Monday, January 28, 2013

Sony DSC-RX100 vs Fujifilm X10 vs Canon s110/G15(Review Part 2 of 2)

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 Rear View
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 Rear View

In part 1 of my review of the Sony DSC-RX100 (click to read), I showed lots of real world photos which show off the strengths of this camera. Its compact size and solid image quality make it compelling, but in this article I’ll wrap things up with a discussion about how it compares to some of the competition. In my mind, the cameras that most closely compete with this camera are the Fujifilm x10 (my former point and shoot of the year), the Canon s110 (which offers similar features in a compact package) and the highly touted Canon G15.

Bookshelf Test

Bookshelf images of different ISO’s and additional settings can be found at http://www.ronmartinsen.com/sony/rx100. Be sure to look at the filenames and metadata for details about what is what, and you may download them for your personal review but please delete them when you are done. All images were taken with RAW+JPEG Fine and camera defaults, but I can only upload JPEG so that’s what’s included online. I did disable stabilization for these tests since I was using a tripod and long exposures.

Here’s the base native ISO image (which is 125, not 100 or 200 as you’d find in other cameras):


Sony DSC-RX100 - f/8 @ 10.4 mm,10s, ISO 125, No Flash, AWB

From the in-camera JPEG with zero post-processing, what I see is an image that has excellent color, white balance and tasteful saturation. The image is sharp and overall fairly impressive for the size of its sensor.

For the opposite end of the spectrum, the ISO 6400 image always underexposed no matter what metering mode I was in and even with various ISO modes and both Aperture Priority and Manual (when set to +/-0 EV). Here’s the result:


RX100 f/8 @ 10.4 mm,1/8, ISO 6400, No Flash, AWB

The noise was squashed to oblivion which kills too much detail so overall I felt like this was an unusable ISO. For kicks and giggles I took the same exact image from the RAW file and just accepted the default RAW processing of Lightroom 4.3 (plus I clicked Auto Exposure) and this is what it looked like:


Same as above, but from Lightroom RAW Processing and Auto Exposure

The detail returns but so does the noise, so make no mistake that this is still a tiny sensor point and shoot. Noise is a reality but if you take a less ridiculous noise reduction setting (say Noiseware Default setting) then you have an image that cleans up nice enough to use for small prints and online images as shown here:


Same as above, but Noiseware Default noise reduction applied

DRO vs HDR

I also decided to test DRO vs HDR more carefully to see if my handheld results in the previous article would still hold up. As one might expect, they did but I did also confirm using longer exposures that HDR does in fact take multiple exposures as one would expect. In my previous article I stated I wasn’t sure that it did because the exposures were taken so quickly and so close together that I didn’t hear them. As a result I thought it might have been doing in-camera HDR from a single exposure, but that doesn’t appear to be the case (thankfully).

Here’s the Auto DRO setting which appeared to be the same as the DRO 5 setting done manually:


f/8 @ 10.4 mm,10s, ISO 125, No Flash, AWB, DRO Auto

There wasn’t any major difference in this mode versus the non DRO image, so I was a bit disappointed in the result. However, the HDR was quite nice and Auto seemed to take 3 or 4 exposures (I heard 4 clicks but wasn’t sure if all 4 were exposures) in the HDR Auto & HDR 6EV modes. Here’s the result:


f/8 @ 10.4 mm,10s, ISO 125, No Flash, AWB, HDR Auto

As I saw with the handheld, the alignment was great and the range was very good. It still was less than I am accustomed to getting from the EXR mode of the X10, but it was way better than the s110 HDR mode. If you have the this camera and the time to use, the HDR mode is definitely worthwhile for a great dynamic range with excellent color.

Subjective Comparison

Unfortunately I do not have any direct bookshelf images to compare against RX100 as my methodology for testing is much different now than it was at the time I reviewed the other cameras in this class. I didn’t take cameras in this class seriously in the past so my other bookshelf tests were more informal and not framed and tested to the same standard as I do for mirrorless and DSLR’s now.

With that said, I did test the RX100 using the more advanced methodology so that I can compare it against future cameras and you can compare it with other more expensive cameras that I have reviewed. This should come in handy when I review the X20 and the RX100 replacement in the future (no, I have no idea when or if that will ever happen).

To see the galleries of the other cameras discussed in this review then visit the following hyperlinks:

Based on my subjective opinion, here’s how I am seeing how these cameras compare:

  1. At lower ISO’s, the best overall image quality favors the RX100
  2. It’s my opinion, that the RX100 seems to have the sharpest lens of the bunch
  3. In-camera noise reduction on the RX100 is terrible and gets horrific after ISO 800
  4. The in-camera meter likes to underexpose compared to the others and switching metering modes didn’t help in the bookshelf test. Despite indicating a proper exposure, the ISO6400 shot was very underexposed. None of the other cameras exhibited this issue.
  5. The RX100 and s110 are nearly identical in design, but the s110 is more feature rich and easier to use.
  6. While none of these cameras have great flashes, I preferred the RX100’s flash performance the most.
  7. The RX100 LCD was the hardest to use outdoors, but its battery performance was the best so perhaps that was an intentional trade-off by Sony.
  8. Ease of use wise, I still prefer the Canon G-series (especially the G12) over the RX100
  9. Camera that frustrated me the most in the field – RX100
  10. Camera my wife most enjoyed – X10, but she loved the one hand ease-of-use of the RX100.
  11. Best mixed-light camera (i.e., drastic differences between foreground & background) – Fujifilm EXR mode found on the x10. DRO and even the HDR performance of the RX100 wasn’t even close
  12. Best macro camera – x10
  13. Best pano performance – RX100
  14. Best video – RX100
  15. Best stabilization – RX100
  16. Best in-camera high ISO performance – s110
  17. Best value – s110
  18. Worst value – RX100 (overpriced IMHO for what you get)
  19. If I could only have one – Fujifilm x10 (because of EXR mode)
  20. If advising a friend, I’d still suggest the x10 but if size is an issue I’d say the s110 or RX100

Here’s also some other cameras I’ve reviewed that some may wish to compare against as well (but I don’t consider any of these to be direct competitors):

Conclusion

I like the RX100 and feel like it makes great images. If you do a comparison of the RAW images you’ll quickly find that it has great RAW images that are hampered by fairly poor in-camera processing compared to the other cameras I’ve tested. At low ISO’s it’s not an issue and they are quite good, but as the ISO’s climb the poor in-camera noise reduction really hurts. As a result, my “always keep your raw images” applies more for this camera than any of the others I’ve tested.

I wanted the RX100 to be a small sensor RX1 with a zoom, but it’s not. I wanted it to have NEX-7 like performance and Canon s110 like ease of use – but it doesn’t have that either. Instead what you get is a nice s110 size camera with an excellent lens, great low ISO performance, above average battery life and great video. All of those things make it a compelling camera that I think will satisfy buyers who live in the automatic modes, but anyone who likes control over their camera will find that the RX100 comes up short – very short. Given the high price of this camera, that’s unacceptable, but hopefully enough people will ignore these realities and buy it anyway so that Sony will be encourage to release a new model that hopefully addresses some of my concerns.

If you are a RAW only shooter then you’ll be much more satisfied than if you are someone who likes to use the JPEG whenever possible and the RAW is only a backup (which is my preference for cameras in this class). As a result, all of these little issues and the price have caused me to pass on getting the RX100 (which I had intended to buy before I tested it) and stick with my X10. It looks like my hope for a replacement now will rest on the X20 which I hope to review soon.

Where to order

Click here to order the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 on the B&H web site. My friends at Adorama have it available here and Amazon has it available here.

Other articles you may enjoy

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this. B&H loaned me the camera I used for this review.

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7 comments:

bgood said...

I have the RX100 and the X10 and I agree with your conclusions. For me, the X10 is way more fun to shoot and I get better and more consistent results under mixed lighting conditions. Thanks for your review and I've ordered an X20.
Note: proving I'm not a robot is almost impossible on my iPad and still challenging on my Macbook Pro Retina. This might be discouraging reader feedback.

Ron Martinsen said...

bgood,

Thanks for your validation of what I'm seeing as well.

Enjoy your X20 - I look forward to reviewing one.

RE: feedback - if you log on with your OpenID or Google Acccount before you try to create a comment then you shouldn't have to do the annoying verification. I don't control that though - that's a Google feature.

with that said, the verification helps as I had to shut down my forums due to thousands of bots attacking it each day. I only get about 10 or so spam posts from humans each week on my comments, so it's a necessary evil.

I apologize for having to filter comments, but the sad reality is that the spammers are more frequently adding comments than legitimate users.

Anonymous said...

I bought the RX100 based on specs adn a couple of good reviews back in November and find myself very satisfied provided I use it as follows. Shoot RAW, aperture priority (usually set at f1.8); Then I'll vary the ISO up to a low light max of 1600ISO. That level of noise cleans up nicely.

I also found the auto focus to work very well. The small size make it my everywhere camera (blows away the iPhone). Other nice features: quiet shutter, ability to fire off 10 frames per second with very low noise make it ideal for street photography;

Finally, I wasn't sure what competition this camera had in its price range that offers 20MP, image stabilization and f1.8 until I looked up the X20 specs but see only 12MP and a smaller sensor than the Sony's.

I think you meant the sensor is smaller than a full frame's. This afternoon I printed off a landscape shot taken from this camera at 34" wide. I was shocked at the good detail it achieved. This is the camera that has finally really got me interested in photography again!

Warm regards,
Mike

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

Thank you for an amazing review. As Annonymous mentioned. I bought the camera based on its specs. Shoot primarily in RAW. Also based my purchase on the overwhelming reviews online as a super sharp camera. I don't feel that the shots that I take are super sharp as our online community boasts. I shot with my 7d this weekend and felt the image quality was miles apart. I understand it's not fair comparing the two. Maybe I am not using proper settings. Can you recommend settings to me. Thank you, . Peter

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

Thank you for an amazing review. As Annonymous mentioned. I bought the camera based on its specs. Shoot primarily in RAW. Also based my purchase on the overwhelming reviews online as a super sharp camera. I don't feel that the shots that I take are super sharp as our online community boasts. I shot with my 7d this weekend and felt the image quality was miles apart. I understand it's not fair comparing the two. Maybe I am not using proper settings. Can you recommend settings to me. Thank you, . Peter

Ron Martinsen said...

Thanks Peter!

The reason why I post "real world shots" is because many people are like you - they read a review, buy a product, then when they use it their images don't live up to what they saw on the web. This is because images get enhanced by many publications and blogs (not all) so what you see is their Photoshop work on top of a photo that is probably better composed and features a more interesting subject than the test shots that normal humans do with their new cameras.

You can find my real world shots here so you can see how they compare against yours.

I would encourage you to shoot RAW+JPEG while testing your camera because often times when a new camera comes out the RAW processing in ACR/Lightroom, etc... sucks so the in-camera JPEG's are a lot better. RAW processing improves over time as does your editing skills on the RAW files of any given camera so that in time you can easily create a file that's better than the in-camera JPEG.

All of my images have EXIF metadata so you can over the image and mouse over the letter "i" to see EXIF metadata about the photo.

I do not crop or edit in any way. I only import into Lightroom and Export from Lightroom using the original file - renamed, so what you see is what you get.

I do often switch to shade white balance to improve in-camera color, but I try to mention that when applicable.

Bookshelf shots are on a tripod and use a timer, so they are exceptionally sharp - not what you'd get if you shot handheld.

Thank for supporting the blog!

Guillaume said...

Thanks for the really awesome review.
I recently bought a RX100 and it has helped me a lot learning more about this camera.