Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sony RX 100 Camera Review

Having broken a string of compact cameras recently and finally managed to put aside a little cash I was in the market for a new snappy. I opted for the Sony RX100 and the following review is based mainly on my experiences using it on a weeks climbing trip in Switzerland at the beginning of September. I'm sure my ticklist of what I was looking for in the perfect compact will be a familiar one. It's also one that perhaps until recently was unrealistic!

So ideally my compact would:
- Be genuinely compact, and portable (I used a Canon G10 for awhile a year ago which had a lot going for it but it was so big I couldn't carry it in a case in my jacket pocket when climbing - luckily it was strong as chimneying up a winter route in Glen Coe I tore through my jacket and gauged chunks out of the camera body).
- Have good enough quality resolution for double page spreads at 300dpi in the magazine I edit. Of course this isn't just a case of more megapixels but the quality of that image - noise etc.
- Be useable in a climbing situation - i.e. simple controls, useable with gloves and fast, or at least fast enough for the relatively slow sport of climbing. Many compacts, and most of the current interchangeable lens high res 'semi-compacts' suffer from being serious shutter lag, slow focussing etc.
- provide reliably metered exposures in automatic, semi-automatic operation. I tend to shoot on shutter priority or full programme modes.
- Have a great lens. I'm less interested in telephoto shots on this type of camera and much more interested in the wider angles plus as fast as possible. The fact that my favourite camera has been a Voigtlander (Leica M copy) on which I would use 15mm lens (sometimes a 12mm) might give you an idea of where my heart lies.
- Ideally it would be tough too, I'm realistic that I put cameras through much worse than the typical high street user, but I would hope a compact would last 2 years. So far none have.
- Oh, and it would be nice if it was cheap!
So how did the RX100 measure up?

It's definitely a genuine compact - here it is in it's dedicated case. It might seem strange to show it in it's case first but funnily enough this 'old school' case was one of the big deciding points for me on buying the camera as I've always struggled with finding cases that have worked with compacts. This works very well, and in Switzerland I was confident enough to just climb with it slung around my neck and over my shoulder - scraping away against the hard granite of Grimselpass.

 The lens does stick out a bit (plus its got one of those potentially easy to clog up auto-sliding lens covers which have gone wrong on numerous previous cameras).
 The payoff for this small size - no viewfinder - boo hiss.
Amazingly this tiny camera produces 20.2 million pixels (the DSLR I use has 12.3 million - although admittedly dated by todays standards - but 20million compares with top pro DSLRs). Theoretically this should be a disaster in a compact with their smaller sensors. The RX100 however has a 1" sensor four times the size of most compacts and over twice the size of similar sized 'performance compacts' although still smaller than a DSLRs. From that initial weeks shooting I'm extremely impressed - below is a shot at 125iso and a crop to show detail.


The following shot is at 400iso with the crop showing very healthy low noise details.

So in use - I haven't properly played with this with gloves on (something I normally would do before purchase) and it will be interesting to see how it does in winter conditions. The good news is the power switch, shutter, zoom and main mode dial are sizeable and chunky. A ring around the lens can be used to cover aperture or shutter speed depending on mode - which is very easy to use. Selecting ISO seemed a bit more of a ball ache, having to go into the camera memory, selecting flash was also a touch fiddly but typical for this sized camera. More important is that there is minimal shutter lag (see shot below), and focus seemed lively (although it definitely prefers straight edges to more organic forms).
Battery-wise it takes about 400 jpeg images and charges through the camera itself rather than through a separate charger so I bought and used a spare battery during the week. Jpeg files sizes are around 8-8.7mb - I don't shoot RAW.

Metering on the whole was reliable and accurate.
Interestingly whilst looking through my images for 'purple flaring' a problem that has been reported I noticed the 'awkward transition from rock to sky - this shot was the only one that really displayed this although I was surprised by a certain amount of noise even at 125iso in the blue skies - it will be interesting to see whether this comes out on the printed page.
Again exposure was reliable in more tricky situations - this shot was taken at 125iso 1 sec F2.8 propped up on stones.
The lens is a 28-100mm F1.8 - 4.9. The very big aperture at the wide end offers up loads of nice shallow depth of field possibilities
Heres a crop of the above shot at F1.8 at 28mm
I would need to do some more controlled tests but it does seem there is a slight drop off of quality/distortion at the edges - although minor enough to not be an issue for me (Its a lot better than my ludicrously expensive Nikon 14-24mm!). Some have talked of flare shooting into the sun or even some kind of 'purple flare' on shots with the sun just out of shot. I didn't shoot anything directly into the sun, but these two are closest and perfectly acceptable for me.

In terms of toughness - we'll have to see. So far so good - the case is a great help to that effect. In fact my general experience with the RX100 has been overwhelmingly positive. Once I've had a chance to play with things like it's video capabilities (1080 AVCHD) or gizmos such as HDR bracketing, Panorama sweep I'll perhaps do another blog.

And as for cheap? - I paid £599 (although you can get much cheaper on the web). That's not cheap in anyone's book but it has got me enjoying photography again and that's priceless.
Here is a review by a good site http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/sony_rx100.shtml
This one has a nice chart comparing competitors sensor sizes and prices http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-cybershot-dsc-rx100

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