Initial thoughts

By Richard Butler

The RX100 VII isn't, on the face of it, a very exciting update. The introduction of a new autofocus interface (which I'd argue is the most significant change) doesn't sound that compelling - especially not when it's a camera for which Sony expects people to fork out $1200.

So much of the technology underpinning the RX100 VII is well known at this point that I can't help but find interest in the RX100 VII from a marketing perspective. To be clear, I don't care whether Sony sells one Mark VII or a million, but I find the challenge facing the company and the camera interesting.

As a family and lifestyle camera

There's significant potential here. Although my own photography means I preferred the shorter, brighter 24-70mm equiv F1.8-2.8 lens used on the Mark III, IV and V, I fully appreciate that the darker but much longer 24-200mm equiv zoom on the Mark VII provides a lot of additional flexibility both as a camera for travel, families and all the unpredictable things you might want to photograph in your life.

And that's where the AF interface and behavior offer so much promise. For most of the history of autofocus in photography, the most capable systems have been the preserve of the professional sports shooter. But another group that really needs flexible, responsive focus – families – has been left with cameras that tend to under-perform. Until you've tried it, it's difficult to appreciate how demanding it can be to get candid and action photos of kids (of whatever age). Very few cameras are up to this task, and few if any of these are convenient enough to be used in everyday life.

From what we've seen of Sony's 'Real-time Tracking' system, this has the potential to be the first compact camera autofocus system that can genuinely keep up with the chaos and unpredictability of life happening. Let's see your smartphone do that.

But there are two major factors that could undercut this. Firstly, we'll need to look very closely at how easy it is to exploit the RX100 VII's potential: there's no point in it being so capable if nobody can work out how to access that capability.

The RX100 VI and VII

Secondly, there's the challenge (for Sony) of explaining why these capabilities end up costing so much money. Only a small group of people is really in a position to spend $1200 plus tax on a camera for capturing family memories and an even smaller subset of these is likely to appreciate what they might get for that extra money.

And I'd argue that the company doesn't make this any clearer by leaving most (all?) of the existing RX100 cameras on the market. After a while, the amount of choice becomes dizzying (hang on, which has which lens? and when did the JPEG color start to get better?). Having the cheaper-to-make (and inferior in every respect) original RX100 from 2012 lingering on shop shelves makes the Mark VII look insanely expensive, while the similarly specced RX100 VI forces customers to assess (probably without hands-on experience) whether the additional AF usability is worth the cost differential.

The similarly specced RX100 VI forces customers to assess whether the additional AF usability is worth the cost differential

It'll be interesting to see how good the less expensive Canon G5 X II is going to be, in comparison. And whether the potential audience will understand and appreciate the differences.

Which is to say: the RX100 VII has the potential to be the best compact the world has ever seen for capturing life, from unpredictable toddlers to soccer-playing teenagers to once-in-a-lifetime vacations (if Sony has got all the elements to work together as well as they should be able to). But we'll have to wait to see whether people who aren't camera obsessives end up getting that message, or if they just stick with their smartphones.

For video

From a video-shooting perspective, we're delighted to see a mic socket finally appear on the RX100 series. It's the RX10 series that really gets pushed as video devices, but the same underlying performance is present in the smaller RX100 cameras, so it's nice to be able to record decent sound with one, at last.

Except, of course, that the RX100 series lost its built-in ND filter with the move to the new, longer lens (with the Mark VI) and, unlike the RX10s, doesn't have a filter thread, forcing you into risky ad-hoc attachment methods if you want to shoot video at sensible shutter speeds in daylight hours.

Out of camera JPEG
ISO 1600 | 1/500 sec | F5 | 110mm
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

It might sound like we're asking for the best of everything, but by the time you've paid for a stacked CMOS sensor with its low rolling shutter and on-sensor PDAF - with promises of improved subject tracking in video mode - it'd be lovely to have all the pieces in place to make the most it it all.

Both in terms of video and stills, we'd love to see a parallel model with the 24-70mm equiv. lens with its built-in ND filter. No half-hearted update like the 'A' variant of the RX100 V, but a fully up-to-date model that includes all the latest know-how: the improved autofocus, the one-touch viewfinder and the addition of a touchscreen.

Sadly, like the hypothetical RX10 II Mark II we keep hoping Sony will introduce (that combines the original constant-F2.8 lens but adds all the subsequent updates), there's no sensible thing Sony could call it.