This is a review of the best pocket camera ever made.
The Sony RX100 has a huge one-inch sensor - the biggest ever stuffed into a pocketable zoom camera
But first, a history lesson.
years camera makers worried about competition from only one source:
other camera makers. But in the end, the most dangerous predator came
from an unexpected direction: cellphones.
Today, more photos are
taken with phones than with point-and-shoot cameras. On photo sites like
Flickr, the iPhone is the source of more photos than any real camera.
No wonder sales of inexpensive pocket cameras are going down each year.
in phones are a delightful development for the masses. If you have your
camera with you, you're more likely to take photos and more likely to
capture amazing images.
But in a sense they are also great for
camera makers, which are being forced to double down in areas where
smartphones are useless: Zoom lenses. High resolution. Better photo
quality. Flexibility and advanced features. That's why, even if sales of
pocket cameras are down, sales of high-end cameras are up.
you know why the time is ripe for the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100.
It's a tiny, pants-pocketable camera that will be available in late July
for the nosebleed price of $650.
Or, rather, won't be available.
It will be sold out everywhere. I'll skip to the punch line: No photos
this good have ever come from a camera this small.
reason is easy to grasp. The Sony RX100 has a huge one-inch sensor - the
biggest ever stuffed into a pocketable zoom camera. That's not as big
as the sensors in S.L.R.'s and other lens-swappable cameras. But it's
about four times the area of the previous pocket-camera photo-quality
champs, like the Olympus XZ-1 and the S100. (The RX100's shiny black
metal body looks exactly like them.)
A big sensor means big
pixels, which gives you less grain in low light, better color depth and
great dynamic range - the spectrum from darkest to lightest pixels.
big sensor is also a prerequisite for that professional blurry
background look. The RX100 easily achieves those soft backgrounds, a
rarity in compact cameras.
The other star factor in the Sony is
its Carl Zeiss lens, whose maximum aperture (lens opening) is f/1.8.
That's the widest aperture you can buy on a pocket camera. That, too,
helps explain its ability to blur the background, and its spectacular
results in low light.
(As on any camera, that aperture shrinks as
you zoom in. When you're fully zoomed on this camera, you're down to
f/4.9. That's still better than the Canon's fully zoomed aperture -
But you know what? All of that is just shutterbug-speak
for, "This camera takes amazing photos." If you want to know what "huge
sensor" and "big aperture" mean in the real world, stop reading and
savor my annotated slide show of sample photos. There's a small sampling
at nytimes.com/personaltech, and a larger one at http://j.mp/LdUu4h.
you'll see what makes the RX100 such a revelation: insane amounts of
detail and vivid, true colors. Hand-held twilight photos. A burst mode
that can fire 10 frames a second. And macro shots - supercloseup - that
will curl whatever's left of your hair. A typical S.L.R. can't get any
closer than 10 inches from the subject with its included lens; the RX100
can nail focus only 2 inches away.
The RX100 is as customizable
and manually controllable as an S.L.R., but it also has some impressive
automated modes. They include Illustration (turns the photo into a
colorful line drawing), High Dynamic Range Painting and the bizarre but
sometimes enlightening Auto Crop. It creates a duplicate of your
portrait, cropped in what it considers a better way. Sometimes, it's
And Sweep Panorama. You swing the camera around you in an
arc, pressing the shutter button the whole time. When you stop, there,
on your screen, is a finished, seamless, 220-degree panorama. It's the
ultimate wide-angle lens. Canyons, crowd shots, Walmart interiors - you
won't believe how often it's useful.
For self-portraits, you can
set a timer as usual. Or use its even smarter mode, in which the camera
waits until it sees your face in the frame. Then it fires a shot every
three seconds until you leave the scene.
As usual on today's
compacts, there's no eyepiece viewfinder, a loss you may mourn. But the
three-inch screen remains clear and bright even in bright sunshine,
thanks to an extra white pixel Sony has nestled in among every set of
red, green and blue.
The 1080p video capture isn't quite the same
festival of crispness as the photos. But you can use all the photo
effects while filming. And while recording, you can zoom, change focus
and even take still photos.
Sony has taken the debatable step of
bringing back in-camera charging. That is, there's no external charger
for the 330-shot battery. Instead, the camera is the charger, whenever
it's connected to a USB jack, like the one on your laptop, or a wall
outlet. Pros: No charger to pack and lose. Cons: You can't charge a
spare battery while you're out shooting.
As with its role model,
the Canon S100, you can program the function of the Sony lens ring. It
can control zoom, focus, exposure, aperture, whatever. But unlike the
Canon's ring, the Sony's ring doesn't click as you turn it - sounds that
get picked up when you're capturing video.
On the hand, you
don't feel clicks either. The ring spins freely, which gives it a
glassy, skidding feeling when you're adjusting a setting with natural
stopping points, like ISO (light sensitivity) or shutter speed.
not the only niggling downside. The biggest one, of course, is that
there's very little room for physical buttons. All of the RX100's
hundreds of functions are packed into five buttons on the back, a mode
dial on top, the ring around the lens and a four-way clickable ring on
Novices will find it overwhelming. Then again, it's
fairly clear that this isn't a camera for novices. Besides, eventually
it all makes sense. You learn to press the Fn button whenever you want
to adjust a photographic setting, or the Menu button to adjust a
The camera has a 3.6X zoom lens. The Canon
S100 zooms more (5X zoom). On the other hand, the Sony takes
20-megapixel photos, versus 12 on the Canon.
Ordinarily I'm not a
fan of cramming more pixels into a camera as a marketing ploy.
High-megapixel photos take longer to transfer, fill up your hard drive
faster and are overkill for most printing purposes.
But on Sony's
sensor, these are really useful pixels. You can crop away a huge part
of the photo and still have lots of megapixels left for big prints; in
effect, you're amplifying the zoom.
One last downside: In certain
photos, when I adjusted the overall contrast in Photoshop later, I
noticed some vignetting - darkened areas at the corners.
an ideal second camera for professionals. And it's a great primary
camera for any amateur who wants to take professional-looking photos
without having to carry a camera bag.
Of course, $650 is crazy expensive. You can buy a full-blown S.L.R. for that much.
every time you transfer a batch of its pictures to your computer,
you'll understand why you spent that money. You'll click through them,
astonished at how often it's successful in stopping time, capturing the
emotion of a scene, enshrining a memory or an expression you never want
to forget. You'll appreciate that the RX100 has single-handedly smashed
the rule that said, "You need a big camera for pro-quality photos."
if you care at all about your photography, you'll thank Sony for giving
the camera industry a good hard shove into the future.
Copyright 2012, The New York Times