Wilkinson Cameras in Kendal kindly let me have a play with the new Sony RX100. It’s a camera that has been getting excellent reviews on the web and I was very interested in giving it a go and comparing some images against other cameras I’ve have, and have owned. The obvious competitor here has got to be the Nikon J1/J2. I know it doesn’t have an interchangeable lens, but with the same sized sensor, its similar price, the same semi-serious/up-market consumer feel, and with most people probably only ever using the kit 10-30 on their J1 – not to mention to strikingly similar looks, I think it puts it squarely up against the J1. You may think it would be a rival for the G1x, but I disagree. The G1X is a much larger more serious amateur/pro user camera, and I don’t think that is where Sony are aiming this at and I doubt many people looking at an RX100 would be looking at the G1X as well.
After what seemed like a bit of a sensible pause, it appears the camera manufacturers are charging ahead again with the megapixel race, with Sony seemingly leading the way. First with the 24Mpx NEX-7, and now this. Having been disappointed with the NEX-7, my initial reaction was to think that I wish they’d kept it down to 12 or 16Mpx, but then the reviews started creaping out and all seemed to rave about it, which then just got me interested even more!
Not having used it for a long period, I can’t really comment on the build quality too much, but the metal case does feel like a solid quality product – about on a par with the Nikon 1 range.
The menu system is much more dSLR than compact camera, very easy to navigate around and clearly aimed at the enthusiasts. I love the ring on the lens, which can be set to change the aperture, shutter speed etc with a simple and easy twist – far better than a button on the back. I much prefer this to the NEX-series menu systems, which are almost designed to be used by someone who doesn’t really know what they are doing, but can be frustrating for anyone else.
All other controls are easy to operate and it’s quite a clean design with just the right number of buttons to not be overwhelmed, but enough to not have to dive into the menu system too often.
Zoom range is good, although at the 100mm long end, it isn’t the fastest around at f/4.9 (the X10 is f/2.8 at 112mm, LX5 is f/3.3 at 90mm) but about on a par with most of the other compacts, and the J1’s kit lens. The larger sensor here does make a huge difference to the depth-of-field and you can get a nice pleasing out of focus background fairly easily, which is unusual from a compact non-interchangeable lens camera. The wide angle is a quite wide at 28mm, although I did notice some distortion, so anyone standing towards the edge of the frame is likely to look a little stretched out – that’s kind of par for the course with a wide angle anyway so not too much of an issue. Macro mode works well and you can pretty much put the lens right up to the object you’re shooting. The lens is from Zeiss and is very good for a compact camera, perhaps a touch soft for me, but then I am coming from a background of using the Fuji X100 and X-Pro 1 cameras that produce some of the sharpest around so maybe I’m being a little harsh there! I’d like to see the results in RAW before passing too much judgement as Sony JEPGs can be a little over processed.
In general day-to-day shooting the AF is fast and accurate. Face-detection works well, and is something I really wish Fuji would add to their higher-end cameras. General results are very impressive for such a tiny camera, with the almost fool-proof iAuto setting, it would be hard for someone to go wrong with it. Hand it over to Auntie Marg. and she will be able to simply press the button and get great results from it straight away! I don’t have any particularly inspiring images from it, but what samples I have are shown below this mini-review. Set it into the A/P/M advanced modes and you can control the settings to your hearts desire and get creative – the best of both worlds really.
I didn’t get much chance to try out the high ISO settings as I was using it during the daytime, but I tried it at ISO 3200 and 6400 and was quite impressed with the results. The JPEG processing is a little too obvious at these higher ISOs, but for a point-and-shoot it’s fantastic and certainly belies the 20 mega pixels of the sensor, which should mean it doesn’t perform as well as the J1 with ‘only’ 10 at higher ISO settings. I’d say results were pretty much on a par with the Nikon despite double the number of pixels. It has to make you wonder what they could have done if they’d kept it to 12 or 16Mpx though. I’d be interested to see the RAW files, but Lightroom doesn’t yet have a converter so I can’t process them, but will be doing so when it becomes available. If it is anything like the J1, then the results in RAW will be much better than the JPEG files. I’ll come back and update the review when I can look at those RAW files.
I like the look of the RX100, it’s a nice clean simple design. It is much more expensive than cameras such as the upmarket G12, LX5, X10 point-and-shoots. If you have that bit extra cash and care about the quality of images that this camera can produce I’d certainly recommend it over those cameras. Even the larger-than-compact point-and-shoot sensor of those cameras can’t come close to the high ISO performance and detail that this little Sony can produce, and in such a small package too – although that is also perhaps a downfall for me. Personally I prefer a camera that I can really get hold of, and whilst the size of the Sony is fantastic to carry around, I’d be a little afraid of dropping it. I’d probably be wanting a 3rd party grip on there such as the one by Richard Franiec.
If I was in the market for a compact camera with a non-interchangeable lens this would be the one I’d go for. I’d even be tempted to say that I’d go for it instead of a Nikon J1/J2 as I don’t feel the J-series is likely to be bought by many people who actually care that much about interchangeable lenses, but rather people who actually just want better quality images than a good point-and-shoot. This camera delivers the same quality images but in a much smaller package as it doesn’t have a big lens stuck out on the front – it is truly pocketable where the J1 isn’t.
There is a big but though, which is that you’ve got to really want a point-and-shoot sized camera over something perhaps a bit more capable with an interchangeable lens to justify the price. I know it’s about to be replaced, but with the Sony NEX-5N currently hovering around the £400 mark, and others such as the GX1 at £450-ish, you’ve really got to want convenience over image quality to justify the £150 extra above the 5N, and £100 over the G1X, which do both produce better images and have a good range of lenses available should you wish to advance in the future. The Fuji X10 started around the £550 mark and has now descended down to around £350, the RX100 could certainly follow in its footsteps and once the RX100 gets to that sort of price bracket then it’s a simple no-brainer – it will be by far the best quality/value compact around to buy.