NOTE: this post is unusual for my almost-abandoned blog: it's written in English instead of Italian and it's about photography instead of software development or computer programming. Think of it as an experiment (or an attempt) to resume blogging.
As an happy owner of the DSC-RX100 I can't deny that the news that Sony is about to announce a revised version of this high-end and enthusiast-oriented compact camera on 27th June (namely the DSC-RX100M2) has caught my attention. Actual details about this camera come from its recently leaked Japanese user manual. The great Sony Alpha Rumors blog spotted the rumor first and they recently confirmed it by publishing a bullet-point list of changes extracted from the above mentioned manual, I simply reused their list in this post to add my own considerations but credits for the actual news go to them.
Let's start with the list of improvements of the DSC-RX100M2:
- Exmor R (BSI) sensor
It sports the same size and resolution of the previous Exmor CMOS sensor (1" and ~20 megapixels) but that R indicates it's now back-illuminated. This may be nice news but the BSI technology is said to be mostly useful on sensors with a photosite size equal or less than 1.75µm (usually on 1/2.3" sensors or smaller) while the size of the photosites of the RX100 is 2.4µm. I guess we can't really say anything without seeing the actual RAW output first.
- Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
This is not something I miss and I'd be inclined to classify this addition as typical P&S gadgetry, unless it allows for some kind of remote shutter release control of some kind, but I highly doubt it and I don't see any indication of it.
I suppose this is solely meant to easily configure Wi-Fi connectivity for transferring photos to other devices such as smartphones. See above.
- Multi Interface Shoe and EVF support
The MIS is a proprietary camera hotshoe system (21+3 pin) introduced by Sony in late 2012. Besides the dedicated Sony accessories, it can drive ISO flashes. It will also make it possible to use an external electronic view finder which is definitely a nice addition albeit the recommended retail price of $/€ 449.99 for the FDA-EV1MK (the same EVF for both the DSC-RX1 and DSC-HX50V) does hurt.
- Mini-HDMI has been moved from bottom to side, next to Micro-USB
Surely OK, actually they should have positioned it like that since start, but how many times do you film/shoot with the camera while attached to a TV?
- Improved battery life, from 330 to 350 shots (CIPA)
Even slight improvements are yays in the battery life department to me, but I can easily get a full day of shooting with the current RX100 and I prefer to have a spare battery with me anyway, so it's not something that would affect me much in practice. The battery remained the same NP-BX1 which is good.
- ISO starts from 100 instead of 125
I suppose they are referring to native ISO since the current RX100 can go as low as ISO 80 and 100 through expansion.
- Control ring can be set to smooth or click
This improvement is big if you listen to most of the complaints over the internet about the control ring being clickless, which makes setting certain parameters such as ISO levels almost impossible without looking at the display if you have sounds turned off as I do. Luckily for me I like having the control ring assigned to manual focus operations where a smooth ring is actually better, so I'm not affected that much.
- Movie button can be disabled
The dedicated movie button is handy and it proved to be so in a few real-life occasions, but sometimes it can be accidentally pressed. It happened a couple of times to me, but I still prefer to have it enabled to catch those unexpected moments instead of having to manually switch the camera to video mode which takes more time.
- 24p option for movies
The original RX100 is already quite capable for shooting videos but having the added ability to record them in 24p is nice.
- White balance bracketing
This is hardly useful when capturing images in the RAW format as you can adjust the WB later, but when shooting with multi-shot noise reduction or automatic HDR (both are only able to output JPG files for obvious reasons) this can be useful. Personally I'd have vastly preferred a more flexible exposure bracketing system than the current one which uses 3 exposures at only 0.3EV or 0.7EV intervals.
- Improved in-camera battery recharge times
The charging current has been increased from 0.5A to 1.5A (approaching the 1.89A limit of the NP-BX1 battery), this should translate to 3 times faster charging times. While 99% of the time I use an external battery charger which offers faster charges, having the ability to charge the battery in-camera via USB is still useful and being able to do it faster is great.
- Tilt screen
This is a great addition with the downside of making the camera slightly thicker (only 2.4mm), but that shouldn't affect by much its jeans-pocketabily. The tilt system being used looks similar to the one adopted for the NEX-3N.
- Weight increased from 240g to 281g
Finally, this is the price to pay for these physical improvements in terms of weight.
Now let's see what didn't make it in this revision compared to what people kept whining about:
- First of all, for those wanting both a wider lens but faster at the telephoto end it's been confirmed that such a thing won't happen: the lens is still a Vario-Sonnar T* 28-100mm (35mm equiv.) f1.8/4.9. Honestly I think far too many people keep demanding the impossible in terms of lens performances out of such a compact package. It's most likely impossible to achieve a wider lens (many ask for 24mm!) keeping its f1.8 capabilities when the original RX100 already suffers from soft edges at 28mm due to barrel distortion corrections, and a faster lens at telephoto would surely require a different disposition of the optical groups. I'm also ignoring absurd requests for powerful zoom capabilities going up to say 140mm. At this point, and with a sensor of that size, almost nothing can be sensibly improved in terms of lens performances without affecting the whole package size.
- No integrated GPS. I find it useless anyway as it adds burden to the battery, personally I'm more than satisfied with using my TranSystem iBlue 747A+ GPS logger (now superseded by a newer model) to log all of my trips: I keep it always on when out for the whole day up to five days without worrying about battery, it's fast to lock satellites and it's probably way more precise than any built-in GPS. The obvious downside is that you must manually synchronize the internal camera time with the GPS time (you actually need to do that only once in a while) and you must geotag your shots later, but GeoTag makes it easy to do that in bulk from a GPX file and can write EXIF data to JPG, RAW files of various vendors and XMP files.
- On-sensor phase-detect autofocus. That's simply not gonna happen, not even the DSC-RX1 has it.
- No hand grip or rugged surface for a more secure handhold. This can be easily worked around using third-party accessories, personally I don't feel the need for it.
- No signs of the new JPEG engine that promises an improved compression quality. This engine will debut on Sony's new Xperia flagship device (C680X code-named Honami) and will also be used on cameras starting with the SLT lineup through a firmware update. I find the current JPEG engine used by Sony to perform poorly compared to the output generated by other vendors.
All in all some of the improvements over the original DSC-RX100 are nice, but as a whole they are probably not worth the upgrade for anyone already owning it as they seem to be mostly targeted to satisfy those finding this camera lacking due to the absence of a tilt screen or an EVF-capable hotshoe.
Personally I'd be more interested in the new sensor if it proves to yield higher SNR ratios translating to visibly better outputs in low-light conditions and with less noise at high ISO levels, but I guess this is unlikely happen to an appreciable degree (we won't get a whole stop of advantage). I find it very disappointing that the maximum shutter speed remained at 1/2000th second making wide apertures in strong sunlight a bit problematic, especially since there's no built-in ND filter. Also, the EB is still limited to 3 exposure at 0.3EV or 0.7EV intervals.
Conclusions? Revision or not, the DSC-RX100 (with its flaws and compromises, just like any camera) provides the best IQ in such a pocketable package and competition has yet to announce a product comparable when combining performances and size.