Sony RX100 IV Conclusion

Sony RX100 IV Field Test -- Gallery Image
57mm equivalent (21mm), f/4.0, 1/400s, ISO 125, Vivid Creative Style
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

Sony's supercharged premium pocket cam

Sony keeps upping the ante with their RX100-series of premium compact cameras. Now on its fourth-generation model, the Sony RX100 IV introduces a host of performance-oriented improvements and new features, including 4K video capture, 16fps continuous burst shooting and a very fun high frame rate (HFR) slow-mo video mode.

While the RX100 II introduced a new backside-illuminated sensor for improved low-light and high-ISO performance, the RX100 IV introduces yet another new sensor: a stacked CMOS design with embedded DRAM. This new 20.2MP chip is designed not so much for improved image quality, but rather vastly improved speed and throughput performance -- giving the RX100 IV it's impressive 4K and HFR slow-mo video capabilities, plus an electronic shutter with speeds up to 1/32,000s with very little rolling shutter artifacts!

Very good image quality, especially when using RAW

Image quality from the little RX100 IV is very good, though fine detail and critical sharpness is best when using RAW files. To our eye, JPEGs look a bit over-processed, especially at higher ISOs. And speaking of higher ISOs, despite not putting a strong emphasis on image quality improvements with its new sensor design, the RX100 IV nevertheless showed a slight improvement with higher ISO performance compared to the RX100 III. And like its predecessors, it still has much better high ISO performance than your typical enthusiast pocket cam thanks to its larger sensor and bright f/1.8-2.8 lens.

Sony RX100 IV Field Test -- Gallery Image
24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/1.8, 1/3200s (electronic shutter), ISO 125, Vivid Creative Style, DRO Lvl 5
With the electronic shutter, it is easier to use the lens wide open in bright light.
Click for full-size image.

New sensor design leads to BIG video upgrades & new features

Where the RX100 IV really shines is with performance. In addition to very fast autofocus and very low shutter lag, the RX100 IV offers very fast 16fps burst shooting (with JPEGs only) and deep buffers despite the increase in burst rate compared to earlier models. When shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, burst rate drops to a slower but respectable 8.6fps, which itself is an improvement over the 6.7fps RAW burst from the RX100 III.

Aside from still photos, the video shooting capabilities on the RX100 IV are where things really get interesting and fun. Despite its diminutive size, this pocket cam shoots and records excellent, high-quality 4K Ultra-HD footage and can also simultaneously record 4K video and output a clean, uncompressed 4K signal via HDMI. You can even record two video formats at the same time, kind of like RAW+JPEG, but instead with XAVC S + MP4 (or AVCHD + MP4).

See the unseen with High Frame Rate slow-motion videos

Perhaps the most fun new feature with the RX100 IV is the High Frame Rate video mode. You can capture super slow motion video at up to 960fps, and the camera itself crunches all the data and spits out processed slow-mo video -- no need to pull out the video editing software! The camera offers three different tiers of high-speed capture rates, up to 960 frames per second (NTSC; or 1000fps with PAL) and then also lets you set the playback frame rate down to 24p (for example: 960fps capture frame rate with playback set to 24fps would offer a final slow-mo factor of 40x slower).

The capture resolution for HFR videos is less than Full HD, unfortunately, with 960/1000fps offering at best 1,136 x 384 resolution. The videos are then up-sampled in-camera to a 1080p file. Yes, the image quality is noticeably affected and is nowhere near as crisp and detailed as a true 1080p video from this camera, but the image quality is good enough, we feel, and the simple fun-factor of recording these slow motion moments more than makes up for the lower resolution.

Sony RX100 IV Field Test -- Gallery Image

Similar design, but improved, higher-res EVF

On the physical side of things, not much was changed compared to the RX100 III. The overall size and design of the camera is practically identical with its slim, sleek bar-like shape, and the LCD screen still offers the full 180-degree front-facing tilt design. The RX100 IV keeps the nifty pop-up EVF, too, but the EVF's OLED screen gains double the resolution of the older model, making it all the more pleasing to use. The 24-70mm-equivalent lens also remains unchanged. And while we love the brighter f/1.8-2.8 aperture (compared to the f/1.8-4.9 of the longer-lensed Mark I and II models), we often found ourselves wanting a bit more reach, especially when shooting HFR videos of a small insect -- or a bullet through an apple -- for example.

Only a few frustrations

There are very few frustrations when using this camera, and the experience is fairly positive all around. However, we did find the battery life to be slightly underwhelming compared to the previous model -- though still decent for this class of camera. Close-focusing performance of the RX100 IV's lens is not as good as some of its competitors, as well, and we're still scratching our heads as to why Sony's yet to offer a touchscreen on an RX100-series camera. Oh, and this latest incarnation is the priciest RX100-series yet, with a retail price reaching just under the $1000 mark. (Ouch.)

Sony RX100 IV Field Test -- Gallery Image
24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/5.6, 8s, ISO 125
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

RX100-series remains the top-dog among premium compacts

Overall, the Sony RX100 IV is an amazing feat of engineering and design. The amount of horsepower this little pocket cam offers is simply impressive. As with its predecessors, the image quality of the RX100 IV is very good, and a big step up compared to your average, small-sensored point-and-shoot. Its fast burst shooting capabilities and deep buffers make it easy to capture fast-paced action. And while it still uses just contrast-detect AF, the RX100 IV did surprisingly well with continuous AF performance and low-light AF. For video creators, the RX100 IV offers a host of significant improvements, including 4K, higher frame rates for full HD video plus awesome super-slow-mo video. Overall, with tons of performance and the excellent image quality we've come to expect, the Sony RX100 IV is quick, nimble and capable, though quite the pricey offering for a compact camera. Best of all, nevertheless, it simply slides back into your pocket when you're done!

All told, Sony squeezes so much good stuff into the slim yet robust RX100 IV that it's an easy Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Very high resolution gives crisp images with lots of detail at lower sensitivities
  • 24-70mm eq. lens has generally very good optical performance for its type
  • Very fast f/1.8-2.8 max. aperture offers better low light potential and subject isolation
  • Much better high ISO performance than typical enthusiast pocket cameras; slightly improved over the Mark III
  • Built-in 3-stop ND filter
  • Very fast autofocus speeds
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Vastly improved burst speeds (16fps for JPEGs, 8.6fps RAW or RAW+JPEG)
  • Buffers remain deep despite faster burst speeds
  • Fun and useful multi-shot modes
  • 4K video recording
  • Dual Record mode lets you record to video formats simultaneously
  • Super-fast high-speed video modes
  • Up to 1/32,000 shutter speed with electronic shutter
  • Electronic shutter display minimal rolling shutter effects with still photos
  • Clean HDMI output while recording 4K internally
  • Higher-res EVF
  • Lens doesn't offer as much telephoto reach
  • Macro performance not quite as good as some competitors
  • JPEGs can look over-processed at higher ISOs
  • Slightly below average saturation levels and hue accuracy
  • Warm auto white balance indoors
  • No hot shoe
  • Battery life not as good as predecessor (but still fair for its size)
  • Pricey
  • Lack of a touchscreen
  • Still can't capture RAW files and JPEGs at the "Extra Fine" highest quality setting
  • Default Wi-Fi camera app lacks robust functionality; need to install additional (free) app
  • Rolling shutter effects are apparent with 4K video (and other video resolutions & frame rates to a lesser degree)


 

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