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Sony's big sensored little compact (pictures)

While we won't know about the photo quality until we've tested it, the design of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 hits a lot of the right notes for advanced shooters.

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Lori Grunin
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Lori Grunin
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Compact

The RX100 is more compact than most competitors with smaller sensors.
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Size vs. the Canon PowerShot S100

It's thicker than the Canon PowerShot S100, but not substantially larger.
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Lens

The RX100 uses a Zeiss T* coated lens; based on my experience with Sony's camcorders, the T* lenses are significantly better than the uncoated ones. While the lens starts at a wide f1.8 maximum aperture, by the time it hits 100mm it devolves to f4.9, which is pretty narrow, especially compared with cameras like the Fujifilm X10 (f2.8), the next sensor-size down. Sony claims that at least it doesn't drop off precipitously after the first zoom stop or two.
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Control ring

The RX100 incorporates the same sort of control ring that Canon debuted in the S95 and which was then incorporated into the Olympus XZ-1. Like those models, the ring supplies context-sensitive adjustments to various shooting settings, such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity. In order for silent operation during movie shooting, Sony's doesn't have any tactile "click" or stops for the ring; I prefer a little more physical feedback.
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Interface

I do like the settings display while operating the control ring.
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Flash

Sony's popup flash can be tilted back while shooting. The ability to bounce the flash -- or simply reduce the harshness and intensity without having to dive into the settings -- usually results in much better flash photos.
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Controls

In addition to the control ring, the camera supplies a reasonable set of direct-access controls.
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Mode dial

Sony gives you a saved settings option (MR) in addition to the usual shooting modes.
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Battery and SD card

The location of the battery compartment and SD card slot make the camera somewhat tripod-unfriendly.
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USB port

This is a very odd location for the USB port; it means that you have to lay the camera down on its back while connecting to a computer.
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HDMI output

The mini HDMI connector stands alone.

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