Wednesday, January 23, 2013

REVIEW: Sony DSC-RX100 with Real World Sample Photos (Part 1 of 2)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

When I reviewed the Sony RX1 I was thrilled with the image quality, but very disappointed with the fixed lens. I loved the Sony NEX-7, but interchangeable lenses on a compact camera isn’t my thing. This made me extremely eager to test out the RX100 because I hoped its smaller sensor sibling would finally dethrone my Fujifilm X10 as my personal point and shoot camera.

Since my wife is the primary point and shoot user in our house, I decided to let her spend a couple weeks with this camera before I put my hands on it. She uses her iPhone for most candid snaps and the X10 for her important shots, so I wondered what she would do with the RX100 in her purse along side her favorites.

She was attracted to this camera due to its nice compact size and her favorite feature over the X10 was that she could operate it complete using one hand (including power on/off) – something all busy moms are sure to appreciate.

Ease of use was important, but would it be enough to win her over? Would this camera finally dethrone the X10? Read on to find out.

Real World Sample Images

f/5 @ 10.4 mm,1/13, ISO 3200, No Flash, Shade WB
Aperture Priority & Single AF Point Handheld

I’m going to cut to the chase and let the photos taken with this camera speak for itself. You be the judge as to the quality of these images taken the way REAL PEOPLE use this caliber camera. These aren’t studio shots, they aren’t pre-planned, and many aren’t even taken by me – they are taken by my wife who captures the adventures of our son and everyday life.

All of these photos are in-camera JPEG’s – yes, JPEG’s because I’m testing the camera – not the sensor. I can tell you that I do keep the RAW’s wherever possible (not all features allow for RAW) and that unlike most cameras these days I’m not crazy about the in-camera JPEG processing of the RX100. That’s a shame too because it’s the JPEG preview that you see on the camera, and despite what the pixel peepers say – it’s actually what many buyers of this class of camera actually use.

With zero instructions from me, my wife gravitated to the Intelligent Auto mode as I suspect she was searching for something similar to the EXR mode on the X10. She tried SCN (Scene) mode, but it wasn’t as intuitive to her as the X10, so she avoided it. She didn’t discover the Pano mode, but she liked it once she saw it (she uses pano on the X10 occasionally).

All images are exactly as they came out of the camera. They’ve been imported into Lightroom 4.3, keywords added, and then exported using the Original option. All originals may be download for PERSONAL USE ONLY. You must delete them after reviewing them. You may not edit or reuse any images for any purposes or reason – including non-profit – without a hand signed license agreement by me personally. Of course, these are real world shots so few are worth stealing – ha, ha. ;-)

The full gallery of images is at It should be noted that there are many duplicates in the gallery because those are where I used the in-camera HDR or DRO features, so the first is with that feature off and the second is with the feature applied.

Pleasantly saturated yet very accurate color in-camera
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/250, ISO 500, No Flash

Very good dynamic range, but still small sensor quality
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/25, ISO 3200, No Flash

Intelligent Auto just worked for this whereas the EOS M failed miserably!
(see the only
usable EOS M shots here taken at the same exact time)
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/250, ISO 3200, No Flash (flash intentionally disabled)

Rapid moving Octopus shot through glass in crappy light – no problem for Intelligent Auto (IA)!
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/100, ISO 3200, No Flash

As might be expected, moving white birds gave IA fits,
but it did better than any camera I’ve ever owned in a scenario like this
f/5.6 @ 10.4 mm,1/160, ISO 125, No Flash

In the “hurry up and turn on the camera to get a shot of the rambunctious toddler” scenarios,
it got about 3 out every 10 bang on – that’s impressive for a point and shoot
This success rate made my wife grab for it more than the iPhone
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/200, ISO 800, No Flash

Being silly at the dinner table? Auto everything did okay
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/8, ISO 800, No Flash (flash disabled intentionally)

Flowers in Tungsten via SCN Landscape Mode – Sweet!
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/30, ISO 160, No Flash

With only a far away kitchen sink light on, I just snapped this to see what this camera could do
I was impressed that it came out so nice and stable as my hand was really in an awkward
position. Its stabilization is excellent and phenomenal with video!
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/13, ISO 800, No Flash

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
In IE, Safari & Firefox the mouse in and out images are identical, but in Lightroom, Chrome you see a washed out gradient for the in-camera image (mouse out) and a bright red (should be orange) image for the RAW conversion in Lightroom (mouse over)
Lightroom and Chrome are accurate.
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/250, ISO 1000

f/3.5 @ 10.4 mm,1/100, ISO 125, No Flash
In the “honey take a picture of my meal” test the auto AF frustrated
but switching to single point could easily fix that. Otherwise it rocked.

If you don’t take it out of auto modes, this camera loves f/1.8 (too much)
That said, it’s not bad for a handheld shot
Chrome the color is very accurate with reality whereas all other browsers oversaturate
f/1.8 @ 10.4 mm,1/30, ISO 125, No Flash

I can’t wait to edit this one, but the in-camera was very accurate to what my eyes saw
f/3.2 @ 10.4 mm,1/100, ISO 125, No Flash

The Zeiss lens is excellent
f/5.6 @ 10.4 mm,1/500, ISO 125, No Flash

Great for a point and shoot, but the tiny sensor shows its weakness here
Those tiny things poking through the clouds are Seattle skyscrapers!
f/5.6 @ 37.1 mm,1/320, ISO 125, No Flash (A mode)

In-camera Pano Mode

HDR & DRO Mode

The Sony Dynamic Range Optimization (DRO) mode is much discussed on the web but it most closely resembles Fujifilm EXR in terms of performance. I still think EXR has the edge, but DRO was better than nothing. Even still, I found the in-camera HDR feature to outperform DRO to my eyes. The big difference though is that DRO will work when RAW format is active, but HDR only works with JPEG only mode.

DRO supports Auto and 5 manually chosen levels whereas HDR has Auto and 6EV levels. I laugh a bit at the EV levels for the HDR as it doesn’t feel like it’s doing real HDR since the camera seemingly takes one exposure and then manually creates the final image in-camera. For HDR a non-processed image is retained followed by a processed HDR. My samples gallery contains a bunch of examples and the HDR images are identified as being the brighter images.

Here’s a real world example in a touch scene:


HDR 6EV does a decent job with what seems to be a single-exposure image

The windows is where you see the biggest difference and the improvement is worth using this feature, but if I did a 6EV by hand or with a DSLR, you’d not have overblown windows like you see here so this setting is a joke. Usable yes, but 6EV – not!


I’m not a video shooter, and much of what we do with this class of camera is so bad I can’t bear to share it. However, I did toss one short video in its native MTS file format with all default settings for movie mode up on my samples site. It’s 59.5MB and it really shows how solid the stabilization is since I’m hand holding the shot and rotating on an uneven surface.

NOTE: The offline original is better than the online version I’ve shared. It’s much smoother with less compression.

The Wife Verdict

My wife loved using this camera and found herself taking a lot more images with it because of its one hand operation. She never really got used to the features and missed both the EXR mode and the exposure compensation dial (which we call the make it brighter/darker knob at home <g>) on her x10.

If this were a $300 camera we’d probably keep it, but at $648 (at the time this was written) it’s definitely going back to B&H in favor of the x10. It’s compact size doesn’t make up for the performance and features of her x10, and the benefits just don’t justify the price – for her.

Compared to Other Compact Cameras

Click here to see my comparison of the RX100 to the Fujifilm X10 and Canon s110/G15.

As common sense dictates, cameras like the RX1, XPro-1, etc… destroy it in image quality. However, if you are only printing 4x6 prints (but it can easily do 16x24”) and sharing your images on Facebook (etc…) with small images like I have here then this is all the camera you need for that output format.


See part 2 for my final thoughts.

Where to order

Click here to order the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 on the B&H web site.

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bgood said...

Thanks for the review. It will be interesting to learn if you keep the Rx100 or wait for the X20.
I never came to like the RX100 whch I still own, but continue to use my X10 for a point and shoot. I just find the X10 more pleasnt to use and having at least some sort of viewfinder is important to me (can't wait for the X20). I also like the way the X10 renders images and Fuji colors. Maybe I haven't used the Rx100 enough to really get to know it like I do my other cameras.
Mostly, I put a a small lens on my OM-D for a point and shoot since it fits easily in a coat pocket.

Dave P. said...

Hi Ron - Love your blog.

Two questions:

What are your JPEG contrast/sharpness/saturation settings?

Where is the movie taken? What a beautiful area.

Looking forward to the sum-up! said...

Thanks Dave P,

The JPEG Fine setting was used along with the camera default settings for everything else. What I got here is something you could expect to get in real world everyday use. The only tweak I made occasionally was to use the Shade white balance instead of AWB to force a little warmth - but that was rare as I mostly shoot with AWB when testing cameras.

The movie was taken in Bellevue, WA.


Anonymous said...

Did you use the 'fine' mode for these Jpegs? I just got my new RX100 & while shooting in fine mode (default) with intelligent auto mode, on blowing up the image & looking at the details I observe that the details are blurred for all images! They look ok only when shooting in raw+jpeg mode. Also, while shooting indoors, the sony steadyshot icon keeps blinking with an exclamation. I suspect the camera is faulty, but will wait to hear as I think you've used just the fine mode to produce these pics, especially one I saw in intelligent auto mode on your blog. Inputs much appreciated. Thanks said...


I always do RAW+JPEG when doing my testing, but only the JPEG's get uploaded. I do set the JPEG's to use the largest file size (least compression) which in this case is the FINE mode.

Doing JPEG only or RAW+JPEG won't make a difference - the JPEG is created the same way for both methods.

If you haven't already, be sure to check out part II of my review where I talk about the horrible in-camera noise reduction. This camera also will use very slow shutter speeds in low light, so you'll get blurry pictures if you don't pay attention to your shutter speeds and switch over to manual or shutter priority then you'll get quite a few blurry shots indoors. I suspect that's what happening to you here.