Sony RX100 Review

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is the best point & shoot camera ever. It’s better than the Canon S100. It’s better than the Fujifilm X10. It’s better than the Panasonic Lumix LX5. The Sony DSC-RX100 is a point and shoot camera so good that it’s better compared to larger sensor cameras like the Canon G1 X or the Sony NEX-5N. Point and shoot cameras have always been about compromise, and in the past, you always had to compromise one or more of the following: camera size, sensor size, lens speed, zoom range, or feature set when looking for a camera.

Those days are over with the Sony RX100, which is the first point and shoot camera to combine pocket size with a large 1″ sensor, a fast f/1.8 lens, 3.6x optical zoom (28-100mm equivalent), great design and build quality, and a robust set of features. 

Even years after its release in 2014, it still remains the class-leader based on our testing. While the Sony RX100 II and Sony RX100 III both sport some very nice  improvements in terms of features, we rank the original RX100 #1 due to its significantly lower price-point.

For point and shoot users, the two most significant features that are typically mutually exclusive are the 1″ sensor and the compact size. It doesn’t have the largest sensor of any point and shoot camera, but it does have the largest sensor of any truly pocketable point and shoot camera. The significance of this cannot be overstated: you can easily fit the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 in your pocket and carry it with you anywhere. All other point and shoot cameras that come close to the RX100’s image quality are gargantuan in size. The Sony RX100 is almost exactly the size of the Canon S95 or S100, yet packs so much more of a punch. That this camera can do everything that it does in such a small size almost defies the laws of science. It’s one amazing camera in one really, really small package.

So amazing, in fact, that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 will cannibalize Sony NEX and even DSLR sales. Mark my words on that.

How is it so impressive? Let’s get down to the details. If you clicked on this review expecting a bunch of lab photos of boring color charts, I’m sorry to disappoint. I’m not a pixel peeper, I’m a photographer who uses cameras in the real world, concerned with how they really perform (go to DxOMark if you want “stats”). In the real world, the Sony RX100 performs so well that I found myself having “pinch me because this is too good to be true” moments.

To start, I always ask myself for whom is this camera made when judging it: amateurs, novices, or experts? The answer here is “everyone.” The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 has a lot of different modes for varying skills. Most important of these, to me, is full manual mode, which is something absent from a lot of point and shoot cameras. If you’re not ready for advanced modes, fear not, as there are also Intelligent Auto Modes. These worked very well in my testing, and should make the Sony RX100 a great camera for beginners to “grow into” as they learn photography.

This large, 1″ sensor coupled with the f/1.8 aperture of the lens allows for something I’ve never accomplished with any other point and shoot camera: shallow depth of field! The first time I captured a photo with a nice buttery, out of focus background with the Sony RX100, I was a bit flabergasted. It was as if the Sony RX100 was doing its best DSLR impression. It was a pretty good impression. The discerning eye could certainly tell a difference, but to have that look to a photo taken by a point and shoot camera? Wow.

The Carl Zeiss lens is the brightest of many bright spots on the Sony RX100. The optical quality is stunning, with great color, contrast, and sharpness. Point and shoot veterans may balk at the 3.6x zoom on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, but this smaller focal range ensures greater optical quality. This is an absolutely necessary compromise, and frankly, I find the focal range perfectly adequate. Especially considering that the 20mp files give you plenty of cropping space. Since point and shoot cameras often produce soft images, I’m far more concerned with maximizing sharpness than maximizing zoom. The lens also features optical stabilization, which helps keep images sharp when the shutter speed drops lower than is ideal. Another benefit from my perspective is the gorgeous starbursts and minimal lens flare that the Zeiss lens can produce. These are not the type of results you expect from a point and shoot lens. To say I have been floored by this lens would be an understatement.

Thanks to this lens and that large sensor, the images the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 takes are sweet. They have great color, clarity, contrast, and sharpness. By default, the black levels don’t have quite as much kick as I’d like (this can be adjusted), but no point and shoot camera that I’ve used has ever produced truly dark darks. Overall, image quality is stunning.

Build quality on the lens is impressive, as it is on the camera as a whole. The camera is made in Japan, which is viewed as a sign of quality in the photography world, as that’s where the labs are located that create the technology itself. The quality shows in the build of the Sony RX100, which is rock solid metal alloy solid and has a very sleek design aesthetic (it looks very similar to the Canon S95).

Another huge benefit to the camera, eventually, will be that it can shoot raw in addition to JPG. I say “eventually” because right now the only way to convert these raw files is to use the downloadable Sony software (no CD is included with the camera) and use that. I would hazard a guess that this software was designed by a drunken chimpanzee. It’s atrocious. As soon as Adobe releases an update to its Camera RAW profiles to add support for the Sony RX100, I’ll update this section of the review. For now, the ability to shoot and edit raw is incredibly exciting to me.

Update: After using this camera for about a year and editing raw photos with Adobe Camera RAW, I’m still impressed by it. The dynamic range is incredible for a point and shoot (albeit not on par with a DSLR), making this a very capable camera for anyone who wants to do serious editing to their photos.

As far as camera modes, features, and gimmicks, there’s a bit of each here. Although intriguing, the HDR modes seem a bit gimmicky to me (although who can’t do this type of thing in post processing may love them), and there’s also a far less gimmicky self portrait feature, and a great panorama mode. As mentioned above, the range of modes (from Intelligent Auto to full manual) makes this the perfect camera for beginners to pick up as they learn photography and become experts. It’s not a camera that will quickly be outgrown.

Thanks to its lightning fast burst mode (up to 13(!!!) frames per second), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 won’t suffer from one of the most common complaints about point and shoot cameras: lag before and between photos. It can beat most DSLRs in terms of burst rate.

The pop-up flash is another great feature, and the ability to angle this flash up to bounce it off the ceiling (to diffuse the light) is awesome.

External buttons are sparse on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which definitely takes a “less is more” approach to design that might scare away DSLR users, but thanks to programmable function buttons, this is not a big deal. I love external buttons on my DSLRs, and at first this was a big concern for me, but I have gotten used to it. Having fewer buttons definitely makes the camera more approachable and less intimidating for beginners.

Video is impressive on the Sony RX100, which can shoot in 1080p HD. The video quality seems great for a point and shoot on its own, but when combined with that lens, you have class-leading video quality that will be more than adequate for most users.

For a point and shoot camera, high ISO performance is pretty impressive. I took it up to ISO 800 without noticing much loss in detail or noise, and although noise increases and clarity decreases above that, I will be using images up to ISO 3200. In fact, the image below was shot at ISO 3200, without any noise reduction applied in post processing. Anything above ISO 3200 is pretty unusable, except for small use on the web or in a serious pinch. Still, usable ISO 3200 from a point and shoot? That’s amazing! Just check out the photos below from Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris (a dark ride) to see how well it performs at high ISOs.

Sony RX100 Review - High ISO Test

The Sony RX100 is not without its faults. Namely, the price tag. There are generally two categories of people in the market for point and shoot cameras: 1) those who don’t want to shell out the money for an expensive DSLR, and 2) those who want something easy and portable. This will effectively price out a lot of people in the former category who are market for a point and shoot camera, and to be sure, it is very expensive for a point and shoot camera. However, is it really fair to compare it to the prices of point and shoots? Given my statements about performance, it should be clear that this is no ordinary point and shoot camera.

Sony RX100 Review - High ISO Test

After seeing it backordered at a couple retailers, I immediately preordered the Sony RX100 because I saw it as a camera that (hopefully) would replace my “third string” camera, my Nikon D3100. I normally try to wait for deals on anything I purchase, but I know this camera isn’t going down in price anytime soon, and I think it’s worth every penny of the $650 price point (it now sells for $425 refurbished, which I think is an absolute steal), which just so happens to be the exact retail price of the Nikon D3100 kit. To be sure, the image quality of the Sony RX100 is not on par with the Nikon D3100.

I would never trade in my Nikon D600 for this camera, but I will trade in my D3100, because I’m willing to sacrifice a minor loss of quality in exchange for substantially improved portability. Over the weekend while I was testing the camera out, I carried it with me in my shorts pockets everywhere we went, just like I carry my cell phone. I can’t do this with the D3100, and as they say, “the best camera is the one you have with you.” I can carry this camera with me anywhere, and there’s a lot of value in that. So I guess all of this isn’t really a “con” from my perspective–I’d rather the camera cost a bit more and offer better overall quality (being made in Japan and having a metal body certainly increases the price, but I am glad that it’s metal and made in Japan)–but it could be a con for some.

Sony RX100 Review - High ISO Test

There are some real cons, though. First, is battery life and charging. In my tests, I’m getting around 300-400 photos per full battery charge, which is pretty low by any standard, but especially by the DSLR standards I’m used to. Even worse is that presently, the only way you can charge the battery is to insert it into the camera and charge it by USB. Here’s hoping Sony (or third parties) release a wall charger so you can charge spare batteries.

Another criticism is that the highly touted f/1.8 lens isn’t a constant f/1.8. This is pretty common for point and shoot cameras, and perhaps I’m hoping for the impossible, but I wish it were a little faster at the telephoto end. In practice, though, this hasn’t been a big deal. I shoot mostly wide in low light situations (honestly, who wants a telephoto shot of a sunset?!), and for these “real world” photos, the aperture is just fine.

With the exception of the battery issues, all of these complaints are fairly insignificant.

Overall, I highly, highly recommend the Sony RX100. This is a truly revolutionary camera. That I’m comparing its performance to my DSLRs in areas of this review should speak volumes, given that it’s a pocket-sized, point and shoot camera. To be sure, quality is not DSLR quality in most regards, but it can be very close. Close enough that I’m betting the Sony RX100 would be a suitable replacement for a DSLR for a lot of you reading this. A point and shoot that is a suitable replacement for a DSLR for many people and is pocket sized?! I honestly never thought I would see the day. It may seem like a lot of money, but given what this camera can do, it’s really not. In fact, it’s a downright bargain. The Sony RX100 will have other manufacturers playing catch-up for years, and even though the Sony RX100 III is now available (the third generation of this camera), the Sony RX100 still remains my #1 overall point and shoot camera pick because of its robust feature set and lower price than its successors.

If you’re looking for other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:

Photography Buying Guide: Way More Than You Ever Needed to Know…
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Neutral Density Filter Buying Guide
Travel Tripod Buying Guide

Your Thoughts…

Do you own the Sony RX100? What do you think of it? Are you considering buying it? Share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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44 Responses to “Sony RX100 Review”

  1. Cheryl says:

    Would love to see some low light/ outside dark pictures from this camera :)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Those will likely come next week. Sarah has the camera in Cayman right now, but I plan on doing a ton more testing with it when it returns.

      • Laura B says:

        I think the most important question is why are you not in the Caymans with Sarah!

        Great review. Definitely looking into this camera.

      • cyber-shot says:

        Excuse my ignorance, but a few years ago I purchased the Lumix DMC-FZ18K for vacation photos, I was wondering if this camera is a good buy for casual good vacation photos? If I were to buy this camera, would I have to learn the modes, raw processing, and such to make good use of it?

  2. Dave says:

    Hi Tom, thanks for the info. I like this sort of review much better than the numbers-driven ones. Those have their place, but don’t usually tell me what I want to know.

    Have you tested the Nikon P&S with the changeable lenses? I’m just curious how they compare to this. The reason I’m curious is that I had a Cybershot P-200 a few years ago that I loved. It was small, but had full manual control and allowed me to do a lot with extended exposure times, etc. Alas, I took it to a waterpark and discovered that my waterproof case wasn’t so waterproof. In the meantime, I got a Nikon L110. I got it because I liked the zoom capability of it and it does a nice job, but the focus lag and lack of full manual leave me wanting something else (that and I accidentally left it in a pizzeria in Easton, PA and though they said they will send it, I have yet to get it back.) It has a great macro capability, which is good when you enjoy shooting toys.

    That said, were the McDuck and cat paw photos shot with the macro on? If not, have you experimented with the macro at all? I like the manual focus control of the Sony and it seems like it focuses pretty quickly, which would be great compared to the Nikon when shooting photos of the kids.

    One last question, when you have used a P&S like this, have you ever used an SLR filter with it? Sometimes I use a polarized filter if there’s glare, etc. Just wondered if that’s in the realm of “you might as well go with a DSLR if you’re doing that..” I’ve wavered on it, because when we go to WDW, my family rarely has the patience for me to set up to take anything more than snapshots, much less anything where I’d have to set up a tripod, etc., so on one hand I would like to get a DSLR to take the kind of photos I know I can create, but on the other, carrying around a bunch of stuff and having to run with P&S quality when you have a DSLR seems like a waste, so this seems like a good balance to get better shots on the go. *sigh* stupid family…j/k. 😉

    I’m the admin for flickr’s Disney is in the Details group and you can see my WDW and toy photos here. Nowhere near as awesome as yours, but I’m working on it…

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’ve tested (in the store) a couple of the EVIL cameras and haven’t been overly impressed.

      The problem, as I see it, is that they’re still larger in size. I feel that if I can’t carry a camera in my pocket, I might as well carry my DSLR. Having a camera that’s a bit smaller than my DSLR doesn’t really benefit me all that much.

      Those photos were not macro, but the macro is interesting. I haven’t completely put it through its paces, but the whole manual focus system (with peaking and all!) seems very well done.

      I’ve never used filters with a point and shoot, for the exact reason you mention. Point and shoots are all about convenience for me, and once you start going crazy with accessories, etc., you might as well just use a DSLR. At least that’s how I feel!

      I enjoy your Disney group! I’m a member and I’ve posted several photos in it over the years!

      • Daniele says:

        Tom, loved your review and am poised to buy this camera. Could you post photos using the macro? The camera isn’t available in my town so I can’t check it out before buying and I don’t want to be disappointed by the macro? How close can you get? How distorted? Thanks.


  3. Christy says:

    I have a Canon G10 and the main complaint that I have is that it is GIANT in terms of portability. It’s the reason I have been going camera-less at WDW for the last few trips relying solely on my iPhone 4s. After your glowing review, I’m going to have to find one of these to try!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Not only is the Sony RX100 a better camera (image quality-wise) than the Canon G series cameras, but it’s also much smaller.

  4. JANIE(jwag115) says:

    OK Tom. I am going to totally trust you on this one. I’m getting tired of carrying my Nikon around the parks and I like my iPhone photos but I want something a little better. I wanted to get one before our trip to the Food and Wine Festival so this sounds like a winner. Thanks!

  5. dan says:

    Thank you for posting this nice fair review! How did you find focus accuracy? Does it have a manual focus option? Every time a camera like this gets released, my Leica M9 feels more and more threatened. :)

  6. Criswell3000 says:

    Awesome review Tom. The announcement of this camera helped me steer my eye away from the NEX line and back to looking to a full frame upgrade. My current vacation setup involved my wife taking a point & shoot and me with the DSLR. But getting back home, I hated the IQ of her camera. I figured I would have to go mirrorless, but there were not many truly pocketable options. This will allow for my wife to obliviously take better snapshots when she has it and for me to use the creative options when I am using it. With a portable option solved, I can worry about which full frame camera I will buy.

  7. Mikey says:

    I’ve been considering buying a DSLR (Canon EOS 650D) for our Disneyland/Disney World trip at the end of the year. This review mentioned the convenience of a good point and shoot. For our trip to Disneyland Paris, I took my Canon S95. It was great for the fact that I didn’t have to go through bag-check, was able to walk around without any bags/weight, and jump on and off all rides. However, the photos were good but not spectacular (obviously the S95 isn’t fast enough to catch parades, and had trouble with low light). This trip I thought about an entry level DSLR so I could catch parades and night time shows.

    My question is: does lugging a DSLR around the parks take its toll – and is it worth carrying so much weight each day of the vacation? I like carrying as little as possible. I’ll be bringing my S95 along as well but if I’m going to invest in a DSLR I don’t want to leave that in the hotel room.

    Thanks for taking the time.

  8. Bobby says:

    I’ve owned both a Canon S90 and a Fuji x10 and there is simply no comparison. I bought my RX100 about a week ago and have been absolutely floored by it. The build quality, the size, the performance.

    But most importantly, it makes you wanna go shoot. Not a lot of cameras can do that these days.

    Best $650 I’ve spent in my life!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      You hit the nail on the head with that second to last line. It really makes you want to go out and take pictures!

  9. Christa says:

    Yikes…I can’t shell out $648 for a camera or my husband will shoot me, after I bought a DSLR last year. Do you have a recommendation for something under $300 to toss in my bag when I don’t want to lug the DSLR into the parks? I was contemplating the Canon Powershot SX260.

  10. Alexsandra says:

    First, I can’t tell you how much I love your blog. Thanks for all the great info, tips and gorgeous pictures!
    After reading this review, I did a little more research on this camera and I am sold! I am no professional photographer and often just leave the camera on automatic. However I like to switch to manual in low lighting or when I just want to experiment. I took pics with my Mom’s Canon Eos on my last trip to WDW but it is was so bulky and cumbersome. It did take nice pics though! This camera looks like it has gorgeous picture quality while being the compact size I was looking for. I am willing to spend the cash if you say it worth it.

  11. Andrew says:

    Hey, it was great to stumble upon this!

    We’re going in a few months, and my D70 doesn’t cut it any more; I looked into, and bought (but didn’t open) a D5100. Upon further reading it looks like an high percentage have shutter issues that result in black images… so, unopened, we returned it, along with the 35mm f1.8 we got.

    Anyway, I’m pretty picky – funny, I was about sold on the RX100 until the battery/charging situation. Makes no sense; every digital cam we’ve purchased has come with a wall charger! Yikes.

    I haven’t ruled the RX100 out… and will keep doing my homework.

  12. Amy says:

    Hey Tom! Great review! So great, we now own one. My question for you is, when taking a picture of my kids with a character at a character meal, what setting should I put the camera on to make the people in the background blurry or just out of focus? That’s the only thing about character meals I don’t like…the people stuffing their faces in the background of my otherwise great picture! 😃

  13. Stephen says:

    Hi Tom,

    Treated myself a RX100 as a Chrissy present and loving it so far. My question is: when should I use Intelligent Auto vs Superior Auto? I’m confuse with these 2 features.

  14. John says:

    We just used this awesome little camera for our Disney vacation and can honestly say that there are only 2 pictures out of 150 that didn’t come out the way I wanted and those were my fault for not adjusting the settings. All of the video we shot was with the RX100.
    The shot with Mickey mouse was operator error. As with all camera’s learn them and their little ways first before you trot them out for the big league memories! I recommend getting ‘ The Photographer’s Guide to the Sony DSC-RX100′ ebook from amazon and studying it before you go!
    Good luck to you all.

  15. Celia says:

    Thanks for the excellent review! I am looking at buying a new camera before my next Disney trip for MNSSHP. I went last year without decent equipment and failed miserably at getting good Boo to You parade shots. I am determined to get a new camera specifically for the parade and fireworks and have narrowed my options to the RX100 or an entry-level Nikon DSLR 3200 or 5200 with a 50mm 1.8 lens. I have some experience with DSLRs for work events but nothing fancy. Which do you think will give me the best opportunity for good shots?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      It’s going to be very difficult to get good photos of the Boo To You Parade with the RX100. It’s a great camera, but that parade is very challenging. I’d go with a DSLR.

  16. Jo Swem says:

    This has been so helpful. Thank you. But before I order it, I want to be sure it’s a good camera for kids. Our Lumix is useless with our little girl so I always lug around my DSLR. I want a smaller, lighter option that allows me to get good pics of her. It sounds like this can handle it but I want to be sure. Any thoughts? Also, would you recommend the II version now? It’s quite a bit more.

  17. Krazoguy says:

    Do you have a gallery of rx100 pictures? Would love to see more of what this camera can do. I’m sure that if anyone can pull off exceptional exposures with this gem it would be you and your wife.

  18. Lori says:

    Tom, read your review and immediately ordered a Sony RX100! As much as I love my DSLR, when I travel, I love not having to haul my big camera.

    I’m heading to Disney tomorrow, just got the camera yesterday, so it’s going to be learn as I go!
    Any tips on what settings to use for dark rides? By your recommendation, for our last trip ordered the Sigma 1.4 lens, and had a blast using it as my “ride lens”!

    Looking forward to seeing what I get with this one.

  19. alex w. says:

    Hey guys!
    Is this still the best bang for the buck so far the NEX 5/7 was my planned option as a “wife addon” I will still take my 5D M2 with 50 1.4 and 24-70 2.8… but i want a GOOD and EASY Video option… since with DSLR without extensive gear and preperation it’s not easy to get good shoots…

    now I probably want to rent the “addition” for my in May upcoming “make a wish trip” for a week for my daughter…

    so which would be my best pick?

    Alex W

  20. Carol says:

    Hi Tom, I am Loving your blog. My family and I are going to Disnyland for Christmas this year and can’t wait. Your photos have made us even more excited so thank you for that. I want to purchase a camera before we go but don’t want one that is so large it needs it’s own passport, It needs to be easy to use, good night shots, good zoom and hopefully can download straight to facebook and email. Price isn’t a big concern but because I’m a beginner don’t want to spend too much.

    Thanks Carol.

  21. Kristen says:

    Any thoughts regarding the new Sony RX100 III?

  22. Dave says:


    Could you recommend the best custom settings for one who shoots a lot of low-light indoor pics. I assume intel auto will work fine for natural light but most point & shoot cameras that I’ve owned make blurry indoor pics.

  23. Kate says:

    Hey Tom,
    I noticed the pictures of the Disney rides inside, what settings did you use to get pictures like that? Did you use the RX100?

  24. Stephanie Dabrowski says:

    Hi Tom,
    I read your recommendation for camera bags but all seemed to be for DSLR cameras. Do you have a recommendation for the Sony RX100? Looking for something to hold an extra battery and have easy portability, while being semi weatherproof. Any ideas?

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  27. Jamie says:

    I was wondering what your top pick is for a point and shoot for Disney…we are headed there soon and I do not want to drag my DSLR with. I want the camera to have the punch of a DSLR. I want to zoom and not lose quality. I know this is a ton to ask, but I want something to throw in a small bag and not be burdensome.

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