Am I Gen X? No. Am I Gen Y? No. But I do admit that my compact travel cameras are generally “Generation N minus One”. That is, my travel kit doesn’t contain the latest models à la those that Michael mentioned in his recent article on choosing a small travel camera. They are penultimate models which provide a cost/benefit analysis which doesn’t raise the ire of my financial overseer.
For now though, let’s start differently, by further acknowledging our editor Michael who recently indicated that in present times it’s hard to get a Macfilos article posted without a reference to the coronavirus. True, so let’s get that out of the way at the start, and then consider how it might impact an attitude towards compact travel cameras.
I woke this morning to the ongoing fare of Covid-19 news. Relentless on radio and television, it’s like waking up in our own reality version of Groundhog Day. A great movie, I’ve seen it many times. I know, I know, it’s not the joke, it’s the way you tell it. But it does remind me that I should get the alarm on my clock radio set to 6 am with Sonny and Cher’s “I got you, babe”. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then its time to get the movie Groundhog Day. So pertinent in present times.
And mentioning Sonny (and Cher) brings me to today’s photo topic, in this case a Sony not a Sonny.
A Considered Impulse
In recent times, I acquired a top-condition used Sony RX100 Mark V, wondering whether it might supplant my cherished Leica D Lux 109 as a travel camera: Similar short zoom, but smaller, lighter and with a 20.1 MP sensor. I do admit that potential pocketability was the main driver. Also, our Macfilos editor and many others have written positively about the RX100 series. It was time to try one.
A first outing for the camera was some time ago now, on my regular Tuesday visit to the Oz’ coastal town of Terrigal, for coffee with John Shingleton, local resident and Macfilos’s Mr X1. It was a sunny morning and there were many out swimming and exercising, walking themselves or their dogs. Before coffee, I went for a walk, just myself and Sony. I hadn’t yet delved into the menu system, so I simply set the camera in its default Auto mode and shot some jpegs.
Upon returning home I looked at the products on the large screen. I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the images. They lacked “life”. I even sent some of them to our editor along with a few words about how I was going to have to work harder to get good output from that camera.
He agreed about the images – his words were that they looked a “bit flat”. However, he suggested that the best approach for me might be for me to directly contact regular Macfilos contributor David Babsky. He knew that David is a big fan of the RX100 series and suggested that he might point me in the right direction.
The Babsky Solution
David was kind to me, taking me under his wing as we would expect of a member of the Macfilos family. Two detailed emails from him pointed me to a kick-in-the-pants solution to the flat image problem. His suggestion was to set the camera on Vivid and give it Contrast +2, Saturation +2 and Sharpness +2.
It would have taken me some time to get to those wild settings, if at all, so his solution was a real leap for me. I do admit that I come from a more subdued world of Leica, Lumix and Fuji. For the little Sony, those settings provided not just ‘kick-in-the-pants’ but real ‘kick-arse’ stuff.
A subsequent and more recent coffee morning at Terrigal saw a return of sunshine. After a long exercise walk with the camera, John and I were “requested” by the local constabulary not to sit on the rock wall drinking our coffee and shooting the breeze, even though we were safely self-distanced.
Apparently it was ok to stand and drink a coffee, but not to sit while doing so. Fair enough in these weird times, but they did return five minutes later to check that we and others hadn’t resumed our seats on the rock wall. Thankfully we hadn’t, or our wallets would be significantly lighter (the fine in NSW is A$1,000). That’s just an aside anecdote, it’s that darn virus again, relevant here only in that I had the camera with me.
For the photography that morning, I did dial back from the Vivid settings to Standard, but maintained the Babsky tweaks of Contrast +2, Saturation +2 and Sharpness +2. Upon review it seems that these settings are producing jpegs that are quite pleasing, to my eyes at least. Again, thanks to David for the strong +2/+2/+2 pointer.
A keeper? Decision making in times of virus?
So, where is this all heading? Well, I must be honest and admit that I’m not 100% bonding with the RX100V. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a superbly engineered little piece of kit with a very sharp lens. It is capable of producing great images and could be a wonderful travel camera. I realise that there are many who absolutely love their RX100 cameras, and I’d be the first to say that it is warranted for them.
But each to their own, coming from my stuck-in-the-mud world of Leica/Panasonic/Fuji compact cameras, I’m finding myself with a few Sony RX100 irritations. Let’s consider them:
1 It’s just a bit too small – I realise that this is a feature of the camera, but for me, it isn’t comfortable in its haptics (I don’t like that word “haptics”, but I guess it’s apt to use in context). The controls are just a bit too fiddly, it reminds me of a Minox that I had years ago. As well as being tiny, the camera feels slippery – I have gone ahead and ordered a grip. Still waiting on that one.
2 The Heath Robinson clickety viewfinder – Once again, a feature supposedly. But it’s a matter of flip the tiny side switch to click it up, then an awkward click out to enable use, and after all that then the camera switches off whenever it is pressed back down. Certainly, it’s a good viewfinder, but when it’s deployed the camera loses its compactness and pocketability.
3 The Sony menu naming and structure isn’t intuitive – Or maybe it’s just that I’m not keen to learn the hidden tabs within tabs in another camera menu system. I’m comfortable with the more logical (to me) menus of the Leica/Panasonic/Fuji world.
4 Centre-weighted Autofocus – This autofocus mode is my preference. It seems to be quite sensitive. In the two images above I’d swear that I had the centre green square grabbing the distant beach scene. One of them got it right, one of them fixed on a single blade of grass in the foreground. Tricky stuff, gotta chimp to be confident that its brain fixes on the correct space.
5Jpeg engine – To me, it isn’t the same as those in Leica/Panasonic/Fuji. After taking a number of images, using settings between full Auto and David’s “kick-arse” vibrance enhancement, I find that the handling of dynamic range in jpegs isn’t what I want, particularly the dark portions of images. In that regard, I don’t want to have to continually adjust exposure compensation by entering menus or a fiddly dedicated function button. A very personal view I know, but to me the Panasonic and Fuji compact digitals are much better inherently in handling jpegs, as well as easier to adjust with a graduated Exposure Comp control knob on top
There’s no doubt the RX100 series are fine cameras with excellent crisp Zeiss lenses. And for those who like them, they will perform to purpose very well. But that last point about jpegs is a concern for me. I’m sure the camera would provide great RAW outputs, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time in front of a computer processing and fine-tuning RAW images.
For me, I think I’ll be keeping the D Lux 109 as my travel camera, probably with the Panasonic TZ110 as a backup.
The TZ110 provides the flexibility of a longer lens, an in-built viewfinder that doesn’t need the click-click procedure, shares the same batteries with the D Lux 109, and has the more familiar menu structure. It’s only marginally bigger than the RX100 (unless the RX100 has its viewfinder deployed and an added aftermarket grip), and I like the Tz110 OOC jpegs more. It’s the older sibling of the current model Panasonic ZS200/TZ200/TZ220, now refined and cloned as the present Leica C Lux, as described in Michael’s article.
To conclude, and referencing back to the Covid-19 intro, I’m now sitting here wondering whether cabin fever is getting to me. Would I be less critical of the RX100V in happier and less restrictive times? Unfortunately, the control experiment isn’t possible, probably for some months at least. Damn you, coronavirus.
- Why does Panasonic use different designations for the same camera in different parts of the world? ↩