Point-and-shoot cameras are an odd breed in 2018. The best camera you have is probably the one in your pocket: a phone. But that hasn’t stopped Sony’s RX100 line of compact point-and-shoot cameras from being wildly popular. Galaxy phones, Pixels, and iPhones can produce great results, but the bigger, high-resolution sensor in the RX100 captures much more detail and color. The new RX100 Mark VI, which costs $1,199.99, pairs that big sensor with an 8.3x optical zoom lens that has way more reach than you could ever get from your phone.
High-end pocket cameras like the Sony RX100 VI are the perfect mix between mirrorless and point-and-shoot. They let you capture detailed photo and video better than you can get with your phone, and then you can transfer those results to your phone for posting to social media.
But is the $1,200 price tag for the RX100 VI way too high of an asking price for a point-and-shoot camera? When it comes to the portability and performance the RX100 VI has, it’s surprisingly worth it.
My first reaction to holding the RX100 is that it’s tiny. It’s thicker any current smartphone, of course, but its overall footprint is minimal enough that it can fit in most jean pockets. The build quality of the RX100’s metal chassis is sturdy and reliable, but there’s no shock-resistance or waterproofing. You still have to take care of it.
Also, the RX100 VI lacks any sort of grip — rubber, faux-leather, or otherwise — and that can make it slippery to hold. But Sony makes up for this by making the camera lightweight (it’s just two-thirds of a pound), so while there are those who might think the RX100 VI is a super miniature mirrorless camera, it still is just a souped-up point-and-shoot.
There are a lot of buttons on the RX100 — especially for a point-and-shoot, so learning them all and customizing the ones you’ll need most will take some practice using it in the field.
But portability and ergonomics are just two aspects that represent something bigger about the RX100 VI. The built-in electronic viewfinder is what closes the gap between the RX100 VI being a run-of-the-mill point-and-shoot and a mirrorless camera. It turns on the camera when ejected, so it also serves as a secondary way of quickly turning the RX100 on to grab quick shots with tight framing.
Learn the controls well and you can draw it at speed
For example, if you’re shooting a dog running across a field, the RX100’s burst mode goes up to 24 fps. So, if you’re coming from a full-sized camera and miss the ergonomics of a fast-handling grip, you can practice the process of pulling the viewfinder’s latch down (which turns the unit on), placing it in front of your eye, then capturing a flurry of photographs.
The fact that you can use the RX100 like you would an interchangeable mirrorless camera (like the Sony Alpha A7 cameras I reviewed) means it can fill in for situations where an interchangeable lens camera is too flashy, heavy, or can’t even be used safely. It’s ideal for travel, as you don’t have to carry a bunch of lenses or worry about an expensive camera rig attracting unwanted attention.
Compared to an entry-level mirrorless camera, like Sony’s own a5100 that costs $450 with a kit lens, there are trade-offs but also a few advantages in the RX100’s favor. The RX100 VI’s long zoom lens gives you the reach of multiple lenses in one. It’s also more user-friendly, is much smaller, and has a built-in viewfinder. However, the a5100 has a larger sensor, better low-light performance, and costs less than half the RX100 VI’s asking price.
Shooting video in 4K or 1080p still results in crisp, clear, and smooth footage with accurate color reproduction. White balance accurately changes from bright to dimly lit scenes, but if you want the best results, you should use the RX100’s flatter color profile so you can color-correct the rest in post-production.
Record flat and color in post-production
The RX100 also has optical stabilization to smooth panning and changes in height when you’re filming. It also does a decent job keeping stills from turning out blurry, but of course this gets harder if you’re zoomed in on a far away subject.
There is a critical omission for the RX100 VI: a microphone / headphone port. It’s an interesting design decision by Sony because including a mic port would put the RX100 VI’s video capabilities on par with the mirrorless Sony Alpha cameras, and make it a formidable vlogging camera. It’s unfortunate.
It’s a shame that the only audio recording option is the average-sounding built-in stereo mic, because you can flip the screen up to face toward you to use in selfie mode. Sony also augments the RX100’s articulating screen by automatically using face detection if you point it toward you, then sets a three-second timer once you click the shutter button. It’s straightforward and an easy way for practicing your selfie angles.
It’s probably the ultimate selfie point-and-shoot
Okay, so it shoots good video and can take 20-megapixel selfies. Is the Sony RX100 a venerable shooter? Yes, but it has its limitations: the RX100 doesn’t have as bright a lens when compared to last year’s brighter Mark V lens (f/1.8 vs. f/2.8). You’ll suffer from some extra noise or graininess and slower shutter time if you want a decent shot. It’s a trade-off Sony had to make for the zoom lens, which is far longer than on earlier versions of the RX100. On the flip side, the RX100 VI thrives in well-lit environments whether it’s outdoors or indoors.
Sony has squeezed in enough of a basic kit (zoom lens, a viewfinder, 4K, and flash) to yield solid shooting performance shooting landscapes or subjects. Even if you’re just a casual photographer and this point-and-shoot is your only camera besides your smartphone, the RX100 VI has enough versatility to shoot landscapes, subjects, or just about anything else. Having 315 autofocus points with a 200mm zoom lens always yields a better, sharper photo than your phone’s camera and lens setup can muster, period.
However, just like your phone, you’ll have to keep tabs on the RX100’s small battery. The battery charges via the microUSB port, and lasts around 250 shots before needing a charge, or just an hour of video recording. You should definitely buy an extra battery if you plan to use the RX100 VI all day long, because it definitely won’t last through a busy day of shooting.
Sony also includes the PlayMemories Mobile app for the RX100 on iOS and Android, so wirelessly transferring photos (via Bluetooth, NFC, or Wi-Fi) to your phone works in a pinch. I say in a pinch because the PlayMemories app feels dated and is in dire need of a redesign, but the basic photo transfer functions do work at a decent pace for just a few photos.
The Sony RX100 VI is a handy and incredibly useful camera. If you’re a traveler and don’t want to carry a camera bag full of lenses, flashes, and audio equipment, then it’s a small but powerful alternative. The $1,200 price tag might make you scoff at it, but the performance is well beyond what you can get with your phone.
The tiny (expensive) powerhouse
The RX100 VI is a Goldilocks camera that hits the sweet-spot between portability and capability. It’s compact enough to go basically everywhere, but still provides much better photographic and video capabilities compared to your phone. After all, surprises can come in small packages.
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