Evolving Review of the Sony RX 10 II for Videography and Cinematography

Evolving Review of the Sony RX 10 II for Videography and Cinematography

I received a Sony RX 10 II today that I purchased with the intent of using for slow motion and playing with Sony’s new internal 4K recording.

This review is just a quick one with some answers that I didn’t find when I was looking at this camera pre-launch. These are just my initial first impressions and the discoveries I’ve made so far. It is written almost exclusively with video in mind.

Since this is a new blog, I must tell you up front that I am not a pixel peeper, so if you’re looking for sharpness ratings and so forth, you will need to look elsewhere. What I will do is share a few things I’ve noticed or wondered about and hopefully help you make a better decision as to whether or not this is a camera you want to start using.

So, does the RX 10 II belong in your toolkit? Let’s start with if it’s any good “running and gunning” since something this small is likely to be used in settings where natural/ambient light is the only light.

ISO Performance (Natural & Ambient Light)

I shoot weddings primarily. That means I shoot in low light situations all the time and in situations where lighting is cumbersome to impossible. We use the A7s for our work and it has proven to be perfect in that application especially since shooting at f1.4 all the time isn’t exactly ideal.

While the A7s is of course 4K capable, the required external recorder makes it too cumbersome for the way I shoot weddings and so we don’t use the feature at this time.

Enter the RX 10 II with it’s promise of internal 4K and at a “let’s put our toe in the water and see how this goes” price. However, at the price point I also expect pretty terrible ISO performance which would make it’s use at weddings very, very limited even with a 2.8 lens once the sun goes down.

Cameras at really any price point, but especially in the lower price brackets don’t usually do too well when it gets dark. I wasn’t expecting too much since I had recently tried out the A7 II and promptly sent it back due to horrible noise at even modest ISOs and some of the worst moire I’ve seen in the last few years.

So did the RX 10 II let me down?

Color me surprised. Obviously this camera isn’t going to hold a candle to the A7s even in the lower ISOs, but it’s really not bad!!

The noise at all ISOs is mostly controlled. I feel like for the most part, ISOs around 1600 are very usable. There may need to be some noise reduction you may wish to do in post but considering this is a roughly $1200-1300 camera that’s pretty impressive. ISO 3200 is also probably usable in some cases and ISO 6400 is also fine though it’s certainly exiting what most paid professionals are going to want to use even for B-roll.

In any case, if you’re shooting low light, the A7s is the way to go. If you must have something less expensive or smaller, as long as you don’t need the longer lens or the longer 4K record times, you might want to look at the RX 100 IV which has that 24-70 f1.8 lens that’ll make it easier to stay in the “sweet spot” in terms of ISO for these two cameras.

When I first started shooting weddings I was using some of the original NEX cameras from Sony with f1.8 glass. I remember not being able to go past ISO 400 without serious “Static” looking noise that ruined the entire shot. Considering the NEX 6 I used plus a prime lens cost more than this, and the RX 10 II shoots 4K — I’d say we’ve come a long way in a short period of time.

Slow Motion

For slow motion I wanted to know if there was instant replay. There is, sort of. In HFR mode, you don’t really get a lot of creative control — it’s more or less in full auto during this mode. That’s fine for my intended applications.

As far how it works, it’s pretty straight forward. You press a button to get the camera ready then hit the record button when you’re ready to capture the 2 or so second burst of motion that will ultimately be recorded into your clip. The camera will record for the few moments it can, then it will record the footage to your card at the frame rate you’ve specified.

The file it generates is not in the frame rate you chose but rather in the frame rate you instruct it to convert to. In other words, it automatically “interprets” your burst of 240/480/960fps footage into 24fps, 30fps, 60fps or however you choose to set it up.

While it records, it does play back the clip you just recorded and gives you the option to cancel (great if you missed the shot). It may not be 100% real time, but it does seem to be that what you see there is what you get. When outputed to HDMI, it is exactly what you want for a slow motion booth.

For the actual replay, you CAN replay the clip, in slow motion, on the camera.

That last bit makes it useful for things like a slow motion booth like the one we did above for a couple.

For slow motion recording, you’re going to need a LOT of light. Don’t think you can just point this at any ole thing and get good results. I’ve read some reviews online from consumers who say the slow motion footage is grainy and terrible. It isn’t, but you do need a lot of light.¬†Sunlight is good, and from memory I believe we used a Yongnuo 900 (about the same as a 650watt tungsten) and a Yongnuo 600 (about the same as about a 500 watt tungsten).

The above video was shot on the 240fps setting and outputed as 24fps. I believe that’s not quite 1080p resolution but as you can see, even with a small stretch it still looks very clean.

4K Internal Recording

The 4K on this camera makes up for the grain at higher ISOs in the 1080p mode. 4K downsampled to 1080 looks very good and I never had any issues with overheating in the time that I used this camera. It works reasonably well and makes up for some of the flaws of the lens. However, at 4K, shown on a 4K monitor, you’ll notice the same issues that exist in 1080p mode. Especially at the higher ISOs.

Honestly it’s going to take me a while to say much about 4K as it’s brand new to my workflow. The 4K from this camera looks very good (on my 1080p monitor). I’m not so much interested in 4K at this point in time for 4K. Most consumers don’t know what 4K is yet, most consumers watch compressed 720p on 1080p screens as it is and most clients certainly won’t pay for 4K mastering and right now the additional storage space and computing horsepower required isn’t really worth it.

I’m mostly interested in the ability to do some cropping and other post processing things that become possible when recording 4K but publishing to 1080p. Besides, the lens on this thing is a 200mm 35mm equivalent, crop in to 1080p and that’s effectively a much longer lens at least if you’re publishing to 1080p (I believe 400mm).

Until the A7s II comes out with internal 4K, this is a very good start and a budget friendly way to start playing with 4K. For us it will likely become a bridge to 4K and will also potentially see use as a B-camera or as a camera to use for personal work since it’s a simple all-in-one package with all but a ultra wide focal length.

Features You Might Care About

For my fellow filmmakers used to the A7 series, specifically the A7s, you’ll be at home. The menu system and features are nearly identical. You will find that there is manual volume control (not auto-gain) which always nice to see if you plan to use an external mic.

The zoom lens is motor driven and it is noisy. It’s not particularly smooth either. There is a setting that allows a “slow” zoom vs a fast one. The slow is reasonably quiet and much smoother. This suits my style as I hate zooming in and out in video. If you’re a big fan of using zooms, if you’re coming from a traditional video camera, or if you’re looking to do the home movie style then you might want to know this.

Obviously if you’re using this professionally you’d record audio off camera, stay away from the zoom button or both. Frame your shot before you start shooting and keep your hands off the zoom and you won’t have any issues. Otherwise, just don’t use the audio from the camera as it’ll probably be ruined if you use the zoom.

In the picture profiles menu you’ll see all the usual Sony profiles. I was a bit puzzled as to why the RX 10 II has S-Log2, Cine1 and Cine 2, but no Cine3 or Cine4. Perhaps someone else knows. This is also true by the way of the RX 100 IV and V. Probably something to do with the sensor’s dynamic range.

Out of the box there are several “Blank” custom buttons that you can set to your liking.

There’s a de-clicked aperture ring. There’s also an internal ND filter which really helps get some better shallow depth of field shots outside without carrying around filters. This feature is shared with the amazing Rx 100 IV and V too.

Hotshoe does support most Sony accessories as well as many third party accessories. I was able to fire my Sony flash with full support.

What I’ll Do in the Future

I’d like to shoot a bunch of test footage and have some time to experiment with the camera in real world situations. Again, I don’t really care about technical specs so much as I care about how gear behaves in the real world. Once I’ve had some time to shoot some real footage I’ll share my thoughts and some samples as well. Until then, I think it’s worth a look.

Who’s it For?

Honestly, for an amateur that hasn’t learned how to shoot in full manual yet, this is a great stepping stone. From what I’ve seen, this is perhaps not as flexible as something like the A7s but if you use good technique, you will get good results.

For an advanced amateur or pro, this is a great little 4K camera that you can easily throw in a bag and carry around. It’s probably a good B-camera or C-Camera depending on what you’re doing. It’s a fantastic platform to play with 4K or Slog-2 if you don’t want to spend a lot to try out either. It’s also a very good “budget” slow motion camera and opens some interesting creative doors that did not exist prior to this and the related RX100 IV.

It is substantially bigger than the RX100 IV and I suppose the question that I had as well was which to buy? Ultimately I think that comes down to focal length and 4K recording time. The RX10 IV can only record about 5 minutes of 4K before it needs to physically cool down for a while. The RX10 can record the full 29 minutes that you’d expect from any camera of this type. The Rx100 IV only has a 24-70mm (35mm equiv) lens which as long as you’re filming mostly things that are fairly close might be just fine.

Ultimately, if it helps you, I sold my RX10 II and bought the RX 100 IV and have been much happier with the RX 100, mostly as the quality tradeoffs are much more palatable when you gain so much in portability.

The RX10 gives you a bit more flexibility, but it also comes with a fairly large size penalty. The RX100 IV is truly pocketable. The RX10 II is not at all, but it’s still a nice compact package.

Ultimately, for me, it’s a slow motion camera and an affordable platform to explore 4K.

 

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