Sony RX100 review

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It’s rare in photography that image quality doesn’t suffer the more compact the camera becomes. The two just don’t work well together. It’s a purely physical thing. It’s this very enigma that camera makers have set out to resolve in recent years. They’ve succeeded so far in offering a largely improved quality of image in semi-pro camera that’s smaller than a reflex and in the ideal still fits in ones pocket. In this market segment the competitors abound each competing with their particular talents.

But when the compactness becomes a key criteria, and we will not allow sacrifice in the quality of the image the number of competitors is drastically reduced. The Sony RX100 surfaces as a serious APN contender with it’s incredibly small size that still includes a large sensor and a quality lens. In this class we can also include the Canon powershot S100 and S110, the G-15 disqualified by its exaggerated frontal encumbrance. These two share the same design concept. (see the test of the Canon Powershot S100)

 

Sony RX100 review : Owner’s tour.

The Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 is a digital compact gifted with a large 1” sensor , a size that appeared last year with the hybrid compacts Nikon 1 (J1 andV1) with which we will compare with the Sony sensor. In fact it’s a new CMOS sensor that Sony is inaugurating with in the RX100, with a resolution of 20 m.p. In 4:3 format with an ISO range of 80 – 6400. Then in order to access higher ranges of sensitivity 12,800 and 25,600 ISO the RX100 uses “Superimposing” and “By pixel” technologies allowed by the high speed of the sensor. The RX100 offers full HD in video mode at 50 fps and offers some advanced modes recently developed by Sony often involving multi images: 10 fps bursts, panoramic images by “sweeping”, HDR, night shots without tripod, out of focus backgrounds, etc…

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Black classy design for the Sony RX100 which shows the world what it is made for : taking photographs.

 

A second important feature that the RX100 offers is its Carl Zeis Vario-Sonnar T*lens whose focal lengths equal those of a 28-100 zoom. A very fast 1,8 in wide angle mode that unfortunately closes quickly as we zoom to 4,9 at 100 mm. The optical formula employed by Zeis in the RX100 uses AA (Advanced Aspherical) lenses which greatly reduce the size of the zoom. Its diaphragm is composed of 7 circular leaves for much nicer out of focus background effects. If we start to get picky we could impose a computer model of our ideal zoom that would’ve given the wide angle 24 or 25mm. A 25-100mm would’ve been perfect for more spectacular landscapes, but this one comes pretty close. Also its telephoto wide open setting of 4,9 is a bit restrictive and deprives us of the maximum background softness that could be offered by an f/2,8 or 2,5. We do realize though that a few compromises must be made to maintain such a compact size.

Less compact, but gifted with a Full Frame 24MP sensor, the Sony RX1 spent a few days in my hands as well. You can read the Sony RX1 review.

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The RX100 is pretty slim for a big 1″ sensor camera.

 

Which brings us to compactness, the third big advantage of the RX100, one which exposes the Achilles’ heel of its expert compact competitors such as the Canon G-15, Fujifilm X10, etc…

Its compactness is exemplary. Its dimensions (101,8 x 58,1 x 25,9mm) makes it the 2 nd smallest in its category, just behind the Canon S110 by a few mm.s, but the Canon has a much smaller sensor

(1/1,7”). The RX100 weighs just 240 grammes. Its not heavy but it is dense, and for good reason: its finish is admirable, the body is made of aluminum. Its a lovely object.

Its compact form is underlined by the telescopic lens which retreats entirely into the body after use, and that changes everything! Take the Fujix10 or the Canon Powershot G1 X, it’s often the lens thats bothersome while carried, keeping you from being able to slip them into your pocket. A detail you say, not really because the best camera that you have is the one you have with you!

Using the RX100

The RX100 is a very fast camera to use, as Sony knows so well how to make. There’s no standard visor, just a 1,229,000 pixel screen, with Sony’s new “WhiteMagic” technology. One we appreciated, very readable even in bright sunlight even though it has its limits, as they all do. Ergonomically speaking it’s no reflex, but defends its self brilliantly due to its interface and the ring around the lens that allows one to make many of the most frequent adjustments. Knowing who its addressing its self to, allowing many personal adjustments, the ring we mention allows the photographer to adjust the ISO, manual focus, format, etc..

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The SOny RX100 has not got any viwfinder but I did not miss it… it has a superb screen.

…. Photographers who prefer a more traditional functioning would’ve preferred seeing the RX100 with a manual ring that allows, diaphragm control, a manual focus ring, and a manual zoom, as the zoom operates from a classic little button. So in analysis the only real frustration we felt using the RX100 was the absence of a manual zoom.

The exposure control mode ring mixes the PSAM manual modes with the modes auto and auto superior, which are as effective as those of the Sony HX20V tested here and put in the hands of an experienced photographer will almost guarantee great results. The mode HDR is efficient and the cybershot DSC RX100 uses the DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) of reflexes and hybrids that preserves the details in the highlights and still keeps essential shadow details.

A battery of different special effects also allows one to play with the camera to give different textures, vignetting, filters “a la Instagram”, etc…

The small integrated flash is compact, but also quite effective in direct, but also allows repositioning to bounce off other surfaces.

RAW was a luxury option on digital compacts until recently, now they all offer the format it seems: RAW is offered. This allows white balance adjustments after exposure, to modify the more extreme tones, etc … in Lightroom which is compatible with the RX100 RAWs since it’s 4,2 version.

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The Sony RX100 has PASM modes but also Auto and Superior Auto mode to get the best of the manual and auto worlds…

 

The one inch sensor, large photosensitive surface and its competition If you want to compare the RX100 to its competitors, here’s a tip to help you find yourself among all the others. To position the RX100 sensor measures 1” diagonally , identical to the Nikon 1 J1 end VI.. It’s 4 times larger than the classic digital compact sensors of 1/ 2,3” and 1,7 times larger than ordinary digital compact sensors of 1 1,7” such as are found in the Panasonic LX7, Canon powershot S100 /G12 / G15, Samsung EX2F. Compared to the 2/3” sensors of the Fujifilm X10,X-S1, X-F1, it’s 1,5 times larger. Compared to 4:3 sensors found in the hybrid micros such as the Lumix G and Olympus Pen or OM-D it’s 1,9 times smaller. Lastly next to the Canon Powershot G1 X it’s 2,25 times smaller.

 

 Sony RX100 review : Image quality on DxOMark benchmark

Comparisons of the RX100 sensor on the DxO bench test Here are the scores obtained by the 10 megapixel sensors of the DSC RX100 on the Dx0 bench test:

 

Dx0Mark Score : With 66 points , the RX100 places #54 in the hit parade of Cameras tested on the Dx0Mark which includes the the majority of dSLRs, but it’s the first in its category of digital compacts with zoom lenses. Only the Fujifilm X100 does better with its APS-C sensor.

Color depth :With 22,6 bits it classes 54th as well, and on top of all digital compacts excepting the Fujifilm X100.

Dynamic Range: With 12,4 EV, the CMOS 1” offers great potential for a digital compact. It places 32nd of all the cameras tested , equals those of the APS-C of the X100 and even passes some full frame DSLRs of the last generation such as the Nikon D700 and the D3 or the Sony Alpha 850. For purposes of comparisons the Canon EOS 5D mkII obtained 11,9 EV in our scores.

Low light sensitivity: No miracles here with a 1” sensor both large and small at the same time, it’s somewhere between the 1,17” of digital compacts and the APS-C of the or the 4:3 of the hybrid expert reflexes with its 390 ISO it classed 132nd in this category. The RX100 still holds first place in its reduced size compactness only passed by the much huskier Canon Powershot G1 X

Sony RX100 vs Canon S100

A dynamic sensor, quality lens, expert design in a pocket sized compact, are what these two have in common. The Sony with a 70% larger sensor surface with 20 megapixels compared to the 12 m.p. of the Canon it would seem to outclass the latter. The 2,4,um pixel pitch of Sony does surpass that of the Canons 1,8,um, but not by much.

Dx0Mark score: The Sony’s 66 points beats the Canon S100s 50. The differences can be found all along the different criteria of the DxO benchmark test. In color depth we gain almost 2 bits withe the Sonys (22,6 bits) compared to the Canons (20,7 bits).

Dynamic Range: The difference of the Sony is almost 1 EV or 0.8 EV to be exact. We’re almost a full stop away, and tangible differences can be seen in the extremes of the highlights and shadows seen in a RAW format image treated with a dedicated photo software program.

Low-light sensitivity: A larger sensor, larger photodiodes, more recent technology, the judgement is without appeal, the Sony RX100 is a stop and a third more sensitive than the Canon S100. The graph curves showing signal noise show clearly the superiority of the Sony, a difference that’s accentuated on a simulation “print”, where the noise is all but eliminated thanks to its higher resolution. (To do better) one would have to go to the new 1,17” sensor of the S100s successor the S110 on the bench test which is no longer CCD but CMOS backlit. The rapport of signal/noise in a standard “print” In the market niche of expert digital compacts a new backlit 1,17” sensor has made its appearance in the Photokina which will limit the performance differences between the RX100 and the new generation of premium digital compacts. The Nikon CoolpixP7700 is the first to have been thus equipped.

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Dxomark.com test results show how better the 1″ sensor is compared to a regular 1/1.7″ sensor.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 vs Fujifilm FinePix X10

The CMOS 2/3” sensor incorporated into the Fujifilm X10 (and the excellent super bridge X-S1)have the same proportional differences as the Canon S100 as compared to the Sony RX100 (1”sensor vs 2/3”) in what concern the factors of dynamic range and depth of colors. The damage is more limited in what concerns low light sensitivity with a measure DxOMark of 245 ISO, equivalent of 2/3 of those registered by the RX100s sensor (1” vs 2/3”). The image shown at 100% offers the same quantity of visual noise. On a paper print, the superior definition of the RX100 offers a slightly better rendition, the equivalent of 1/3 EV.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 vs Nikon 1 J1 With similar technology, two CMOS sensors,the same 1” surface of capture, offers a slight advantage in pixel pitch to the newer hybrid Nikon 1 J1 with 3’38,um as 2,4,um for the Sony RX100, but surprise the Sony beats the Nikon J1 easily with a global DxO benchscore of 66 points compared to the Nikon J1s 56.

Color depth: With 22,6 bits over 21,5 bits the Sony offers finer nuances than the Nikon. The supplemental gradations offered by 1 bit more are a bit difficult to see but the differences are real as proved by the DxOMark bench tests.

Dynamic range: Here’s where the the Sony’s CMOS 1” new sensor gains points on the Nikon J1’s. The Sony rates 1,4 EV exposure plus than the Nikon. We can see it on the diaphragm: the dynamics of the Sony develops more rapidly than the Nikon we see it when we lower the sensitivity of the Nikon. The same at 1600 ISO , at 100 ISO we see a difference of 1,4 Ev.

Low light sensitivity: Here’s a factor that confirms the logic of physics, while still underlining the great design of the Sony s 1” sensor. The size of the photosites on the Nikon are larger than the Sony’s which allows the Nikon to come out equal enlarged to the scale of 1:1 the Sony’s appears to be grainier than the Nikons, but when the two are blown up on a print, the natural destiny of a photo, the two are comparable in terms of smoothed signal noise on a 8 megapixel size print, where the Sony held its own with it’s 20 megapixel definition.

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Sony RX100 review : conclusion

To put it in simple terms, the results of the Sony test lead us to feel that it’s the best compact digital camera on the market that fits into your pocket. Its image quality is superior to any camera of the same size and sometimes better than some bulkier ones. If we except the Canon Powershot G1 X whose format is not comparable with the Sony, the Cybershot is the expert compact with the largest sensor. Its CMOS 1” sensor not only offers the best sensitivity of al the expert compacts , excepting the G1 X, it distinguishes its self equally by its depth of color and dynamic range. While it smashes the competition in its expert digital compact class, it also steps on the toes of certain hybrid compacts such as the Nikon1 J1,J2, and V1, more cumbersome and equipped with a sensor s that are a generation behind its 20 megapixels.

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On top of making a hit with its image quality, the RX100 also keeps pace with a user interface well thought out, its compact format, a nice viewing screen and an ambitious richness of functionality.

Sony RX100 review : sample photo gallery