Body, ergonomics and controls

While Sony's RX100 line went through some evolutionary changes earlier on, the outer appearance of the RX100 V is identical to that of the IV (and for that matter, the III). This can be seen as a good thing for users coming from one of the previous models to this one, as there is some consistency. Unfortunately, if you weren't a fan of the handling of previous models, this is less positive. Because while the Mark V benefits from all of the improvements the Mark IV brought to the line, it suffers from its usability shortcomings as well.

Nothing's changed

All three of the latest RX100 models share identical dimensions, body elements and features, and are within ten grams of each other. If you've handled one, you've handled them all. While this means the RX100 V is satisfyingly dense and feels well-built, it also means that it soldiers on with the same smooth and slippery casing that would really benefit from just a strip of rubber on the front.

Yes, there are plenty of aftermarket grips for it (including one from Sony itself), but as they don't protrude past the front of the lens or make the camera less pocketable, we wish one was just included. We should also admit we've been spoilt by the Canon G7 X Mark II's excellent front grip, which makes that camera much more secure in the hand without adding much bulk at all.

Around back, you'll find the exact same LCD panel Sony's been using since the first RX100 (and, in fact, on many other Sony models), which is to say, it's of good quality. It isn't touch-enabled, yet, despite this, the coatings that are used on it make it difficult to see through the inevitable smudges and fingerprints that come with handling small cameras. A familiar array of controls sit to its right.

There's also the very handy and very high quality pop-up electronic viewfinder. To engage this you need to operate a switch on the side of the camera then pull the eye piece towards you (we wish it would automatically extend like the viewfinder on the Sony RX1R II).

And here's our gripe. The prospect of a 315-point phase detection autofocus system in such a portable camera is exciting, and yet the controls simply aren't set up to make the most of it. Should you choose to take control over where you want your AF point to be (or where you want to initiate subject tracking), you are forced to either re-select your focus area from the Fn menu, or assign a button to 'Focus Standard,' which then enables you to use the four-way controller to (many clicks later) position your point where you want it.

Personally, we'd rather just have to tap on the screen to do that.

There is sone consolation in the fact that 'Focus Standard' is now a toggle: while it's helpful to have the 4-way controller dedicated to AF point placement, you have to remember to toggle out of this mode if you wish to use any of the other assigned functions, like Drive mode.

Sure, I could have taken the time to move my autofocus point to the ducks, but I ended up just focusing on a duck in the center of the frame and recomposing. Not the best way to take advantage of the fully revamped autofocus system, I admit. Processed to taste using a preliminary build of Adobe Camera Raw, 70mm equiv., ISO 125, 1/800 sec, F6.3. Photo by Carey Rose

Lastly, we wish the RX100 V had inherited an option for the lens control ring to be 'clicked' or 'unclicked,' like the Canon G7 X Mark II or Sony's own RX10 III. The 'unclicked' nature of this control ring makes it great for manual focus or when shooting video (though that comes with its own set of problems - see the video page for details), but makes for a rather disengaged experience when using it for 'stepped' adjustments, like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, or exposure comp. The lack of feedback is a problem as is the lag before it registers that you're trying to make a change. Also, it could be further damped - we've found it's easy to turn accidentally, and therefore alter settings unintentionally, particularly when handing the camera off to another user.

And for such an important dial (you can't customize the rotation of the rear dial), we continue to be frustrated by the lack of per-mode customization. For example, you may wish to have the dial control exposure comp in P/A/S modes, but aperture in M mode. Not possible. Speaking of per-mode customization: these cameras would benefit from separate button and Fn menu customizations for stills vs. movie modes, as the set of features you'll want to access in each may be vastly different.

Taking the good with the bad

In ascending order, the RX100 III, IV and V.

If it sounds like we're being a little harsh on the RX100 V, well, it's because we are. We collectively find that the capabilities of this camera, which are many in number and impressive in quality, are done a disservice by the lack of direct controls and a cluttered menu system that lacks the updates that came to the a6500 and a99 II. Of course, if you are chiefly looking to use the RX100 V as a point-and-shoot, perhaps just in 'Wide' autofocus area mode, where the camera picks the subject for you, you won't have any problems.

The moment you want to go from 'auto' to specifying your focus point, though, you'll find yourself clicking buttons and interacting with menus and, maybe, missing your decisive moment. Ultimately, the lack of direct control ends up encouraging one to use the camera as a point-and-shoot, which will be great for some, but frustrating for others.

But it isn't all negative. The RX100 V is, just like its predecessors, built very well, with a minimalist but attractive design. It incorporates a pop-up bounce-able flash, which the Panasonic LX10 lacks, and a pop-up viewfinder, which both the LX10 and Canon's G7 X II lack, into a body that's smaller than both of those competitors. That's quite a feat.

Yes, the RX100 V is incredibly full-featured, but I'm dead tired of fighting the camera to access those features. Straight-out-of-camera JPEG at 24mm equiv., ISO 800, 1/60 sec, F1.8. Photo by Carey Rose

Once you become familiar with the camera, you'll learn what you can do to work with it quickly and minimize menu dives, but because of limited customization options combined with the sheer volume of features you'll find yourself wanting to use, there will always be some things that you must dive into a menu for. The RX100 V is small enough to be 'the best camera that you always have with you,' but even so, you may find you're missing moments by just trying to get the camera to do what you want it to do - even if it does shoot full Raw and JPEG files at 24fps.