Performance and image quality

The RX100 series has always been about exceptional image quality in a camera the size of a pack of playing cards, and this latest iteration falls in line with that. Particular attention has been paid to burst shooting and video quality, and stills image quality is largely unchanged from the Mark IV - which is to say it's still very good.

The metering from the RX100 V is generally very good, but sometimes we've found the auto white balance to get confused if there's lots of green or magenta in the scene - so I set it up for 'shade,' and all was well. 24mm equiv., ISO 200, 1/125 sec, F1.8. Photo by Carey Rose

Image Quality

Our latest test scene simulates both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget switches between the two. The daylight scene is manually white balanced to give neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests. Raw files are manually corrected. We offer three different viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Comp', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons by using matched viewing sizes. The 'Comp' option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.

The only image quality difference Sony has claimed this time around is that JPEG processing has been tweaked, particularly at the highest ISO values. Accordingly, when looking at the Raw files, there is really no discernible difference in sensor performance.

When it comes to JPEGs, there appears to be a slight tweak to image sharpening, showing an ever so slight 'halo' on high contrast edges vs. the Mark IV, albeit nowhere near as offensive as with Canon's comparable compact. Thankfully, the tweak yields even sharper JPEGs: small details are retained and even emphasized, despite similar underlying actual detail captured in Raw. It's fair to say Sony's sharpening remains class-leading, balancing fine detail and microcontrast without overt haloing.

At very high ISO values, noise reduction is more aggressive, tending to smear color detail. On the other hand, the increased sharpening can yield a slight increase in detail retention with the new model - particularly in low light - albeit at the potential cost of more visible edge artifacts.

In real-world use, I pretty much left the camera in 'Standard,' but I did find myself itching to process out the Raws. There's not much that's technically wrong with the camera's JPEG output: indeed Sony's noise reduction and sharpening are still class-leading. However, default noise reduction can be a bit heavy handed (we suggest setting it to 'Low') and JPEG colors still have some issues with comparatively greenish yellows and cool greens.

Metering in general is spot-on, with histograms generally showing very little clipping despite high-contrast scenes. There's an exception though: when faces are detected, exposure is often significantly boosted, routinely yielding clipped skies. We'd love to see an option to turn off face-biased metering, but for now you can get around this by turning off face detection and using Eye AF (which doesn't bias metering). Compared to the IV, will you be able to spot the difference in the real world? Not likely, save for a bit sharper, yet smudgier in low light, JPEGs. The real story is (as Sony has indicated) the outright speed of the RX100 V.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is very good and remains unchanged from the Mark IV, which you can read about here. What's more, the dynamic range remains the same even during 24 fps burst shooting. The camera's 'Dynamic Range Optimizer' and S-Log2 functions also allow you to make use of this extensive dynamic range in JPEG and video: enable one of these modes and (under)-expose for the highlights, and the camera can dramatically boost shadows to make them visible.

Real-world performance

We've said it before, and we'll say it again - the RX100 V's 24fps burst shooting is almost something you have to see to believe. It's easy to second-guess whether or not you've actually hit the shutter because you're basically watching a movie unfold on the screen - but unfortunately, despite the exciting possibility of being able to essentially shoot (short) clips of 5.5k Raw footage for video, there is no provision for controlling focus versus shutter priority, so the burst rate doesn't always remain constant at 24 (with a drop in fps with shutter speeds longer than 1/100s).

Thanks to the improved processing in the RX100 V though, you can enter playback immediately after having shot a burst and view the last image the camera has written to the card. You can also now zoom in and check focus, see how many images are left to be written in the upper left corner of the screen, and tap the shutter to go back to shooting more bursts. This alone makes the camera feel much more responsive when shooting action, as opposed to the vague error messages you got on previous models if you tried to enter playback before everything was done writing.

The above video demonstrates Sony's argument that the RX100 V is the ultimate 'decisive moment' camera - the 24fps maximum burst essentially lets you capture a 20MP movie of the scene in front of you, allowing you to get just the moment you're after.

Unfortunately, you still cannot enter menus or switch from stills to video while the buffer is clearing - which seems strange, given that if you can enter playback and zoom in to check focus while the camera is writing to the card, it seems like you should be able to enter the menus as well. And though the buffer is huge, card write speeds still feel a little pokey when shooting JPEG + Raw.

Which brings us to another complaint we've had with the RX100-series since its inception - general operation just doesn't live up to what this camera should be capable of, and the result is a disconnected experience. Aside from limited functionality while the buffer is clearing (which can take a very long time), if you change any shooting settings during normal operation, and there's just enough of a lag to be irksome before your changes are reflected on the screen.

Same goes for hitting the the 'Fn' or 'Menu' buttons. In so many instances, there's just enough of a hiccup between initiating an action and the camera responding that it's off-putting. This 'hiccup' of course isn't unique to the RX100-series, nor is it as bad as the original RX100 or G7X, but it is noticeably more pronounced than on competitors like the Canon G7 X Mark II or Panasonic LX10.

Auto ISO and Wi-Fi

Auto ISO control continues to be a strong suit on Sony cameras. You can dictate the ISO range you want, and either set a minimum shutter speed yourself, or let the camera automatically change the minimum threshold depending on your zoom level. Beyond that, you can also bias it faster or slower by one or two stops depending on what you're shooting. You can even assign a custom button or Fn menu item to directly access the minimum shutter speed setting, which often means we never leave Aperture Priority and simply adjust the minimum shutter speed threshold on-the-fly to account for subject motion.

Auto ISO chose a value of 4000 for this quick grab shot, and I must admit that having a compact camera capable of this level of image quality at that ISO is still a little astounding to me. 24mm equiv., ISO 4000, 1/60 sec, F1.8. Photo by Carey Rose

Also of value is that this excellent Auto ISO behavior carries through to shooting in manual stills and video, which means you can quickly specify your shutter speed (to keep your video from getting 'juddery'), then specify your aperture (to keep your depth-of-field from changing drastically while shooting), then let camera 'gain' up or down depending on the lighting you find yourself in, also allowing for you to bias the Auto ISO behavior through exposure compensation. It's a capability we're pleased to see Sony implementing across its consumer camera lineups. Note though that the minimum shutter speed setting is ignored in video if you're in, say, aperture priority as opposed to fully manual.

The RX100 V has Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC that works well. Transferring images is simple and easy, but like its predecessors, the RX100 V lacks in-camera Raw processing, to let you perfect your images before transfer.

Battery life

The downside to all the extra processing that Sony has squeezed into the RX100 V is battery life. As shown in the introductory spec table, battery life is impressively bad, at least compared to its peers. The CIPA rating of 220 shots is the same as the Sony RX1R II (which uses the same battery, but a much larger sensor), a camera that, in our experience, struggled to get 100 shots on one battery in colder weather.

It all depends on usage, of course. CIPA testing requires unusually high flash usage and the screen staying on after each shot, which means you'll often be able to shoot more than the specified number of shots. During very heavy burst shooting during Sony's RX100 V press event, we were able to net 1500-2500 shots on a single battery, plus some 4K and HFR video clips, possibly because bursts don't leave the LCD in playback mode for several seconds between each shot. Broadly speaking, the CIPA numbers are comparable between cameras, though.

Don't get left in the dark - just plan on carrying another one of the RX100 V's diminutive batteries in your pocket. Straight-out-of-camera JPEG at 31mm equiv., ISO 12800, 1/80 sec, F2.5. Photo by Carey Rose

In short, carry a spare battery or two, be mindful of ambient temperature, and take the battery out if you're leaving the camera overnight (Sony cameras drain batteries even when off). One important addition though - the RX100 V can run off of USB power (as long as there is a battery in it), so you could also plug it into a USB power bank if needed. It's an especially handy feature for running long timelapses, so long as you've shelled-out the extra $10 required to purchase the required, timelapse app from Sony.