The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review

_7065327 copy
All images in this review are clickable for larger versions, via the flickr host. The EXIF data is also intact. Apologies in advance for the lack of variety of sample images; the weather over the last few days just hasn’t been cooperative. No matter, I’ll continue to use this camera regularly as my pocket camera, and will be posting images both here and to my flickr page.

After receiving a number of emails asking if I’d review the Sony RX100, I decided to check one out for myself. Up to this point, I admit I hadn’t paid much attention to the latest round of compact camera offerings – I’ve got several excellent compacts, CSCs, SLRs – basically, all my bases are covered. Could I use something that might perhaps bring the next image quality notch closer to being pocketable? Sure.

Note: throughout this review, the product shots have had the logo taped over to prevent them being lifted and used without permission (which has happened before, often for dodgy internet merchants or ebay sellers). It seems image theft is a reality of the internet. Making a dime comes before any kind of ethics, which is rather sad.

_7065303 copy

My first encounter with the camera was in Hong Kong, oddly enough at a little store catering to second hand gear – yep, even before most of the world gets to have a camera in stock, there are people here already deciding that it’s time for the next best thing. I played with it for a bit, was hugely impressed by the focusing speed, and equally impressed by the low light capabilities of the camera. But I left to sleep on it overnight, and by the time I’d realized a few days later that the camera was constantly on the back of my mind, it was too late because it’d been sold.

_7065341 copy

No matter. I figured I could get one locally – wrong! In any case, a fellow photography friend in Hong Kong and Fedex came to the rescue; a day after asking him to hunt for one, it arrived on my doorstep.

Proper first impressions, in the cold light of day: it’s small. Very small. Especially considering it’s packing a 1″, 20.2MP sensor and 28-100mm lens; sure, it’s f4.9 on the long end, but that’s better than almost all kit zooms (I’m looking at you, Nikon 1, with your bulky 28-80/3.5-5.6 equivalent) and an extremely impressive f1.8 on the wide end. In effect, this camera makes the Nikon J1 look utterly pointless – it’s cheaper, has a better lens than both the kit zoom and the ‘fast’ pancake prime, and both better specified and more controllable. It’s actually nearly 1cm narrower and several mm shorter than the Ricoh GR-Digital III; and only 2mm thicker. The Leica D-Lux 5* I’ve got looks positively chubby by comparison. Of the three, only the Sony doesn’t have a hotshoe (and the Leica’s also doubles as an EVF port). Design-wise, it feels very much like Sony just duplicated the Canon S90/95/100 series of cameras, adding a prominent seam around the middle of the camera almost as an afterthought. Lineage-wise, however, it’s clearly a descendant of the V1 from 2003 and later the V3 from late 2004; both enthusiast compacts with bright Carl Zeiss lenses and plenty of manual controls. There’s also a bit of R1 DNA in there too, with its large sensor and fixed lens. However, the RX100 loses the various eye level finders of its predecessors. I don’t miss it too much; those little optical tunnel finders are nearly useless for precise composition anyway, and there’s no way to know what the camera has focused on, either.

*Comments also apply to the Panasonic LX5. The LX7 is going to be even larger; even though the lens gains a stop in speed, the sensor remains approximately the same size (1/1.7″ instead of 1/1.63″).

_7065342 copy

The body may be tiny, but the lens is by far the largest of the lot.

_7065350 copy

Of course, that isn’t the whole story; both Ricoh and Leica will focus down to 1cm at wideangle, where the Sony is limited to 5cm, and something much further at telephoto – nearly two feet. The Leica will go wider, and faster at f3.3 at the long end; the Ricoh of course has no long end, but it’s party piece is the excellent fast fixed 28/1.9. If this is starting to feel a bit like a comparison, it is; realistically, I’ve got these three serious compacts in my arsenal as options for when I need something truly pocketable. And taking two along would be utterly stupid (and defeat the point of a compact at all) – so there can only be one choice.

_RX100_DSC0319b copy
Urban painting in progress. Sony RX100

Sometimes, little quirks of handling can make or break a camera. The Ricoh excels here – it’s probably the best handling compact ever; two fully programmable control dials, a rocker switch, locking mode dial, and a wonderfully large pill-shaped shutter button that has both a well-defined half press, as well as a clean, soft break. Combine that with sticky rubber and rough magnesium, and it’s a handling dream. The Leica is a bit smooth for my liking; it’s slippery and easy to drop, and the rear control dial is stiff and difficult to press. But it does have an aspect ratio and focus mode switch, which gains it points in my book. However, the physical lens cap is definitely not a good thing – the Sony’s lens is much, much larger, and they’ve still managed to fit a retractable shutter in there.

_RX100_DSC0188b copy
Available light portrait – ISO 2500. Sony RX100

That said, I find the Sony’s controls both small and fiddly; ‘delicate’ is perhaps the best word to describe them. Firstly, the shutter button’s travel is far too shallow; the half press is stiff without much feedback or travel, and full press feels somewhat like half press on most compacts. Still, it’s very soft, which means it should be easy to activate without exciting too much camera shake. The camera does overall feel very responsive when shooting, and I suspect that shutter button feel has something to do with it. The rest of the buttons are small and similarly lack tactile feedback; the Ricoh meanwhile is exemplary in this regard. The RX100 actually has two control dials – one around the lens, which lacks any physical detents, and one around the four-way controller, which is used to control exposure parameters. I personally think the missing detents on the lens ring are a mistake; it makes it difficult to set exposure parameters (or any setting that has discrete increments) accurately. This limits its usefulness to only two things – zoom control and manual focus, which is a shame, really.

_RX100_DSC0259b copy
How the other half live. Sony RX100

There are a few other things I don’t like about this camera – let’s get these out of the way first, because they’re all relatively minor.
1. Charging in-camera – this makes it impossible to maintain two batteries; the camera needs it, because you’re definitely not going to make it through a whole day of shooting with only one. Battery life is about 300-400 shots per charge depending on how much chimping you do. Sony, at the price you’re charging for this thing, how difficult would it be to include a charger, or a battery-cap if you insist on just supplying a USB cable?
2. No shutter speed limits to auto ISO – I suppose it’s using 1/focal length, but there’s no way to be sure.
3. It’s slippery as hell and far too easy to drop. It would have been nice if the bottom portion (after the central groove) was wrapped in sticky rubber or something.
4. No raw support* (not really a Sony flaw, and I suppose it’s coming soon from Adobe)
5. No hotshoe – not really a big deal actually – I don’t think I’ve ever used the hotshoe on a camera like this, other than to hold an external optical finder – and if used at 28mm, this camera is just crying out for one. Sadly, there’s absolutely nowhere to put it.
6. The ‘?’ button isn’t reprogrammable – that makes it basically useless for advanced users when shooting, because it brings up a kind of ‘how to’ for beginners. That and it deletes images – which is bound to be supremely confusing for the novice, because instead of having his or her questions answered – their image will disappear!
7. While the camera is pretty fast to start up, it’s inexplicably very slow to turn off – and sometimes, won’t turn off at all if you suddenly move it. (Apparently this is the ‘drop sensor’ feature designed to freeze everything and prevent damage in case you do happen to drop it. It seems that somebody on the engineering team thought the design was too slippery…)
8. No manual included, print or CD – some settings are just not obvious (like manual WB for instance), and having to use the online HTML manual is a royal pain.
9. The meter tends to underexpose; I understand why this is useful to protect highlights especially for a sensor with small pixel pitch, but according to the histogram it’s by as much as two stops in cases.

*If you’re wondering why I didn’t use the supplied software, I did – but I stopped soon after starting, because frankly, like every other manufacturer-produced converter, it’s crap. Excruciatingly slow, doesn’t give you as much flexibility as ACR, and just doesn’t integrate into the rest of my workflow. It takes me less time to compensate for JPEG limitations than work around the raw converter, and in the end, the results are still better.

_RX100_DSC0245b copy
While waiting for the wife. Sony RX100

Still, at least we’re not restricted to only Memory Stick media, I suppose. There are a lot of things to like about the RX100. I’m going to ignore the trick multishot, face detect and scene modes (panorama, low light stacking etc) and just focus on the things that might be of interest to photographers. From a usability point of view, focus is both fast and accurate – even at the long end of the zoom, in lower light. I think it might be because there’s some form of continuous pre-AF always going on in the background; this definitely can’t be good for battery life. There is an AF assist lamp, but as with all ‘conveniences’ of this sort, it’s obnoxious. I turned it off. I keep being fooled into thinking it’s a small sensor compact because of its size; it isn’t, and you do have to watch your focus point – especially at nearer focusing distances, and with the lens wide open. As with all contrast detect AF cameras, continuous autofocus is best avoided, though the tracking mode works pretty well in static scenes – hit the center button to activate it, put the box over the thing you want to track, then hit it again to lock on. I can see this being useful for posed portraits, but little else. There’s also manual focus with peaking and magnification, though AF is so fast and flexible that I can’t see why you’d want to use it.

_RX100_DSC0326b copy
Construction break. Sony RX100

It’s worth saying something about the LCD, too – the ‘Whitemagic’ LCD has 1.2 million dots, but VGA resolution; there’s an extra white pixel in there to boost the brightness of the panel under daylight. The upshot is that this is one of the best LCDs in the business – it’s sharp and fluid, and you almost can’t see the pixels. It should be a little brighter, but it seems that you can’t gain up the auto-brightness setting – either manual or nothing. Sony deserves some praise for including a shooting mode where there aren’t any icons cluttering the framing portion of the display; instead, critical exposure settings are displayed in a black bar at the bottom of the screen, very reminiscent of an SLR finder. Without this, it would be impossible to compose – there are just too many darned icons littering the screen, taking up almost the entire left third of the display.

_RX100_DSC0351bw copy
Iron horse without a rider. Sony RX100

I do have one complaint about the LCD and metering system, though – it’s not consistent, or representative. Firstly, you can’t accurately judge exposure from the LCD like you can with some other cameras (the Nikon DSLRs and Olympus OM-D come to mind); secondly, matrix metering is rather unpredictable. Though it mostly tends to underexpose (presumably to protect highlights) – sometimes it does so hugely, by as much as two stops; yet there are other times when it does the exact opposite. I think this is Sony’s attempt at trying to replicate the actual scene as closely as possible, but it instead limits your dynamic range and increases noise – not to mention being a colossal pain given we have no proper RAW support at the moment, so post-capture adjustment latitude is limited. I’ve reverted to the centerweighted meter for any tricky lighting situations, because I simply have no certainty over how this camera’s matrix meter is going to respond.

_RX100_DSC0277b copy
Hood reflections. Sony RX100. This shot turned out VERY overexposed – far more than you’d expect for a scene of this type. Beware the meter.

This type of camera would probably benefit from a well-implemented touch panel to change settings or at very least select focus point; the economy of buttons doesn’t help when it comes to changing settings quickly. Having said that, the lens ring and Fn button functions are programmable; the latter holding seven customizable items. It also has three memory banks that remember all camera settings, and occupy the MR position on the mode dial. The one thing that really needs to be changeable isn’t – that’s the rear dial rotation. Somehow it just feels back to front to me, which results in a few fumbles before reaching the desired setting. Still, it lets you jump between zoomed-in images when in play mode, which is handy for comparing shots. (You can also power up the camera in playback mode without extending the lens by holding down the play button.) For the most part, camera functions – menus, navigation – are all snappy and occur without lag. The overall impression is of a very responsive camera indeed.

_RX100_DSC0344b copy
Man, chair and door. The extremely low prefocus shutter lag allowed me to position this man perfectly. It’s so fast the camera almost feels wired into your brain.

Adding to the feeling of speed is the 10fps continuous shooting mode, which works even in RAW+JPEG; there’s a small amount of lag between bursts as the files are written to the card (I’m using a 32GB UHS-1 Sandisk Extreme HD SDHC card), but there’s a seriously impressive amount of data being shunted around here. Somehow, the Sony engineers also found space to stuff in a couple of gyros too – there’s a level display, plus optical image stabilization. To be honest, the stabilizer feels a bit less effective than that in the Panasonics, and much less effective than the Olympus OM-D – surprising, because I believe it’s a lens-based system. It’s probably good for 1-1.5 stops.

_RX100_DSC0237bw copy
B&W portrait. I’m pleased with the tonality, despite being a) shot at ISO 3200 and 1/30s, so it was dark; b) being a JPEG; c) having most of the bottom halftones seemingly crushed into the shadows, and the highlight detail ‘stretched out’.

Image quality breaks down into two parts – the lens, and the sensor. Let’s talk abut the lens first.

Given the incredibly small pixel pitch, best working apertures are at below f5.6, and ideally around f4; this however is a bit of a problem as the lens only reaches f4.9 on the long end. Still, I don’t see much evidence of diffraction softening. For the most part, this is a reasonably good lens despite its ambitious specifications – the only place where it’s let down is close focusing distance (say under 20cm or so) and maximum aperture at the wide end. You’re going to have to be at f2.8 or preferably f4 to get critically sharp images when shooting close; before that point, there’s a lot of flare and coma going on that robs sharpness. At normal distances, it’s an decent performer. Mine’s does better in the corners at telephoto than wide; in fact, the corners are pretty soft at f1.8, which leads me to suspect a degree of field curvature. The top edge is also softer than the bottom edge of the frame – it’s difficult to build a retractable lens with consistently high resolving power cross-frame due to the required tolerances; not that this is any excuse. The lens also remembers your last used focal length when the camera was turned off – there doesn’t seem to be any way of disabling this though. There is a bit of bokeh available, though not much – but what you do see is relatively smooth an inoffensive (though I haven’t had any extremely harsh lighting conditions under which to shoot the camera yet).

_RX100_DSC0156b copy
Still life I. Sony RX100, uncorrected for vignetting.

Distortion and vignetting are minimal, and I didn’t see any evidence of CA, but since there’s no way to open the RAW files without the effects of Sony processing (I don’t count the supplied raw converter), it’s impossible to say how much of these optical limitations are being removed by the in-camera processing. I suppose we’ll just have to wait for an ACR update to find out. In the meantime, I’m making a ‘raw’ jpeg by turning off NR, reducing saturation and contrast to the minimum levels, and upping sharpening one notch (to preserve detail).

Does it have the Zeiss magic? Honestly, I’m not seeing it in the JPEGs – raw files might be a different story. It’s definitely a notch above the compact camera lenses I’ve used up to this point (with the exception of the GRDIII’s lens) but don’t expect it to have the same 3D pop as the ZF/ZE/ZM glass. It’s not a depth of field related thing either; the larger format glass pops even at hyper focal. (It could very well be a sensor limitation though).

_RX100_DSC0127bw copy
Still life II. Maybe there is a little of that Zeiss ‘pop’ and tonal richness after all – but it did require some post processing. Sony RX100.

The sensor is another story. Ostensibly, it’s a relative of the 10MP 1″ unit found in the Nikon 1 cameras; it’s a CMOS sensor with RGB filter array (curiously, not one of Sony’s four-color arrays). Pixel pitch is 2.4 microns compared to around 2 for the 10MP 1/1.7″ types, sub-2 for most normal compacts, 3.38 for the Nikon 1, 4.2 for the OM-D, and 4.88 for the D800E. Thus we’d expect slightly better performance than the current crop of prosumer compacts – perhaps a little more, given the generation gap. Not quite – it seems that this sensor is another generation ahead of the sensor in the Nikon 1, because it delivers similar noise levels, dynamic range and color accuracy despite having twice the number of photosites crammed in. In fact, from a noise point of view, it’s probably a bit better than the 12MP M4/3 sensor used in the E-P3 generation. Not quite what you expected huh? And all this from JPEG output. It seems Sony has upped their game there, too – unlike the oversaturated, over-contrasty, strange-hued JPEGs of the NEX-5, the RX100 generates remarkably natural looking files. Noise reduction – it cannot be completely turned off – when turned down, does a decent job of balancing texture/ detail and noise. My one complaint is that auto white balance is all over the place, and the camera doesn’t seem to like doing manual WB from a gray card – either it fails entirely, or delivers a very strange hue shift.

Sony RX100 noisetest
For a 100% version, click here

I feel there are only two areas in which the sensor’s smaller pixel pitch starts to show – that’s dynamic range, and edge acuity at higher ISOs. While dynamic range is a bit better than the prosumer compacts – perhaps 9.5-10 stops useable JPEG (and hopefully 11-11.5 in RAW) – the highlights and especially shadows clip quite abruptly (a lot of the tonal range seems bunched up in the bottom third of the histogram), so one must take care with exposure – not something easy to do when you have to contend with the camera’s erratic metering*. If you push the shadows too far in post, you start to get splotchy, low frequency (but random) yellow-blue pattern noise depending on the ambient lighting. There are also a few hot pixels thrown in for good measure, too. Edge acuity is another thing altogether – there’s visible erosion of fine detail structures beginning at ISO 1600, and getting more obvious as you go higher. Dynamic range doesn’t suffer quite as much as you’d expect, though. Overall, I’d put the high-ISO limit of this camera at 3200 – this is about the same as the Pen Mini, and a 1-1.5 stops more than the LX5, GRDIII et al. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this camera performs once we have a way to put the raw files on a level playing field…

*It’s also possible that I’ve been spoiled by the nice, linear RAW files from today’s CMOS-based DSLRs and CSCs. But then again, that’s unlikely, because the tonal response of the M-Monochrom’s CCD is quite similarly biased towards shadows and highlights and I didn’t have any problems processing those.

_RX100_DSC0350bw copy
Taxi drivers. Note the mark of JPEG: irretrievable highlight clipping. It was either this or lose the deep shadows. I suspect the image would have been saveable in RAW.

On the whole, two things left their mark on me during this review and while using the camera – firstly, I was constantly surprised by just how good the image quality was. I expected compact camera level, I was given constantly CSC-level, though not quite as good as the latest generation of M4/3 bodies like the OM-D. In many ways, it felt like an entry level DSLR crammed into a compact body. It’s incredibly fast and responsive, and shunts around large RAW files at 10fps without a hiccup. The lens is definitely an excellent performer, and a notch above the kit zooms; not to mention being faster at both ends and having a bit more reach. The second, less positive impression felt as though some useability had been sacrificed for size, usually unnecessarily – there’s no reason why we can’t have detents on the lens ring, an external charger, or even a printed manual (especially important given the complexity of the controls). There are ways to adjust things from both menu and shortcuts, but seemingly odd inflexibilities like the useless ‘?’ button and lack of an AF-point reset key (you have to move it back to the center with the D-pad). In some ways, the camera does feel like an experiment; which is surprising given the maturity of compact camera designs these days.

_RX100_DSC0070b copy
Untitled workers. Sony RX100

But on the whole, the RX100 gets it right – it is undoubtedly the best compact camera available today, especially from the point of view of image quality. And I still feel as though it hasn’t shown its full potential yet, hampered by the lack of RAW support. I’ll be taking this camera with me on holiday at the end of the month – and only this camera. (It’s a family trip, not a shooting one; I usually bring the GRDIII for occasions like this). It’ll be interesting to see how it performs, and if I feel like anything is missing – look out for an update early next month. Hopefully we’ll get ACR support by then too.

_RX100_DSC0143b copy
Still life III. Sony RX100

I didn’t think I’d have quite so much to say about quite so small a camera; the overwhelming feeling is that we’re very nearly at the point where there aren’t that many good reasons left for a larger sensor or even interchangeable lenses for most users – but perhaps that’s another generation out. What I do notice is that the improvement in smaller sensors has also had an effect on the way I compose – rather than seeking shallower depth of field, I’m looking for just enough to give the right amount of separation of subject from background; sometimes, a fast wide on a smaller 1″ sensor is enough; other times, you have no choice but to use 300mm on medium format because of the required perspective. One final point worth noting: this isn’t a cheap camera. In fact, it’s a good 50% over a Pen Mini kit, and comparable to a GX1 kit. It seems that you’re paying double taxes for minaturization and Zeiss optics; but the very few compromises mean that if you already have a large, fully-featured CSC or DSLR, then this is the ideal pocket companion for the times when you just don’t want all that weight. The RX100 isn’t a mature replacement for a larger camera, but the number of reasons to have one around definitely just got smaller. The limitations now rest squarely on the photographer; for most people, this is all the camera they’ll ever need. This is the king of the hill when it comes to compacts – I’ve not yet shot with anything else this size that has such great base ISO image quality and can handle ISO3200 with impunity and minimal consequences to image quality, whilst not holding you up with either focusing or continuous shooting speed. Highly recommended. MT

Coda: I’ve taken to putting some cloth tape on the front of my camera’s grip area for a more secure hold, because as handsome as the smooth anodized aluminium looks, it’s a slippery little bugger. Looks hideous, but I’d rather that than drop a very expensive point and shoot.

One reader also made a good comment on video: I’ve left it out. Yes, the camera can do 1080P 50/60, which is astounding considering its size; I tried it briefly and it looks fantastic, however I lack the expertise in this area to make any comments of weight other than to say that a) I don’t see much, if any, visible artefacting; b) you can zoom while recording, and it’s silent; c) the camera records stereo sound.

The Sony RX100 is available here from B&H and Amazon.

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

_RX100_DSC0292b copy
Still life IV. Sony RX100

Comments

  1. Ming, which aspect ratio do you use most often on the RX100? Also which wrist strap do you use? – Eric :-)

    • 3:2 so I have all of the sensor area – it isn’t variable aspect ratio so the only benefit to cropping in camera is saving file space, but I have 32gb cards anyway so this isn’t a huge deal. Using the strap that came in the box…

  2. Thanks for a great review, Ming. Have you played around with the RAW files from the RX100 since being added to ACR? If so, what did you think?

    Also, can you explain what you mean by the following statement, “c) having most of the bottom halftones seemingly crushed into the shadows, and the highlight detail ‘stretched out’”. You wrote that in the caption of the portrait of the woman above. Thanks

    • You gain a bit of detail, a bit of dynamic range, but also a bit of noise, too. Worth shooting raw for the improved color accuracy and tonal range – I believe they’re 14 bit files.

      c) Means that the dark parts are darker than natural, and the highlights emphasised but looking somewhat flat.

  3. If only they could build a phone into this, it would be the perfect ‘walkaround’ camera…!

  4. Please, close down that toilet seat…

  5. Hi Ming! Excellent write up!
    I’m in India for work and MUST get a camera. They are generally expensive here, compared to Malaysia, which looking at the taxi driver picture, seems like that is where you’re from. Me too! :D. But anyway I posted up a thread at DPreview.com (http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50750788). You don’t need to look at it but my choices have now boiled down to Olympus E-PL3 with an additional prime [USD 867, EURO 644, MYR 2.6k] and the Sony RX100 [USD 494, EURO 367, MYR 1.5k]. The E-PL3 with only the 14-42mm kits lens is the same price as the RX100. Which would you go for in this case? Although when I first heard about the RX100 I really wanted it the price turned me off. But when I checked one shop here it was selling at what seems to be quite an amazing price for this camera, I’ve confirmed with the shop numerous times.

    You know I would love to have nice depth of field, with the RX100, I understand it will be limited compared to the m43 system with primes, but the RX100 can still do it to some degree right?

    Hope you can help. Have a great day!

    • Yep, KL born, returned here in 2005 (I ask myself why every day with our current sociopolitical situation, but let’s not go there).

      The RX100 is pretty cheap there – I think Amazon is still selling it at $700 and about RM2k locally. I’d probably go for the RX100 for flexibility, or look at an LX7. The E-PL3 is not a good deal, and the kit lens doens’t give that much DOF control – neither does the RX100, for that matter.

      • You came back??? Why?? :D

        I’m, curious as to why you would ask me to check out the LX7? Does it have an advantage over the RX100? Just asking really, as it isn’t an option cause it’s not out here yet. The LX5 currently retails for RM1.7k. Also, since I found out about it, when doing research the Olympus XZ-1 still attracts me primarily because of its fast lens. However its about RM1.39k. That’s too much for this old little gem right?

        Would you recommend I stick with a compact first and look at a system camera when I get back home in a few months? Like I said the prices here are a bit painful, but the RX100 price was a surprise to me. Of course the warranty is local, but the Olympus cameras are the only brand here that offer a 1 year international warranty.

        • Still asking myself that question.

          LX7 gives you fractionally more isolating power at the long end, and definitely better macro capability. There’s also the ability to take an EVF – I’m looking into one myself…

          If you want an XZ1 get one off Amazon…they were clearing them off for a song last month. Yes, look at a compact first then buy a system camera when you return to Malaysia. The RX100 does seem to be a good deal though.

      • Somewhere in the long list of comments that you so diligently respond to (very much appreciated, i’m sure for all who posted here), you mentioned you like to shoot at 35mm. Do you ever put the camera at that focal length and just stay there? I mean is this a shooting workflow that works with a point & shoot?

      • Whoops! I must’ve misread. That’s a bit embarrassing. But thanks for replying though! Reading all the other questions and replies is also very helpful. :D

  6. As nice as this RX100 is, it does not appear to be quite the developed product that I’d hoped for. That’s why I’ll be holding off for its successor or the recently announced Fuji X20. Then again, I may just scrap the whole zoom thing and go for the Fuji X100s when prices come down. :D Seriously, I think an RX200 will be THE camera to buy. It’s just the waiting that’s gonna kill. Thanks for an awesome review, Ming. You’re the best!

  7. Great review. The most helpful I’ve read so far. Still, I can not make up my mind. My compact is a Leica D-Lux 4. Is this a very noticeable upgrade imagewise?Do I really need them both (I know, I don’t, but in an ideal world…) I also am thinking about buying an XF1, for two major reasons: It’s great looks (sorry, it’s a poor excuse but it knocks me out) and that it fits more easily into my pocket (which would probably make me take it with me everywhere). But when you strictly consider image quality – do the XF1 and the RX100 play in different leagues?

    • Thanks Trond. The image quality is a significant upgrade, but if you do a lot of macro work the DLux is better; if you shoot at the tele end, you’re going to be losing a couple of stops with the RX100, which somewhat defeats the sensor advantage. The XF1 makes great JPEGs, but has lousy RAW quality. The sensor is perhaps a stop better than the DLux, but again you lose out on the lens. Short answer: image quality wise, the XF1 is the worst of the three.

  8. I have a big problem with my RX 100: I always shoot JPG. In winter with all the snow here in europe the automatic white balance fails always and horribly. The whites are blue and grey. Manual WB makes it better , bat not good. It underexposes very much. With my old canon ixus 400 , 4Mpixels , Automatic White balance with snow is perfekt. ???? A little frustrated.

  9. Ming, you said you DON’T like to work with 35mm. Does that mean you’d choose an RX100 over the upcoming X100s if you had to make a choice between the two as an only camera? I’ll be deciding between the LX7, X20, X100s, and the RX100 (or its successor) as my only camera.

    • It isn’t really a problem I’ve had to consider, so I don’t really have an answer. Plus there’s a WCON for the X100/X100s that gives you a 28/2, so I’d probably do that instead.

  10. Excellent review of a great camera! One can only hope Sony release firmware to deal with a few of the issues at least.
    You might like to check out the flipbac camera grip (http://flipbac.com/camera-grip-about.htm). I like the G2 for this camera. It is soft rubber and not hard, and I find it adds little depth to the camera, but makes it much more secure in hand.
    Also, my friend Gary has written an excellent ebook on the RX100 (http://www.friedmanarchives.com/RX100/index.htm), which some readers might find very helpful.
    Cheers,
    Tony

  11. I recently began to follow your site after seeing several of your videos. Love the dry wit and wry sense of humor.

    That said, I have a bit of a dilemma. I currently have the X100, LX5 (getting used up), and the RX1. I love the image quality of the latter, but it is a bit unwieldy in my increasingly unstable, shriveling hands.

    Selling the latter would be easy here in the states (currently at the gates of hell in L.A.), so that is not much of a problem. I’ve always liked the X100. However, the utter ease of a super compact is compelling. I’ve always lusted after the X2, but hesitate after reading usability issues, and the LX7 invariably gets compared to the DLux 6. Is there really any noticeable difference that I would love/hate?

    I personally will be a user of this website, and the store. I have a lot to learn, not getting any younger, and am so very bored with other inane websites that masquerade as photo websites. This is possibly my best find of all! I hope you’ll have a second to reply. I want to learn to process to get that wonderful look your photos have. To my myopic eyes, they are some of the best I’ve seen. I don’t really do portraits, but I personally love the high contrast, deep blacks and 28 mm form factor, but also would like to move to a simpler combination that would also allow for great color. so I am open to suggestions.

    Sorry for the long inquiry. Either way, I’ll learn a lot here. And I do appreciate that.

    • LX7 and DL6 are the same camera, except for the red dot and the price. The X100s and X20 might be worth a look too – they’re a lot faster than the previous generation, and the X20 gives you the best of both worlds. As for processing…you might want to have a look at the photoshop videos in my teaching store :)

  12. Sayantan Dutta says:

    Hi,
    What is the focusing speed of the Sony RX100– in figures

  13. Love the camera. My only complaint: The automatic white balance is sooo bad: always too cold colours.

  14. Ming,

    In some rare circumstances do you see an oversaturation of the blues on the RX100 when shooting RAW and/or JPEG? Best Wishes – Eric

  15. Hi Ming,

    Lovely shots and review. What are your thoughts on the RAW files since this review?

  16. Hi Ming. liked your review. I use Oly epl5 with the kit lense mostly for family pics and travel photography. Other than – the size advantage do u think the RX 100 offers any other considerable advantage as to the IQ , DR , focussing and jpeg colour over the oly epl5 considering only the 14-42 ki R kit lens.

  17. I have a Sony RX-100 and agree with your comments on the metering. I set the lens ring to exposure compensation and regularly use it to get a proper exposure. As for the battery charging and slipperiness…

    I purchased an external charger and two extra batteries from amazon.com for less than $20. The batteries I got (Wasabi) have more capacity than the stock Sony battery, and the charger came with adapters for international travel. I also ordered an accessory grip from Franiec ($34.95 plus shipping) that makes the camera much easier to hold.

    While I am pleased with the image quality the camera is not suitable for fine art landscape work*. That would be too much to expect from a pocket camera. For my casual work the camera is excellent except for macro work. It sucks at that. The Panasonic LX-7, which my wife has, is a much better choice for macro work and its faster lens makes it a more versatile camera, but if ultimate image quality is your goal the RX-100 is the current pocket-camera king.

    *I did get a shot at Big Bend National Park last December that enlarged quite well to 16×24 inches hand-held. That was a shot inside an old abandoned house. Distant mountain shots do not have enough detail for enlargements without getting mushy.

  18. I have the Leica D-Lux 5, and am wondering whether to get the LX100. Since you have the D-Lux 5, I’d appreciate your comment.

    For my shooting, most of my photojournalism-style photos are at widest zoom, and I would have preferred a 24mm wide. I rarely go longer than 35mm, so the LX100′s slower telephoto wouldn’t bother me.

    The thing I’d really miss, from the D-Lux 5, is the wideangle adapter which provided a 18mm f2.0 ultrawide. Because of this wideangle, even if I get the LX100, I would not give up the D-Lux 5 altogether.

    Since I’m into reportage and environmental portraits, I’d place a value on faster shutter response to capture moments, and higher image quality particularly in low light.

    Look forward to your comments.

    • Presume you mean RX100? There is no LX100.

      Short answer: if you’re already happy with the LX5, then the RX100 isn’t going to respond much faster or satisfy your wide angle needs. You’re probably better off with an LX7 as the lens goes a stop faster on the wide end.

      • I agree with Ming. The LX 7 lens is wider and faster than the RX100, and does excellent macro shots too. My wife is very happy with hers.

      • Thanks Ming. One main thing deterred me from upgrading to the D-Lux 6/LX7, namely, that the new model does not take a wide-angle adaptor lens, and I absolutely love the wide adapter that gives me an 18mm f2.0 lens. You comments helped quell my lust for the latest and greatest. I have been fairly (but not completely) happy with most of the D-Lux 5 photos. I’ll keep using the D-Lux 5 for a few years more. With computers and digital cameras now becoming mature technologies, I don’t think I’d experience significant bang-for-bucks unless I leave off upgrading for 4-5 years between each purchase. Your great portfolio of D-Lux 5 photos reinforces the truth that its the photographer’s eye that makes the image, not the fancy equipment.

  19. Hi Ming! Any plans for getting your hands on the m2 to see how it compares, for better or worse, with the original? Thanks!

    • If Sony will lend me one…don’t hold your breath though, their local entity is a colossal pain to deal with. I still haven’t gotten the RX1 loaner I requested…

  20. Sold my OMD as it’s getting less love since I received my M(240). I’m thinking of replacing it with a smaller camera to cover the 5% where I don’t bring the M with me. It will mostly be used for snapshots. I’m seriously considering the RX100 due to it’s size and IQ. Size aside, how does this camera compare (IQ, focusing, DOF) to the EPL2 with a kit lens ?

  21. Waimea Charger says:

    Ming, as a general point and click, luddite-friendly compact, would you recommend the D-Lux 6/ LX7 or do you think the RX 100 would be better?

    Price isn’t a deal breaker if the difference is not colossal. I would just like a good, all-rounder to pop in my pocket and take nice shots of landscapes, portraits and everything in betweem.

    Great website and great, impartial reviews!

  22. Hello
    I use the RX100 to meter the scene when I use my Hasselblad 500CM as well as taking images with it! It’s meter (as you mentioned) tends to underexpose (for good reasons as not to clip) so I use the readings as a guide, open up one more stop seems to fit the bill. The RX100 fits into my top t-shirt pocket, as would a light meter. So I have a light meter that doubles up as a camera, If I feel inclined to record the scene digitally and in color.

  23. Dear Ming, Great review and great photos. I bought one because of your photos. I am an architect and previously used a Nikon 8000 film camera and a Nikon 995 which was my intro to digital. I often photograph street spaces meaning an image with bright sky at the center of the image and two dark street walls along the sides. So far the metering does not seem to recognize this as an intentional situation and I am getting vast over exposure of the bright zone and nice exposure of the street walls which should be in dark shadow. Over exposure so great I could not recover anything. OK so the camera is trying hard which is remarkable. Yesterday there was a great sunset from our 16th story office window surrounded by darkened building walls. Same problem and the event was so fleeting I could not get it right manually. Any suggestions here? Is there a standard setting that might work or do I have to pre program something and then remember to use it. The Nikon 995 bless its soul was actually ok on this stuff. Using HDR which helps but not as much as I would have thought.

    • Use the spot meter.

    • Hi George, I bought an RX100 based on many positive reviews, but it the reviews were also true that the RX100 suffers from blown highlights. When I unboxed the camera, I did some test comparative shots using the new RX100 and my old Leica D-Lux 5 (Lumix LX5). I was shocked at the blown highlights of the RX100. I have tried to compensate by using the DRO setting adjustor. In fact, I’ve made the DRO setting to come up with the right hand side click of the selector wheel, since I use it so much. For extremely high contrast situations, if you use DRO at the highest setting of Level 5, you can often minimise blown highlights. Also you need to try taking the auto meter reading from either darker or lighter parts of the scene to get the exposure you want. Yes, it is a bit hit or miss, but there are ways of getting around the RX100′s default settings that tend to blow highlights.

  24. Ming,

    For Smart Sharpen in PS for the RX100 RAW files what should be used for amount and Radius? – Eric

  25. Hi Ming. Really enjoyed the review. Without the ACR support at the moment, are you post-processing the JPEGS or trying to get the parameters right in the camera and use them straight out of the camera?

  26. I’m doing a bit of both – trying to get the exposure as close to correct as possible in-camera (not easy because of the somewhat erratic metering, and limited dynamic range) and then running the JPEGs through ACR. The Sony raw converter doesn’t give you anywhere near as much control or recovery ability as ACR, sadly.

  27. I found the camera tends to underexpose too. Been working around the issue by turning on the histogram on the screen, and setting the control ring around the lens to exposure compensation, and then disable the control ring display, so there is active feed back from the histogram when I adjust the exposure. (otherwise a menu pops out and interrupts the histogram live feed)

  28. I’ve been doing the same, but generally dislike working with live histograms as they tend to obstruct part of the scene…I much prefer the OM-D’s blinking highlights warning.

  29. Ming, I sold the OM-D for the Panasonic GX1, believe it or not. And the GX1 is hardly bigger than the Sony Rx-100, if you leave the LVF-2 off and fit the 20/1.7. No IBIS, but excellent IQ and with the RRS L bracket (minus the portrait part), super small, better ergonomics and menu system, for me. I wrote a small comparison here:

    http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1139526/0#10875533

    I’d love to hear your comments; regards, KL

  30. Interesting…UI and ergonomics are a matter of personal preference – I like the OM-D better; somehow the G series just doesn’t work for me, though their compact UI is mostly okay. Any thoughts on how the image quality compares?

  31. I have owned all the G series, I believe; the GX1 feels completely different to any of them. I amended my short review on Fred’s site; if you have five minutes please have a look and I can discuss more here. The RRS L-plate is what the GX1 needed to feel absolutely perfect in my hands.

    Re. IQ? Very very close, to my eyes. So good that once I got the GX1 and played with it for a week, I had no problem selling it. The GX1 is quite a bit lighter than the OM-D, too, which also needed a grip IMO for secure carry.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] all the reviews I’ve read so far, Ming Thein’s is the most interesting, detailed and even-handed. On the whole, two things left their mark on me [...]

  2. [...] Photography. Photoessay: Summer in Geneva – Ming Thein Dry Tortugas: Coastal Fortress, Coral Reefs, Marine Life, Shipwrecks & Sunken Treasure The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review [...]

  3. [...] The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review – Ming Thein [...]

  4. [...] RX100 review by Ming Thein Found it on DPR: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review Nothing much new here, but a great overview. I'm only about 1/2 way through, but thought I should [...]

  5. [...] out this review from Ming Thein on the RX100. Now that's a gorgeous review! The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review __________________ EPM1 (X2), 7.5/14/25/50, 14-45, 100-300, Domke 5xb 'they always come home' [...]

  6. [...] interesting and deep RX100 review from Ming Thein The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review __________________ EPM1 (X2), 7.5/14/25/50, 14-45, 100-300, Domke 5xb 'they always come home' [...]

  7. [...] Re: Got my RX 100 Nice review from Ming Thein. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review – Ming Thein | Photographer [...]

  8. [...] Ming Thein, known for his excellent reviews, got an RX100 in his hands. Read and see for yourself. In summary: I didn’t think I’d have quite so much to say about quite so small a camera; the overwhelming feeling is that we’re very nearly at the point where there aren’t that many good reasons left for a larger sensor or even interchangeable lenses for most users – but perhaps that’s another generation out. What I do notice is that the improvement in smaller sensors has also had an effect on the way I compose – rather than seeking shallower depth of field, I’m looking for just enough to give the right amount of separation of subject from background; sometimes, a fast wide on a smaller 1″ sensor is enough; other times, you have no choice but to use 300mm on medium format because of the required perspective. One final point worth noting: this isn’t a cheap camera. In fact, it’s a good 50% over a Pen Mini kit, and comparable to a GX1 kit. It seems that you’re paying double taxes for minaturization and Zeiss optics; but the very few compromises mean that if you already have a large, fully-featured CSC or DSLR, then this is the ideal pocket companion for the times when you just don’t want all that weight. The RX100 isn’t a mature replacement for a larger camera, but the number of reasons to have one around definitely just got smaller. The limitations now rest squarely on the photographer; for most people, this is all the camera they’ll ever need. This is the king of the hill when it comes to compacts – I’ve not yet shot with anything else this size that has such great base ISO image quality and can handle ISO 3,200 with impunity and minimal consequences to image quality, whilst not holding you up with either focusing or continuous shooting speed. Highly recommended. [...]

  9. [...] Back to the Sony RX100 show we go with a new comparative photographer priority review of the camera by Ming Thein. [...]

  10. [...] August 2012: I want to add the Sony RX100 to the list of recommended cameras. If you’re traveling in a group or with a partner, or [...]

  11. [...] Sony RX100 noisetest. For a 100% version, click here. I feel there are only two areas in which the sensor's smaller pixel pitch starts to show – that's dynamic range, and edge acuity at higher ISOs. While dynamic range is a bit …  [...]

  12. [...] All images in this review are clickable for larger versions, via the flickr host. The EXIF data is also intact. Apologies in advance for the lack of variety of sample images; the weather over the l…  [...]

  13. [...] put this all into context. The recently-released Sony RX100 (reviewed here) has 20MP effective – that’s a whopping 5500×3600 or so pixels, or enough for a [...]

  14. [...] one lying around. Mine now lives on my E-PM1 Pen Mini, which has seen little use since the OM-D and Sony RX100 entered the stable. put this on, stick the camera in your pocket, and go for a walk. You’ll [...]

  15. [...] I travelled very light – in the end bringing only the OM-D, 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses, plus a Sony RX100 for backup (the links are to my reviews); not having a bag – hell, not even having to use the [...]

  16. [...] This series shot with an Olympus OM-D, 12/2 and Sony RX100. [...]

  17. [...] set was shot with an Olympus OM-D, ZD 12/2, 45/1.8 and Sony RX100. As usual, click on any image to go to its Flickr landing page; EXIF data is intact on the right [...]

  18. [...] equivalent for the Zeiss 2.8/21 Distagon which is my current mainstay for architectural work. The Sony RX100 covered everything else. Enjoy! [...]

  19. [...] have the desired focal length preset before powering on; something I wish the otherwise very fast Sony RX100 could [...]

  20. [...] This set was shot with an Olympus OM-D with the 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses, and a Sony RX100. [...]

  21. [...] where photography isn’t my priority, but you just never know. These days, that’s the Sony RX100. I might even take out the F2T if I’m feeling particularly slow and contemplative, and the [...]

  22. [...] isn’t really an issue anymore; it hasn’t been for compacts since about 2009. My Sony RX100 will shoot 20MP, 14-bit RAW + JPEG fine images at 10fps for 10 frames. – Price: even the best of [...]

  23. [...] variable-aspect, 1/1.7″, 24-90/1.4(!)-2.3 – variable aspect ratios, lens speed, macro – Sony RX100 – 20MP (!), 1″, 28-100/1.8-4.9 – low light use/ resolution/ dynamic range/ [...]

  24. [...] I’ve run some RAWs through my normal workflow. However, recent experiences with first the Sony RX100 and more recently, the Fuji XF1, have made me revaluate this: in fact, the XF1 has such good [...]

  25. [...] Self explanatory, really. The camera includes a Richard Franiec grip and one spare original battery, plus boxes/ papers and whatnots. Just throwing this one out there as I could keep it or not; it’s an excellent pocket camera. It’s just that I seem to be using the GR1v a lot more than the RX100 these days. Also, if I sell this one, I can pick up something else to review for you guys Note: the camera has a couple of small paint loss marks on the left border of the LCD, otherwise it’s perfect. Under 4k actuations on this one. My full review is here. [...]

  26. [...] that as with all of these compact film cameras, there’s no continuous AF or drive modes (Sony RX100 with subject tracking and 10fps, anybody?). In any case, you probably wouldn’t want them; [...]

  27. [...] served as my carry-everywhere camera for two years until the E-PM1 showed up, since replaced by the RX100. I digress: as excellent as the later generation GR-Digital series is, I’ve always felt the [...]

  28. [...] take-everywhere companion, I’ve probably tried most of them. Current top of the heap is the Sony RX100; I’ve also used the GR-Digital series, Fuji XF1 and Panasonic LX/ Leica D-Lux series. For [...]

  29. [...] that basis, you’d imagine that I’d have the Sony RX100 since it fulfills almost all of those criteria. I did for a while, then a few things about it [...]

  30. [...] His last point is that many compacts are really good now. Some good candidates are the Sony RX100 (but have an extra battery) because is has a 1″ 20MP sensor and a 28-100MM zoom which is a [...]

  31. […] Tokyo. Sony RX100. (I include camera info to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter what you […]

  32. […] Tokyo. Sony RX100 (I include camera info here solely to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter what you […]

  33. […] Tokyo. Sony RX100. (I include camera info to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter what you […]

  34. […] Tokyo. Sony RX100. (I include camera info to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter what you […]

  35. […] Tokyo. Sony RX100. (I include camera info to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter what you […]

  36. […] Tokyo. Sony RX100. (I include camera info to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter what you […]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,864 other followers