Not only is the Sony RX100 the best compact in the world, this large-sensor beast promises to ruffle some other feathers too. Raj Lalwani tells you more.
From the point of view of someone who enjoys street photography and loves to travel, I enjoy mirrorless cameras. But then, I have always been disappointed that I cannot fit these large-sensor cameras into my pocket. They are good cameras, but not as convenient as, say, a Canon PowerShot S95 or a Nokia 808 PureView.
But then, there was always a compromise to be made. Either you choose a pocketable camera that has a fast lens but a small sensor, or you had to be content with a small but not-small-enough camera like the Nikon J1 or Olympus E-PM1. Laws of physics, some people would say, to dash our hopes of a camera that would combine the best of all worlds, but it is these laws that Sony seems to have rewritten, with the new RX100.
Let me throw some facts to prove what I mean. The RX100’s lens is fast… f/1.8 at the wide end of the lens and f/4.9 at the telephoto end—both apertures being faster than the Canon S100 at its respective ends of the zoom. It has a respectable amount of zoom that covers a similar range to the S100 and XZ-1. Its sensor is the real star. With its 1-inch dimensions, the RX100’s sensor is as large as the one found in the Nikon 1 V1.
And now for the best bit, the camera manages all this, while being incredibly tiny! Amongst pocketable cameras, the RX100’s sensor is the biggest to date— bigger than the one found in the Nokia 808 PureView and far larger than the sensors found in the Panasonic LX7, Canon S100 and Olympus XZ-1.
While the sensor, lens and form factor are taking all the headlines, one must not forget that there is a lot more to the RX100. The sensor is populated with a lot of pixels— 20.2MP, to be precise, which is double the pixel count of the Nikon 1 cameras. While this gives great cropping flexibility, I was concerned that this may affect the dynamic range and high ISO performance of the camera. We will discuss those findings a little later in this review.
Despite the massive resolution (the highest in any compact camera), the camera fires away at a rapid 10 frames per second. The camera can shoot in RAW and even the look of the JPEG files can be customised to a large degree. I have always enjoyed adjusting these parameters in Sony cameras. Even the Monochrome option can be customised to look good—unlike most other digital cameras that produce flat B&Ws that need to be processed further.
The RX100 is optimised for still photography, but still boasts of top-ofthe- line video features. One can record Full HD 1080p video, at 24fps or 60fps. The bitrate of these videos goes up to 28MB/sec, an option that needs a lot of storage space but produces fantastic quality. One also has access to a certain amount of control while shooting video, in terms of choosing aperture and determining the look of the video by using Picture Modes.
Like other Sony models, the RX100 has a High Resolution Sweep Panorama mode. One can choose the direction of the pan from left to right, right to left or even up to down and vice versa.
The camera does not have a hot shoe. This, according to me, is the only real missing feature from a pure photographic point of view. But that was probably required to keep its dimensions within the pocketable range, and one must remember that its immediate rival (in terms of size), the S100, also does not have a hot shoe.
Much Bigger Sensor in a Similar Body
Most of the Sony NEX cameras have a convulated menu system that can frustrate serious photographers and confuse newcomers. Thankfully, the RX100 has based its menu system on the Alpha SLTs and its exterior body on the Canon S100. The Fn button works differently, and is more like a Quick Menu. You can assign a list of options to it and then pressing this button repeatedly will scroll between these various functions. In another trick borrowed from the Canon S series, a ring around the lens helps change parameters like aperture to focal length and even focus.
Manual focus is where this camera shines. The RX100 has focus peaking, a technology that was first used in Sony camcorders and then in the NEX cameras, to help ascertain accurate focusing. Based on the depth-offield at a given focal length and aperture, the part that is in focus is highlighted in a different colour. Combined with the magnified view that is generally seen in several mirrorless cameras, it makes the MF experience smooth and easy.
There were a few glitches. When you zoom in to an image, the camera jumps to 100% to confirm focus. While this is a good thing, it takes a long amount of time for the image to zoom out again. The direction of rotation of the Lens Control Ring takes a bit of time to get used to. I also found it a weird omission to not allow increasing ISO in onethird stops.
There is no option to switch Noise Reduction off, but the JPEGs retain a good amount of detail, even at the highest ISO settings. No pocketable camera has ever done this well. Fringing and flare are well controlled and the lens is able to resolve the high-megapixel sensor quite well.
Now, here is something interesting. The RX100 produces great results across the ISO range and has a fast f/1.8 lens at the wide end. Considering this combination, it is actually more versatile than a lot of entrylevel DSLRs with their kit lenses. A camera that lets you shoot in the same light levels as a Rs. 45,000 DSLR… and it fits into your pocket? How tempting does that sound?
Autofocus is not DSLR-like, but the RX100 is no slouch. It does very well in good light, and in low light, the focusing is slower, but accurate.
There are a few skeptics who have raised the point that why should one spend Rs. 34,990 on the RX100 when the same amount can get them a mirrorless camera with the option of changing lenses.
I think the answer is simple. There are several kinds of photographers who will be perfectly happy working within the range of 28–100mm for all their work… street photographers, portraitists, even some kinds of travel photographers. If you are one of them, someone who likes to be within the action and does not need to resort to extreme focal lengths for effect, you will not miss the ability of using different lenses.
There are other advantages. The sensor performance exceeds expectations and does even better than some of the current Micro Four Thirds sensors. Along with its fast lens and unassuming pocketable size, the RX100 becomes an unbeatable package. Sure, it has a few quirks, but with its superb image quality and excellent handling, there is no doubt that the Sony RX100 is, by far, the best pocketable compact camera in the world.
Large 1-inch sensor, fast lens, 10fps shooting, Sweep Panorama, Full HD video, no hot shoe
Class-leading image quality, quick and accurate AF, high quality optics
Durable metal body
Useful Lens Control Ring, excellent MF capabilities, a few quirks in playing back photos
Warranty & Support
Three-year warranty, wide service network
Value For Money: 4/5 stars
Who Should Buy It?
Photographers who wish to be discreet, but still want the flexibility of shooting in low light.
The combination of a pocketable form factor, large sensor and a fast lens has never been seen before, and that makes the RX100 the ultimate street and travel camera.