Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Review
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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is a feature-packed compact camera aimed at the discerning photographer. Offering an integrated 3.6x, 28-100mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom lens with a fast aperture of F1.8 at the wide-angle setting, a 20.2 megapixel 1.0-type Exmor CMOS image sensor and full 1080p high-definition video recording, the RX100 also boasts a high resolution 3 inch LCD screen, continuous shooting at up to 10fps at full resolution, high-speed autofocus that locks onto your target in 0.13 seconds, built-in pop-up flash, support for the Raw format and full manual controls. The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is available now for around $650/£550.
Ease of Use
The aluminium bodied Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is Sony's attempt at providing a pocket camera for professionals. On paper at least it offers almost everything that the more experienced photographer could want - a relatively large 13.2 x 8.8mm CMOS sensor, which is the same size as that used in the Nikon 1 series compact system cameras and 4xas big as a typical compact sensor, a fast lens (at least at the 28mm wide-angle focal length), a large and high-resolution screen, speedy auto-focusing system plus manual focusing too, full control over exposure and even Raw file format support. The only notable thing that's missing is an eye-level viewfinder, either optical or electronic, but including this would inevitably have made the RX100 too big for the trouser/jacket pocket that it will spend a lot of its life in.
The Sony DSC-RX100 has a fast maximum aperture of f/1.8 at the 28mm wide-angle setting, but somewhat disappointingly this slows to f/4.9 at the 100mm full telephoto setting. Still, the combination of the fast lens with a seven- bladed circular aperture and the big sensor is a real joy to use, allowing you to easily create defocused depth-of-field effects that you simply can't achieve with most other pocket cameras. If you've been searching for a small camera that will give you DSLR-like bokeh, then look no further than the RX100 - check out our Sample Images page to see just want you can achieve. The combination of the f/1.8 aperture, effective built-in image stabilizer and maximum ISO speed of 6400 also makes this camera well suited to hand-held low-light photography.
Surrounding the lens is an innovative control ring, much like the one first seen on the Canon PowerShot S-series cameras. Depending on which shooting mode is currently selected, this allows you to change key settings including aperture, shutter speed, the digital zoom and picture effects. The rear control ring also achieves the same things, but we found it more intuitive and quicker to use the large, smooth front ring. It's not original, but is very effective.
Despite its large image sensor and correspondingly physically big zoom lens that dominates the front of the camera, the Sony RX100 is still quite small and slender, measuring just over 3.5cms in depth, 5.8cms in height and 10cms in width, and weighing 240g with the battery and memory card fitted. On the back there's a large 3-inch, 1228k-dot resolution LCD screen. As you'd expect with a screen of that size on such a small camera, the RX100 has no optical viewfinder to fall back on in brighter lighting conditions, although in practice Sony's WhiteMagic technology results in a a very high contrast screen that can be comfortably used outdoors even in harsh sunlight.
There's no means of gripping the camera on the front, with just a small thumb-shaped lozenge on the rear, making the DSC-RX100 a little difficult to get to grips with, especially since its aluminum body is very smooth. Also located on the front of the RX100 is the lens and a porthole on the left for the self-timer/AF illuminator. There's a clever fold-out pop-up flash unit on top of the camera which is automatically raised when you select a flash mode - it can also be manually raised and lowered if desired.
Press the small On/Off button on the top plate and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 quickly readies itself for action in a just over a second. The adequately sized shutter-release button has a definite halfway point, very quickly determining focus and exposure with a bleep of affirmation even in low-light, focus points highlighted as green rectangles on the LCD.
When you manually focus, MF Assist automatically magnifies the image to help you get sharp result, and there's also the same convenient Peaking function from Sony's DSLRs that highlights sharply-focused areas of the image on the LCD screen.
Go on to take the shot and JPEG or Raw images are quickly committed to memory in a single second, the screen momentarily blanking out and then displaying the captured image before the user can go on to take a second shot.
The shutter release button is encircled by a responsive forefinger-operated push/pull rocker zoom lever, with the camera taking around four seconds to zoom from wide-angle to full telephoto. The RX100's twin built-in stereo microphones are also located on top of the camera, plus a round shooting mode dial with a knurled edge and positive action. This lets you quickly switch between the various shooting modes that are on offer.
Sony has included Intelligent Auto scene recognition, which works in virtually identical fashion to the intelligent auto modes of Panasonic's and Canon's compact ranges. Simply point the RX100 at a scene or subject and the camera analyses it and automatically chooses one of 11 pre-optimised settings to best suit. There's also the Superior Auto mode, which places greater emphasis on reducing blur and noise and increasing the dynamic range.
Adding to the RX100's snapshot simplicity, these features accompany face recognition and smile shutter functionality on board, the former mode biasing human faces in the frame and the latter mode firing the shutter when it detects a smiling subject. The Face Detection system automatically adjusts the focus, exposure and white balance for people in the frame, and can even be set to distinguish between children and adults. Smile Detection offers three self-explanatory options, Big, Normal and Slight. Used in conjunction, the Face and Smile Detection systems do result in more hits than misses, especially in contrasty lighting conditions, although all those smiling faces could ultimately freak you out a little! The self-portrait options in the self-timer menu work by automatically taking the shot with a two second delay after either one or two people have entered the frame.
In addition to the regular Program mode, which provides the full range of camera options and additionally allows you to change settings like the ISO speed and metering, is the welcome inclusion of Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual modes which let you independently set the aperture and shutter speed, making the RX100 instantly appeal to the more experienced photographer. The range of apertures on offer is extensive for a compact camera, ranging from F1.8-F11, and the ability to choose from 30 - 1/12000th second shutter speeds opens up a lot of creative potential. There's also very welcome support for the RAW file format, which is really the icing on the cake for serious photographers looking for a backup-pocket camera to their DSLR, although at the time of writing only the supplied Sony Image Data Converter fully supports the RX100's proprietary ARW files.
The proven Sweep Panorama mode lets you capture a panoramic image very easily without the use of a tripod. All you need to decide is whether you would like to start from left or right, top or bottom. Then press and hold down the shutter release while doing a "sweep" with the camera in hand. Exposure compensation is available before you start the sweep, but the exposure is fixed once you depress the shutter button. After you are done with the sweeping, the camera does all the processing required, and presents you with a finished panoramic image. There are two modes, Standard and Wide. Note that if you do the sweeping too slowly, or you let go of the shutter release button too early, the panorama will be truncated.
In the Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur shooting modes, the DSC-RX100 takes six shots in a rapid sequence, typically at a high sensitivity setting and a (relatively) fast shutter speed, and then combines them into a single image that has somewhat less noise than a single shot taken at the same ISO and exposure settings. In our experience, the difference between the two modes is that in Anti Motion Blur mode, the camera is more willing to pick a really high ISO setting like ISO 1600 to maintain a fast shutter speed, whereas in Hand-held Twilight mode, it will only go as high as absolutely necessary to avoid camera shake at the chosen focal length. If light levels are truly low, however, the RX100 will pick a high ISO speed even in this mode.
The Clear Zoom function effectively digitally doubles the zoom range, using Sony's new Pixel Super Resolution Technology to increase the magnification. The Auto Portrait Framing mode uses face detection and the rule of thirds to automatically crop and create tightly framed portrait shots. The same Pixel Super Resolution Technology ensures that the resulting image is still a full 20 megapixels in size, and the original uncropped image is also saved for easy comparison.
Sony's long-standing D-Range Optimizer and HDR functions are present to help even out tricky exposures, for example where a bright background would normally throw the foreground into deep shadow. You can see from the examples on the Image Quality page that these features produce a photo with noticeably more dynamic range than one taken using one of the standard shooting modes, but at the same time without replicating the often "false" look of many HDR programs, and both offer a wide degree of customisation that's previously only been seen on Sony's DSLR/SLT range.
Present and correct is the increasingly ubiquitous ability to shoot High Definition video clips, but unlike its main competitors the RX100 does so at full 1080p HD rather than 1080i or 720p, and also with stereo sound rather than mono. The various options are 1920x1280 or 1440x1280 pixels at 50p or 50i in the AVCHD format, and 1440x1280 or 640x480 pixels at 30fps in the MPEG4 format. During video recording you can take a 17 megapixel still image by pressing the shutter button, or alternatively grab a still from your video footage during playback.
There is full use of the 3.6x optical zoom during recording plus the ability to change the EV level, white balance, and metering options and turn on either standard SteadyShot or the Active Mode mode, which provides up to 10x more anti-shake effectiveness with no side-effects. If you set the shooting mode dial to Movie, you can also choose from Program, Aperture or Shutter priority and Manual modes, giving you full control over exposure for both stills and movies.
There's also a direct HDMI output from the camera, useful for playing back your footage on a HDTV set, although sadly there's no HDMI cable supplied in the box. The dedicated Movie button on the rear of the DSC-RX100 allows you to start recording a movie with a single push of a button, and then stop recording by pressing the same button - a lot more intuitive than having to select the movie mode then press the shutter button, as on most compacts. You can also activate the movie mode via the Shooting Mode dial.
The rear of the DSC-RX100 is dominated by a large 3 inch LCD screen, with the resolution a pleasingly high- 1228k dots. To the right of the screen is the useful one-touch movie record button next to the rubberised thumb-rest. Underneath is the Function button, which accesses up to 7 customisable options that appear on the LCD screen as a semi-circle of icons that can be selected using either the lens or rear control rings. The Function menu proves to be a very handy way to quickly change the RX100's key settings and one of the main ways of setting the camera to suit your shooting style.
Alongside the Function control is the Menu button - press this and a number of shooting and set up folders appear on screen, with white text on a black background aiding visibility. The five shooting folders allow users to select image size, ratio and quality and - if JPEG (RAW and RAW+JPEG also available) - compression rates too, plus features like SteadyShot, long exposure and high ISO noise reduction - all in fact activated as a default. The Movie folder contains the video quality and audio options, while the three Customise folders allow you to tweak the RX100 to your way of working. Playback, Memory Card, Time and two further Setup folders allow the likes of the LCD brightness to be adjusted, the help guide to be turned on or off, plus user languages, folders and file numbering to be specified.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The traditional round navigation pad can be used to navigate through menus and options, in conjunction with the small button in the middle which activates whatever it is you've chosen. The four directions on the navigation pad also provide a quick way of setting the Display, Flash, the Exposure Compensation / Photo Creativity interface (dependant upon the current shooting mode) and Continuous Shooting/Timer options. The Photo Creativity options make it easier for beginners to change the colour, brightness, vividness and Picture effect modes, with changes previewed in real time on the LCD screen. The navigation pad also doubles up as a control ring that's used to set the aperture and shutter speed in the creative shooting modes, amongst other things. The ring is a little small, but it's not too over-sensitive and the ability to take full control of the RX100 is very welcome.
The Sony RX100 can shoot full-resolution 20 megapixel pictures at up to 10fps, a very fast rate for a compact camera. To achieve the full 10fps you need to set the exposure mode dial to the Speed Priority Continuous option, which locks the focus and the exposure at the first frame. The RX100 can shoot up to 13 Fine JPEGs or 10 Raw files at 10fps, with the regular continuous burst shooting changing the focus and exposure between frames but providing a much slower rate of 2.5fps.
There's a small button for playing back your images underneath the navigation pad. Users have the ability to dip in and out of created folders of images or the calendar view, view thumbnails, select slideshows and choose transitional effects and accompanying music, or delete shots. Press the shutter button halfway and you're helpfully catapulted back into capture mode. And that's basically it. With a press of the Menu button in playback, users have access to a few in-camera retouching effects, including the ability to crop and sharpen an image and apply red-eye correction.
Completing the rear of the RX100 is a button with a question mark. This provides a list of shooting tips that Sony no doubt hopes will provide a crutch for new users trading up from a more bog-standard point and shoot compact. Examples of textual advice, complete with small pictorial thumbnail alongside, include 'increase the ISO sensitivity to make the shutter speed faster', and then, the thoughtful addition: 'higher ISO sensitivity may make noise stand out.' Hand holding for those who want it then. Sadly the button can't be reconfigured by more experienced users to something more useful.
The bottom of the Sony RX100 features a standard metal screw thread for attaching it to a tripod. A lockable plastic cover protects the lithium-ion battery, good for 330 shots or or 80 mins AVCHD video, and the removable memory card, with the RX100 supporting the SD / SDHC / SDXC format in addition to Sony's own proprietary Pro Duo Memory Stick format. The right side of the RX100 has a tiny metal eyelet for the supplied wrist strap and also the USB port underneath a sturdy plastic cover, with another wrist strap eyelet on the left side. Note that the camera battery is charged via the USB port, rather than a more convenient separate charger, so it's a good idea to invest in an extra battery.