The Sony RX100 is the first real premium compact camera from the brand. Has it been worth the wait? Find out in the What Digital Camera Sony RX100 review.
With camera smartphones taking big chunks out of the point and shoot compact camera market at the moment, manufacturers need to deliver products to tempt people away from relying on their iPhone or other devices for on-the-go photography.
Premium, creative compact cameras offer that clear edge over a smartphone. With larger sensors, better optics with fast maximum apertures, full manual control if needed and the ability to shoot Raw files for optimal quality, these cameras offer the discerning photographer something more than a run-of-the-mill compact or smartphone.
While a host of manufacturers offer creative compacts in a range of shapes and sizes, Sony hasn’t really offered anything to compete in this sector…until now.
The Cyber-shot RX100 is Sony’s first-ever pocket-sized creative compact, and from a glance down at the specification, they haven’t done things by halves.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 – Features
To really set the RX100 apart from the competition, Sony has opted to employ a 1in sized sensor with a 3:2 aspect ratio – the same size as found in Nikon’s 1 series Compact System Cameras, and provides a surface area 4x larger than a typical 1/2.3in chip found in most compact cameras. Not only that, but the sensor is quite a bit larger than the sensors found in its closest rivals, easily beating the 1/1.7in chip in the Canon PowerShot S100 and G12 and the 1/1.63in sized sensors found in the Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic LUMIX LX5, while the surface area of the RX100 sensor is twice as large as that in the Fujifilm X10, which has a sensor size of 2/3in.
The other thing to be clear on is that while it may share an identical physical sensor size to the Nikon 1 series, it’s a completely new chip, with an impressive resolution of 20.2MP. Even with the high resolution, the photosites (pixels) on the RX100 are 4x larger than those on a typical 1/2.3in sensor, allowing the RX100 to have an ISO range from 80-6400, that’s extendable to an ISO equivalent of 25,600 with Multi Frame Noise Reduction.
To match the large sensor, Sony has chosen a fast 28-100mm lens engineered by Carl Zeiss with a variable maximum aperture of f/1.8-4.9. While it’s not quite as wide as some rivals, 28mm still offers a very decent wide-angle coverage and features Zeiss T* coating for reduced reflection. There’s also an Advanced Aspherical (AA) lens element is also employed to reduce the overall size of the lens without sacrificing quality, while the lens also features a 7-blade aperture diaphragm to produce pleasing Bokeh (out-of-focus areas). As far as anti-shake is concerned, the RX100 incorporates Optical SteadyShot for still images, while Optical SteadyShot Active Mode is on tap for video recording.
The rear of the camera features a 3in display with a 1229k-dot VGA display that for the first time features WhiteMagic technology, where white pixels are added to the RGB structure to contribute to the brightness of the display, while it also sees a 35% reduction in power consumption. On top of that, the screen also incorporates Sony’s TruBlack technology.
Interestingly, the RX100 has no hotshoe or accessory port integrated into the design of the camera, so if you like shooting with the camera raised to your eye, then you may be a bit disappointed as there isn’t the option to attach an additional electronic viewfinder if you desired, as you can with the Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic LX5.
As with pretty much all compacts, the RX100 uses contrast-detect AF, with a host of AF modes to choose from that includes a wide-area Flexible Spot, AF tracking and Face Detection, while there’s also Peaking MF assist – something we first saw on Sony’s NEX-series Compact System Cameras, that highlights sharply-focused areas on the rear screen.
Shooting in JPEG only, there are a host of Picture Effects that can be applied to your image at the time of capture, that include Toy Camera (5 variations), Pop colour, Poterization (2 variations), Retro, Soft High-key, Partial colour (4 variations), High Contrast Mono, Soft Focus (3 variations), HDR Painting (3 variations), Rich-tone Mono, Miniature (7 variations), Water Colour and Illustration (3 variations). There’s the option to shoot Raw files as well, while Sweep Panorama mode shoots a series of shots consecutively as you move across the vista, before stitching them together to create one final panoramic image.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review – Design
Finished in smooth aluminium, the RX100 has a sleek, unfussy look to it, with a nice, premium weighty feel. There’s no handgrip on the front of the camera, which some may miss, though there is a reasonably decent thumb rest on the on the rear of the camera for a bit extra support.
When you consider the relatively large sensor size and fast zoom lens that the RX100 supports, its an impressively neat package. Sony has opted to keep exterior controls to a minimum, making it only a touch larger than the very pocketable Canon PowerShot SX100, while noticeably more compact than either the Fujifilm X10 or PowerShot G12 that sport more button-driven designs. This means you should have no problem fitting it in a jacket or trouser pocket, while there’s also a nice retro leather case also available.
On the front of the camera, the RX100 sports a control ring that’s wrapped round the zoom lens – more on that in a bit, while the top-plate is also relatively clutter-free. There’s a small pop-up flash to the left, the on/off switch, the shutter button with the zoom collar sitting round and the exposure mode dial. As you’d expect for a camera aimed at the high-end user, there’s the full suite of manual and priority modes to choose from, along with auto modes if you want to keep it simple.
At the rear, there’s a scroll wheel control that doubles as a 4-way controller, along with Function, Menu, Playback and Help buttons positioned round it, while slightly further up you’ll find the movie record button.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review – Performance
With minimal exterior controls to keep the camera as compact as possible, the RX100 relies on some clever touches to make it quick and enjoyable to use.
Though this isn’t unique to the RX100, the control ring works well. Not only can it be used to adjust aperture in Aperture priority for example, it can be assigned to control a host of other settings via the function button at the rear of the camera. It’s possible to pick from 17 settings and assign up to seven of them to the Function button, with each setting then being controlled via the control ring. Simply press the Function button to toggle through to the desired setting and then use the control ring to adjust – a display will be overlaid over the image on the rear screen.
The control ring itself offers a smooth rotation, with audible clicks for each step adjustment change, rather than a physical click as you twist the control ring. Sony’s opted for this smooth transition, as control and adjustment will be silent during video capture. As well as the Function button, settings for the 4-way d-pad can also be re-programmed via the menu, so the RX100 really can be customised how you like to shoot.
If you’re a Sony Alpha DSLR/SLT owner, then you’ll feel right at home with the menu interface of the RX100, with the whole look and feel being very similar. Broken down into seven sub-sections, there’s a great deal of control available should you wish. The rear screen, with its WhiteMagic display technology, is very good – it’s clear and crisp, with plenty of clarity
For a compact camera, AF is pretty sophisticated. The Flexible spot allows you to position the AF area pretty much anywhere on the frame, with the exception of the perimeter of the image, while multi-area works fine for quick snaps. To toggle between settings does require going into the main menu, but assign AF as one of the controls for the Function button, and you’ll be able to do this much quicker. AF acquisition is very fast in single AF – Sony claim a speed as fast as 0.13secs, dropping only to 0.23secs in low-light. While the focus-tracking is one of the more accurate systems available on a compact, don’t rely on it too much, as like most contrast-detect systems, it’ll struggle to keep up with the action. In manual focus, the Peking-assist is a nice asset to have, especially when you with the control ring on the front of the camera.
Set the RX100 into Speed priority mode and you’ll be able to fire of 10 shots in very quick succession over a period of a second at full resolution, though for a more prolonged burst over a longer period, the frame rate reduces to 2.5fps.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
The RX100 offers a choice of either Multi, Centre-weighted or Spot metering modes. In Multi, exposures from the RX100 were very good – well exposed under a range of lighting conditions. They’ll be the odd times when you’ll have to dial in a very small amount of exposure compensation, but only 0.3-0.7 of a stop.
Also featured on the RX100 is Auto HDR, with an Auto option and 6 selectable modes – three shots are captured with a single press of the shutter, which are then merged together for a final shot with broader dynamic range.
There is also Sony’s D-Range Optimizer with an Auto mode and 5 selectable levels and produces a more natural looking result than Auto HDR, with in-camera processing applied to a single image to improve detail in both the shadow and highlights.
White Balance and Colour
The Auto White Balance of the RX100 delivered nice, consistently neutral results, while there’s a host of presets to choose from as well: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent: Warm White, Fluorescent: Cool White, Fluorescent: Day White, Fluorescent: Daylight, Flash, Colour Temp/Filter and Custom.
There are also a host of Creative Styles to choose from as well to boost on tone down saturation: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset and Black & White.
Sharpness and Detail
The level of detail from this 3:2 aspect ratio 20.2MP 1in sensor is impressive for a camera of this class, with quite a noticeable difference in image quality over the competition – if you’re after images with even greater detail from a compact, then the only thing to really beat it is the Fujifilm X100 or Canon PowerShot G1X.
The 28-100mm is sharp through the range, with both vignetting and barrel distortion kept well under control. While we’d have like to have seen a slightly faster maximum aperture than f/4.9 at the long end, the ability to shoot wide-open at f/1.8 at 28mm means shallow depth-of-field shots are possible.
The RX100 has a broad ISO range, ranging from 80-6400 in standard form before in-camera processing is applied above that.
At the low end of the ISO range, results are nice and smooth with bags of detail and it’s only when you go above ISO 800 that image noise really becomes noticeable. Even at ISO 6400, and while the colours are a touch more muted, results are still good and very good for a compact camera – image noise control has been applied, but results don’t look too waxy, while there’s still a decent amount of detail on offer.
The movie mode of the RX100 is quickly accessible via the mode dial and there’s the choice of recording in AVCHD (1920×1080 @ 50p) or MP4 (1440×1080 @ 25fps) formats depending on whether you want to simply view footage on another device easily or quickly to edit it. Footage is good, while there’s a stereo microphone for sound.
Value & Verdict
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review – Value
With an expected price of around £550, the RX100 is one of the more expensive compacts available – costing almost £200 more than the likes of the PowerShot S100 and X10 and placing itself firmly in Compact System Camera and entry-level DSLR territory. While this is a camera that will obviously appeal to a different market than those looking for their first DSLR, the lines become more blurred when you start comparing it to some CSCs, such as the excellent Panasonic LUMIX GX1, which can be picked up for just under £600 with power kit lens or Sony’s own NEX-F3 at £499 with lens. Naturally, you’re getting a very high-end compact with a lot of features, but if portability isn’t your main criteria, then its something to think about.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review – Verdict
For serious DSLR owners, a high-quality pocket-sized compact is often high on their wish list. We’ve seen some strong contenders in recent years, but nothing that offers quite the complete package that the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 provides.
Its an almost perfect blend of size, performance and image quality, and is a camera that will allow you to leave your DSLR behind without fear of serious compromise. If you’re looking for a premium, creative compact camera, then the Cyber-shot RX100 fits the bill perfectly.