Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 In-Depth Review
Despite its small size, the RX100 includes all the features that Sony has been putting in its recent interchangeable lens cameras. This includes three-shot HDR, sweep panorama and a multi-shot noise reduction mode for working in low light. Many of these are modes we've seen and discussed before, but are interesting enough to be worth taking another look at.
Sweep Panorama, and its seemingly faddish cousin '3D Sweep Panorama,' has been a Sony mainstay for a while now and has been much copied by other manufacturers. The Sony implementation remains the best we've seen, with the camera doing a great job of stitching the images together, regardless of how stable you are with it.
Because it is shooting a sequence of images, any object moving across your scene risks appearing multiple times or being stretched or compressed, depending how it's moving relative to your sweep. Shooting scenes directly into a light source can produce some interesting results with lens flare too:
|Landscape orientation standard sweep panorama|
Overall, though, the system is relatively flexible (there are two widths of panorama available and you can shoot vertically, as well as horizontally - effectively opening up a further two options if you sweep with the camera in portrait orientation), though it'd be nice not to have to delve into the main menu to play with the settings. You are limited to the camera operating at its widest-angle focal length, though, which is a pity.
|Landscape orientation wide sweep panorama|
A 100% crop shows the image quality isn't as good as we'd expect from a conventional still
It's not the same as painstakingly shooting a panorama with a DSLR and a tripod, but it means you can capture the full sweep of a dramatic vista without having to lug a tripod around or making your hiking companions stand around on a hillside while you do so. Overall it's a feature we rather like, nicely done.
Dynamic Range Optimization
The RX100's primary means of making the most of its dynamic range is Sony's 'Dynamic Range Optimizer' this doesn't do anything to capture a greater range of tones, but it does selectively brighten shadow regions so that the final image is more balanced. DRO can either be set manually in five levels, switched off, or set to Auto for the camera to decide, based on the contrast in the scene.
For a split second after taking each image, you get to view it without DRO applied, before the screen refreshes with the processing applied. On the whole, Auto does a good job of creating balanced images with a broad range of tones, but without overall contrast being affected or either noise or noise reduction becoming problematic.
DRO can be enabled even when shooting in Raw, though it doesn't affect the underlying Raw data, so its effect will only be seen if you run the Raw file through Sony's own converter. This is one of the features that makes us wish the RX100 had an in-camera Raw conversion option - being able to set the DRO level after you'd shot an image would make it easy to optimize your shots.
|DRO Level 1||DRO Level 5|
|100% crop, showing little differentiation between tones in shadow regions.||100% crop, showing greater shadow detail without excessive noise or noise reduction.|
The RX100 also features Sony's three-shot HDR, that will use three different exposures to maximise the range of brightness information it can capture, then blend the exposures into a single image. This is a JPEG-only mode which saves the normally-exposed single-shot image as well as the three-shot composite version.
|Single (metered-value) exposure||Three-shot Auto HDR image|
|100% Crop||100% Crop|
These two 100% crops are taken from the same position in an HDR image and the normally-exposed shot that went towards its creation. The two things worth noting (beyond the brighter, more detailed shadow region), is the use of the detail from the shortest exposure in the final image, so that the bike's motion is frozen. Equally, this means the final image takes its detail from one of the later captures - something you'll want to be aware of if you have any moving subjects in your scene.
Multi-shot noise reduction
Another feature now standard on CMOS-powered Sonys is multi-shot noise reduction - a feature that shoots six images and then combines them into a single, cleaner image. Because noise occurs randomly, combining multiple shots allows the camera to average that noise out. The system is clever enough to use information from the image stabilization system so that it only uses relatively unshaken images taken of the same subject.
The results are pretty impressive. As you might expect, in the low-light circumstances in which you might want to use it, the slight shake between images means that really fine detail isn't perfectly sharp around the edges. However, it is undeniably less noisy than the conventional, single-shot version.
|ISO 6400||Multi-Shot NR ISO 6400|
|100% Crop||100% Crop|
The multi-shot noise reduction system underpins the 'Hand Held Twilight' mode, which is available either from the SCN position on the mode dial or automatically, if the camera thinks it's needed, in Superior Auto mode. In both instances, it will use as many of the shots as it can, but will ignore shots with excessive movement (either camera shake or subject movement) in them, so that your final image isn't a confused mess.
Clear Image Zoom
Clear Image Zoom is a digital zoom setting based on what Sony somewhat incomprehensibly calls 'By Pixel Super Resolution.' The idea is that it assesses the image at a pixel level and matches the fine detail against a database of patterns, in an attempt to add appropriate detail as it up-sizes. Clear Image Zoom can be enabled or disabled in the menu and is not available when shooting Raw. It essentially doubles the cameras zoom, taking it out to around 200mm equivalent.
|Clear Image Zoom on||Clear Image Zoom on|
|100% crop, showing exaggerated sharpening halos||The process can also exaggerate noise|
Clear Image Zoom's results aren't bad (though they look as if they might be scaled up after sharpening has been applied, given how large the sharpening halos are in the final image), and we've found it offers a slight improvement and added convenience over trying to upscale a Raw image to the same extent.
Beyond this there's a conventional crop-and-upsize digital zoom that can be enabled separately, extending the camera's reach to around 400mm equivalent, but the results are pretty terrible.
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