Sony turns the table on Micro 4/3rds and entry-level DSLRs.
In today’s world where DSLRs and Micro Four Thirds are all the rage, digital point & shoot cameras are something people usually scoff at. Most often, in fact, the sales of MFT and entry-level DSLRs are driven by people who are upgrading from P&S cameras. The primary concern for these people stops being portability, and moves up to better image quality.
Of course, Micro Four Thirds were created specifically to bridge the gap between portable point & shoots and bulky DSLRs. However, what happens when you don’t feel like being burdened with the expense and cumbersome nature of multiple lenses, or even a large body. Sure MFT are small, especially with a pancake lens attached to them, but they tend to fit nicely in purses, rather than pockets.
This creates another subcategory or a niche, really, of people who want the miniscule size of a point & shoot but still want picture quality close to Micro Four Thirds, if not DSLRs. Thus Advanced Compact Cameras were born. This category of cameras usually employs bigger sensors compared to normal point & shoot, and has better lenses as well. A good recent example would be Canon S100 and Olympus XZ-1.
Today I’ll be looking at Sony’s flagship Cyber-shot camera, the RX100, which promises to be the class leading camera in the Advanced Compact category; good enough to challenge Micro Four Thirds and the mighty DSLRs.
The Sony RX100 is an impressively small camera, especially when you consider all the hardware packed inside it. Measuring just 10.2 x 5.8 x 4cm, the RX100 weighs just 240 grams. Of course, once you turn on the camera, the lens barrel extends out by 3.5cm.
The black magnesium alloy body is solid from top to bottom, and the RX100 feels sturdy in the hands. The Carl Zeiss lens, once extended out, is also a solidly built contraption. However, the same can’t be said about the pop-out flash which comes out on suspiciously weak looking legs. There’s no manual button to activate the flash, so don’t worry about it accidentally opening up.
The top has the power button, zoom and shutter release combo button as well as the Mode selection dial. You’ll also notice the focus ring on the lens, which actually doubles up as a secondary dial for menu selection as well. It’s a smooth turn, not clicky like the actual dials on the back, so you may overshoot an option you wanted to select.
On the back we have a little area for grip, right next to which is the dedicated recording button. Move down a little and you’ll see the Function, Menu, Playback and Help buttons, in addition to the context sensitive navigation dial and selection button. Everything is fairly conveniently located.
On the top right is the mini-USB connector, similar to what you get on Android or Blackberry smartphones, which can be used to transfer both data and charge the battery inside.
In the bottom we have the battery and memory card cover, behind which is the 1240mAh Li-Ion battery as well as a place where the RX100 can take both an SD card and a Memory Stick Pro Duo.
One of the biggest numbers Sony likes to flaunt about the RX100 is the 20.2MP sensor. We’re reaching into territories not needed in P&S; something only professional photographers look for in DSLRs. The large sensor is courtesy of the 1” CMOS sensor packed inside the small body, a truly remarkable feat since most compact cameras in this category usually have a much smaller sensor, usually 1/1.7” or 1/2.3”. The recently reviewed Nikon 1 has a similarly sized 1” CX sensor, but the body size is significantly larger for that mirrorless camera.
The second factor that plays very highly in favor of the RX100 is the 10-37mm F1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* retractable lens with built-in cover. Of course, given the 1” sensor size the 35mm equivalent of the focal range is actually 28-100mm, while the aperture size is F4.9-13.4. Now couple both the low-noise 1” EXMOR CMOS sensor with the F1.8 Carl Zeiss lens and you have a fantastic formula for some great low-light shots.
However, let’s not ignore the latest generation BIONZ processor which allows for a maximum sensitivity of ISO 6400, along with the capability of capturing both RAW and JPEG files, as well as movies in 1080p @ 60fps. The hardware is great, so it makes perfect sense that Sony has allowed us to take full advantage of it by providing full manual controls for both pictures and video modes.