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Sony RX100 Review

by Shawn Barnett, , Zig Weidelich, and Dave Etchells
Review Posted:

Sony finally did what so many of us have wanted: They've built a pocketable camera with a large sensor and a bright lens. It's the Sony Cyber-shot RX100, and it'll send other camera makers back to their drawing boards for next season. The Sony RX100 sets a 20.2-megapixel, 1-inch sensor behind a bright 3.6x, f/1.8 lens, and wraps it in a small body not much bigger than a Canon S100.

Indeed, the special magic of the Sony RX100 is how closely they stuck to the stronger points of the S100, one of Canon's more successful premium pocket cameras. For many of us who own a camera in this particular pocket category, the Sony RX100 embodies what we wanted when we laid down our cash for the S100, LX5, or XZ-1: a larger sensor, a bright lens, and a small body.

Many will rightly note how slavishly Sony copied the S90, S95, and S100 digital cameras, much as Nikon heavily imitated the Canon G11 with the Nikon P7000. As a Canon S95 owner, I found it easy to compare the two designs by reaching into my bag. Let's have a quick look. (I wouldn't normally lead with this comparison, and I'm not being cheeky by doing so, it's just such a striking similarity I can't go on talking about the Sony RX100's design without either getting this out of the way, or repeating ad nauseam how similar each element is to the S95.)

As you can see, because the sensor is so much larger, the lens has to be larger too, and sticks out further when powered on as a result. Sony did an impressive job of keeping the RX100 thin when switched off, though, as you can see in the shot below. On the front, the position of the AF-assist lamp and the inclusion of the multi-purpose ring are only the first similarities on the pleasingly simple designs.
Flash really can't go anywhere else, so not much to say there, but the recessed Power button, Shutter button, and Zoom toggles seem to be designed to make the Canon S-shooter feel right at home. The Mode dial is also in just the right place, recessed well for rear thumb access, yet reduced likelihood of accidental activation in a pocket.
Finally, the back has a similar four-way navigator with an integrated scroll disk and set button in the middle, flanked by four other buttons. It's a common arrangement, however, so this is less noteworthy overall. But the dual control offered by the front ring and rear dial arrangement was unique to the Canon S-series until now.

I don't present the Sony RX100's close resemblance to the Canon S-series as a scandalous development any more than making an SLR with a grip and a hump on top is a scandal. Seems more like good business to me, making a camera that is built the way people seem to want, but with better imaging capability inside. According to what we've seen so far, Sony's done just that.

Since we're making comparisons to other cameras, it's important to note that the sensor in the Sony RX100, a 1-inch design, is essentially the same size as that in the Nikon 1 series compact system cameras. As Sony puts it, that makes the sensor about four times larger than the average 1/2.3-inch sensor. Many were upset that Nikon's compact system camera had a smaller sensor than its CSC competition, but I think the compactness of the Sony RX100 more than makes up for any concern about sensor size: The Sony RX100 is where use of the 1-inch sensor can be hailed as an engineering milestone.

From the front, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 speaks to its seriousness. The band offsetting the top third of the camera subtly evokes the Leica rangefinder ethos without going overboard. Note the Carl Zeiss badge and name on the lens. The front lens element is concave rather than convex.

The ring surrounding the lens turns freely--without click-stops, unlike the S-series. But when the Sony RX100 is powered on, the speaker emits a clicking sound. As shown in the tech info section, the flash pops up on a hinged mechanical support like we've seen on several Micro Four Thirds cameras, as well as the Sony NEX-F3. It's a tiny flash that's pretty effective at wide angle, but anemic at full telephoto, according to our tests (see the results in our Flash section). Two microphone holes tell of the RX100's stereo recording.

An amber LED lights in the center of the Power button to indicate charging. The Sony RX100 comes with no battery charger, just a small USB power supply with flip prongs. An included standard micro USB cable serves to charge the camera and transfer images. That's convenient for travel, but a little painful to keep two batteries maintained, as we've had to do while reviewing the RX100. The USB port is hidden behind a door to the right of the Movie button in the rear image below.

The 3-inch LCD is pretty nice, a 1,229K-dot design they call Xtra Fine LCD. Sony says they added a new feature they call WhiteMagic, which uses additional white pixels to boost brightness and show more detail on the screen. The screen is so very fine, it's hard to see anything like white pixels, even looking very closely.

A decent rubber thumbpad rises to subtly shield the Movie record button. These buttons are very small, but most are raised sufficiently to actuate easily; the Playback button is flush, as it turns on the camera in Playback mode without extending the lens. The rear dial also functions as a four-way navigator. The ? button brings up a pretty extensive tip menu with contextual help and suggestions for different types of photographic situations. This doesn't seem like it would be useful for the intended target market, but it can't hurt.

Overall, the Sony RX100's form factor is excellent, with a tight build, aluminum body, and high-quality, responsive buttons and dials. And as a regular S95 user, I indeed feel right at home.

Note: We've completed our analysis of Optics, Exposure, and Performance, and posted our suite of Test Images and Gallery shots. Click the links here or use the tabs above to see what we think of the Sony RX100!


Sony RX100 Shooter's Report

by Shawn Barnett

Bokeh. I made this shot searching for bokeh. I found it, but it was at f/4.9 as I'd zoomed to telephoto.

Nothing's more fun for a reviewer than looking at a camera we would buy for ourselves. Sony has finally refocused on the enthusiast user--something they haven't done with much traction since the unique F828--and the results are quite good.

Form. Sony nailed it in the physical simplicity department, largely by conforming to an already popular, well-thought-out design. Though there's no grip on the front, the Sony RX100 is thick enough to hold easily. The larger lens ring leaves a little less room for your fingers, so I recommend using the wrist strap and both hands whenever possible. At $650, you don't want to drop this little beauty. Sony also included strap lugs for both sides of the RX100, so a solitary neck strap is also likely to be available.

The shirt-pocketable design is a little thick, so it's not going to disappear into a pocket like a Sony T-series camera, but it'll fit in a pinch, and rides well in the looser pockets of slacks or handbags.

The position of the thumbgrip, Mode dial, Zoom toggle and Power button are ideal. The Rear dial, too, is well-positioned for easy access and its detents are clear. The Mode dial, on the other hand, is a little mushy for my taste; rather than snapping into position, it's reluctant to leave its position, then moves slowly to its next setting. Stiff is good, unyielding isn't. That's probably my only complaint about the Sony RX100's physical operation, though, which is good.

Lens. Ranging from 28-100mm equivalents, the Sony RX100's 3.6x lens is a big part of the camera. You can tell what I mean when you power on this solid-feeling camera and the weight shifts toward the front; much of the overall weight is the lens itself. If holding the camera without a strap, it's important to hold it well because the weight shift could cause you to lose your grip. What's amazing is how well it collapses inside the camera body. The lens zooms about as quickly as I'd like, with a slight, low-frequency buzz; not exactly silent, but low enough that it won't attract too much attention.

Picture Effects. I like this surreal Illustration effect. I was disappointed that the level feature left the shot a little off kilter, though.

Optical quality at the center is quite good. Our tests show some noticeable softening in the corners, likely related to the extreme distortion correction the camera has to perform out toward the corners. It also does this correction in video, unlike a few older Sony cameras, though we doubt it'll affect the corners as much given the lower resolution of HD video. The Canon S100's uncorrected RAW images are even more distorted than the RX100's images, which could also cause much of the softening we see in the corners on that camera, in addition to the usual suspects of coma, curvature of field, and chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberration is also low overall, probably processed out by the camera.

We also noticed an unusual color shift when zooming from wide to telephoto in Manual White Balance mode, going from a purple cast at wide angle to a green cast at telephoto, primarily around the edges. This is partially due to our use of Manual White Balance on most of these setups, and can be seen in other cameras, including the S100. See our Optics page for more on the Sony RX100's optical performance.

Autofocus is very quick on the Sony RX100, ranging from 0.153 second at wide angle and 0.266 second at telephoto. That's deep into phase-detect SLR territory, and is a major advantage over the Canon S100, whose shutter lag improved over its predecessor, but still hovered around 0.571 second. Prefocused shutter lag on the RX100 is a remarkable 0.013 second.

As a result, the Sony RX100 surprised me with its readiness. I almost always half-press to prefocus, and the Sony RX100's shutter release works on a hair trigger, surprising you when it goes off. That's just what you want for catching the right moment once you get used to the camera, but at first you get surprised by taking a picture before you meant to. That's not a bad problem to have.

The Sony RX100 also focused extremely well in low light, actually working better without the AF assist lamp in our lowest light test. There were a few baubles, however, in our testing, with the lens hunting excessively between shots in Continuous mode with the aperture wide open to f/1.8. Stopping down gradually reduced the issue until it went away at f/4.

Flash. Though it's mechanical and springloaded, the Sony RX100's flash is deployed electronically by the camera. You have to set the Flash mode to Auto or Forced and the camera will pop up the flash when you half-press the shutter if settings/conditions warrant. You have to push it back down manually to lock it back in place. We found it pretty good with the lens set to wide angle, but deficient even at six feet at the camera's 100mm equivalent setting. With a camera like this, I'd superglue it shut and shoot available light, myself.

Rings and complexity. The front ring is both a blessing and a curse; it's great once you decide how you want to use it, but once you switch modes its function can change. Indeed, so many changes affect other operating factors, that the Sony RX100's many options become something of a burden. After shooting with the Sony RX100, in some ways I'm drawn back to my S95 and its more limited, better-focused options. Sony poured a lot of very cool features into the RX100, and once you get used to them, you'll see what a powerful camera it is; the flip side is that even with lots of experience using Sony cameras, it's easy to get lost and lose track of how one setting affects the availability of another. We found that true of Sony NEX cameras as well. Working with a team on one camera, I too often found that the camera's abilities and behaviors changed each time it was returned to me, which is a more unique problem reserved to teams of reviewers.

HDR mode. A little HDR brought out the interior of this yogurt shop, and also cut some of the glare from the front of the building. Zoomed in you can see the face of a patron inside apparently thinking I could see him better than I could (without the magic of HDR, that is). This was the same exposure, even though his expression differs.

With that tangle of explanation out of the way, the front ring works very well in its default mode. I don't think I've ever seen a better expression of Program shift mode than what the RX100 offers. Just leave the camera in Program, and turn the front ring. A graphic appears as an arc onscreen, with numerical aperture values turning in one direction while shutter speeds turn in the opposite direction. Oddly, this option is not offered on the S95 or its brothers without having to press multiple buttons. Since this is a lens that offers a little more bokeh, it's an absolutely natural way to shoot, giving you access to two critical exposure factors with a turn of the ring.

In Manual mode, the front ring controls aperture while the rear adjusts shutter speed, as it should be. You also get a real-time exposure preview on the screen. Bravo. When in Aperture or Shutter priority, both dials control the same parameter: either both control aperture or both control shutter speed. Makes sense. Switch to Superior or Intelligent Auto, on the other hand, and the front ring switches to controlling zoom. Press the down arrow (the one with the sparkly camera) in either of these Auto modes, and the dials change again. This time the front dial does nothing, but the rear controls simplified features like background defocus, Brightness, Color (tone), Vividness, and the rather deep well of Picture effects. Again, I'm surprised these modes are on a relatively intermediate-focused camera like this, but they can be avoided.

Ring menu. Pressing the Function button brought up the Ring menu. By default, the ring menu was set to adjust ISO, but if you use the arrow keys to scroll left and right, you can select EV, White Balance, DRO/HDR options, Picture effects, and Focus mode. I landed on Picture Effects, and started turning the ring to shoot a series. 20 shots later, I was getting tired, sure the "Off" option would swing around any moment. But all 33 options are available for the 13 types of Picture effects. You can access Picture effects in at least three different ways I found, speaking to the complexity I mentioned.

In general, though, I think this Function button method works well. It leaves the Ring free to do a single task that you set with just a turn, then it serves to adjust other settings after you press the Function button. Not bad. Just don't expect it to always do the same thing, depending on what other settings you've made, because it can surprise you.

LCD. Sony's not just boasting about the LCD with its high-res WhiteMagic display, it really is vibrant and detailed, even in sunlight; so long as it's clean, that is. Speaking of which, I'd like to say how pleased I am that it's not a touchscreen. I'm getting more accustomed to touchscreens, but I really don't want them on premium cameras like this without the ability to completely disable them. Physical controls are more important to the enthusiast shooter; and most don't like the unpredictability of touchscreens along with that.

Leveling. One of the four Display options includes a two-axis level, measuring pitch (aiming up or down) and roll (tilting left and right). I used this a lot while shooting. It's helpful particularly trying to capture from an odd angle while keeping things aligned with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, some of the shots I took on a tripod showed as level, but clearly were not. Even one degree off looks like a lot, though, so I'm sure the level is designed more to get you in the ballpark. Since we haven't a manual yet, we can't be sure whether the leveling feature can be calibrated.

Lab concerns. In addition to the strange seeking behavior in Continuous mode at wide apertures, the lab also found a peculiar difficulty setting Manual white balance in low light conditions. The camera just declares a Custom White Balance error if the light is too low, the ISO is set too low, the aperture is too small, the lens is zoomed in, etc.; ultimately, whatever circumstance is causing the camera to not capture enough light to determine a white balance setting. If it doubt, open up the aperture and zoom to wide angle. The Set Custom White Balance screen draws its reading from a small circle in the center of the image area when you press the shutter button, so focal length is less important.

Panorama. Shooting a panorama is about as easy as it's ever been with the Sony cameras, and the results are great. From what I can tell, the Sony RX100 uses intelligent sweep panorama, omitting elements of frames where someone's obviously moved.

Above, there's only one error where a person is half-missing, where it's clear the camera had little choice thanks to a nearby obstacle. Not bad. This is set to Standard, shooting Down with the RX100 oriented vertically.

You can shoot in the four directions, but you have to choose which first. Because I wanted to get this tall building, I switched to "Down" as the option, then swept with the camera rotated left. You don't get quite 180 degrees, but I got all of the building.

This is what you get when panning with the camera in horizontal orientation in Wide mode. The railroad tracks are running in a straight line. Shooting these with the Leveling display selected helped keep the camera level as I panned.

DRO and HDR. We shot DRO images in the lab, which you can see on the Exposure page, but I also shot some HDR samples to show what the Sony RX100 can do with shadows and highlights with its various settings, including Auto, then ranging from 1.0EV to 6.0EV of exposure. All were shot on a tripod to keep it framed accurately. Results don't seem to step up neatly for some reason, with some shadows appearing darker than others, though the reported exposure remains the same, and the last two shots seem the same.

Normal
HDR Auto
HDR 1.0EV
HDR 2.0EV
HDR 3.0EV
HDR 4.0EV
HDR 5.0EV
HDR 6.0EV

Filters. As I mentioned, there's a ridiculous number of filters available, 33 in all with their various permutations. That doesn't even include the Scene modes. Here's a subset of the modes, highlighting some of the more interesting ones. Overall, it's a pretty interesting set of filters. I really liked the Painting and Illustration modes.

Normal
Toy Camera Normal
Toy Magenta
Pop
Posterization Color
Retro
Partial Color: Yellow
High Contrast Mono
Soft Focus: High
HDR Painting: High
Miniature
Illustration: High

 

Lens flare. I found some lens flare while shooting wide open at night. It's not uncommon for such a bright lens, just be aware of your bright highlights when shooting wide open.

Night. As you can see from the samples above, I took quite a few night shots. The camera focused quickly and functioned just fine in very low light, just as we found in the lab, and its exposure preview showed me exactly what I'd get when I pressed the shutter. Wide open, there was some noticeable lens flare, as you can see in the crop at right, taken from the first shot in the series above. You can also see the flare in the night video below. It's pretty common among fast lenses, so be sure to stop down a bit if bright lights will be part of your image.

Multi-Frame Noise Reduction. It took me a little time to find the Multi-Frame NR mode. Just bring up the Ring Function menu, select ISO, and turn the dial past Auto to ISO. I suppose it's good in certain situations, like when the camera will obviously choose a lower ISO, but my test showed that the really high ISO settings, like ISO 25,600, were too soft to use. I shot this scene at 3,200 and 6,400, then switched to Multi-Frame Noise Reduction and shot several takes. The camera chose ISO 16,000, 20,000, and 25,600. 25,600 was overexposed, so I left it out of this series.

ISO 3,200, f/4.9, 0.6 second
ISO 6,400, f/4.9, 0.3 second

Multi-Frame NR
ISO 16,000, f/4.9, 1/8 second

Multi-Frame NR
ISO 20,000, f/4.9, 1/8 second

Above are crops of the deck chairs near a dimly lit gazebo in my neighbor's yard on a dark night. The exposure times don't make much sense, but they're what Adobe Bridge reports. ISO 6,400 looks the best, despite the slower shutter speed, and the two Multi-Frame shots don't look worth the effort, at least not in this light, with less detail and less color. Other scenarios will likely be different.

Full HD night vid. Click to download 34.3MB .MTS file.

Video. Video quality looks pretty good. There's more information on our detailed video page, but my overall experience with the RX100's video was pretty uneventful; it worked pretty well. You can set ISO manually or let it gain up automatically in ISO Auto mode. Dynamic Range Optimization is also available, as are many of the picture effects. The results with all of them are pretty surprising. You can even select among Program, Aperture, Shutter-priority, and Manual shooting modes.

I only had a short time with the Sony RX100, but it's enough to say that I like it a lot. Among the scads of special features and modes, I'd probably keep to Program and Aperture priority, using the Ring in its Standard mode, and I'd probably occasionally play with the HDR mode in special circumstances. I'm sure I'd use Panorama more often. It's cool that it can rip off 10 frames per second, but this isn't the kind of camera I turn to for that kind of photography. Ultimately, I'd use the Sony RX100 for its large, light-sucking lens; its larger, high-res sensor; and its gorgeous LCD, and ignore the rest. I'm just glad a big camera manufacturer finally heard us clearly and gave us a pocket camera with some serious guts.


Sony RX100 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

One of the defining features of the Sony RX100 is its new 1.0"-type Exmor CMOS image sensor, with a resolution of 20.2 megapixels. Sony's first sensor in this format, it's the same size as those used by Nikon's 1-series (CX-mount) compact system cameras. Note that it's not a backside-illuminated design; according to Sony, it's large enough that a standard sensor structure suffices.

Sensitivity ranges from ISO 125 to 6,400 equivalents, with the ability to extend to ISO 80 or 100. The Multi-Frame NR function can raise the upper limit to ISO 25,600.

The new sensor has double the area of the 2/3"-type sensor used by the Fuji X10, and nearly triple the area of 1/1.7"-type sensors used in most premium compacts.

Compared to typical point-and shoots on a 1/2.3"-type sensor, the difference is vast: the RX100's sensor is almost 4.1x larger.

Its area is a little less than half that of the sensor in the Canon G1 X, and about one-third the size of an APS-C sensor, as used by most DSLRs and some CSCs.

The new sensor is coupled with Sony's current-generation BIONZ image processor, as seen in recent Alpha-series models.

According to the company, the latest BIONZ chip enables a variety of unusual features such as fully manual movie exposure, auto portrait framing, and picture effect functions.

Sony rates the RX100 as capable of 10 fps in Speed Priority Advance mode, which locks focus and exposure from the first frame.

Burst depth is 13 JPEG or 10 raw / raw+JPEG frames.

In regular continuous burst shooting, the rate falls to 2.5 frames per second.

The 3.6x optical zoom lens carries Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* branding. The 28mm-equivalent wide angle matches that of the Canon G1 X, but the 100mm-equivalent telephoto is just a little shorter than the 112mm of the Canon.

The optical formula includes seven elements in six groups. Four elements are aspherics, one of them described as an advanced aspheric. The T* coating reduces ghosting and flare.

Compared to Canon's camera, the RX100 offsets its smaller sensor somewhat with a lens that's brighter across the board, ranging from f/1.8 at wide angle to f/4.9 at telephoto.

The seven bladed aperture is almost round when near the fully open position, for pleasing bokeh.

Macro focus is possible to as close as 1.9 inches (wide) / 21.6 inches (tele).

As you'd expect, Sony's Optical SteadyShot lens-based image stabilization is included. Sony hasn't yet stated the range of correction available.

For video capture, the system has a greater corrective range, aka Active Mode.

Like almost all mirrorless cameras, the RX100 uses contrast detection autofocus. There's an AF assist lamp, and 25 autofocus points are available, plus center spot, flexible spot, and tracking modes. You can also focus manually, with both peaking and an optional AF operation to get you in the ballpark (aka Direct Manual Focus.)

The RX100 forgoes a viewfinder, a sensible decision that helps achieve a more compact body.

The LCD panel has a three-inch diagonal, and VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution.

Sounds pretty standard, until you look at the dot count. It's a WhiteMagic display with four dots per pixel, for a total of 1,228,800 dots. As well as red, green, and blue dots, there are white dots used to boost brightness outdoors, and reduce power consumption indoors.

The RX100's twin-dial design is accompanied by a very intuitive on-screen interface, which shows what's being adjusted by the dial around the base of the lens.

It's not just aperture that can be adjusted in this manner. A wide variety of functions can be controlled with the dial--even lens zoom, although there's a dedicated control for this too.

A built-in auto popup flash strobe is included. Range is rated at 24.2m at wide-angle and 8.9m at telephoto with ISO sensitivity set to 6,400, or about 14 and 5.2 feet at ISO 200. Maximum sync speed seems to be 1/2000s. Like most compact cameras, the RX100 forgoes any provision for external flash strobes.

The RX100 includes a dual-axis level display function, making it easy to avoid tilted horizons and converging verticals. It's a function that's pretty common on interchangeable-lens cameras these days, but much less so in fixed-lens models.

The Sony RX100 includes the usual array of operating modes you'd find on a consumer-oriented SLR or system camera, plus the single-shot Intelligent Auto and multi-shot Superior Auto modes often found on Cyber-shot models. Helpfully, there's also a Memory Recall function.

Metering modes are much as you'd expect. There's a selection of Multi-Segment, Center-weighted, and Spot options.

We don't currently have any information as to how many zones the Multi-segment metering system uses.

The RX100 uses a mechanical shutter, and doesn't have an electronic first curtain function. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 30 seconds, plus Bulb.

Much like an interchangeable-lens model, there are a healthy selection of white balance presets, an Auto mode, plus Manual and Color Temperature options.

Sony includes its Multi-Frame Noise Reduction function in the RX100. This is similar to the Handheld Twilight mode, but allows direct control of sensitivity. By combining multiple shots in-camera, a much greater sensitivity limit of ISO 25,600 equivalent is unlocked.

Sony's 2x Clear Image Zoom is a variant of digital zoom that tries to improve quality by using pattern matching. It's still interpolating (read: guessing) the missing data, but it's doing so in a more intelligent manner that Sony claims is "nearly equivalent" to optical zoom.

Clear Image Zoom. Top image uses standard 2x digital zoom, bottom employs Sony's 'Clear Image Zoom' which uses pattern matching during interpolation. Click crops for full images.

'Clear Image Zoom' is based on Sony's rather clumsily-named 'By Pixel Super Resolution' algorithms, and so is the Auto Portrait Framing function, seen previously in the SLT-A37 and A57, as well as the NEX-F3. When enabled, this saves two copies of each image you capture. The first image is untouched; the second uses face detection to locate your subject, and then crops the image based on a rule-of-thirds algorithm for what the camera feels to be a more pleasing layout. Your dominant subject will always face towards the center of the frame, and the orientation of the recropped image won't necessarily match that of the original shot. You might shoot a landscape image, for example, which the camera decides would have been better as a portrait. So... where does 'By Pixel Super Zoom' fit into the picture? The answer is that the Sony RX100 will--after finishing cropping your image to create its masterpiece--resample the result back up to the same resolution as the original shot, thereby making it seem as if the camera has simply gone back in time and retaken the image with different framing.

A related feature that debuted in the NEX-F3 also reappears in the RX100, but it's rather less versatile here. The Self Portrait Self-timer function automatically starts a countdown timer when either one or two faces are detected in the scene, saving you the trouble of pressing the shutter button at all. Since there's no tilt/swivel display, you're flying blind with this function, though.

The RX100 also includes Sony's Picture Effects function, but with more options than ever. There are now 13 effect types, and a total of 27 variations.

Of course, the other creative functions you'd expect are all present: High Dynamic Range and Dynamic Range Optimizer, plus Sweep Panorama (2D only).

The Sony RX100 can capture 1080p AVCHD version 2.0 video at rates of 60i or 60p. There's also HDV (Anamorphic HD) and VGA capture in MPEG-4 AVC at a rate of 30p, but strangely, no 720p mode.

Otherwise, though, the video feature set is quite rich by fixed-lens camera standards. Manual exposure control is available, and there's a wind noise reduction function, plus SteadyShot image stabilization.

Audio is recorded with an onboard stereo microphone, situated on the top deck above the lens.

The Sony RX100 stores data on SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards, or Sony's own Pro Duo / Pro HG Duo types.

Connectivity couldn't be more simple. There's a micro USB port on the right side of the camera, and a rather awkwardly-positioned micro HDMI (Type D) port on the base, right next to the tripod mount.

Power comes courtesy of a new NP-BX1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Sony rates the RX100 as good for 330 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards, or for 80 minutes of video capture.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is slated to ship in the US market from July 2012. Pricing is set at around US$650 for the camera with battery, AC adapter, USB cable, hand strap, and neck strap adapters. List pricing for additional NP-BX1 batteries is set at US$50, and additional accessories include a handsome two-part leather case with neck strap for about US$85, and a screen protector for the LCD display priced at about US$12.

Sony RX100 Image Quality

The crops below compare the Sony RX100 to the Canon S100, Canon G1 X, Nikon J1, Samsung NX200 and Sony NEX-5N. Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with base ISO to show the best that each camera can do.

Note that these images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. Each camera was shot with the sharpest lens on hand, though the "point and shoot" cameras we've included here obviously used their fixed lenses.

Sony RX100 versus Canon S100 at base ISO

Sony RX100 at ISO 125
Canon S100 at ISO 80

Though the Canon S100 does an admirable job for its sensor size, the Sony RX100 clearly has more resolution and better detail, quite noticeable in the mosaic detail. The RX100 even finds threads in the pink swatch below the red leaf swatch.


Sony RX100 versus Canon G1 X at base ISO

Sony RX100 at ISO 125
Canon G1 X at ISO 100

Going up against the nearly APS-C-sized G1 X, it's a considerably closer match. Both offer excellent detail, and while the RX100 has more pixels, the G1 X's sensor is larger, so it'll be interesting to see how they compare as ISO rises. Both capture sharp detail in the pink swatch, but the G1 X seems to do a little better with the red leaf swatch.


Sony RX100 versus Nikon J1 at base ISO

Sony RX100 at ISO 125
Nikon J1 at ISO 100

It's perhaps unfair to pit the RX100 against the J1, given that it's a 20.2-megapixel sensor going against a 10-megapixel design. But they're both the same sensor size, so it's interesting all the same. The Sony RX100 clearly has greater resolution, but the Nikon delivers more vibrant color.


Sony RX100 versus Samsung NX200 at base ISO

Sony RX100 at ISO 125
Samsung NX200 at ISO 100

Finally another 20-megapixel competitor to look at, the NX200 has an APS-C sensor. The NX200's JPEG engine struggles as ISO rises (though its RAWs are quite good), so expect this picture to change a bit in the next set of crops. The NX200 really struggles with the red leaf swatch, even at base ISO, but appears a little sharper elsewhere.


Sony RX100 versus Sony NEX-5N at base ISO

Sony RX100 at ISO 125
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 100

Going Sony against Sony now, the RX100's 20-megapixel sensor seems to deliver a little more detail overall, but the APS-C-based NEX-5N handles the red leaf swatch better, offering a more even approach, mostly thanks to its larger image area.



Most decent cameras produce very good results at base ISO, so we like to see what they can do at higher settings. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Sony RX100 versus Canon S100 at ISO 1,600

Sony RX100 at ISO 1,600
Canon S100 at ISO 1,600

Since we're used to doing this analysis on SLRs, it's a bit surprising just how soft ISO 1,600 images look. Still, it's clear what the Sony RX100's larger sensor area gets you in terms of resolution. It's soft, but still quite good by comparison. The red leaf swatch, our most difficult element, is a mess, though.


Sony RX100 versus Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600

Sony RX100 at ISO 1,600
Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600

The Canon G1 X proves why a larger sensor is a little better, offering less noise, less softening from noise suppression, and slightly less softening in the red leaf swatch.


Sony RX100 versus Nikon J1 at ISO 1,600

Sony RX100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon J1 at ISO 1,600

Even with more pixels, the Sony RX100 manages to hold chroma noise in check very well compared to the Nikon J1. Unfortunately, the RX100's images offer noticeably less color overall, particularly in the yellows and greens.


Sony RX100 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Sony RX100 at ISO 1,600
Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Sony's aggressive approach to noise suppression does soften the image, but also gets rid of most of the chroma (color) noise in the shadows and other dark areas, which the Samsung NX200 leaves behind. The Samsung's yellows are brighter, though, which also shows up in the red tones. (Note that the poor high ISO performance for the NX200 has a lot to do with the JPEG engine; its RAW output is competitive with other APS-C compact system cameras.)


Sony RX100 versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600

Sony RX100 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600

And finally a clearer illustration of why you want that larger sensor. The Sony NEX-5N, though only 16 megapixels, manages to find the threads in the pink swatch, as well as sharper detail in the mosaic bottle and the Mas Portel bottle.



Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Sony RX100 versus Canon S100 at ISO 3,200

Sony RX100 at ISO 3,200
Canon S100 at ISO 3,200

More softness still at ISO 3,200, but the RX100 images still offer more detail than the Canon S100.


Sony RX100 versus Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200

Sony RX100 at ISO 3,200
Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200

Overall, the Canon G1 X still does a little better than the Sony RX100, preserving a little more detail in all elements.


Sony RX100 versus Nikon J1 at ISO 3,200

Sony RX100 at ISO 3,200
Nikon J1 at ISO 3,200

The Nikon J1 does fairly well with the mosaic image, but suffers from a lot of noise suppression artifacts in the shadows.


Sony RX100 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

Sony RX100 at ISO 3,200
Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

The Samsung NX200 manages to pull out a little more detail, but with extra sharpening and leaving behind quite a bit more chroma noise. Its red leaf swatch looks a little better than the RX100.


Sony RX100 versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200

Sony RX100 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200

Again, the RX100 doesn't obsolete its brother NEX cameras, with the NEX-5N turning out more detail with less noise suppression and better color at ISO 3,200.



Detail: Sony RX100 vs. Canon S100, Canon G1 X, Nikon J1, Samsung NX200, and Sony NEX-5N

Sony
RX100

ISO 125
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
S100

ISO 80
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
G1 X

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
J1

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Samsung
NX200

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-5N

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. As with the low-contrast crops, the high-contrast crops show the Sony RX100 besting the S100 and Nikon J1, but not faring quite as well as the G1X and NEX-5N, both larger-sensor cameras. At ISO 6,400, the G1 X actually does a little better than all others here, including the NEX-5N, especially with the lines inside the letters, while maintaining a truer red color in the text. Overall the Sony RX100 does about as well as we'd expected, as a very high resolution sensor that's smaller than some, larger than others. Considering its extremely high resolution, it's impressive it does so well.

 

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Print Quality

Though its official base ISO starts at 125, the Sony RX100's ISO 80 images looked good printed at 24 x 36 inches. Color was muted, particularly yellows and greens, as we also found in our MacBeth test target.

ISO 125 shots also looked quite good at 24 x 36, with excellent detail, but the muted color persisted.

ISO 200 images also looked very good at 24 x 36, if a little softer than ISO 125. Not enough to require a smaller print size.

ISO 400 images printed very nicely at 20 x 30 inches, with sharp detail.

ISO 800 shots were soft enough at 20 x 30 that we preferred the 16 x 20-inch prints, though we'd still call the 20 x 30-inch prints usable for most subjects. By ISO 800, the red leaf swatch appeared soft.

ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 13 x 19 inches, but look better at a still fairly large 11 x 14 inch size. The red leaf swatch was somewhat soft at this point.

ISO 3,200 images look good at 8 x 10 inches, with the exception of the difficult red leaf swatch.

ISO 6,400 images are a bit soft for 8 x 10 inch prints, but look quite good at 5 x 7 inches.

Overall, the Sony RX100 stands out as a pocket camera that can produce good quality 24 x 36 inch prints from ISO 80 to 200, and even its highest ISO of 6,400 outputs a good quality 5 x 7. Impressive!

 

In the Box

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Sony RX100 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Smart controls in a compact body
  • Excellent implementation of Program Shift with front ring
  • Exposure preview as you make adjustments
  • Very high resolution
  • Bright f/1.8 maximum aperture for shallow depth of field and good night shooting
  • Very fast AF performance
  • Very good low-light AF capability (down to less than 1/16 foot-candle)
  • Excellent high-ISO performance for such a compact model
  • Surprisingly good dynamic range, especially from raw files
  • Crazy-fast shutter response when pre-focused
  • Very good buffer depth
  • Fast buffer clearing
  • Blazing-fast buffer clearing for RAW files (with high-speed SD card)
  • Excellent "WhiteMagic" LCD
  • In-camera correction means virtually no distortion or chromatic aberration in JPEGs
  • Very fast continuous shooting in Speed Priority mode (focus and exposure lock after first shot)
  • Great flash range at wide angle
  • Excellent Sony "Handheld Twilight" mode for handheld exposures after dark
  • Sweep panorama mode (one of our favorite camera features)
  • AVCHD 2.0 Full HD video with stereo sound
  • Focus peaking
  • USB charging; charge from your laptop or iPhone charger
  • Good battery life (330 shots/charge) for its size
  • Despite its simple external controls, its options are somewhat overwhelming
  • Some lens flare noticed at night when shooting wide open
  • Poor rendering of yellows - undersaturated and shifted toward green
  • Slow flash recycling
  • Autofocus very slow to lock in Continuous AF mode
  • Very limited flash range at telephoto focal lengths at low ISOs
  • Rather uneven flash coverage at any focal length, particularly bad at wide angle
  • Limited 3.6x optical zoom range
  • Maximum aperture drops quickly as you zoom
  • Soft corners wide-open
  • In manual white balance mode, color balance shifts as the lens zooms
  • Manual white balance mode requires more light than may be available in low-light conditions
  • Randomly variable shot to shot speed in Speed Priority continuous shooting mode (camera "stutters" sometimes)
  • Mode dial difficult to turn at first
  • No support for a remote
  • USB charging means no ability to charge a second battery outside the camera

 

Shaking up the premium pocket camera market, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 made quite an impact here at Imaging-Resource.com. Not only did it make a lot of big claims, the Sony RX100 actually lived up to most of them, packing an astonishing amount of imaging power into a small package. It couldn't possibly escape us that they were aiming squarely at Canon's successful S-series of pocket cameras in their design, but it also seemed like a wise move. Since what we all want from a pocket camera is better image quality, Sony took the right tack by picking a sensor that's large enough to make a difference in image quality, yet small enough to still fit into a pocketable body.

Adding a lens that's brighter than all but two cameras in the category also hits a good note. We found a little bit of lens flare, but overall the optic looks quite nice thanks to a little extra processing from the Bionz processor. Corner softening is present, as expected, but considering the very high resolution, it's not as big a factor as it looks at 100 percent onscreen. At wide-angle, we suspect some of the softening is due to the geometric distortion correction (See the Optics page for more).

Color was a little muted for our tastes, particularly yellows, which also shifted in hue toward green. This affected the entire image, making our still life shots print a little less vibrant than we're accustomed to seeing. A good percentage of Sony RX100 shooters will likely shoot RAW and process in a program like Lightroom, though, so we don't consider it a huge problem.

The Sony RX100's SLR-class autofocus speeds and very fast buffer clearing means it has fewer of the compromises we're used to seeing in small cameras. Sony also chose to use their Alpha menu system rather than the more annoying NEX menu system, a move we applaud. While it's impressive that Sony included so many of their special features, though, we have to wonder if it isn't a little too much here and there. We were also frustrated more than once when changing one setting unexpectedly locked us out of a range of features or behaviors without warning. Sometimes less is more.

What wasn't disappointing was the Sony RX100's image quality. It doesn't quite rival the quality of most compact system cameras, but it does exceed the capabilities of most of its major rivals in the pocket premium camera space, capable of printing a 24 x 36-inch print at ISO 125 and an 8 x 10 at ISO 3,200. All things considered, we think the Sony RX100 is an impressive achievement and we give it a rating of 5 out of 5 points, as well as an enthusiastic Dave's Pick.

Be sure to visit our Optics, Exposure, and Performance, pages, as well as our suite of Test Images and Gallery shots!