I picked up a new toy today: The Sony RX-100
. This little camera, I believe, will find its way into the pockets and bags of many aviation photographers. That's a tall order for a fixed lens digital camera, but there's so much to like about this that even if you don't buy the RX
-100, it will certainly make its competitors take notice. The camera is only 3/16 of an inch thicker than a Canon S100, yet it has a sensor three times the size and a lens with a brighter effective aperture on the short and long ends. It still fits in your pants pocket and nobody would notice it's there, unless your pants are skin tight.
I've been looking for a small alternative to my walkaround kit and to have as a partner to my SLR. For taking window shots and in-terminal shots, a big SLR attracts way too much attention. I also wanted something I could take on vacation and leave the big kit at home without feeling like I was sacrificing image quality or manual controls. Thankfully, the camera delivers on both fronts.
I considered mirrorless cameras (Specifically, the Sony NEX series) but decided against them due to cost and the fact that I don't really want to get into another lens system. They deliver in terms of IQ
and controls (especially the NEX-7), but the price and investment was too much for me, even though I'd be able to use many of my Alpha accessories.
Its chief inspiration (and rival) is the Canon S100, which is a nice camera, and I did like the S90 when I used it, but small-sensor IQ
leaves a bit to be desired. The larger sensor compacts either had fixed lenses or were not pocketable. The RX
-100 looks like the Goldilocks camera that I was searching for. The sensor is the same size as the Nikon 1 series (1 inch diagonal), but with twice the megapixels and (perversely enough) better image quality. The lens is also excellent, though in my short period of time testing the corners at wide angle can be a little soft at wide apertures.
The physical controls look similar to the Canon S100, save for a few changes. A rotating ring circles the lens barrel, and this ring can change its function based on the user's preference or the Fn key. You can have SLR-like full manual control with the front and rear control rings. Manual focusing is a breeze, because it has both focus peaking and magnification - the in-focus areas light up like a Christmas tree. Combine that with the very smooth lens barrel, and it's hard not to like manual work. The focus acceleration could use some tweaks as sometimes it feels slow to change focus when turning the barrel, but that's usually a consequence of focus-by-wire systems.
The GUI is taken right from Sony's flagship SLR, the a77 (not the NEX series). This is very good news, as the a77 has lots of configurability and great features like multi-frame noise reduction, HDR compositing, and sweep panorama. These aren't a.net features, but they will make your life easier in average shooting. You can customize the majority of the buttons to your preference of functions, making for a powerful camera that an advanced user will love. This isn't the Nikon 1, there are no training wheels here (save for Auto/iAuto modes). The lens is small enough to poke through a fence, which is always a plus. It also has a built-in pitch/roll level, which will hopefully cut down on those pesky level rejections.
A big plus is that camera does shoot RAW. Adobe Lightroom/Camera RAW doesn't support it yet, but I expect that will be rectified soon. Based on results from Luminous Landscape
, the camera is perfectly usable up to ISO 1600, while 3200 is acceptable and 6400 is only OK
in a pinch. This is about the same usable range as most DSLRs that are a few years old, which is quite impressive. The JPEG engine is not as good, but I'm not buying this to shoot JPEGs. Fortunately, the camera empties its buffer quickly, and its continuous shooting (2.5 FPS with continuous AF
and 10 FPS with focus fixed on the first frame) gives enough options that you'd be able to grab what you need. I believe the IQ
of this camera will be perfectly fine for a.net and I will be putting it through its paces when I go traveling during August.
The camera feels like it's built for work. The body is all metal, and the buttons and controls feel responsive and tough. There's no digicam lag in any of the operations. The barrel ring has no click stops; it's completely smooth. It does play a clicking sound through the speakers. This is better for focusing and zooming, but less so for discrete operations like changing the aperture or shutter speed. Operations are always fast and responsive, and I don't feel like I have to wait for the camera to change settings, modes, focus, or fire the shutter.
If you are looking for a discreet camera with good controls and image quality, you'd be remiss not to check out the RX
-100. No, it won't unseat your SLR, but it does punch well above its weight class and it's definitely a worthy tool.