Sony RX100 review – Small and perfectly formed

The Sony RX100 is a small digital camera designed to fit in a pocket and appeal to DSLR users wanting a compact camera capable of great results without the size, weight and inconvenience of carrying around traditional bulky photographic gear.

Sony DSC-RX100 review

Before I bought my Sony RX100 I had used the popular Panasonic Lumix LX5 for a few years. It was a lovely compact travel camera and superb for taking landscape shots whilst away holiday. I admired the wide angle lens on the Panasonic & found results taken outside in daylight perfectly fine, but it did suffer when light levels started to drop. In reality, shots from the LX5 started to get very noisy when using settings of ISO800 and above.

What I needed was a replacement small digital camera that worked in all situations, could fit in my pocket, had a high quality lens and importantly … worked in less than ideal lighting situations. Of course I did a fair bit of homework when it came to choosing a new model and considered the new Panasonic LX7, the Canon G series models & a few others.

Many reviews were starting to praise the Sony RX100. It had a large 20.2 Megapixel sensor, an f1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, RAW capability and was genuinely well-built encased in a tough metal body. I’d seen enough evidence and sample images to take the plunge and buy one. So read on to find out how I’ve been getting on with the Sony RX100 in the last 6 weeks as a go everywhere digital camera and see if it’s the perfect all round compact digital camera for you.

Sony RX1000 sample image, Sony RX100 review
Black & White High Contrast Setting : Photograph by my partner-in-crime Olivia Wild

The Sony RX100 review

Compact is the key here. The RX100 is a genuinely small camera that will go into your pocket. I don’t just mean a coat pocket either … This camera will happily slip into your trouser pockets which can’t be said for many ‘serious’ compact cameras. This is due to the fact that the RX100 has a fully retractable lens which disappears inside the body when turned off. (no fiddling around with lens caps). The Sony doesn’t have a hot shoe either which allows a smooth profile when the camera needs to be put away or grabbed quickly. However, because it’s so small & somewhat slippery a little care must be taken to keep hold of it. The RX100 comes with a wrist strap alone and while this makes perfect sense rather than a full strap it does mean you have to keep a keen grip on it. (There is an option to attach a standard camera strap to the side lugs)

Sony RX100 review
Chester Cathedral taken with The Sony RX100 : Click for full size image

Handling & Controls

The camera is up and running within 2 seconds of turning it on. The standard PASM controls are on the top dial along with scene, video & 2 programme modes. I’m not normally a fan of Auto modes, but Sony seem to have got this right when you just need to leave the camera on point and shoot. There is an intelligent auto mode & a supreme auto mode, which I thought was rather a strange idea when I first started using it, but in regular use these modes begin to make sense. In a nutshell intelligent auto takes care of everything in normal outdoor use in good light. Switch to supreme auto when conditions start to get a little more tricky e.g. indoors, night-time etc.  Supreme auto uses a stacking system and will take several photos and layer them together resulting in a well-balanced final image. This sounds like technology taking a step too far, but believe me .. it works … and it works really well. (Just be aware due to the fact the camera is taking several images in succession, this isn’t the mode if your subject is moving)

Butterflies with Sony RX100
When taking close up subjects the RX100 will automatically switch to macro mode

The RX100 has a 3 inch LCD rear screen and uses Sony’s whitemagic display technology meaning it can be seen in all conditions. Safe to say that it’s always pretty easy to see what’s going on when composing images even in sunshine, so it does what it says in the book. Talking of the book …  The Sony RX100 only comes with a basic manual which doesn’t explain all the menu functions, modes and custom options that can be performed with this camera. You’ll have to go online to Sony to find the full manual I’m afraid.

The menu functions and further modes are accessed on a rear dial, of which there are many settings to absorb and work out what’s best for you. There is also a custom button to jump straight to movie mode, but more about that later. Custom functions can be set and assigned to the Fn button for ease. I’ve assigned exposure compensation, drive settings, ISO & image modes to this button. If I could criticise anything about the RX100 it’s a lack of a dedicated exposure compensation dial. (I think you may be able to assign it to the front wheel, but I haven’t found that in the non-supplied instruction book yet!)

Olivia Wild, Clarinet specialist & Photographer, Sony RX100 camera review
Black & White High Contrast Mode

Focusing, Exposure & Shooting Modes

I’ve already covered the two auto modes which are fine for general use, but there are many other modes to use when you start digging deeper. There are intelligent scene modes and various fun settings of which several are a little hit and miss, but hidden away are some very usable setting indeed. As you can see from the sample images on this page, I’ve become a fan of the high-contrast black & white setting which works brilliantly. The resulting images need little or no post editing afterwards which ticks a lot of my boxes. The less work I have to do after a days shooting the better. You may want to experiment with some of the HDR & Illustration modes to see if they work for you.

When it comes to focusing, the Sony RX100 is generally very good. I’ve spent whole days out and about and it’s only failed to focus a few times & to be honest, that’s been down to user error if I’ve been wanting offset macro photos for instance. The RX100 will automatically go into macro mode when you are close to a subject and needs to have the right focus point set, but other than that, generally it’s pretty good.

The exposure too has been pretty spot on in general and the camera is intelligent enough to work out if a subject is back-lit or not. I generally keep flash settings in the ‘off’ setting, but the RX100 seems to be good when the flash is in operation too. One little surprise is the ability to tilt the flash back and bounce the flash for a more flattering image. This takes a little deft work with a finger to hold the flash back, but it works surprisingly well.

Sony RX100 review, sample image taken with Sony RX100

The rest

The Sony RX100 has an equivalent zoom range of 28-100mm which covers everything I would need in normal use (It would have been nice if it had been a little wider, but you can’t have everything). The battery seems to last all day even with quite heavy shooting. The Sony website estimates 330 shots, but I’ve managed over 400 without panicking that the battery would run out.

There are several continuous shooting modes upto 10fps which have come in handy and they nice to have when you need a little more speed to capture moving subjects. There are also various focus modes which I haven’t really used such as facial recognition and motion tracking which are accessed via the centre button on the back. (annoyingly I’ve set the tracking focus setting a few times and it took me ages to find out how to turn it off because once again the instructions are very basic so I had to go online again to find out why it kept happening.

The RX100 can shoot full HD video in two formats: either AVCHD or MP4 of which I’ve tested and can say is fine for what I would need. The image stabilisation system in movie mode does work very well though. Battery charging is done in camera which can be a little inconvenient if you wish to use the camera whilst charging a second battery, but that’s just a minor niggle which I don’t really mind.

Sony Cybershot RX100 review, Black & White setting on RX100
Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Verdict

The Sony RX100 is one of the smallest and most advanced compact digital cameras on the market right now. As a back up to larger DSLR cameras it pulls its weight when it has to and the results are great when taking those everyday snapshots. With a little thought, this little camera can pull out fantastic quality images that often need little or no work in post process.  The large 1 inch sensor also means there is scope to crop photographs afterwards with little loss of resolution.

There may be other small cameras on the market, but very few have a large sensor that is as good as the one in the RX100. There are a few competitors that are cheaper, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. As you can see from the images on this page this camera is a lovely tool that happily stays with me on my travels. With this in mind I’d go as far to say that this is genuinely the best pocket-able camera you can buy right now.

hands on review of the sony rx100

All images have been re-sized to 72dpi on this page as original file sizes range from 5-8mb

To find out more visit sony.co.uk

Scarlet & Gold: Army music at its best!

I was most honoured to be invited to The Household Division 2012 Scarlet & Gold Concert in London by The Buffet Group who supported the concert.

army music, army musicians, british army music, guards band

For many people the stereotypical image of a military band is of soldiers and musicians parading up and down in front of Buckingham Palace or playing waltzes on the bandstand at the seaside in summer. I urge anyone with these views to think again and attend a large military band concert to change your mind about army music and the diversity that these professional musicians can offer.

Before the concert, I was invited to attend with Howarth of London and other MOD musical suppliers, to a VIP drinks and dinner reception held in the Guards Museum, who were hosting the event at Westminster Central Hall. During the dinner I was seated next to the charismatic and entertaining Frank Renton, presenter of Listen to the Band on BBC Radio 2.  Frank Renton was also previously Principal Director of Music for the British Army, so as you can imagine is very well informed on all things musical & military.

The Scarlet & Gold concert had previously been held in the Royal Albert Hall but this year the venue had been moved to a slightly smaller, yet still imposing venue of the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.

The concert opened in traditional military fashion with the National Anthem closely followed by a barnstorming concert opener of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkeries’ conducted by the Senior Director of Music, Guards Division: Lt Colonel Barnwell, with a slightly unique twist of having two teams of fanfare trumpeters located on either side of the upper balcony. If we hadn’t heard enough trumpets already, the Massed Household Division Bands were then joined by the state trumpeters of the Life Guards and Blues & Royals to play ‘March Militaire’ which in the Central Hall would have been what the composer Charles Gounod wanted, I’m sure of that.

The showcase piece of the first half was Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed: a large scale original work which tests the technical ability of any band. This was played with style and panache that suits the guards bands perfectly. In contrast to this, violinist Rebecca White then played the theme to the film Schindlers List accompanied by the band. Proof that many musicians in the army are also accomplished string players and Rebecca played it beautifully. The applause following this fantastic performance said it all.

To close the first half we were introduced to the Corps of Drums, 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment who performed ‘Victory Beatings’ then joined the band in playing the rousing marches Namur and Scarlet & Gold, composed by Lloyd Thomas which was a very fitting march, considering the title of tonight’s event.

Guards Bands, Military music, army music, corps of army music, army music, howarth of london
Scarlet and Gold, Household Division Bands Concert.

After a brief interval, Captain Smith of the Grenadier Guards opened the second half with the Star Wars main theme. Which is repertoire perfectly suited to a military band and always a concert favourite. It was now, in true army style, time to bring on the Pipes and Drums of The London regiment playing Crags of Tumbledown, a march by ‘Jimmy Riddle’ written during the Falklands conflict on the back of a cardboard army ration pack. The original ‘score’ can be seen today on display in the guards museum. We were then off to see the wizard! A wonderful selection of tunes arranged from the film The Wizard of Oz conducted by Major Wolfendale of the Coldstream Guards.

As another example of the diversity of army music today, the Household Division Big Band had a slot of three contrasting numbers. Dressed in No. 2 uniform to give a retro-feel to the proceedings, The Guards Big Band certainly did rock with some amazing drumming from Neil Brocklehurst. James Scott sang his own arrangement of ‘In the wee small hours of the morning’ with a lovely intimate feeling and the remaining two pieces having notable saxophone solos from Clark Doidge & Dean Nixon.

The fanfare teams returned to the Hall afterwards to join the massed bands again in Bizet’s Farandole before Andrew Wallis: Curator of the Guards Museum stepped onto the stage to explain about the purpose of the nights concert and the military charities that were supported.

And so to the finale: It seemed inevitable that all performers for the evening would be involved in a rousing & loud finale and we weren’t shortchanged here. A setting of The Last Post to ‘Will ye no come back again’ and Auld Lang Syne by Duncan Beat would have had the traditionalists reaching for their headache tablets with fanfare trumpets, state trumpets, bagpipes and drums all involved in this epic arrangement, but it was certainly memorable. With the applause still ringing around the hall the massed bands ended the concert with Horatio Nicholls ‘When the Guards are on Parade’. How could there be any other march that could close this Scarlet & Gold musical spectacular?

It’s rare these days to see large scale military concerts, so if you have the chance to attend one of these events, then please make the effort to see musicians from the British Army perform. It’s not just about the marching!

As a final word, these concerts are critical in this current climate in raising awareness of the need to raise more cash for the charities that support soldiers, guardsmen and their families. Plus, The Guards Museum that tells the story of an important part of Britain’s military history about the seven household division regiments that have kept the British Army the pride of the nation for over 350 years.

scarlet and gold, army music, guards bands, army musicians

Corps of army music concerts

Fuji Finepix X100 Review

After using the Fuxi X100 for a couple of months I thought it was time to air my views about this lovely professional compact camera.

I bought the Fuji X100 after much research as an addition to my Two Nikon DSLR’s. I was going to upgrade one of my Nikon bodies to a newer model with the criteria ‘cost vs image quality.’

The decision to consider the Fuji X100 was made on the basis that I’m not a camera ‘snob’. To me, photography is all about the subject, image, composition  and the quality of the final product, to that end I’m quite happy using my Iphone 4S when all else fails.

I’d been using a compact Panasonic Lumix LX5 more & more for everyday photography and must admit I liked the freedom of not carting Pro bodied Nikon SLRs around with all the associated Nikon Lenses. Of course, there are limitations of using a compact compared with SLRs, but do we really need to be carrying an SLR around?

Fuji X100 review, review of fuji finepix X100

The Fuji Finepix X100 is marketed as ‘The Professional’s choice‘ and having seen rave reviews about it, I finally bit the bullet and bought one.

So what is it like?

It is very similar to the Leica M6 in looks and modelled on the ‘retro rangefinder’ look. To hold it’s almost perfect, not too small (as you can see by the top image) but it has a weighty, well made feel about it (no plastic here). All the controls are just where you would expect them to be. I was brought up using old manual SLR film cameras so it just feels like coming home.

It is a lot slower in real use than a SLR or modern compact. But I quite like that. It slows me down into thinking about what I am doing and I spend time not wasting shots and thinking about the final image.

A lot of reviews state that the autofocus is a little clumsy. I will agree with that, but I think we are all used to the concept of point and shoot cameras with perfect results each and every time. If you try and ‘snap’ away with the X100 it does get a little confused about focus points sometimes. At first it was frustrating and a little annoying, but I’ve learnt to slow down and live with its shortcomings. It’s all about planning ahead, and going back to my point about being brought up on totally manual SLR film cameras I can see why Fuji designed the X100 in this way. It really does have a traditional feel about it.

It does have a few little quirks. The exposure compensation dial is easy to knock from the ‘home’ position and then you’ve taken a few shots before you realise that they are over or under exposed & the hot shoe has a very sharp edge which isn’t great when you catch it on your forehead.

Image Quality!

Fuji Finepix X100 review, Finepix x100 sample image

In a word ‘stunning‘ It has a 12.3 million pixel CMOS sensor, which is used in Nikon SLRs. Whatever Fuji did with the old Nikon D300 sensor is amazing. The resolution is fantastic. It’s also the best camera I have ever used in low light. Even when you use high ISO’s up to ISO 3200 there still isn’t really any visible noise in the resulting image. It really is that good. The fixed F2 35mm lens is also very sharp and images are free of any fringing and virtually zero distortion. It’s the perfect focal length for everyday photography and great for ‘street’ photography.

Samples

And a Full size section of the photo below for example of the resolution this camera has

Low light Photo taken in black & white mode at ISO3200

Fuji Finepix X100 review, Fuji X100 low light image sample

And for colour & sharpness in sunshine my ever obliging daughter below

Conclusion

Yes the Fuji x100 does have a few shortcomings. It’s not ‘quite’ perfect, but hopefully Fuji will release a firmware update in the future to fix a few minor issues. It’s a little slow on start up & the menu button on the back is a little small to use easily, but that’s all that I’ve found wrong with it.

A far as taking photographs is concerned it is the nicest camera I own. Sorry Nikon, For everyday use the Fuji beats you!  It is an excellent camera that provides excellent results with a fantastic lens & is beautiful to use in low light conditions. It is very discreet, has a virtually silent shutter and doesn’t shout ‘look at me’  It will be going everywhere with me as my first choice camera this year.

The Fuji Finepix X100 Website

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

This morning I thought I would make some bread. The last time I ever came in contact with ‘bread’ baking was when my grandmother used to make it when I was a small child. I assumed it would be an awfully messy job.

I’m quite a foodie & chef but as far as baking is concerned I was somewhat in the dark. I did my research on twitter & asked the question about where to start?

Thanks to @cloudstratuk I had the info I needed about which bread mix to buy!

Dough in early stages of production

I was advised to buy the “Wright’s Baking’ Premium White Bread mix as it was easy to make by just adding water.. This I think I could do?

Basically making bread with this mix was as simple as pouring the packet contents into a bowl, adding half a pint of lukewarm water and mixing all together for 5 minutes. Then leaving on a floured surface for 5 minutes, kneading & stretching for a  few minutes then leaving to stand again!

I even bought a new 2lb loaf tin specially for this ‘baking related’ project today.  After the dough had been kneaded, stretched & beaten into submission, off to the loaf tin it went, covered with cling film (which I had to fight with to get out of the packet) Me & cling film often disagree!

Dough proving in the loaf tin by the radiator

The dough had to be covered in the loaf tin with cling film and be left to double in size for about 30 to 40 minutes in a warm place. In my case I put the loaf tin on a chair by a radiator. I switched on the oven during this time so it would come up to the require temperature.

After 35 minutes the dough had risen perfectly and then I popped it in the oven for 30 minutes.

The end result & perfect fresh crusty bread

Half an hour later & a beautifully smelling flat later. The loaf was baked.

I really can’t believe how simple this was!  I’m a homemade bread convert now & shall be baking more!

Lunch was some lovely organic smoked salmon which was delicious with the nice warm fresh homemade bread!

Wright’s Baking Website

Howarth of London: The UKs leading Woodwind Specialists

Howarth of London, Woodwind Specialists are tucked away on the fashionable Chiltern Street located just parallel to Baker Street in London.

howarth of london, howarth oboe, clarinet at howarth
Howarth of London Shop Front on Chiltern Street

The Company was formed in 1948 but can trace its manufacturing history back to George Howarth woodwind repairs in the West end of London in 1894. Howarth of London are renowned for their professional range of Oboes that are played by members of many of the Leading Orchestras in the UK & Overseas. The company manufactures a range of professional Oboes in workshops located by the Sea in Worthing West Sussex.

I had the privilege of visiting the manufacturing facilities recently and was amazed at the work that goes into producing these beautiful instruments. Howarth have a dedicated and vastly experienced team of craftsmen that are involved in making these fantastic instruments. The makers have my total admiration. I was highly impressed with the skill, care & absolute pride that the engineering staff put into making these oboes. It takes 6 craftsmen upwards of 80 hours working with over 300 components to make an Oboe!  No wonder so many professional oboists worldwide choose Howarth!

21st Century Oboe: A great Article about how Howarth of London have redesigned the Oboe for Modern Musical Repertoire.

I wouldn’t have the patience & dexterity to work like this. When I was younger I used to get frustrated with Airfix kits, never mind the hours, days & weeks of dedication that go into producing a Professional Oboe!

oboe repairs, repairer at howarth of london
Making a Howarth of London Professional Oboe

The retail premises in London are split into the separate specialist departments. Oboes, Clarinets, Saxophones & Bassoons. There is also a team of dedicated instrument repairers on site that live at the back of the shop. The repair department reminds me of my grandfathers workshop. Inside there are wood turning machines, old tools, new expensive looking tools, files, pots of ‘stuff’, various tubes of grease, bits of wood, blowtorches, bits of metal, selections of wire, lots of very sharp tools & the list goes on and on.  There really is a ‘dark art’ to fixing a woodwind instrument!

howarth of london
Repairing a Woodwind Instrument at Howarth of London

All staff at the shop are players and have their own dedicated departments. If you are a woodwind player or if you are wanting to learn an instrument or get advice about what instrument is suitable to your needs the staff are really helpful & knowledgeable.

The shop has become one of the most highly respected specialist music shops in the world. No woodwind section of any touring orchestra or woodwind musician visiting London misses an opportunity to visit Howarth.

olivia wild clarinet specialist, howarth clarinets
Testing a Buffet ‘Tosca’ clarinet

The business is always busy when I visit. The Howarth of London shop is always filled with the sound of music from someone in the dedicated testing rooms finding a new instrument or new mouthpiece to buy, or from the staff testing repaired instruments and finding out what’s new to recommend to visiting players.

If you are a musician and would like to find out more about this friendly specialist shop then get in touch with them direct

http://www.howarth.uk.com/

olivia wild clarinet howarth of london
Soprano Saxophones on display at Howarth of London

I would like to thank the Howarth directors Nigel Clark and Jeremy Walsworth for allowing me access to the business for photographic purposes