Autofocus and video performance

As mentioned, the Sony RX100 VII gains Sony's 'Real-time Tracking AF,' which continues to impress us with its ease-of-use and accuracy. In short, it just works. AF coverage has been expanded and now covers nearly the entire vertical height and a large portion of the horizontal width. And the camera provides an excellent hit rate, even at 20 fps. 4K video quality and autofocus are also highly capable, and the addition of an 'Active' image stabilization mode in 4K allows for smooth hand-held shooting.

Key Takeaways:

  • Effective autofocus makes the RX100 VII an excellent choice for family and travel photography
  • But the number of AF modes and settings available in the menu can appear overwhelming (we'd recommend turning some of them off)
  • Excellent hit rate at 20 fps with no EVF/LCD blackout
  • You cannot zoom while focusing, making it difficult to change framing as action unfolds
  • Excellent 4K video quality
  • Face and eye detect work extremely well during video capture
  • Optical+digital IS allows for smooth hand-held 4K

Autofocus usability

Real-time Tracking AF is so reliable that most users can probably set it, forget it and never touch the AF settings again. Which is a good thing, because the sheer range of AF options available on the RX100 VII, like the RX100 VI, continues to be both overwhelming and confusing. There's a menu option called 'Focus Area Limit' that lets you disable the AF Area modes you don't use, but we found you can achieve almost everything with one of the 'Tracking' modes, allowing you to hide the others. And you can customize a button to instantly jump to a different mode, if you wish.

When using the camera's tracking modes it tends to stick to whatever is under the AF point when focus was initiated - faces or objects - with impressive accuracy. When photographing people, it seamlessly switches from Face to Eye Detect when appropriate. To override what the camera is tracking, simply tap the touchscreen to assign a new subject or release the shutter and half press over a new subject.

Users also now have the ability to select between a red or white focus frame, a huge improvement over the hard-to-see grey focus frame of previous RX100 cameras.

Real-time Tracking AF includes animal eye detect. It's pretty handy but seems a bit less accurate than human eye detect. Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 3200 | 1/125 sec | F2.8

Autofocus performance

AF Speed test

Our 'straight-on' AF tests a camera's ability to assess the distance to a rapidly approaching subject and keep it in focus. For this test we shot at the camera's max burst speed of 20 fps at a 200mm equiv. using a single focus area.

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The RX100 VII responds well to changes in subject distance; every frame in our straight-on bike test appears in focus. However the extensive depth of field makes it hard to conclusively judge whether there's any slightly-missed focus shots. But we're leaning toward a 100% hit rate here.

AF tracking test

Our weaving bike demonstration tests a camera's ability to both identify and track a subject as well as maintain focus on said subject as it approaches the camera. While you likely won't be photographing a cyclist weaving toward you in an alley, this demonstration is a good stand-in for any sort of unpredictable moving subject, like a child running around a lawn, or a dog playing fetch. This test was also done at 20 fps, at a 200mm equiv.

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The RX100 VII is easily able to lock onto and track a subject moving randomly across the frame while maintaining the appropriate AF distance. Multiple tries at this demonstration resulted in a near perfect hit rate. Again, the extensive depth-of-field gives the camera a bit of an advantage when it comes to judging what is/is not in-focus.

AF tracking real world performance

Real-time tracking is impressively sticky at both tele and wide ends of the range range. The above DPRTV video review of the RX100 VII shows a couple good examples of it in action. And even when the subject being tracked is obstructed for long periods of time, as was the case in our example below, the camera does a good job of not getting distracted, or quickly re-acquiring focus within a few frames of them reemerging.

Real-time Tracking stickiness demo:

Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo

Video usability

The RX100 VII gains 'SteadyShot Active' mode in 4K that combines optical and digital IS making for smooth hand-held shooting, with a fairly average crop (1.19x). Combine that with Real-time Tracking AF in video mode and you've got a supremely easy-to-use, capable video rig.

Autofocus performance in video is really impressive. Face and eye detection both work with good accuracy. Once locked on to a subject, the RX100 VII tends to stick to that subject, even when they're partially or fully obstructed, just like during still shooting.

To use Real-time Tracking in video, you need to change the 'Func. of Touch Operation' in the Custom Operation section of the menu to 'Touch Tracking.' You can then tap on your subject to initiate focus and tracking. The camera will automatically switch between general tracking and Face/Eye detect as needed and there are 3 settings for refocusing sensitivity, so you can adapt to your subject. You'll want to switch back to 'Touch Focus' for stills, so it's worth adding this item to My Menu for quick access.

Demonstration of video autofocus and 'Active' stabilization in 4K. We used touch tracking to maintain focus on our toddler in pink. Focus is both responsive and decisive, never hunting nor getting distracted by foreground objects. The addition of digital stabilization allows for smoother run-and-gun footage, though the lack of ND filter meant 1/1250s shutter speed, which causes judder. HLG Picture Profile was used to retain detail in our subject as well as the sky. HLG version here

Users also have access to multiple Picture Profile video color modes, allowing for HLG or S-Log gamma profiles to capture scenes with high dynamic range, at the potential risk of posterization and the need for post-processing (given the 8-bit output, we recommend HLG over S-Log gamma, with the added benefit of a more 'instant' HDR workflow). And the addition of a microphone jack as well as vertical video capture should appeal to Vloggers (sorry, there's no hot/cold shoe to mount a microphone).

We did run into some usability issues in video, though. Still photography exposure settings carry over into video mode, which can be frustrating when trying to switch back and forth between the two, on the fly. The best way around this is to use Memory Recall to save your ideal video setup (including exposure settings, Pictures Profile and AF modes, zebras, etc.). Thankfully, you can define separate Fn menus for stills and video.

There's also no ND filter, like the RX100 VI, which can prove challenging when shooting in bright light. A 5 minute record limit in 4K still exist and is on by default, but this can be disengaged at the cost of your camera getting uncomfortably hot. DPRTV's Jordan was able to capture a 25 minute 4K clip before the camera's battery died, but we're hearing reports of people capturing up to an hour of footage.

Video quality

Like its predecessor, the RX100 VII offers excellent 4K video quality, oversampled from 5.5K capture. Its updated sensor actually appears to capture an even greater amount of detail than the VI. Video footage also looks sharper, considerably so next to Canon's latest G5X II. Engaging 'Active IS' for much smoother footage doesn't come at the cost of too much detail, so if you don't mind the slight additional crop, we'd recommend this stabilization mode for hand-held footage.

1080p video is about the same as the RX100 VI, which is to say, competitive but not amazing.

The RX100 VII has a 1.08x crop when shooting 4K and a 1.19x crop when shooting 4K + IS Active.

There's a minor 1.08x crop when shooting 4K and a 1.19x crop when using the Active IS mode.