What's new and how it compares

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII looks an awful lot like its predecessor on the outside, but has some significant enhancements beneath the surface.

Key takeaways

  • New sensor with greater phase-detection AF coverage and faster focus
  • Fast readout: 20 fps shooting with no blackout, 90 fps seven-frame bursts
  • Latest AF system - begins tracking subjects, uses Face and Eye AF where needed
  • Adds mic socket for improved audio capture, but no ND filter for video shooting in bright light

New sensor

Sony says the RX100 VII uses a newly designed sensor. Like its predecessor, It's a stacked CMOS sensor, meaning Sony is able to build DRAM storage into the sensor to buffer the large amounts of data being read off the chip.

The most obvious distinction between this and previous models is the wider-spread coverage of the phase-detection elements on the sensor. This latest version has 357 PDAF points spread across 68% of the sensor. Sony says the fastest focus time has been reduced from 0.03sec down to 0.02sec on the new model.

The camera's maximum burst rate drops from 24 fps down to 20, but this comes with 'no-blackout' shooting to make it easier for you to follow the action.

Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF

The big news is the inclusion of Sony's Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF systems, as previously seen in the latest firmware of the sports-shooting Sony a9. These are the name Sony gives to two aspects of its its latest AF system.

This clip (shot with the Sony a7R IV, should real-time tracking in action: following the subject and switching from generic subject tracking to face detection and eye detection when appropriate.

Real-time Tracking refers to how the camera follows and focuses on your subject. Essentially, in any of the camera's Tracking AF area modes the camera will track whatever you've pointed it at, and will switch to and from face and eye detection AF where it's appropriate. This means you can disable most of the other AF area modes and just trust the camera to follow your subject (and not suddenly lose it, if it's a person who turns away). Real-time Eye AF simply refers to the camera's ability to use its eye-detection AF without you having to hold down a separate button.

Out of camera JPEG
ISO 6400 | 1/60 sec | F2.8 | 24mm
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

The Eye AF feature now works for animals, as well as human subjects, and continues to be available in video mode. Real-time Tracking is also available in video mode, once you've engaged a 'Touch Tracking' in the menus.

Helpfully there's no reference to real-time anything in the RX100's menus: it's just the marketing name for the improved tracking system. To access it you need to choose one of the 'Tracking' AF area modes on the camera.

One thing to note, though: while Sony markets these capabilities as 'Real-time Tracking' and Real-Time Eye AF, it doesn't use that terminology anywhere in the camera's interface. So don't go hunting for 'real-time' anything in the menus, they're just the branding being applied to the current focus logic.

Single Burst Mode

The RX100 VII has a 'Single Burst' mode that captures short bursts of seven JPEG and/or Raw files at up to 90 frames per second. All seven frames are triggered with a single shutter button press, to increase the likelihood of you capturing 'the moment' for subjects where timing is critical. Focus and exposure are fixed for all seven images and there's no pre-press buffering going on.

After each burst you can immediately trigger another, but you can't hold your finger down on the shutter hoping for multiple bursts.

If you don't need quite such precise timing, you can slow the mode down to 60 or 30 fps. You still get 7 shots, but those shots are spread out over a longer period, as a result of the slower frame rate.

Steady Shot Active Mode in 4K video

The RX100 VII's readout speed and processing power allow it to offer 'Active Mode' Steady Shot: a movie stabilization mode that combines the camera's optical image stabilization with digital IS. This imposes a crop on the video, to allow the camera to move the 'window' from which it samples the video to compensate for large movements.

This additional stabilization, designed to give a smooth look even when you make big movements (such as walking, rather than just failing to hold the camera steady), is available for both 4K and Full HD shooting.

Microphone socket

The stacked CMOS sensor in the recent RX100 series cameras has helped Sony offer some really impressive video capture. However, where they've always fallen down, compared with their longer-zoom RX10 cousins, is their limited ability to record sound. The lack of mic input means you're stuck with dreadful internal audio capture or you need to carry around a separate audio recorder, which are generally larger than the camera body,

The addition of a mic input on the RX100 VII makes it much easier to record good quality audio internally. There's still no headphone socket for audio monitoring (it's a tiny camera, after all), and the longer zoom in the Marks VI and VII lack built-in ND filters, for shooting in good light, but the addition of a mic port is definitely a benefit for video shooters.

Vertical Video

Like its predecessor, the RX100 VII has a flip-up screen, for if you want to take selfies or vlog with the camera. In an extra effort to keep up with the latest trends in social media, the RX100 VII also gains the ability to recognize when you're shooting video in the portrait orientation. This puts all the metadata in place to ensure your video is played back the right way round (or the wrong way round, depending on your attitude).

How it compares:

The most obvious competition for the RX100 VII comes from its older sibling, the Mark VI. Another interesting rival is Canon's PowerShot G5 X Mark II: another camera with a stacked-CMOS sensor and pop-up viewfinder.

Sony RX100 VII Sony RX100 VI Canon G5X Mark II Panasonic ZS200
MSRP $1200 $1200* $899 $799
Sensor type Stacked CMOS Stacked CMOS Stacked CMOS BSI CMOS
Lens range
24-200mm 24-200mm 24-120mm 24-360mm
Aperture range F2.8-4.5 F2.8-4.5 F1.8-2.8 F3.3-6.4
Focus type Phase-detection Phase-detection Contrast-detection Depth-from-defocus
Viewfinder type OLED OLED OLED Field-sequential LCD
Viewfinder resolution 2.36M dots 2.36M dots 2.36M dots 2.33M-dot equiv
Viewfinder magnification 0.59x 0.59x Not specified 0.53x
Rear screen res 920k-dot LCD 920k-dot LCD 1.04M-dot LCD 1.24M dot LCD
Rear screen movement 90° down
180° up
90° down
180° up
45° down
180° up
Video resolution 4K UHD 4K UHD 4K UHD 4K UHD
Sampling method Full-width oversampled Full-width oversampled Full-width Cropped 1:1 capture
ND Filter No No Yes No
Intervalometer Yes No No Yes
Battery life shots per charge
260 / 240 240 / 220 230 / 180 370 / 250
Weight (inc card & battery) 302g 301g 340g 340g

* Price at launch: we'd expect a reduction in response to the RX100 VII launch

Below you can see how the maximum aperture range of these cameras compare as you zoom from wide to telephoto. The Panasonic and Sony offer more reach than the Canon's at the cost of lens speed.

What this table of specs can't really capture are the improvements offered by Sony's revised autofocus system. It's difficult to convey, even in video, but the sense that it just works is arguably the most important distinction between the Mark VI and VII. It's also the most difficult to communicate.