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Review: Sony RX100
Prasad Naik
November 12, 2012
First Published: 17:30 IST(12/11/2012)
Last Updated: 10:55 IST(13/11/2012)
Sony RX100

Sony RX100 is a prosumer point and shoot camera aimed at those who like excellent image quality in a compact body. This is the first point and shoot camera to pack in a 1-inch sensor, which promises some great low light image quality and couples that with a really fast f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens. The camera also packs in full range of camera settings, RAW image capture mode, 1080p video recording, user-configurable control dial and Sony's WhiteMagic display. Let's see how well it performs.

The Sony RX100 has a simple, minimalist design that is not too flashy and in line with its more serious capabilities. The body is made out of metal and has a nice, solid feel to it. The camera does feel slightly heavy for its size but it's not really a bother.

On the front of the camera you would find a ring surrounding the lens. It's similar to what we have seen on Canon's excellent S-series cameras, including the S90, S95 and the recent S100. The ring on the RX100 is customizable and you can assign various features to it such as ISO, white balance, exposure, aperture, shutter speed, zoom or manual focusing.

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Unfortunately, the ring does not have manual steps and moves smoothly, which makes it difficult to tell the movements unless you are looking at the screen. Also, for functions such as zooming, you have to make considerable turns on the dial, which makes it less convenient than using the toggle ring surrounding the shutter button.

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On top of the camera lies the power button, mode dial and shutter button. There is also the flash hidden near the left side that only pops up when you enable it from the camera interface. The flash is quite powerful and can be tilted upwards to bounce the light off the ceiling. There is no hotshoe on top, even though the camera does look like it has enough space for one.

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On the back, you have the 3.0-inch, 1,229k dot LCD on the left and the controls on the right. The controls include a five-way, spinning dial (which thankfully clicks as you spin it) with a Menu button, image gallery button, delete button and a Function button that brought up options such as ISO, white balance, image filters, HDR, etc. There is also a tiny dedicated video recording button above, placed awkwardly near the thumb grip which is difficult to access quickly, thus defeating its purpose.

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On the right side of the camera is the microUSB port. The RX100 charges through the USB port, which is convenient as you don't have to carry a separate charger around and can easily use the one that comes with your phone. At the same time, it's inconvenient for those who carry a spare battery as the only way to charge the batter is if it is placed inside the camera.

On the bottom of the camera is the battery compartment with the SD card slot (compatible with Sony's MS Duo), tripod mount and a micro HDMI out port.

The overall build quality of the camera is very good but I do have a small complaint about the design. The shape and size of the RX100 falls in an awkward position for me where it is not as comfortable to hold as a DSLR or interchangeable lens cameras and at the same time not quite thin and light to be carried around comfortably in your pocket. I have large hands and they struggled to find something to hold on to on the RX100 and my fingers kept brushing and moving the dial around the lens, to the point where I eventually had to disable it. Also, when it came to placing the camera in my pocket, it bulged out significantly and the weight made it hard to forget that it was there.

In terms of camera features, the RX100 is pretty loaded with possibly everything you can image. You can control the basic exposure, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance settings. You also get HDR mode that takes multiple shots in quick succession at various exposure values and fuses them into one shot with a wide dynamic range. There are dozens of Instagram-like photo filters that you can use while shooting. If you want the purest output from the sensor, you can shoot in RAW mode, or in RAW + JPEG mode, where it saves two images in either formats.

Along with auto-focus, you also get manual focus on the RX100. The camera employs the highly useful focus peaking feature, where objects in sharp focus are highlighted on screen so you know exactly where the camera is focussed, convenient while using manual focusing.

All that is nice, but how is the image quality? In one word, fantastic. The RX100 is capable of producing some truly stunning images the belie the size of the device. This isn't something you expect from a point and shoot camera and is squarely into budget DSLR territory, which is saying something considering they have bigger sensors and lenses.

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There are a couple of reasons why images look so good on the RX100. First of all, it's the depth of focus. Thanks to the f/1.8 lens, the RX100 is able to produce some stunningly shallow depth of field, extremely uncommon in point and shoot cameras and more in line with the big lenses on DSL Rs. The shallow depth of field lets you place close subjects in pin sharp focus while blurring the background into a beautiful bokeh.

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The other reason being the large sensor. Because the sensor is so big (relative to other point and shoot cameras) and has a healthy 20 megapixel resolution, images look detailed but have none of the noise you typically find from cameras with small sensors.

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In low light the large sensor again pulls its weight, outclassing most other point and shoot cameras out there with great looking, highly usable low light images without having to resort to using the flash.

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The RX100 can shoot up to ISO 6400. While shooting in JPEG mode, the noise levels remain under check up to ISO 1600. Beyond that noise starts to creep in and the colors lose their vibrance. If you’re shooting in Program mode, the camera then switches to a smaller aperture to prevent overexposing the images, which means you also lose the wonderful depth of field. Still, even at the highest ISO value, the images remain perfectly usable.

The lens on the RX100 is capable of zooming up to 3.6x. The aperture does not remain constant, and drops from f/1.8 at the wide end to f/4.9 at the tele end.

As mentioned before, there is also an HDR mode that works very well, quickly snapping multiple images and processing them to produce images that are well lit without looking too unnatural. There is also Sony's Sweep Panorama mode, which produces equally good results.

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If there was one thing I was disappointed with on the RX100, it was the macro mode. Even with the dedicated Macro mode, it wasn’t possible to get truly close to the subject. Also, taking a step back and then zooming in worked terribly, as then the camera simply refuses to focus at all on closer subjects.

The auto-focus, which is usually reliable and fast, also goes into a hunting mode while shooting close subjects. You can see that the object is within its focusing distance but then it goes right past the proper focusing distance and settles on blurring the subject. You then have no choice but to resort to manually focusing on the subject. I have seen cheaper point and shoot cameras and even mobile phone do better when it comes to macro shooting, which is why this is disappointing.

The RX100 records videos in 1080p60 in AVCHD format. Unfortunately, the one sold in India (or at least the one we received) records in 1080p50, but the difference is not really noticeable. The video quality isn’t as amazing as the still image performance but is in line with what you’d generally find on high-end point and shoot cameras, which means it’s still pretty good. If you want something better you’d need to get a DSLR.

The display on the back of the RX100 is very good. It uses Sony’s WhiteMagic technology, which uses RGBW sub-pixel layout, that is adds an extra white sub-pixel per pixel to make the display look brighter, especially outdoors, without having to boost the backlight. It’s hard to say that whether if it was the technology at work but the display looked great whether indoors or outdoors. Wish it was bigger, though.

Verdict

The Sony RX100 is priced at a ₹34,990, which seems quite a lot for a point and shoot camera. However, to think this is any ordinary point and shoot camera would be a folly. The RX100 is the camera you buy when you already have a DSLR and want that second, smaller camera that you can carry around easily, without compromising too much on the image quality and the manual setting options that you are used to.

And the RX100 delivers in both areas. The image quality is comparable to budget DSLRs and you get plenty of options to play around to set up the camera just the way you want. This camera can also be a great option to those who consider buying a budget DSLR for the image quality but don’t ever plan on changing the lens. The RX100 can give you the image quality without the added bulk.

The camera is not without its flaws. I would have liked to see something thinner and lighter for true portability and the macro mode is definitely flawed. The video quality could have also been better.

Still, even with its flaws and high price tag, I think the RX100 is a great camera and definitely worth checking out for those who want excellent image quality from a small body.

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