Sony RX100 VI Review

July 24, 2018 | Mark Goldstein |
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Introduction

The Cyber-shot RX100 VI takes Sony's popular range of premium compact cameras in a new direction thanks to the introduction of a 24-200mm, 8.3x zoom lens, which greatly expands its telephoto reach compared with previous models in the series that have all had a maximum zoom of 70mm. This means that the RX100 VI is now very much a travel-zoom camera, capable of covering every photographic subject from wide-angle landscapes to candid portraits.

That extra reach does come at a cost, however, in the form of a substantially slower lens - the maximum apertures offered by this new model are f/2.8 at 24mm and f/4.5 at 200mm, considerably slower than the Mark V's f/1.8 and f/2.8 settings.

Commendably, despite the huge increase in zoom range, you'd be hard pressed to tell the two models apart, with the new Mark VI only measuring a couple of millimeters thicker than the previous version, which continues in the range for the foreseeable future. To further support the new lens, Sony have improved the optical image stabilization system to offer 4 stops of compensation, which should help when hand-holding the camera at those new longer telephoto settings.

Other notable improvements to the Sony RX100 VI include a faster auto-focusing system that offers better subject tracking and the addition of the popular Eye AF mode, a touch panel LCD screen for the very first time on an RX-series camera, and an expanded tilt-angle screen which can be rotated 180 degrees upwards or 90 degrees downwards.

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI is available now for around $1200 / £1150 / €1300.

Ease of Use

The biggest change to the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI is the new 24-200mm lens, which extends the zoom range from 70mm on the previous model to a whopping 200mm. This makes the new camera much more versatile and capable of dealing with most photographic situations that you'll encounter. We'd now classify it as a bona fide travel-zoom camera, so the RX100 VI takes Sony's premium compact camera in a brand new direction, pitching it against the likes of rivals such as the very popular Panasonic TZ-series.

As we mentioned in the introduction, however, increasing the zoom range so drastically has meant that Sony have had to compromise elsewhere. The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI is somewhat incredibly virtually the same size as the Mark V version, only being 1.8mm thicker and from the front looking exactly the same.

So the compromise has been made in the speed of the lens rather than the size of the camera, which offers much slower maximum apertures of f/2.8 at 24mm (compared with f/1.8 on the Mark V) and f/4.5 at 200mm (compared with f/2.8 on the Mark V). Sony have made a big play of pointing out that the new camera offers f/4 at 100mm, making it more effective for portraits, but it only offers f/4 at 70mm too, a whole stop slower than the Mark V. This is mitigated somewhat by being able to shoot at the longer focal lengths, but the new camera isn't as capable of producing such shallow bokeh effects as the previous model, certainly between 24-70mm anyway. So while some users will welcome the extra reach on offer, others will bemoan the slower lens, and the fact that it also lacks the built-in ND filter of its predecessor.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
Front of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI continues to use a relatively large 13.2 x 8.8mm CMOS sensor as employed by previous models in the series. This is the same size as that used in the now-defunct Nikon 1 series compact system cameras and 4x as big as a typical compact sensor. Consequently the RX100 VI offers the same excellent image quality (for such a compact camera) as its predecessors.

On the back of the RX100 VI is a large 3-inch, 921-dot resolution LCD screen which can be tilted up to 90° downwards to shoot over crowds or up to 180° upwards for easier selfies. Somewhat disappointingly the resolution has actually dropped from the previous model, but the downwards tilt has been increased by 45°, making awkward shooting angles easier than before.

The major improvement to the LCD is the introduction of touchscreen functionality, somewhat amazingly for the very first time on an RX-series camera. As on the recent Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras, the screen can be used for some elements of operation, including operating the auto-focus whilst looking through the EVF or using the LCD screen, a feature that we've seen on several other high-end mirrorless cameras recently.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
Rear of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI

Unfortunately Sony have once again stopped short of offering a full touchscreen experience - somewhat inexplicably, you can't use the menu system in this way, press the on-screen icons, or even scroll through images during playback, a la smartphones, although strangely you can double-tap images during playback to zoom in, then scroll around to look at the finer details.

A subtle but surprisingly important improvement has been made to the action of the pop-up EVF. On previous models, you had to press the Finder switch to pop it up, then pull out the eye-piece manually, but on this new version the eye-piece both extends and retracts automatically, greatly speeding up the operation of the EVF. Another new default feature is slightly less welcome - when you pop-up the EVF, by default the camera turns itself on, but it also turns itself off when the EVF is pushed down, something that thankfully can be disabled in the main menu system.

There's still no means of gripping the camera on the front, though, with just a small thumb-shaped lozenge on the rear, making the RX100 VI a little difficult to get to grips with, especially since its aluminum body is very smooth. Sony have recognised this, though, by selling the optional AG-R1 grip accessory, or you can purchase cheaper third-party versions, but we'd really like to see something integrated into the camera design, especially with the longer zoom range now on offer where stability is more crucial.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
Tilting LCD Screen

The Sony RX100 V can shoot full-resolution 20 megapixel images at 24fps for up to 233 JPEG / 109 Raw images, an incredibly fast rate and very large buffer for what is after all a compact camera, especially as the 24fps rate is complete with AF/AE tracking for every single frame, rather than being locked at the first one.

Combined with the even faster and more accurate AF system, which now boasts an AF time of just 0.03sec, this makes the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI the best compact camera that we've ever used for taking pictures of fast-moving subjects, and indeed one of the best cameras full-stop, regardless of format. Being able to zoom to 200mm, instantly focus on the subject and then continuously track it whilst shooting at 24fps is an amazing achievement for any camera, never mind one that you can slip inside a pocket. The fast and effective Eye AF mode once again proves its worth for easily capturing great portraits, engaged by simply holding down the center button on the rear control wheel.

In addition to the NFC and Wi-fi connectivity offered by the previous Mark IV model, the new version now offers Bluetooth too. Somewhat inexplicably this can only be used to geotag your images in conjunction with your smartphone - you can't also transfer images automatically from camera to phone or control the camera with your phone, as on most recent Bluetooth implementations, instead relying on the rather clunky PlayMemories Mobile app for the latter functionality. So like the LCD touchscreen, Sony haven't really gone far enough in their implementation of what could have been a key new feature.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
Pop-up Viewfinder

The RX100 VI can record video at Ultra HD 3840 x 2160 resolution at 30/24fps for up to 5 minutes. The RX100 V utilises 5028x2828 pixels to create the UHD video, so that it effectively oversamples by 1.7x in each dimension, which should result in better quality footage and no field of view crop. Slow motion, high frame rate Full HD 1920x1080 sequences can be recorded at 240, 480 or 960fps for up to 4 or 7 seconds in duration via the dedicated HFR shooting mode. The RX100 VI now also features Sony’s S-Log3 Gamma curve which enables it to record greater dynamic range, providing you’re prepared to colour grade the recording in post-production, and a 4K Hybrid Log Gamma setting too.

Battery life continues to be poor though on this new RX camera, thanks to the continued use of the tiny NP-BX1 unit - you'll need to budget for several of these to get through a serious day's shooting. Also, there's still no Mic port, which sadly will continue to rule out the RX100 VI for more serious vlogging (or probably any vlogging at all).