Given the relative lack of physical buttons on the back and top of the camera body, the control ring that runs around the base of the lens is a useful addition that helps to make the camera much more enjoyable to use. Used in tandem with the Function (Fn) button on the back of the camera the ring can be used to control things like aperture and shutter speed. In addition there are up to 17 other camera settings you can assign to it; simply assign what you want to control with the Fn button and then rotate the ring.
The ring itself offers a smooth action that doesn’t require too much effort to turn, with audible clicks notifying you of each step adjustment change – unless you are capturing video, in which case it’ll remain silent. Features available through the four-way Directional-pad can also be customised via the main menu, giving you plenty of scope to set the RX100 up as you like.
The in-camera menu system will look instantly familiar to anyone who’s previously used a Sony Alpha DSLR/SLT, with the appearance and layout being very similar. The menu itself is broken down into seven sub-menus that, combined, provide a great deal of control over the camera that enthusiasts and advanced users will doubtless appreciate.
The RX100’s contrast-detect autofocus system offers a range of AF modes to choose from, including a wide-area Flexible Spot, AF tracking and Face Detection. In addition, there’s also a useful Peaking MF assist mode, which highlights areas that are in focus on the rear monitor. We particularly like the Flexible spot setting as this allows you to position the AF area pretty much wherever you like, with only the extreme edges and corners out of bounds. Unless you assign AF point selection mode to the Fn button you will need to open up the main in-camera menu to toggle between the various AF settings which is a bit long-winded.
Autofocus performance is very fast in single-point AF, especially in good light and only dropping fractionally in less that optimal conditions. The automatic AF tracking option is one of the better examples we’ve yet seen on a compact, although it can struggle when its subject is moving too fast or erratically. Set the RX100 into Speed priority mode and you’ll be able to fire of 10 shots in very quick succession over a period of a second at full resolution, though for a more prolonged burst over a longer period, the frame rate reduces to 2.5fps.
Overall image quality is very good. Used in multi-segment metering mode exposure is generally very accurate, with only the odd underexposure. To counter this, we simply dialled in around 0.3-0.7EV using the exposure compensation tool. Should you want to create HDR-like images then the built-in Auto HDR feature should prove very useful. In total there are six different modes along with an automatic option. The camera will then take three consecutive images at different exposures for you and automatically combine them into a single image with a broader dynamic range.
If you want to avoid the HDR look but still want to produce images with more detail in the shadow and highlight areas then Sony’s D-Range Optimizer is another useful tool you can call upon. You can opt between five strength levels or just select Auto and let the camera decide for you.
The RX100 offers a range of of Creative Style JPEG processing options and these can be used to determine how saturated the colours in your images are as well as the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness levels. The five preset options include: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset and Black & White.
The all-new 1in 20.2MP sensor is able to resolve class-leading levels of detail – at least for a camera of this class. if you’re after images with even greater detail from a compact, then the only thing to really beat it is the Fujifilm X100 or Canon PowerShot G1X.
The 28-100mm is sharp through the range, with both vignetting and barrel distortion kept well under control. While we’d have like to have seen a slightly faster maximum aperture than f/4.9 at the long end, the ability to shoot wide-open at f/1.8 at 28mm means shallow depth-of-field shots are possible.
White balance is very reliable, with the Auto White Balance (AWB) setting delivering consistently neutral results. Should you need to though, you can force the camera to shot at a particular colour temperature with the usual list of presets available: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent (x4) Flash, Colour Temp/Filter and Custom.
ISO performance also impressed us. Under ISO 800 and images are sharp and show plenty of detail. Above ISO 800 and image noise does start to become increasingly noticeable, although for a compact this is still pretty impressive. Even at the highest standard setting of ISO 6400, images are still passable.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is an excellent advanced compact that offers a near perfect blend of size, performance and image quality. At over £500 though the RX100 doesn’t come cheap, putting it into the same kind of price bracket as many CSCs and even some entry-level DSLRs. Clearly the RX100 is a different kind of camera altogether that is designed to appeal to a different kind of user with a different set of needs, however if portability isn’t your number one priority then this is certainly something to think about. If not and you’re looking for a premium advanced compact, then the RX100 certainly fits the bill.