Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review

Does Sony's "game changing" premium compact deliver the goods?

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Sony clearly has high hopes for the RX100, describing it as a "game-changing" camera. We're pleased to report that the images from it are very impressive.

Colours are bright and punchy, without being overly vibrant. Colours are also represented well in the majority of cases, with skies appearing natural and skin tones looking particularly good.

With its larger sensor and wide aperture lens, the RX100 is capable of producing some very creative images with blurred backgrounds.

Sony is keen to emphasise the quality of the lens attached to the RX100, which is produced by Carl Zeiss and features T* coating. It performs very well, with very little ghosting or flare to be found, even when shooting in direct sunlight.

Sony RX100

The wide aperture is also fantastic when shooting in lower light conditions, meaning you can still retain a lower sensitivity value with fast enough shutter speeds to get blur-free images in reasonably dark conditions.

Those images that are shot at higher sensitivities, such as ISO 800 and 1600 retain a good level of detail while also managing to keep image noise down. Sony admits that noise levels are higher than on one of its biggest likely rival cameras, the Canon S100, but also says that detail is retained better. Our time with the camera indicates this to be true, providing a good balanced image.

When shooting at apertures such as f/8, we can evaluate the sharpness of the lens. The RX100 is capable of delivering good quality images with lots of detail retained up to the edges of the frame.

Sony's D-Range Optimiser function is another feature on the RX100 which has been brought over from its DSLT range. It works by analysing a scene for areas of dark and light and adjusting the exposure accordingly. On the RX100 this works very well to produce natural looking images that contain lots of detail in the shadows without burning out the highlights. You have the option to let the camera automatically decide this for you, or you can choose between levels one to five. You can also of course switch it off altogether.

Sony RX100

Digital filters are something which more and more camera manufacturers are packing onto their devices in a bid to rival popular smartphone apps such as Instagram. On the Sony RX100 this is no different, with an impressive 33 (although some of these are variations on the same theme).

While some of course will be used more often than others, down to personal preference, several of the Effects are great fun to experiment with. One such example is the Illustration Effect, which makes images appear as if a drawing. Other interesting ones are Toy Camera (which has several variations) and Miniature, which mimics the effect of a tilt-shift lens.

Miniature has a few variations, allowing you to choose exactly where to place the area of focus (while the rest of the image becomes blurred), or have the camera automatically choose for you. This works well, especially when shooting from a high vantage point and can provide some impressive results.

It seems a little odd that Picture Effects aren't available in fully automatic mode, and as previously mentioned it's a shame they aren't available in in raw shooting mode.

Another shooting mode which can be accessed via the mode dial is Sweep Panorama. This works by shooting a number of images as the camera is swept across a scene. These images are then combined in camera to produce the resulting panorama.

A mainstay of Sony cameras for a couple of years now, the mode is a fun extra and will surely be appreciated by holiday makers. When examining these images at 100% it's clear that the image quality isn't the finest it could be, but at normal web sizes where these would likely be displayed, quality is more than adequate.

Sony RX100

Although aimed pretty squarely at the advanced photographer looking for a second camera as back-up, the camera also comes with Intelligent Auto and Superior Intelligent Auto. Both work well to identify a scene and apply the most appropriate scenes. Even the most experienced photographer may appreciate the ability to concentrate on composition and capturing quick snaps with this mode.

It's also a great camera for learning on, offering Shooting Tips which can be activated via the question mark button on the back of the camera when in shooting mode. Having fully manual and semi automatic capabilities is also helpful for those that outgrow the automatic modes and want to get a bit more creative with their photography.

Clear Zoom is one of the key features which Sony is keen to promote. Also found in its Alpha DSLT range, it works in the same way as a traditional zoom, but uses By Pixel Resolution Technology to keep resolution and quality high.

When examining the images shot at full Clear Zoom at 100%, it is noticeably worse than examining images shot at the full optical telephoto end of the lens. However, when viewing images at normal printing or web viewing sizes, the quality is very good. The Zoom function effectively boosts the 100mm (equivalent) optic to a 200mm lens - a very useful function for travel and holiday photographers, and one we can see being appreciated by many. It's a big shame however that you can't activate Clear Zoom when shooting in raw format.

Sony RX100

Sony claims that focusing on the camera is very quick, as speedy as 0.13 seconds in bright conditions, falling to 0.23 in darker conditions. In use, the RX100 is very quick and accurate to focus in the majority of cases. It's capable of macro focusing from 5cm (at the widest angle) and this works well to produce close-up images. It's nice to have this functionality with a larger sensor camera, as others, notably the Canon G1X struggle with close focusing distances.

Amy Davies

Amy has been writing about cameras, photography and associated tech since 2009. Amy was once part of the photography testing team for Future Publishing working across TechRadar, Digital Camera, PhotoPlus, N Photo and Photography Week. For her photography, she has won awards and has been exhibited. She often partakes in unusual projects - including one intense year where she used a different camera every single day. Amy is currently the Features Editor at Amateur Photographer magazine, and in her increasingly little spare time works across a number of high-profile publications including Wired, Stuff, Digital Camera World, Expert Reviews, and just a little off-tangent, PetsRadar.