Sony RX100 Review
Over the years I have used I number of digital cameras ranging from film SLR's to GoPro's and it is safe to say no camera really full fills every need. However until now I assumed the best combination was a Digital SLR (I have a Canon 550d with 30mm Sigma lens), an iPhone (an iPhone 4s) and a GoPro. These were great for pretty much every situation. The iPhone camera is surprisingly great and, when paired with the VSCOcam app, outputs photos easily good enough for the web. However it does fall short when professional quality photos are needed and this is when the 550d comes into play. An SLR is great for situations when you know you will want to take photos, so I use mine for work/product/research photos and also for creating various video edits. An iPhone is simply nowhere near this quality and has no manual control which is kind of essential for taking a good photo. The GoPro is used for when I go surfing/snowboarding/mountain biking.
However over the last 8 weeks I have been travelling around Europe and living out of a backpack created a slight issue. I didn't want to rely on an iPhone for taking pics in Venice, Greece or Croatia and my SLR was completely impractical to take backpacking. So I decided to buy a compact camera. All I wanted was a decent sized sensor, wide aperture, RAW files and a small form factor. Mirrorless camera's are a bit over the top for my needs (as I have an actual SLR) so I went with an RX100. I purchased the Mark 1 version off ebay for around £220, which was a great price, and have been using it ever since.
Of course there are huge amount of bridge, semi-pro, pro-compact or what ever you want to call them camera's on the market. Companies like Panasonic, Canon, Nikon and others do a fair few of these and ones from Leica are amazing. But the former companies produce quite ugly products and the latter are overly expensive. The Sony RX100 has had some fantastic reviews, but crucially it also looks great. In some ways it's appearance is a bit like an old Leica, but it's timeless style and complete lack of features is something I really like.
The camera is built almost entirely around the large lens that dominates the majority of the camera's front, showing how the focus is really on the function with nothing else unnecessary being added in any way. Apart from the extrusion of the lens, the body is a hunk of bead blasted aluminium which is incredibly well made.
Tactile manual controls are great to use, and something that every phone photography should miss. Quick selection of options without diving into menus and sub menus is irreplaceable, and the RX100 has effectively 3 dials to do everything. The PASM dial makes switching modes easy, and the thumb scroller makes flicking through menus and other settings extremely easy.
The best part of the physical interface has to be the dial around the lens. This is used for manual focus or adjusting the aperture of shutter depending on what mode you are using. But having this physical control makes taking great photos and having direct control of the camera extremely easy. It feels great to use and has decent enough resistance to make fine adjustment possible.
The back of the camera has a decent number of controls without adding too much confusion and a direct movie record button makes it easy to capture something that a photo can't. Apart from this simple shortcut buttons are well chosen and allow the most important setting to be reached with ease.
But the reason you buy one of these is not for the good design. It is to take better pictures that the biggest competitor of all cameras. An iPhone. I've used my iPhone 4s ever since it came out and it still takes amazingly good quality photos considering how old it is. But phones will always be limited in the size of their sensor, the ability to have decent optical zoom, and most importantly the level of manual control. So if you only like flicking open your camera app, and sticking a photo onto Instagram using the built in filters, buying a separate camera is not for you. But if you want to take high quality photo's and have a but more control, the RX100 is what you want.
As you can see the physical size of the RX100 is not much different to the iPhone but the size of the lens is vastly bigger. This allows more light in, making it take better photos in all conditions, but at night is when the difference is clearly seen. Being able to take pictures at dusk, inside or at parties without a flash means you photos will actually look good. Not blown out white photos when the insignificant iPhone LED comes into play. Landscapes look miles better and your sunset photo's will beat anything seen on Instagram.
In short, a big lens, an optical zoom, a larger sensor and manual controls leads to considerably better quality photo's (so long as you know what you are doing!). But be the judge for yourself - below are a few comparison shots from when I was travelling around europe.
Should you buy one?
It turns out the RX100 is great for simply chucking in your back and taking out when a photo is too important, needs a bit more control, or is in a darker situation than an iPhone can handle. An SLR with a decent fixed focal lens is still a great deal better than this, however it trounces an iPhone (even a 5s), and is so small it deserves too be carried when you take a bag with you. But on the days when all you want is phone, wallet and keys, an iPhone cannot be beaten for convenience. I would suggest buying the Mark 1 second hand on ebay like I did, as all the bells and whistles of the new modles are not worth the £600 price tag.