Conclusion - Pros

  • Some of the best image quality in any compact camera, ever
  • Impressively sharp 24-70mm equiv lens remains usefully bright throughout zoom range
  • Impressive image stabilization for stills, dramatically effective in video
  • Well implemented Eye AF system tracks subjects well
  • Superb high resolution EVF
  • 5fps shooting with autofocus and large buffer (16fps with locked focus)
  • Silent (all-electronic) shutter comes at no image quality cost
  • Clever Auto ISO system gives plenty of control and is directly accessible
  • High quality 4K (UHD) video with extensive support tools and improved AF options
  • Clever high frame rate video mode for dramatic slow-mo video
  • 1080/120p video with reduced rolling shutter and fewer shooting restrictions
  • Excellent, straightforward Wi-Fi implementation (especially if you have NFC)
  • Picture Profile gives pro-grade control over video output
  • USB charging is universal and convenient

Conclusion - Cons

  • Extensive feature set overwhelms the user interface
  • As a twin-dial camera, could be programmed better to make full use of both dials
  • Expensive compared to rivals
  • Short battery life
  • Lock-on AF can be unpredictable and laggy
  • Lens range will be limiting for some users
  • No microphone socket
  • Awkward feature interactions mean regular 'I can't do that' warning messages
  • No external charger included for rapid charging or keeping a spare battery topped-up

Overall Conclusion

The RX100 IV continues the line's tradition of packing as much image and video quality into as small a package as possible. The RX100 IV is also an incredibly responsive camera; fast and ready to churn out high quality images and video with tools designed to help you achieve your vision. The new stacked sensor in the RX100 IV allows for a number of benefits: it supports the ability to read out the image sensor faster, which itself enables faster shooting modes with AF due to the fully electronic (silent) shutter. Faster readout and buffering also enables 4K video, high frame rate movies, and generally more advanced AF. An impressive, bright lens and an upgraded EVF round-out the package and make this the most capable camera of its kind.

50mm equiv. | F2.8 at 1/500s | ISO 125

The quick and responsive RX100 IV has a number of features that make candid photography from the hip easy, including face and eye detection, a tilting LCD, silent shutter, and a fast continuous shooting mode in Raw with AF. Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Aside from upgraded hardware capabilities, Sony has done much to make the camera a photographic powerhouse: features like continuous face and eye tracking, quick 100% focus check at the focus point, and direct one-button access to Auto ISO parameters are things even pros will appreciate. There are small but very effective touches as well: auto ND filter and auto switching to electronic shutter for fast continuous shooting make certain aspects of the shooting experience seamless and transparent to the photographer. And these features all have one overarching theme in common: they make it easier for you to take pictures. And itself makes the shooting experience that much more enjoyable (we'll also never tire of seeing the little green box follow our subject's eyes tenaciously).

If your end goals are the pictures and video, there isn't a better pocketable camera, and the RX100 IV offers compelling capabilities that easily surpass its predecessor and allow it to punch well above its weight when compared to the competition, as you might hope, given its price point. That said, there are some considerations.

Handling

Sony has made a series of improvements to the user interface, with some of the standout improvements in our minds being programmable auto ISO, instant magnification of the focus point for quick focus check, increased focus areas in video, and quick programmable one-button access to many of these features. Not to mention features that just make shooting easier: such as eye AF and its prioritization (but, cleverly, not requirement) of faces near the selected AF point. These improvements are all signs that the company is listening to - and anticipating - the demands of photographers.

This makes it all the more frustrating that certain features, or lack thereof, still leave one wondering how much better the camera could've been with a little more of a rethink of the ergonomics. A number of our existing complaints remain: in particular, the lack of more specific control over the dials, and customization of camera functions unique to each shooting mode. Frankly, the rapid expansion of the camera's feature set leaves its smattering of customizable buttons feeling rather insufficient. Memory Recall can be used to some degree of success to pre-program three frequently-used shooting settings, but it's not the most ideal solution. The Fn menu and customizable buttons continue to help and are marked improvements over the Mk 1 and 2 versions of the camera, but most of us using the camera in the real-world kept running up against certain frustrations. Odd interactions of buttons and dials lead to a less-than-ideal-experience that is a bit too nuanced to go into detail here, but which we've expounded upon earlier on in our review.

33mm equiv. | F2.8 |
ISO 500 | 1/40sec

Processed with Adobe Camera Raw
(Exposure +0.90, Shadows -100, Blacks -11 | Gradient on sky: Highlights -52, Whites -17)

These ergonomic nuances, along with things like locked out menu options for feature conflicts, will make the experience feel less polished than it frankly should be, especially if you're a Canon/Nikon DSLR shooter. That said, take our criticism in context: point and shooters probably won't mind these small nuances, and more advanced shooters are likely to find a combination of settings that work for them, and pros are wont to do. Still, we'd like to see Sony rethink the interface to support the numerous advanced features offered, and we'll be even happier if they do so via firmware updates.

Image Quality

The RX100 IV offers some of the best image quality you can get from a camera this size. We were hoping for low-light improvements from potentially larger active pixel area due to the stacked sensor, but image quality is not noticeably improved compared to the Mark III. That's sort of a compliment though, given the class-defining image quality of the sensor in the RX100 III in combination with the bright 24-70mm equivalent lens, which we found to be sharp even wide open over a large portion of its focal length range.

39mm equiv. | F4.5 | ISO 125 | 1/125sec

Processed with Adobe Camera Raw (Exposure +0.65, Highlights -45, Blacks -23)

Something worth calling out is that the built-in stabilization and electronic/leaf shutters of these small compacts shouldn't be taken for granted, as they allow for slow shutter speeds that keep the ISO down and image quality high. It's this facet of the RX100 that allows it sometimes to even catch up to bigger sensor DSLR levels of image quality with respect to image noise in low light scenes, especially since the sensor is paired with a bright lens. Our studio results show that the high efficiency RX100 IV sensor is only between 2 and 3 EV behind in noise performance relative to the better full-frame bodies, so all the camera needs is roughly a 2-3 EV advantage via image stabilization to catch up in low light. Indeed, we found optical stabilization on the RX100 IV lets you get away with shutter speeds at least as slow as 1/5 at the wide end, and around 1/15 on the long end; or, roughly a 2.3 EV benefit. You actually can't expect this sort of benefit with uber-high resolution DSLRs these days, as bright wide primes often don't offer image stabilization, F4 zooms do but the light cost of the smaller aperture nullifies the IS benefit, and bulky mirrors and shutters tend to require higher shutter speeds or workarounds like mirror up and electronic first curtain (when they're available ). The exception to this rule are the newer full-frame bodies from Sony, whose electronic front curtain and in-built IS will allow it to take full advantage of its larger sensor.

The take-home here being I often find myself getting equally as good results from certain premium compacts as larger sensor DSLRs for still scenes in low light because of the additional exposure I can give these cameras due to their high efficiency sensors, bright built-in lenses, and IS. In other words: don't underestimate the image quality you can get out of these compacts, especially if you take the time to apply some best-practice techniques to shooting and exposure.

Video Quality

The RX100 IV's video capability has arguably improved more than its stills capabilities, with it gaining the ability to shoot 4K (UHD) and 1080 at up to 120 fps and 100Mbps. Add to this the S-Log2 and ITU-709 options that come with Picture Profiles and the camera becomes impressively capable for such a small camera. Image stabilization in video continues to impress, with the combination of optical and digital stabilization offering steadicam-esque stability (see below). The minor feature restrictions do little to dent the shooting experience, though the keen videographer is likely to mutter some expletives at Sony for the lack of Mic input. Battery life concerns become even more acute when working in video but the performance-to-size balance that the RX100 IV strikes makes it worth the workaround.

Sadly the 'anti-distortion electronic shutter' doesn't appear to translate into reduced rolling shutter in most video modes, only showing an apparent benefit in 120 fps mode. Rolling shutter is most obvious in 4K shooting, with 24/30/60 1080p modes offering little apparent improvement compared with the Mark III. That said, 1080p video modes were already quite well controlled with respect to rolling shutter, so this shouldn't be a huge issue for most. If it is, you'll want to shoot at 120 fps, and then slow or conform your footage down to 60, 30, or 24p.

In addition the camera offers some clever High Frame Rate video modes. These shoot two or four seconds of footage at up to 1000 fps, with a quality cost being paid for longer recording or higher frame rates. So long as you understand these restrictions and trade-offs, HFR mode can help you capture some dramatic and unusual footage. The mode that most impressed us most, though, was the 1080/120p option, which avoids HFR mode's time and resolution restrictions and offers reduced rolling shutter. With the right software, this can produce 1/5th speed slow motion which could prove more useful than the HFR modes.

The Final Word

The RX100 line of cameras has been a favorite of many, and rightfully so - these cameras pack an image and video quality punch that is second to none in a camera this size. I love my full-frame cameras for landscapes and portraiture, but when I don't wish to carry that heavy, involved gear around, I throw a RX100 III in my bag or in my fiancée's purse as my 'take-everywhere' camera. I'm comfortable in knowing that if there's a perfect sunset, or a one-in-a-million smile on my niece's face, I will at least come home with a set of high quality images and video that rival my DSLR much more than they rival my phone. With each iteration of the line I've been impressed with how quickly and effortlessly I can often snap casual shots, in focus, and with malleable Raws to deal with the high contrast scenes I like shooting. The camera just doesn't fall short of delivering perfectly enjoyable, even printable, high quality captures. As long as I'm not expecting F1.4 full-frame image quality, that is.

24mm equiv. | F9 | ISO 125

Exposed for the highlights, processed to taste in ACR. The sensor's high dynamic range allows for high contrast scenes like this to be conventionally 'underexposed' (for the highlights), and then selectively brightened a couple or more stops to yield a 'tonemapped' image such as this one that encapsulates the full dynamic range of the scene.

And from our tests and my initial time with the camera so far, everything about the Mark IV improves upon this experience. On the stills side, a faster 5 fps continuous shooting rate with AF makes for very usable action shooting of moving subjects, especially given the accurate eye AF and face detection that continues to work in continuous shooting. We can't stress this enough - eye AF and face detection are uncannily good for a CDAF-only system, and you can expect in focus shots of crawling babies or walking models as you shoot in continuous alongside, waiting to capture a perfect candid moment. With a pocket camera.

And then there are all the video features. 4K, HFR, 120fps, S-Log2, and the same uncanny level of optical+digital 'active' video stabilization we saw in the Mark III. We'd imagine some feature film producers might pick these up as secondary or crash cams, and they're unlikely to be disappointed by the footage.

Yes, battery life and the user interface are often a drag, but these are at least somewhat solvable issues: carry an extra battery (or two) and use the Fn menus and Memory Recall, with the latter setting three of your favorite use-cases for the camera. What's not solvable? Finding another camera that packs these sorts of image and video quality features into one pocketable powerhouse of a device that you won't have to think twice about taking with you. In your pocket. If any two or more features the Mark IV offers over the Mark III sound worth it to you, we'd highly suggest you spend the extra, and consider everything else the Mark IV offers as added freebies. And if you don't already a RX100 camera, you're not going to find a more capable photographic tool in this small a package.

The RX100 IV garners our top award for its pure ambition. Its class-defining image and video quality raise the bar even further, widening the gap between it and any potential competition. As such, the RX100 IV is, today, peerless.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Optics
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The RX100 IV gains some headline-grabbing features such as high frame rate and 4K video but it's the smaller features that most impressed us. Continuous eye tracking, fast Raw burst modes with AF, and small user-interface changes have made the Mark IV the most responsive and enjoyable RX100 yet. It's the most expensive in the series but is peerless in terms of capability.
Good for
Photographers looking for the best image quality and video from a responsive camera that fits in a pocket.
Not so good for
Shooters on a budget or users looking for long telephoto focal lengths.
85%
Overall score

Want to make sure you don't miss out on any future articles?
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter!

Enter the 'Sony Cyber-shot Talk' Discussion Forum


Review samples gallery

There are 61 images in the preview samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. Because our review images are now hosted on the 'galleries' section of dpreview.com, you can enjoy all of the new galleries functionality when browsing these samples.

Sony RX100 IV Real World Samples

61 images • Posted on Jun 29, 2015 • View album
Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo