Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

Offering snappy performance, excellent image quality and a sleek design, the RX100 proves that good things come in small packages.


8.7
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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


It's one thing to be fashionably late to the party, but it's another altogether to be just plain late. The RX100 is Sony's first large-sensor compact camera, and while it definitely falls in the latter camp, it comes bearing many gifts that make up for the wait.

Design and features

Quite aptly given its raison d'être, the RX100 is small, fitting comfortably in your hand or pocket. It feels particularly well made and sturdy, thanks to its aluminium frame, though its exterior is rather slippery. This means that you will most definitely need to attach the included wrist strap to ensure that it doesn't fall out of your grip.

Buttons are on the small side, which adds a nice, refined feel to the shooting experience, but some users might find them a little too small for comfort. A mode dial at the top of the camera keeps things simple and uncluttered, housing controls for full PASM control, as well as automatic, superior automatic for low-light shots, movie and panorama modes.

The 3-inch LCD screen is quite something to behold. While it's only VGA resolution, it has a third set of white pixels that helps boost the brightness when used in sunny situations. It's able to display a lot of detail, and does hold up when used outdoors — not perfectly, but it's better than a lot of other compacts.

Most people will be interested in this camera, as it boasts one of the largest sensors in a compact model, beaten only by the Canon G1X (which is big enough to almost not be classified as a compact) and the Fuji X100. It's 1 inch, which is the same size as the one used in the Nikon 1 series of cameras, and just a bit smaller than the Micro Four Thirds sensor.

A comparison of sensor sizes from a number of different compact cameras. (Credit: CNET)

A Carl Zeiss lens that extends to 3.6x optical zoom sits at the front of the camera, and it's nice and bright, with a maximum aperture range of f/1.8-4.9. The widest aperture, f/1.8, is only available at the extreme 28mm end, and stops down to f/2.8 when zoomed in to 1.2x optical zoom.

The control ring around the front of the lens is an excellent way to offer a refined shooting feel, allowing you to adjust parameters such as aperture, ISO, white balance, the dynamic range optimiser and creative filters.

An incredibly stylish camera to look at, this is the RX100 front on.
(Credit: CNET)

The RX100 has truly been designed with a serious photographer in mind. If you are a fan of using manual focus, the RX100's implementation is seamless. The control ring around the lens moves freely, with the camera automatically entering in to expanded focus. One of the other excellent surprises that awaits you within the menu system is peaking, which assists with focusing and is a feature traditionally found on video cameras. You can select the colour, as well as the intensity. The pop-up flash can be tilted back to act as a bounce off the ceiling, too, though it is positioned in such a way that it can obstruct how you hold the camera.

Some photographers will be perturbed at the lack of a hotshoe for mounting an external flash, or some sort of accessory port for an electronic viewfinder (EVF). They're not serious omissions, but they would have helped it stand up just a little taller against competing cameras, such as the Olympus XZ-1.

The RX100 charges its battery in the camera, with an included USB and adapter in the box.

Compared to

RX100 vs
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Olympus XZ-1 Canon PowerShot S100 Panasonic LX7
20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor (1-inch) 10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.63-inch) 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor (1/1.7-inch) 10.1-megapixel high sensitivity MOS sensor (1/1.63-inch)
3-inch, 1.2-million-dot (VGA resolution) LCD 3-inch, 610,000-dot OLED 3-inch, 461,000-dot LCD 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD
3.6x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle 4x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle 5x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle 3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle
Aperture range f/1.8-4.9 Aperture range f/1.8-2.5 Aperture range f/2.0-5.9 Aperture range f/1.4-2.3
Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080p) HD video (Motion JPEG, 720p) Full HD video (H.264, 1080p) Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080p)

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • 1.41.11.90.3
    Olympus XZ-1
  • 2.21.42.60.3
    Panasonic Lumix LX5
  • 2.33.13.70.4
    Canon PowerShot S100
  • 2.5110.1
    Sony Cyber-shot RX100
  • 2.72.54.50.4
    Canon PowerShot G1X

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

  • 8
    Sony Cyber-shot RX100
  • 2.6
    Panasonic Lumix LX5
  • 2.5
    Canon PowerShot S100
  • 2.1
    Olympus XZ-1
  • 2
    Canon PowerShot G1X

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Sony rates the battery at 330 shots. The above continuous shooting speed measurement was taken in speed-priority mode, though the RX100 also has a regular continuous mode, which captures at 2.5 frames per second, allowing for continuous AF and exposure. In speed-priority mode, the RX100 slows to process images after taking 12 frames, and has fixed focus from the first frame.

Image quality

The RX100 produces excellent images in a range of shooting situations. Whether it's in one of the automatic modes or full manual, more often than not you'll end up with a keeper shot rather than a dud.

Colour rendition is excellent, with good levels of saturation to the JPEG images delivered by the camera. Lens sharpness is also very good, though there's a slight amount of softening as you reach the sides of the frame. It's still a pretty impressive performance for a camera of this class.

At the time of writing, no third-party programs such as Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw are able to read the RAW files from the RX100, so we've had to perform our conversions using the Sony software. It's not provided with the camera, so you have to download it separately (download it for Windows or Mac).

The options presented for conversion in the Sony software is, shall we say, somewhat limited. Even so, the RAW files from the RX100 deliver a very good amount of detail, but we can't help thinking that we could have got even more from these files with a third-party converter.

This is a comparison of the RX100's rendering of RAW and JPEG images. The same shot was taken at ISO 800, with 100 per cent crops inset. As you can see from the crops, the camera's RAW files have quite a bit more usable detail, though colour rendition is very similar. Noise is also kept well under control in the camera's JPEG processing.
(Credit: CBSi)

High ISO performance is impressive, but not quite at the level as another camera of this type, the Canon G1 X. At ISO 3200 and above, there is quite a bit of noise present on images. Where the RX100 excels is in its superior auto mode — also found on other Sony cameras. It's an (almost) foolproof way to take clear shots in low lighting, made even better than before, thanks to the relatively large sensor and lens that can gather more light at f/1.8 than other models.

The RX100 can almost see in the dark. This shot was taken late at night, with just the illumination from a sole street light. At 1/6, f/2 and ISO 3200 using superior auto mode, it can still take a very usable shot, particularly when resized for web. See the full-sized version below.
(Credit: CBSi)

When shooting at f/1.8, the RX100 is able to deliver some incredibly pleasing bokeh. It's not going to be the same as that produced by an SLR, but it's smooth and mostly rounded nonetheless.

Like to shoot at f/1.8? So do we.
(Credit: CBSi)

One issue when shooting a lot in high-contrast situations is the screen, which has a tendency to make bright areas look overexposed even when they're not. This is easily compensated for by using the histogram and checking the exposure. The lens also shows plenty of barrel distortion at 28mm, though since it's fairly even, it will not be too much of a problem to correct in post-processing.

Video quality from the RX100 is very good for a compact of this class. The audio quality in particular delivered from the stereo microphone is excellent, picking up on lots of detail and providing great separation. The zoom is not particularly smooth when filming, though the continuous autofocus works very well in adjusting to moving objects in the frame.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 125

Exposure: 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 125

Exposure: 1/50, f/1.8, ISO 800

Exposure: 1/6, f/2, ISO 3200

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Offering snappy performance, excellent image quality and a sleek design, the RX100 proves that good things come in small packages. Sony's first large-sensor compact took its time to arrive on the scene, but it's just the camera that the advanced compact category needs. An advanced camera with more than enough controls to satisfy seasoned photographers, and plenty of automatic modes to welcome beginners, the RX100 is bound to find a place in many people's hearts.

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TessaL posted a comment   

I'm trying to decide between this camera and the Sony Nex-5T. I want close to SLR quality photos in a compact body - any tips on which one to get? Thanks!

 

KelliG posted a comment   

Hi Lexy, could you please comment on there being no external battery charger - am planning on hiking and staying in small hostels - was thinking this would be essential so as to not leave my camera plugged to a powerpoint whenever it is flat - are there other brands that make good external chargers?
thankyou!

 

astroi posted a comment   
Australia

Hi Lexy, was looking at the sony rx100 for a compact camera for travelling, since i wasn't going to lug my d90 around. All was good till i read a rather interesting reply by photography factory site in the u.k. Here is the actual reply.

We can say with authority that the Sony RX100 is a almost perfect camera, with two car crash flaws that could have been put right for a few extra pounds. Sony decided to let the camera go to market as is, basically because to fix these issues would push the Camera above a certain carefully planned price point and would give them nothing to improve on in 13 months when the RX120 comes out. And they assumed that most users would be happy with the amazing specs, and a lot of very selectively blind reviews you can read on the net (often surrounded by the sickly sweet smell of affiliate links).
Firstly the camera makes a serious mess out of bright highlights, it blows out highlights that even an old Lumix LX5 could handle with ease. This is due to a mismatch between Sonys amazing chip and the processing engine the chose to put into the RX100, in order to keep down costs the processing engine is low spec for a 20meg chip and stop the shot to shot time being too noticeably long the processing is done in a hurry. This is the kind of processing that all cameras do behind the scenes and it is absolutely crucial in fixing highlight and noise issues, it is a very scary exercise to hack a compact camera and get a look at the real raw file direct from the chip. The other major flaw is the almost laughable rolling shutter effect when filming any moving object, it is quite a poor show on a modern camera and even an iphone 5 will make a better job of filming objects moving from right to left accross the frame. So in short the RX100 is a first place Camera except for taking pictures and shooting video… There is an old saying about Sony products, occasionally they are very good but stupidly expensive, but usually they are made to a price and only look good on a spec sheet. I feel that the RX100 does not come close to the top 5, what ever I have read, buy one if you like and make your own mind up, if you can avoid anything that shines, reflects or is moving it is a winner.

I am sorry for the rather long winded paragraph. But could you comment on the 2
flaws that he made? Is the RX100 the near perfect camera with 2 crippling flaws?

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi Astroi,

I can only comment on my review process and I stand by what's written in my review above.

Take a look at the video above, which was filmed on a fixed surface with panning movement and plenty of straight objects (e.g. poles) that are often used to demonstrate the visible effects of rolling shutter. I didn't find this to be an issue at all, especially not for most applications where the camera will be used. Of course, many cameras will exhibit rolling shutter if you pan them too quickly, thanks to the way data is read from the sensor.

As for the blown highlights, I would suggest you take another look at the section where I discuss the screen. It has a tendency to make it look as if areas have been overexposed, when they are not. Again, any photographer who is truly worried about blown out highlights will a) use the histogram and b) expose for the highlights so enough detail is kept.

 

CorporateFlyer posted a comment   
Australia

Lexy, went to get a compact camera and was ready to discuss canon s110, panasonic lx7, olympus xz-1 - sales guy said forget all of them the sony rx100 is so far ahead in picture quality it does not compare tyo the others - is that your view? I am concerned that the zoom is not great in the rx100?

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi CorporateFlyer,

I wouldn't say that the RX100 is not comparable to the other cameras, as it clearly is in a similar price bracket and feature set. However, the image sensor is quite a bit larger than the other cameras you have listed. Generally this means two things; more surface area to capture the light delivered from the lens (often this means less noise depending on the pixel density/megapixel rating) and better ability to produce shallow depth-of-field effects. Again, this depends on the capabilities of the lens too.

I haven't yet tested the S110 fully, but from my experiences with the other three cameras, the RX100 is the best overall package in terms of low-light image quality, general image quality and features. There are a few usability quirks which I have detailed in the review, but these may not present a problem for you.

The zoom is pretty much the same as appears on the Lumix LX7 - I wouldn't be too concerned about that. The difference between a 3.6x zoom and a 5x zoom is really quite small. You can, after all, zoom in with your feet!

 

AlexV1 posted a comment   
Australia

It's nice to see Sony pumping out some Hi quality product again.

 

akadaman posted a comment   
Australia

Great review! I purchased my RX100 last Friday. Haven't really got past the Auto shooting modes as yet, but even so I am extremely impressed with the quality of photo. The camera feels good to operate, being light yet sturdy. Browsing through the menus can be overwhelming, but it seems there's plenty of options and styles which I will enjoy exploring in the coming months! Never wanted to buy a D-SLR, only for the fact that I couldn't see myself carrying it around with me every where I go, so the RX100 seemed like the perfect camera for me.




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User Reviews / Comments  Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

  • TessaL

    TessaL

    "I'm trying to decide between this camera and the Sony Nex-5T. I want close to SLR quality photos in a compact body - any tips on which one to get? Thanks!"

  • KelliG

    KelliG

    "Hi Lexy, could you please comment on there being no external battery charger - am planning on hiking and staying in small hostels - was thinking this would be essential so as to not leave my camera..."

  • astroi

    astroi

    "Hi Lexy, was looking at the sony rx100 for a compact camera for travelling, since i wasn't going to lug my d90 around. All was good till i read a rather interesting reply by photography factory s..."

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