Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent image quality and solid ISO performance
- Class-leading movie features and quality
- A good degree of customization puts your favorite settings at your fingertips
- Fast operation, including focus and Raw capture
- Flexible lens range (though a brighter zoom would have been nice)
- Excellent range of additional features (sweep panorama and auto HDR in particular)
- Good battery life for this class of camera
- USB-charging (with fast charger) makes it easy to travel light
Conclusion - Cons
- Clickless control dial contributes to vague and unengaging shooting experience
- Flash metering is unpredictable
- Lack of ND filter can limit the ability to use wide apertures
- Screen hard to see in direct sunshine, despite WhiteMagic technology
- No official option to fit filters onto the lens (third-party glue-on adapters are available)
- In-camera raw conversion would add flexibility
- Playback confusingly separated into stills, MP4 and AVCHD sections
- Lag when trying to zoom in playback mode is irksome
- USB-only charging makes it awkward to use a spare battery
The RX100 is an exciting camera - in part because it represents the arrival of another major manufacturer in the high-end, enthusiast compact market, but mainly because it's a spectacular piece of engineering. To a degree this risks being its undoing - Sony has done such a great job of fitting a large sensor into a small camera that it'd be easy for the uninformed to overlook the near-magic that it must have required.
The RX100 may not look radically different to a recent Canon 'S' series compacts - whose balance of image quality and pocketability have made the S100 darling of its class. But the Sony's much larger sensor means it outshines it in every respect bar price. With around three times more light collecting area and a lens with similar F-number range, the RX100 comfortably trumps the little Canon - though at around a 50% premium.
In fact, despite appearances, the RX100 has more in common with Canon's G1 X than any of its other peers. In terms of zoom compacts, the G1 X is about the only camera that can top the RX100 for image quality but it's also much larger, more expensive and much slower in almost every respect. It's interesting that the only other cameras to balance image quality, speed and size like this are Nikon's 1 System cameras, but they're still not as small, aren't available with as bright a lens, and simply haven't been designed to offer the same level of accessible user control.
Whatever qualms we might have about the handling, we have very few concerns about the RX100's image quality. In most situations, the camera delivers images that are simply better than you would usually expect from a compact camera. The JPEG processing isn't particularly lovely at 1:1 viewing, but with 20MP to play with, there's little reason to look that closely - it captures and conveys plenty of detail at sensible viewing sizes.
Exposure is pretty reliable and the default image settings strike a good balance between neutral and punchy. There are situations in which reds can overexpose, and 'clip' but these aren't frequent and a bit of careful exposure and post-shot-processing can save most shots. We also found the white balance a tiny bit cool for our tastes (it's easy enough to nudge the fine-tune towards Amber, if you wish).
The RX100's lens is only really fast at its wide-angle end, meaning there's no real scope for shallow depth-of-field photography. Add to this its lack of built-in ND filter and, if you try to use its F1.8 setting, you'll quickly hit the limits imposed by its ISO 125 base sensitivity and 1/2000th second maximum shutter speed. Essentially that F1.8 figure is mainly useful for low-light work (and making the camera look good on the shop shelf).
The RX100 sits nicely in the hand and the well-positioned rubber thumb-rest on the back means you can maintain a pretty good grip on it. That said, despite not really thinking it was needed, we did find that adding a third-party grip made the camera nicer to hold and use.
There's a lot to be said in support of the RX100's ergonomics - its design puts a good amount of control at your fingertips without having to cover the camera's surface with knobs and dials. The Fn menu, with its choice of up to seven functions, placed in the order you choose, is great for taking control over the camera. It's simple, for example, to add access to the image quality setting so that you can quickly access the camera's JPEG-only functions, such as HDR.
The RX100's lens control dial is the first we've encountered that moves smoothly, rather than clicking between positions. This works well for setting focus or zoom, which are (essentially) continuous variables, but it's disappointing when used for discrete variables such as ISO, exposure compensation, aperture or shutter speed. Turn off the camera sounds (all of which are controlled from a single setting) and you don't get any real sense that anything's changing in response to turning the dial. This and the lack of control over the function of the rear dial end up making the control dial less effective than it really should be.
The Final Word
Much praise has already been heaped on the RX100 and it's well justified - its TARDIS-like design means there's a lot more camera in this tiny box than its rather understated exterior would suggest.
That doesn't mean the RX100 is going to replace your DSLR or large sensor mirrorless camera - it just can't compete with the image quality or flexibility that their sensors and interchangeable lenses bring. Meanwhile the poor dial implementation means it's probably not a camera to fall in love with - there are a few too many obvious improvements that could be made, but it is still a camera that deserves a lot of respect.
As a secondary camera, the images are consistently so good that you'll rarely find yourself too disappointed on the occasions you didn't have your big camera with you. And its class-leading video capabilities mean it's worth keeping with you, even when you did. In addition, it's as happy shooting sweep panoramas and automated HDR images as it is capturing Raw images with plenty of exposure control, which means you arrive home with a more varied selection of images and videos than you might with one of its competitors.
Overall, it's a flexible and dependable tool that lets you take as much or as little control as you want. It's not a perfect camera, but it's hard to think of another that includes so much capability and yet still fits in your pocket. Not to be underestimated.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The RX100 is probably the most capable compact camera on the market today, combining the image quality benefits of a mid-sized sensor with the proportions of a conventional compact. Extensive, though not flawless, manual controls make the RX100 a great second camera for DSLR shooters.