Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

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The Good Speed, good looks, and pretty pictures number among the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100's strengths.

The Bad The camera tends to clip bright highlights more than we typically see, and the slippery body lacks a grip. Plus, the lack of a manually triggered macro mode might put off some fans of close-up photography.

The Bottom Line The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100's compact, elegant design, generally excellent photo quality, bright, fast lens, and speedy performance make a great package if you don't mind spending a little more money.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 8

Sony may be a camera-come-lately with its Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 enthusiast compact, but boy, what a debut: a fast performer equipped with a relatively large sensor and a bright, fast lens, and wrapped in a small, sleek body. It seems like Sony made a lot of intelligent decisions about design and feature tradeoffs to get the job done. Compared with many of its competitors it's relatively expensive, but it doesn't feel overpriced for what you get.

Image quality
The RX100 generally displays good JPEG processing and noise reduction; it does a creditable job of balancing trade-offs between color noise and softness. Out-of-focus areas still suffer from mushiness as low as ISO 400 -- a common problem with cameras with smaller sensors -- but in-focus spots stand up pretty well until about ISO 800. Overall, the camera's JPEGs look solid up to ISO 400 and acceptable through ISO 1600, depending upon scene content. From a noise and artifact perspective, I was happy with an uncorrected 13x19 print of the ISO 1600 photo downloadable below.

But it's nice that you're not forced to rely on the high ISO sensitivities that often. While the lens aperture gets pretty narrow at the telephoto end of the focal range, it's still relatively wide for a nice chunk of the way. Here are the points at which the maximum aperture changes:

Keep in mind that while the aperture determines the amount of depth of field you'll have at a given focal length, so does sensor size. That means competing aperture specs are only moderately useful when it comes to comparing cameras: the f1.8 on the XZ-1 will look very different from the f1.8 on the RX100 because of sensor size difference. Larger sensors can achieve shallower DOF at a given focal length and aperture than smaller sensors, which gives the RX100 a compositional flexibility advantage over cheaper competitors. But typically, unless you're always shooting at a wide angle or close up, you'll probably still end up without a lot of background defocus. The more practical advantage the lens confers is simply allowing for more light.

Relative sensor sizes

The camera produces very nice low-ISO-sensitivity shots with lovely tonality. It doesn't have a neutral Creative Style, so the photos have Sony's typical Standard look, high contrast with pushed saturation. That said, it doesn't stress the range so badly that hues shift or shadow detail clips substantially. The one possible issue I encountered was that bright highlights on yellows get completely blown out. They're unrecoverable from raws in Sony's Image Data Converter software, but they might be there for better software. On the other hand, some clipped areas in bright, saturated reds of JPEG images proved moderately recoverable in the software.

The lens displays very good center sharpness through f5.6, with a slight falloff at f8 and noticeable softness at f11. There's also some aberration at f1.8, which is typical, and a little bit of barrel distortion on the left side at its widest -- it looks like Sony is performing in-camera distortion correction, which tends to make wide angle images look oddly linearized.

Click to download ISO 80

ISO 800
ISO 1600

Video looks good, bright, saturated, and reasonably sharp, with no notable artifacts in bright light, and is relatively noise-free in dim. The autofocus works well while shooting video, and the lens is sufficiently quiet while zooming. Audio comes through loud and clear and doesn't sound too compressed or tinny.

Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more real-world performance information, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures, we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

The RX100 is significantly faster than its competition for all but continuous shooting. It takes about 2.1 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot -- while that's not blazing-fast, it's still ahead of quite a few other models. Focusing and shooting under all but the darkest conditions takes about 0.3 second; in very low light, the autofocus automatically expands to the entire scene. Two sequential shots with the first prefocused take about 0.2 second for raw or JPEG. That increases to 2.3 seconds with flash enabled, which is on the fast side for this crowd. Shooting raw+JPEG with a fast SD card (a 95MBps SanDisk Extreme Pro) is fast and fluid without any interface lag.

With a fast card, the camera can burst JPEGs at 2.5 frames per second for an effectively unlimited number of shots without slowing. You can shoot raw continuously at the same rate for around 17 shots; after that, it drops to around 2.2fps. However, while faster than many competitors' times, neither of these is really great. Continuous shooting with the RX100 and many other viewfinderless models is mostly a point-and-pray process, anyway. In the case of the RX100, the tracking autofocus seems to lag behind even slow-moving subjects, another not-uncommon problem.

The LCD becomes a little washed out in direct sunlight but remains sufficiently visible.