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Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Ken McMahon, October 2012
 
   
 

Sony RX100 verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is one of the most exciting compacts to appear for some time. Until now the Canon PowerShot S and Panasonic LX series have been the compacts of choice for enthusiast photographers looking for the elusive balance of quality and control in a pocketable format. But for all of their sophistication the PowerShot S and Lumix LX series use a 1/1.7in sensor - only marginally larger than the 1/2.3in sensor found in most consumer compacts.

The genius of the Sony RX100 is that it manages to squeeze a comparatively large 1in sensor into a compact form that you really can slip into your shirt or jeans pocket. Its small size doesn't mean the RX100 is lacking in features either. With great quality 1080p50/60 HD video, built-in stereo mics, face tracking AF, 10fps continuous full resolution shooting, RAW support and a 3 inch extra-bright high resolution LCD display it's a very capable compact. Add in Sony's array of specialised stacking modes for enhanced tonal range and improved low light performance, sweep panorama, focus peaking and a wide range of picture effects and the RX100 is the equal of anything its size.

There are some areas where the RX100 falls a little short of what enthusiasts might, reasonably or otherwise, be expecting of it. Its lens, while reasonably bright at f1.8 when zoomed-out, dims to f4.9 at 100mm. As a consequence, the RX100 can produce a passable shallow depth-of-field for close up and portrait shots, but won't match what a system camera is capable of with a bright prime lens. Indeed in my tests the Panasonic LX7's brighter lens actually managed to equal or out-blur the RX100 despite its considerably smaller sensor.

   
 

 

The other thing the RX100 can't compete with on a DSLR on is handling - but it has a good shot at it. The lens ring works well for controlling aperture and it's programmable, but Sony needs to think more carefully about how it fits in with other controls, like the rear control wheel, and what functions it's best suited to. The good news is that the company has proved it's capable of this kind of reworking in the past with the NEX models. The programmable Fn which functions like a quick menu is another great feature, if Sony could make the DRO, HDR and Multi-Frame Noise Reduction features as accessible that would be another move in the right direction.

All-in-all though, the RX100 is not only a great achievement, it's a cracking advanced compact that only the most curmudgeonly of photographers would be reluctant to acknowlege as such. Once again Sony has shown it's got what it takes to identify the core requirement of a particular market and come up with an innovative and exciting camera to meet those needs. Which only leaves me to make some brief comparisons with the competition.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix LX7

     
 
 
     
     
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is likely to be a strong competitor for the Lumix LX7 as it offers a larger sensor, and a similar level of control in a more compact format. Side-by-side the RX100's more compact dimensions point to a key advantage - it will fit in your shirt or trouser pocket - whereas the Lumix LX7 is by comparison a coat pocket camera.

Compactness is an important factor, but not the only one. The RX100's sensor is significantly larger than the Lumix LX7's and it boasts a much higher 20.2 Megapixel resolution which means you can get much bigger prints from the RX100, or crop them, effectively giving the RX100 a bit of a digital zoom advantage on the LX7 with no quality loss.

The RX100's lens has a maximum aperture of f1.8-4.9 which is two thirds of a stop darker than the LX7 at the wide angle lens setting and the gap widens as you zoom in. This allows the LX7 to use lower ISOs under the same conditions with the same shutter speed, especially when zoomed-in, which while not placing them neck-in-neck in effective noise, does narrow the gap. The closer focusing distance of the LX7 also allows you to achieve a shallower depth of field in macro shots, despite the RX100's bigger sensor and longer actual focal length, although the RX100 claws back some of that when it comes to portraits at more typical distances. Either way, its not a runaway lead for either model in the shallow depth of field stakes.

Like the LX7, the RX100 has a lens ring, but it's programmable and not confined to aperture adjustment. In the LX7's favour, the its dedicated aperture ring has physical 1/3rd EV click stops which give it a more positive feel. Generally, the LX7 offers more physical control options than the RX100 which lacks its thumbwheel, AF selector, aspect ratio selector and ND/Focus lever. The RX100 also lacks a hotshoe and an accessory port so there's no option to fit either an optical or electronic viewfinder as there is on the Lumix LX7.

Finally, the Cyber-shot RX100 is comfortably more expensive than the Lumix LX7. Essentially what your paying for here is the combination of a large sensor in a compact body. I don't expect there will be any shortage of people prepared to pay the price, but if absolute compactness isn't your main criterion, the Lumix LX7 offers a brighter lens and a hotshoe/accessory port with optional viewfinder for a lot less. And once again while the LX7's sensor is smaller, its much brighter lens allowed it to match or outperform the RX100 in terms of delivering a shallow depth-of-field in my tests.

See my Panasonic LX7 review for more details.

 

Compared to Canon PowerShot G1 X

     
 
 
     
     
The Canon PowerShot G1 X and Sony Cyber-shot RX100 are both fixed lens compacts with a large sensor, but that's about as far as the similarities go. The G1 X is the daddy of big sensor compacts with a 14.3 Megapixel sensor that's close to the size of an APS-C sensor and has similar quality and noise characteristics.

It has an articulated LCD screen with 920k pixels plus a built-in optical viewfinder and offers a high degree of physical control, including front and rear dials, a custom shortcut button, and dedicated dials for both exposure mode and compensation. It has a hotshoe for connecting an external flash. These hardware features add to the bulk of the G1 X, though, and it's substantially bigger than the RX100 and weighs more than twice as much.

The PowerShot G1 X f2.8 lens isn't as bright as the RX100's and the inability of the G1 X to focus closer than 20cm at the wide angle setting and 85cm at the telephoto makes it very difficult to achieve narrow depth of field - one of the key advantages a large sensor and wide aperture should provide. So its large sensor advantage is somewhat compromised by the performance limitations of the lens with the result that for portrature both cameras perform similarly in terms of their ability to throw the background out of focus. For close ups though, the RX100's 5cm close focus distance gives it a big advantage on the G1 X.

In terms of exposure modes and filter effects, the RX100 has a little bit of an edge. There's not much to choose between the G1 X's Creative Effects and the RX100's Picture Effects, but the G1 X has no Panorama mode and, perhaps more importantly can't compete with the wealth of stacking modes the RX100 has to offer. Another of the G1 X's weak spots is continuous shooting - a rather pathetic 1.9fps compared with 10fps on the RX100. In terms of video the G1 X offers 1080p24 against the RX100's 1080p50/60, and saves it files in the same folder as still images as opposed to the AVCHD files of the RX100 which are buried away in nested subfolders. Ultimately the big sensor is the G1 X's key selling point, and its ability to essentially deliver the same quality as many EOS DSLRs in a relatively smaller package make it a popular companion for many photographers.

See my Canon G1 X review for more details. You may also be interested in my Canon S110 review.

 

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 final verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is, without doubt, one of the most exciting compact releases in many years. That it comes at a time when other manufacturers - Canon, Fujifilm and Panasonic among them - are also releasing exciting compact models makes it all the more remarkable. Its unique proposition can be summed up in four words - large sensor, small body. That magical combination is what enthusiast photographers have been wishing for for a long time. It's a wish that, in the past models like the PowerShot S100, Lumix LX5 and Olympus XZ-1 almost, but not quite fulfilled.

Those models have been superceded by new ones, the S110, LX7 and XZ-2iHS respectively, and there are others, but none matches the size/performance ratio of the RX100. It's easy with a camera like the RX100 to dwell on what's missing - people will complain it lacks a hotshoe, or an accessory port for a viewfinder, or that its screen isn't articulated, but that misses the point. Which is that the RX100 really does deliver the magical combination of large sensor performance in a truly compact and pocketable design - and for that I highly recommend it.



Good points
Big sensor, pocketable compact form factor.
Programmable lens control ring.
10fps full-resolution burst shooting.
Shallow depth of field.
Raft of stacking modes.

Bad points
Rear control wheel not customisable.
Digital zoom can't be disabled in movie mode.
No built-in memory and lack of 'No card' warning.



Scores

(relative to 2012 advanced compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20

88%
   

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