Take Two! Sony Nails it with the Tough RX0 II


My favorite camera I never bought was the original Sony RX0. Weird, I know, to start off a review of its next generation this way, but I just want to emphasize how appealing the design of the RX0 is to certain individuals. Deciding not to purchase it came down to a single, fatal flaw: no internal 4K. That’s why, when Sony dropped the RX0 II, I was jumping up and down (figuratively, for the most part) in celebration. Not only was this issue rectified, Sony even stepped things up in some seriously unexpected ways.

A Beautiful Example of Industrial Design

Boxy. That is the best word to describe the look of the RX0 series. It’s just a box. This simplicity is also a major selling point. Form follows function here to its own benefit. Photographers may look at the RX0 II and see it as a beautiful, tiny, and powerful camera that can slide into their bag alongside a full-size kit. Videographers may see a perfect, rugged B or C camera that can record spectacular 4K video that blends with their main system. Crazy developers may want to rig up thirty of these for an elaborate motion-capture setup. The RX0 II belongs in any one of these situations. Essentially, it doesn’t tell you what it is, you look at that sleek, compact camera and decide what it can do for you.

Rugged good looks and rugged specs are core to the RX0 II’s identity. Waterproof to 33', shock resistant to 6.5', crushproof to 400 lbf, and rustproof. What more could you want? I guess you could say you want to go diving... and there is a housing for that! Its aluminum exterior looks and feels great in the hand, it measures just 2.4 x 1.6 x 1.4" and weighs just 4.7 oz. And, the pièce de résistance is a 1.5" 230k-dot LCD that can tilt upward 180° and downward 90°. New to the II, this was the shocking advancement that opens the door up to even more possibilities—it’s basically putting up a sign for vloggers. Boosting audio fidelity is a 3.5mm mic input, so anyone looking for some quick quality video recording can easily connect their own microphone.

Traveling is a good fit, too. Figured I should bring this point up since it is Travel Week here at B&H Explora. Its pocketable form and durability make it something you can always have on hand. The battery could be bigger, but I made it through most days of average use without burning through the entire pack—just make sure to charge at night. The controls are tiny on the back and the menu needs some work, but the ability to operate the power and shutter buttons with a single hand gives me the speed I want for a pocket camera and solidifies my opinion that this is a well-designed camera. No waiting for a lens to extend or anything either, just point and shoot. It’s weird, but I love it.

Carrots at the Union Square Green Market | Settings: ISO 125; f/160 sec; f/4
Carrots at the Union Square Green Market; Settings: ISO 125; f/160 sec; f/4

Image Quality Matters, and It Delivers

Years back, I would’ve started with IQ, since that was the only thing that matters. Today, I want to reframe things to talk about how the camera comes together as a whole and make a note when other aspects of the camera succeed. My praise of the design is step one, but, still, it is nothing if it can’t pump out quality images. The RX0 II is awesome here.

A fixed ZEISS Tessar T* 24mm equivalent f/4 lens and 15.3MP (effective) 1"-type CMOS sensor work some magic to get the results they do out of such a small system. Sony’s partnership with ZEISS shines here, as the 24mm equivalent lens here manages to deliver incredible sharpness with an absolute minimum of distortion. Frankly, when I look at these types of cameras, I just go into it expecting some gnarly distortion or compromises in the design. You just can’t make a camera that small without some negatives, or so I thought.

A sharp, practically distortion-free ZEISS lens ensures no odd distortion ruins the shot. | Settings: ISO 120; 1/1600 sec; f/4
A sharp, practically distortion-free ZEISS lens ensures no odd distortion ruins the shot. Settings: ISO 120; 1/1600 sec; f/4

Of course, a lot of the magic comes from that 1"-type sensor. This is massive compared to the 1/2.3" and smaller options found in your everyday tough cameras and it delivers much better image quality. It’s the same type as the RX100 series, which has been pumping out great image quality for years. Sure, when lighting gets dim, the noise starts creeping in, and it certainly isn’t helped by the f/4 lens but, as long as you know what you are getting into, you should be very happy.

Shockingly sharp is how I would describe the images straight out of camera. JPEG color is good, though a couple of tweaks are advisable in post. The raw files hold up as well as I would expect—that is to say, very similar to the RX100 VI. It’s honestly something you have to see to understand, so check out the samples on the page. Zooming in should show an awesome level of detail.

More produce at Union Square

Assisting image capture is a very good autofocus system. I honestly thought it was going to be fairly mediocre, but usable. It’s fast and very smart. The RX0 II easily recognized faces and eyes, and focus was very rarely missed. It does benefit a lot from the wide angle of the lens and slow-ish f/4 aperture, providing a lot of depth of field. Having Eye AF is a nice touch from Sony, who wants to make its selfie skills well known.

If I were to nit-pick the camera and build my own wish list, there are a few things I would love to see, even if a couple are asking a lot from it. Among the biggest is that I wish it focused closer. It already does a good job, hitting 7.9" at its minimum, but I enjoyed sticking it places and was a little disappointed when I ended up with the object right in front being out of focus. Another is that I wish there were another aperture option to control light gathering. I don’t need a fully adjustable aperture diaphragm, just something to cut down on bright light when needed.

A mix of scenes from traveling, at various settings, shot with the RX0 II

Video is Its Not-So-Secret Weapon

Sony pushed the video specs on the RX0 II, so it’s hardly a secret weapon, but it is an effective one if you choose to use it in its best ways. Being so small and durable lets it handle some situations that would destroy any run-of-the-mill camera. An emphasis on image quality even puts it above other tough or action cameras, including the venerable GoPro. (Sorry GoPro, we still love you!)

Two sweet changes have been made, if you want to use it for video. First, internal 4K. The no-brainer upgrade for this camera is here and will make the RX0 II more viable for more users. Second is the 180° tilting screen. This was the real shocker, since it’s so small and rugged I figured Sony would never risk adding another moving part. However, considering the #VlogWithSony push of late, it makes too much sense.

Testing the selfie skills of the RX0 II while out on a run; #VlogWithSony
Testing the selfie skills of the RX0 II while out on a run; #VlogWithSony

Nitty-gritty time! UHD 4K at up to 30p is possible and there are a number of Sony’s advanced Picture Profiles available, including Cine2 and S-Log2. A fairly basic—by today’s standards—color depth and sampling of 8-bit 4:2:0 internally and 8-bit 4:2:2 externally means it’s not going to set any records, but it is very manageable, especially with Sony’s XAVC S codec recording at 100 Mb/s. Footage handles just as well as all of Sony’s other cameras with similar specs and, with care, can produce a nice S-Log2 image for grading. Pick up an external recorder for better color.

A collection of screenshots from RX0 II video recordings

I used it for some pseudo-vlogging and run-and-gun, on-the-street video. It worked super well for these situations. What I want to use it for is in more niche productions and that is where I see the RX0 II shining. Having shot some food videos, I would love to use this for overhead shots. Thinking about this hanging over me or my wife is far less stressful than a full mirrorless rig. It would also be more likely to survive any accidents and a little condensation from steam wouldn’t even be dangerous. Also, installing it in tight spots, think, the dash of a moving car, or as a crash/waterproof option for outdoor adventures just makes sense. And, while I will likely never do it, it’s always fun seeing Sony’s massive arrays that use dozens of RX0s to create mind-blowing VR experiences.

Did I mention slow motion yet? No? Well how does 960 (NTSC) or 1000 (PAL) fps sound? Hopefully, it sounds good, because that is what the RX0 II can do. The effective resolution drops below HD, though you can get near Full HD quality at up to 240/250 fps. Designed for special moments, it is limited to only a few seconds of recording time in this mode, though if you nail the shot it can be quite cool. A conventional Full HD 120p mode is an option, as well. And, one other feature that deserves a callout is the time-lapse mode. It’s built in now, no more need to purchase and download apps.

Slow Motion Resolution Examples: Full Resolution, 240 fps, 960 fps (left to right)

Perfection still seems to be a generation away, IMO at least. While we got many of the features we asked for, a few niceties seemed to have been ignored in this Version Two. I would’ve appreciated 4K60 as an option, since I want so badly to compare it to action cams where this is a basic feature. Another video-specific change would be adding HLG HDR profiles. It’s the future, and Sony knows it, since it was included it on all the company’s other recent cameras. I use it all the time with my α7 III, so why can’t I get it here? The almost deal-breaker here—there had to be one—is that you don’t get continuous autofocus in video. Again, so close Sony! Stills get everything they want, including Eye AF, so it seems a miss that for vlogging and other run- and-gun shooting styles you can’t get any form of AF in video. Make sure you set it properly before you hit Record!

Now with internal 4K and a flip-up screen, the RX0 II makes my list of highly recommended cameras. It’s in good company, with the just-announced FUJIFILM GFX 100 also having recently joined that list, but I think the price and versatility of this rugged cam will make it much more palatable to the everyday shooter. Will it make its way into your gear bag? I know it’ll make it into mine. I’m sure you have some of your own thoughts or questions on this unique camera, so please be sure to drop by the Comments section, below, and leave any or all your questions and thoughts!

1 Comment

I love mine. I bought this camera to use on white water river trips and to have the option to take stills when the weather is too bad to trust my EOS R, but I've discovered I put it in my pocket every time I want to walk out the door with a camera. This is not a camera for beginners, but if you understand its capabilities and limitations, know what you want it to do and are willing to invest the time to set it up properly, it's a surprisingly capable camera. I've been using an RX100 VA for the last couple of years as a travel camera and although I've had great results with it I was always concerned with how delicate it is. I missed many shots because it isn't weather sealed and I wasn't willing to push my luck. The RX0II doesn't have that problem and I can work around its limitations. It's the first camera I've tried since I sold my 1DX II I'm not afraid to use in the worst of conditions. This camera has replaced my RX100 VA and I couldn't be happier with the change.