Sony’s RX10, possibly the best hybrid for the serious documentarist: a few things to consider

Sony’s RX10, possibly the best hybrid for the serious documentarist: a few things to consider

Last night, I met a couple of friends-film aficionados- for a beer, a discussion developed and we talked about the pros and cons shooting with DSLR’s, full frame vs APSC’s, the DSLR form factor and the ridiculousness of building up insanely complex rigs around them, which, we all agreed, look great in photos on advertising pages, but are rather awkward in use because of their complexity and bulkiness. We mostly agreed that we prefer shooting with a Canon C300 or Sony FS700. Professional control without having to resort to add-ons. more after the break

Then we got all bend out of shape about sensor size, I insisted that after working extensively with cameras like the Sony FS100, FS700, the Canon C300, 5DmarkIII and the Nikon D800E I prefer the “pixels with soul” when shooting with full frame cameras over anything from a super35mm or APCS sized sensor. (The C300 takes a special place, more on that later)

The dynamic range I get from the FF cams combined with the shallow depth of field looks magical to me.

memory tree: Canon 5D, 50mm 1.2 from Mike Kobal on Vimeo.

WANTED, teaser: Nikon D800E from Mike Kobal on Vimeo.

The C300 is an exception because it delivers the best dynamic range (better codec) however, it falls short in the shallow depth of field department. The camp was split over these cameras and once we started talking about sound recording, we agreed again, the advantage shifted back to the pro oriented video cams, we all agreed that we need XLR inputs, and proper controls to monitor sound. We also agreed that fewer accessories are safer, especially on sets where time is money and your producer might just kill you if you ask to have the actors re-act a scene because you didn’t realize you puny microphone cable wasn’t all they way plugged in or something else on your perpetuum mobile look alike rig came loose and screwed up a take.

Since the introduction of the revolutionary Canon5Dmk2 (and Panasonic GH2) we also agreed that we haven’t seen anything that would excite us as much as those announcements back in the days.

The Other Side: starring Polina Blinova: Shot with Panasonic Lumix GH2 from Mike Kobal on Vimeo.

And then another friend of mine showed up who isn’t a professional filmmaker, but heavily involved with charity work in Africa. He shoots with a small (tiny sensor) outdated Sony handy-cam to promote his cause. A mix of documentary and narrative editorial style clips, some of them quite impressive. He doesn’t care about sensor size, mf, focus peaking, rigs, nd faders, he just needs to get his point across. He wants his videos to look and sound professional and he prefers a small unobtrusive package. Changing lenses? You can change lenses on a video camera? The last statement cost him a round of beer.

We ended up talking about the new Sony RX10 for the rest of the evening, this might just be the perfect camera for my friend, the charity worker and documentarist.
My other friends hadn’t looked at the specs very closely. When I mentioned that I really believe this camera could be very interesting for all of us (even achieve GH2 cult status), because there is no line skipping and Sony finally managed to employ a processor powerful enough to allow for full 5k readout (sadly we will only be able to record it in full HD) we all knew that this should result in much cleaner looking footage than what we are used to from our DSLR’s. It also has a built in ND filter, clean HDMI (4:2:2) out, Zebra and peaking options…… I had their attention.

Okay. Built in ND filter, though only up to three stops, with base ISO of 125 (expandable to 80-not sure if this will work in video mode) a constant aperture of 2.8 stabilized Zeiss Vario Sonnar, covering a massive range from 24mm to 200mm equiv, a 1.4M EVF and an articulated screen…everyone was seriously interested and the questions kept coming.

Mic input and head phone jack? CHECK. Manual audio controls. CHECK. The only external accessory one would need to attach would be either a Sony XLR-K1M or something like the juicedLink RM333 Riggy, to set up a seriously professional no nonsense, run&gun machine. Remember, we are aiming for the “less is more” solution here.
Then there is also the option for clean HDMI out for the ones who need incredible high bit rates.

And let’s not forget, judging by the photo quality we got from the RX100 and RX100II, this might also be a great camera for the “photos only” documentarists. Raw. Check. 10fps, now that is huge. Plenty of resolution from the 20mp backlit cmos sensor, and we already know from the RX100 and RX100II it will be descent in low light, shallow depth of field, not amazing, decent at the long end, but at the end of the day not that important, in fact lots of depth of field is often preferred by documentary shooters. The video below was shot with the RX100.

Hurricane Sandy NYC from Mike Kobal on Vimeo.

Pay attention to af performance in the clip below, shot with the RX100II, this would have been very difficult to pull off with a dslr rig and mf

Get two RX10’s one set up for Video and sound, the other for photos, a wireless lavalier kit, a good shotgun mic, tripod, portable slider and you are pretty much ready for everything. And you can pack it in a carry on backpack with your laptop and all the other stuff you need when on the road.

Last beer, back to reality, let wait and see if the RX10 really delivers, I am pretty positive it will, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Will the full sensor read out really deliver noticeably better footage, let’s keep in mind it will record in the highly compressed H.264 format. ( Not a problem for general work with the FS100/FS700). Video below, FS700

Then there is low light, will video be as impressive as taking photos at higher ISO? I am also very curious about focus peaking accuracy, since we only get a 1.4M EVF (not 2.4 like on the A7 and A7r) and about continuous af and stabilization in video mode which for many is just as important as mf control.
If everything promised holds true once we start shooting with it, then I have no doubt the RX10 will rise to rule that particular segment of the market and displace the current aging king, the GH3.

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B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

14 thoughts on “Sony’s RX10, possibly the best hybrid for the serious documentarist: a few things to consider

  1. mike.kobal Post author

    Hi Ironymous.I have used speed boosters and for the most part they do what one would expect them to do. My current preference for fx has less to do with sensor size then overall simplicity within a system I can use for almost everything I shoot. I like to work with multiple bodies. Speed boosters are heavy, add length and cripple AF and sometimes even is, they complicate things. As for the magical look it is possible to get there using SB but using a ff sensor, one lens w the option for AF is straightforward, no surprises with spots and flares caused by added lens elements

  2. Ironymous

    Hello Mike. Since you mentioned your preference of FX format (“full frame”) over DX (APS-C), I thought I’d ask you here: what about APS-C with SpeedBoosters? Have you shot with them and if so, are they a good substitute for videos with that magical quality you speak of?

  3. mike.kobal Post author

    exactly my findings. Image stabilization on the RX100 is excellent. From what I have seen at the EXPO, the RX10 will be just as good, let’s wait and see, but I think you are absolutely correct, this will be the lightweight poor mans EX1 :)

  4. non eric

    we run and gun! Our King has been replaced recently with the gh3. We use the 12-35mm pana 2.8 zoom and with it handheld work is as stable as with the our former King the Sony Ex1. The sound with our sennheiser wireless receivers is excelent direct into the micins. But i did some stablization hand held tests with the RX100 and the image stabilazer beats both the ex1 and the gh3 by a margin!
    If the Rx 10 is as steady handheld as the rx100 then this will be the lighweight poor mans Sony Ex1.

  5. mike.kobal Post author

    No plans for now, but hey, you never know, things can change in a minute! I will def shoot you an email if I end up visiting, Johnnie!

  6. Johnnie

    Hi Mike. Good to hear from you again and thank you for your kind warm words!!

    NYC is not planned anytime soon but how about Vienna? any chance seeing soon here?

    Hug and please stay in touch!


  7. mike.kobal Post author

    Hi Johnnie, how are you my friend? we have to meet up for an weißen G’spritzten one of these days. You in nyc any time soon?
    Anyway, thanks. I can’t wait to see what you will shoot with it, you always do such nice work, let’s keep it quiet we don’t want the camera to get too much hype before we have two each :)
    I really think this is the most forward and advanced announcement of this year. A no nonsense tool, I can take it to Africa, get great shots and video and sound and not worry too much that someone will shoot me because of my D800e or 5D3:)))

  8. Johnnie

    Hi Mike and greetings from Vienna.

    Great article!
    I am holding the same opinion like you that this camera might be the most interesting “documentary shooting style” camera currently in the market.

    Will try and prove this point soon(ish)…:)



  9. MdB

    Just wanted to add a couple of other interesting points for the RX10 as the ultimate doco machine –

    1) Weather sealing.
    2) Continuously variable (no click stops) aperture.

    This thing is going to be an incredible all-in-one video tool if you ask me.

  10. mike.kobal Post author

    thanks Bob! glad you found it useful. I am really looking forward to test it and find out how the footage holds up against my main bread & butter cameras.

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