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Box Photo

• Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 digital camera

• wrist strap

• USB cable

• USB / AC adapter

• neck strap adapters (2)

• NP-BX1 rechargeable battery

• instruction manual

• warranty information

The RX100's 3.6x optical zoom lens seems surprisingly loose and not sturdy given its reputation. Motorized action isn't remarkably fast or slow, and feels rather like any other point-and-shoot on the market. Control is accomplished with either the zoom lever or the handy, customizable control ring that surrounds the barrel. Neither solution is particularly precise. Minimum focus distance can also be somewhat unforgiving, unless you're zoomed all the way out.

The 1-inch image sensor is a giant among compact cameras, larger than the one found in Fujifilm's X10, and almost as large as the 1.5-inch lens inside Canon's G1 X. To find itself amongst such impressive peers means the RX100's sensor is exceptional and a legitimate contender at the prosumer level.

In the absence of a viewfinder, images are framed and reviewed on a gorgeous 3-inch LCD monitor, with resolution in excess of 1.2 million dots. Viewing angle is imperfect but adequate for all but the most acute shooting positions. Overhead framing, for example, is manageable; though a tilting panel would've been even better.

A spring-loaded flash arm pops up from the left side of the top plate (not the most convenient place for it), and has a maximum effective range of 56 feet at ISO 3200.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Underneath a flimsy, plastic door on the right side of the body, you'll find the RX100's proprietary USB terminal. This port is also responsible for charging the battery. We wish Sony would start using standard connectors, but otherwise no complaints here.

Strangely, the camera's microHDMI output terminal is located on the bottom of the camera, adjacent to the tripod mount. Another flimsy plastic door protects this connector, and its location means HDMI streaming while using a tripod is not possible.

The included NP-BX1 battery pack is rated to 330 consecutive shots with this camera, and we did not find ourselves butting up against this limit while testing. Charging is accomplished with the use of the USB cord and the AC adapter. Charging directly from a USB port on your computer is possible.

Battery Photo

Both the battery and memory card slots are located under a locking door on the bottom of the camera. The RX100 is compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards, as well as a few different varieties of Memory Sticks.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

The RX100's image quality is more than just the sum of good lab tests. Although we saw some remarkable results in our sharpness test, other scores are strictly average. Still, this camera's ability to render DSLR-style depth of field sets truly sets it apart.

Buckle up. We're about to make some bold statements on this page. But first, let's preface our results a bit.

We did notice some software oversharpening in our test shots, and this is a camera's way of faking additional sharpness performance at the cost of natural-looking edges. The effect is not severe in this camera, maybe four to six pixels total, and that's even less significant when you remember this camera shoots extra-large 20 megapixel photos.

That being said, even after accounting for edge enhancement, the RX100's sharpness performance is astonishingly impressive. Not since the Canon G1 X have we seen a sharper fixed-lens camera. In fact, scores are more in line with the sharpest DSLRs of the year, which is just amazing from a camera of this size.

Sharpness is also remarkably consistent across different areas of the frame and different focal lengths. Detail is best at the closest focal length, and only drops off slightly at 22mm, before blurring a bit at full zoom. But again, the difference is relatively narrow. To put this in perspective, average resolution at 1.0x is roughly 2200 MTF50s, while 3.6x zoom only causes a decrease to 1800 MTF50s. On an inferior camera, both of those figures would've been much lower. More on how we test sharpness.

Our image stabilization test was inconclusive. We could detect no improvement to image quality with SteadyShot turned on, when the camera was subjected to repetitive horizontal movement. In the crops below, you can see that the wide gray trail is lessened in the "Stabilization On" shot, however the edge itself (the area we test) has actually worsened.

Color accuracy was a disappointment for this camera. Colors aren't terrible, but accuracy is a little bit below average. We recorded an error value of 3.18, and we know Sony can do better than that. Strangely, most of the gamut is actually pretty spot-on, however reds and blues are both completely inaccurate, ruining the overall average. Saturation is also over by about 20%, and that's way too high. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Unfortunately, many different models in this area of the market seem to be stricken with mediocre color reproduction. Therefore the RX100 is at least average amongst its peers. The Canon G1 X lags behind by about two points.

Standard is the most accurate color most and all the rest should be avoided except for deliberate artistic purposes. The Vivid mode, for example, causes the error value to increase to a whopping 5.13, while saturation spikes up to 142%.

Although the RX100's menu houses a variety of white balance settings (we'll get to those in a second), white balance performance is only average. As in often the case, automatic white balancing functions worst under incandescent light. Here we recorded errors of almost 1500 K on average. Fluorescent and daylight were both better, but still not the best we've seen, they were off by about 300 K and 90 K respectively.

Custom white balance isn't necessarily a better option. Using this technique, the error average under incandescent light is reduced to around 285 K. However we observed only a marginal improvement under fluorescent, and daylight was actually less accurate with custom white balance.

Nine white balance presets are available, including no less than four separate fluorescent options, as well as a setting for use with the built-in flash. Direct color temperature entry is supported and, like other high-end Sony models, the custom white balance feature actually reads out the temperature detected. Very cool.

Behavior of the noise reduction algorithm is a little unpredictable. Baseline noise rates begin at 0.70% at ISO 80, which is actually a little high for this price tag. Noise increases steadily from there, eventually touching 1.27% at ISO 400. At this point, the smoothing software kicks into high gear and becomes much more aggressive. As a result, noise actually drops down at ISO 800, and begins its slow climb once again, this time to a maximum of 1.51% at ISO 6400.

The distinct behavior of the noise reduction software does not directly translate into real world image quality. So although the algorithm becomes more aggressive at ISO 800, image quality doesn't take an unacceptable hit until ISO 1600. In general, noise manifests itself as pixelation, rather than grain or color splotching, and this is characteristic of many Sony cameras, especially compacts. More on how we test noise.

The RX100's ISO range is somewhat unusual. The lowest part of the range goes in third-stops: we get ISO 80, then 100, then 125. After that, ISO proceeds in regular full stops, before maxing out at 6400. No extended options are available. Auto ISO meters from ISO 125 to 3200.

The RX100's dynamic range maxes out at 6.55 stops at ISO 80, which is great for a point-and-shoot but poor compared to some SLRs. We're not sure whether to be impressed by the score versus other compacts, or amazed that a comparison to SLRs is even relevant. But either way, 6 and a half stops is the best you're going to get.

By ISO 400 performance drops off to 4.41 stops, but then jumps up again at ISO 800. This is because our test is based on signal-to-noise ratio and, remember, the RX100's noise reduction becomes far more aggressive at this sensitivity. Dynamic range bottoms out at 3.33 stops at ISO 6400. More on how we test dynamic range.

Behavior of the noise reduction algorithm is a little unpredictable. Baseline noise rates begin at 0.70% at ISO 80, which is actually a little high for this price tag. Noise increases steadily from there, eventually touching 1.27% at ISO 400. At this point, the smoothing software kicks into high gear and becomes much more aggressive. As a result, noise actually drops down at ISO 800, and begins its slow climb once again, this time to a maximum of 1.51% at ISO 6400.

The distinct behavior of the noise reduction software does not directly translate into real world image quality. So although the algorithm becomes more aggressive at ISO 800, image quality doesn't take an unacceptable hit until ISO 1600. In general, noise manifests itself as pixelation, rather than grain or color splotching, and this is characteristic of many Sony cameras, especially compacts. More on how we test noise.

The RX100's ISO range is somewhat unusual. The lowest part of the range goes in third-stops: we get ISO 80, then 100, then 125. After that, ISO proceeds in regular full stops, before maxing out at 6400. No extended options are available. Auto ISO meters from ISO 125 to 3200.

Focus is usually reliable and moderately fast, however there are some issues with real-world usage that will crop up from time to time. First, minimum focus distance is rather strict when you're zoomed in. The problem is alleviated at the closest focal length, but for portrait photography you'll need to back up to a reasonable distance. Second, the f/1.8 lens is capable of producing an in-focus area that's so narrow you may have trouble keeping your subject inside it after locking focus, especially while hand-holding. A decent way around this is to use continuous autofocus in conjunction with subject tracking.

The RX100 has exceptional low light sensitivity. In order to gather 50 IRE of image data, the sensor requires only 3 lux of ambient light. This must be partly the result of the camera's huge aperture, and puts performance on par with the best prosumer camcorders.

This of course explains the strong low light sharpness score 60 lux is barely a challenge for this camera.

Chromatic aberration is one way in which the RX100 does lag behind the Canon S100 and G1 X, albeit very slightly. Shoot at close and medium focal lengths and you'll find your shots are largely free of fringing. However we did finally catch some blue fringes in our fully zoomed test shots. Bear in mind, the RX100 is still an excellent performer in this metric, just not quite as good as Canon's best fixed-lens models.

Barrel distortion is corrected in real time, even before the image is output to the LCD for framing. The most distortion we detected was 0.53% at the widest focal length, and numbers this low essentially make distortion a complete non-issue. We're awarding full points here.

The RX100 captures gorgeous, high bit rate videos that are some of the best we've seen from a still camera. Motion is handled particularly well thanks to the 60p frame rate. In fact, other than a little bit of frequency interference, video footage gave us almost nothing to complain about. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Under studio illumination, the RX100 produces sharp video footage. The sensor is capable of resolving 550 lw/ph of image detail horizontally and 600 lw/ph vertically. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

In low light, video performance is very much the same. However, as you'll soon read, this has more to do with the sensor's excellent sensitivity than its performance under difficult light. Anyway, in our 60 lux test, the sensor achieved 500 lw/ph horizontally and 600 lw/ph vertically.

The RX100 has exceptional low light sensitivity. In order to gather 50 IRE of image data, the sensor requires only 3 lux of ambient light. This must be partly the result of the camera's huge aperture, and puts performance on par with the best prosumer camcorders.

This of course explains the strong low light sharpness score 60 lux is barely a challenge for this camera.

These are the areas in which the camera could use the most improvement. Sony has transplanted their SLR menu system, but it's not as intuitive here. We also would've preferred some additional ergonomic features, as well as a control ring with better tactility.

Two fully automatic modes are available from the dial. They are Intelligent Auto, which is a scene-detecting mode, and Superior Auto, which uses a short burst to achieve the sharpest results. Both modes have locked Function menus, so beginners shouldn't be confused by extra options. Then again, some preferences in the main menu are left unlocked, so those with a certain comfort level can still get the shots they want.

The button layout is simple and effective. On the rear panel, a typical rotating dial / directional pad has shortcuts at all four positions, and is flanked by four buttons for menus, in-camera help, and playback. Above them all is a hotkey for video recording. The rotating dial is excellent, in fact we used it more than the control ring surrounding the lens barrel. Other buttons are a little small and have minimal stroke, they could use improvement for the next model.

Scene modes and picture effects are a welcome diversion for some, and the RX100's are all pretty excellent. Thirteen useful scene modes and thirteen picture effects are available, and we want to reserve special praise for some of the more processor-intensive picture effects. Illustration mode is particularly convincing.

The interface is divided into a quick Function menu and the main menu. The Function menu is not very effective because it only controls a few specific variables, and the design is hard to understand at first. The main menu is where you'll spend most of your time, but brings its own share of problems. This horizontal tab-based system is very long, plus the menu closes and resets after each change. The most important shooting options are found on page three, so if you need to adjust multiple settings at once, this becomes highly inconvenient.

Button mappings are also very strange when it comes to the main menu. For example, it's not possible to swap tabs using the control ring, zoom lever, or rotating dial, any of which would've been useful. Meanwhile, the control ring and zoom lever each perform no function in the menu, wasting the opportunity completely.

The RX100 ships with a pretty detailed printed instruction manual, however it lacks a proper index or table of contents. This document contained just about all the information we were looking for, minus a few omitted details. A digital version of the same guide is available from Sony's website.

If you've ever handled the Nikon J1, or really any of Nikon's 1-series cameras, then you know what to expect from the RX100. The body's top and bottom panels come to corners, but the sides are rounded. The whole chassis is rather slippery, so we do recommend using that wrist strap or, better yet, taking advantage of the two included adapters and investing in a proper neck strap.

Handling Photo 1

The rear panel is home to the RX100's only deliberate ergonomic feature: a rubberized thumb rest that's located in an intuitive and comfortable spot. It's possible to jog the rear rotating dial accidentally during general use, but these occasions are rare and the button layout is painless otherwise.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

The button layout is simple and effective. On the rear panel, a typical rotating dial / directional pad has shortcuts at all four positions, and is flanked by four buttons for menus, in-camera help, and playback. Above them all is a hotkey for video recording. The rotating dial is excellent, in fact we used it more than the control ring surrounding the lens barrel. Other buttons are a little small and have minimal stroke, they could use improvement for the next model.

Buttons Photo 1

On the top plate, the shutter release's lock stage is soft and imprecise, but not enough to make shooting annoying. The power button is flush with the rest of the body, but still easy to access and press. Maybe a little too easy in fact, we had the camera power on by accident inside a bag once or twice.

Buttons Photo 2

In the absence of a viewfinder, images are framed and reviewed on a gorgeous 3-inch LCD monitor, with resolution in excess of 1.2 million dots. Viewing angle is imperfect but adequate for all but the most acute shooting positions. Overhead framing, for example, is manageable; though a tilting panel would've been even better.

Our image stabilization test was inconclusive. We could detect no improvement to image quality with SteadyShot turned on, when the camera was subjected to repetitive horizontal movement. In the crops below, you can see that the wide gray trail is lessened in the "Stabilization On" shot, however the edge itself (the area we test) has actually worsened.

A decent-sized mode dial is within easy reach of the thumb, provides quick access to any of the traditional PASM shooting modes, as well as two automatic modes, a deep custom mode, and more.

Most of the same manual controls you might find on a DSLR are also unlocked in the RX100. In fact, the very menu system is lifted directly from the NEX lineup. "By wire" manual focus (with or without digital zoom) is available, and it's responsive enough to actually use in the field. Bulb mode and various bracket options are available, as are many other advanced options.

Focus is usually reliable and moderately fast, however there are some issues with real-world usage that will crop up from time to time. First, minimum focus distance is rather strict when you're zoomed in. The problem is alleviated at the closest focal length, but for portrait photography you'll need to back up to a reasonable distance. Second, the f/1.8 lens is capable of producing an in-focus area that's so narrow you may have trouble keeping your subject inside it after locking focus, especially while hand-holding. A decent way around this is to use continuous autofocus in conjunction with subject tracking.

Manual focus is a "by wire" solution, but it's responsive enough to give the illusion of direct lens manipulation. Image preview is also quick enough to use in the field, making Sony's solution far better than what we're used to from compacts.

A pretty wide variety of aspect ratio and resolution options are available on the very first page of the main menu. JPEG quality may be set to Fine or Standard but, most importantly of all, the RX100 is capable of lossless RAW encoding, which provides the best image quality of all. It's also possible to capture RAW & JPEG shots simultaneous.

Control Ring

Just like the Canon S100, the RX100 features a physical control ring surrounding the lens barrel, which can be configured to adjust many different shooting variables, such as exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, zoom, aperture, shutter, and even less common options like picture effect or color mode.

But despite its flexibility, we strongly prefer the S100's control ring. That one had tactile clicks as the user rotated the ring, indicating each new position. The RX100's ring is smooth all the way around, and if you're rotating even moderately-fast, the software doesn't keep up. As a result, we just didn't use this feature very much, preferring the rear rotating dial instead.

The RX100 supports both a burst mode and true continuous shooting with no buffer limit. In this same menu, you'll also find a lightly customizable self-timer with options for self-portrait, as well as exposure and white balance bracket settings.

Using Speed Priority mode, which triggers a 10 shot burst followed by slower shots that continue indefinitely, we clocked the RX100 at exactly 10 frames per second for the initial burst. Continuous shooting, which does also slow down eventually, is slower at only 2.5 frames per second.

RAW drive modes are also supported, at the cost of reduced speed. The fastest RAW burst the camera can manage is a little over 4.2 frames per second. Not bad.

Focus is usually reliable and moderately fast, however there are some issues with real-world usage that will crop up from time to time. First, minimum focus distance is rather strict when you're zoomed in. The problem is alleviated at the closest focal length, but for portrait photography you'll need to back up to a reasonable distance. Second, the f/1.8 lens is capable of producing an in-focus area that's so narrow you may have trouble keeping your subject inside it after locking focus, especially while hand-holding. A decent way around this is to use continuous autofocus in conjunction with subject tracking.

Manual focus is a "by wire" solution, but it's responsive enough to give the illusion of direct lens manipulation. Image preview is also quick enough to use in the field, making Sony's solution far better than what we're used to from compacts.

While still performance is excellent, the RX100 is a capable video device as well, supporting many of the same controls for video that it does for photos. Drive modes are excellent too, featuring two varieties of continuous shooting, advanced bracketing, and face-detecting self-timers.

Videos may be recorded in either AVCHD or MP4. AVCHD is the higher quality option, and unlocks 1080p recording at 17Mbps in 60i, 24Mbps in 60i, or even 28Mbps in 60p. MP4 clips are limited to 1440x1080 resolution at a bitrate of 12Mbps. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Control options are extremely in depth. Video mode is subdivided into four different modes, one for each of the "PASM" techniques, allowing full control over all shooting variables, even while a recording is in progress.

Zoom

Zoom control is unlocked while a recording is in progress, but the motor is slowed to cut down on mechanical noise. The zoom lever is best for operation, however the main control ring can also be mapped to this function.

Focus

Only continuous and manual focus are available for video, since single and DMF would've been redundant. Manual focus is slowed just like zoom, making this feature much more frustrating than it is for still photography.

Given the star treatment this camera has allotted to video image quality, we were surprised to learn that Wind Noise Reduction is the only audio feature available. Level control is not supported, and no microphone port exists.

Mic Photo

Too often in the world of compact cameras, the phrase "DSLR-quality image" is bandied about on marketing materials, retail boxes, and even the written words of reviewers like us. It's paired with qualifiers like "DSLR image quality in your pocket," and most of the time, doesn't actually apply to the camera in question.

Sure, some compacts have strong image quality, but DSLR caliber? No. Then there are mirrorless cameras, many of which can indeed produce DSLR level images, but how many of them actually fit in your pocket with the lens attached?

Here goes.... The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is the first compact, fixed-lens camera capable of DSLR-quality images. See? Maybe that little phrase isn't so bad, especially when it's true.

The excellence of the RX100 is two-fold: a great lens, plus a great sensor; same as every decent camera. Let's start with the lens. Resolution test scores were astounding, and included some of the most impressive sharpness data we've ever recorded, compact camera or otherwise. Chromatic aberration is slight, plus any barrel distortion is corrected away automatically. And did we mention the aperture maxes out at f/1.8? Because it does.

But a lens alone is nothing special, every once in awhile we see a wide aperture compact. The Canon S100 goes to f/2, and the new Panasonic LX7 can manage f/1.4. The difference this time is an excellent lens working together with a large sensor. Sony's new 1-inch chip unlocks true depth of field effects, invalidating the biggest handicap of compact cameras, and producing beautiful, enthusiast-level images. In truth the sensor's performance is fairly average, with mediocre colors and noise reduction, it is simply size that makes all the difference here.

In fact, despite how much we love this camera, there's still plenty of room for improvement before the inevitable RX200, or whatever it'll be called. The large control ring surrounding the lens barrel has no tactile feedback, and isn't as useful as the one found on the Canon S100. Indeed the entire menu system is flawed: the Function menu lacks scope and versatility, while the main menu has some annoying interface quirks. We also wished for some improvements to physical handling, given the body's contemporary—but slippery—design. Sony has wisely provided neck strap adapters, and we suggest you use them.

Ultimately none of these small complaints are enough to prevent the RX100 from being one of the best cameras of the year. We like it better than last year's S100 and—bad day for Canon—think it surpasses their expensive, bulky G1 X as well. We still have a few advanced compacts left to test, but as of right now, we can think of no better solution for the discerning photographer on the go, and recommend you go buy one immediately.

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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