Sony has been pumping out some of the most impressive cameras on the market over the past few years by consistently figuring out how to fit their top-line pro features into somewhat affordable consumer models. The three new cameras being introduced today — the fixed-lens RX10 II and RX100 IV and the interchangeable-lens a7R II — are par for the course.
Like with televisions, it’s tricky to improve on cameras in ways most consumers instantly recognize. 4k resolution brushes the upper limit of meaningful pixel density to the human eye, but that doesn’t mean there are no more improvements to be made. With their new cameras, Sony nails the most important ones — better low-light (and brightly-lit) performance, better motion recording, and more advanced slow-motion capabilities.
The RX10 II has mostly the same sensor as its predecessor — a 20.2 MP 1.0-type Exmor RS CMOS sensor. The difference is that this sensor is stacked, with the pixel layer positioned above the circuitry, an engineering trick that makes it possible to make cameras lighter and smaller by cutting out the support needed for the backside illumination. In the case of the RX10 II, though, that extra space cleared the way for a DRAM chip. With the extra processing capabilities from that chip, the RX10 II can take video at an incredible 960 fps (and 480fps and 240 fps) — consider that its predecessor boasted 24 fps recording in 1080p, while the RX100 III could handle 120 fps at 720p. We’re not sure what the max resolution for 960 fps mode will be, but it’s safe to say the slow-motion capabilities of this camera are going to be far beyond what we’ve seen before. Meanwhile, the new Anti-Distortion Shutter has a maximum speed of 1/32000 second, which will help to prevent over-exposure in brightly-lit conditions. Unsurprisingly, the RX10 II can now take video in 4k resolution using the XAVC S codec and a 100 Mbps recording rate — a must, since most high-end smartphone cameras can do that, too.
The RX100 IV, also like its predecessor, is the cheaper, more portable version of the RX10 model. For the most part, you’ll find the same technology in both this camera and the RX10 II. Notable differences include continuous shooting at 16 fps for the RX100 IV compared to 14 fps for the RX10 II, and only five minutes of shooting 4k video on the RX100 IV compared to 29 minutes for the RX10 II. Both cameras enjoy the leap forward in slow-motion shooting and the super-fast shutter. The lenses for both are unchanged, with the RX10 II getting a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-200mm f/2.8 lens and the RX100 IV getting a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/1.8 – f/2.8 lens. You can expect optical SteadyShot image stabilization for both, as well.
The a7R II is the follow-up to Sony’s powerful mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, the a7R. This one has a full-frame backside-illuminated (BSI) 42.4 MP Exmor R CMOS sensor — Sony claims it’s the first full-frame BSI sensor — with an ISO maxing out at a ridiculous 102400 (expandable, base is 100 to 25600). It’ll also have 40 percent faster auto-focus response and 399 points of focal phase detection, along with 25 contrast auto-focus points. Here’s another first — you’ll be able to record 4k video in the cinematic-like Super 35 mm and full-frame formats without pixel binning (where pixels are merged together to speed up processing of data-intensive recordings). The sensor is just that powerful, and it’ll result in much smoother and clearer video. Like the other two cameras, this one will also use XAVC S for 4k recording at 100 Mbps.
While the a7R II will work with lenses that have optical SteadyShot image stabilization, it won’t need them — the 5-axis image stabilization that debuted on the a7 II is coming to the a7R II, which is the equivalent of having the benefits of a stabilization rig built into your camera.
The three new cameras are all very impressive, built to excel when recording dynamic video (like sports games) and in both low-light and brightly-lit conditions. They’re fast, powerful, can handle 4k recording, and have a host of professional features built in. In other words, they won’t be cheap. The RX100 IV and RX10 II cost $1,000 and $1,300, respectively, and will ship in July with preorders starting on June 17. The a7R II will be available in August for $3,200.