I've been jonesing to buy a new compact digital camera for a couple of years. I love my Canon G9, but it's several years out of date and while I think it does great for concert videos, it's not a great camera for low-light venues. High ISO pictures have a lot of noise. Still the camera is very compact, relatively easy to smuggle into venues and the audio quality is superb. So I passed on the FujiFilm X10 (poor audio), the smaller Canon S100 (poor audio) and the Canon G1X (too large.)
But a few days ago, I managed to pick up Sony's newest compact digital camera the DSC RX100 . On paper, it looks outstanding: 8 oz, very small, F1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, built-in effects, etc. It's not cheap ($650) but if it can get better shots than the G9, what the heck. The first camera I got was dead after half a dozen shots; it would no longer read any SD card. Sony let me swap out the camera at a store, which was very gracious of them. One clear challenge: shooting videos in 12M 1440 x 1080 resolution makes for some pretty massive files. Converting a 7 minute file to 720x 1080 took about 45 minutes on my Macbook Air and another 40 minutes to upload to YouTube. While it's to have that kind of higher resolution, I don't think it would be practical when shooting half a dozen or more songs as I usually do. I wish there was an MP4 resolution halfway between the high res 1440x1080 MP4 and the low-res VGA 640x480. That would save a lot of processing and uploading time.
Here's a sample video in MP4 at a local Austin blues jam held at Jax Neighborhood Cafe. It's a nice venue with good lighting and the sound was around 96db, so not deafeningly loud. You can click on the video to view it fullscreen.
And here's another sample shot in AVCHD. (That's me singing slightly off-key.)
The RX100 did a good job capturing the sound, but it sounds like it is very close to distorting at high volumes. Or more likely that's just the crappy Fender JAM sold-state amp I was using.
Here are some videos from Antone's featuring the Bluebonnets, Nick Curran and Jimmie Vaughan. These were all shot in 12MP MP4 1440 x 1080 resolution and, I uploaded the files directly to YouTube without the tedious conversion process used by iMovie.
And some more video shot at 640x480 VGA resolution. By default iMovie crops these films before uploading for reasons I don't understand, so they come out slighlty worse looking than if you upload directly as they get scaled to some other resolution. (Lesson learned!) I re-uploaded most of the videos directly to YouTube to avoid this problem. But you might notice a couple are still fuzzier than they should be. Also the louder songs by Dave Grisson appear to distor the sound.
And here are some still shots at PicasaWeb from various live venues. All were shot as 20 MB JPEGs and mostly using automatic Program mode (P) at automatic ISO. Occasionally I tested out 1600 ISO or 3200 ISO as well as the SCN High ISO or Auto+ settings. Note all photos are uncropped and at the original resolution. I've still got plenty more photos to upload next couple of days.
And here are some shots of a band where I used some of the creative filters built-in to the RX100. Some look a bit over the top, but if used sparingly they can be interesting.
So far, I would say the RX100 is a nice, small and unobtrusive camera. It focuses quickly and has the requisite number of dials, nobs and menus to let you control the photos and adjust for lighting. Overall, it appears to be faster at focusing and shooting than the G9, and it performs reasonably well in tricky lighting situations. But at $650, it's probably the most expensive point & shoot cameras out there. And you've still got to shoot a lot of photos to get a few that capture the right expression and I have many photos where something isn't exactly right.
And there are two significant drawback to keep in mind, relative to the G9. When shooting in burst mode, it can take 10 seconds or more before the camera is ready to take another shot. And the audio definitely clips at lower volumes than the G9. Most of the time it should be fine but at very loud shows (over 100db), you can hear some distortion. Hard to say how the G9 would have done under the exact same circumstance, but in several years of shooting the G9 it only distorted audio twice.
Not surprisingly, the Sony RX100 is getting great reviews; I've posted links to a few below. More comments to follow.
- Amazon: Sony DSC RX100
- Reviews: NY Times, Imaging Resource, DPReview, Steve Huff, CameraLabs, TechRadar