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Review: Sony RX100

Sony RX100 Review
So you have read my first impressions writeup and you’re still hungry for more? Well I have finished my two week run with the Sony RX100 and I am here to share all of the great features and all of its faults. I’ve included images for peepers and details for those who love them. With that said lets get started with this review of the best point and shoot to date.

Video

RX100 Sample Video on Vimeo.

Sony RX100 Movie Button

When it comes to video on the RX100, it does it well; but its not for me. Why? Well the camera at this point in time only records in 60p. This is a feature that us video people have been wanting in our DSLR cameras for a long time but without 24p the feature is useless. I am “one of those people” who truly believes that for video to look cinematic it must be shot in 24p, heck I’d even take 30p but 60p looks like pure digital video. In the above clip you will see that the video along with my robot like smooth movements just look unnatural.

The other downfall of 60p is that it obviously struggles in low light. The camera requires more light because the shutter speed needs to be at minimum twice as fast as what 24p would require. In a dark area the camera isn’t useable at all because of the lack of light to properly expose 60p. EOSHD has posted a lovely review of the RX100 and goes into detail showing off the video feature of the camera. I prepared the video above from just a few snippets here and there where I decided to use the feature. This all comes down to opinion but if I owned the camera I would only use the video feature to preserve memories, not creating shorts.

Ergonomics / Body

Sony RX100 Control Ring

Controls and the feel of the camera were a bit odd to me at first, especially trying to optimize the way that I used the new control ring on the camera. After a good amount of time I became comfortable and tended to use the control ring too often. I loved the feature so much I used it even when it meant the long way to a setting or feature. For example I would use it for zooming even though the camera had a dedicated zoom rocker on the front of the camera. The reason why in this instance the control ring took more time is one of the ergonomic things about this camera that bothers me. When twisting the control ring it didn’t matter if you twisted it fast or slow, to me the ring would move through the zoom or whatever setting you have it on at the same speed. For example on various mice the trackball or scroll bar will sense acceleration. In real life usage if you twist from point A to B at a slow pace the change should be slow and specific, where a quick acceleration from A to B would jump much quicker because it would sense your urgency. The camera should allow you to twist fast to get to a desired point and then sense when you slow down to specify your final precise point. I found myself towards the end of the trial period using the wheel on the back of the camera just because it went faster than the control ring as well as it was easier to make compete rotations with it.

Sony RX100

There are quite a few customizations you can make with the camera and this is greatly appreciated. Sony has been really good at adding function buttons as well as allowing users to change the functions of labeled buttons such as the “flash on / off” type of buttons. The wheel in the back has a the ability to spin as well as it has four buttons built into it. The buttons on the bottom, left, right and center are all customizable. So since I don’t use flash I changed that to HDR so that let me gain easier access compared to applying HDR to one of the seven options available to the function button. The right button then turned into my quick ISO button for making sensitivity changes. Companies who lock buttons try to assume how all customers think and decide what they are going to use more, this to me is not the right approach and a fully customizable camera like the RX100 is the way to go.

The function button mentioned above is one of the main keys to this cameras customization. Not only do the features assigned to this button get easy access, they also get the ability to be easily controlled by the control ring on the front of the camera. I had mine loaded with picture styles, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and HDR settings etc. To add various settings to function it is done within the settings of the camera. If you want to use the functions added you just press the function button, use the left and right buttons on the wheel to select the desired setting and then use either the wheel or control ring to make changes. All of these settings when selected appear as a half moon on the display and as the move the wheels the current setting stays in the center.

Battery

Sony RX100 USB

Charging on the camera is handled really well and conveniently over USB. I would love an option to charge the battery externally but I’m sure the option will come in the future from a third party. When the camera is plugged in to a computer or included USB wall adapter the only sign of power is a little orange light that appears in the center of the power button. There is no sign of what percentage the charge is at which would be nice since the camera is capable of displaying a percentage. Also in the normal usage of the camera out and about there is no sign of current battery status, the camera will only show the battery if it looses a bar of life.

Sony RX100 Battery Compartment

You will find the battery along with the SD card at the bottom of the camera. I shot with the camera on and off for 8-10 hours straight and didn’t have an issue with battery life. I would say that the camera meets what is advertised from Sony and if you try to squeeze more life out of it by minimizing playback of images I’m sure you could exceed it.

Sony RX100 Battery Compartment

From time to time the battery compartment would open on its own either from me swiping it on accident with my hand or in my pocket. I have had this same issues with Sony’s NEX-F3 but I’m not sure if its just me who has this problem, I have not seen any complaints online.

Image Quality

Sony RX100 100% Crop

At first glance you could mistake the above crop image for a full size image, well when this camera is sharp, it is very sharp.

Sony RX100 Full Image

Here is another cropped image to give you pixel peepers something to awe at.

Sony RX100 ISO 80 f6.3 4 second exposure 100% Crop

I do love my High Contrast B/W! mmm mmm mmmmm delicious.

Sony RX100 ISO 80 f6.3 4 second exposure Full Image

I’ve stated it before and I will say it again, at the time of this writing this is the best pocketable camera money can buy. Images from the camera are comparable to DSLRs that I owned just a few years ago. The images in this review are all jpegs and without editing, I feel editing images for a camera review post doesn’t show the true nature of the camera. Images are sharp and surprisingly detailed for the kind of camera they are coming from. Sony’s 1″ sensor shocked the world when it came out because they decided to go from Nikons conservative 10mp in this sensor size to 20mp. Times are changing when extremely high pixel density doesn’t mean lower quality or high noise.

I found high ISO images good up to 3200 and I wouldn’t have a problem shooting 6400 if I were shooting B/W. Noisy or grainy photos have never bugged me though and I am not one to complain. I learned on a camera that was limited to 1600 so anything above that is still considered a bonus. As long as the noise isn’t heavily chromatic or blurred it passes my test for high ISO. I actually set up a quick test between my Nikon D700 and Sony RX100 and I found the images to be very similar. The Nikon still edges out the Sony but we should all give credit where it is due. Who new that a little 1″ sensor could get in the ring with a full frame heavyweight.

Nikon D700 (Left) and Sony RX100 (Right) ISO 800

I am going to start this off by saying that these are not scientific nor are they necessarily precise. I had two cameras to compare to the RX100 and they were the D700 and my lovely D800. I chose to compare to the D700 because it has been around longer and people are more familiar with its noise levels. The Nikon will be on the left side during these “tests” and I have set it to the exact settings of the RX100 since I couldn’t seem to get them to match exposures / results. ISO 800 above looks good on both of the images above and the RX100 even flexes its resolution muscles here.

Nikon D700 (Left) and Sony RX100 (Right) ISO 1600

At 1600 the Nikon D700 stands strong and there doesn’t appear to be much noise or loss of detail in its image. The RX100 is showing noise but the detail is still there. For these tests I turned off the noise reduction on the Sony as much as I could.

Nikon D700 (Left) and Sony RX100 (Right) ISO 3200

At 3200 at 100% the D700 spills the beans and starts showing noise. The amount of noise on the RX100 hasn’t increased much but the detail of the image has gone down.

Nikon D700 (Left) and Sony RX100 (Right) ISO 6400

At ISO 6400 we have a clear and expected winner but the RX100 didn’t get knocked out after the first round. There isn’t a whole lot of sharp detail at 100% on the RX100 at this high setting but without pixel peeping I still find the image very useable. Same with the D800 when the RX100 images are sized for web pretty much all of its sensitivities become useable.

HDR images from the camera look more neutral and natural than most people who do HDR on the internet including myself most times. An added bonus with HDR is that it saves a normal non HDR image along with the processed image. HDR images are interlaced with the sample images below but here is a before and after of the same image.

Sony RX100 Standard Image

Sony RX100 HDR Image

LCD

The new WhiteMagic display does well, it doesn’t perform miracles in the bright sunlight but it does well. For example a friend of mine and I were out shooting, he had his D800 in hand and I just had the RX100. We took the same super scientific (sarcasm) photo and zoomed in to 100%, we were both shocked when my image looked much sharper. On the computer or in post Im sure the story would be different but for that moment I felt really good about what Sony has done with the display. I own a D800 myself and I know better to compare the two image files. In direct sunlight it’s a good display and I can still see it but its not the display we have all been waiting for, nothing is going to beat an optical or electric viewfinder for a long time to come.

Lens / AF

Sony RX100 Lens Extended

Yes yes its true, when zoomed in just a mm more than the widest setting the lens drops from f1.8. This made me shoot more and more items only super wide in low light. To get some proper DOF with the camera you have to focus fairly close to your subject, not necessarily macro close but closer than you normally would with an APS-C sized sensor (obviously).

Sony RX100 Petal Flare

The lens when shooting it with the sun in the frame or in the right angle causes very iPhone like petal flares. I am an iPhone camera nerd so every time it happens I embrace it because to me its a beautiful thing.

A neat trick of the camera is that if you power off the camera when it is fully zoomed it will return the lens to its widest state. It’s minor but not something that a DSLR user would think of as a connivence.

Picture Effects

Sony RX100 High Contrast B/W ISO 3200

I have mentioned it before that I love the High Contrast picture effect. WIth film and digital I have been looking for a certain black and white just like this one. Its hard to say that for all of the other effects though. I am not a fan of the cheap effects and gimmicks and Im sure some people love them, they’re are just not for me. I actually find it a problem with the camera that the user cannot turn off undesired styles because there are so many it takes a bit of time to cycle though to turn the effect off. It should also be said that the High Contrast B/W effect added a bit of noise to the processed image but in my opinion it looks great, just keep that in mind when eyeing the samples.

Opportunities for the RX100

I say opportunities because the camera doesn’t have any major flaws that cannot be fixed with an update to the camera software. There are plenty of ways Sony can make the best point and shoot even better with minor tweaks here and there.

1. When shooting RAW + JPEG you cannot take a HDR photo or use any picture effects. For example if you want to shoot RAW but you would like to shoot High Contrast black and white for the JPEG. This problem also exists when you are shooting both formats and would like to take a quick panorama but instead of just switching the dial and shooting you have to change the camera to JPEG only before you can capture the scene.

2. The ability to turn off or disable picture effects that you will never use as stated above.

3. The default setting for when you switch modes is a large screen filling label on which mode you just switched to. This is nice but it can slow down your shot to shot time. When this feature is turned off you have an increase of speed but you also lose track of what mode you are in. Shooting at night and trying to switch modes was tough for me because i had to find some light to shine on the top of the camera or get out my phone to help light the top. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but when you are focused on the back lcd and trying to get to a certain mode you have to hunt on the top to get to a specific mode. The solution would be a small P,A,S or M for example at the top of the display to let the user know the dials location.

4. A nice touch but not a needed feature of the camera would be a countdown timer on the back lcd for long exposures. I have seen this on the Fuji X100 and I figured the RX100 could use this as well. For example when you take a 30 second exposure have a timer on the back countdown to 0 or maybe count up when using bulb.

5. Display of the actual / remaining battery percentage would be a huge plus. The camera as far as I could tell only had the option to display a battery icon with just a few battery stages. Most cameras (pro models) these days offer very specific battery percentages. I would love to see this as an option on the camera. If not on the display or an option for on screen it could be an option in the menu which you can go and check the battery status manually.

6. I just cant think of a reason why 24p was left out of the camera. I know the Alpha, NEX and Cybershot teams at Sony are different but I would have expected the RX1oo team to have picked up on the cries from video shooters all around the world complaining about cameras that lack 24p. Not just for the fact that it just doesn’t look cinematic but also for the fact that 60p require twice as much light to capture a scene than 24p. Sony please please add 24p as an option on this camera, it should be included at this premium price. 60p only makes interchanging the footage from this camera and others hard to do.

7. The location of the HDMI port has really bugged some people, placing it directly next to the 1/4″ tripod socket will make it dame near impossible to use that port in the field. Mini HDMI has never been a professional port but the placement will discourage people from trying to use monitors with the RX100. While Im talking about the bottom of the camera I might as well mention the fact that the tripod socket isn’t lined up with the center of the lens, this is nitpicking but it can easily be fixed with a case.

8. Sony’s question mark button on the back provides an explanation of items in the menu while you are highlighting them. These explanations have gotten a lot better compared to previous Sony cameras I have used but some options could use a bit more information.

Conclusion

Well would I buy the Sony RX100? Yes I would. It is as good as I say it is, no fluff here. It is a shame that I’m not in the market for a new point and shoot camera. I truly believe the camera is worth the offering price. In a portable shooter I find myself wanting a viewfinder of some kind so for that single reason I am looking at a Sony NEX-6 for Fuji X-E1. The RX100 and NEX-6 are about a $350 dollar price difference but you do get quite a lot for your money. The NEX offers wifi and a viewfinder on top of a larger more sensitive sensor. I know that this post is about the RX100 but if this camera was $300 we wouldn’t be having this conversation. This camera also wouldn’t need a review if it were that price so with that said it is the hefty price of the camera that is holding a lot of us back as we ask ourselves “is it worth it?” I feel that if you are comparing this between a camera like the newly announced Canon G15 there is no question, the G15 is listed at $500 and for $150 more this camera is a steal. Unfortunately these aren’t the only two cameras on the market and the RX100 is being thrown into the ring with consumer DSLR cameras. This camera is for a niche group of people but I know the people who buy this camera are going to be blown away with all of the power it has under the hood.

Sony did the math for this camera and they decided that most people buy a DSLR camera and never upgrade beyond the kit lens. This was their thinking behind this camera. If you are in the market for a high end point and shoot camera this is for you no doubt. If you dont mind hustling a larger DSLR camera along with you around your neck or in its own bag go and get the Sony A37 or comparable camera for a similar price.

Sample Images

Below are a collection of images that I took over the 2 week period that I had the camera. All of the images have been resized to treat our servers better but none of them have been edited or retouched, scouts honor.

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f1.8

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f2.8

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f1.8

Sony RX100 ISO 2000 f3.2

Sony RX100 ISO 800 f1.8

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f2.8

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f1.8

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f4

Sony RX100 ISO 1250 f4.5

Sony RX100 ISO 3200 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 80 f7.1

Sony RX100 ISO 80 f1.8

Sony RX100 ISO 80 f7.1

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f5.6

Sony RX100 ISO 320 f5.6 HDR

Sony RX100 ISO 125 f10

 

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