Sony’s pocket travel zoom is a technological marvel, says Andy Westlake, but its flawed handling is disappointing given the price
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI – At a glance
- 24-200mm equivalent, f/2.8-4.5 lens
- 20MP 1in sensor
- Pop-up electronic viewfinder
- Tilting touchscreen LCD
- 24 fps shooting
- 4K video recording
When Sony released the original RX100 back in 2012, it revolutionized the pocket camera at a stroke. With its 20MP 1in-type sensor giving vastly better image quality than the tiny sensors previously used in this type of camera, it made the competition obsolete at a stroke. Successive RX100 generations have maintained Sony’s technological lead, with the adoption of a tilting screen in the RX100 II, a pop-up viewfinder and large-aperture zoom in the RX100 III, 4K video in the RX100 IV and high-speed shooting on the RX100 V. The cost has also shot up along the way, but Sony’s solution has been to keep every model on the market at tiered price points.
Now, with the RX100 VI, Sony has made perhaps its most significant change yet. In place of the 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 zoom used by the previous three generations, it’s added a considerably longer 24-200mm equivalent lens, albeit with a smaller maximum aperture of f/2.8-4.5. Impressively, it’s done so while retaining almost the same small body size – the lens barrel is just 1.8mm longer. In the process it’s made the first true competitor to Panasonic’s TZ100 and TZ200 premium travelzoom cameras. But it also risks confusing buyers: the RX100 VI is a very different beast to the RX100 IV, and any other company would have used a clearly different name.
The other catch is the price. At a staggering £1150, the RX100 VI is £300 more than the TZ200, which we already considered very expensive for this kind of camera, and over twice the price of the TZ100. This is a huge premium to pay for its compact size and high-speed shooting capability, especially considering that the RX100 VI retains many of the same operational and handling flaws as its predecessors.
Sony RX100 VI – Features
In essence, the RX100 VI has all the same core features as the previous model, just with a new lens. So it’s based around 20-million-pixel 1in type sensor that employs Sony’s exclusive stacked CMOS design. This uses back-illumination technology for reduced noise, while sandwiching a secondary RAM chip onto the sensor for faster readout speeds. The sensitivity range is ISO 125-12,800, which is pretty much standard for this sensor size.
Sony has used the same high-powered Bionx X processor as in its professional Alpha 9, backed up by a front-end LSI that enables fast data throughput. This results in a truly phenomenal continuous shooting rate of 24 frames per second at full resolution, with a 233-shot JPEG buffer, while continuously adjusting focus and exposure between frames. Just how many photographers will need this capability on a pocket compact is a different question.
The 24-200mm equivalent 8x zoom uses 15 elements in 12 groups, with 8 aspheric elements including 4 Advanced Aspheric lenses, and 2 ED glass elements. It may be shorter than either the TZ100’s 25-250mm or TZ200’s 24-360mm equivalent optics, but it has the advantage of a usefully-faster aperture at the long end, at f/4.5 compared to f/5.9 or f/6.4 respectively. Crucially, this means it should be less affected by the resolution-sapping effects of diffraction, so should give sharper results at telephoto.
Low-light shooters would probably still do better to stick to the RX100 V and its shorter-but-faster f/1.8-2.8 zoom, while videographers will be disappointed by the lack of a built-on ND filter. However photographers who like to shoot portraits will gain more from the extra zoom than they’ll lose from the smaller f-number. The RX100 VI should give greater background blur than the RX100 V, along with more flattering perspective, if you can take a step or two back from your subject and zoom to 100mm or longer.
Autofocus employs a hybrid system, with 315 on-chip phase-detection points that cover 65% of the frame, coupled with 25 contrast-detection areas. Sony claims that this brings the world’s fastest AF for a 1in sensor camera of just 0.03sec. High-density Tracking AF clusters focus points around moving subjects for increased accuracy, while Sony’s much-touted Eye AF is also onboard for shooting portraits.
As usual from Sony, the RX100 VI has an impressive video specification. It can record 4K 3840 x 2160 footage at 25fps with full pixel readout, which delivers highly detailed footage with no field of view crop. There’s a raft of additional advanced features, including Hybrid Log-Gamma for HDR recording, and super-slow motion video at 250fps, 500fps, or 1000fps. This all makes the lack of any provision for an external microphone for high-quality sound even more perplexing.
Beyond the camera’s remarkable core spec, it doesn’t sport much in the way of extras. For instance, there’s no built-in intervalometer for time-lapse shooting, and with the demise of Sony’s PlayMemories in-camera apps, no way of adding one except by plugging an external controller into the micro USB port. Likewise, there’s no in-camera raw converter for optimizing your images before sharing them.
Sony RX100 VI – Connectivity
Wi-Fi is of course built in, along with both NFC to quickly set up a connection with compatible Android devices. New to the RX100 series is Bluetooth connectivity, but it’s only used for geotagging your images, and disappointingly you don’t get any of the neat features it brings to the Panasonic TZ200 or Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III. So you can’t use your phone as a basic, always-connected remote release, or browse through your photos while your camera is safely stowed in your pocket or bag.
Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app for Android and iOS does at least provide full remote control of the camera complete with live view display, and allow you to transfer images to your phone or tablet for sharing. But it’s relatively clunky and unintuitive and is now looking rather dated. For example you have to fire up specifically the remote control mode from the camera itself, and can’t simply take control from the app. You also have to choose between being able to push images from the camera to your phone using the Fn button, or being able to browse the card from your phone – most other brands happily let you do both.