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.


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