The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is the company's first pocket-sized advanced compact, and comes with a rich feature set that includes a larger than average 20.3MP sensor; a high quality 3.6x Zeiss optical zoom with a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture; full manual control and the ability to shoot Raw images; a range of built-in digital filter effects and, last but not least, the ability to record 1080p Full HD movies.
This puts it into the same advanced compact territory as the Panasonic Lumix LX5, Olympus XZ-1, Canon S100, Nikon P7100 and Fujifilm X10. However, whereas all of those cameras (bar the X10) use 1/1.7in and 1/1.63in sensors (2/3in in the case of the X10), the Sony RX100 gets an all-new 1in CMOS sensor with a 3:2 aspect ratio - the same size as found in Nikon's J1 and V1 compact system cameras. Being of the Exmor variety it is also backside-wired for improved low-light performance.
The long and short of this is that the RX100's sensor offers 4x the surface area of a typical 1/2.3in sensor found in the vast majority of compacts. And whereas previously the Fuji X10's 2/3in sensor was the biggest of all the advanced compacts, the RX100's is twice the size. Even with its impressive effective resolution of 20.3MP, the individual photosites on the new sensor remain 4x larger than those of its main rivals, which in turn should allow for enhanced performance in low light. Correspondingly, Sony have had the confidence to give the RX100 a standard sensitivity range of ISO 80 - 6400, which can be further extended up to ISO 25,600.
The RX100 is fitted with a 3.6x optical zoom from Carl Zeiss that offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of 28-100mm and which benefits from Zeiss T* coating to reduce reflections. Maximum aperture at 28mm is a usefully quick f/1.8, rising incrementally to f/4.9 at 100mm. While the Panasonic Lumix LX5 is slightly wider at 24mm, the RX100’s 28mm is otherwise very much in keeping with the rest of the competition and still offers a generous field of view. In addition, the RX100 also benefits from Sony’s own Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation technology for sharper still images at slower shutter speeds. This is further complemented by an Active Mode for video recording.
On the back of the camera you’ll find a 3in display with a 1229k-dot VGA display. This now uses Sony’s own WhiteMagic and TruBlack technology to increase overall brightness and ensure blacks are black, all while reducing power consumption by 35%. It’s a very rewarding screen to use with excellent sharpness and colour, which is fortunate because – unlike the Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic LX – the RX100 doesn’t sport any kind of hotshoe or accessory port with which to connect an electronic viewfinder.
As is the fashion these days the RX100 offers a range of Picture Effect digital filters, including: Toy Camera, Pop colour, Posterization, Retro, Soft High-key, Partial colour, High Contrast Mono, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Mono, Miniature, Water Colour and Illustration. In addition, the camera also benefits from Sony’s excellent Sweep Panorama feature (located in the Scene mode sub-menu) for the easy creation of super wideangle panorama images. Digital darkroom enthusiasts will also be pleased to note that the RX100 is able to shoot lossless Raw image files for greater post-production control.
Overall construction is very good with the RX100 finished in smooth aluminium, for a sleek modern appearance. There’s also a reassuring weightiness to it. While the camera lacks a proper finger grip, there is a fairly pronounced thumb rest on the back of the camera. In keeping with Sony’s NEX range of compact system cameras, physical buttons are kept to a minimum, making the whole package only slightly larger than the Canon PowerShot SX100, and noticeably smaller than both the Fujifilm X10 and PowerShot G12. It’s the kind of camera that will easily fit inside a jacket or trouser pocket. Available as a optional extra there’s also a rather cool retro leather case for it.
In terms of shooting modes the RX100 offers the full quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual modes (PASM), alongside a host of fully automatic modes for point-and-shoot control. Movie recording options are well represented too with the ability to shoot high definition videos at a top setting of 1920 x 1080p Full HD at 50fps in the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format. Alternatively, you can opt to record in the more computer-friendly MP4 format, with a top quality setting of 1080p Full HD at 25fps. Sound is recorded in stereo via two microphones on the camera body although there's also a stereo microphone input should you want to enhance sound recording quality.