Monday, May 16, 2016

Fuji X70 vs Ricoh GR II vs Sony RX100 II

Come To Jesus - Pasadena, California
Captured with a Sony RX100 II.
I get asked frequently about gear. People are scouring the web looking for opinions on different cameras, and (surprising to me) people even want to know my opinion. Most recently someone asked which camera I'd recommend, the Fuji X70 or the Ricoh GR II?

These two cameras are similar: 16-megapixel APS-C sensors without an anti-aliasing filter, a fixed 28mm (equivalent) lens, and small enough to fit into your pocket. On paper they're nearly identical. And they cost about the same amount. So which is better? Which should you get?

While the cameras seem similar, the first big difference is design--they look nothing like each other. The X70 is better hands down, except if you prefer something that's unassuming. The X70 has a tilting touch screen, the GR II has snap focus (a feature that every camera should have), the X70 has a superior auto-focus system, the X70 has an X-Trans sensor while the GR II has a traditional Bayer sensor, and there are a number of fairly insignificant differences. They're not the same camera, even though their specs would suggest that the only difference is brand.

In my article How To Research Digital Cameras I mention that I use DPReview's Studio Comparison Tool to help me decide between cameras. You can look at tiny crops of studio test shots to see the small differences in image quality. It should be taken with a grain of salt as this is pixel-peeping. The only person who pixel-peeps your photographs is you. Nobody else looks this closely at your pictures. So differences that seem big when viewed this close are not nearly so big when viewed at a normal level.

I'm using DPReview's tool because I've never owned or used the Fuji X70 or the Ricoh GR II. I have no real-world experience with either camera. To make up for this, I'm including the Sony RX100 II in this comparison, which I do own and have experience with. It has a 20-megapixel 1" sensor (but with an anti-aliasing filter), a 28mm-100mm (equivalent) zoom lens, and it is slightly smaller than the X70 and GR II.

The first thing I want to look at is lens sharpness. The lens, in my opinion, is the most important part of a camera, even more important than the sensor. The DPReview Studio Comparison Tool allows you to look at four different cameras, so I chose the Leica X (Typ 113) for the final slot. The Leica X has a 16-megapixel APS-C sensor without an anti-aliasing filter and a 35mm (equivalnt) lens that's supposed to be pretty darn sharp (and it costs a heck-of-a-lot of money).

So let's take a look, keeping in mind that these are very tiny crops.

What do you notice? The Fuji X70, Sony RX100 II and the Leica X all have pretty much identical sharpness. The GR II is noticeably the sharpest of the four and wins this test hands down. But that doesn't mean that the other cameras don't have good lenses, just that the GR II's is a little sharper. The RX100 II matches the sharpness of the Fuji and Leica despite having an anti-aliasing filter and being a zoom lens--amazing!

Note that, even though the RX100 II has a 20-megapixel sensor and the other three cameras have a 16-megapixel sensor, the anti-aliasing filter robs the Sony of about four-megapixels worth of resolution, evening the cameras out. Also note that at base ISO the cameras produce almost identical image quality, which is to be expected since all cameras produce good image quality at base ISO.

Let's look at high-ISO now. I only included the Leica X to compare lens sharpness, so, for this next test, I replaced it with a full-frame camera, the Nikon D750.

At ISO 400 the Fuji X70 and Nikon D750 look the same, while the Ricoh GR II and Sony RX100 II show a bit more noise. But at this point none of the cameras look bad and, when viewed at a normal level (and not pixel-peeping), you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Now I will increase the ISO to 1600 and see what happens.

ISO 1600 shows an acceptable amount of noise and is usable on all four cameras. The X70 and the D750 still look nearly identical with very little noise (the full-frame sensor is slightly cleaner, but it's barely noticeable even when looking this close). The GR II and RX100 II are both significantly more noisy, with the Sony camera the worst (which is to be expected since it has the smallest sensor).

Next I increased the ISO to what I would consider the highest practical ISO for each camera.

Notice that the noise level for each camera is nearly identical. The maximum practical ISO for the RX100 II is ISO 1600, the GR II is ISO 3200, the X70 is ISO 6400 and the D750 is ISO 12800. That means the larger sensor in the Ricoh camera only provides a one-stop high ISO advantage over the smaller sensor in the Sony camera. The Fuji camera has a one-stop advantage over the Ricoh (despite having the same size sensor), and keeps up well with the full-frame sensor in the Nikon.

Let's take a look at one more thing.

I wanted to see how the missing anti-aliasing filter might impact the image. This filter robs the image of sharpness but prevents moire pattern distortion. Most cameras have an anti-aliasing filter (including the Sony RX100 II), but some don't (like the four in the image above).

The X70 has Fuji's X-Trans sensor, which has a (somewhat) random pixel pattern, and doesn't need an anti-aliasing filter because it's not subject to moire pattern distortion. The DP1 Merrill has Sigma's Foveon sensor, which stacks three layers of pixels, and doesn't need an anti-aliasing filter because it's not subject to moire pattern distortion. The GR II has a traditional Bayer sensor and is subject to moire pattern distortion, which you can spot in the fine yellow half-circles (an anti-aliasing filter would prevent this, but at the expense of sharpness and resolution). The Nikon D3300 has a traditional Bayer sensor and is subject to moire pattern distortion, but since it has more resolution (24 megapixels) it occurs less frequently.

Something these test charts don't do a good job of showing is dynamic range (the ability of the camera to capture details in highlights and shadows). Of the three cameras I'm comparing here, the X70 has the largest dynamic range, followed by the GR II, and in last place is the RX100 II. But the gap between the three cameras is pretty insignificant.
Ethical Drugs - Hollywood, California
Captured with a Sony RX100 II.
So which is better? Which camera should you buy?

If you want the best high-ISO capabilities and the best design, the Fuji X70 is the camera to get. If you want the sharpest lens and snap focus, the Ricoh GR II is the camera to get. If you want the ability to zoom and the smallest camera body, the Sony RX100 II is the camera to get.

My advice is to not worry too much about which camera to buy. All three are good and capable of capturing great images (just as long as the photographer is also capable). Vision is much more important than gear. Trust your gut and know that you'll be happy with whichever way you go.

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