RX10 IV: Set phase detection on stun

RX100 Australian Alps

Sony RX: The 1inch sensor to rule them all

Years ago I bought the original RX100, replacing the Lumix LX3, a very nice little camera but it had terrible video. Back then the RX100 was still the great undiscovered ‘take anywhere’ camera. Perfect for hiking up a mountain as you can see from this picture on the left. Not the prettiest colours in the world, but excellent dynamic range, which is why it makes for a great BW shot.

Because the RX100 was so practical, and even the first RX100 had such great image quality, the idea of a superzoom version always appealed to me. But I wanted one that had a few practical features: a great viewfinder, fast lens, and usable autofocus.  And for video a headphone jack and the Mi hotshoe so I can plug in the Sony wireless audio receiver. This combination makes it a practical photo camera and usable for short films. Photography has always been more a spare time pursuit, walking around the dunes taking pictures of deer and foxes or trying to capture wild and crazy surfer shots.When I switched to Sony I used the A7RII with the 100-400mm Canon and the metabonesIV adapter for wildlife and a bit later: For action shots, and as a spare gimbal video camera, I got the Sony Alpha A6500. With the 100-400 and metabones adapter this also gives you a 600mm equivalent field of view. Combined with the 18-105 kit lens you get a kit very close to the zoom range of the RX10IV, but without super accurate focusing. So when the RX10IV was available it seemed like the perfect solution: a combination of a long lens for wildlife with autofocus very similar to the A9 focus system.

Face and Phase detection?

It is autofocus captain, but not as we know it… on a Sony camera. Phase Detection AutoFocus (PDAF) combined with face detection makes it easy to take stunning portraits. Ok, so the stunning part depends on the people, the surroundings, the light, the photographer, the country, what you had to drink the night before, but it is possible with a lot less effort than before. Phase detection can see depth and will choose the subject close to the camera. As you can see from the example of the surfer girl: she is closer to the camera and get’s picked up by the PDAF and face detection as 600mm. This usually is an advantage and with subject tracking, it seems to work really well, even if other people walk in front of your subject.

It recognizes faces almost immediately: Press eye autofocus and the camera finds the eye almost instantaneous. One of the first cameras where I thought autofocus would do a better job at tracking someone in a video that I could, the times I tried it it didn’t lose focus once. Most of the time autofocus performance is stunning but it does all depend on the circumstances: when shooting deer in high grass it seems to focus fine but on closer inspection, it is not perfectly sharp. Eye autofocus doesn’t seem to work on animals. What worked for me was press the touchscreen and it would pop into centre focus spot mode, together with the focus hold button it was easy to focus and recompose in difficult circumstances.

The image

It does have a great sensor and can give you some very nice images as you can see from the image gallery below, a 24-600mm zoom range at F2.4/F4 seems like a dream come true. But it is still a 1inch sensor and there are clear signs of it when you crop to 100%: It is pretty noisy and you do not get a lot of subject separation on the end of the zoom when the subject is further away. Because in reality it really is an 8-220mm lens, you only get 220 depth of field. Very nice when shooting subjects closeby, not so great when shooting subjects a bit further away. Surfers do not ‘pop’ out, they are inside the mess of the sea, so I would say: this is a very versatile camera if you use it for report work or perhaps a holiday. Personally, I would probably take the RX100 on holiday and leave this at home, but the super fast autofocus and crazy zoom are fun. I also love the depth of field look of a 200mm lens when shooting portraits so for that this camera works well for me. Although I would probably still take the A6500 or A7RII and the 85mm.

It’s a camera, not a magician

The images are nice if you take pictures of the right things you get good colours, nice contrast and dynamic range and low noise. It is not light sensitive, as soon as you go above ISO 640 I find the images a bit noisy, but have not had a chance to edit the raw files because there is still a raw converter missing (11okt 2017) So perhaps this will improve when I can read the raw files. When your subject is far away: Bokeh is not great, it is very busy and distracting, just check the 100% crop of the deer. At a closer range, like with the seagull, the bokeh looks nice and not distracting at all, but I was no more than 4 meters away from the bird which is not usually the case. The 600mm is in reality 220mm, so you get a very similar look the 70-200 would give you at 200mm and something like aperture F9.

Despite being a ‘doing it all’ camera it’s not one for every occasion, I think if you are really into photography getting something like the A6500 or A7RII with some nice primes will get you more artistic shots. If you like macro or fast action: this might be a camera to look into. The raw files contain a lot more info, but when editing in AuroraHDR 2018 you also notice how much lens correction the Sony jpg engine is performing to produce a clean end result.

For video I think it is a very handy little tool, if you shoot anything like short reports or impressions and the light is good it will give you a nice image and good sound options. One thing I like about a smaller sensor and ‘docu’ style shooting is that you get more background/context in your shots. Blurred backgrounds with kickass bokeh are awesome visual porn but not always the thing you want when you are shooting someone in their environment. For this, a smaller sensor works great, but if this is going to be your only production tool: something like a GH5 or A7SII would make more sense, more expensive obviously, but a better investment. you can achieve a really nice smooth cinematic look with this camera, but you have to operate is as manual as you can for the exposure. For more on this check out:

RX10IV: Cinestyle 2: The return of Cinestyle

 

Author: maarten

Long career in short films

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