A number of people recently have asked what kind of camera I would recommend they get. The requirements are usually pretty simple: something small, easy to use, but which has great quality and can be powerful if need be.
Erk, is that all, aye?
Usually, it’s a question that I hate. I don’t really keep in step with compact cameras, and a knowledge of weirdo specialist Leica mount lenses isn’t much help in addressing what somebody who is after a general purpose body will need or want. However, the Sony RX100 has put a stop to all of that uncertainty lately.
My good friend Al Roney is always one step ahead of the game when it comes to the latest camera tech, with a dizzying knowledge of what’s out at the moment. We have slightly differing taste in electronics though, and so I have been known to scoff on occasion at his penchant for smaller, auto-focus cameras. However, I should learn to trust him more often, as he’s usually right.
I had been hankering after something small and discreet for a while, with my previous favourite compact (the Lumix GF1) getting a bit unwieldy and long in the tooth – so when I got the chance to pick up a Sony RX100 for a great price, I went for it. Up until now I’ve been directing people to Al’s write-up of the camera, but since I’ve come to love the wee beast so much, I thought I may as well explain why for myself.
Here’s the reasons why the Sony RX100 is so awesome:
Size and Build
The Sony RX100 is a tiny wee thing; about the size of an iPhone 5, albeit slightly wider. That means it can slip into your pocket, or in the front of your bag incredibly easily, and be on the road with you no matter where you are going. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Leica rangefinders, and my old Canon DSLRs, but they’re a real pain in the arse to have to lug about with you if you’re just going out for a walk. The problem is, it’s often on that kind of walk that you spot the best picture opportunities. Even if you do happen to have a bigger body with you, you still need to take it out the bag, take off the lens cap…. etc. With the RX100, you don’t need to be in the mindset of taking pictures all day, like you do with other cameras. You can just keep it on you incase the moment arrives, and if it does… hit the power button and you’re ready to go. It’s as quick as pulling out your phone or wallet.
If you’re prone to throwing your electronics onto the ground, you’ll be pleased to hear that one of the other great things about the RX100 is that it has a solid build, backed up by a metal exterior. It feels great to use, although if you have giant hands then it’s possible that you might find it a bit too fiddly.
Discretion and Shutter
This was one of the biggest selling points for me. I’ve been indulging in some more street photography as of late, which relies on you being as discreet as possible. Either that, or having ridiculous amounts of confidence to stick a big camera in the direction of complete strangers. Despite the Leica rangefinders being praised for their ‘quiet operation’, to me it felt like I was letting off a firework every time I pressed the shutter button on the street. It was so obvious that I had just taken a photo, which knocks the confidence somewhat.
In contrast, the Sony RX100 is virtually silent, thanks to its leaf shutter design. Whilst it does still omit a small click, this is so quiet that it is easily drowned out by any ambient noise – and people standing right next to you will be hard pressed to pick up on it. You don’t need to be out doing street photography to make use of this though, as capturing candids whilst at parties, or out with friends, suddenly becomes a whole lot easier. People expect some sort of audible feedback when you point a camera their way, so when that doesn’t transpire, they get a whole lot more relaxed… and the pictures get a whole lot better.
One of the things that tends to put me off compact cameras is the lack of image quality. To me, everything looks a bit clinical… either overly sharp, or with washed out colours and tones. I don’t know how the hell Sony have managed it, but the image quality in the RX100 is phenomenal.
Not only do the pictures look amazing and detailed without being looking like they have been digitally sharpened, they also have a feel to them that other similar cameras haven’t been able to replicate. Personally, I shoot with the black and white preview mode on, which means all of the pictures are saved as black and white JPEGs first of all. Normally, I have to go back and spend a lot of time getting the files to look how I want with my other cameras, but with the RX100, I’ve often hardly had to touch them at all. The pictures look fantastic right out of the camera.
Low Light Performance
The lens in the RX100 stops down to f1.8 at its lowest zoom level, which is pretty good for a compact. For those that aren’t familiar with F stops, what that means is that the lens lets in a lot more light, so you can shoot in darker places without having to drop the shutter speed, and end up with blurry pictures. This is coupled with really good handling of higher ISOs. I’ve been amazed by just how great the pictures look – even when the ISO sensitivity is pumped up to 3200. Given that I spend my life in pubs, clubs, and other dark places, this is a huge boon – and means that the RX100 is one camera that I can trust to take pretty much anywhere, and know that it will perform well.
There are plenty of other places on the web where you can find detailed technical reviews of the RX100, so I won’t bother with that. What’s important is that it’s a small, well built camera with a great lens, full manual controls if you want them, and almost unbelievably good image quality. If you’re looking for either a compact camera, or what they call a ‘bridge’ apparently – the best option by far is the RX100. There are various different models available now, each increasing the price a little more. However, I have the original one and it’s still incredible, so you don’t need to go all out in order to take advantage of its benefits.