Sony RX100 V Conclusion
Sony RX100 V Conclusion
by Mike Tomkins | Posted: 05/02/2017
It's been five years now since Sony first wowed us with its RX100, a pocket-friendly compact camera that defied convention with a far larger than average 1-inch type image sensor. In the years since then, that trendsetting camera has spawned an entire series with which it shares its name, not to mention some challengers from rivals Canon and Panasonic.
Yet in a world where we now have a good bit of competition for cameras based around the 1-inch sensor size, the Sony RX100 V somehow still manages to stand unchallenged, offering performance that's simply in a different class from its rivals. And for good measure, it also manages to pack in not just high-speed still capture, but also high-quality 4K video capture and a raft of incredibly fun high frame-rate video capture modes.
With a maximum burst capture speed of 24 frames per second even while allowing for autofocus and autoexposure adjustments in between each frame, performance is clearly the big selling point for the Sony RX100 V. And yet this is very much not a sports-oriented camera, a fact which can leave you wondering just whom its target customer is. With a relatively short 2.9x zoom lens as dictated by its pocket-friendly design, you really need to be close to the action if you want great shots out of the RX100 V -- far closer than you'll manage at most sporting events without special access.
But here's the thing -- performance of this magnitude isn't just a boon when shooting pro sports. It can also prove very helpful to have a little something extra on tap, even if you're "just" the family documentarian, constantly reaching into your pocket to grab a snapshot of the kids and pets, or perhaps recording your own family's sporting endeavors for posterity.
Do you really need 24 full-resolution frames a second just to show little Billy's amazing slide into home at the ball game? No, but that's not really the point. Once you have all those full-res frames of the game-winning slide, you can sort through them post-capture to choose just the very best one or two frames, discarding those where the pose wasn't just right, or home plate was just a little too far away, or someone stepped in front of the camera at just the wrong moment. Instead of coming home with just a so-so shot or two of the action, those 24 full-res frames each second will buy you extra chances at getting the great shot you were really after, something that's truly worthy of putting up on the wall or in the family album.
And once you've shot with a camera this swift, believe me when I say that you won't want to go back to the old way of trying to hone your reflexes, frequently coming oh so heartbreakingly close to a great shot, but all too often missing that perfect moment. The performance on tap in the Sony RX100 V would be special even in a hefty interchangeable-lens camera. It's simply unheard of in something that you can slip almost forgotten into a pants pocket, and it is incredibly liberating to have all of that power on tap when you need it.
And the RX100 V is a pretty swift camera in most other respects too, although in the absence of UHS-II card support, its sedate write speeds are still something of a weak spot. On the plus side, there is now at least an indication of how many frames remain in the buffer at any given moment, so you can get a sense of how long you have left before the buffer clears if you're stuck waiting to enter the menu system.
Most likely, the prospective Sony RX100 V buyer won't already own the preceding RX100 IV model, as while the new RX100-series flagship boasts much greater performance and adds on-chip phase-detection autofocus capability, it is in most other respects quite similar to that camera. But if you're upgrading from an earlier RX100-series model, you'll be pleased to hear that the RX100 V sports the same basic layout as every other model in the line right back to its very start. You'll feel right at home from the get go, but with a much more powerful camera in your hands than was previously the case.
If you've not shot with an earlier RX100-series model, what you need to know about the Sony RX100 V is that it's small enough to slip into all but the tightest of pants pockets, yet fairly comfortable in-hand with the main controls all quite well-placed, considering the challenges of fitting close to 20 controls on such a small body. And the RX100 V is pretty intuitive in operation for the most part as well, although with so many features the lengthy menu system can be a bit intimidating initially.
The built-in, popup viewfinder is a nice touch, and while shooting at arm's length feels more natural in a body this small most of the time, it is really nice to be able to raise that finder to your eye when you want to get a better sense of framing, or when harsh, direct sunlight makes the main LCD too hard to view properly. Really, the only thing you might find offputting ergonomically is that the Sony RX100 V (like its siblings) has a pretty smooth, featureless front surface that can feel worryingly slippery in-hand. Thankfully, both first and third-party handgrip accessories are readily available to address this concern.
Also relatively little-changed from the RX100 IV is the Sony RX100 V's image quality. That's great news, as while it's not perfect -- there are some noticeable color shifts by default, white balance can be a tad warm indoors and there's a slight tendency to overexpose -- the RX100 V and its predecessors share very good image quality by compact camera standards. Especially so when compared to small-sensor, entry-level point-and-shoot cameras. Sure, once you raise the sensitivity some you'll start to see higher noise levels and the aftereffects of noise reduction algorithms, but you won't find much better quality elsewhere without stepping up to a larger sensor size -- and most likely, a much larger camera as well.
And the Sony RX100 V doesn't just give you great stills, but also extremely high-quality 4K video. Here, it has a couple of key advantages over the preceding RX100 IV, both achieved thanks to the fact that it now uses the entire sensor width without pixel binning or skipping when recording 4K clips. For one thing, ultra high-def video quality is now even better, and for another there's now no longer a significant crop when shooting 4K video, making wide-angle footage easier to achieve.
Given the harsh thermal constraints of such a pocket-friendly design, it's impressive that Sony has been able to provide oversampled 4K capture in-camera. Getting so much data off the sensor, processed and stored in real time generates a significant amount of heat, and extricating it from a small, smooth, pocket-friendly body must have presented quite a challenge for Sony's engineers.
Unfortunately, there's a five minute clip length limit which is almost certainly a result of that challenge. For the typical RX100 V owner, that's probably just fine. After all, you'll likely get better results shooting your family videos as a succession of short clips than as huge, lengthy videos that will require a lot of editing work to make manageable later on. But if you do need the ability to shoot lengthy 4K footage uninterrupted, you'll want to consider a different camera.
Once you're done shooting and are ready to start sharing, the Sony RX100 V's in-camera Wi-Fi and NFC radios make light work of getting content off the camera and (via your smartphone or tablet) online, where friends and family can enjoy it all too. That's doubly true for Android users, where sharing individual images can be as simple as just tapping your phone and camera together while looking at the image you want to share on the RX100 V's display.
And you can also control the Sony RX100 V remotely via Wi-Fi, which can prove very handy if you want to avoid shaking the camera in low light, avoid disturbing your subject, or even if you just want to get yourself into the shot. It's a little frustrating that you need to sign up for a free account with Sony, connect to a Wi-Fi network, log into the account using a seriously fiddly on-screen keyboard from the camera, and then download an updated version of the requisite PlayMemories camera app to do so, though. We'd have liked to have seen the fully-featured remote control app installed on the camera out of the box in place of the existing, cut down version, especially given that the fully-featured version is available free of charge anyway.
But be that as it may, we think Sony's Wi-Fi implementation is among the best out there right now, and it's a nice touch that the camera's feature set can be extended using the PlayMemories apps in the first place.
Really, if the Sony RX100 V has an Achilles Heel, it has to be its battery life. That's quite easy to understand when you look at not just how pocket-friendly this camera is, but also how small its battery pack must be to allow for that pocket-friendliness. To CIPA testing standards, battery life has fallen significantly since the RX100 IV, and is now well below average for its class.
Of course, the CIPA standard isn't necessarily the best indicator of battery life for a camera like this. If you shoot bursts of images liberally, you'll likely achieve many times more shots on a charge than the CIPA figures would suggest to be possible, because those figures were determined with liberal flash use, frequent zoom adjustments and power cycles, and a whole lot of sitting around burning power through the LCD or viewfinder without actually shooting anything.
But while you may achieve a whole lot more frames on a charge than the CIPA figures would suggest, you'll likely also find yourself shocked by just how quickly you can drain the battery when shooting lots of bursts or 4K video with the Sony RX100 V. It's no exaggeration to say that even with a brand-new, fully-charged battery, it's quite easy to completely deplete its charge in a matter of just 90 minutes to two hours.
Thankfully, the batteries used are so slim and light that it's easy to carry a few spares in a pocket, but we're starting to think that Sony might be well advised to considering splitting the RX100-series into two distinct lines -- one aimed at maximum pocketability, and another aimed at performance first and foremost. The latter could still be quite pocket-friendly, but with the addition of a shallow grip could at once remove the need for a third-party accessory grip and could provide more room for a larger, longer-lasting battery pack.
But quibbles about battery life aside, there's no question that the Sony RX100 V is a really fun camera to shoot with. As we noted at the outset, it is simply unrivaled in the current camera market. No camera even remotely as small as this one can provide such jaw-dropping performance, let alone fit in a pants pocket as the RX100 V happily does.
With no realistic competition from its rivals right now, Sony finds itself in a seller's market, able to ask whatever it feels appropriate in terms of pricing without needing to concern itself with its rivals' pricing. And make no bones about it: For a compact camera, the Sony RX100 V's US$1,000 price tag is a very steep one indeed. But if you can justify that cost, the RX100 V will help you to get photos that no other pocket-friendly compact could have managed. No question about it: This one's a very clear Dave's Pick, and we're more than a little misty-eyed at the prospect of having to give it back now our review is over! ;)
Pros & Cons
- Slightly improved image quality and high ISO performance
versus the (already impressive) Mark IV version
- JPEGs can look overprocessed at higher sensitivities, with heavy-handed noise reduction
- Slightly below average saturation levels and hue accuracy
- Warm auto white balance indoors
- Slight tendency to overexpose
- Crazy fast full-resolution burst speeds up to 24fps *with* continuous autofocus and autoexposure adjustments!
- Deep buffers despite incredible burst speeds, even if you're a raw shooter (!!)
- Fast single-shot AF (but tested 30ms slower than Mark IV at wide angle, 18 ms faster at tele)
- Very low shutter lag of eight milliseconds, one of the lowest we've tested
- Up to 1/32,000s shutter speed with electronic shutter
- No UHS-II support and slow card write speeds means potentially lengthy waits for the buffer to clear
- In-camera, ultra high-def 4K video recording
- Clean HDMI output while recording 4K internally
- Super-fast high-speed video modes now have much longer recording limits
- Short five-minute clip length limit for 4K movies
- Still forces you to upsample high frame-rate videos in-camera, wasting time, power and storage space and potentially missing the next shooting opportunity while you do so
- Familiar design is just about pants pocket-friendly for true take-anywhere convenience
- Built-in three-stop ND filter
- Fun and useful multi-shot modes
- In-camera wireless networking technology makes sharing quick and intuitive, especially on Android
- Extensible through Sony's PlayMemories camera apps (although many do come with a pricetag)
- Still no touch screen :(
- PlayMemories apps are siloed from the rest of the user interface, which can prove confusing
- Poor battery life to CIPA standards (but expect to far exceed CIPA's frame counts if shooting lots of bursts, albeit changing batteries every couple of hours if shooting bursts or 4K video liberally)
- Menu system can't be accessed or camera powered back up after shutdown unless the buffer has first finished clearing
- Extremely expensive for a pocket-friendly compact (but essentially unrivaled)
- 24-70mm zoom lens has good performance and a very bright f/1.8-2.8 max. aperture
- Extremely swift new hybrid autofocus system with 315 phase-detection AF points
- Limited zoom range doesn't give much telephoto reach
- Macro performance not quite as good as some competitors
- Built-in, popup flash strobe is with you whenever the camera is
- Nicely meets Sony's stated range, albeit at ISO 1600
- Popup flash is weak (as is typical in compacts) with somewhat narrow, uneven coverage
- No external flash connectivity