Sony RX100 review

sonyx100-street-photography

[J]ump in for this great review by Don Springer. Includes some thoughts on he Ricoh GRD.

IntroductionThis is not going to be a comparison between the RX100 and the GRD4 but more of an exploration of how they allow the shooter to work. It is well-known that the GRD4 is one of the finest designed cameras ever produced. If you didn't know that, you do now. The image quality is not really the subject of discussion. The important thing to discover is the way a camera makes you think.

Sony-rx100-2

There are many reviews about how the camera works. I'm more interested in how I can work with the camera. I only ever keep a camera if it does not intrude on my process and vision. Maybe that sounds easy but many a good cameras have found their way to the selling block. The GRD4 after setup gets out of the way and does not intrude on my vision. I can work even with one hand and I never have to think about the camera settings.

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Technicalities

The RX100 after setup, works much in the same way. I am a street shooter so my preferences may be different from someone doing landscapes or portraits. I want as much Depth Of Field in focus as I can get. So normally I would work at f5.6, f8.0, f11. This would give me from under 2′ to infinity. That's where my images live and always have. So if there is no focus scale, how do we determine Hyperfocal Distance? Go here…. Use .011 as the COC, (Circle Of Confusion). Use the actual focal length and you will find the distances you need.

sony-rx100-vs-ricoh-grdiv-2

So without the scale, we have to improvise and use our body as a measuring device. Here's what I do. For f5.6 I put the camera so that it rest on the bridge of my nose. I am 6′ tall. At the bridge the camera is 5.3′ from the ground. I then use the left button to use AFS and 1/2 press the shutter to get focus lock to the ground. Immediately, press the left button to go to MF mode. The camera is now at Hyperfocal Distance for f5.6. I use my belly button to get f8.0.

sony-rx100-vs-ricoh-grdiv-1

Of course you set the camera up to toggle AFS/MF on the left button, right….I thought so. I use the Center button to do MF assist. Now using “A” mode, we can control the AF point and not have to focus the camera until you want to. It's very fast this way. Almost as fast as the Ricoh but not yet…..
This camera needs the Franiec Grip. Mine was shipped today and I will post about the hold at that point. I won't get into Image Quality yet as we can only do Jpegs. For me that's a waste of time other than testing. I will say that the Jpegs do dook very good. I'm sure the Raw files thru Light Room will be outstanding. Not as gritty as the GRD4 but nice.

Street handling

I think it may be time for me to explain what I do with a camera. I am a street shooter, always was and always will be. I am not a candid portrait shooter. A street shooter must be versed in all facets of photography. You never know what will come your way on the street. Maybe you're seeing a cityscape and all the sudden, you glance right….your pulse picks up, you try to control your breathing because you see a scene developing in front of you that you know, you must capture. You know it's a good image.
Maybe you see a face you can't resist and you want to do a portrait…. You are mostly a B&W shooter and yet you must be prepared for the next time a color image calls to you.

sony-rx100-street-photography-sample-21

What I'm getting at and how it relates to the RX100 is, a street shooter must be at the ready. It takes a special breed of shooter to be able to work this way. A portraitist does portraits and really doesn't need be concerned with things on the street. A landscape shooter may not be excited to do a portrait or a macro, or close-up work, etc.
So as a street shooter, we need a camera that can keep up with the developing scenes on the street and not intrude on our vision. The camera MUST let the shooter be free and just work without having to make changes etc.

sony-rx100-street-photography-sample-51

So far the RX100 is developing into the kind of camera that can do that. It is not an easy task and only a few really are up to the struggle. The Ricoh GRD4 is the king in this area. The RX100 will be a good partner camera for the GRD but not replace it as king. Maybe a Prince.

What are the requirements for a camera to cut it in my work. First and foremost is interface. I also include handling as part of interface. Set up and easy of adaptability are second. Sure, sometimes a camera takes some time to get the right setup. After that, how it responds to the shooter and how the shooter responds to the camera are what counts. You can not fight with a camera and expect to get any results you can live with. The camera should not be a cause of aggravation. You need to be relaxed out there. Aggravation belongs somewhere else but not with you on the street.

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The RX100 is a very adaptable camera. Well a week or so has passed and I'm still smiling. The RX100 has passed everything I wanted to throw at it. Of course this means that it works for the street. There are 2 main types of shooters that I deal with. The first is the consumer and I won't address any issues in that area. The second and most important to me is the Street Shooter. The camera works for this person. Here's how.
The RX100 needs a setup like any other camera. It's best not to think about any other camera when trying to define what your setup should be in this camera. I have the Control Ring set to Zoom. If we turn the control ring, then we see a display of the focal length. As we turn the ring, the focal length changes and we see on the screen what FL we are at. This camera displays…28, 35, 50, 70, and 100mm. So why would anyone use the ring, which is slower than the button on top? Good question.
Street shooters like to zone focus or better yet use Hyperfocal Distance. Using the top button will change the FL but you don't get a FL display. You just see the lens change. The importance of this is…. seeing the FL, we can then set the lens to any marked FL. Perhaps we want to work with a 35mm. Well, it's easy to do with the control ring. As soon as you press the Fn button, the control ring changes to the preset setting you desire.

sony-rx100-street-photography-sample-41

How to do Hyperfocal Distance with the RX100?

Another good question. There is no focusing scale. We have to work this out. Street Shooters are very ingenious and will overcome any situation that gets in our way. Here's what I do. I set the left button on the rear dial to toggle between AFS/MF. This way I can go from AFS to MF in a flash of a second.
I will explain how to find a distance but first the reason behind my choice on the Left button. If we point the camera and hit the release with a 1/2 press, the camera does it's AF and very fast and very accurate. If I hit the Left button right away, then that distance is locked in until I hit the Left button again, to go back to AFS. Come on….wake up…you get it? I have Focus Peaking and Color set to OFF. We don't want flashing colors on our screen when we are working…… Be careful of the center button, it will magnify the image if you hit it. Don't panic…. just hit the 1/2 press and it stops.

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Personal Distance Firmware Update.

It seems the engineers have a sense of humor.There is no scale in the camera.They may indeed do a firmware update in the future but until then, we need to update our firmware in our brain.

5.6 5.85′ Eyes

8.0 4.14′ Breastbone

11.0 2.94′ Waist

Using a tape measure or any device you have to measure, get a distance from the ground to the top of your head. You can see from the above, I have measured and set a distance on my body to reflect that distance. I hold the camera lens down and film plane to the desired body part, then hit AFS. This focuses the camera to that distance and then quickly hit the left button, the camera is now set at the Hyper Focal Distance for the fstop I set. Remember that your distance of acceptable focus is 1/2 of the HD. So it should be easy to see that at f8, we are good from approximately 2′ to infinity.

{The Ricoh GRD4 does not require this operation as it has “Snap Focus” and is very accurate and easy to set.}

If we are working at say f8, and using A mode, then we can basically not pay attention to the camera except for the screen. This now brings us to another important issue. What Mode should we be using? To maintain the DOF, there are two. First is the “A” mode that we set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed according to the ISO. The 2nd is “M” mode where we set the Aperture and the Shutter speed and the camera watches as we try to find correct exposure. The camera is lazy at this point because we must set the ISO, the 3rd part of exposure. So now we have 2 camera things to be concerned with while working. This is an issue and an easy fix.

It starts to become an intrusion on vision. What happens is….we are working a scene and as we start to frame in our mind, the mind says…Yo, what exposure are you thinking about? I like to say….Yo mind…leave me alone, the camera has me covered. Unfortunately, the RX100 doesn't. Here's why. If I'm at f8, I know I'm good from about 2′ to infinity. I want that…I see the light is not strong but very interesting and the shutter speed needs to be around 1/250 due to movement.

If I'm in M mode, it's an easy thing to set the 2 BUTT….what about ISO? Man, this is a problem. I have to look at the camera and change the ISO until I get the right exposure I want with the 2 FIXED ELEMENTS OF EXPOSURE. This means time away from framing. Even if we use A mode, then the camera sets the shutter speed ad we set the Aperture and ISO. Well, cameras have a way of playing games, oh yeah. If I set ISO 400, f8 maybe the camera will give me a shutter speed that will stop motion. Maybe not.

sony-rx100-street-photography-sample-71

The solution is to ave Auto ISO in M mode. The RX100 has Auto ISO but not in M mode. The GRD4 has it with a choice of shutter settings. If we had Auto ISO in M mode, then we could set the camera to f8 1/250 and the camera is now working with us again by setting the ISO without intruding on our vision. (Sony, please read and understand this. I am not an engineer but I am a photographer and this camera needs this feature to be taken seriously).

Everything else on the camera is pretty much self-explanatory. I like the flash. There are some shooters complaining about not having a button for the flash. Break my heart. I keep the Right control button to flash. If you cycle thru the menu by hitting the flash button, you'll see the options to use the flash. I used Fill. As soon as I hit the 1/2 release, the flash poped up and was ready. It takes around 3 seconds to cycle the flash. It's very evenly exposed as the meter balances the ambient light with the flash. If you use a finger to pull the flash back gently against the top and hold it there, you get a bounced flash.
The Fn button is cool. You can configure the settings you want quick access to. Very handy.

I have no interest in posting about IQ. There's much to read on forums. It's not a concern to street shooters. We know the camera has great IQ. I will post a few images that found me on the street.

A few things including the screen.

sony-rx100-screen

On a few forums there has been chatter about the camera in negative ways. Sure, it's not perfect, what is? I am concerned with those of you whom want to work the street with this camera. The screen has been rated as low in some people's eyes. You may notice I said people and not shooters. Here's the scoop out there. The screen is your SPC (Single Point of Contact) with your image. It is that important that you can see from most angles and in any light condition.

The RX100 like most Sony cameras does not disappoint. It has a very nice bright contrasty, sharp screen. Yeah, yeah…I know I know….what about in bright light. C'mon, you're a street shooter aren't you? Go to the menu, find screen brightness and then there is a setting called…”Sunny”. Oh my…. if Moses saw this, there would be another commandment for all cameras. The screen gets so bright that in any light, even backlighting with the sun on the screen, you can frame and even see the settings. Try it, it'll change the way you see….. well, it'll be easier to see at any rate.

sony-rx100-vs-ricoh-grdiv-4

The AF System.

I'm not getting into the engineering part of the AF system. I'll just say that if works very fast and very accurate. Even in low light with some contrast, the camera locks accurately and moderately quick. I would like a smaller AF Target Box and maybe in a future firmware Sony will make me and a few others happy.

The Body

I strongly recommend the Franiec Grip. Richard makes for many cameras what the engineers saw as not needed. His grips are life savers in more ways than one. The body is designed for the street. It is very slick with the buttons just at the perfect location and height that street shooters need. There's been more chatter from people again about the rear dial. They say that it's easy to move things. Well, rubbish. I work my cameras long and hard and I have not had a single accident yet. I will try to make an accident tomorrow on the street but I'll actually have to try. Get an LCD protector. I have a Giotto's that works fine. It's made from Shott Glass and is very handsome. That's it my friends. I hope you find the images that are looking for you out there. I also hope you find them with the RX100 because that's a great street machine.

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Please feel free to comment positive or negative. You will not rattle my cage. I will answer any question about anything I can if asked. Oh, I'm hitting 63 in Oct and have been on the street making photos for almost 50 years.

Note: Thanks Don for this great review!

About The Author

30 thoughts on “Sony RX100 review”

  1. Great write up Don. A couple of things I do differently and a couple of additional quibbles (with the camera – not you!).

    Instead of using the left button to toggle AF to MF, I use the middle button – that way I can assign something else to the left button (there are way fewer options for the center button but AF/MF toggle is one of ’em) and I don’t have to worry about accidentally magnifying the screen for manual focus by hitting the center button. Second, I use DMF instead of AFS for my auto-focus setting because in AFS, the lens is always trying to pre-focus, so if you have any lag between focussing from your hyperfocal distance and switching to MF, the camera may have already started hunting and changed the focus on you. DMF won’t hunt, so its a slightly safer choice and there’s no downside to it that I can see.

    In terms of the lack of a distance scale, I agree this can be worked around for hyperfocal shooting in decent light, given the same focus distances and aperture values you’ve noted (although I’ve never found the need to f11- f8 pretty much puts the whole world in focus!). BUT, with this camera’s great high ISO capability, there are still very good possibilities for zone focusing in lower light. At f4, for example, you can have a very useful zone of about 4-50 feet in focus and at f2, you can get 8-15 feet, which can also work for a lot of street shooting. Not hyperfocal, but useful zones. The problem is that for f4 you need to focus to 7 feet and for f2 you need to focus to 8 feet. I’ve met you – you’re not tall enough to hit those distances from the ground with any degree of accuracy, and neither can I. We could probably fake it for 7 feet with our hands above our heads, but it would be a crapshoot and 8 feet, no way! And at those apertures, the DOF is limited enough that the initial focus distance needs to be reasonably precise. A distance scale would make this pretty easy – the lack of one make it somewhere between difficult and impossible. So I’ve been relying on area-wide AF in low light and I’m amazed at how well it tends to do, but sometimes it second guesses me pretty badly.

    Finally, I wish there was a way to make exposure compensation more immediately available when in manual focus. Its the adjustment I’m using more than any other when I’m reacting on the street as I move in and out of shadows and my angle to the sun changes. On every other camera I’ve used for street shooting, I had a dial or rocker or something that was ALWAYS ready to go for exposure comp – no button pushing to arm it first. With the RX100, you can assign the front ring to exposure comp and it works find for when you’re auto-focussing (I shoot nearly everything at 28mm so I don’t need the zoom function on the ring). But when you switch to manual focus, the ring changes to the focus function, the rear dial controls the aperture (assuming aperture priority, which I almost always use), and the only way to get to exposure comp is to hit the bottom button to arm the rear dial. I suppose I could assign it to the left and right buttons and the fn button too and then nearly anything I’d hit would bring it up, but it still just requires one extra step and that’s something I actually have to THINK about. Which is not my strong suit when I’m on the street! 😉

    The sensor is so good I’m willing to put up with these inconveniences to shoot with this camera. But I strongly suspect that in another year or so when Ricoh and Panasonic and Fuji stick a sensor like this into one of their compacts with their interfaces, I’ll likely move on from this camera to one of those…

    -Ray

    1. Ray, Thanks for posting. I agree with most of what you say even tho some might not be my choice. As far as the DMF goes, the downside is that you loose the control ring for FL. True, I like you use 28mm most times. My natural FOV is 35mm and it’s a nice touch to be able to just dial that in.

      The lens hunting doesn’t bother me at all. I am not a heavy volume shooter per session. I may do maybe 15-30 images in a 4 -5 hour period. So, the hunting is not an issue even if I stay on AFS. I think for me, the left button works better for the AF/MF toggle. I do use Hyperfocal Distance most times and have no complaints.
      The camera does AF very fast and very accurate and on the street, I use it sometimes. It’s really dependable.

      I set my Exposure Comp to -1/3. I never change it because I just don’t, not on any camera.
      Ray, I gotta tell ya…..I have nothing but Love for ya but…I can’t even imagine you having this camera for a year.
      Later….don

      1. I may have it a year. It just depends on how long it takes the other folks to catch up. I get the feeling Sony really caught everyone out with this camera, in which case it could take a year for real competition to show up in the compact market. In which case I’ll have it a year or longer. But as soon as Pany or Ricoh or Fuji gets it together in a competitive overall package I’m more comfortable with, I’ll sell it and move on. I wish the LX7 had been there but its at LEAST 2-2.5 stops less capable in the sensor…

        1. GRD’s make radical updates every 4 years, so the IV being the half update, let’s hope for the V having that sensor…..and a 1.2 🙂

          1. Olivier, I’ll tell ya. No matter what Ricoh comes up with for the GRD5, I’ll keep the 4 anyway. I may get the 5, especially if it’s in some cool color like polka dot, pin stripe, sunburst, green, etc.

        2. Ray, your on the money. The RX100 is what people think of as new but in truth, the design team started about 1 1/2 years ago. So if in fact that’s the case, where will Sony be in a year? Where will everybody else be in a year. The race is on but as shooters, we need to maintain a sense of sanity. Not that I can remotely claim to be an expert in anything relating to sanity.

          I know that the GRD4 delivers beautiful images. I have many prints that really excite me and the ones around me that mean something. In ten years, these prints will still look as good as today, maybe even better. The RX100 does something I haven’t seen any other compact camera do yet. It’s not the Dynamic Range everyone gets off on…it’s Tonal Separation. There’s is something with this camera that only time will tell if others can get it down like this.

          I know this is crazy coming from a guy that totally alters tonal separation and contrast and grain etc. Yes, I do play heavy with an image but…It’s nice to have what the RX100 has to start playing …

          I am glad I’m not in the camera design business….those guys must be shaking in their boots about now…

        3. Your last sentence is why I’ve spent the last 4 days trying to decide between the two. Then someone reminded me about the GRD… oh well…

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  6. Don, this was a delightful read, a bit more than just a review of the RX100. Would the RX100 benefit from some MY modes like the GRD has? or is this the same as MR on the RX100 dial. I had a look at the manual but can’t work that out. I was surprised you didn’t make use of the focus peaking but I can agree the other techniques are quicker. I do think it compliments the GRD. Ask Sony to make you one in white!

    1. Tim, I don’t use My Modes at all. Once I have my camera setup, it’s ready to work. I don’t use focus peaking because it would show when in MF all the time. I use MF because I want to lock a focus distance without the camera changing that distance when I hit the release.

  7. hey thanks for the tips and insight, pardon my confusion but I can’t seem to replicate your calculations of hyperfocal distances using the online calculator referenced. if i use CoC = 0.011, FL = 35 mm, aperture = f8 the hyperfocal distance comes up as 45.8′. What am I missing?

    1. When you use DOF Calculator, you have to use the actual Focal Length of the lens. You are using the FOV after the crop factor.

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  9. Hi Olivier,

    Did you noticed that the SteadyShot seems to work well in video mode, but don’t work in photo.
    Try to shoot with and without, no differences.
    My S90 is incredibly different with and without stabilizer, 4-stop better, really !
    Some guys at Luminous Landscape and DP Review seems to have the same problem.
    I would be happy to know if all RX100 are concerned !

    Thierry

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  11. I really appreciate your work here. Great advice. If you could just lay out ALL your settings fo rthe Sony RX 100, for all your options, that would be perfect! Trying to read between the lines is a long exercise in frustration not because of you but because of the mulitude of possible settings on the camera. I am more than happy just to “do what you do” in terms of how you have set your camera up!

  12. I was contemplating picking up the mk 3 or 4 for the vf, to compliment with my GR, for when I wanted some zoom or low light shooting, but couldn’t justify the outlay, then I saw how good the prices were on the mk1, and picked up one in great condition, it’s going to take s bit of getting used to after using my GR everyday for 2 years, but that’s half the fun!
    I’m not overly fussy about super sharp glossy images, I prefer the grit and unique mages the GR throws up ( not that it can’t do sharp and glossy when called upon) and while I’m no expert in photography, I enjoy experimenting with different settings on the GR and the happy accidents it throws up.
    The only gripe I have with the GR is its low light capabilities, and while it’s not a gripe, I missed having the ability to shoot at different focal lengths I had with my panny LX3, that’s why I’ve buddies up the GR with the RX100, it’s winter here in UK dun up at 7.45am sun down 15.50 this week, so as I shoot mainly on the way too and from work ( walking and trains) it’s usually sunrise or dark when shooting, this is where the RX100 will come into play

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