The Sony RX100 VI is a high-end compact camera aimed at pros, enthusiasts and vloggers. Announced in June 2018 it comes 21 months after its predecessor, and like that model packs a larger than average 1in sensor and high-end features into a relatively pocketable body.
The RX100 VI looks essentially the same as the Mark V before it and shares the same 20 Megapixel stacked 1in sensor with 315 embedded phase-detect AF points for confident focusing in stills and movies, 4k video, 24fps burst shooting with autofocus and a wealth of slow motion video options at 240, 480 and 960fps. It also inherits the popup XGA OLED viewfinder of the Mark V, although this now features the single-action mechanism of the RX1r II allowing you to pop it up or push it back down again in a single motion. Like the Mark V, there’s a 3in screen that can tilt up by 180 degrees to face the subject, although it can now tilt down further by up to 90 degrees for easier framing of subjects directly below and it’s now finally touch-sensitive too – amazingly a first for an RX model.
The major upgrade though is the lens with the RX100 VI now managing to squeeze-in a 24-200mm equivalent range with a reasonably bright f2.8-4.5 focal ratio into a body that’s the same width and height as before, but only 1.8mm thicker. This range gives the Mark VI considerably greater reach than the 24-70mm of its recent predecessors and finally brings some competition to Panasonic’s Lumix TZ100 / ZS100 and TZ200 / ZS200 models, and while the new Sony doesn’t share their optical reach, its aperture is brighter and autofocus more effective for tracking action. As a newer generation, the RX100 VI is also equipped with Bluetooth, S-Log 2 and 3 for grading footage, HDR HLG video and proxy recording. Sadly there’s still no option to connect an external microphone and the switch to a longer zoom has meant sacrificing the f1.8-2.8 aperture and built-in ND filter of its predecessor. As such vloggers will prefer the older Mark V (see my Sony RX100 V review), but anyone wanting a capable pocket camera for travel will appreciate the longer zoom range not to mention its ability to track and capture action. I’ve been shooting with a final production RX100 VI and ahead of my full review have put together a first-looks video which demonstrates all the new features (see below), a detailed report on the lens and burst shooting capabilities, and a broad selection of sample images! Keep on read on to find out if this is the high-end compact you’ve been waiting for!
B&H, or Adorama. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my treat me to a coffee! Thanks!
Sony RX100 VI design and controls
Sony RX100 VI lens
The big new feature of the Mark VI is its lens, starting at the same 24mm equivalent focal length of its predecessors, but now extending way beyond their 70mm telephoto to a much longer 200mm. This gives the Mark VI considerably more reach than before, making it much more flexible as a pocketable do-it-all camera. I’ve illustrated its coverage below where it’s clear how it can be used for capturing big views one moment, before concentrating on distant details the next.
Impressively Sony’s managed to squeeze the new lens into a body that’s only 1.8mm thicker and 2g heavier than the Mark V, although there are some understandable compromises as a result. Most obviously there’s a reduction in the maximum aperture from the f1.8-2.8 of the Marks III, IV and V, to f2.8-4.5 here on the Mark VI.
With variable aperture lenses, I always like to note where in the range the focal ratio reduces. On the RX100 VI, the brightest aperture of f2.8 is only available at the widest focal length of 24mm. At 25mm it reduces to f3.2, then to f3.5 at 30mm, and to f4 at 40mm. The Mark VI impressively maintains the f4 focal ratio between 40 and 109mm after which it reduces to f4.5 for the rest of the range up to 200mm. This makes it brighter than the Lumix TZ200 / ZS200 throughout their shared range, not to mention brighter than the Lumix TZ100 / ZS100 as soon as you zoom beyond its widest focal length.
While the Mark VI aperture is impressively bright for a pocket superzoom with a 1in sensor, it’s still approximately one stop slower than the RX100 III, IV and V in the 24-70mm range – which in turn will require a slower shutter speed or higher ISO to compensate under the same conditions. Some styles of photography where the subject doesn’t move can accommodate slower shutters, but others like video, sports or street require a minimum shutter speed and its there you’ll find the Mark VI inevitably having to deploy higher ISOs than its predecessors in low light. I really noticed it when vlogging in dim interiors with the Mark VI where the higher ISO resulted in less detailed footage than the Mark V under the same conditions. You’ll also notice it in any low light situation where the minimum shutter speed to avoid camera shake or motion blur has been reached. Indeed if you mostly shoot in low light and find 70mm long-enough, then you’ll be better-off sticking with the Mark V.
The slower aperture also means less chance of achieving a shallow depth-of-field in that shared 24-70mm range. To be fair the previous models weren’t great in that regard, but if you’re shooting between 24 and 70mm, the Mark VI won’t be able to deliver as much blurring in the background. That said, it is still possible to achieve some blurring at 24mm f2.8 if you get close to your subject, while the ability to zoom further to 200mm can deliver some subject separation even at f4.5. Here’s two examples at the wide and long end of the range to illustrate what’s possible. Note the closest focusing distance is 8cm at the wide end and 1m at the long end; you’ll need to get as close to these as possible to maximize the potential for blurring.
Another compromise of the longer zoom range is the loss of the built-in Neutral Density filter. Sony’s engineers tell me they’re hard to implement on longer zoom ranges which is why the facility was also dropped when the RX10 extended its range on the Mark III and IV versions. The absence of an ND filter on the RX100 VI won’t impact daytime stills shooters too much, especially given the maximum aperture isn’t as big as before and you still have an electronic shutter option up to 1/32000 to play with. But its absence will make long exposure photography of buildings and landscapes harder, forcing you to wait for much dimmer conditions before you can deploy long shutter speeds.
Videographers will feel the loss of the ND filter most of all though, as they’re essential for achieving motion-friendly shutter speeds when filming in bright conditions with larger apertures. For example, when filming with the RX100 VI on an average overcast day at the lowest sensitivity and maximum f2.8 aperture, I needed a shutter speed of 1/250 to balance the exposure, when what I really needed for good-looking motion was a shutter speed of, say, 1/50 for 25p video or 1/60 for 30p video. This would have been easy to achieve on the earlier Mark V by simply enabling the ND filter from a menu, but on the Mark VI you’d need to either fit a third party filter solution or wait until the conditions became dimmer – or of course put up with the choppy footage from a shutter that’s too fast for video.
The slower aperture at 24mm and loss of the ND filter make the RX100 VI less desirable for vlogging than its predecessor. Had Sony equipped the Mark VI with some kind of external microphone solution, then the scales could have balanced or even tipped in its direction, but with no upgrade in this respect I’d steer vloggers towards the previous RX100 V instead; see my Sony RX100 V review for more details.
At this point, you may be wondering if Sony has scored an own-goal with the new lens. Far from it. While it may not be as suitable for vlogging as the Mark V, it remains far preferable for day-to-day shooting thanks to its much longer range. And I’m delighted to report the optical quality is surprisingly good for the camera’s size, especially at the longer-end of the range where many rivals begin to suffer from softness and reduced contrast. Better still, the lens can exploit the phase-detect autofocus system embedded in the sensor to deliver pretty confident performance when shooting action as I’ll illustrate in the next section.
Before moving on, it’s important to compare the RX100 VI lens specifications against the two rivals it’s gunning-for: the Lumix TZ100 / ZS100 and Lumix TZ200 / ZS200. The Lumix TZ100 / ZS100 has a 25-250mm f2.8-5.9 zoom with a 5cm closest focusing distance at 25mm. The maximum aperture of f2.8 is only available at the first couple of mm, before slowing to f3 at 27mm, f4.1 at 50mm and f5 at 90mm, then to f5.9 between 160 and 250mm. Meanwhile the newer Lumix TZ200 / ZS200 packs a 24-360mm f3.3-6.4 zoom with a closest focusing distance of 3cm.
So while all three cameras start at roughly similar wide-angle coverage, both Lumix models zoom longer than the RX100 VI, reaching 250mm or 360mm. The Sony lens is however brighter, matched only by the TZ100 / ZS100 when both are at their widest settings. Once you begin to zoom the TZ100 / ZS100 into longer focal lengths, it becomes almost a stop slower than the RX100 VI, while the TZ200 / ZS200 is slower throughout its entire range. Their slower focal ratios again mean the necessity to deploy even higher ISOs or slower shutter speeds under the same conditions, and again less of a chance to enjoy a shallow depth-of-field at the same subject distance, although both Lumix cameras can focus closer at their wide-ends which compensates to some degree. I plan on making a variety of tests and comparisons between the Sony and Lumix models in the future and will update this page with my results.
Sony RX100 VI focusing
The RX100 VI shares the same sensor as the Mark V and as such inherits its phase-detect autofocus system which embeds 315 points across 65% of the frame. Sony remains the only company to offer a 1in sensor camera with phase-detect autofocus and it really gives them an advantage when it comes to tracking moving subjects or smoothly refocusing during movies. The benefits for video were already apparent on the Mark V, especially for vlogging or product reviews where you could simply forget about the autofocus, but now on the Mark VI they’re also exploited when shooting action with the longer lens.
As before, the phase-detect AF system works alongside a contrast-based system for speed, accuracy and low light capabilities, although interestingly Sony’s resisted upgrading it from the previous 25-area system of the Mark V to the finer areas of the latest Alpha bodies.
Like the previous models, there’s a wealth of focus area options including Wide, Zone, Center, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot; Lock-on AF for tracking is also available with all but Expand Flexible Spot. So far so similar to the Mark V, but in a huge upgrade, you can now adjust the single AF area positions by touch using the touchscreen. Previously shifting the AF area was a convoluted process with multiple button presses, but now it involves nothing more than a simple tap. I’ve been requesting this feature for years and it’s taken six generations of RX100 models for them to finally catch up, but at last the feature is here. You can also use the screen as a touchpad to adjust the AF area while composing through the viewfinder. Sure the system may not be as responsive as the best touch systems out there, and Sony continues to inexplicably limit what you can do by touch in the menus and playback, but I’m just happy there’s now an easier way to move the AF area at all. It also thankfully works for pulling-focus during movies.
If you’re shooting human subjects, you can make life easy for yourself by deploying the effective face and eye detection, the latter available in single and continuous autofocus modes, and now operating up to twice as fast as the Mark V. In use this felt a lot like the higher-end Alpha bodies, which isn’t surprising since many of the AF algorithms are shared, including High Density Tracking.
I have demonstrations of the autofocus for movies and vlogging in my first-looks video review at the top of this page, but for now wanted to concentrate on the camera’s ability to track and capture action for stills. Sony quotes the RX100 VI as being able to shoot at up to 24fps with continuous autofocus for bursts of up to 233 Fine JPEGs – that’s almost ten seconds of full resolution action at a video frame rate. But how usable is it in practice, especially with the new longer zoom range? Can it be used to realistically capture action?
To find out, I photographed cyclists approaching me over a long stretch, using the lens set to 200mm f4.5. I set the burst speed to High and the quality to fine JPEG, then experimented with different AF area configurations. Like other Sony cameras, I found the Wide area mode works best for faces or defined subjects against a fairly simple background. For cyclists riding without helmets – careful there! – the face detection could lock onto them from a reasonable distance, but when helmets or sunglasses made it more difficult, I found single AF areas proved more reliable.
Across a selection of bursts I found the RX100 VI did a good job at keeping the approaching subjects in sharp focus. Typically in a group of 20 shots like those above, all but two or three were perfectly sharp, with the remainder being close enough to use at a reduced size. I timed the bursts and found in this particular environment with continuous AF, the camera was actually capturing at 19fps, but while this falls below the 24fps quoted by Sony, it’s still very fast. Remember that’s giving you 19 full resolution pictures to choose from every second, with around 16 or 17 of them being perfectly sharp in this particular test. I’d say you’d be hard pushed not to record the decisive moment.
To be fair, the depth-of-field at 200mm f4.5 isn’t massively shallow, so the new lens doesn’t pose too much of a challenge to the AF system, but at least it can be used with a high degree of success to record day-to-day action like active kids, pets or basic sports. Remember this is something which eludes most rival compacts, so if you’re looking for a compact that can capture action, the RX100 VI should be on your shortlist.
Sony RX100 VI movie mode
The RX100 VI inherits the excellent movie capabilities of its predecessor and upgrades them in a number of regards. So like the Mark V, you get the chance to record 4k at 24 to 30p with a mild 1.1x crop, or 1080 video up to 120p for slow motion; 4k clips are again limited to five minutes each to avoid overheating, although 1080 clips can extend to a second shy of half an hour. The battery remains the same as the Mark V, so you’re looking at roughly one hour’s worth of 4k per charge, although if filming consecutive five minute clips, you will almost certainly have to pause from time to time to allow the camera to cool down.
There’s the High Frame Rate HFR modes introduced on the Mark IV and enhanced on the V which can capture a few seconds of action at 240, 480 or 960fps to slow footage by up to 40 times; the quality at 960fps is low resolution and noisy, but the 480 is much more usable and the 240fps actually comes close to 1080 footage.
The phase-detect AF system introduced on the Mark V continues to do a good job at smoothly refocusing without hunting, making it ideal for casual vlogging (especially with face detection) or product demos. It also works well with the extended focal range, confidently refocusing on moving subjects at 200mm if required. The RX100 VI’s new touchscreen also allows you to pull-focus by tapping the screen, and again the transitions are smooth and mostly avoid the hunting and overshooting of rival contrast-based systems.
Moving on, the RX100 VI offers full manual control over exposures with the choice of filming in Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or full Manual. You can adjust the aperture, shutter, ISO, exposure compensation and even the AF mode while filming. The full sensitivity range is available for movies up to 12800 ISO and there’s an Auto ISO option that works in any of the exposure modes including Manual; it’s also possible to apply exposure compensation when shooting in Manual with Auto ISO.
You can apply a selection of Creative Styles, which also provide manual tweaking of contrast, saturation and sharpness. You can also apply a selection of Picture Profiles which now include S-Log 3 and Hybrid Log Gamma HDR in addition to S-Log 2.
As noted earlier, the longer zoom range prevented Sony from including the built-in ND filter of earlier models, making the Mark VI less practical for filming video in daylight with motion-friendly shutter speeds. The lens aperture is also a stop slower across the 24-70mm range of its predecessors which means vloggers will almost certainly prefer using the previous RX100 V instead; see my Sony RX100 V review for more details.
While the RX100 VI finally gains a touchscreen, it still lacks any kind of external microphone input. To be fair, its compact rivals don’t have one either, but I still believe whoever implements one first will guarantee a raft of sales from vloggers. If there’s no room for a physical socket, I wonder if it’s possible for Sony to fit one on the optional grip accessory or perhaps exploit Bluetooth for a wireless solution? As it stands, vloggers will have to continue to use an external sound recorder, like a Zoom H2n or a Rode SmartLav+ for smartphones.B&H, or Adorama. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my treat me to a coffee! Thanks!