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Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Review

Sony's high-end RX100 is still one of the best point-and-shoots ever made.

September 27, 2012
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Science Introduction

The Sony RX100 is a groundbreaking camera, pairing a 1-inch CMOS sensor with an f/1.8 fixed lens, all in a body compact enough to fit in your pocket. It's a bold move from Sony; a truly compact camera that still features loads of control and, for the first time, true DSLR-quality shallow depth-of-field effects. Not only does the RX100 produce beautiful shots in the field, it also excelled in our lab tests. We were particularly impressed by its strong sharpness scores, though color accuracy, noise performance, and dynamic range all lagged behind true DSLRs.

Color Accuracy

Sony kept many of their worst impulses in check with the RX100, but colors are still too saturated in JPEG images.

Historically, Sony has tended to pump up saturation levels, even in their "standard" color modes. So it's not a surprise that color accuracy was a disappointment for the RX100. Colors aren't terrible, but accuracy is a little bit below average.

We recorded a delta-C00 (uncorrected) of 3.18, and we know Sony can do better than that. Strangely, most of the gamut is actually pretty spot-on, but reds and blues are both wildly inaccurate, ruining the overall average. Saturation is also over by about 20%, and that's just way too high. Our recommendation for any shot where accuracy matters (such as portraits) is to shoot in RAW and develop the shot later.

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High ISO Performance

The massive 1-inch sensor is put to work here, besting most compact cameras by a massive margin.

The Sony RX100's in-camera noise reduction algorithm is pretty typical. Baseline noise rates begin at 0.70% at ISO 80, which is actually a little high for a camera at this price level, but it's also evidence that Sony isn't overdoing it. Noise increases steadily from there, eventually touching 1.27% at ISO 400. At this point, the smoothing software kicks into high gear; noise levels actually drop at ISO 800, then begin a slow climb toward a maximum of 1.51% at ISO 6400.

Although the algorithm becomes more aggressive at ISO 800, real-world image quality doesn't take an unacceptable hit until ISO 1600. In general, noise manifests itself in blocky solid-colored patches, rather than fine grain or color splotches; this is characteristic of many Sony cameras, especially compacts. We think you can comfortably shoot up to ISO 1600 in JPEG, but RAW shots will require plenty of care at anything above ISO 800 if you want to preserve more detail.

Sharpness & Chromatic Aberration

The RX100's fixed lens is a decent performer, and it's mated to a truly remarkable sensor.

Buckle up. We're about to make some bold statements. But first, let's preface our results a bit.

We did notice some software oversharpening in our test shots, and this is a camera's way of faking additional sharpness performance at the cost of natural-looking edges. The effect is not severe in this camera—at high-contrast edges you'll see a clear halo of maybe four pixels total when viewing shots at 100% magnification. And that effect is even less significant when you remember that this camera shoots extra-large, 20-megapixel photos.

Not since the Canon G1 X have we seen such a sharp fixed-lens camera. Tweet It

Even after accounting for edge enhancement, the RX100's sharpness performance is astonishingly impressive. Not since the Canon G1 X have we seen such a sharp fixed-lens camera. Sharpness is also remarkably consistent across the frame and at different focal lengths. Detail is best at the widest focal length, and only drops off slightly at 22mm, getting slightly softer at full zoom as the maximum aperture narrows. But again, the difference is marginal, and unlike with most compact cameras, you'll feel comfortable shooting anywhere in the focal and aperture range.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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