Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Review


While it's not perfect, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is the closest thing to having an SLR-in-your-pocket that I've seen yet. While Canon tried the big sensor in a fixed lens camera thing with the PowerShot G1 X, that model is ungainly, to say the least. The RX100, on the other hand, is a sleek, all metal camera that fits in your jeans pocket. It's well put together, though there are a few design foibles, in this reviewer's opinion. First and foremost, this slippery camera needs some kind of grip -- badly. While I like the customizable ring around the lens, it doesn't protrude very far from the body, making it difficult to get ahold of. The tight controls and bottom-mounted HDMI port also take some points off of the RX100's otherwise high score.

The RX100 features an F1.8-4.9, 3.6X optical zoom Carl Zeiss T* lens, equivalent to 28 - 100 mm. While it's very fast on the wide end of the focal range, it's closer to average when you hit full telephoto. Sony's Optical SteadyShot system helps reduce blurry photos while smoothing out your movies. The real selling point of the RX100 is what's behind the lens, and that's its 1-inch, 20.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor. This sensor is roughly 4 times larger than what you'll find in a typical compact camera, which is why the RX100 blows the doors off of those cameras in the image quality department. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD display that packs a whopping 1.23 million pixels. Naturally, everything looks brilliant -- and outdoor / low light visibility is good, too. The RX100 does not support a viewfinder or an external flash (though it has a decent one built in).

Most of Sony's popular features can be found on the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. For point-and-shooters, that includes two Auto modes which will select a scene mode for you, with Superior Auto mode also using multi-shot features that reduce image blur and noise. Other handy automatic features include Anti Motion Blur (and its sibling, Handheld Night Scene) and Sweep Panorama. You can use the D-Range Optimizer feature to brighten shadows, and the HDR feature to improve contrast in heavily backlit photos. There are plenty of manual controls available too, including those for shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and focus. Manual white balance adjustments, focus peaking, and an electronic level are also available. Naturally, the RAW image format is supported. The control ring around the lens normally controls things like exposure or zoom, but plenty of other choices are also available. The RX100 also offers a customizable Function (shortcut) menu, and several buttons on the back of the camera can have their function redefined, if you wish. In movie mode you can record Full HD video at 1080/60p with stereo sound, use of the optical zoom, continuous autofocus, and manual exposure control. After all that good stuff, I find the RX100's playback mode to be quite lackluster, with no editing features of note, and stills separated from movies.

You'd expect a premium compact camera like the DSC-RX100 to be responsive, and it doesn't disappoint in that area. The startup time is around 1.6 seconds, focusing speeds are some of the best you'll find, and shutter lag was not noticeable. Shot-to-shot speeds hang around the 1 and 2 second mark, for JPEG and RAW respectively, with a delay of 3 seconds between flash photos. Continuous shooting speeds topped out at 8.8 frames/sec for JPEGs and 4.6 frames/sec for RAW, and the healthy amount of buffer memory keeps things going for around fourteen shots per burst. Battery life was tied for the number one spot in the premium compact category. I will point out that the internal charging system Sony uses isn't great for folks who like to have a spare battery always on hand.

Photo quality is about as good as you'll find on a compact camera. The RX100 takes sharp photos with vivid colors, and very little noise. The camera will clip highlights at times, though avoiding ISO 80 and 100 will reduce that problem. Noise is kept well under control until you hit ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. In good light you can even get away using ISO 6400, which would look like an impressionist painting on most compact cameras. The other problem I had with the RX100 is redeye -- it's pretty bad. Unfortunately, there's no removal tool on the camera, so you'll have to fix this annoyance on your PC.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is easily one of the top compact cameras on the market. For those looking for a pocketable companion to their interchangeable lens camera or D-SLR: here it is. At $650, it's not cheap, and the fact that you have to visit Sony's website to view the manual drives me nuts. Even so, those issues, along with the others I raised above, aren't even close to keeping me from giving the RX100 my highest recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality in a compact package; noise performance blows other compacts out of the water
  • Fast F1.8-4.9, 28 - 100 mm Zeiss lens
  • Ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display, with good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Full manual controls, including RAW support; focus peaking feature comes in very handy when manually focusing
  • Intelligent and Superior Auto modes make point-and-shoot photography a snap
  • Robust performance
  • Customizable ring around lens, buttons, menus, and more
  • D-Range Optimizer and HDR features improve contrast at the push of the button
  • Fun Sweep Panorama feature
  • Continuous shooting as fast as 4.6 fps for RAW, 8.8 fps for JPEGs
  • Helpful Shooting Tips and descriptions of each menu option
  • Records Full HD video at 60p with stereo sound, use of optical zoom, and manual controls
  • Above average battery life

What I didn't care for:

  • On the expensive side
  • Some highlight clipping
  • Redeye a problem
  • Needs a grip, badly
  • Other design annoyances: control ring around lens hard to get ahold of, HDMI port located on bottom of camera, can't access memory card or battery when using a tripod
  • Bare bones playback mode; can't view stills and movies at the same time
  • Internal battery charging isn't for everyone
  • Full manual is on Sony's website (and is not downloadable)

Some other premium compact cameras include the Canon PowerShot S100 (and the large-sensored, but bulky G1 X), Fujifilm X10, Nikon Coolpix P310, Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, and the Samsung EX2F.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our standard and Lake Tahoe photo galleries to see how the RX100's image quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.