The Camera I Almost Threw in the Ocean: Sony RX100 VII Review

Sony’s own ideals and thoughts about serious cameras are starting to stifle the potential of cameras like the Sony RX100 VII, and it shows.

Yes, I’m not kidding about the title. There was a point during this review where the Sony RX100 VII felt so incredibly awkward in my hands that I really wanted to throw it in the ocean. I have modest hands at best, and there is just so much that makes me believe that this camera was designed for people with the smallest hands possible. But this camera lineup has always been about being pocketable and portable, though at great sacrifice. As a matter of fact, if I were being told to pick this camera up while coming from just shooting with a phone, I’d have the most bitter outlook on cameras overall. And there’s a lot wrong with the Sony RX100 VII that seriously made my sigh and wonder if Sony even thought about this camera before it came out.

Editor’s Note: Some of this testing was done on Sony’s tab at KANDO Trip. Our editorial clarity remains resolute despite this.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Fun (sort of)
  • Small and pocketable
  • Lots of versatility
  • Nice looking bokeh, but at times I honestly thought that Sony was doing processor side edits to make the bokeh look like this

Cons

  • Lack of touchscreen menu. Why?
  • No USB C charging?
  • Microphone jack with no hotshot to plug a shotgun mic into! This came out with the Sony ZV1.
  • This series of camera really needs a third exposure control dial
  • Lens ring is a tad too sensitive
  • Sony continues to limit its touchscreen
  • In-camera retouching options are weird. I’m almost put off by them
  • The flash should double as an LED light for video
  • This series of cameras desperately need weather sealing now
  • Why is it nearly $1,200?

Gear Used

We tested the Sony RX100 VII a few times. The first time was at KANDO Trip last year.

Tech Specs

  • ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T* 24-200mm1 F2.8 – F4.5 high magnification zoom lens
  • World’s fastest (0.02sec) AF, 357-point phase-detection and 425-point contrast-detection
  • Up to 20 fps Blackout-free Shooting, using up to 60 times/sec.5 AF/AE calculations
  • Single Burst Shooting captures 7 shots at up to 30/60/90 fps in JPEG/RAW
  • AI-based Real-time Tracking for stills and movies, and Touch Tracking
  • Real-time Eye AF for human (stills and movies), and for animal (stills only)
  • Newly developed 20.1MP10 1″ Exmor RS stacked BSI CMOS sensor with DRAM
  • 4K movie with direct pixel readout, no pixel binning, HLG instant HDR; Interval Shooting
  • Configuration: Includes Camera Only
  • Resolution: 21 MP
  • Optical Zoom: 8x Optical Zoom
  • Digital Zoom: 32x Digital Zoom

Ergonomics

Taken from our First Impressions

The Sony RX100 VII is a camera that has remained unchanged on the outside since its inception. The lens, the additional EVF, and a few others things in its latest iteration have been updated. The biggest thing that you’ll notice here is the lack of a hot-shoe. From the front, there isn’t much to differentiate this camera from its predecessor.

In place of a hot shoe, the Sony RX100 VII includes a pop-up flash right in the center. Party photographers will love this feature. I know several Sony Artisans who tote their RX100 series camera around at parties to take selfies with everyone. With that said, I expect a few of those folks to jump on purchasing one of these bad boys.

Like Sony has been doing for a few generations, the Sony RX100 VII has an EVF that pops up and activates the camera to turn on. The lens still has a control ring around it too.

The back LCD on the Sony RX100 VII tilts up for you to shoot. If you’re like us, you’ll think of it almost like a medium format camera. There are also controls on top of the camera, but they are scant at best.

Most of the controls are on the rear. If you’re in Aperture priority, Program mode, or even Auto, then you’ll be fine. But when you want to do something more complicated, you’ll find these controls more limiting.

Build Quality

The Sony RX100 VII doesn’t have weather resistance or sealing. This is something that I think should be a standard feature on each and every camera that hits the market these days. And if it isn’t, then I’m baffled as to why. While companies are upgrading their cameras every year or so, it doesn’t always make sense to do so, especially with a point and shoot like the Sony RX100 VII. I mean, are you really going to buy the new one every year? Probably not. So why not just give a consumer a better quality camera that lasts to begin with, and when that one dies, they’ll come back to you at a later point because you made a reliable product? That’s just how I think.

But further than that, there are a large number of problems here. My two biggest ones have to do with the lack of sufficiently grippy material on the camera, and the other has to do with the disappointing build quality of the control ring around the lens. While the camera has textures where you’d grip it, it doesn’t have enough. It’s easy for it to slip out of your hands on a warm day. If it just had leatherette or genuine leather, it would be much more of a joy to grip. Heck, even adding some gaffers tape helps. It just really needs better grip-ability.

My biggest problem has to do with the control ring around the lens, though. It’s very sensitive. I adore the idea of a control ring around the lens, but it should be as still as the aperture rings that Sony puts into their G Master lenses. Alternatively, having a button that you need to depress around the ring to actually power the functionality could work. The way I envision this is similar to a little tab or two like you would see around an actual retro lens. The tabs around the aperture ring on the Fujifilm X100V are a perfect example of this. But with Sony’s I’d like to press them in on each side. This would activate the functionality of the ring. Ergonomically speaking, this could ease a whole lot of usability issues. There wouldn’t be situations where I’d shoot in aperture priority, and suddenly my exposure would get thrown all the way off anymore.

Ease of Use

Here’s a weird photo where the Sony RX100 VII let me use a built-in feature that allows my eyes to be opened up more and even made my skin a darker shade. Yes, it’s got those settings.

Sony: we need to talk about touchscreens. Chelsea Northrup says that journalists have this thing where they say that camera companies are crippling their cameras way too often. So, I’m not going to say that the touchscreen is being crippled. Instead, I’m going to state that the touchscreen is being denied like a red-headed step-child or like the plant in your home that you say that you’ll take care of, but you fail at. The touchscreen on the Sony RX100 VII is an afterthought. Sony’s engineers have told me for years that if something is entirely touchscreen that it isn’t a professional product. But for years, other manufacturers have been disagreeing. Phase One puts touchscreens on their digital backs. Canon, Hasselblad, and Panasonic have class-leading touchscreen interfaces. But Sony refuses to concede. It continues to be problematic: as time develops, Sony’s menu system rivals that of the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica volumes at their peak. Now imagine not being able to quickly navigate the system? Two taps of the touchscreen should theoretically get me to the exact page I need to be on. But Sony instead decides to boost the performance of navigating through the menu system. Why? Why do you try to give me everything else but this exact, specific thing? You’re the world’s most innovative camera company!

Then there are some very uncouth mistakes. For example, why not give this camera USB-C functionality? Micro USB is such an old and dead format. I’d like to be able to use the same type of cable that I use to charge everything else. There’s also an issue that I really hate with the EVF. It’s automatically set up in a way that when you push it in and push it down the camera turns off. But instead, sometimes it just gets in the way, and I want to keep using the camera. An easy fix would be to make the camera a tad more substantial and with a bigger LCD on the back. It could still be pocketable, but quite honestly, I don’t want a pocketable camera anymore. I want something that I can sport slung around my torso. Cameras aren’t essential items these days for most people. And a camera like this appeals to a hobbyist. The cameras that really make me want to shoot with them have rangefinder-style bodies and can be slung around me like the Sony RX100 VII. The Sony RX100 VIII should be larger and much more of a tactile wonder of the tech world.

You’ve read my verbal distaste of the Sony RX100 VII, and you may be wondering if I liked anything about it. Well, indeed, yes, but nothing when it comes to the ease of use. I will discuss it more in the autofocus section.

Autofocus

Even though the Sony RX100 VII has the autofocusing abilities of the Sony a9 for the most part, it still runs into issues. There were times that I’d go up to my rooftop and try to focus the camera out on the city. And instead of it focusing on the city, it would instead tell me that it’s focused on it, and instead, the image would just be blurry. This was in the wide autofocus mode. Instead, I need to use a specific focusing point which is easier to do with the touchscreen. But as far as tracking goes and acquiring subjects, the Sony RX100 VII does a pretty decent job overall. However, from presentations, I was expecting better than Sony a9 performance because this is a much smaller sensor. A smaller sensor means that more is in focus at a given aperture. Again though, that’s just what I think.

The Sony RX100 VII is targeted at consumers first and foremost. It’s decent, but it inevitably runs into problems. Oddly enough, I don’t think the issues are the result of the algorithms. Instead, I think it could be a lens communication issue. This feeds into the build quality issues that I’ve talked about. If there were seals put into the camera to make it more robust and more rugged against everyday use, I think that maybe the autofocus wouldn’t be affected as much. However, if you’re just casually using the camera, then I guess it’s okay. I tried using it for some street photography and didn’t find it to be all that fantastic unless you’re doing a photo-wait method.

The RX100 VII’s autofocus performance is noticeably improved over its previous generation. It does this by inheriting the Real-time Eye AF (for humans as well as animals) along with the Real-time Tracking capabilities first introduced in the company’s top tier A9. While we only got to spend a short time with the camera, we noticed a significantly better hit rate with the RX100 VII than it’s predecessor. – Our First Impressions

That quote above is from our First Impressions review. However, it was also really tested during a setup that Sony paid for during the KANDO trip. In our own real-life testing, we had a few issues with the camera.

Image Quality

The Sony RX100 VII has a 21MP 1-inch sensor on it. And honestly, I think that’s a bit too much. At high ISO settings like ISO 6400, there’s still a lot of image noise. I wouldn’t be comfortable making a 17×22 inch print from it. And even if that’s not the case, I should theoretically be able to shoot with a camera like this in low light and get clean results the way that most people do with their phones. But instead, I feel like the Sony RX100 VII is being denied better image quality by keeping up with the megapixel race. What that translates into is quite lovely image quality at lower ISO settings. Indeed, as I continue to type this with more clarity after taking a break, it seems almost like the technology issues of the last decade are repeating themselves.

Bokeh

Don’t get my wrong, the bokeh is beautiful. But sometimes it felt almost oddly interpreted. There are images, lighting situations, and times where I felt like the bokeh was just a bit too blurry. In my eyes, it sometimes felt as if Sony was artificially enhancing the bokeh using AI. But I can’t prove that. Personally speaking, I’m all for AI-enhanced bokeh, but I think that the camera companies can do something to make it look a lot more natural than Apple and Google do.

RAW File Versatility

The RAW files from the Sony RX100 VII aren’t really ones that you’ll want to tweak endlessly. Instead, think of them like slide film if you’ve ever shot that stuff. There’s great color as you shoot it. But if you want to edit the RAW files, get ready for a hot mess. And when I say hot mess, I’m talking about the introduction of lots of image noise into the photos. Again, it’s a disappointment. I wish that they’d have given this camera a 16MP sensor or something and instead just found a way to make the images more versatile. This, again, goes even for low ISO settings. By all means, this is a JPEG camera.

High ISO Output

ISO 1600 is really the highest ISO that you want to go to with this camera. Go above that, and you’ll be able to see the image noise. The red, purple, and blue specks will stand out like chicken pox on a child–especially when displayed on a high-quality monitor. I’m not a fan.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Low ISO image quality

Dislikes

  • Autofocus inconsistencies
  • A severely limited touch interface
  • No weather resistance
  • No USB C
  • They have to fix the ring around the lens
  • The RAWs are kind of useless
  • High ISO image noise at ISO 1600

I’m going to be flat out honest with this one. Skip this generation of Sony RX100 cameras. Sony can do better. The Sony RX100 VII receives two out of five stars.