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Sony RX100 Mark VII review: almost vlogger

Sony’s latest RX100 adds some long requested features, but it still isn’t the perfect vlogging rig

Point-and-shoot cameras are trending toward the endangered species list. For typical, day-to-day photos and videos, there’s the smartphone. If you want to capture action, there’s the GoPro, and if you want to make art, there are higher-end cameras with larger sensors. Point-and-shoots aren’t totally dead, though. They’re still popular with tourists who are trying to keep weight and bulk to a minimum. And then there are vloggers.

Social media celebs, YouTube personalities, and influencers in the worlds of travel, fashion, and food often need to be able to shoot photos and videos at a higher quality than their phones can deliver while keeping their camera small and unobtrusive. It seems that the $1,299.99 Sony RX100 Mark VII is aimed at that crowd.

Let’s start with a little refresher on the RX100 line. This is the seventh generation of Sony’s high-end point-and-shoot cameras, which generally rank at the top of the category. It’s four inches wide, 2.3 inches tall, and 1.7 inches thick, so it will easily fit in any jacket pocket, and maybe even some jeans, if they’re not too skinny. It has a one-inch, 20.1-megapixel stacked CMOS image sensor (which gathers a lot more light than the tiny sensor on your phone), and it can shoot 4K at up to 30 fps. There’s also a pop-up electronic viewfinder (EVF) for bright occasions when you can’t see the screen, and a pop-up flash for dark scenes when you can’t see your subject. Extra important for vloggers, the three-inch touchscreen on the back can flip up 180 degrees, making it easy to keep your pretty face in frame.

The RX100 Mark VII finally includes a mic jack and a 180-degree flipping screen, but it lacks a shoe to hold the mic and headphone jack to monitor audio.

Arguably the most important inclusion to the Mark VII is the long-requested addition of a microphone jack. Previously, if you wanted higher-quality audio, you had to use an external recorder. Now you can plug a mic directly into the camera and just hit record. It’s a great addition, but there are some caveats. For starters, there’s still no headphone jack. There’s an on-screen readout so you can see if the audio is peaking, but you can’t listen live, or even go back and review clips to make sure there wasn’t a click, pop, wind noise, or other anomaly. The camera’s built-in speaker doesn’t really cut it for that.

The other thing is the camera doesn’t have a way to actually hold a mic because it has no mount, or shoe. That small missing feature becomes a big omission in the field. Sony does sell a shooting grip kit for $100 more (if you buy it with the camera), and it comes with a handle for your camera with controls for start / stop recording, shutter button, and zoom, as well as a little platform with a cold shoe that could hold an external mic, such as Sony’s ECM-XYST1M Stereo Mic. I tested the camera with that mic as well as with a Sennheiser wireless lavalier kit. Unfortunately, I had an older version of the platform accessory, which was pretty narrow, so neither the Sony mic nor the Sennheiser receiver fit cleanly on the mounting plate. That shouldn’t be an issue with the newer kit, and while the RX100 Mark VII’s built-in microphone is actually quite good, it records a lot of ambient noise, so you’ll notice a real difference if you upgrade to a quality external mic.

The Mark VII’s best feature is its incredible autofocus capabilities, including Sony’s best-in-class Eye AF, which even works in video mode. This feature was cribbed from Sony’s professional A9 and A7R Mark IV mirrorless cameras, and it’s a welcome feature in this tiny body. The focus stays locked on a subject’s closest eye even when shooting at f/2.8 and in dark conditions. It makes that selfie-angle look pretty good. It also tracks moving objects well, including bikers, cars, and runners in a race. It also has Eye AF for animals, but that is limited to still mode and doesn’t work for video.

A pop-up viewfinder and pop-up flash give the RX100 flexibility in various shooting environments.
The 24-200mm zoom lens provides a lot of reach, but it doesn’t get as bright as the older models.

When shooting stills, the camera can fire off a blistering 20 shots per second while continuously tracking focus and exposure, and there is no screen blackout between shots, so it’s easy to keep a subject in frame. I shot my friend’s son’s cross-country race, and it worked like a dream. It can shoot a burst of roughly 90 RAW shots before the buffer is full. That’s pretty good, but then it took a very painful 68 seconds for the buffer to clear, and that’s with a high-speed SDXC UHS-II card. It’s staggeringly slow, and during that time a lot of the settings aren’t accessible, and you can’t start recording a video, either. This is likely because the card slot is only rated to UHS-I, so it couldn’t benefit from my faster card. That’s a big whiff on a camera this pricey. Still, it’s an excellent camera for shooting action scenes, provided you don’t max out the buffer — 90 shots, or 4.5 seconds of continuous shooting, is a lot, after all.

For creators who are willing to take the time in post to give their videos a certain look, the Mark VII does support a number of picture profiles, including the very flat S-Log2 and the HDR-compatible HLG profiles. I know a lot of filmmakers love S-Log2, but because this camera is limited to 8-bit video, you just don’t get the flexibility with the colors you might expect. Add to that the minimum ISO of 800 and the fact that it’s just a one-inch sensor and I found the footage to be too grainy for my liking. In general, I just found S-Log2 to be a pain to work with, and not worth the trouble with this camera. Using HLG2 and HLG3, on the other hand, produced very nice results. The footage was a lot easier to work with, with more natural colors, decent dynamic range, and a lot less noise. HLG is what you need to shoot in if you want your final video to be HDR.

The camera can also shoot some sweet slow motion. If you want to shoot continuously, you’re limited to 1080p 120 fps (or 5x slow motion, if your final project will be 24 fps), but if you’re willing to shoot just four seconds at a time you can raise it to 1080p 240 fps for 10x slow motion. In that mode, the camera is constantly recording to the buffer, and you can choose whether you want the capture to start when you hit the shutter, stop when you hit the shutter, or have the shutter be in the middle (shooting two seconds before and two seconds after). This can be handy for action scenes when you don’t know exactly when “it” is going to happen (whatever it is). Four seconds is better than the two seconds you used to get with the Mark V, but it’s still short, so your reflexes have to be quite good. You can actually push this mode all the way to 960 fps, but the resolution is so low that it won’t look good even in Instagram’s tiny frame. I wouldn’t advise going beyond 1080p 240 fps.

There are a few other things that limit the Mark VII’s vlogging capabilities. For starters, the widest you can go is a 24mm equivalent frame (though with image stabilization in Active mode, it looks closer to 30mm). If you’re holding the camera selfie-style, that’s just wide enough for you to get your head and shoulders in, and that’s about it. I find that to be a bit limiting.

Another highly sought-after feature among vloggers is image stabilization. This camera has it, but it’s not very good. When you have stabilization in Standard mode it hardly does anything. Switch it to Active mode and it does look smoother, but it’s far from great. Even a gentle walk produces rather bumpy footage, and it crops 10 percent of the image for the trouble, constricting your shot even further. Smaller, cheaper cameras like the GoPro Hero8, or even the Hero7 easily outshine the RX100 in both field of view and image stabilization.

When it comes to stills, auto mode makes some questionable choices. I was shooting handheld just before sunset and it went to 1/20 sec at f/2.8 ISO 800. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t hold it still enough and the photo turned out blurry. There’s so much intelligence in this camera you’d think it could tell when it’s moving, that it’s probably hand-held, and it needs to prioritize shutter speed. Even with that, photos skew dark. Photos with auto settings were usually way over to the left side of the histogram. I was able to get some very nice photos when using manual settings, but this is supposed to be a point-and-shoot camera, and manual settings are accordingly cumbersome to adjust.

The hallmark of the RX100 design is its ability to cram a very capable camera into a chassis that still fits in a pocket.

The camera has a flash, but I don’t recommend using it. It only works in still mode, and it’s plenty bright, but extremely harsh and photos don’t look good with it (this is largely true of all on-camera flashes, though). I would much rather have a hot shoe. Or even a cold shoe! On a camera built for vloggers, that would be far more useful. Even with the flash on, the auto mode still made poor choices, and the shutter speed would often be absurdly slow, coming in at 1/30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 160. Why wouldn’t it go to ISO 320 or 400 so I could shoot faster? So weird.

Flash aside, the camera’s low-light performance is decent. The one-inch sensor puts it well ahead of your phone or a GoPro, but it certainly trails the Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and full-frame sensors found in mirrorless cameras. When shooting video, I found ISO 3200 to be very usable. ISO 6400 starts to get fairly noisy, and while you could get away with it for a casual video, it’s certainly not ideal, and I wouldn’t push the ISO any higher than that.

The one-inch sensor combined with the f/2.8 aperture means you can get depth-of-field control (or the ability to separate your subject from the background with blur) that’s more than you can do with your phone (software-based portrait modes, aside), but it’s not going to wow you. I spent some time a few years ago with the Mark V version of this camera, which only had a 24-70mm zoom. That’s a short reach compared to the 24-200mm lens on the Mark VII, but the Mark V had an f/1.8 aperture on it. The additional zoom is unquestionably a great thing to have if you’re a dad at your kid’s sporting event, but for vloggers? I think that shallow depth of field is more coveted, especially considering how frequently the camera is turned around and pointed at themselves, not to mention the better low-light performance. I did find the 24-200mm zoom worked well for nature shots, and images stayed sharp throughout the range, but personally, I’d probably opt for the old 24-70mm f/1.8 if I had the choice.

At 921,000 dots, the Mark VII’s LCD is quite good, and I can’t overstate how handy the 180-degree rotation is for self-filming. It is a bit tough to see in bright sunlight, though. In those cases, I found the pop-up electronic viewfinder to be handy. It’s very small and it has no eye cup, so it’s a bit tricky to get your eye lined up, and there’s plenty of light leakage, but I’m still glad it’s there.

Sony’s camera software has been notoriously awful for years, and unfortunately, the touchscreen controls on the RX100 Mark VII are still laughable. You can’t use the touchscreen for adjusting any settings, which would really come in handy in Sony’s obtuse, many-dozen-page menu system. You can poke the screen to set focus points, and that’s really about it. It’s baffling that after so many years of getting dunked on for its awful software, Sony still has done nothing to improve it.

Battery life is average, which is about what you’d expect from a camera of this size. Sony rates it to 260 stills or 40 minutes of video recording. Mileage will vary greatly depending on how you use it, but I’d recommend buying at least one or two extra batteries ($35 each). Speaking of accessories, because the Mark VII’s body has remained similar to the prior generations of RX100 models, there are plenty of compatible accessories already available. Everything from alternate grips and camera cages, to press-on ND filters and small video mics. Some of those will definitely come in handy if you’re trying to vlog or record serious video with an RX100.

So, what can we conclude here? The RX100 Mark VII, like its predecessors, is without a doubt an incredibly powerful camera for its size. But its price is also incredibly high, which makes it a bit of a niche item, and people within that niche tend to be pretty discerning. It does indeed shoot very nice video and decent photos, and it’s almost certainly the best point-and-shoot camera you can buy today. But there are a few misses in terms of features that might make an aspiring vlogger hesitate for one more generation to see if Sony will patch those holes with the Mark VIII. If there’s anything to glean from Sony’s history with the RX100, it’s that the next model isn’t too far off.

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