Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Digital Camera Review$649.99
Too often in the world of compact cameras, the phrase "DSLR-quality image" is bandied about on marketing materials, retail boxes, and even the written words of reviewers like us. It's paired with qualifiers like "DSLR image quality in your pocket," and most of the time, doesn't actually apply to the camera in question.
Sure, some compacts have strong image quality, but DSLR caliber? No. Then there are mirrorless cameras, many of which can indeed produce DSLR level images, but how many of them actually fit in your pocket with the lens attached?
Here goes.... The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is the first compact, fixed-lens camera capable of DSLR-quality images. See? Maybe that little phrase isn't so bad, especially when it's true.
The excellence of the RX100 is two-fold: a great lens, plus a great sensor; same as every decent camera. Let's start with the lens. Resolution test scores were astounding, and included some of the most impressive sharpness data we've ever recorded, compact camera or otherwise. Chromatic aberration is slight, plus any barrel distortion is corrected away automatically. And did we mention the aperture maxes out at f/1.8? Because it does.
But a lens alone is nothing special, every once in awhile we see a wide aperture compact. The Canon S100 goes to f/2, and the new Panasonic LX7 can manage f/1.4. The difference this time is an excellent lens working together with a large sensor. Sony's new 1-inch chip unlocks true depth of field effects, invalidating the biggest handicap of compact cameras, and producing beautiful, enthusiast-level images. In truth the sensor's performance is fairly average, with mediocre colors and noise reduction, it is simply size that makes all the difference here.
In fact, despite how much we love this camera, there's still plenty of room for improvement before the inevitable RX200, or whatever it'll be called. The large control ring surrounding the lens barrel has no tactile feedback, and isn't as useful as the one found on the Canon S100. Indeed the entire menu system is flawed: the Function menu lacks scope and versatility, while the main menu has some annoying interface quirks. We also wished for some improvements to physical handling, given the body's contemporary—but slippery—design. Sony has wisely provided neck strap adapters, and we suggest you use them.
Ultimately none of these small complaints are enough to prevent the RX100 from being one of the best cameras of the year. We like it better than last year's S100 and—bad day for Canon—think it surpasses their expensive, bulky G1 X as well. We still have a few advanced compacts left to test, but as of right now, we can think of no better solution for the discerning photographer on the go, and recommend you go buy one immediately.