Sony RX100 – the new king of pocket cameras?

Sony Rx100, 0.8 secs at f/8, ISO 125

Many photographers are constantly seeking the “perfect” pocket camera … something which can record a decent quality image suitable for printing in some larger sizes such as 16×20.  I’ve tried many of these little cameras and have written about most of them.  I started with a Canon G9 moving up to a G11 before switching over to a Canon s90 and later s95.  Currently my carry everywhere camera is the Canon G1x and delivers great quality for its’ size.  I wrote about it quite some time ago, and overall I’ve been quite pleased. The main feature of the G1x is it’s a “point and shoot” that’s not a point and shoot.  It has a 1.5″ sensor, nearly as large as the sensors in cameras like the Canon 7d or Rebels and has very well designed lens.  To “qualify” as a usable camera in this category the camera must have full manual controls, including manual/aperture/shutter settings, and must save the files in a raw format, allowing fine tuning in post processing.  Most point and shoots don’t have all of these capabilities but for those wanting something more than just a “point and shoot” there are some alternatives.

The advantage of a larger sensor are many, such as better noise performance, less depth of field at wider angles for more creative choices.  The desire to get these qualities in a smaller camera has been a growing trend over the past few years, as we’ve seen the appeal of formats like Micro 4/3rds, Canons G1x, and Nikons V1/2 models, as well as cameras from Sony such as the NEX series.  As cameras in cell phones have quickly supplanted dedicated point and shoot cameras, manufacturers such as Sony, Canon, Nikon and Olympus are looking to offer something that might still appeal to the those wanting just a little more, and a larger sensor is a major part of that appeal.  The disadvantage is non of them are really pocket cameras.  Most are close, for example my G1x sits nicely in the bottom of my briefcase or backpack, but it won’t slip easily into a pocket.

1/160th at f/3.5, ISO 200

Sony’s recent entry into this market (not that the NEX 7 is very large, just not quite point and shoot size) is the Sony RX100.  It features a 20mp 1″ sensor which is substantially larger than the sensors in traditional point and shoots ( the same size as the Nikon 1 series of cameras).  Sony appears to be the current leader in sensor design, making the sensors for Nikons higher end cameras.  I don’t want to get into all the technical details or pixel peeping thing here, enough of that can be found else where.  What I did find was the quality of the files from the camera were excellent … far better than I’ve ever seen from any camera this size, as good and usable as those from my G1x.

1/50th at f/f.6, ISO 200

The camera feels solid, with a little more weight than the Canon s100.  The lens seems well made and retracts far enough to keep the size small (the camera has drop detection which tries to retract the lens if it is dropped before it hits the ground).  Compared to the G1x the camera is quite small, here you can see the Sony next to the G1x, with a couple of smaller point and shoots behind … as you can see this new camera really isn’t much larger than the point and shoots.  It will definitely fit into a pocket.  One compromise which I did miss was the screen doesn’t articulate … a trade off to keep it smaller.

Sony RX100 next to my Canon G1x. Some other Canon point and shoots behind them.

The main adjustment control is a ring around the barrel.  This will default to control aperture or shutter speed when in those modes, and will control other things as you cycle through them.  The ring turns very smoothly, and the interface on the back is very clear at showing what is being controlled graphically with a semi circle of settings.  I found getting to most important things like ISO, etc. was intuitive, and overall the camera interface works well.  There are a few quirks but so far none of those “what were they thinking” moments.   I only had the camera for short time, so I shot a few things in the mall during lunch and then grabbed a few shots at Temple Square in Salt Lake when attending the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.  I wasn’t able to take a tripod, all I had was a gorilla pod, but with such a light camera it did a decent job.

1/125th at f/1.8, ISO 1000 (handheld)

One of the best features of the camera might just be it’s lens. It’s a Carl Zeiss designed zoom, 28-100mm equivalent (the G1x is a 28-112mm equivalent).  It’s not a great range, only about a 4:1 zoom … something all of these cameras are challenged with is small lenses for such a big sensor on a small body.  But what I found particularly interesting was at wide angle, the lens opens to f1.8 … something very hard to find to find in lenses today.  With that aperture low light is even easier to do, and shallow depth of field much more attainable.  Despite the sensor in my G1x being larger, at equivalent fields of view I can get a similar depth of field with the Sony because I can open it up a stop more.

1/125th at f/1.8, ISO 1000 (handheld)

I won’t bore you with more details, but if you are looking for the best “serious” camera that will actually fit in your pocket, this is probably the one.  For some more in depth info I would recommend Michael Reichman’s review at Luminous Landscape which includes some nice 100% crops to see the great detail, or if you really want the techno stuff check out DPreview’s write up.

The built in pano feature is quite good.

 

 

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