Sony

The RX10 is winning me over by osmosis

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Sony RX10 in the Peak District, 62mm, ISO80, 1/50", f/5.6
Sony RX10 in the Peak District, 62mm, ISO80, 1/50″, f/5.6

I’ve had the RX10 for around 14 months now so I should be in a position to say if it’s a good camera or not. Had you asked me this question 12 months ago I would probably have said (if I was being totally truthful) that it was a bit of a letdown.

You see my expectations were way too high having previously owned a Sony R1. The reason I expected so much was that the R1 had an amazing lens and the RX10 looked pretty much identical. It’s a huge Zeiss lens with a tiny sensor bolted to the back and a bit of a grip to hold on to. It won’t win any awards for being beautiful but it certainly feels good in the hands.

Part of the reason I felt let down also was that the EM5 produces such sharp, crisp, detailed images. I had dearly wanted the RX10 to produce the same “quality” but it doesn’t. It also has corners that are a little distorted and soft in comparison. What I had failed to realise and what only dawned on me when I bought the Nikon D800 is that most cameras suffer from this. In fact the RX10 is a very good performer, it’s just different. In fact, I’m now really quite pleased with the image quality I am able to achieve. The images make lovely prints all the way up to A2 (I haven’t tried anything larger).

But it’s not the image quality that I like, it’s the handling. It’s very easy and intuitive to use. I like the aperture ring on the body of the lens (isn’t this something we had on all lenses at one time). I also like the huge zoom range from 24mm to 200mm and the fast f/2.8 constant maximum aperture. It even has a great battery life.

In all, this is a very impressive camera and great when you don’t want to carry around multiple lenses. I am starting to find myself reaching for this camera more and more, especially when I am out walking.

Sony RX10 Problem and Frustration

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Sony RX10, f/5.0, 1/100" at ISO80
Sony RX10, f/5.0, 1/100″ at ISO80
Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.0, 1/125"
Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.0, 1/125″

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I didn’t post the usual Friday Image on Friday. My apologies for this but I am still battling with too much to do and too little time. I have fallen some way behind in responding to emails and queries as the numbers have shot up recently. I love replying to everyone but it takes time.

Anyway, I set out on a walk in the Peak District today with a camera. I was going to take the new G16 but in the end I went for the RX10. I really do love this camera but it’s been somewhat of a frustrating relationship. My first ever outing found that the white writing around the edge of the lens reflected onto my filters when the sun was at certain angles. The other major frustration I have is that the image stabilisation is poor. Sometimes I find myself keep checking if it is actually on.

It’s very easy to find the shutter speed has dropped below 1/25″ as I like to shoot at the base ISO of 80. I find that 1/25″ is pretty much as slow as I can risk, even at the wide end of the focal range (the camera has a 24-200mm f/2.8 constant lens). Below this and camera shake is evident and ruins pretty much every shot unless you are lucky. That’s one of the problems with a sharp lens, you notice the smallest of movement.

More recently I have become attuned to this problem and now push the ISO to 200 or 400. This goes against the grain with me as I always want to shoot at the lowest ISO and I hate noise. But you know what, even at ISO400 you can barely notice it and the image quality is that much better.

So this has been a bit of me rambling (pun intended) to tell you that the RX10 is one of the most enjoyable cameras I have and the one that I increasingly turn to when I just want to walk and can’t be bothered with different lenses.

The Bleak Weather Returns

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Sony RX10 - ISO80, 1/80" at f/5.6. 2 stop ND Grad filter on the sky.
Sony RX10 – ISO80, 1/80″ at f/5.6. 2 stop ND Grad filter on the sky.

I was out walking yesterday in the Lakes – what a mistake. The weather was dreadful. It was windy, foggy and the rain was driving down hard. Despite this I managed to pull out the Sony RX10 and rattled off a few frames. I quite like the one above as I think it conveys well just how poor the weather was.

New Website Call

I’m also going to be taking some time out shortly to build my new Lenscraft website. I know that quite a few people who read the Lightweight Photography blog are members of Lenscraft so I would like to publicise an offer. If you are a Lenscraft member, have your own website and would like me to add a link in the “Members Sites” section, email your details to me at robin@lenscraft.co.uk. I just need your name and a link to your site. Obviously feel free to return the link but there is no requirement.

My most disappointing camera is…

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The hills and moors above Dovestones in Saddleworth
The hills and moors above Dovestones in Saddleworth

I should actually say my most disappointing camera was because there has been some remarkable changes with it. But first you need to hear a story to understand my disappointment.

Back in 2009 I purchased a Sony R1. For those of you don’t know, the R1 was a bridge camera with a fixed lens that was the size of a small DSLR at the time. It was very expensive new and had quickly lost favour with the general public. It was quite a weight really due in part to the huge lens. This was a 24-120mm lens made by Zeiss which was razor sharp. The 10Mpx sensor was the same one as used in some of the Nikon DSLRs at the time and was good at ISO 200 (base ISO) but quickly became noisy. The camera also lacked image stabilisation.

Despite its limitations the camera was a joy to use and produced amazing images. There are many fine art photographers who used this camera at the time and indeed I sold mine to one in 2011. Despite loving this camera I had become convinced that the Sony NEX5 was going to be a direct replacement for it but much smaller. Needless to say it wasn’t and I ended up switching to Micro 43, which I’m very pleased I did.

Roll forwards to December of last year and Sony launch the RX10. I didn’t pay much attention at the time based on past experience but then I say a picture of the RX10. It was clear that it was a reworked R1 with the same huge Zeiss lens. I did have some reservations about the 1″ sensor but already owning the RX100 I knew the sensor was quite capable. I purchased one immediately having traded in a very poor Panasonic 14-140mm lens.

The new RX10 was everything I wanted it to be. It reminded me so much of the R1 but improved. It handled well and meant no more lens switching. The lens range was now improved to 24-200mm with a fast f/2.8 constant aperture. I was so pleased.

But then came the let down. On paper this camera should perform brilliantly but when I processed the RAW files I couldn’t attain the sort of legendary image quality as the R1. At the time I was comparing this to the Olympus EM5 which is my main workhorse camera. The RX10 just seemed a bit, well soft in comparison. I tried all sorts, even convincing myself that the files were good enough. Once or twice I even came close to selling the camera had it not been for the excellent handling and convenience. In the end it was relegated to be my walking camera.

I hope you can now understand my disappointment.

Then to surprise recently I decided to open some of the RX10 RAW files in CaptureOne 8 (more on this some other time). The results were excellent. Image quality was not as “crisp” as the EM5 but then the images appeared more natural. The colours were also amazing.

At this time I also decided to update the firmware in the Sony as it was version 1.0 and version 2.0 was now available. Whilst the firmware talks about improvements to video, I’m sure they have done something to the focusing and image stabilisation. The camera now handles much better and I am getting much less shake than previously.

Over the past couple of weeks I have made a number of A2 prints from the RX10 files and they are really nice. There is a good feeling of depth to the images and they don’t feel so crisp that they appear unnatural.

In summary, a camera that was often left at home as it was disappointing has turned into one that I am happy to use and pleased to have purchased.

Friday image No.035

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The Moors near Saddleworth. Sony RX10
The Moors near Saddleworth. Sony RX10

The moors near where I live can be a rather bleak and unforgiving place. It’s not really a landscape that attracts photographers and you don’t often if ever see images of it in magazines. Despite this I often walk in the area with my camera so on the odd occasion that an image looks even half good it makes me happy. Here is one such recent image captured on my Sony RX10. I love the colourful golden grass in this scene and the way the contours of the land snake off into the distance.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Another Drought

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Low water in the reservoir. Sony RX10. See text for details.
Low water in the reservoir. Sony RX10. See text for details.

I had intended to get out yesterday for a long walk (about 20 miles) as I find it helps to clear my mind. In the end the 24 hours of torrential rain and quite severe thunder storms put an end to my hopes.

Today was much better though and despite not having the time for a 20 mile hike I did manage a drive over to the Peak district and a clocked up 12 miles over the hills.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how low the water level was in the reservoirs. Above is one of the images I shot with the Sony RX10 and it makes me wonder if we are heading for another drought with all the nice weather we have been having.

As a side note for those of you wondering about my use of the RX10, I have tended not to use it much as I don’t find the images anywhere near as crisp and sharp as my Micro 43 cameras. Despite that the camera has a lovely feel and is a joy to use.

For this particular image I didn’t use the usual Nik sharpening tools but opted for Focal Blade. This is an excellent although quite complex sharpening filter which I have been using on and off for a number of years. I don’t know why but it appears to achieve better results than Nik Sharpener Pro with the Sony images.

The other thing I did was apply Contrast Master which is a contrast adjustment tool from the same people who produce Focal Blade (PhotoWiz). I was reasoning that the images from the Sony seem to lack contrast and pop which is easily corrected in Contrast master. Having just printed this image at A3+, the detail is excellent. It also has a very nice quality to it, very much like film.

I just thought I should try adding some grain and making another print. I’m off to experiment…

I have no will power

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Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.
Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.

A couple of weeks back I was out with my friend Steve (who is also an Olympus EM5 owner) and we were discussing just how good this camera is. At the time we agreed that we didn’t want for anything so would stop all this chasing around after new kit and just work with what we have. Just two weeks on and I have ordered a Panasonic GM1. I just had a gut feeling that I needed one – I don’t know where the feeling came from but I tend to listen to my hunches.

But hear me out (I need to justify this for my own piece of mind).

I currently have two compact cameras, an LX7 and a Sony RX100. I like and am impressed by both but neither is perfect. Of the two, I would say I am least happy with the Sony and want to replace it. It’s not that I don’t like the Sony it’s that I just don’t love it. My intention with the GM1 is to use it as a replacement compact camera and potentially as my travel camera.

I am hoping that by pairing up the GM1 with some of the great (small) lenses that I already own I can have a great compact kit. I will need to see how well this works before deciding to sell the LX7 (as I do love that camera) but the RX100 is going on eBay.

Watch this space for my future experiences once I get the GM1 – it has just been reported to me as being out of stock.

Friday image No.011

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Reflections on my walk - Sony RX10
Reflections on my walk – Sony RX10

I love reflections., I find them fascinating and beautiful whether created on manmade surfaces or in nature. I suppose the ones we find in nature are the ones that really enthral me and I can’t help reaching for my camera.

Here is one from my walk last weekend in Jumbles Country park near to Bolton. I just printed this and my immediate thought was that it has a lovely soft quality to it. It was shot on an RX10 which is an easy take anywhere camera. Such a shame it’s so expensive and twice the size of the Olympus EM5.

Have a great weekend.

Free Your Mind

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Captured with a Sony RX10 and processed with Perfect Effects
Captured with a Sony RX10 and processed with Perfect Effects

I went for a walk at the weekend to a place called Jumbles Country Park which is near to Bolton. It’s not very far from where I live, about 40 minutes in the car. It’s even nearer to where I used to live before I met my wife. The strange thing is, I have never been there and nor did I realise it even existed.

I decided before setting off that my equipment for the day would be the Sony RX10 and a single 0.6 ND Graduated filter. This after all was going to be a walk and not a photography outing. Whilst I really like the Sony, I felt strangely exposed without having my Olympus EM5 to fall back on but decided as this was a walk I would just take a few snaps. What this also meant was that my mind was free from expectations of taking great images. This left me able to wander and identify scenes that I might otherwise miss.

In the end I didn’t capture anything that was earth shattering however I did really enjoy myself. I spotted a number of good scenes that were typical spring scenes in the landscape for the North West of England. This particular scene was one that really caught my attention. I had seen the viaduct as we had been walking but it was completely in shadow. As I stopped to try a shot the clouds opened and bathed it in a wonderful light. I managed a few shots before it was back in shadow.

The image you see here has been manipulated and has a dreamy feel to it but this is exactly what was running through my mind at the time I took the shot. A straight representation of such a landscape just isn’t going to cut it. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone as I am primarily an artist, I just happen to use Photography as my medium.

RX100 V’s LX5 and LX7 – Part 2

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Death Valley Sand Dunes - RX100
Death Valley Sand Dunes – RX100

Continued…

Sensor quality – Here I would say I am interested in producing natural colours and smooth images (free from noise). The LX7 is better than the LX5 but neither can touch the Sony. The Sony has smooth images with very limited noise that doesn’t get exaggerated when the images are processed. The colours from the Sony are also very lifelike. I have often thought the Panasonic colours, especially Green, look a little unnatural. The ISO performance of the LX7 is better than the LX5 but the Sony is much better than both of these. As I shoot most of my work at base ISO and hardly ever go above ISO800, the LX7 and RX100 are fine. The LX5 struggled above ISO400.

Pixel Count – This only becomes important if you are going to be producing large prints and by that I mean above A3+. The Sony will produce a slightly larger than A3+ print at 300dpi without any enlargement whilst you will need to enlarge the LX5 or LX7. What is interesting is that some of the LX5 or LX7 images enlarged appear sharer and more detailed than the Sony. If you go to A2 printing the LX5 and LX7 can achieve this is you take care whilst the Sony can be enlarged to this easily but it can reveal the soft corners (I said it was irritating). If you are only going to share your images on the Internet then any of the cameras will be fine.

Filters – I shoot landscapes so I need to be able to attach square filters such as ND Grads. All three cameras allow this but the LX5 requires a bulky tube to be attached. I hated this as it stopped the camera fitting easily in my pocket. The LX7 uses a screw in adapter which I like but I can’t leave the filter adapter ring attached as it jams the lens when it retracts. It also causes vignetting at the 24mm end when shooting 16:9 format (which I do alot). The RX100 filter adapter is a stick on affair which is very slim and works well but it’s expensive.

Handling – I find the RX100 small to handle but it is improved by the addition of the Sony leather half case. The layout and dials are good on the RX100 as is the front aperture ring which can be switched to other purposes such as focussing. The LX7 has a great aperture ring and I love the format switching ring. The LX5 is similarly good but lacks the aperture ring. If pushed I would say the LX cameras are easier and faster to work with than the RX100. If your bag is street photography then I think the LX cameras are probably better to work with.

What this all means is that for me, none of these cameras is perfect but all will perform well and achieve the results I want. I suspect (unless you see something above to convince you otherwise) that they would also serve you equally well. The best advice I can give is what I started this blog with – understand what features are important to you and why before investing.

If I had to use just one camera it would actually be the RX10. It has the great sensor of the RX100 but the lens is amazing. Its failure (if you can call it that) is that it’s significantly larger than the others and won’t fit in your pocket. Surprisingly my Olympus EM5 is quite a bit smaller than the RX10 and produces the best image quality of all the cameras – I still can’t fit it in my pocket unless I am using prime lenses.

Remember, no camera is perfect for all tasks.