DCRP

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is certainly no slouch in the performance department. The table below summarizes its performance in various areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.6 secs Average
Autofocus *
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 secs (W)
0.4 - 0.7 secs (T)
Above average
Autofocus *
(Low light)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(With incl. flash)
~ 3 sec Average

With the exception of its average flash recharge speed, the RX100's performance is at the top of its class. You'll do very little waiting when using this camera.

The DSC-RX100 has two burst modes: "regular", and speed priority. Here's what kind of numbers I was able to get out of the camera using a fast memory card:

Image quality Continuous Speed priority
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 12 shots @ 2.3 frames/sec 10 shots @ 4.3 frames/sec
RAW 16 shots @ 2.2 frames/sec 13 shots @ 4.6 frames/sec
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.5 frames/sec 14 shots @ 8.8 frames/sec
Tested using a SanDisk UHS-I SDHC card

Even though I couldn't hit the RX100's advertised top speed of 10 frames/second, 8.8 fps is still very good for a compact camera. The RX100 has a substantial amount of buffer memory, so it can keep shooting for quite a while before things slow down (a lot). Buffer clearing times can be in the 5 - 10 second range when shooting bursts of RAW images, though this only prevents you from taking another burst at full speed, or entering playback mode. The image on the LCD keeps up with the action fairly well.

Enough numbers and tables -- let's talk photo quality now!

Our macro test subject looks fantastic. Colors are super-saturated, the subject is sharp, and there's no noise to be found. I did have to use more exposure compensation than I normally do, but that's a minor issue.

The RX100 doesn't have a macro mode that you turn on, like on some cameras -- it's automatic. The minimum distance to your subject is 5 cm at wide-angle and 55 cm at telephoto.

The night shot turned out fairly well, too, though there's a fair amount of highlight clipping at the "low" ISO setting of 80 (which doesn't really improve at ISO 200). While I used manual exposure control to bring in enough light, you can let the camera do it automatically using the Auto or Scene modes. The photo is sharp for the most part, save for a bit of softness near the edges. There isn't any noise here (nor would I expect any), and purple fringing levels are low.

Let's use this same night scene to see how the DSC-RX100 performed at higher ISOs:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

The first three crops look nearly identical. Noise first becomes noticeable at ISO 400, but it's not too bad. That trend continues one stop higher, with detail loss now becoming an issue. Even with that, a mid-sized or perhaps larger print is still very possible. The ISO 1600 has pretty obvious detail loss, so I'd stop here (and stick to small prints), or switch to RAW. The top two sensitivities -- ISO 3200 and 6400 -- are best avoided, at least if you're using JPEGs. Do note that you can use Multi Frame NR at higher ISOs (though not when shooting RAW images, which I was doing here), which may result in slightly better high ISO images.

Normally I like to have a RAW vs. JPEG comparison in this spot, but since Photoshop doesn't read the RX100's RAW files yet, I cannot. Once it can, I will update this section of the review.

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

While not mind-blowing, the RAW conversion do look better than the original JPEGs, in two areas. First, there's a bit more detail captured (though noise is the trade-off). Second, there's slightly less highlight clipping, and you can recover even more detail if you do more than a straight conversion (which is what I always do in this test).

I'll show you another RAW vs. JPEG comparison in a moment.

[Night RAW comparison added 10/9/12]

Compact cameras always have trouble with redeye, and the RX100 is no exception. The only redeye reduction method it has is to fire the flash a few times before taking a photo, which rarely works in practice. Since there's no removal tool in the bare-bones playback mode, you'll have to remove this annoyance on your Mac or PC.

There isn't much barrel distortion at the wide end of the RX100's 28 - 100 mm lens. This photo gives you an idea of the effects of this distortion in the real world. While vignetting wasn't an issue, you will encounter some corner blurring at times (see example).

Now it's time to see how the RX100 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Let's see how the camera performed across its full ISO range:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 6400 (Multi Frame NR)

ISO 12800 (Multi Frame NR)

ISO 25600 (Multi Frame NR)

Everything is buttery smooth through ISO 800, with a tiny bit of noise appearing at ISO 1600. Noise levels remain quite low at ISO 3200, and even ISO 6400 is usable. If you turn on the Multi Frame NR feature you can shoot as high as ISO 25600 (though only for JPEGs). There's a slight improvement at ISO 6400 if you use that feature, but I'd pass on the top two sensitivities, as they're far too soft and noisy to be usable. The RX100 definitely impressed here, posting some of the best test results I've seen from a compact camera.

Let's do the same RAW vs. JPEG comparison that I performed in the night shot section. This time, I'll be working on cleaning up the ISO 6400 image with some easy post-processing in Photoshop:

ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

As you can see, the RAW image is noisier than the original JPEG, but it has quite a bit more detail as well. After running the image through NeatImage, a good portion of that noise is removed. Colors are quite a bit more punchy in the RAW conversion, as well. If you're shooting at the high end of the ISO spectrum, then it's well worth switching over to RAW.

[RAW comparison added 10/9/12]

Overall, the Cyber-shot RX100's photo quality is excellent. It's as close as you'll get to having an interchangeable lens camera or D-SLR in your pocket (the Canon PowerShot G12 is also very good, but is huge by comparison). The only real problem I had with the camera is occasional highlight clipping, especially if you're using ISO 80 or 100 (the default is actually ISO 125). Colors were nice and saturated outdoors, though photos taken in artificial light had a slight brownish cast (use WB compensation to get around that). Sharpness was just how I like it, with just a bit of blurring as you near the edges and corners of the frame (at wide-angle). As I just illustrated in the tests above, the RX100 keeps noise levels extremely low, until you hit ISO 800 in low light and ISO 3200 in good light. Try that on your typical compact camera! I did not find purple fringing to be a major issue.

I've got not one, but two galleries of photos taken with the DSC-RX100. Browse our standard or Lake Tahoe galleries and decide for yourself how the image quality looks!

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