Surpringly small for a 20.2-megapixel camera with a large (13.2x8.8mm) sensor, the RX100 is made of metal and equipped with a large stabilized Carl Zeiss T* 28-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 lens with four aspherical elements. The three-inch 1.2-million-dot LCD, with WhiteMagic technology for great brightness, provides an excellent display; but it does not tilt or rotate. A mechanism to allow such movement would have made the camera thicker and heavier. As it is, the RX100 is definitely shirt-pocket size when the lens is retracted.
Features and Operation
The very solid body, loaded with capabilities for experienced shooters as well as novices, may be a bit small for large hands, since there's no grip. Hold it with two hands for the best stability. To keep the body small, there's no method for attaching an external flash nor any type of viewfinder. The LCD is excellent, although a tilt feature would be useful. On very bright days around Lake Huron, I wished that the RX100 were compatible with an add-on EVF.
There's a control ring around the lens whose function can be set in the menu. This ring is too easy to nudge inadvertently, so don't set it to control the ISO or exposure compensation. I used it for aperture selection in A or M mode. Sony also provides some very small analog controls, including several buttons and a four-way controller with a control dial. Press [Fn] to access a sub-menu of up to seven frequently-used functions; a menu item lets you specify which functions should be available here.
Serious shooters will appreciate the P, A, S and M modes with overrides; as well as the five picture styles with overrides for colour, sharpness, and contrast; the 13 special-effects filters; and the very useful Sweep Panorama mode, Dynamic Range optimizer (for lighter shadow areas), and Auto HDR (for high-dynamic range JPEGs) functions. Surprisingly, there are no image-enhancement features in Playback mode.
Novices should love the Auto Portrait Framing mode; take a portrait photo and the camera will crop if for a pleasing rule-of-thirds composition, scale it back up to 20.2 megapixels, and save it as an extra JPEG. The processor uses per-pixel resolution interpolation to retain fine image quality; that's also used when 2x Clear Image digital zoom is active. Two Auto modes are available with simplified methods to adjust background defocus, brightness, colour balance and saturation. Many special-effects functions can be used in either Auto mode, but Superior allows the user to activate some of the advanced features as well.
The RX100 can shoot Full HD 1920x1080 videos at 60fps in AVCHD 2.0 format for beautiful movies. If you often edit your clips, switch to the more software-friendly MP4 format, at up to 1440x1080. It's also possible to shoot a 17MP photo while recording a video, if using 1440x1080 or a lower resolution level. Active stabilizer mode minimizes blur from camera shake and sound is recorded with a stereo mic. The optical zoom continues to function, as does Continuous autofocus. There's a lot of versatility in Movie mode, with control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO, as well as several overrides such as Dynamic Range Optimizer and special effects.
Speed and Quality
The Sony RX100 powers up in 1.6 seconds, responds almost instantly to a touch of the shutter release. I never missed a shot outdoors where it focused in 1/4 to 1/3 second; that increased to 3/4 seconds or a bit more in a very dark cathedral. The Continuous (Servo) autofocus kept up with moving people at the Caribbana Children's parade in Toronto, but not with faster action subjects. The RX100 can shoot large/fine JPEGs at 10fps but focus and exposure are locked at the first frame. When continuous AF was important, I used the 2.5fps drive option instead. Processing of a series of JPEGs is very quick, but it can take five to 10 seconds to process several RAW photos.
With its high-grade Carl Zeiss lens and large 20.2MP sensor, the Sony RX100 can capture photos that can be turned into huge prints, amazing performance for such a tiny camera. This image made a 16x22-inch print suitable for framing. Photo by Peter Burian
Images made without overrides are very pleasing, though with slight underexposure of light-toned subjects, but with vivid colours and moderately high sharpness. I found white balance a bit cool outdoors with AWB, so I switched to Cloudy Day WB. In harsh lighting, highlight areas tend to be excessively bright, especially if you use ISO 80 or 100; ISO 125 is preferable in high-contrast illumination.
My ISO 125 to 400 photos made stunning 13x19-inch prints; even larger outputs should look great. Because the 20.2 million pixels are small, high-ISO quality is not as impressive when shooting in very dark locations. Even so, ISO 800 is fine for very nice 11x15-inch prints, and ISO 1600 for letter-size prints of that quality. When shooting in a very dark location, switch to the Anti Motion Blur or the simpler Handheld Night Scene mode. Either mode will quickly fire six JPEGs and merge them into one, discarding some of the digital noise. An ISO 3200 photo will resemble one that you made at ISO 800 earlier with a conventional mode.
Small enough to fit into a pocket, the Cyber-shot RX100 with its large sensor is no lightweight in terms of speed and functions for advanced photographers. It's also unusually versatile in Movie mode. This camera delivers amazing image quality, thanks to its 20.2MP sensor and advanced processor; that should be attractive to anyone who often needs huge prints.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Useful high-ISO multi-frame modes
Lots of user control in Movie mode
LCD is difficult to see in bright sun
Light tones can be too bright
No image retouch features in Playback
NUTS & BOLTS
Sensor: 20.2MP Exmor CMOS (5,472 x 3,648 pixels)
Capture modes: JPEG, RAW, AVCHD 2.0 to 1920x1080/60p and MPEG-4 to 1440x1080
Lens: Carl Zeiss T* 28-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-4.9, with optical stabilizer
LCD/viewfinder: 3" Xtra Fine 1.2-million-dot WhiteMagic fixed screen; no viewfinder, built-in or optional
Features: Versatile 25-point AF, manual focus with focus peaking, two-axis level gauge, 2 Auto modes, Tele Zoom Hi Speed, P, A, S, M, 2D or 3D Sweep Panorama, 14 Scene modes, Movie with still photo capture, 5 picture styles with overrides, built-in flash, up to 10fps continuous drive or 5fps with AF, dynamic range optimizer, many overrides, 13 special-effects features, stereo mic
High-tech amenities: Anti-Motion Blur and Handheld Night Scene mode, HDR, 2x Clear Image Zoom and digital zoom, HDMI output
Power: Rechargeable Li-ion battery for 330 shots
Memory-card format: MemoryStick PRO Duo series, or SD, SDHC, SDXC
Size: 102 x 58 x 36 mm (w/h/d)
Weight: 240g with battery