(Pocket-lint) - The Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II is, just like its predecessor, a camera that's going to divide opinion. On paper its 24-200mm f/2.8 equivalent lens and 1-inch sensor combination sounds like the bees knees. Until, that is, you see the physical size of this camera: it's big, like DSLR-scale big.
Packing the RX10 II into a bag for a long weekend touring around Poland, we wondered if its physical mass was going to get in the way of our desire to use it. But after four days of use and the camera made a lot of sense: its scale means no compromise to optical quality or physical controls, while the tilt-angle screen and viewfinder combination ensure every shooting base is covered.
The main question that remains on our lips is whether the RX10 II model adds enough extra compared to its 2014 original to warrant its sizeable £1,100 price tag. Is this the bridge camera to beat all others?
Sony RX10 II review: What's new?
You can still buy the original RX10 for a very attractive £539 (at the time of writing). That's around half the price of the second-generation model, so what makes the RX10 II worth the extra cash?
Well, arguably, perhaps not that much. The new camera is identical in external build to the original, adding a handful of feature enhancements: a higher-resolution 2.36m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder (the original model was 1.44m-dot); a new stacked 20.2-megapixel sensor, including Fast Intelligent AF system for speedier autofocus; the latest, faster Bionz X processor which is capable of shooting to 14fps (up from 10fps); and 4K resolution video capture to bring the RX10 II into the ultra-high definition world.
Sony RX10 II review: Established design
But even if that list sounds like subtle tweaks rather than an overhaul, that's not to detract from all the original model and, therefore, MkII model get right. The weather-sealed body feels every bit pro-spec, making for something quite unlike any other superzoom we've used - even outshining the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 in terms of build.
On its top the RX10 II has a mode dial to the left side, with a +/-3EV exposure compensation dial to the opposite right - the latter which we find a tad easy to knock out of place from time to time. There's no front thumbwheel, but a rear one and the d-pad's ability to double-up as a rotational dial mean all the quick adjustment controls you need are always at hand, whichever mode you're using.
To the front, surrounding the lens, is a proper clickable rotational aperture ring, marked out from f/2.8 to f/16 (in third stops). Or, videographer fans, a flick of a switch underside the lens barrel can disengage the click to make for smooth transition instead.
As we said of the original model, we'd like the option for the lens to cycle through its zoom range a bit faster than the zoom toggle around the shutter button allows. The focus ring does double-up as a twist-barrel to push through the zoom range, but as it's digital its engagement is as slack as the zoom toggle. The camera feels a little too "compact" in that regard. But otherwise the RX10 II is an accomplished camera, just one at a large scale.
Sony RX10 II review: Performance
Although the RX10 II has the same 20.2-megapixel resolution as the original RX10, it's not the same sensor in both cameras. In the second-gen model there's the stacked Exmor RS sensor (arranged like that of the RX100 IV) providing a slight push in image clarity thanks to the backlit construction (by moving the wiring out of the way of the pixel path).
The new sensor doesn't feature phase-detection pixels on its surface like some competitors, but Sony has matched the contrast-detection system with the camera's specific lens to optimise its focus algorithm for faster results than before. Or, as Sony likes to call it, the RX10 II has Fast Intelligent AF.
It's certainly quick, although the 0.09-second focus acquisition time needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. At the widest-angle 24mm equivalent in good light and with ample subject contrast it does a good job of snapping into focus; extend the zoom, dim the lights, and this tends to slow things down - but rarely is focus not achieved.
There's a four-position dial on the front of the camera to toggle between single, continuous, DMF (direct manual focus), and MF (manual focus). We don't think it's positioned particularly well for quick adjustment, though, and there's no correlating display on the screen to let you know when focus mode is selected, which seems a bit odd (there's just a symbol to show whether the lens ring will control focus or zoom).
Focus options are another area we'd like to see refined, which is something we say of so many high-end compact cameras (if the RX10 II could be considered a compact, anyway). Unlike Panasonic's range of cameras, which offer Pinpoint focus mode, the Sony RX10 II is fairly restrictive with a one-size-fits-all approach to the focus options, available in automatic multi-point, centre-point only and a flexible spot (to move the point around the majority of the screen). There's tracking mode too, which works ok but is not a patch on a DSLR camera at an equivalent price.
There's also no touchscreen for quick focus for one-tap focus adjustment. Given how many cameras are touchscreen these days, that seems like a surprising omission in this Sony.
Sony RX10 II review: Image quality
The clarity we've been getting from the RX10 II is simply great. Although the 24-200mm focal range isn't as extensive as some other superzoom cameras out there, the results from the optic are exceptional, all things considered. Throw in the f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout that range and creativity is put at your fingertips for soft bokeh backgrounds with sharp subject focus.
The new sensor also offers a slightly different sensitivity range, from ISO 100 (not ISO 125 as with the original model) all the way through to ISO 25,600. With that f/2.8 aperture and optical image stabilisation on board we don't expect you'll be digging into the upper echelons of such sensitivity too quickly, but the option is there.
However, push into four-figure ISO sensitivities and, frankly, the RX10 II still surpasses expectation - just like the original model. We wouldn't say that shots are miles beyond what the original camera was capable of in second-gen form, but given how good the original was the sequel certainly arrives in a strong position.
The RX10 II pushes sharpness, contrast and shifts the brightness considerably in its JPEG shots - which is particularly apparent when dealing with the original, untouched raw files as a point of comparison. We don't think things are pushed too far, though, and we've shot a variety of subjects - whether pigeons from afar, horse-drawn carriages, or dogs at Christmas markets - resulting in focus on-point with enhanced but natural-looking sharpness and contrast.
As 1-inch sensor cameras go the RX10 II is up there with the best of them, by and large thanks to a great lens and the wide aperture option that comes with. At over £1,000 it might even challenge some interchangeable lens cameras with more basic lenses attached, with Sony showing off just how much can be achieved in a configuration such as this.
Sony RX10 II review: Video savvy
There's another area to not ignore in the RX10 too: video capture. Most cameras can capture 1080p files these days, but the RX10 II boosts this to 4K (2160 x 3840) capture at 25/30fps. Nice.
Plus it comes with a number of features that push it up a further notch. First off there's that smooth aperture ring which means noise-free and smooth adjustment in real-time during recording. Second there's the ability to manually focus if you want, complete with focus peaking to assist - again, no additional noisy interruptions. Third there's a 3.5mm headphone jack to monitor audio, in addition to a secondary 3.5mm microphone input to record audio off camera.
Choose AVCHD or XAVC S, with the latter offering quality to 100Mbps in any resolution, including 4K. That's impressive. Slow-motion fans can also capture 1080p at 120fps for high frame-rate playback, meaning half or quarter speed slow-mo looks great.
Combined these features make the RX10 a very effective videography tool, the option to shoot at f/2.8 is another bonus, especially with the 1-inch sensor combination for maximising the blurred background effect.
Given the breadth of features in the video department we can see the RX10 II selling solely as a videographers' tool, not just a stills camera. It's that good.
We've been living with the RX10 II in the real-world and keep questioning its suitability for a mass audience and its considerable price point acting as a barrier. Who would buy it?
But that's to overthink this camera. Given the results we've been extracting from the RX10 II, this niche and large-scale superzoom may well live in a world of its own, but it's a world we're happy to be in.
For many the more obvious option may be to forego the 4K capture and buy the original RX10 at around half the price. Videographers, on the other hand, will get a whole lot from the slow-mo and 4K capture options only available in the MkII model. If anything, this might be the ideal audience for the RX10 II, particularly given that longer focal-length competitors such as the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 might appeal more to stills purists.
It's big, it's bold, and while it's not exactly giant leaps ahead of where the original RX10 was, the RX10 II is one highly capable camera that's hard not to recommend. Even though it won't be the camera for everyone, for those it suits it certainly won't disappoint.