Sony RX0, the camera that packs serious fimmaking in a tiny package

As it fits the palm of your hand and weighs 110g, you might be excused to think of the Sony RX0 as just another action camera, but that would be terribly wrong. The RX0 may be small, crushproof, shockproof and waterproof, but in reality, this tiny camera is far more powerful than any existing action cam is.

The DSC-RX0 is a €850 camera equipped with a 1-inch, 21 (15.3 effective) megapixel Exmor RS CMOS sensor and a fixed Zeiss 24mm F4 wide-angle lens. It has a shutter that handles up to 1/32000 sec, ISO levels of 12800 in video mode and 25600 in stills mode and 1000fps slow-motion in 1080p/25. It supports recording to XAVC S (in 8bit/4:2:0 subsampling at 50Mbit/sec), AVCHD V2.0 and MP4. Images can be shot in RAW and JPEG.

The maximum shutter speed should deal with rolling shutter, its crush resistance of 2000N (weights of up to 200kg won’t harm it) allows it to be used in unimaginable spaces, its impact resistance allows you to drop it from 2m high, and its waterproof certification for depths of up 10m without underwater housing make it a killer action cam, yet it is not.

What it is, is a tiny system camera with a fixed f4 aperture and non-zoomable ZEISS Tessar T* lens. It can handle specialised setups, due to the ability to control up to five RX0 cameras if you install PlayMemories Mobile on your smartphone or tablet. For even more filmmaking flexibility, you can control up to 15 RX0s with the addition of an FA-WRC1M wireless radio commander.

N-camera array panels, 360 rigs and bullet camera setups are all eaten by the RX0 for breakfast while the operator remotely creates a carefully synchronised ballet all of the cameras shooting together.

Other usage scenarios include shooting time lapse (up to 16fps) images in environments where a “proper” camera would intrude – be it the opera or a violent street protest – and Vimeo-quality videos of whatever topic you can imagine, except those where “bokeh” effects are required.

Switching on the RX0 is instantaneous. The tiny but tack sharp LCD display shows you an abundance of information. Next to the LCD display is a door that gives access to the micro-HDMI and USB port and to a mini-jack audio interface. Here you’ll also find the Micro-SD card slot.

Around the LCD display, the buttons are arranged and they’re all rather fiddly to operate. However, everything feels like it’s built for warfare on a tiny scale and once you’re in the 23-page menu system it will look like you’re handling the settings of a full-blown DSLR camera made for the Little People. You do need a trip to the menu for almost every change in your setup, though.

S-Log2 gamma settings and 4:2:2 4K image-out via the micro-HDMI port belong to the professional features of the RX0. Less impressive is battery life. It’s only 35 minutes or 240 images of actual shooting time. Of course, you can output 4K in 24fps or 30fps and the battery will live a lot longer, or power it from the mains via the USB port.

I tested the camera’s noise levels under controlled circumstances. I set up lighting at 75, 180, 450 and 700 lux, and had the RX0 shooting at 400, 1600 (minimum Slog-2 setting), 3200 and 6400 ISO with each luminance setting, and at a distance of 50cm.

The highest ISO combined with the lowest luminance gave almost no noise, while the noise was considerable with the lowest ISO value/lowest luminance. Some combinations – some unexpectedly – generated more noise than others, so it pays to experiment. Later on, I also ran a test at 27 lux, at which point the noise was considerable regardless of the combination.

Focus can be set manually and is made easier with the help of customisable focus peaking. Preset Focus mode works well too. In that mode, the RX0 automatically focuses on a subject that is further away than 1m and when you also activate “NEAR” focusing range, it automatically does so on a subject within the 1m range. Photos were tack sharp and colours were nicely saturated.

You can set white balance as with any DSLR, but you’ll need sufficient lighting to get a proper WB setting. Better is to work with a light meter.

I also tried shooting a clip at 960fps and while that is great, when I played back the clip at normal speed, it looked as if someone had liquified the scene. Only when I slowed it down to 1/16th, did it look better.

Verdict

The high specs of the RX0, its robustness and capabilities put it in a league of its own. It’s not an action camera – although you can use it as such – but its array functionality, remote control features and accessories put it firmly in the big movie and documentary production category where it concerns its movie shooting functionality. For photographers, there’s less flexibility due to the fixed aperture of the lens, but time lapse enthusiasts will love the RX0 for its strength in that area. With what I saw of it, I think it’s a snug fit for both time lapse and movie pros.

Having said that, it is also a fabulous camera for anyone with deep pockets interested in street video and photography, Youtube production, etc.

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