel image.
Composition aids include focus peaking and zebra stripes. There’s also built-in Wi-Fi and NFC.
At just shy of a pound, the RXIR II is lighter than Leica’s Q, another full-frame compact camera. The build quality is sturdy but there’s little in the way of grips or contoured edges to grab hold of. We liked how customizable this camera is—in addition to a pair of custom buttons, the dial and other settings buttons can be remapped according to your preferences.
The 3-inch LCD can tilt—up to 109 degrees and down to roughly 41 degrees. We wish it were a touch screen. The OLED viewfinder’s 2.6-million dot resolution is fairly sharp, though it’s retractable and lacks a built-in eyecup, so you’ll need to fiddle around with the tiny eyecup if you want to block out strong sunlight.
The tripod thread on the base of the RXIR II is very close to the battery/memory card door, so if you screw in a quick-release plate, you won’t be able to open it. The movie record button is awkwardly sandwiched into the side of the camera, per Sony custom.
It doesn’t hurt to think of the RX1R II as an a7R II in disguise. The image quality is comparably excellent, with bright, poppy and accurate colors. The lens is incredibly sharp and performs well, with little evident flare or ghosting. What little chromatic aberration we did spot was easily dispatched in Lightroom. There was also very little wide angle distortion.
Noise is well contained in RAW files through ISO 3200. At ISO 6400 RAW noise is very prevalent but is quickly corrected in Lightroom. JPEG noise is controlled through ISO 6400 but details will be lost when you hit ISO 6400 and higher. We were really struck by the RX1R II’s dynamic range. Even in bright sun, the camera did a nice job retaining shadow detail. It’s a strong low light performer and also handles high-contrast scenes excellently.
Similar in spirit (but not in implementation) to several Pentax cameras, the RXIR II has an adjustable, optical, low-pass filter effect. You can turn low-pass filtering off completely, or set it to standard or high if you need to minimize the chances of moiré and false color. Pixel peepers will see a loss of sharpness at 100 percent when the filter effect is on, so we tended to keep it off. That said, we shot some images of fine details in fabrics and didn’t spot moiré when the low-pass filter was completely off so we’d be inclined to just leave it off permanently in most cases.
The RXIR II doesn’t record 4K video, which is surprising given how prevalent it is on other high-end Sony models. You can record full HD video at up to 60p using Sony’s XAVC S codec with a bit rate of 50 Mbps. Recording to card, the HD video quality is excellent—the RXIR II does a nice job keeping subjects in focus and you’ll have the ability to make shutter, aperture and ISO changes during recording.
The RX1R II isn’t a speed demon. While the specs promise 5 fps in continuous shooting with continual autofocus, in practice we often were crawling along at 2.5-3 fps using AF-C. Burst speeds were somewhat inconsistent, though the buffer memory is fairly generous. You’ll get the advertised 5 fps more reliably when focus is fixed on the first frame.
That said, the camera does lock focus very quickly in single point, and continuous autofocus is very accurate when engaged. Continuous AF is a bit slow to lock in lower light and it will hunt noisily as it searches for the focus point. The RXIR II is also speedy when it comes to startup and shot-to-shot times.
Battery life, however, is a woeful 200-220 shots, depending on your use of the monitor or EVF. A spare battery (roughly $33) is an absolute must.
In the universe of compact cameras with full-frame image sensors, you have two choices: the RXIR II or the Leica Q. At $4,250, the Q is pricier and offers a much lower resolution sensor than the Sony (24-megapixel). However, the Q has a wider, faster lens, significantly sharper EVF and considerably faster continuous shooting—up to 10fps. The Q is also a sturdier, more durable camera, but also heavier and larger than the RX1R II.
Sony makes a strong case for those who’d rather pocket that $1,000 and content themselves with a slightly slower, but still extremely capable full frame compact camera.
Sony RXIR II
PROS: Excellent design; strong low-light performance; great image quality and dynamic range; feature rich.
CONS: Poor battery life; no 4K video recording; sluggish continuous shooting.