There aren't any gimmicks here. No GPS. No geocoding. No 3D movie mode. The Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is a compact point-and-shoot through and through, and all the better for it.
Sony's addressing a very specific user's needs here -- one who wants a high-end compact without an interchangeable lens, for whom price is no object. It's come up with an all-metal body, a high resolution and a fattened-up sensor.
What really sells it, though, isn't its specs but the stills it produces, as my day shooting at the beach with it confirmed.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 can be bought for around £500, an outrageous price that demands extraordinary results. Let's see if it delivers.
The DSC-RX100 has a 20.2-megapixel sensor producing 5,472x3,642-pixel images. More interesting than the resolution, though, is the size of the sensor itself. It measures 13.2mm by 8.8mm, so it has around four times the surface area of the sensor in a regular point-and-shoot. Sony's engineers have taken advantage of this and made each photosite physically larger, which means it performs well under a wider range of lighting conditions.
In low-light conditions, the DSC-RX100 can ramp up its sensitivity without introducing undue noise, while you should also see fewer clipped highlights in shots taken under brighter skies.
This paid dividends in my tests. In images with extreme contrasts, such as the fairground stall in the shot below, it captured accurate tones at either end of the scale. The bright canopy fronting the stall could easily have become over-saturated, but it didn't. The interior of the stall could have been lost, but it wasn't.
The DSC-RX100 did a great job of balancing the exposure in this shot, with plenty of detail in the darker interior of the stall (click image to enlarge).
When shooting directly into the sun, even the hard shadows on facing surfaces aren't dialled down to pure black. The seaweed-covered breakwater (pictured below), is characterised by deep shadows close to the camera. Again, the seaweed is accurately rendered and can easily be recovered in post-production, should you choose, by lifting the shadows and leaving highlight areas as they are.
In more evenly-lit positions, the DSC-RX100 handles vibrant colour extremely well, right across the spectrum. The flower beds in the frame below were shot in bright, direct sunlight, with the sun behind me. The result accurately reflects the original scene.
Despite these particularly vivid colours dominating a large portion of the frame, more muted tones elsewhere have still been truly recorded. A similar proportion of the frame is occupied by clouds and both these and the front of the war memorial have retained plenty of texture, despite their narrower palettes.
Sensitivity runs from ISO 125 to ISO 6,400, extendable to ISO 80/100 with an option to push it as high as ISO 25,600 using multi-frame noise reduction. Compensation allows for adjustments of +/-3.0EV in 1/3EV steps.
Pushing up the sensitivity didn't pose any problems in my tests. Even at a fairly high setting, the results are very clean and largely free of grain. The shot below, taken beneath a pier, looks comparatively bright -- certainly brighter than it was in real life -- as I'd hiked the sensitivity to ISO 800 to reduce the exposure time so I could shoot without a tripod. The frame was exposed for 1/20 second at f/2.2 and there's very little grain to be found anywhere in the picture.
Even at ISO 6,400 -- a level where you would expect significant degradation from many other cameras of a similar size -- the evident dappling was slight, very even, and barely had any detrimental effect on the image.
However welcome a large, high-resolution sensor might be, it's impossible to understate the importance of the lens in achieving accurate, tightly-focused shots.
The lens in the DSC-RX100 provides a 3.6x optical zoom, equivalent to 28-100mm in a regular 35mm camera. It's controlled by a dedicated rocker set around the shutter release. Depending on how you've set up the control ring that surrounds the lens barrel, you can optionally emulate a manual zoom by turning the ring. Do this and a zoom overlay appears on screen to show you the current 35mm-equivalent focal length and what level of zoom it represents.