Sony RX100 IV Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly below average saturation levels and hue accuracy.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Click for a larger version.

Saturation. The Sony RX100 IV pushes some colors likes strong reds, dark blues, dark greens, purples and some browns, but not as much as many camera, and it actually undersaturates light green, yellow and aqua tones moderately. The RX100 IV's overall mean color saturation of 108.5% (8.5% oversaturated) is a little lower than average these days, but the camera generally produces attractive yet realistic colors in its images. You can of course tweak saturation to your liking, or choose a non-default color mode. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, the Sony RX100 IV did fairly well, producing natural-looking Caucasian skin tones that were a bit on the warm side. Auto and manual white balance produced very similar results in simulated daylight. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Sony RX100 IV shifts aqua toward cyan, cyan toward blue, orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green by small to moderate amounts, but most other shifts are relatively minor. The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors, and we don't find the resulting color objectionable. The RX100 IV's handling of yellows and yellow-orange colors is one of its weaknesses: Yellows are rendered closer to a yellow-green, and significantly undersaturated as well. With a mean "delta-C" color error of 5.93 after correction for saturation at base ISO, hue accuracy is just slightly below average, but still pretty good overall. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto setting produced reddish results, though Incandescent and Manual white balance worked well. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. Results with the Incandescent setting were pretty good, just a touch yellow. Color balance with the Manual setting was quite accurate. Note: The RX100 IV also has a Kelvin Temperature White Balance option, however we did not test that mode.) The Sony RX100 IV produced bright results (almost too bright) with +0.3 EV exposure compensation, which is about average required for this shot. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Pleasing color and good exposure accuracy under harsh lighting.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Sony RX100 IV performed very well for its class. +0.3 EV exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's reasonably face bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is actually a bit less compensation than most cameras require. Contrast is a quite high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but despite the bright appearance, the camera did a good job, holding on to the majority of highlights. Auto color balance performed well in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, though Manual and Daylight white balance also produced very similar results. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has very good color, just a touch cool. Default exposure is perhaps just slightly underexposed, but with very few highlights blown, and while there are some very deep shadows, detail in the shadows is surprisingly good for its class. However as expected, deep shadows do have moderate amounts luminance noise as well as some odd discoloration particularly in greens as the camera attempts to control chroma noise. Overall, though, very good performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
~2,550 to ~2,600 lines of strong detail.

In-camera JPEG:
Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
In-camera JPEG:
Strong detail to
~2,550 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW:
Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW:
Strong detail to
~2,550 lines vertical

In camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,600 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 2,550 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. Some may argue for more, but aliasing artifacts start to interfere at that point. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until about 3,200 to 3,400 lines. Adobe Camera Raw produced similar results though complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur before the limits of our chart and color moiré was more visible. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See thumbnails of all test images

Sharpness & Detail
Crisp images with good detail, but area-specific noise reduction and sharpening can produce an overprocessed look, especially at higher ISOs.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements here with only minor
sharpening haloes.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The RX100 IV produces very crisp, sharp looking images with only minor sharpening haloes, but Sony's area-specific noise reduction and sharpening algorithms can lead to some unnatural or slightly crude looking results at higher ISOs. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows good detail for the class of camera, with moderate levels noise suppression in the darkest areas of the mannequins's hair, and almost no chroma noise. Quite a few individual strands are smudged together in areas of low contrast at base ISO, but performance here is actually quite good considering the size and resolution of the sensor. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above the Sony RX100 IV produces sharp, crisp and clean images, but fine detail can suffer as a result of aggressive default processing. Compare a base ISO in-camera JPEG to an Adobe Camera Raw conversion below to see what we mean.

Base ISO (125)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to a matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 using default noise reduction with strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (in this case 400% USM with a radius of 0.3 pixels and a threshold of 0).

As you can see, ACR produced quite a bit of additional detail that isn't present in the JPEG from the camera. Fine detail in the mosaic crop for example is more realistic and refined-looking from the ACR conversion, while the in-camera JPEG is much cleaner and more contrasty, but isn't as detailed or accurate. This is also true of the fabric crop, where ACR was able to resolve much of the thread pattern in the red-leaf swatch which the camera's JPEG engine presumably treats as noise, and also does a much better job reproducing fine detail in the pink fabric. But as is usually the case, more noise can be seen in the RAW conversion particularly in flat areas as shown in the bottle crop, thanks to ACR's light default noise reduction. You can of course apply stronger noise reduction (default ACR NR used here) to arrive at your ideal noise versus detail tradeoff. Color is improved as well, with ACR producing slightly warmer and more accurate colors while removing much of the yellow-to-green shift seen in the JPEG bottle crop. Bottom line: You can do noticeably better than the camera with a good RAW converter, provided you're willing to apply your own noise reduction and sharpening to taste.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance for a camera its size.

High ISO Noise Reduction = Low
ISO 80 ISO 125 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600
ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12,800

ISO 80 and 125 produce very similar results, with very clean, crisp images containing almost no chroma noise. ISO 200 shows a very minor drop in image quality as noise reduction ramps, but fine detail is still quite good. ISO 400 shows an additional small step down in detail with very good overall image quality, but stronger sharpening attempts to compensate. At ISO 800, luminance noise is more noticeable, accentuated by fairly aggressive sharpening, but chroma noise is still welll-controlled and fine detail is fair. ISO 1600 is noticeably softer thanks to stronger noise reduction and more visible luma noise, but chroma noise is still very low and there's still some fine detail left. At ISO 3200, fine detail takes a larger hit, and the camera's aggressive processing produces images with a somewhat crystalline look in some areas. Image quality drops off very quickly from here, with ISOs 6400 and 12,800 looking more like impressionistic paintings than photos, with an almost hammered looked to flatter areas. Chroma noise in the form of diffuse purple and/or yellow blotches is also visible in darker midtones and shadows.

Overall, though, high ISO performance remains much better than average for a pocket camera, and noise performance is similar but perhaps slightly less heavy-handed compared to the RX100 III. (Note that we inadvertently had High ISO Noise Reduction set to Low instead of the default Normal setting for the above series, so these particular images aren't directly comparable to other cameras, unfortunately.) We're of course pixel-peeping to an extraordinary extent here, since 1:1 images on an LCD screen have little to do with how those same images will appear when printed. See the Print Quality section below for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

Note: We used to shoot this series at f/4 because of the relatively low light, but we now shoot it at f/5.6 or f/8 for 1"-type and larger sensors, as lens performance well away from center where we take the above crops is often not optimal at wider apertures. The added depth of field for a scene with this depth is also a better compromise than the potentially slightly sharper but shallower focus depth that a larger aperture would produce.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Pretty good dynamic range for its class. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness at all ISOs.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. The Sony RX100 IV did fairly well under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above. To keep facial tones reasonably bright, +0.3V compensation was required, which led to some clipped highlights in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, though not as many as we often see from smaller sensors. Some may prefer the +0.7 EV setting for its brighter overall exposure, but we found too many highlights were clipped. Detail is quite good in the shadows at +0.3 EV, though very deep shadows are a little grainy with some discoloration, though noise is fairly well controlled and fairly fine grained. Very good results in harsh lighting for such a compact camera, but consider using fill flash in situations like the one shown above; and it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

Face Detection
Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection Off
Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection On
Auto Mode,
0 EV

Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Sony RX100 IV has the ability to detect faces (up to 8 in a scene), and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection improved exposure in Aperture Priority at f/8, producing a slightly brighter face than without it by reducing the shutter speed from 1/50 to 1/40s. Full Auto mode is a also bit better than Aperture Priority without face detection, however it is still a bit dim. It selected a larger aperture of f/4 while using a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/160s, and automatically applied DRO (see below) to reduce overall contrast.

Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison
DRO
Setting:


Auto
(Default)


Off

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Dynamic Range Optimization is Sony's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. DRO divides the image into small areas, analyzes the range of brightness of each area, and adjusts the camera's image processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony RX100 IV. You can also set the level manually, from 1 ("weak") to 5 ("strong"), or turn it off. As one would expect, DRO is only available for JPEG files.

The above thumbnails and histograms show the effects of the various levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links on the right to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails and associated histograms, increasing DRO progressively boosts shadows and midtones while leaving highlights essentially intact, though boosting shadows does make noise slightly more visible. The Auto setting did a pretty good job overall, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.

Above, you can see the effect of DRO settings on our Far-field shot. The default Auto setting produced a nicely balanced exposure, despite the harsh lighting. A useful feature.

Far-field HDR Comparison

High Dynamic Range. The Sony RX100 IV's HDR mode takes three images in rapid succession, one nominally exposed , one underexposed, and one overexposed, then combines them into one high dynamic range JPEG automatically. Lighter areas from the underexposed image are combined in-camera with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with compressed tonal range. The camera then saves a single composite image, as well as the nominally exposed image. The overlaid images are micro-aligned by the camera, but it can only correct for so much movement. If it can't micro-align successfully, an icon indicating HDR capture failed will appear. For best results, the subject should be static. There is also a manual mode where you can select 1 EV ("weak") to 6 EV ("strong") difference in exposures.

Mouse over the links above to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting did a decent job, similar to the 3 EV manual setting. Normally, the higher the manual setting, the more highlights are toned-down and shadows opened up, however the 4 EV setting oddly seemed to take a step back. As you can see, though, higher settings can produce flat and unnatural results. Watch out for ghost images and other artifacts from subject movement during the capture sequence, though, as can be seen in some of the shots above. (It seems the RX100 IV attempts to avoid ghosting by including a moving subject from only one of the frames, however this isn't always entirely successful.)

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we decided to compare the RX100 IV (in orange) to its predecessor, the Mark III (yellow) as well as to the Canon G7X (red), which also uses a 1"-type 20-megapixel BSI sensor. You can always compare other models on DxOMark.com.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the Sony RX100 Mark IV's dynamic range is very similar to the Mark III's, though it is slightly better, with up to about 0.4 EV advantage at medium ISOs; perhaps just discernible in real-world images. Maximum dynamic range is at base ISO, where the RX100 IV scores 12.6 vs 12.3 EV for the Mark III.

The Canon G7X's dynamic range is also very similar, but actually scored slightly higher than the RX100 IV at base ISO at 12.7 EV. That difference is however insignificant. It's interesting to note that DxO has detected that the Sony's are both applying some light spatial noise reduction to their RAW files at ISO 6400 and 12800 as indicated by the "smoothed" data points, while the Canon does not.

Overall, excellent dynamic range performance from the RX100M4 for a 1"-type sensor, and we're glad to see the faster stacked architecture actually helped rather than hindered dynamic range, however slightly. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony RX100 IV for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
125
Click to see RXC4LL001253.JPG
0.5s, f1.8
Click to see RXC4LL001257.JPG
8s, f1.8
Click to see RXC4LL001257XNR.JPG
8s, f1.8
ISO
3200
Click to see RXC4LL032003.JPG
1/50s, f1.8
Click to see RXC4LL032007.JPG
0.3s, f1.8
Click to see RXC4LL032007XNR.JPG
0.3s, f1.8
ISO
12800
Click to see RXC4LL128003.JPG
1/200s, f1.8
Click to see RXC4LL128007.JPG
1/13s, f1.8
Click to see RXC4LL128007XNR.JPG
1/13s, f1.8

Low Light. The Sony RX100 IV performed very well in our low-light tests thanks to its fast lens, capturing bright images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle), even at the base sensitivity setting (ISO 125). As expected for a 1"-type sensor, luma noise is a little high at ISO 3200, but fairly fine-grained, while chroma noise is well controlled. The RX100 IV's highest ISO of 12,800 is quite grainy with noticeable noise reduction artifacts, but that's no surprise.

Color balance is pretty good with Sony RX100 IV's Auto white balance setting, just a touch cool, even at highest ISO and lowest light level. We didn't notice any significant issues with hot pixels, pattern noise or heat blooming. (Some hot pixels can be seen with long exposure noise reduction disabled (rightmost column), but that's normal.)

The camera's AF system was able to focus unassisted to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level in our tests, which is good. With AF assist lamp enabled, the RX100 IV could only focus down to about 1/4 foot candle, as the lamp overwhelmed the AF system. This of course will vary with subject and distance, though.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Very good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 80-125; a solid 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a good 5 x 7 at ISO 6400.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 80 to 125 images look very good at 24 x 36 inches, with crisp detail and rich color reproduction. Print sizes up to 36 x 48 inches are fine for wall display purposes here.

ISO 200 prints also look good at 24 x 36 inches, with only a minor amount of softening occurring in fine detail such as our mosaic tile area of our Still Life test target.

ISO 400 yields a nice 20 x 30 inch print. There is a trace of softness in our target red swatch and a mild amount of noise in flatter areas, but nothing major.

ISO 800 images require a reduction in size to 13 x 19 inches in order to pass our "good" grade. Even at this size there is still a trace of noise in flatter areas of the target and a common softening in our tricky red fabric swatch, but otherwise a solid print overall.

ISO 1600 prints reveal too much noise at 13 x 19 inches to call good, but the 11 x 14 inch prints tighten up nicely, so we advise keeping it at or below that size here for your critical printing.

ISO 3200 delivers a good 8 x 10 inch print. There is no contrast detail remaining in our target red swatch, but that's very typical for all but larger sensors by this ISO.

ISO 6400 yields a good 5 x 7 inch print, which is not bad at all for a 1-inch type sensor, and the print shows a good amount of overall color saturation remaining.

ISO 12,800 prints a good 4 x 6, which yet again is not bad for this sensor size.

The Sony RX100 IV delivers print sizes that we expected, right in line with the predecessor model, the RX100 III. The Mark IV's big updates were primarily centered around the new stacked sensor, which is a technology more for improvements in speed than image quality. If you're debating between the two, the image quality difference is not a factor in terms of available print sizes.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!



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