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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 review:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

Design and features
With only a couple of possible exceptions, the RX100 is a sleek, well-designed camera; it's compact and attractive, with a sturdily built aluminum body.

No grip! Not even a textured surface.

My biggest problem with the RX100's design is the lack of a grip. That combined with the slippery metal body means I'm constantly in fear of dropping it, and forced to grip it extra tightly, which can get really tiring if you shoot one-handed a lot. Over and over again we've seen companies drop the grip to make the camera seem smaller or shinier or somethinger only to add it back in a subsequent generation. It's nuts.

Like the equivalent PowerShots and the Olympus XZ-1, the RX100 incorporates a multipurpose adjustment ring on the lens.

What you see while zooming with the control ring.

I like the control ring, which you can program to operate for one default setting (such as zoom or shutter speed) and to use in conjunction with the Fn button, which you can program to access up to seven more settings. However, you can't use the control ring while the camera's on a tripod (unless you have a very small plate); the ring extends just far enough below the bottom of the camera that there's no clearance to rotate.

You can tilt the RX100's flash for more-attractive illumination.

The camera can be customized quite a bit. In addition to the Fn button, you can also reprogram the operation of the left and right navigation keys on the back dial as well as the center button. And there's a Memory Recall option on the mode dial so you can select from three custom settings slots.

Canon PowerShot S100 Olympus XZ-1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Samsung EX2F Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 12mp CMOS 10mp CCD 10.1mp MOS 12.4mp BSI CMOS 20.2mp Exmor CMOS
(7.6 x 5.7mm)
(8.07 x 5.56 mm)
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 6400 ISO 80 - ISO 3200/12800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Lens 24-120mm
Closest focus (inches) 1.2 0.4 0.4 0.4 1.9
Continuous shooting 2.3fps
23 JPEG/8 raw
12 JPEG/ n/a raw
(11fps without tracking AF)
n/a 2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None Optional EVF Optional EVF None None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
11 area
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF
Metering n/a 324 area n/a
n/a n/a
Shutter n/a 60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 16 min 60-1/4,000 sec 30-1/2,000 sec 30-1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe No Yes Yes Yes No
LCD 3-inch fixed
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
610,000 dots
3-inch fixed
920,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
614,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
720/30p Motion JPEG AVI
1080/60p AVCHD @ 28Mbps; 1080/60p QuickTime MOV @ 28Mbps
H.264 MP4
1080/60p/ 50p
AVCHD Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video Yes No n/a n/a Yes
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes n/a Yes n/a
External mic support No Yes No Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 200 shots 320 shots 330 shots n/a 330 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.1 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 7 9.3 10.6 (est.) 11.4 (est.) 8.5
Mfr. price $429.99 $399.99 $499 $499.99 $649.99
Availability November 2011 January 2011 August 2012 August 2012 July 2012

The top mode dial offers the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes, plus a dedicated movie mode (with a full set of manual and semimanual exposure controls) and Sweep Panorama.

I'd argue that the camera (like a lot of cameras, actually) offers too many automatic mode options: there's a scene program mode, intelligent auto, and Superior auto. I always thought the whole point of automatic was to not have to make any choices.

The movie button on the back is a bit hard to press because the location demands it be too recessed in order to keep from accidentally hitting it. The rest of the controls have just enough travel to keep from being difficult to operate.

I wish there were more control over what settings appear in this display.

In order to get rid of useless or screen-cluttering information like the Soft Skin or flash compensation setting -- the latter shouldn't even appear if the flash is forced off, for example -- you have to switch to the graphic display, which I find harder to parse quickly.

While the RX100 has a nicely rounded shooting feature set, I'd hardly call it expansive. The camera lacks a hot shoe, viewfinder, or articulated LCD. And even if you're willing to trade those off for the more compact size, it also lacks geotagging capability and wireless connectivity. It has features like the aforementioned Soft Skin Effect and Auto Portrait Framing, which I think are out of place in a camera for more advanced users. I'd rather have the ability to manually invoke macro mode, which, like with Sony's point-and-shoot models, here can only occur automatically. In addition to face detection, it can register up to eight faces, which it can then use for Smile Shutter or autofocus tracking.

For effectsionistas, the RX100 offers a handful, with a few very nice ones. But you've got to scroll through every variation -- a rotating cornucopia of 33 slots when there are really only 13 filters -- which gets seriously annoying. They're not accessible in raw or raw+JPEG mode (though the camera doesn't bother to tell you that's why they're grayed out) so you can't save a simultaneous version without effects, and you can't control any of the parameters.

While the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is pricey and imperfect, it's still darn good. Plus, based on past experience, even if competitors I haven't yet tested can surpass it in design or speed, I don't think they'll be able to match the photo quality. (Canon might be able to if it matched a fast lens to the G1 X's sensor.) Despite its drawbacks, I'd still rank it as one of the best compact cameras I've ever tested, and certainly the best under $700. But if you can't bring yourself to pay the premium price, one of these other enthusiast compact models will probably suit.

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