The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 packs a 20.2-million pixel 1in CMOS sensor into a truly compact body and may just be the camera that bridges the size and quality gap between compacts and CSCs

Sony

enters what it calls the ‘expert’ compact camera market with its flagship Cybershot, the RX100, proudly stating that it is the company’s best Cyber-shot to date. On paper

and in the hand, the camera appears to be an amalgamation of different

class-leading compact cameras; its pocket size and simple design brings to

mind Canon’s PowerShot S100, the fixed 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss lens is akin to

the Zuiko lens on the Olympus XZ-1, while the imaging sensor is 4x larger

than a standard 1/2.3in compact at 1in (13.2×8.8mm) equals a Nikon 1 system

camera. 

With

a sensor much larger than a regular compact camera, the RX100 should be able to

provide a high resolution and improved low-light performance as the larger photosites receive

more light (which Sony claims are 3.6x the size of its own 18.2-million-pixel

Cyber-shot HX20V camera with 1/2.3in sensor).

The sensor is a CMOS type with a 20.2-million-pixel resolution and the ISO

range is 80-6400, which can be expanded to ISO 25,600 in the multi-frame noise

reduction (NR) mode. 1080 HD video files at 50p, raw and JPEG images are

processed using the same Bionz processor found in the Sony NEX-7.

Other

key features include a 10-frames-per-second burst high-speed shooting mode,

available in a 1 second burst for full-resolution files. The camera makes use

of these high speeds for multi-frame shooting modes, such as HDR which claims up

to ±6EV range, and certain picture effects, such as Rich Tone Monochrome. 

The

lens

As

previously mentioned, the Carl Zeiss lens covers an effective 28-100mm range,

with f/1.8-4.9 maximum aperture and minimum f/11. At the 50mm focal length, the

maximum aperture is f/3.2. This focal range is ideal for general use.

The

sensor size gives a 2.7x focal length magnification factor, so the lens is a true 10.4-37.1mm and, likewise, the aperture is multiplied by 2.7 to give an

indication of the equivalent full-frame depth of field. This means the maximum

f/1.8 aperture approximates to f/4.9 in a camera such as the Sony

Alpha 900, whereas the f/1.8 aperture in the Olympus XZ-1 is equivalent to

around f/8. The lens’s 3.6x zoom can be doubled by using clear image zoom,

which also features in the latest Alpha cameras like the Alpha 57.

  28mm

100mm

A

physically larger sensor is appealing but it requires a larger lens,

which is usually the key trade-off between size and image quality. Indeed, when

held next to the Canon PowerShot S100, the RX100 lens has a lot more glass.

However, this has not affected the overall bulk of the

camera as much as one would expect, and the RX100 has only a marginally bigger

body. The lens comprises 7 elements in 6 groups, including one aspherical

type and one optical image stabilisation (OIS) element. Each element features

the company’s ‘T’ coating, while circular aperture blades are designed to give

pleasant out of focus areas (bokeh). A downside to larger sensors is often the

minimum focus depth, but here it is an impressive 5cm at the widest focal

length, or 55cm at the tele-end. 

In

use

An

immediate impression of the RX100 is how well it is made. Its design is simple and elegant with a smooth all-black exterior small enough to slip comfortably into a trouser

pocket. The only textured part is the rubber thumb grip on the rear. The tough

aluminum body is going to last, and from the couple of days I have used the

camera it is resistant to scratches and markings.

100mm

Dominating

the rear is a 3.0in VGA LCD screen equipped with Sony’s Trublack

technology. The resolution of the screen is a whopping 1.229-million-dots,

which includes a white pixel for every red, green and blue one (RGB). We have

been impressed by this type of setup in Ricoh’s GR Digital IV. Sony claims this

setup increases contrast and that the screen is 2.5x brighter than the HX20V,

yet consumes 35% less power than a standard RBG screen. Indeed with a new

NP-BX1 battery, which Sony expects to bring into some of its future compact

cameras, the battery life is claimed to provide up to 330 shots, which is good

for a compact camera. 

28mm

Like

the Canon PowerShot S100, the lens features a control ring, which can be used to

control aperture or any of a number of key exposure controls including white balance and ISO, as well as manually focusing. With the

camera in manual exposure mode, the lens control ring can work with the control

wheel on the rear of the camera to adjust shutter speed and aperture, which

handily means the user does not have to press another button to switch between the two. 

Many

of the buttons can be customised, and up to 7 different controls can be

individually added to the menu accessed via the function button. Furthermore,

the ‘memory’ menu, accessed via its dedicated position on the shooting dial,

stores up to 3 exposure setups for quick access to regularly used

settings. 

Sony

Alpha users will be immediately familiar with the in-depth menu and the level

of control available on the RX100. Neat areas of handling include the peaking

control, designed to indicate the point of focus and overexposed

highlights. 

 

Images

I

have taken several images with the RX100, and early impressions are very

positive. For a camera of its size, the high resolution of the sensor

produces unrivalled file sizes and also a high level of detail. Colours in JPEG

files are bright and punchy without being overly saturated or ‘unreal’, while

there is plenty of detail in highlight and shadow areas, indicating the

camera’s dynamic range is rather good. The fixed Carl Zeiss lens appears to be

crisp over most of the frame, with minor drop off at the edges at the

wide focal length. We will comment in more detail on the image quality when the

camera receives a full test in the coming weeks. 

 

At

the time of writing, the estimated price of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is around

£550.

  • John Kelsey

    No viewfinder, so, no use when the sun do shine.

  • Pamela Amiet

    I really like the look of this camera as it ticks a lot of boxes;sadly it has no viewfinder which would put me off purchasing what otherwise looks an excellent compact to rival the Fujifilm X10

  • Martin Pelser

    It looks somewhat like the Canon S100, but with a decent size sensor and manages an f/1.8 aperture! Can’t wait to see sample images.

  • Marion Handford

    i am very excited to read about this camera and from the information and pictures shown, I will think very seriously about it being my next ‘small’ camera!

  • John Strain

    Thanks Tim for a very helpful mini review. It sounds a most exciting pocket camera which could well be just what many of us have been waiting for.