Sony RX100 M4: Close-Up Experiences

No Dedicated Macro Mode | A Rule of Thumb... | Using Autofocus for Close-Ups | Using Manual Focus for Close-Ups | Finding the Closest Distance for Shots with Maximum Magnification | An Interplay of AF and MF | Working with "Ersatz" Targets | Close-Up Lenses | References

This page and its companion pages discuss the macro abilities of the Sony RX100 M4. Although the camera has a macro mode (allowing shots from 5 cm), I would not call these photos "macros" and therefore use the term "close-up."

This page presents some experiences as to using the Sony RX100 M1 for close-up shots with automatic and manual focus, plus some more.

Note: For more close-up photos see pages Close-Up Introduction and First Samples, Close-Up Samples and Close-Up Samples - Part 2.

 

No Dedicated Macro Mode

Except for a Macro scene (SCN) mode, the Sony RX100 M4 does not have a specific macro mode. This means that you need not set the camera to "macro" as you have to for many other cameras. Just move the camera as close as possible in the direction of the object and half-press the shutter button to see whether the camera finds focus. If it does, it beeps and shows a green focus confirmation frame. In addition, a green dot at the bottom left of the display stands steady. If it does not, there is no beep, the green dot blinks, and there is no green confirmation frame. Typically, you are too close to the target, particularly if you are using a focal length longer than 24 mm equivalent. The minimum distance increases quickly and to 30 cm at the telephoto end (not quite as bad as for the RX100 M1...).

 

A Rule of Thumb...

The minimum object size for the Sony RX100 M4 is about 10 x 6.7 cm (or simply 10 x 7 cm) (see page Close-Up Introduction and First Samples). Are there any familiar objects that can help you get an idea of this size? Yes, finally, I found one: It is about the size of a half a postcard (15 x 10 cm -> 10 x 7.5 cm).

This "rule of thumb" provides an idea of what the RX100 M4 can do for you with respect to close-up photos. For example, it allows you to take a "full-frame" photo of a rose flower or a small signposts with text, but not of small daisy blossoms or stamps. See the sample photos for examples (pages Close-Up Introduction and First Samples, Close-Up Samples and Close-Up Samples - Part 2; note that not all of them were taken at the closest possible distance).

 

Using Autofocus for Close-Ups

Using autofocus for close-ups can be a frustrating experience with the Sony RX100 M4, particularly afterwards when you look at your photos more closely and realize that the camera missed the target more than often. In the following, I present my approaches to getting more consistent and satisfying results for close-up photos.

Selecting the Appropriate Autofocus Area

The only thing that you can influence with respect to the camera's autofocus is the autofocus area. Typically, you start with the Wide option (formerly called Multi...), which is the default. But very soon it seemed too unreliable to me as to the identity of the recognized target (focus confirmation alone does not mean "much" - the focus target can lie far in the background...). So I switched to the Center option to have more control over the autofocus target. But even with this option, I had focusing problems, probably, because the focus area was still too large and thus, unspecific. So, what could I do? As a last resort, I tried the Flexible Spot option and finally got fairly consistent and satisfying results. With this option you can not only move the focus area, but also can change it size in three steps (which is not possible with the M1): L(arge) is about the same size as the Center autofocus area, M(edium) corresponds about the size of the spot for the RX100 M1, and S(mall) offers a fairly small area (hopefully large enough for contrast AF to find some differences...).

         

Photos: Size of the Flexible Spot focus area for the RX100 M4 - it can be changed in three steps (L, M, S - from left to right); M corresponds more or less to the size for the RX100 M1

Changing Further Photographic Parameters...

I did a few more things to improve the results for close-ups:

*) Depending on what you want to achieve, a larger aperture opening with less depth of field may be desired (see page Close-Ups with Aperture Variations for the effects on the M1)
**) If the light conditions permit, ISO can be lowered to 400 or even 200 for better image quality. In "urgent" cases you might even want to increase ISO to 1600 to get a sharp picture of a rare bug.

Since all this means changing quite a lot of settings for a close-up shot now and then, I considered to store these settings in a custom setting for easy recall whenever I shoot close-ups. But I never actually put this into practice...

A Complication - Solved Only Somewhat

With the Flexible Spot autofocus area, however, a new issue arises, when you do not set the center button to Standard, but assign a function to it (for the M1, this was the Focus Magnifier function, which I can assign to the Custom button on the M4). Whenever you want to change the location of the Flexible Spot autofocus area, you have to enter the Fn menu and set the autofocus area to Flexible Spot once again in order to be able to move the autofocus area. This is cumbersome to say the least...

Since I decided to set the center button to Standard, I do not have this problem. Moreover, the Focus Magnifier functionality is also there in the guise of Manual Focus Assist, but this comes up only automatically, namely when you turn the control ring, which is used for manual focusing when the center button is set to Standard.

However, in "normal" shooting mode, that is, in P mode with Center autofocus area, focus tracking will be activated whenever you press the center button because it is set to Standard. This is annoying, to say the least... In the case that you assigned a function to the center button, you get an error message in AF mode. Not much better either, but easier to get rid of... All in all, in this situation, the camera proves less than perfect and displays some of the frustrations that I read about in RX100 reviews...

Nevertheless, the Flexible Spot autofocus area seems to deliver usable focusing results. And on the RX100 M4 you can easily reset to position of the autofocus area by pressing the Custom button.

Note: On the RX100 M1, the level indicator interferes visually somewhat with the autofocus area indicator for the Flexible Spot autofocus area, but this has been improved on the M4. See the photos below for illustration (gray and green autofocus area):

         
         
   
         
   

Photos: The Flexible Spot focus area indicator is shown in gray when the shutter button is not pressed; on the RX100 M4, it no longer interferes visually with the level indicator (top and center rows; center row magnified). The Flexible Spot autofocus area indicator is highlighted in green while the shutter button is being pressed down half-way and AF found a target. Highlighting in green interferes much less with the level indicator than the gray color.

All in all, for the RX100 M4, I do no longer turn the level indicator off when using Flexible Spot autofocus area, as I did (and recommended) for the M1.

New Idea: Using Tracking Focus for Close-Up Shots

After I had read an article about focus tracking with new DSLR and system cameras in dpreview.com in spring 2017, I had the idea of using the focus tracking mode of the Sony RX 100 M1 for close-up shots and for shots where the subject is not at the center. Actually, this focus mode is meant for moving objects. So, this proposal is a kind of "misuse" of this feature. I prepared an extra page about this topic on which I also present some sample images. See there for details.

Up to now, I did not use this feature on the Sony RX100 M4.

 

Using Manual Focus for Close-Ups

Since there is no dedicated macro mode on the Sony RX100 M4, focusing manually is the same for all target distances. The camera offers two tools that are meant to make manual focusing easier:

Focusing manually is done using the control ring at the lens. Some people say that this is intuitive and provides a focusing experience similar to an camera with manual focus. Others, however, say that the experience is rather "indirect", since focusing is "by wire," and turning the wheel is rather tedious because there are no stops at the end (which a manual lens provides). All in all, I have to agree with the latter.

I more or less hate focusing manually with the RX100 M1, but there are some improvements with the RX100 M4. For example, I never know, which direction to turn the control ring. But since there is a coarse distance scale (which is not displayed in the M1 version), I can see, at least, whether I am turning in the right direction. The camera provides only very coarse information on the set distance. But this at least helps me to quickly reach the two end points, that is, the shortest possible distance and infinity. The shortest possible distance is useful for taking close-up shots at maximum magnification. Setting the distance manually to infinity is useful in quite a few applications where the autofocus might be fooled or does not find a target (sky, a fence in the foreground, etc.)

 

Finding the Closest Distance for Shots with Maximum Magnification

When using AF, it is little bit tedious to find the closest possible distance. If you are too close, focus will not be confirmed, and you have to increase the distance and reframe the photo. If you are too far away, the target objects will be smaller than possible - and you may not even notice that you are too far away and how much. Using manual focus and setting the minimum distance of 5 cm (using the control ring, which is also a little bit tedious...) allows you to shoot at the closest distance. And since the RX100 M4 provides a coarse distance scale, this is much easier than on the RX100 M1. I mentioned this already above...

However, I find it hard to recognize on the LCD screen or in the viewfinder, whether the target object is optimally in focus. Here, the two focus tools can help, particularly magnification (called Manual Focus Assist and Focus Magnifier). But often I cannot hold the camera steady enough so that I already have lost focus again, when I half-press the shutter button to reframe the photo after using magnification. And then I have to start over...

 

An Interplay of AF and MF

Line the Sony RX100 M1, the RX100 M4 offers a function that already my Minolta Dimage cameras provided, but which I rarely used, although it looks useful on paper: Direct Manual Focus (DMF). In short, it means that after you focused automatically by half-pressing the shutter button, you can adjust the focus manually by turning the control ring at the lens while still half-pressing the shutter button. This also activates Focus Peaking (set to one of three intensities) and magnification (Manual Focus Assist, Focus Magnifier) if these are enabled.

You can use DMF also the other way round: Focus manually first using the control ring and then use the AF for the final focusing. You must briefly release the shutter button so that you can use AF. This may be a solution to the problem that I describe in "Working with Ersatz Targets." You can focus manually using the control ring alone - in this case there is no focus assists - or half-press the shutter button to also activate focus assist, provided it is enabled.

Personally, I find it hard to turn the control ring while half-depressing the shutter button. Often, I slightly release the shutter button in this process and have to start over, which in the end is frustrating. It looks, as if I will not use this feature with the Sony RX100 M4 very often (as was the case for the Minolta Dimage and the RX100 M1 as well)...

Note that the control ring is exclusively dedicated to focusing when DMF is used.

 

Working with "Ersatz" Targets

Sometimes, the Sony RX100 M4's autofocus struggles with close targets and focuses on targets in the background. For example, instead of focusing on a flower, the camera focuses on the ground despite the fact that I use center or even (flexible) spot AF (and the focus field is covered by the flower). Generally, with close-ups contrast is often not strong enough for the AF to find focus (which is true for most cameras).

Sometimes, it helps when you focus on something close to the target object and then focus again on the actual target. If the camera erroneously focuses on something farther away and not on the target, it often seems to be "trapped" by that wrong focus object - refocusing again and again does not help. Instead, the camera needs help to find correct focus again, and this can be provided by focusing on a different target that is not too far away from the actual target. Having focused on this "ersatz" target, the camera is now able to focus on the actual target.

Another solution to this problem might be to use Direct Manual Focus (DMF) for focusing and start with manual focusing to come close to the desired target object and then leave the final focusing to the autofocus system.

By the way, I found a similar behavior for the Leica X Vario and the Ricoh GR, and of course, the RX100 M1.

 

Close-Up Lenses

The Sony RX100 M4 lens does not have a filter thread and therefore cannot use close-up lenses (and filters). Of course, you can try to hold a close-up lens with your hand (Close-Up Experiences - Hand-held Close-up Lenses). There are also some "special" solutions to this issue, including one from Sony, that you can find on the Web (Lensmate, MagFilter, ...).

In October 2017, I bought a Lensmate filter adapter. See pages Close-Up Experiences - Lensmate Adapter Unboxing and Installation and Close-Up Experiences - Lensmate Adapter Tests for more information and page Close-Up Samples - Part 3 (with Lenses) for samples.

 

References

 

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12.11.2017