Summary

Highly Recommended awardSony's RX100 Mark V is the company's most powerful premium compact to date. Like the previous two generations in the series it packs a 1in / 20 Megapixel sensor, built-in viewfinder, 24-70mm f1.8-2.8 zoom, tilting screen and decent Wifi / NFC wireless control (so long as you update the in-camera app). The Mark V also inherits the 4k movies and HFR slow motion video of the Mark IV, but builds on it further with embedded phase-detect AF for more confident photo and movie focusing, and a front-side LSI processor which doubles HFR recording time, boosts continuous shooting to 24fps and allows huge bursts to be captured. In short, it's the best compact for action shooters and also one of the best for video too. But there's still no touchscreen and if you don't need ultra slow motion video, PDAF or the epic bursts, there are more affordable 1in compacts around with essentially the same photo quality, albeit few which have the built-in viewfinder.

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Sony RX100 V review

Verdict

Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 Mark V is arguably the most powerful premium compact camera to date, packing unparalleled speed and high-end features into a pocketable body. It’s the first fixed-lens camera in its class to sport embedded phase-detect AF points in the 1inch sensor, allowing smooth and confident refocusing for stills and movies. It also now boasts sufficient processing muscle to shoot at 24fps and for huge bursts too of over 150 JPEGs.

The RX100 Mark V gives you this in addition to the 4k video, 1/32000 anti-distortion shutter and ultra slow motion HFR modes which made their debut on the previous Mark IV, although now you can film for twice as long in HFR at 240, 480 or 960fps making it much more practical to capture the decisive moments. And from both the Mark IV and the earlier Mark III, it’s all packed into a compact body with a 24-70mm f1.8-2.8 zoom, tilting selfie-screen, Wifi with NFC, and built-in electronic viewfinder which seems to pop-out from nowhere.

So like many new Sony cameras, the upgrades over the previous model are concentrated on the sensor, autofocus and processing speed. Not much has changed in terms of design, handling and user interface, so there’s still a number of frustrations inherited from older models: most notably the continued absence of a grip, a touch-screen, convoluted menus and the necessity to laboriously sign-up to and log-into PlayMemories on the camera just to unlock all of the Wifi remote control features. It also continues a trend for a higher price tag than its predecessors and has now become significantly more expensive than its rivals with 1in sensors. So before wrapping-up, how do the new features stack-up and are they worth paying extra for?

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Let’s start with the autofocus. Where the previous four RX100 generations and all of its fixed-lens rivals to date rely on contrast-based autofocus, the RX100 Mark V becomes the first with embedded phase-detect AF with 315 points covering 65% of the frame. Yes, I know Nikon’s DL was announced almost a year ago with the same sensor as the Nikon 1 system – equipping it with hybrid AF – but it’s still not on sale. So the RX100 V fortuitously finds itself as the only 1in-class compact with a fixed lens and phase-detect AF

Like other Sonys with embedded PDAF, the RX100 V uses a combination of phase-detect and contrast-based AF for stills, but switches over to 100% phase-detect for continuous autofocus. I first tried it for stills with moving subjects. Where the subject quickly enters the frame, like a jumping dog or someone performing a bike, skate or board trick, the RX100 V reacts well, locking on quickly and tracking the subject with a good degree of success. It can also be effective for tracking subjects steadily approaching like vehicles, cyclists or lively pets and kids

Like all live view cameras I’ve tested to date, a great deal of your success with moving subjects depends on how soon you trigger the continuous AF with a half-press. Start too soon when the subject’s too small and the camera will struggle to correctly identify it. The trick is to wait until enough of the subject covers the active AF area, after which you can be fairly confident the camera will lock-on. This can however be a challenge for the RX100 V with a lens that only extends to an equivalent of 70mm. By the time an approaching subject is big enough to fill an AF area on the Mark V, it’s already quite close and you may not have enough time to react in terms of framing. Then there’s the fact a 70mm equivalent f2.8 lens on a 1in sensor isn’t going to deliver a particularly shallow depth-of-field, so even if the focusing is nailed, you won’t be enjoying much subject separation from the background.

I’d say for moving subjects starting from a distance the RX100 V lacked the ultimate confidence and consistency (not to mention optical flexibility) of mirrorless cameras like Sony’s own Alpha A6300 and A6500, but it still remains superior to its fixed-lens / 1in sensor rivals. In my tests it felt happier with closer-range action, especially with the lens zoomed wide, where it reacted quicker than most, allowing me to capture a number of sharp images when rivals would still be hunting.

But the phase-detect AF doesn’t just benefit still photography – it can be deployed for movies too, where it allows the RX100 V to refocus much more confidently than before. In my tests there was minimal or no hunting as the camera acquired a new subject. It reacted quicker with the lens wide and was occasionally hesitant when zoomed-into 70mm, but the result was still attractive; it also did a fair job at face-tracking a subject walking towards the camera.

The faster and deeper burst shooting also lives up to Sony’s claims: the RX100 V really can shoot sustained bursts at 10fps with its mechanical shutter or at 24fps with an electronic shutter. Sony quotes 150 JPEGs at 24fps – I actually managed 160 at 24fps or 195 at 10fps. In RAW I managed over 70 frames at either speed. That’s incredible performance for any camera, let alone a pocket compact, and while it inevitably means dealing with a massive amount of data, the Mark V displays a handy countdown of images still left to write to the card – so you’re not left wondering how far through the process you are.

The anti-distortion electronic shutter inherited from the Mark IV also means shooting at 24fps is genuinely usable, even when swinging the camera around to follow a fast subject. I detected barely any skewing / rolling shutter in my tests, and at 24fps, there’s effectively no delay in the composition either – it’s like you’re watching a live feed with minimal blackout.

The faster processing also makes the High Frame Rate video modes more usable than before. Previously on the Mark IV you had to choose between longest capture times of two or four seconds in quality or time priority modes respectively. With an already reduced frame size, you really want to shoot HFR in the quality mode, but two seconds didn’t always give you enough time to capture the decisive moments. Now with four seconds in the quality mode – or eight in time mode – you stand a much better chance.

It’s all very impressive, but equally the RX100 series is becoming increasingly esoteric, not to mention expensive. Offering PDAF, doubling the HFR recording time, increasing the buffer size and boosting the burst speed are all technologically cool, but how many people will actually exploit them? I’d argue it’s more important to first address some aspects inherited from the Mark IV (and even some earlier models) which would have much broader appeal.

Most notably the continued absence of a touchscreen which would not only make pulling-focus so much easier in movies, but also aid text-entry in the menus. I shot side-by-side with the Lumix LX10 / LX15 and its touch-screen just makes operation so much easier.

The 4k video on the Mark V may look great, but the longest clip length of five minutes is limiting and also disappointing given the cheaper Lumix LX10 / LX15 can record 15 minute clips without overheating. I love being able to capture 17 Megapixel stills when filming video on the Sony, but it’s a shame the option isn’t available when filming 4k – surely that’s something the faster processing could help with. Maybe the SD slot needs an upgrade.

I also feel the lens, now deployed for the third time, could do with a redesign as it no longer stands out from the competition. Canon’s G7X II zooms longer for more flattering portraits, while Panasonic’s Lumix LX10 / LX15 is brighter and focuses closer with nicer rendering, making it preferable for macro work. I think Sony’s rivals are also providing more to hold onto in terms of grip, although to be fair you can add a low cost accessory to boost it.

It’s also a shame the RX100 V missed out on the Bluetooth of the A6500 which provides a considerably superior GPS tagging capability. And don’t get me started on the continued need to update the Smart Remote app in-camera just to unlock the manual exposure and touch-focus capabilities – but that applies to all Sony cameras.

And finally I feel there’s an opportunity for one of the premium compacts to become the go-to model for vloggers everywhere by simply offering some kind of microphone input. Most obviously with a 3.5mm jack, but maybe there’s some way to connect an external microphone wirelessly, or via the USB port. It’s not a direct criticism of the Mark V as it applies to all 1in / fixed lens compacts to date, but as the most innovative and priciest of the pack, I’d expect Sony to implement it first.

But when comparing the Sony against its rivals, you can’t help but return to that built-in viewfinder. It’s such a useful feature and one that’s lacking on most of the competition. But equally it’s available at a lower price on the Mark IV and also on the Mark III, albeit with a lower resolution panel on the latter.

So before concluding, a quick comparison with its key rivals.

Sony RX100 V vs RX100 IV

The closest rival to the RX100 Mark V is of course its predecessor, the Mark IV. Both models share a great deal in common: the same body, lens, screen, viewfinder, the same 4k movies and the same HFR frame rates of 240, 480 and 960fps. New to the Mark V over the Mark IV are the embedded phase-detect AF points on the sensor and the addition of a front-side LSI processor. The PDAF points allow more confident refocusing in stills and movies, while the additional processor supports faster burst shooting (24 vs 16fps), much deeper bursts and double the recording time for HFR movies. The Mark V also now supports eye detection in continuous AF with the PDAF system, although the inherently large depth-of-field of a 1in compact means this feature is less useful than Sony’s mirrorless cameras fitted with bright telephotos. If you do a lot of refocusing in movies, need the camera to react as quickly as possible, or like to shoot large bursts, then the Mark V is definitely worth buying over the Mark IV – plus depending on when and where you buy it there may be barely any difference in price. But if there is a difference and you don’t need the new features, save your money and go for the Mark IV. See my Sony RX100 IV review for more details.

Sony RX100 V vs RX100 III

The next closest rival to the Mark V is the earlier Mark III with which it again shares a great deal: the same body, screen, viewfinder mechanism and lens. This time though there’s more differences between them. The Mark V has embedded phase-detect autofocus, it’ll film 4k video (versus 1080 on the Mark III), it’ll capture super slow motion HFR video, it’ll shoot much faster and longer bursts, it has a silent low distortion electronic shutter, can be powered over USB as well as charged, and while both models have viewfinders, the Mark V’s has a more detailed panel. That’s a lot of benefits for the Mark V, but equally both share the same body, lens, screen, picture quality and both have popup viewfinders. If you don’t need the 4k movies, slow motion video, ultra quick shooting and phase-detect AF, the RX100 Mark III will give you the core features at a more affordable price. See my Sony RX100 III review for more details.

Sony RX100 V vs Lumix LX10 / LX15

The Lumix LX10 / LX15 is another worthy rival for the Mark V and while both have 1in sensors with 20 Megapixel stills and 4k video, there are quite a few differences. In its favour, the RX100 V boasts a built-in electronic viewfinder, embedded phase-detect autofocus, super slow motion HFR video, faster and deeper burst shooting at the full resolution, the chance to power as well as charge over USB, a screen that tilts down as well as up, and a built-in three-stop ND filter. In its favour, the LX10 / LX15 features a brighter lens that focuses closer (when zoomed wide to 24mm anyway), a touch-sensitive screen, longer 4k clips with less overheating in my tests, Panasonic’s innovative 4k Photo modes, and crucially a comfortably lower price. See my Lumix LX10 / LX15 review for more details.

Sony RX100 V vs Canon G7X Mark II

My final comparison concerns Canon’s PowerShot G7X Mark II, another compact based on a 1in / 20 Megapixel sensor with a tilting screen. In its favour, the RX100 V boasts a built-in electronic viewfinder, embedded phase-detect autofocus, 4k movies, super slow motion HFR video, faster and deeper burst shooting at the full resolution and the chance to power as well as charge over USB. Sounds like the Mark V has all the cards, but the G7X Mark II’s lens zooms almost 50% longer to 100mm, the screen is touch sensitive, it sports a comfortable grip and to my eyes, I prefer its in-camera JPEGs. Oh and like the Lumix above, it’s comfortably cheaper too. See my Canon G7X II review for more details.

Sony RX100 Mark V final verdict

Sony’s RX100 Mark V is the company’s most powerful premium compact to date. Like the previous two generations in the series it packs a 1in / 20 Megapixel sensor, built-in viewfinder, 24-70mm f1.8-2.8 zoom, tilting screen and decent Wifi / NFC wireless control (so long as you update the in-camera app). The Mark V also inherits the 4k movies and HFR slow motion video of the Mark IV, but builds on it further with embedded phase-detect AF for more confident photo and movie focusing, and a front-side LSI processor which doubles HFR recording time, boosts continuous shooting to 24fps and allows huge bursts to be captured. In short, it’s the best compact for action shooters and also one of the best for video too. But there’s still no touchscreen and if you don’t need ultra slow motion video, PDAF or the epic bursts, there are more affordable 1in compacts around with essentially the same photo quality, albeit few which have the built-in viewfinder.

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