Sony’s pocket travel zoom is a technological marvel, says Andy Westlake, but its flawed handling is disappointing given the price
Sony RX100 VI – Image quality
We’ve seen this sensor and processor combination in several Sony cameras now, so it’s pretty much a known quantity. As in the RX100 V and RX10 IV, it delivers highly-detailed images at low ISO settings, while keeping noise fairly well under control at sensitivity settings up to ISO 1600 or so.
In terms of sensor output quality there’s no significant advantage over compact cameras with 1in backside-illuminated sensors, including the Panasonic TZ100 and TZ200. Instead the main image-quality differentiators between these cameras will be the lens, and for JPEG shooters, the in-camera processing.
In the absence of raw support from Adobe, we’re basing our image quality assessments below on the camera’s JPEG files.
Sony RX100 VI – Resolution
Looking at the camera’s JPEG output, the RX100 VI resolves around 3200 lines per picture height at ISO 80, with the camera blurring higher frequencies in a bid to minimise processing artefacts. The resolution drops only slowly as the sensitivity is raised, with almost 3000 l/ph registered at ISO 1600.
Above this it falls more rapidly though, to 2800 l/ph at ISO 6400 and 2400 l/ph at ISO 12800. In raw, I’d expect to see higher resolution at lower ISOs, but with the risk of false colour and aliasing. These tests were shot in the middle of the zoom range, at 50mm equivalent, where the lens is at its strongest.
Sony RX100 VI – ISO and noise
At low ISOs the RX100 VI produces excellent image files with no visible noise and plenty of fine detail. In typical Sony fashion, colours are reproduced accurately, but a little subdued compared to some other brands. There’s very little deterioration at ISO 400, but beyond this, noise becomes more prominent and fine detail deteriorates. However you’ll still get entirely usable images at ISO 1600, if you don’t need to print them large.
At ISO 3200 fine low-contrast texture has smeared away all-but-completely, but colour is still maintained well. However the top two settings give image files that really don’t look great. ISO 6400 might be OK when there’s no other option, but I’d steer clear of ISO 12800 completely.
Sony RX100 VI – Verdict
There’s no doubt that the Sony RX100 VI is an astounding technological feat. After all, here’s a camera with a 24-200mm equivalent zoom, built-in viewfinder, 24 fps shooting at full resolution, and 4K video recording. Yet this is all somehow crammed into a body that takes up barely any more space than a Rollei 35, which many photographers will fondly remember as one of the smallest 35mm cameras ever made. Despite its tiny size, the RX100 VI also has some clear advantages over its Panasonic TZ rivals: it’s quicker, its pop-up viewfinder is larger, and its tilting LCD is extremely useful. Oh, and it takes really good pictures, too.
The first problem, though, is that you have to part with an awful lot of money for the privilege of owning one. £1150 is a ridiculous sum to spend on what is essentially an upmarket point-and-shoot, and you’ll also need to budget for a handgrip, a couple of spare batteries and a charger, just to get through the day without dropping the camera or running out of juice.
Much of this cost is down to Sony’s advanced sensor and processor technology, so if you expect to be making good use of the camera’s impressive speed, autofocus and video abilities, it could count as money well spent. But to me it’s overkill: the Panasonic TZ200 and TZ100 provide everything most users are likely to need at a considerably lower price.
The other problem with the RX100 VI is that it’s just so fiddly to use. The clickless lens ring, tiny buttons and lack of any finger grip place it at precisely the opposite end of the spectrum to that other over-£1000 super compact, Canon’s PowerShot G1 X Mark III, which handles brilliantly but has a disappointingly short zoom range. Luckily, for all its failings, the RX100 VI can be made more tolerable by exploiting its extensive customisation options. Set the lens dial to exposure compensation, turn on touch-pad AF for viewfinder use, disable auto power-off when you push down the viewfinder, and customise the Fn Menu and My Menu, and it’s merely irritating rather than infuriating.
Despite all my criticism, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy the RX100 VI. In many respects it’s a brilliant camera, and more accomplished than the Panasonic TZ200 in several key areas. But personally, I’d struggle to justify spending £1150 on a point-and-shoot that’s so frustrating to use, no matter how good the results, when the Panasonic TZ100 and TZ200 are just so much better value. However if you can afford it, and are prepared to put up with its foibles, there’s no doubt that the Sony RX100 VI is a phenomenally capable pocket travel camera.