Although Sony has already made the fourth iteration of its RX100 camera, sadly, I have not had a chance to test and review any of the earlier models. After the Sony RX100 IV was announced, I told myself that I had to give this camera a try. Partly because our readers have been asking about it and partly because it looked like a killer camera based on its long list of features. Right before my trip to Death Valley, I was able to obtain this little monster of a camera for a real field test. I am really glad I did, because I have been really impressed by the Sony RX100 IV – it turned out to be the best pocket-friendly point and shoot camera I have used to date. Let’s take a look at this camera in more detail and see what it has to offer in its tiny body.
While driving through southwest US, taking the route from Colorado to New Mexico, then to Arizona and lastly to California, I had a chance to visit a number of hot spots like Bosque del Apache, White Sands National Monument, Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and finally Death Valley National Park. Throughout my 4300 mile drive, I shot with a number of different cameras, but one camera that always stayed with me in my pocket was the Sony RX100 IV. It was so lightweight and compact, I often forgot that I even had it with me.
Thanks to the lens-based image stabilization, aside from a couple of instances, I practically always shot the RX100 IV hand-held, even in low-light situations. The images looked great on the LCD and once I started looking at them on my laptop that I was traveling with, I was pretty surprised by the results I was getting. Photographs appeared very crisp thanks to the optically excellent Zeiss lens (24-70mm equiv), and noise levels, dynamic range and colors looked better compared to what I had previously seen from a one inch sensor.
1) Sony RX100 Specifications
- 20.1 MP Stacked CMOS image sensor
- Contrast Detection AF System
- 4K movie recording up to 30 fps
- Slow motion movie recording up to 1000 fps
- Battery life for up to 280 shots
- Tiltable 3″ LCD (+180°/-45° movement)
- 2.36 Million dot OLED viewfinder
- Up to 16 fps continuous shooting
- WiFi with NFC Capability
Detailed technical specifications for the Sony RX100 IV are available at Sony.net.
2) Sony RX100 I vs II vs III vs IV Comparison
Before we discuss camera features, let’s do a quick revision of all the feature changes we have seen in the RX100-series cameras. With all the RX100 iterations still available for purchase today, one might be wondering what differences there are between them and what gains one would have by going with the latest and greatest. Below is a detailed table that shows all the key differences between the RX100-series cameras:
|Specification||Sony RX100 I||Sony RX100 II||Sony RX100 III||Sony RX100 IV|
|Sensor Type||CMOS||BSI CMOS||BSI CMOS||Stacked CMOS|
|Sensor Resolution||20.2 MP||20.2 MP||20.1 MP||20.1 MP|
|Sensor Size||13.2 x 8.8mm (1″)||13.2 x 8.8mm (1″)||13.2 x 8.8mm (1″)||13.2 x 8.8mm (1″)|
|Native ISO Range||125-6400||160-12,800||125-12,800||125-12,800|
|Image Processor||Bionz||Bionz||Bionz X||Bionz X|
|Lens Focal Length||10.4-37.1mm||10.4-37.1mm||8.8-25.7mm||8.8-25.7mm|
|Focal Length in 35mm Equiv||28-100mm||28-100mm||24-70mm||24-70mm|
|Integrated ND Filter||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Maximum Shutter Speed||1/2000 sec||1/2000 sec||1/2000 sec||1/32000 sec|
|Startup Time||2.8 sec||2.8 sec||2.0 sec||2.0 sec|
|Anti Distortion Shutter||No||No||No||Yes|
|Auto ISO Min Shutter Speed||No||No||No||Yes|
|EVF||N/A||Optional||1.44 Million Dot EVF||2.36 Million Dot EVF|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||10 fps||10 fps||10 fps||16 fps|
|Buffer Size||13 JPEG / 13 RAW||13 JPEG / 13 RAW||48 JPEG / 26 RAW||48 JPEG / 26 RAW|
|LCD Screen||3.0″ Fixed||3.0″ Tilting, +90°/-40°||3.0″ Tilting, +180°/-45°||3.0″ Tilting, +180°/-45°|
|Video Recording||1080p, up to 50 fps||1080p, up to 60 fps||1080p, up to 60 fps||4K, up to 30 fps|
|Slow Motion Video||N/A||N/A||Yes, Up to 120 fps||Yes, Up to 1000 fps|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||330 shots||350 shots||320 shots||280 shots|
|Current Price (as of 01/30/2016)||$398||$498||$748||$948|
The above table was borrowed from the Sony RX100 Comparison article that we published a few days ago. The darker blue color represents feature superiority, whereas the light red color represents lack of a key feature.
As expected, the latest and greatest RX100 IV has the best overall specifications and performance when compared to its predecessors. However, at nearly $1K, it is certainly not an easy pill to swallow. If 4K video and slow motion are the features you have no interest in, then you could save around $200 by going with the RX100 III. The first two are of amazing value at $400 and $500, but lack of EVF, narrower angle of view on the short end, less versatile LCD screen and inferior image quality might be a bit too much to lose in comparison. For me personally, the improved AF performance, superior image quality, ability to set minimum shutter speed on Auto ISO, ability to shoot 4K video and 1000 fps slow motion video on the RX100 IV are all important features that I would probably be willing to pay the extra $200 for.
3) Sensor, Dynamic Range and Image Quality
With the RX100 IV, Sony made quite a few important changes to the sensor design. When compared to its predecessors, the RX100 IV has the new stacked “Exmor RS CMOS sensor” technology, which differs from conventional CMOS designs by offering 5x faster readout speeds. Here is a comparison between a conventional and a stacked CMOS sensor:
Thanks to the faster sensor readout, it was possible to not only allow capturing 40x super slow motion footage, but also allow capturing images without any visible distortion, a feature that Sony labeled as “Anti-Distortion Shutter”:
Basically, this new design takes care of the “rolling shutter” issue that you would normally see on other cameras. Sony engineers were also able to push for insanely fast shutter speeds of 1/32,000 of a second, allowing extremely fast action to be captured with the camera – a feature previously seen only on higher-end mirrorless cameras. Also, it opens up opportunities for shooting at maximum aperture in bright sunny days without worrying about overexposing the image. In contrast, all previous generation RX100 cameras were limited to just 1/2000 of a second shutter speed.
In terms of image quality, the RX100 IV surely does not disappoint – it has one of the best 1″ sensors around. Its performance is superb at base ISO of 125, with low noise levels, respectable dynamic range and excellent colors. As you can see from the images in this review, I was able to squeeze quite a bit of juice from RAW images in post, which shows just how far Sony was able to push the 1″ sensor in this camera.
With a resolution of 20.1 MP, you will get a lot of detail in images, which was something I definitely appreciated when shooting landscapes. 20.1 MP yields image dimensions of 5,472 x 3,648, which almost seems like too much for such a small sensor – that’s more than what we have seen from all of Nikon’s high-end CX cameras, including the Nikon 1 V3. While higher resolution typically results in more noise at pixel level, it also opens up opportunities for down-sampling. I re-sized all images posted in this review to 2,048 pixel long dimensions, which helped clean up quite a bit of the noise that resulted from recovering data from RAW images. In cases where I saw excessive noise, I applied a single pass of noise reduction before down-sampling, which made images look pretty clean. Note: if you see any artifacts in images, those are most likely coming from JPEG compression.
Dynamic range performance is also impressive. I was able to recover a lot of highlight and shadow details from RAW images, particularly in situations when dealing with sunrise and sunset times, where the sky has a drastically higher brightness level compared to the foreground. In short, there is a lot of legroom to work with in those 20.1 MP RAW files!
Similar to other Sony cameras, the Sony RX100 IV produces natural-looking colors that are easy to work with in post-processing. Both Adobe’s ACR and Lightroom already have camera profiles for the RX100 IV, so you can easily utilize such presets as Standard, Vivid and Landscape, allowing you to make quick adjustments that somewhat resemble camera presets (see this article for more information).
4) Camera Construction and Handling
The Sony RX100 IV is made in China, but its build quality is excellent. Featuring aluminum construction with some plastic parts, the RX100 IV does not have the same plastic feel as most other point and shoot cameras – it feels solid and rather heavy for its compact size. With its relatively small dimensions of 102x58x41mm, the camera is easy to handle for small to average size hands. However, for those with large hands, the camera and its buttons might be a bit too small for proper handling – the On/Off button, along with all the back buttons are all rather tiny. Sony decided to move with a large LCD screen at the expense of larger controls. Sadly, aside from a small rubber area on the back of the camera, Sony has not incorporated any kind of grip or rubber material to hold on to when hand-holding.
The first time I got the camera out of the box, I got nervous that I would eventually drop the camera somewhere, if I relied on holding it just with my right hand. While Sony sells the AG-R2 attachment grip for just $15 and there are plenty of great third party options available, I wish Sony either included the grip with the RX100 IV (especially given the high price tag of the camera), or had a rubber grip built into the camera chassis. Without the grip, you will always have the feeling that the camera might just slip off your hands.
When the camera is powered on, it extends by another 35mm to start at its shortest focal length (approx 24mm equiv). As you zoom in with the dial on top of the camera, the lens retracts a bit, reaching the shortest length at around the 50mm mark, then extends a bit again towards 70mm – a similar behavior we see on most 24-70mm zoom lenses.
The top of the camera has a flat, fairly straightforward design:
The left side is where the camera houses the pop-up high resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF). To get the EVF to come up, you have to push down the “Finder” lever on the side of the camera. As soon as the viewfinder comes up, the camera automatically powers on, which is nice. However, there is a small “gotcha” here. If you don’t read the manual, you might not know that you have to extend the rear of the EVF for it to properly function. This happened to me when I first tried to use it – I could not understand why it was all blurry. Then I looked at the side and after seeing a small white arrow, I realized that the rear EVF piece had to be pulled manually. Once it was fully extended, life was good and the viewfinder turned crisp.
The nice thing about the pop-up viewfinder, is that it is also customizable for those who wear glasses. There is a diopter adjustment on the top of the EVF extension piece, so if the image in the EVF looks blurry, you can use it for fine tuning. Another neat feature is that when you are done shooting, you can simply pop the EVF back into the camera, which will automatically retract the lens and turn off the camera (behavior that can be turned off in the camera menu).
The built-in pop-up flash is also triggered with a manual flash lever pull on top of the camera. The flash unit is obviously tiny and really does not do much to light up a room, but can be somewhat useful when photographing a subject at close distances. It could be useful as fill-flash, but to be honest, I would much rather prefer a hot shoe that could be used with on-camera and off-camera flash triggers. Sony incorporated a hot shoe in the RX100 II, but it was removed from the subsequent models in favor of the EVF and the built-in flash.
The lens zoom dial and the shutter release button sitting on top of the dial are easy and intuitive to use in the field, but I am not so sure about the On/Off button. I wish Sony came up with a way to move it to a larger switch instead, perhaps located on the front of the camera. In contrast, the PASM dial is nice and big, allowing camera modes to be quickly selected by moving the dial with the thumb. By default, the camera will display an image with descriptive text when switching modes, whether you are looking at the rear LCD or the viewfinder, which is nice.
The back of the camera is predominately occupied by the large 3.0″ LCD, which looks enormous when compared to the controls on the right side of the camera:
The LCD can be tilted 180 degrees upwards and 45 degrees downwards. At its 180 vertical position, the LCD automatically flips the image, allowing one to take selfies. While I certainly love the fact that the screen is as big as what we normally see on much larger cameras, I wish Sony left a bit more space for the controls to the right of the screen. As I have already pointed out above, the buttons are certainly not for those with large fingers. The four control buttons sit very close to the rotary dial on the back of the camera, which can also create problems when wearing gloves. I found myself constantly taking off my gloves in cold weather in order to use the camera, because I would end up hitting wrong buttons.
If you have previously used a Sony NEX or Alpha-series E mount cameras, you won’t have to get used to the controls, because they are very similar. Except for the menu button, all the normal buttons like Function, Playback and Trash buttons are all located in their normal spots around the rotary dial.
As for weather sealing, although the Sony RX100 IV is not weather sealed, the camera does quite well in harsh conditions. Having primarily used it in the cold months of December and January, I let the camera freeze a few times in my pockets and it still kept on clicking. Aside from draining the battery quicker, I did not notice any serious issues with camera parts freezing and refusing to work. I would not leave the camera in rain or extreme humidity, but it seems like it could handle most weather conditions just fine.
5) Camera Menu System
Although the Sony RX100 IV is a point and shoot camera, nothing about its menu system fits the “point and shoot” name. Sony has been reusing the same, cluttered and hard to understand menu system in every modern digital camera and the RX100 IV is not an exception. In short, it is a real cluster of what feels like randomly placed menu items. This makes the RX100 IV not suitable for beginners, because they would easily get lost in this menu system. How bad is it? Well, the Playback tab alone has a total of 9 sub-menus! And there is practically no logic in the placement of menu items within these 9 sub-menus either. For example, the sub-menu number 8 has a “Movie” menu and right underneath there are settings for image stabilization (a.k.a. SteadyShot) and color space. Move over to sub-menu number 9 and the first menu item is “Micref Level”. What a heck is “Micref”??? It seems like Sony invented this word, because if I Google it, the first reference I find is a “database on micro-economic reforms MICREF”, after which the next references are to Sony menus. And it is not like Sony could not fit the word “Microphone” either, because the difference between “Micref” and “Microphone” is exactly 4 darn characters! Let’s see, while the first menu item is “Micref Level” (12 characters), the next menu item is “Wind Noise Reduct.” (18 characters). It is clear that the word “Microphone” would have fit the menu, but no, Sony must come up with their own jargon. And this kind of stuff is all over the place in the camera menu. Sony could not even come up with a way to consolidate Auto ISO minimum shutter speed into the ISO setting, so there is a separate menu just for that.
The good news is that once you get everything configured the way you want, you probably won’t need to access most of the menu options in the future, but the bad news is that if you lose those settings, you will have to start over by digging through the tons of menu options. I hope Sony figures out a way to simplify its menu system and make it user-friendly in the upcoming iterations of the RX100.
When it comes to overall responsiveness, the RX100 IV performs admirably. Throughout the time I used the camera, I do not remember encountering any serious lags or delays, which is something I certainly did experience on a number of other Sony mirrorless cameras before.
6) Zeiss 8.8-25.7mm f/1.8-2.8 Lens
One of the advantages of compact cameras with built-in lenses, is that manufacturers can design lenses that are specifically optimized for that particular camera and its sensor size. In the case of the Sony RX100, the first two iterations of the camera featured a 28-100mm equivalent zoom lens, which had an aperture range of f/1.8 to f/4.9. While the lens was quite good, its performance was not as impressive towards the long end of the zoom range and the small aperture of f/4.9 proved to be quite limiting, especially in low-light environments. Starting from the RX100 III, Sony decided to change the lens out for a 24-70mm equivalent lens with an aperture range of f/1.8 to f/2.8. This was surely a welcome move for several reasons. First, those 4mm of wider coverage make a huge difference when one needs to fit more of the scene into the frame. Second, the reduced focal length range allowed Sony to design the lens with better overall performance, giving more even sharpness across the frame from 24mm all the way to 70mm. And lastly, the larger maximum aperture of f/2.8 at 70mm is not as limiting as f/4.9 anymore, which when coupled with the excellent image stabilization and Auto ISO capabilities allows the camera to be used hand-held in low-light environments, without blurring images due to camera shake. For me personally, shooting with a 24-70mm equivalent lens really hit home, because that’s the zoom range I use the most when shooting landscapes with my full-frame cameras.
Optically, the lens is very good. The extreme corners are a bit soft, especially at the long end, but it is not too bad. The camera does a great job at correcting distortion exhibited by the lens, so if you shoot JPEG, you will not see any signs of it. If you shoot RAW and use software like Lightroom, optical corrections will be automatically applied to all images, so you won’t have to worry about issues like distortion and chromatic aberration. However, if you use other RAW processing software, you might be surprised to see pretty hideous amounts of barrel distortion at 24mm and a bit of pincushion distortion towards the telephoto range. The same goes for chromatic aberration – it is very noticeable in uncorrected RAW files.
Take a look at the edited image below, with corrections already applied in Lightroom:
And here is that same image converted from RAW to TIFF with DCRaw, without any post-processing:
Pretty incredible to see how much can be addressed via software corrections!
When it comes to ghosting and flare, the lens does a pretty decent job at handling very bright objects in the frame such as the sun. However, if the light source is very bright, you might see discolorations and other artifacts in images. Take a look at the below image:
In the above case, we can see the effect of the red dot flare, which is practically impossible to fix in post-processing.
7) Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
One of the reasons why it might be worth getting the RX100 IV over its predecessors, is its superior autofocus performance. While all iterations of the RX100 use contrast detection autofocus, the RX100 IV has the faster and the more sophisticated implementation of contrast detection, which is particularly noticeable when photographing subjects in Continuous Servo / AF-C mode. Despite the constant “probing” of focus, the camera does a fine job at tracking subjects. Speaking of probing, I thought that I could get the camera to stop probing for focus with “Pre-AF” menu setting disabled. While that certainly stops the constant focus re-acquisition, it does not stop the occasional “probing” in AF-S mode! That is something that really annoyed me. I don’t know why Sony needs to do this, but the only way to get the camera to stop this behavior, is to move the camera to “DMF” mode.
The 16 fps shooting speed of the camera is hard to fathom until you hear the camera fire away in “Speed Priority Continuous” shooting mode. Indeed, the camera is insanely fast when compared to most other cameras out there. However, there are a few limitations. First of all, you cannot really get to 16 fps when shooting RAW – the camera slows down its shooting speed significantly. Second, the buffer is pretty limiting, only able to sqeeze maybe 3 seconds of shooting total when shooting RAW (you can increase the shooting speed and the buffer by switching to JPEG though). Third, you need to be able to have fast enough shutter speed to be able to shoot fast bursts. Fourth, the fast fps shooting speed is only available in the specific “Speed Priority Continuous” mode, where the camera locks focus – you cannot get 16 fps in normal Continuous Shooting drive mode. And lastly, while the camera dumps images from the buffer into the memory card, some of the buttons like “Menu” and “Playback” become inoperable and the camera lags quite a bit.
Manual focus operation is intuitive and super simple. Once you switch the camera focus mode to Manual Focus (MF), all you have to do is rotate the focus ring on the lens. The moment you do that, the camera automatically zooms in to 8.6x zoom level and if you want to see what you are focusing on even closer, you can press the center button in the middle of the rotary dial on the back of the camera, which will zoom all the way to 17.1x zoom / pixel level. Personally, I practically never used manual focusing, because AF was good enough for what I used the camera for.
Overall, the camera focuses quickly and reliably in most conditions. In very low-light environments, AF speed and accuracy certainly do suffer, but that’s something we can expect from every camera…
8) Movie Recording
The Sony RX100 IV is a very capable camera when it comes to shooting video. It can create high-resolution 4K footage with stunning detail, something we often don’t even see on much more expensive, higher-end cameras. While the RX100 IV limits 4K video recording to 5 minutes, I found it to be plenty for recording typical footage with the camera. Obviously, with such high throughput rates, the bigger issue is not the time limit, but the recording media – you need fast SD cards with plenty of storage to be able to shoot 4K. I have recorded a couple of videos of my family in 4K and I was quite pleased with the results. But the biggest surprise is not 4K for me personally – it is the ability to shoot slow motion video. That’s the real fun, because you can do all kinds of cool stuff with slow motion!
Take a look at the below slow motion videos that we recorded in a poorly lit indoor gym environment. In this first video, I am holding the paddles for a young Taekwondo fighter, who is performing continuous double kicks:
And in this one, yours truly is performing a quad kick on a target:
The camera only takes a few seconds to record actual footage, but as you can see, it can make pretty cool-looking videos that can be used for all kinds of fun!
As you can see from this review, the Sony RX100 IV is a little powerhouse that is not only capable of delivering outstanding image quality for its sensor size, but also superb 4K and slow motion video. Having been shooting with the RX100 IV for about two months now, I can say that I am surprised by how good this point and shoot camera really is. Thanks to its rich feature-set, solid construction and compact size, it is a pocket-able gem you can take literally everywhere, making it an excellent travel companion.
But the camera definitely has its faults. Without an accessory grip, it can easily slip and fall out of your hand, thanks to its flat anodized aluminum finish. Sony wants its customers to pay such a high premium on the RX100 IV and it still nickel-and-dimes with extra accessories that should have been included with the camera. What would it really cost Sony to include a plastic grip and a separate battery charger? This is quite frustrating and disappointing for us “consumers” and Sony needs to understand that such practices are not beneficial to the company in the long run.
Sony also needs to move towards providing better ergonomics and user experience, particularly when it comes to its menu system. The confusing, cryptic and hideous menus really need to go, especially from a point and shoot camera. If Sony wants to sell the RX100 IV to more people, it needs to make it a simpler camera to use for photographers of all levels. I am not necessarily suggesting to remove all the advanced options, as those can be great to have for those of us who understand how to use or customize them. But there are ways to group and separate simple functions from the advanced ones. If Sony engineers could come up with a way to do that, it would make their cameras much easier and more intuitive to use.
Lastly, at $950 MSRP, the RX100 IV is not a cheap camera by any means. For that kind of price, one could buy an interchangeable lens mirrorless or DSLR camera with a larger APS-C sensor and a lens or two. Heck, for $1K, one could even get a used full-frame camera, which definitely makes it a tough buy for many of us – after-all, it is still a point and shoot camera! For this reason, I would personally wait until Sony releases its next generation RX100 V. Once that happens, it should lower the price of the RX100 IV by a few hundred dollars and if you catch good sales during holidays, you might get even a better deal.
Overall, despite its list of shortcomings, the RX100 IV is a camera I would not hesitate to recommend to our readers, especially if budget is not an issue. Aside from my iPhone, it is probably the only camera on the market that I would be willing to carry in my pocket when traveling.
10) Where to Buy
B&H is currently selling the Sony RX100 IV for $948 (as of 02/12/2016).
11) More Image Samples
Sony RX100 IV
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Ease of Use
Photography Life Overall Rating