There’s stiff competition in the premium compact market, so can the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V do enough to pack a punch? Michael Topham reviews the latest pocket wonder
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V Review: Introduction
At a glance:
- 1in, 20.1-million-pixel, Exmor RS CMOS sensor
- ZeissVario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens
- ISO 125-12,800 (expandable to ISO 80 and ISO 100)
- 315-point hybrid AF system
- Up to 24fps continuous shooting
The lifecycle of different cameras varies considerably, and while it’s not uncommon to wait as long as four years for some DSLRs to be superseded by the next model, the waiting time in a compact series is usually much shorter. A good example is Sony’s RX100 series, which has presented five new models in the space of as many years. The original RX100 that surfaced in 2012 broke new ground in the way it became the first truly pocketable compact of its kind to squeeze a 1-inch size sensor within its petite body – something that helps to give these types of camera an edge over smartphones and much more basic compacts with smaller-sized sensors.
Since the early days of the RX100 series, the rivalry in the 1-inch-sensor pocket-compact area of the market has thrived, putting increased pressure on Sony to stay one step ahead. To fight off competition from the likes of Canon and Panasonic, Sony has released its fifth member in the RX100 series, but can this latest model solve some of the criticisms we picked up on when we reviewed the RX100 IV last year upgrade?
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review: Features
It’s easy to judge a camera by its appearance and although the RX100 V looks much like its predecessor, it promises big changes beneath the surface of its hardwearing aluminium metal chassis. Just like a Volkswagen Golf GTI looks distinctly normal on the outside, but is equipped with a powerful turbo-charged engine, it’s a similar story with the RX100 V.
Compared to the 20.1-million pixel Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor you get in the RX100 II and RX100 III, the configuration of the sensor is different. Sony describes the sensor inside the new RX100 V as ‘newly developed’, however it shares the same stacked CMOS design as its precursor and continues to offer a sensitivity range of 125-12,800, with the option to expand it to ISO 80 and ISO 100.
At just 2mm, the Exmor RS sensor repositions the circuitry from the edges of the sensor behind the photodiodes, or pixels. By doing so it prevents such high volumes of data having to work its way to the edge of the sensor, which results in a faster data-readout speed that’s said to be 5x faster than conventional cameras. To ensure the RX100 V feeds the data to its Bionz X processor at a speed it’s capable of dealing with, it incorporates DRAM memory directly behind the sensor to act as a buffer, which works in harmony with a newly developed front-end LSI processor that we’ve recently seen used within Sony’s flagship A-mount model, the Alpha 99 II.
The RX100 V’s advanced sensor and processor technology brings it bang up to date and allows the camera to shoot faster for longer. So just how much faster are we talking? Compared to the RX100 IV that maxxed out at 16fps, this new model has the ability to shoot at 24fps with continuous autofocus, making it the world’s fastest continuous shooting compact at the time of writing. It can shoot at this rapid speed up to 1/32,000sec thanks to a new anti-distortion electronic shutter designed to minimise distortion and deploy beyond the mechanical shutter’s 1/2000sec limit.
The RX100 V’s speed improvements don’t end here. It’s possible to record slow-motion video footage at up to 960fps (40x the normal frame rate) for twice as long as you could on the RX100 IV. Adding to this there’s 4K video recording with full pixel readout and no pixel binning, however there’s still no in-built mic port or headphone socket to the disappointment of some.
The RX100 V’s focusing ability is another area where it makes great strides. By implementing a faster and more precise Hybrid AF system, the acquisition speed of focus is now rated at 0.05secs, which is 0.04secs faster than the RX100 IV. On top of this there’s a dense coverage of AF points with as many as 315 phase-detection AF points covering 65% of the sensor’s image area. With the option to shoot at 24fps with AF/AE tracking for up to 150 shots, the RX100 V certainly seems well-equipped for freezing the action at any split second and holds on to the title of having the fastest hybrid autofocus system in a compact camera of its pedigree.
Elsewhere, the RX100 V inherits many of the features we’ve seen before. Those familiar with the RX100 series may recall the original RX100 and RX100 II models were equipped with a f/1.8-4.9 (28-100mm equivalent) lens, but like the RX100 III and RX100 IV, the RX100 V features a faster Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/1.8-2.8 lens covering a wider, but not quite as long 24-70mm equivalent, focal length. The pop-up and retractable 0.39-type electronic viewfinder with its 2.36-million-dot resolution is identical to the one found on the RX100 IV and the 3in, 1.23-million-dot articulated screen is the same too. It’s rather disappointing to find that touchscreen control is once again omitted, especially when its closest rivals and other new models such as the Sony Alpha 6500 are being rolled out with touch-panel operation.
Despite its pocket-compact status, there’s advanced exposure control and a full suite of manual modes for more experienced users, with a wide selection of scene selection modes for those who’d prefer simply to point and shoot. A built-in pop-up flash is positioned centrally above the lens and Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC is also present for anyone who’d like to transfer images to a mobile device or fire the camera wirelessly using the Sony Play Memories or Smart Remote Control apps.
The camera uses the same rechargeable NP-BX1 battery pack as previous models. In the past we’ve seen the RX100 IV take a hit in terms of the number of shots it could manage on a single charge compared to the RX100 III. It’s the same with the RX100 V. Unlike the RX100 III that could shoot 320 shots on a single charge and the RX100 IV that had a 280-shot battery life, the RX100 V’s battery life is rated at a rather meagre 220 shots.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review: Anti-distortion shutter
One of the side effects of equipping a camera with an electronic shutter is the rolling-shutter phenomenon created when you try to freeze an extremely fast moving subject at high speed. Rather than capturing an image of the whole scene at a single instant in time, the electronic shutter scans the scene, a process that can often lead to a high-speed subject being rendered as skewed or distorted.
The severity of the distortion depends on the speed of the subject you’re shooting. For example, you wouldn’t expect rolling shutter to affect an image of a golfer slowly putting a ball, but a golfer swinging fast with a driver is likely to result in the golf club appearing as if it’s bowed or flexed. One of the benefits of the RX100 V’s stacked CMOS sensor technology is that it offers extremely fast signal readout. By combining this with the RX100 V’s anti-distortion shutter, it’s designed to reduce the problems associated with the rolling shutter effect.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review: Build & Handling
Place the RX100 V alongside the RX100 IV and you’ll quickly realise that it’s almost a carbon copy of its predecessor. Viewed from the front they’re identical and the only obvious way of telling them apart is by glancing at the model name printed on the top-plate. The only other visual difference is the custom button icon, which now displays the delete/trash icon but performs the same task. It has exactly the same footprint as the RX100 IV and weighs the same at a fraction under 300g.
The good news about the RX100 IV’s body size and shape being identical means that it’s compatible with a wide range of accessories that existing users may already own. A must-have accessory for RX100 V users looking to enhance the feel of the camera in the hand is the optional AG-R2 rubber attachment grip (£13) compatible with all RX100 models.
As said when I tested other RX100-series cameras in the past, you get the sense this grip is a design remedy and the grip should have been originally sculpted this way. The truth is the RX100 V doesn’t feel anywhere near as comfortable, secure or as stable in the hand without the attachment grip. One of the reasons for this is the camera’s ultra-smooth metal finish. Although this adds to its premium-compact status and provides excellent protection from the occasional knock, it makes it rather slippery to hold in the hand. If you like to shoot single-handedly, but don’t use a wrist or neck strap, you run the risk of it slipping out of your grasp. The AG-R2 attachment grip and a good quality strap are imperative if you want to create peace of mind when you’re out shooting and avoid costly repairs.
The RX100 V offers very sophisticated control for a camera so small. To get around the issue of there not being enough space on the body for large buttons and dials, it provides a decent level of customisation from the main menu. The function menu loaded using the Fn button grants access to frequently adjusted shooting, image and exposure settings. The 12 listed settings can be ordered and assigned to your most commonly used variables – my only reservation with the Fn button itself is that it’s quite difficult to locate when you’re shooting in high-contrast conditions and you have the viewfinder raised to your eye. I found myself accidentally hitting the menu button instead of the Fn button numerous times, and I put this down not only to the small size of buttons but also to the way they sit virtually flush to the body. The RX100 V isn’t best suited to those with large hands or big fingers. It’s also worth noting that the camera becomes much more difficult to operate when wearing gloves, so ideally you should wear fingerless ones.
As well as the rear scroll dial, there’s a second control ring around the lens allowing control of both aperture and shutter speed to be made on the fly. It has a diamond-knurled texture to make it easy to find from behind the camera and can be customised to control a variety of effects including ISO, White Balance, Creative Style, Picture Effect, Exposure Compensation (+/-3EV) and Zoom. Set to the latter, I discovered that it offers excellent control when you want to adjust the zoom precisely – a minimum of two twists are required to get the zoom from wideangle to full telephoto. For general shooting in aperture priority and shutter priority modes I either had the lens ring set to control the zoom or adjust exposure compensation (+/-3EV).
The pair of switches used to manually raise the flash and EVF have a slightly raised profile. Running your thumb down the left edge of the body and flicking the finder switch springs the camera into life, but like the RX100 IV you need to pull the viewfinder towards you to engage it correctly and obtain access to the dioptre. The pop-up design is superb, with the in-built eye sensor providing the automatic transition between the LCD and EVF and vice versa. The camera powers down when it’s pushed flush with the top-plate and gives users an alternative way of viewing and composing images when bright sunlight can play havoc with reflections on the screen’s surface.
As good and clear as the viewfinder is, there are still a couple of things to be wary of. It’s instinctive to use your left thumb to push the viewfinder back in before it’s pushed back down, but doing so will get you reaching for your lens cloth to wipe off the finger marks you’ve just made. You’ll also want to avoid pushing the EVF too hard against your eye as there’s very little resistance to prevent it from being accidentally nudged back in.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review: Performance
The developments that have been made to the RX100 V centre around its autofocus system and its high-speed shooting capabilities. The 0.05sec acquisition speed is hasty by compact terms and no sooner is the shutter button half-depressed, the AF point illuminates green to indicate accurate focus. The camera feels just a fraction faster at locking onto subjects than the RX100 IV and you’re best off leaving the bright orange AF assist beam to Auto if you’re attempting to shoot close subjects in low light.
There were barely any signs of hunting back and forth and it’s hard not to be impressed by how well the focus tracking performs. After setting the focus mode to continuous and the focus area to Lock-on AF, I positioned the AF point bang in the centre of the frame and successfully tracked a group of cyclists as they passed in front of me. This AF tracking works particularly well in combination with the RX100 V’s 24fps continuous shooting and increases the chances of getting that pin-sharp shot of the action right before your eyes. This all sounds very positive, but if truth be told the user experience could be made so much better by introducing a touchscreen to aid the AF-point selection. Having the option to tap the screen with your thumb and fire the shutter with your index finger would make positioning the AF point over your subject faster and more intuitive. We’ve been waiting five years for an RX100-series camera to feature touchscreen control and it seems we’ll be waiting a while longer yet.
It’s not the type of camera you’d typically associate with speed, but Sony is obviously very keen to make it appeal to those who’d like their pocket camera to shoot as fast as possible. By processing its image data faster, the RX100 has no difficulty rattling out 150 Extra Fine JPEGs at 24fps – a jaw-dropping figure and a big jump from the 44 Extra Fine JPEGs the RX100 IV managed at 16fps. Switching the file format to raw sees the RX100 V record 72 images at 24fps. This is considerably more than the 29 raw files the RX100 IV can manage at its slower speed and sets the bar extremely high for future models in this area of the market. Staying on the subject of speed, users are provided with two zoom speed settings. Set to normal speed it takes 1.8secs to get from one end of the zoom to the other, compared to 1.2secs when set to fast.
Generally speaking, you can rely on the RX100 V’s evaluative metering mode to deliver well-exposed images, but there were a few times in high-contrast conditions where I found myself dialing-in around -1EV to protect highlight detail from being clipped. If you’d like the camera to optimise highlight detail and boost the brightness of shadow areas automatically, Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimiser (DRO) is available. Alternatively, if you’re shooting in the JPEG file format, you may wish to employ the camera’s HDR feature that has an auto setting as well as 1EV to 6EV manual control.
The RX100 V offers advanced video recording functionality. Its 4K footage is lovely and crisp and there’s also the opportunity to capture 16.8-million-pixel still images while you’re recording by tapping the shutter button. The continuous autofocus works well when shooting movies, but if you’d like to avoid the pesky whirring of the lens being traced in your footage it’s advisable not to use the zoom after the movie-record button has been depressed.
The real fun begins when you experiment with the camera’s slow-motion shooting, or high-frame rate (HFR) mode as it’s labelled on the mode dial. In principle, it works in exactly the same way as the RX100 IV’s slow-motion mode; the difference is that it lets you record slow-motion clips for double the length at up to 960fps. To put this frame rate into perspective, 1sec of real-time footage shot at 960fps is slowed down to about 40secs. Uses for it can range from watching how birds and insects dance in flight to analysing your golf swing at the driving range. It’s absolutely fascinating to see how different subjects react and move in slow motion and provides hours of fun.
It must be said the HFR mode isn’t the most intuitive and it could really benefit from an overhaul or a quick-start guide to make it easier for users to understand how the settings work and how they’re best used. The full suite of manual exposure settings (PASM) are available to set exposure as normal, and the general rule is that the shutter speed used always has to be faster than the frame rate selected. If you’d like to shoot slow-motion footage at 500fps say, the minimum permitted shutter speed you can use is 1/500sec. To resolve the best-quality footage without pushing the ISO too high, it’s always a good idea to attempt shooting slow motion in bright lighting conditions.
Before capturing slow-motion footage the camera must be focused and the exposure set. Only then can you put the RX100 V into its standby mode, which means you’re ready to begin recording with a press of the movie record button. There are two ways to capture slow-motion footage, and these are found in the main menu. Start Trigger begins recording the second that you press the movie-rec button and the footage is displayed live via the screen or the EVF, making it easy to track a moving subject. The alternative option is to use the End Trigger setting, which begins recording footage continuously as soon as the camera enters its HFR standby mode and finishes when you hit the movie-rec button.
Though the results of the slow-motion footage are fascinating to watch, I found it frustrating that the mode can’t be used in combination with the self-timer. This made it impossible to shoot slow-motion footage of my golf swing independently and required an assistant to trigger the movie-rec button at the precise moment.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review: Dynamic range, resolution and noise
We have the RX100 V’s 1-inch 20.1-million-pixel, Exmor RS CMOS sensor to thank for an excellent image quality performance. With the same pixel count as the RX100 IV and RX100 III, the RX100 V doesn’t make any major strides in terms of the detail it resolves, but continues to offer an improved dynamic range, better low-light performance and reduced levels of noise compared to other compact cameras with smaller 1/2.3-inch and 1/1.7 sensors. The dynamic range figures aren’t dramatically different to those we’ve recorded in the past on the RX100 IV or the RX100 III. As for its performance at high ISO, detail-rich results with low noise are achieved between ISO 80-800. Push beyond ISO 1,600 and you’ll need to make compromises in image quality, but saying that it’s still possible to create usable images by adding a little noise reduction to raw files in post.
The dynamic range figures aren’t dramatically different to those we’ve recorded in the past on the RX100 IV or the RX100 III. Our lab results tell us that at ISO 100 the sensor offers a respectable 12.5EV range, which only falls fractionally below 12EV at ISO 400. Such high figures at the low end of the sensitivity range indicates that there’s plenty of scope when it comes to returning detail to shadowed areas from raw files. The dynamic range drops approximately 1EV at each ISO setting beyond ISO 400, with 9.5EV being recorded at ISO 1600 and 8.3EV being recorded at ISO 3200. Figures remain above 6EV right up to the RX100 V’s top sensitivity setting of ISO 12,800.
Pocket compacts with 1-inch size sensors are renowned for producing impressive detail for their size. The RX100 V is no different and set to its lowest expanded ISO 80 setting the sensor resolves a notable 3,000l/ph. The level of detail resolved by the sensor remains at this figure up to ISO 400 and it’s only when the sensitivity is pushed beyond this point that we begin to see the resolution start to drop. At ISO 800 it reaches 2,800l/ph, with 2,600l/ph being recorded at ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200. As the sensitivity is increased further noise affects the resolution slightly more. It manages to resolve 2,400l/ph at ISO 6,400 before dropping to 2,200l/ph at its sensitivity ceiling of ISO 12,800. These ISO results are comparable to those previously recorded by the RX100 III and RX100 IV.
Below we show details from our resolution chart test pattern (right). Multiply the number beneath the lines by 200 to give the resolution in lines per picture height.
At the time of testing, Adobe Camera Raw didn’t support the RX100 V’s raw files so we reverted to using Sony’s Image Data Conversion software (version 4.2.06) to convert our raw files before examining them alongside our JPEGs. With noise reduction switched off, the RX100 V produces clean, noise-free raw files between ISO 80 and ISO 400. Luminance noise is kept well under control up to ISO 800 but does become more obvious when you begin to push to higher sensitivities. Colour noise is evident in dark shadowed regions at ISO 3,200 and above, but the in-camera noise reduction that’s applied to JPEG files makes it less intrusive. In the worst-case scenario you could push to ISO 6,400 and achieve a useable image with vigilant application of noise reduction in post-processing, but I’d avoid ISO 12,800. In essence, for the finest results shoot in the raw format, preferably below ISO 800.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review: Verdict
If someone told me a few years ago that pocket compacts would be able to shoot full-resolution 20-million-pixel files at 24fps for up to 150 frames I wouldn’t have believed them. Sony has taken the RX100 V into new territory with regard to shooting speed and has achieved this by quite a margin. As pocket compacts go, the RX100 V packs a lot of power for it size and complements this with a fast and responsive hybrid autofocus system that’s by no means out of its depth when asked to track moving subjects or acquire fast focus in poor lighting conditions.
As amazing as it is to see phase-detection autofocus and 24fps continuous shooting being offered in such a small camera, but its utility could be lost on a vast majority of users who don’t regularly shoot action, sports or subjects that demand these features. The improvements have seen the price rise considerably and the extra demands that are asked of the sensor and processor have a major affect on battery life to the point where you’re always fretting about running out of power. Whether you take full advantage of the RX100 V’s slow-motion recording, 4K video, burst shooting and Wi-Fi functionality, or just use it for general shooting when a larger camera feels too cumbersome, you’ll find the battery level drops in next to no time. To prevent your shooting experience being cut short it’s essential to pack a few spare batteries or keep a powerbank and USB cable nearby.
The overall performance and image quality is excellent, but the RX100 V is still far from being the perfect pocket compact and it’s slightly disappointing that Sony hasn’t concentrated its efforts on improving what we’ve pulled previous RX100-series models up on before. The RX100 V is calling out for a touchscreen to bring it in line with the competition, which would also make it easier to refine the position of the AF point and improve the user experience of reviewing images in playback mode. The RX100 V’s tiny buttons, lack of a grip and convoluted menu system are other areas that leave a lot to be desired.
To summarise, the RX100 V is a very capable premium pocket compact, but once again we’re left saying it has the potential to be even better. If you don’t require the blazing speed of this new model, you could save yourself some serious money by looking at one of the four previous models in the RX100 series, all of which are still available to buy new. If 4K video and slow-motion recording isn’t for you, but you’d like a viewfinder and superb image quality, the Sony RX100 III remains a great choice. Best of all it’ll save you £400 by not splashing out on the expensive RX100 V.