Sony launches DSC-RX0 ultra compact, waterproof, shockproof camera

Did you ever watch the special extras for The Matrix, way back when? Remember “Bullet time”? That first time when Trinity leapt into a kick and, in a cinematic paradigm shift, froze as the camera  orbited around her?

As the extras explain, Bullet time was achieved with a rig of still cameras, artfully triggered to capture all angles at the same instant, or sometimes in a sequence to allow super slow motion. Assemble the frames and you have the video.

Except, back in the late 1990s, it was all on film and those frames would have had to have been graded to identical brightness and colour. Film is like that.

With its new DSC-RX0 camera, Sony is stressing its undoubted virtues with regard to robustness and quality, but the thing that caught my imagination was an accessory. The Sony FA-WRC1M wireless radio commander can take control of up to fifteen of these new cameras and trigger them. Buy a few of the cameras and start making your own bullet time sequences.

Furthermore, Sony says that a:

wireless multi-camera shooting solution capable of connecting further RX0 units when an access point is used is currently being developed and will be released in January 2018 via a firmware update. For users looking for a more reliable wired connection, a camera control box is also being developed and will be released in January 2018.

So what are these cameras? It seems that Sony has taken the highly portable, robust box concept of action cameras and married it to the quality technology it uses in its high end consumer and professional grade still and video cameras.

The Sony RX0 features a ZEISS Tessar T* 24mm F4 fixed wide-angle lens focusing images onto a 15.3 megapixel Sony Exmor RS CMOS image sensor, with image processing by Sony’s BIONZ X processor. It works as a still camera and as a video camera.

In still mode, it has shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 of a second and continuous shooting of up to 16 frames per second. Despite the compact size, it has lots of the stuff you like to see in real camera, including 25 point contrast detection auto focus, manual focus with focus assist and peaking, ISO settings from 80 to 12800, adjustable white balance, up to three stops of exposure compensation either way and the ability to capture in both JPEG and RAW.

In video mode the RX0 can capture up to 4K, apparently with 4:2:2 colour resolution. If I’m reading things right, in 4K mode you need to connect an external recorder via HDMI. Using microSDXC or Memory Stick Micro media, it seems to be limited to full HD.

And speaking of full HD, the camera can do high frame rate recording – which equates to slow motion if played back at normal speeds – of up to 1000 frames per second, or up to 960 frames per second for more cinema-friendly output. That’s forty times slow motion.

It can be very hard to anticipate then to start shooting slow motion, so a post action press of the button can capture several previous seconds.

The camera is safe to 10 metres underwater – a hundred metres with the optional MPK-HSR1 housing – up to a two metre drop (onto 5cm thick plywood, not onto concrete) and under up to 2000 newtons of crushing force.

Do you have an intuitive feel for what a newton of force is? I don’t so I looked it up. Basically, two one-hundred-kilogram men could put a plank on the camera and stand on it, and the camera should withstand it.

But, as always, according to the footnote: “Depending on usage conditions and circumstances, no guarantee is made regarding damage to, malfunction of, or waterproof performance of this camera.” So resist the temptation; don’t deploy that plank. Don’t drop it unnecessarily in the pool. Don’t fling it to the ground.

It includes 2.4GHz WiFi to the 802.11n standard and Bluetooth 4.1 for control and communications. It connects physically via USB and has a 3.5mm microphone input, and micro HDMI output.

There are a bunch of accessories in addition to the wireless controller and waterproof housing. It also works with Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile apps (with up to five RX0 cameras able to be controlled).

The Sony DSC-RX0 will be available from early October, priced at $1079.