Sony RX100: the first full review

Sony RX100 Review

This morning Sony announced its ‘game-changing’ compact camera, the RX100, which has created quite a buzz with its 1-inch Exmor CMOS sensor, full manual control and fast f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss 3.6x optical zoom lens with an equivalent focal length of 28mm-100mm. Our testing team was one of the first to get their hands on Sony’s new premium compact camera and spent the long weekend here in the UK testing out its impressive spec list.

Our team has posted the first full, scientific Sony RX100 review over on our sister site, TechRadar. So go there for all your RX100 sample photos, noise charts and more. If you want some of the review highlights and the verdict… well, find out below what our experts thought.

Sony RX100 Review

In a declining compact market, camera manufacturers are turning their attentions to producing better and better image quality in what seems like ever smaller packages.

These days, consumers who decide to buy a dedicated image taking device expect to get a lot for their money, and expect it to deliver something which their mobile phone can’t. With the RX100, Sony is turning its attention well and truly towards the premium end of the market, going head-to-head with the likes of the Canon S100, Panasonic LX5, Olympus XZ-1, and potentially even some compact system cameras such as the Nikon 1 J1.

A large sensor size is the key to producing good image quality, and here Sony has chosen a 1 inch Exmor CMOS sensor, which in terms of size is the same as that found in the Nikon 1 J1, and is only beaten in the compact arena by the Fujifilm X100 and Canon G1X.

Sony RX100 Review: Carl Zeiss lens

There are a number of other premium elements to be found on the diminutive RX100 body, including full manual control, the ability to shoot in raw format and a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 at the wide end and f/4.9 at the telephoto end.

One of the key areas Sony will be shouting about in its marketing material is the RX100’s low light capability. Coupled with the f/1.8 lens, it also has a sensitivity range from ISO 125 – 6400 and is equipped with the latest generation Bionz processor.

The lens is also likely to be highlighted, offering the widest aperture of any compact camera currently on the market, though this matched by the Olympus XZ-1 and Samsung EX-1, both of which have faster apertures at their telephoto end. Although designed by Sony, it has been produced in partnership with Carl Zeiss, boasts T* coating to reduce ghosting and flare, and has a seven aperture blades for producing attractive circular bokeh.

Autofocusing is claimed to be as quick as 0.13 seconds in bright conditions, slowing down to 0.23 seconds in dark scenes.

Full HD video recording in 50p is also available, along with a number of other features that can be found in Sony Alpha DSLT cameras. These include Auto Portrait Framing, Clear Zoom technology, Sweep Panorama and photo creativity guides.

For a more detailed look at some of the Sony RX100 features, check out the video below by Amy on our testing team, who got to test the RX100 before anyone else.

The Sony RX100 Verdict

Our testing team put the Sony RX100 through its paces. Here are some of the key points from the full test and our testing team’s final verdict on the Sony RX100.

On Build Quality & Handling…

With the RX100, Sony has gone for a very sleek and smooth design, with a total body size that is fantastic for the amount of power contained within.

Although it is small, it is weighty enough and feels solid enough to give it a feel of real quality. The metal chassis also feels tough enough to withstand the odd knock and scrape. To back this up is the automatic drop detection that sees the camera retract its lens to protect itself should it detect a sudden fall.

Sony RX100 Review: top view

Again, although it is diminutive, Sony has made good use of space on the RX100 with a sensible button layout. The buttons themselves are well made, and give a satisfying click when pushed. Each of the buttons on the back of the camera is customisable, depending on how you prefer to shoot – or the settings you want to use most often.

On Performance

Colours are bright and punchy, without being overly vibrant. Colours are also represented well in the majority of cases, with skies appearing natural and skin tones looking particularly good.

With its larger sensor and wide aperture lens, the RX100 is capable of producing some very creative images with blurred backgrounds.

Sony is keen to emphasise the quality of the lens attached to the RX100, which is produced by Carl Zeiss and features T* coating. It performs very well, with very little ghosting or flare to be found, even when shooting in direct sunlight.

The wide aperture is also fantastic when shooting in lower light conditions, meaning you can still retain a lower sensitivity value with fast enough shutter speeds to get blur-free images in reasonably dark conditions.

Those images that are shot at higher sensitivities, such as ISO 800 and 1600 retain a good level of detail while also managing to keep image noise down. Sony admits that noise levels are higher than on one of its biggest likely rival cameras, the Canon S100, but also says that detail is retained better. Our time with the camera indicates this to be true, providing a good balanced image.

Sony RX100 Review: back view

On Noise and Dynamic Range

For signal to noise ratio, the RX100 compares favourably against all of the other comparable cameras. Although it is beaten in the lower sensitivities by the Canon S100 and Canon G12, it is more consistent throughout its sensitivity range, beating all of the comparable cameras at higher ISO settings (ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400).

In terms of dynamic range, the RX100 is again the most consistent camera in the test. At the very lowest sensitivities it is beaten by other cameras, but at mid-range sensitivities it performs very well, really coming into its own at high sensitivities, beating all of the comparison cameras at ISO 3200 and 6400, and all but one of the cameras at ISO 1600.

Sony RX100 Review

Sony RX100 Final Verdict

With the RX100, Sony has produced a very interesting and very impressive camera. The sensor is large enough to produce high quality images and deliver good low light performance while also being small enough to mean the overall body size of the camera remains exceptionally sleek.

If we were assessing the camera based solely on what it is capable of outputting, it would be easy to say that this camera is near-on perfect for the target market.

It produces excellent images with just the right level of vibrancy, performs well in a number of conditions and perhaps most importantly can fit in a jeans pocket.

Unfortunately, there are a few niggles to be had with the handling that keep this from being the perfect offering. The number of functions that cannot operate in raw format shooting for instance, are a bit of let-down.

For those looking for a back-up camera for when the DSLR is too bulky or inconvenient, Sony has produced a truly great camera that should also appeal to anybody wanting to trade up from a mobile phone or budget compact camera.

We liked
The stylish and small exterior houses a powerhouse of a camera that produces fantastic images for a compact. The fantastic screen quality is also something worth highlighting.

We disliked
It would be great for options such as Clear Zoom and Picture Effects to be available when shooting in raw format – or at least for there to be a quick way to switch to JPEG only.

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