Sony RX100 Review
The Sony RX100 is the best point & shoot camera ever. It is a p&s camera so good that it’s better compared to larger sensor cameras. 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 2016, the Sony RX100 line 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 still rank the original RX100 #1 due to its significantly lower price-point. In terms of image quality, all cameras in the Sony RX100 line perform roughly the same, which is to say very well. The only camera in this line that we have yet to use is the Sony RX100 IV.
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. Buying this camera and reading our How to Take Great Photos with Your Point & Shoot Camera will prepare you to take amazing photos on your Disney vacation without carrying around a bulky camera bag.
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 other cameras, 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 RX100 has taken sales away from larger cameras–even DSLRs. It’s crazy that a pocket-sized point & shoot camera could do 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 RX100 has a lot of different modes for varying skills. Most important of these, to me, are the manual modes, which are 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.
Another huge benefit to the camera is the ability to shoot raw in addition to JPG. The dynamic range of the raw files 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. Just look at the detail in these night photos above and below.
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.
The Sony RX100 is not without its faults. Namely, the price tag. However, now that the camera has been out for a few years, the price has dropped significantly, and it can now be purchased for under $400, which is a great price considering the quality of the images it produces and the size of the camera.
I would never trade in my DSLRs for this camera, but that’s because I’m very serious about photography. It certainly doesn’t perform as well as my full-frame DSLRs, but for beginners, this is an amazing option that’s well worth the money. Beginners won’t notice the minor loss of quality as compared to a DSLR, and it’s arguably worth the tradeoff in exchange for substantially improved portability. Given the quality it offers, I don’t think the price is a serious con. You get what you pay for, and the Sony RX100 offers very solid value for money.
There are some real cons, though. First, is battery life. I get around 400 photos per full battery charge, which is pretty low. 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. The RX100 III and IV both deliver constant, fast lenses, but at the expense of some zoom range. Personally, I prefer what the original Sony RX100 offers in this regard.
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 its successors are now out, 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
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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. Vimeo.com/60109474
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.
Awesome to hear. Thanks for the positive feedback on the camera!
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.
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! ðŸ˜ƒ
You need to use the wide-open apertures. So as close to f/1.8 as you can get.
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.
I wouldn’t let that dissuade you from buying the RX100. In fact, there are now wall-chargers available for it!
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.
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.
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!
You hit the nail on the head with that second to last line. It really makes you want to go out and take pictures!
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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!
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!
Not only is the Sony RX100 a better camera (image quality-wise) than the Canon G series cameras, but it’s also much smaller.
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…
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!
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.
Would love to see some low light/ outside dark pictures from this camera 🙂
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.
I think the most important question is why are you not in the Caymans with Sarah!
Great review. Definitely looking into this camera.
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?