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Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 REVIEW

It’s a big claim: “The best pocket camera ever made.” … or so The New York Times declares. No doubt there will be some rumblings from a well-known German company about such a contention. And Nikon will be banging at the gate too!

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Sony’s story is that the RX100 does do things quite a bit differently from the rest of the crowd. For one thing, as a fixed lens camera, the sensor is claimed to be considerably larger than the rest of the crowd, with many having 11mm sensors (as a diagonal measurement). Sony claims the RX100’s sensor is a one inch job.

Screeech! Reality check! The RX100’s CMOS measures 13.2×8.8mm, which means the diagonal is only 15.8mm and not 25.4m (one inch) … same as the Nikon V1and N1 cameras.

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It gets stickier. The RX100 has 20.2 million effective pixels, while the Nikons offers only 10.1 million packed onto the sensor. Same space: smaller pixels. Not a good start!

Well I’ve got that off my chest.

Now let’s look at the lens. At last! A star! One of dear old Carl Zeiss’ top optics: the Vario-Sonnar T* f1.8-4.9/10.4-37.1mm job. Yes, it’s relatively fast at f1.9, but this drops off to a much smaller f4.9 at the tele end, giving a modest 3.6x zoom range (based on the 35 SLR equivalent range of 28-100mm).

Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Features

Built around an aluminium body, the camera inherits some features from Sony’s Alpha range of cameras which places it in the same territory as the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

Although small, the RX100 feels chunky, solid and workmanlike, while feeling surprisingly heavy for such a small camera. Powered down, it fits a pocket easily. Powered up, the lens protrudes another 3.5cm from the 3.5cm deep body.

It feels good in the hand, although I would have liked a textured grip surface at the front right edge, as there is at the rear edge.

Controls are very Sony-like: power, zoom and mode dial on top; the rear has a Function button (HDR, scene modes, exposure compensation, ISO), with controls for menu, replay, instruction guide and the movie record button.

There is a USB port at the camera’s right end with the mini HDMI and memory card access placed in the camera’s base.

At this point I should mention the lens control ring, close to the body and giving direct access to aperture, shutter speed and manual focus … all operable with the camera in Program AE, shutter or aperture priority and visible on the LCD screen. Pretty neat!

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I have to say the manual focus arrangement is one of the best I have come across: easy to access and giving the clearest indication of sharp or unsharp focus. However, I found the shutter button hard to feel for, as it’s recessed beneath the top surface. A bad design flaw.

Maximum image size is 5472×3080 pixels, enough to make a 46x26cm print.

Movies are well taken care of with maximum res at Full HD 1920×1080 in AVCHD or MPEG format for the lesser sizes.

Luna Park entrance 1.JPG

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Speaking of which: sounds of the shutter button and zoom can be heard while shooting video — but you can shoot stills while in video mode. The stabiliser works well as does the auto focus. The instruction manual indicates that in some video resolutions still capture is not possible … but I had no trouble.

Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 ISO Tests

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While the specs indicate the camera has an upper ISO setting of 25,600 this is only available in Auto ISO, with the camera making the setting according to prevailing light levels.

At ISO 80 the image was sharp and noise free. Only when ISO 1600 was reached did noise appear. By ISO 3200 noise was up but not to an objectionable level. At ISO 6400 noise was up but definition was acceptable. A good performance.

Startup Times

It took three seconds from startup to first shot; follow-ons about a second apart.


No problems at the wide or tele ends of the zoom. A good performance.

Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Verdict

Quality: the pictures I shot with the RX100 simply jumped off the screen with excellent definition and accurate colour. A top performer, no doubt thanks to Herr Zeiss’s precision.

Why you’d buy the Sony Cyber-shot RX100: a pocket performer.

Why you wouldn’t: a vari-angle screen would have made the camera near-perfect;

An elegant and practical camera it could be used by virtually anyone with any skills level. However, it could seriously sing and dance in polished hands!

Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Specs

Image Sensor: 20.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: multi zone, centre-weighted, spot.
Lens: Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f1.8-4.9/10.4-37.1 (28-100mm as 35 SLR).
Exposure Modes: Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Effective Sensor Size: 13.2×8.8mm Exmor CMOS.
Shutter Speed (stills): 30 to 1/2000 second and Bulb.
Continuous Shooting: 2.5/10 fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): Stills: 5472×3080 to 2592×1944.
Movies: 1920×1080 (AVCHD); 1440×1080, 640×480 (MPEG4).
Viewfinder: 7.6cm LCD screen (1,228,800 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW (Sony ARW 2.2), JPEG+RAW, MPEG4, AVCHD.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25600.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI mini.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 102x59x36 WHDmm.
Weight: 213 g (inc battery).
Price: Get a price on the Sony Cybershot RX100 at Amazon.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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