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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

It's been a long wait, but Sony finally delivers a pocketable camera with a large sensor and fast lens.

Lori Grunin
Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
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.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
5 min read
Sony has finally gotten around to developing a pocketable large-sensor camera with a presumably high-quality Zeiss T* lens. Lori Grunin/CNET

Sony's big sensored little compact (pictures)

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Given that Sony produces some excellent sensors and great compact cameras, it's a bit surprising that the company's waited so long to unveil an advanced compact -- at this point, the only company that doesn't have one is Pentax (unless you count it as Ricoh). So Sony's jumping into the market late, but bound to make a splash, with its new Cyber-shot DSC-RX100.

It seems like a very well-designed camera that I'm looking forward to testing. However, despite sounding great on its face the way Sony bills it -- 1-inch sensor! 20 megapixels! F1.8 lens! 1.22-megapixel LCD! 10fps burst! -- there are quite a few caveats that should temper your excitement.

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Yes, it's a moderately large sensor. Here's a relative size comparison:

For what it's worth, Sony claims that this camera will deliver the highest-quality photos ever for the Cyber-shot line. But while the the sensor is largish, it's also crammed with a lot more pixels than all of its competitors. So, for example, while has 55 percent less area than the G1 X it also has about 56 percent more pixels. It's the same sensor size as Nikon's interchangeable-lens CX mount, which some people consider too small for its class despite a lower resolution, and the Nikon 1 J1 costs the same as the RX100. While Sony does have a good track record with its high-resolution sensors, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude about this.

As for the lens, it certainly looks like one of Sony's higher quality lenses; my experience with the Zeiss T*-coated lenses from the company's higher-end camcorders is that they're significantly better than the cheaper ones. But while the maximum aperture starts at f1.8, it reaches f4.9 by the time you reach the not-terribly-long maximum focal length of 100mm. (It may also matter to some people that its minimum aperture only goes to f11, though that's not uncommon.) Sony claims that it doesn't stop down immediately with the first zoom step -- one of the biggest problems with the G1 X -- but that's still pretty narrow and starts to make you wonder: which is more important, sensor size or lens quality, and at what point do you reach the trade-off?

Then there's the LCD. It's a relatively large, high-resolution display. But it's not 1.23 megapixels as you'll probably see stated in many places. To be fair, Sony doesn't lie about this: the company clearly states that it's a VGA-resolution LCD with a third set of white pixels for added brightness in bright sunlight. That's definitely a plus in my book.

And while the camera can shoot 10fps, that's in a mode which fixes exposure after the first frame; more traditional continuous shooting runs at a more sedate 2.5fps.

All that said, I really do like the design of the camera. It's an all-aluminum body about the same size as the S100, and incorporates a similar control ring on the lens for context-sensitive adjustments to commonly used settings. It's got a tiltable flash like that on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5 and others, which makes it very easily to get better flash results. That's very important, because the camera lacks a hot shoe. The interface looks a lot more like the Alpha SLT UI than any of the point-and-shoots, which makes sense given that Sony's targeting dSLR users looking for a compact second camera -- there's a bit of display consistency.

Here's how the RX100's specs stack up against some of its competitors:

Canon PowerShot S100 Canon PowerShot G1 X Fujifilm FinePix X10 Fujifilm FinePix X100 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 12-megapixel CMOS 14.3mp CMOS 12mp EXR CMOS 12.3mp CMOS 10mp CCD 20.2mp Exmor CMOS
(7.6 x 5.7mm)
(18.7 x 14mm)
(8.8 x 6.6mm)
(23.6 x 15.8mm)
(8.07 x 5.56 mm)
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 3200 ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 80 - ISO 3200 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Lens 24-120mm
Closest focus (inches) 1.2 7.9 0.4 3.9 0.4 1.9
Continuous shooting 2.3fps
8 JPEG/n/a raw
10 JPEG/8 raw
2.5 fps
JPEG/n/a raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None Optical Optical Optical/EVF switchable Optional OVF or EVF None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a 256 zones 256 zones n/a
Shutter n/a 60-1/4000 sec 30 - 1/4000 sec 30 - 1/4000 sec; bulb to 60 min 60-1/4000 sec 30-1/2000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
LCD 3-inch fixed
461,000 dots
3-inch articulated 922,000 dots 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical None Optical Optical
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo 720/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo 720/30p AVCHD Lite
1080/60p/ 50p
AVCHD Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video Yes No No Iris only Yes Yes
Zoom while recording Yes Yes Yes n/a n/a n/a
Mic input No No No No No No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 200 shots 250 shots 270 shots 300 shots 400 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.6 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 7.0 18.8 12.4 15.8 9.2 8.5 (est)
Mfr. Price $429.99 $799.99 $599.99 $1,195.95 $499.99 $649.99
Availability November 2011 February 2012 November 2011 March 2011 August 2010 July 2012

Ultimately, I think the biggest question for the RX100 will be "is it worth $650?" Sony sees it as a second camera for dSLR shooters, but that's more than what most people pay for their only camera, not their supplemental camera. It lacks a viewfinder, hot shoe, and articulated LCD, which is what probably drives many photographers into the arms of Canon's similarly pricey G series. I think it will have to deliver seriously stellar photo quality, especially in low light, to compel people to pay $150 to $250 more than compact competitors like the Canon S models, XZ-1, LX5, and so on, several of which have faster lenses.

The RX100 isn't slated to ship until July. In the interim, you can see what the competition has to offer.

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