Image Quality

Sony's new RX1R II packs a punch when it comes to image quality, and here we analyze various aspects of it - from Raw and JPEG performance to the effects of the various optical low-pass filter settings.

Raw Performance

We've seen the RX1R II's sensor before in the a7R II, and found the world's first BSI-CMOS full-frame sensor to be one of the best around in terms of low light performance and dynamic range (follow these links for more in-depth information on the performance of the BSI-CMOS sensor). Unsurprisingly then, the RX1R II demonstrates nearly class-leadingly low levels of noise in Raw that are competitive against even the well-regarded a7S II. Raw dynamic range falls just short of the class-leading Nikon D810, but matches our outperforms most other competitors - an advantage for landscape photographers who will also appreciate the high resolution of the 42MP sensor.

JPEG Quality

The JPEG engine in the RX1R II is largely the same as that in the a7R II, which is a very good thing. It means we see smart sharpening algorithms that preserve tons of detail, especially compared to the detail lost to aliasing removal in the Leica Q. The Q's engine also produces a lot of stair stepping along sharp edges and details, partly from it being so sharp (as seen in the Raw), and the JPEG engine applying a clumsy sharpening and alias removal algorithm. Compared to its own predecessor and popular high resolution competitors from Canon and Nikon, the RX1R II also holds up well, with tasteful sharpening that eeks out more detail than the softness-inducing Nikon JPEG engine, while avoiding the halos resulting from large radius sharpening in 5DS R JPEGs.

Colors are generally pleasing, and well saturated, relative to high-end DSLR offerings from Canon and Nikon, and particularly so compared to the somewhat desaturated Leica Q JPEGs. Greens continue to be slightly blue-shifted relative to the warmer, more saturated greens of the Q and the Nikon, though, and yellows - much like the Q - just aren't as yellow as Nikon's rendering. Importantly, skintones are quite pleasing, striking a balance between the more magenta-shifted Nikon and yellow-shifted Canon - even in low light, where warmth is maintained rather than being over-corrected. In comparison, the Leica Q renders skintones somewhat greenish and fairly desaturated, particularly at high ISO.

We should particularly commend Sony on their new noise reduction algorithms, which have been updated from the original RX1/R to remove some of the artifacts of context sensitive noise reduction that plagued earlier Sony cameras (particularly visible around edges). We've seen the Alpha 7R II, which ostensibly uses the same engine as the RX1R II, convincingly reduce noise while retaining detail in low contrast areas better than most competitors (we use the a7R II as opposed to the RX1R II to demonstrate this because the RX1R II's subpar lens quality wouldn't yield a fair comparison in this off-center section of our scene). In fact, it's impressive any detail can be rescued from the noisy mess at ISO 51,200 (compare the JPEG to Raw crops); yet the RX1R II yields nicely discernible greenery compared to the unintelligible Leica Q crop. This doesn't come without a cost though: removing so much noise can sometimes leave behind odd, blotchy color artifacts. Those that prefer the more grainy look may appreciate the Q, but can also opt for less aggressive noise reduction on the Sony by setting noise reduction to 'low' or 'off', or shooting Raw.

Variable low-pass filter

One of the most innovative features in the RX1R II is a variable low-pass filter, to allow for control of the anti-aliasing effect. This is a world's first, and it works remarkably well, with higher settings effectively decreasing color aliasing, albeit at the cost of sharpness (scroll back up to the widget as you click these links). We think that you can almost always safely leave it to 'off' for maximum detail, but shooting particular patterns at specific distances may necessitate its use, and you’ll be pleased with its results.

For testing Sony's variable low-pass filter, we turned to none other than Mr. Moiré himself: our own Richard Butler, and one of his many, many jackets.

Because of the high pixel count of this sensor, we had to use a very fine pattern to introduce moiré. Even then, we had to position the camera and the subject at just the right distance to see its effects. Although you probably won't need the adjustable LPF very often, this illustration does show that on those occasions when you do need it, it can be very useful.

LPF Off LPF Low LPF High