Home Cameras/Lenses Hasselblad Sony RX100 VI Review: The teeniest with the mostest

Sony RX100 VI Review: The teeniest with the mostest

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  Douglas So, noted Leica collector and founder of the F11 Museum and F22 Photo Space exhibits in Hong Kong. Taken at a very slow 1/8s, f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm
Douglas So, noted Leica collector and founder of the F11 Museum and F22 Photo Space exhibits in Hong Kong. Taken at a very slow 1/8s, f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm
  The tiny Sony packs a real punch, but it’s a slippery customer. The    Sony own-brand stick-on grip   , shown here, is a must — and something of a bargain at only £12. Why settle for a third-party offering?
The tiny Sony packs a real punch, but it’s a slippery customer. The Sony own-brand stick-on grip , shown here, is a must — and something of a bargain at only £12. Why settle for a third-party offering?

September 21, 2011, and Nikon announced its new CX-format with a one-inch sensor size. Nikon had the headwind, but it was Sony that tacked in and stole Nikon’s crown. Nine months after the advent of the J1, along came the RX100, a masterpiece of miniaturisation in a design which fully utilised the benefits of the new sensor size.

It is no exaggeration to say that Sony owns the 1in-sensor, despite more recent arrivals from Canon, Panasonic and others. This year, however, we have seen a move to longer lenses in compacts, with the RX100 Mk.VI offering a 200mm reach while Panasonic and Leica have upped the ante to 360mm, but not without compromises in both cases.

Over the past month or two, I’ve had both the Sony VI and the Leica C-Lux at my beck and call. In fact, you could say I have been suffering from one-inch-sensor overload. First came the lovely Leica C-Lux which I reviewed on August 13. I enjoyed an intense week with the Leica and relished every minute. Now I have devoted a similar level of scrutiny to the Sony RX100 Mark VI, a camera which is regarded as a direct competitor to the Leica C-Lux. 

  Above: One of my favourite images from Hong Kong  —  the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.. This was a quick snap as I emerged from the top station of the cable car, taken at 1/250s, f/4.5 and at the maximum zoom. Below is a crop with a x22 magnification, still with impressive detail. The second image is a wide-angle view from the same vantage point, giving a good impression of the distance involved. Click on these images to see full size.
Above: One of my favourite images from Hong Kong — the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.. This was a quick snap as I emerged from the top station of the cable car, taken at 1/250s, f/4.5 and at the maximum zoom. Below is a crop with a x22 magnification, still with impressive detail. The second image is a wide-angle view from the same vantage point, giving a good impression of the distance involved. Click on these images to see full size.

In reality, the Sony is a very different animal. It is considerably smaller, fully fitting the description of a pocket camera. It makes do with a zoom lens that offers just over half the reach of the Leica but tempts with a faster aperture range. This range, however, is not as fast as previous RX100 models, including the latest Mark VA. You will choose either the RX100 VI or the C-Lux only if you really think you need a longer reach than 70mm. 

Top: Sweeties for those on a diet: 1/100s at f/4, ISO 125 and 70mm. Below is a crop from the same image at a x10 magnification. Click to enlarge.

As I found out during my recent visit to Hong Kong, however, I can live with a maximum 200mm and am not too inconvenienced by not having a super-fast aperture of f/1.8 at my disposal. It would have been nice to have, but the slower aperture was never a problem. This is a compromise you can live with in return for that extra zoom capability. 

I am grateful to David Babsky for his help with this review. David bought the RX100 VI on the day it was announced and has had the whole summer to play with it, much of the time in sunny Greece. He has helped with much background and technical data from his vast experience in photography. He has also allowed access to some of his excellent photographs, although he cautions that some might find them weird — not the normal landscapes or faces, “more what you might call’,” he says. He has also produced a couple of Sony videos, something that I have never tried. I will make reference throughout the review to aspects where David has enhanced or added to the story.

Above: Coffee break at Waterloo Station George James by Mike Evans and Mike Evans by George James, 1/80s at f/3.5, 35mm. As John Nicholson points out in a comment (below), these two shots illustrate the problem with close-up wide-angle portraits — he terms it “the nose problem” and you will see exactly what he means.

Design

In the past six years, the RX100 has gone through no fewer than seven iterations, if we include the now discontinued Mk.V and the ill-fated Hasselblad Stellars I and II. Remarkably, six of them, the RX100, the Mk.II, Mk.III, Mk.IV, Mk.VA and the Mk.VI, the subject of this review, are still on the market at various price levels. All look similar but there are specification differences as the development has continued. 

Clockwise: The top plate includes a minimal set of controls, mode dial, on/off button, shutter release and zoom lever. The pop-up viewfinder helps keep the overall size of the camera to a bare minimum. It now works more smoothly than on previous models. The bottom images show the zoom extended to 200mm (left) and at rest, 24mm (right)

The RX100 has become a true photographic icon and a point of reference for all pocket devices. Up to now, though, a major selling point of the RX100 has been its fast Vario-Sonnar lens, starting at a useful 24/25mm with a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture. The first two models topped out at f/4.9 at 100mm while from the Mk.III onwards the range was reduced to 70mm with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at 70mm.

Above Left: 1/800s at f/4. 70mm. Right, 1/1000s at f/4.5, 195mm.

  Close up of the Concorde undercarriage at 1/2000s, f/4.5, 135mm.
Close up of the Concorde undercarriage at 1/2000s, f/4.5, 135mm.
  Corcorde detail, 1/1250s, f/5.6m, 25mm
Corcorde detail, 1/1250s, f/5.6m, 25mm
  Sidevalve splendour: 1/50s, f/5.6, ISO 4000, 50mm
Sidevalve splendour: 1/50s, f/5.6, ISO 4000, 50mm

But earlier this year Sony announced a big change with the Mk.VI camera — a Vario-Sonnar lens extending to 200mm (equivalent) in exchange for a slower overall aperture. Still and all, it isn’t that slow. Even professional zoom lenses are pretty content with f/2.8-4.0 and the Sony VI’s f/2.8-4.5 is actually pretty respectable. With the new Mk.VA offering many of the technology advances of the VI but retaining the 24-70mm, f/1.8-2.8 specs, there is now a clear choice for potential Sony buyers: Either a very fast short zoom or a slower maxi-zoom. It’s a case of horses for courses.

As with all variable aperture zoom lenses, the headline “fast” bit is confined to the widest aperture and soon descends to the lower end of the scale. The Vario-Sonnar is no exception. In is indeed an f/2.8 lens at 24mm but it is already narrowed to f/3.2 at 28mm and it’s a downward path from thereon: f/3.5 at 35mm, f/4 at 50mm to 90mm and then f/4.5 from 135mm to the maximum 200mm. There is nothing unusual in this, but it is a point worth bearing in mind if you are going to be using the long zoom extensively. And don’t forget there is a vast difference between f/2.8 or f/4 on a one-inch sensor and the same values when paired with a full-frame or, even, APS-C sensor.

Above: Waiting for the lunchtime special, 1/30s at f/3.2, ISO 200, 28mm. The crop on the right is magnified by a factor of ten.

Since this one-inch sensor imposes a 2.7 crop in relation to “full-frame” 35mm, the lens focal length actually ranges from 9 to 72mm. Apply the crop factor and you get 24.3-194.4mm so Sony is slightly egging the pudding by claiming 200mm. The relationship between sensors is interesting. Micro four-thirds has a factor of 2 while APS-C is 1.5. The oddball Panasonic LX100/Leica D-Lux has a cropped m4/3 sensor with a factor of 2.2, so that puts the 2.7 of the Sony and the C-Lux into perspective.

To avoid confusion, throughout this review I refer to the full-frame equivalent angle of view between 24mm and 200mm.

Above top: Vintage railway carriage at 1/50s, f/4, ISO 250, 50mm. The crop on the right represents a x10 magnification. Bottom: Service trolley, 1/250s, f.2,8, ISO 125, 24mm. The crop represents a x13 digital magnification (Click to enlarge)

The Mk VI closely follows the design of the original RX100. I owned the Mk. 1 version and, frankly, this feels like the same camera, new viewfinder and folding screen notwithstanding. It is exquisitely small, although that has both advantages and disadvantages, and it is very similar in operation to the earlier models.

  Spratt to catch a mackerel: 1/2000s, f/2.8, 24mm
Spratt to catch a mackerel: 1/2000s, f/2.8, 24mm

The pop-up viewfinder, which was introduced on the Mk III version, has been further refined in that it extends backwards automatically when activated. On earlier models, it was necessary to first pop up the viewfinder and then pull out the eyecup before use. Putting it away was a reverse operation and not at all straightforward.

From many accounts, too, there was a danger of damaging the mechanism by heavy-handed prodding.  The new design operates in one fluid motion and is all the better for it. The viewfinder can also be programmed to act as an auxiliary on/off switch which I found particularly useful.

The shiny black body is typical of the RX100 series and is a marvel of miniaturisation. This comes at a cost in handling, since the body is quite slippery and lacks any form of grip. The small size of the camera leads to some compromises in control functions as I outline in the next section. 

  1/500s, f/6.3, ISO 125, 200mm
1/500s, f/6.3, ISO 125, 200mm

As with most cameras in this class of one-inchers, I like the auto lens cap which keeps the front element protected in the absence of any way of fixing a protective filter. Other cameras, such as the old Leica X1/X2 and the D-Lux have no possibility of fitting a filter, leaving the front element vulnerable unless you use the lens cap. I certainly do not like using lens caps (even less, lens caps on strings), so the auto closure of the Sony is ideal. 

  Indoor shot at 1/100s, f/4.5 and ISO 640m, focal length 85mm
Indoor shot at 1/100s, f/4.5 and ISO 640m, focal length 85mm

From a technical point of view, the RX100 VI benefits from the best that Sony can currently offer. 

The backlit CMOS Exmoor RS sensor uses the revolutionary stacked technology seen in the flagship a9. It enables both contrast and phase detect autofocus. In the case of the RX100 VI, the sensor has a total effective pixel count of 20 million which is now becoming standard fodder for one-inch sensors. But the stacked design with DRAM delivers extremely fast data readout speeds, up to 20x faster than normal sensors, which make it possible to capture still images of fast-moving subjects with minimal distortion. This opens up the possibility of using faster electronic shutter speeds with less risk of the rolling shutter effect. 

The lefthand 24mm frame is digitally cropped, centre, and is magnified x70. The far right shot is the optical zoom at 200mm. The difference in detail exposure is accounted for by the averaging of the main shot resulting in a slightly underexposed detail. Click to enlarge.

An effective optical image stabilisation offers a four-stop advantage over a non-stabilised rig, something which comes into its own at maximum zoom settings. 

Above left, drinks cabinet at 1/125s, f/4.5, ISO 800 at maximum zoom, 200mm. The crop on the right is digitally magnified by a factor of 7

Maximum mechanical shutter speed is only 1/2000s and it should be noted that the VI version no longer includes an ND filter, a feature that will be missed by videographers. But the technologically advanced sensor helps make full use of the electronic shutter up to a fast 1/32000s. The slowest shutter speed is 30 seconds. The Sony is capable of capturing 24 still frames per second in continuous mode.

As is common with this class of camera, the traditional and much-loved strap lugs (seen on Leica Ms and most larger mirrorless cameras, including Sony’s) give way to a narrow slot which is intended to be used with a string-fitting strap rather than the more normal split ring. The length of string can be ugly, to my mind, but it also needs a careful choice of wrist-strap for maximum comfort. Above are some suggestions, but if using the standard Sony look make sure you add the rubber-band mod to keep it in place.

The Sony, as does the C-Lux, comes with a soft woven wrist loop that is far too big, leaving open the possibility of an expensive accident. As supplied, the loop would fit round Hercules’s thighs, never mind poor mortals’ wrists.

Alternatives are limited, however, if you are looking for an adjustable loop. Your collection of more substantial split-ring wrist straps are of no use. I tried a standard-length string-mount Gordy leather wrist strap on both the C-Lux and the Sony and it worked well, offering a much chunkier feeling on the wrist and the refinement of a rubber adjustment ring to close the loop around the wrist, thus preventing that accident. It is, however, quite bulky for such a small camera. I even tried the tiny Ciesta leather finger loop I have been using for a couple of years on the Ricoh GR and that’s also a good choice for the Sony 

  Wide angle for cityscapes: 1/500s, f/5.6, 24mm
Wide angle for cityscapes: 1/500s, f/5.6, 24mm

In the end, though, I like the narrow, soft and compliant standard loop supplied with the Sony because it folds away easily and doesn’t intrude when the camera is slipped in a pocket or a bag. I solved the problem of the over-large loop by adding a rubber band around the strap, enabling the loop to be narrowed sufficiently to keep it on the wrist with no danger of slipping over the hand. It’s a minor point — and common to all ultra-small cameras — but this is a tip worth bearing in mind.

  Faces standing out from the crowd at 190mm, 1/400s, f/4.5
Faces standing out from the crowd at 190mm, 1/400s, f/4.5

Controls, menus

The RX100 VI is a tiny camera, so you can’t expect chunky controls. The top plate houses the shutter release (combined with a zoom lever), a mode dial and the lever for the tiny pop-up flash. The on-off switch is a pushbutton affair which I dislike intensely. I much prefer a clear on-off switch so you know exactly where you stand. In fairness, though, the centre of the button shows a green light when the camera is on.

Another illustration of digital versus optical zoom. The main image on the left is taken at 24mm while centre is a x27 digital magnification. On the right is the same subject taken with the optical zoom at 200mm. Click to enlarge.

The lens ring at the front of the camera is smooth in operation and can be programmed to a number of functions. The most common will be to take over the zoom function. But it can be set to adjust aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, creative style or picture effect. There is also a “standard” setting where it automatically switches function to control aperture and speed depending on the mode setting. In auto mode, it defaults to zoom while in scene mode the wheel chooses your setting. The lens ring is easily nudged out of its setting, however. As David mentions, when set to scene mode it is all too easy to end up with an unwanted setting.

  Ancient beams have seen many a pint pulled at the historic    Hoop at the village of Stock    in Essex. The interior shot is taken at ISO 800, 1/25s, f/2.8, 24mm
Ancient beams have seen many a pint pulled at the historic Hoop at the village of Stock in Essex. The interior shot is taken at ISO 800, 1/25s, f/2.8, 24mm

When using the lens ring to control zoom — which is probably the most common choice — there is an option to choose a stepped zoom. A flick of the ring steps the zoom through the established focal lengths — 24, 28, 35, 50, 70, 100, 135, 200. I like this feature because it helps with visualising the focal length and fits in with familiar prime values. 

When your crane breaks down, it’s best to get out the instruction manual. Then slip in a new circuit board and Bob’s your uncle. The picture on the left is taken at 24mm, the detail on the right at 125mm. Click to enlarge.

The settings, as with all other options controlled by the ring, appear on the screen or viewfinder as a crescent which is attractive but perhaps not as easy to follow as the straight-line method used by Panasonic. So far so good; the stepped zoom follows Panasonic practice.

It diverges, however, when it comes to the resume feature. With Lumix cameras, the setting of the stepped zoom can (by choice) be remembered during sleep or power off, with the result that the lens always comes back to the designated focal length. So, if you have set your mind on a 35mm or 50mm day, the lens of a Panasonic or Leica C-Lux will always return to the chosen focal length. The Sony doesn’t do this, which is a great pity, and the lens always reverts to 24mm after power off. 

  A mistake: ISO 2000 in broad daylight, but the result is fully acceptable. Electronic shutter at 1/20000, f/4.5 and 200mm focal length
A mistake: ISO 2000 in broad daylight, but the result is fully acceptable. Electronic shutter at 1/20000, f/4.5 and 200mm focal length

The standard zoom control, the lever concentric with the shutter button, does not function as a stepped zoom and is a straight-line progression from wide to tele taking about three seconds (this is the same on the Panasonic). If you do not care for the stepped zoom feature — which is the advantage of using the lens ring — you might feel that the zoom lever should be used exclusively, thus freeing up the lens ring for another purpose such as scene mode or aperture/speed selection. 

  Above and below: Shots through the window of an Emirates Airline car bearing down on the O2 arena on the south bank of the Thames
Above and below: Shots through the window of an Emirates Airline car bearing down on the O2 arena on the south bank of the Thames

The O2 arena at 24mm with the detail of the roof-top adventurers taken at at 200mm. Click on images to enlarge

On the back of the camera, the clear and bright 2.7in (diagonal, usable area) LCD monitor extends the full height of the camera and far enough to the right to squeeze the remaining controls into a 2cm vertical strip. The screen is cantilevered upwards to help with low-down shots, and downwards for over the heads of crowds, but can also be pulled out and flipped over to face forwards over the top of the camera. This is selfie mode and is surprisingly useful. When folded back, the screen blends perfectly into the camera to the extent that if you didn’t know, you would assume it was fixed in place. Unlike on some cameras, particularly Panasonic and Olympus m4/3 designs, the screen cannot be reversed to present a smooth back.

  Japanese Kakigōri shaved ice dessert at Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. 1/80s at f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm. This is the strawberry version, by the way. Below: Appreciative eyes for the green tea confection, 1/80s, f/2.8 at 90mm.
Japanese Kakigōri shaved ice dessert at Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. 1/80s at f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm. This is the strawberry version, by the way. Below: Appreciative eyes for the green tea confection, 1/80s, f/2.8 at 90mm.

The narrow control strip accommodates the movie, menu, trash, playback and Fn buttons. There is a control wheel where you normally find the four-way pad and this is the only scrolling possibility since there is no top-mounted control. It means that you have to use this wheel for exposure adjustment, or as set, in normal use.

So, for instance, in Aperture mode, this is the way you control aperture (unless you decide to assign the lens control ring to the function). It is a rather fiddly control and no replacement for a proper dial mounted on the top plate or at the front or rear of the plate. 

There is a wide range of programmable functions and the adjustment dial can be pressed in four directions to choose (by default), display content, drive mode, exposure compensation and flash. Again, though, everything is customisable. The Fn button, by default, brings up the quick menu, the contents of which you can customise to your own preference. 

  London Docklands and Canary Wharf from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Above 1/250 at f/5.6, 40mm. Below: At 1/1000s, f/5.6 and 45mm
London Docklands and Canary Wharf from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Above 1/250 at f/5.6, 40mm. Below: At 1/1000s, f/5.6 and 45mm

The diopter control takes the form of a short-travel lever on top of the pull-out section of the finder housing. It is prone to losing its setting, probably as a result of the open and closing mechanism, and is a design fault. As I highlight later, it is the most frustrating aspect of the camera, especially for a glasses wearer. 

  A colourful HMS Victory all bottled up: 1/1600s, f/5.6, 45mm. Now in Greenwich, this is a former Fourth Plinth exhibit in Trafalgar Square, London
A colourful HMS Victory all bottled up: 1/1600s, f/5.6, 45mm. Now in Greenwich, this is a former Fourth Plinth exhibit in Trafalgar Square, London

On the lefthand edge of the camera (from the rear) is the lever for the viewfinder. When the lever is pressed the viewfinder pops up and automatically extends rearwards. On earlier models, it was necessary to pull the centre of the viewfinder to the rear and then push it in again after use. This is a big improvement on earlier models and makes the operation much more fluid.

  Hong Kong cliché, one of the hundreds of tower blocks, taken at 1/500s, f/4.5, 125mm
Hong Kong cliché, one of the hundreds of tower blocks, taken at 1/500s, f/4.5, 125mm
  An impressive skyline even here out in the suburbs near the Wetlands Centre, 1/1000s, f/3.5, 24mm
An impressive skyline even here out in the suburbs near the Wetlands Centre, 1/1000s, f/3.5, 24mm
  Same location, but more greenery: 1/800s, f/3.5, 24mm
Same location, but more greenery: 1/800s, f/3.5, 24mm

It is important to note that the viewfinder can be set to operate as an on-off switch, another very useful feature. Instead of using the push-push top-plate button you can simply raise the viewfinder and the camera is switched on. Similarly, pushing down the viewfinder will switch off the camera if you so choose in the relevant menu. If you wish to use the viewfinder exclusively, you will appreciate this feature. 

  Above and below: Impressive weaponry at the Hong Kong Wetland Park
Above and below: Impressive weaponry at the Hong Kong Wetland Park

On the right side of the camera are two doors covering the ports — one for the USB multi-connector which can also be used for charging the camera (indeed, must be used because there is no charger cradle in the box) and second for HDMI. As with the C-Lux, there is no microphone jack on this camera and this detracts from its otherwise very capable video abilities.

  Lotus life, city life: 1/1600s, f/3.2, 24mm
Lotus life, city life: 1/1600s, f/3.2, 24mm
  In the shade: 1/1000s, f/4, 50mm
In the shade: 1/1000s, f/4, 50mm

Overall, the control set is what you would expect in such a small camera. It is eminently customisable and does everything you need in the most efficient way possible. My sole gripe is the unintuitive rear scroll dial which is awkward to use, especially when attempting to change aperture or speed quickly. I would much prefer a top-mounted dial but we have to understand that the size of the camera means there is no spare real estate for added controls. 

  Top: Gilbert Yuen of Fotopia, Leica dealer, 1/160s, f/4.5, ISO 6400. Middle: Portrait at 1/50s, f/6.3, ISO 1250. Bottom: Keeping the fingers clean, 1/100s, f/4.5, ISO 6400. Click to enlarge.
Top: Gilbert Yuen of Fotopia, Leica dealer, 1/160s, f/4.5, ISO 6400. Middle: Portrait at 1/50s, f/6.3, ISO 1250. Bottom: Keeping the fingers clean, 1/100s, f/4.5, ISO 6400. Click to enlarge.

The menus are typical Sony, using the top tab bar and sideways movement of the menu screens. The layout is rather confusing for someone used to simpler arrangements such as those on Leica or Panasonic cameras. There are three main groups, Camera Settings 1, Camera Settings 2 (which starts with video but sort of forgets and moves on to other topics), Network, Playback and SetUp.

Some functions you would expect to find in SetUp. For instance, the programming of the various buttons and zoom functions are actually elsewhere in the Camera Settings 2 group. There is one final group. My Menu, which can be customised to display your most frequently used options. This does a similar job to the quick menu, so it’s a good idea to give thought to content in order to avoid duplication. 

  Above: Cardboard recycling awaiting removal, 1/30s, f/3,2, ISO 1250. Below: Human-powered trucks are everywhere in Hong Kong: 1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 4000
Above: Cardboard recycling awaiting removal, 1/30s, f/3,2, ISO 1250. Below: Human-powered trucks are everywhere in Hong Kong: 1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 4000

While Sony menus do have something of a reputation for inscrutability, I have gradually improved my familiarity with the methodology after using the a7III and the RX100 over the past few months. I have no doubt that a photographer who uses no camera other than Sony would disagree that the menus are complicated or counter-intuitive. I am sure it is possible to become thoroughly familiar with the layout over time and I do not consider it to be a make-or-break aspect of the camera. 

  Above: Red double-deckers, just like home, 1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 1250. Below: Street sign confusion, 1/15s, f/3.5, ISO 800
Above: Red double-deckers, just like home, 1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 1250. Below: Street sign confusion, 1/15s, f/3.5, ISO 800

  Above: Corner chemist, 1/50s, f/3.2, ISO 125 at 28mm
Above: Corner chemist, 1/50s, f/3.2, ISO 125 at 28mm
  Causeway Bay, 1/40s at f/6.3, 24mm, ISO 125
Causeway Bay, 1/40s at f/6.3, 24mm, ISO 125

In Use

To anyone familiar with the RX100 in any of its previous incarnations, there are no surprises in the handling department. This is a very small camera and suffers from not imparting the sense of security you get with a larger camera. The Leica C-Lux is a case in point. With its small grip and larger, chunkier body, the C-Lux feels much firmer in the hand and is steadier to hold, especially with zoom extended. Perhaps this is as well, given the 360mm reach of that camera, stabilisation notwithstanding. 

  Temple Street Market, late evening, 1/60s at f/2.8, 24mm, ISO 1250
Temple Street Market, late evening, 1/60s at f/2.8, 24mm, ISO 1250

The Sony is very much a compromise and, if you want such a small camera to slip in your pocket, you will accept the limitations. I can say that the Sony stick-on grip makes a world of difference and actually improves the look of the camera. Its rubbery feel, too, presents a direct contrast to the smooth, shiny body of the camera. For an extra £12, I regard this as a must-have accessory. 

  Stilt houses at Tai O fishing village, Lantau Island, 1/200s at f/5, 40mm
Stilt houses at Tai O fishing village, Lantau Island, 1/200s at f/5, 40mm

As I have alluded to in the controls section, the rear dial at the bottom right of the camera is awkward and fiddlesome to use. It makes changing aperture or shutter speed something of a chore when with a top-plate mounted wheel it would be a joy. It’s something I have learned to live with and I know that I can improve matters by assigning these functions to the lens ring if I wish. 

  Tai O feast: A crop with x2.5 digital magnification from an image shot at 1/160s and f/4.5, focal length 125mm
Tai O feast: A crop with x2.5 digital magnification from an image shot at 1/160s and f/4.5, focal length 125mm

The pop-up viewfinder is a little marvel of engineering and it gives every impression of being reliable. On the other hand, it does have a major problem, at least as far as I am concerned. The diopter control, which is a silly short-travel lever sitting on top of the screen unit, is extremely difficult to set accurately and it insists on moving unbidden frequently.

I suspect it is upset by the movement as the screen unit retracts into the viewfinder housing. I find myself fiddling with this constantly as I notice the screen going out of focus. I suspect that this effect is exacerbated for me by my use of varifocal glasses. Users who do not need glasses might not have the same difficulties. It is certainly not a problem I have read about in other reviews, so those reviewers seem not to be concerned. It might not worry you.

  The streets of Tai O, both at 1/100s and f/2.8, 24mm
The streets of Tai O, both at 1/100s and f/2.8, 24mm

There is no eyecup and the surround of the screen is narrow and unyielding. Again, this is not the best arrangement for wearers of glasses. That said, the finder screen is surprisingly bright and appears larger than it is in reality. It has more contrast and superior colours to the finder of the C-Lux, for instance. 

Above: British-style number plates and British influence (not to mention an appreciation of British slang) even after 21 years of divorce — UK Bird seeks HK guy with Rolex

Using the viewfinder as an on/off switch is a neat trick. However, the lever for the viewfinder is mounted immediately above the little strap slot. To the finger, this feels just like the viewfinder switch and on many occasions, I’ve tried to pull it down in a mistaken attempt to actuate the finder switch. I suppose it’s something I should get used to, but it remains an occasional irritant. 

Above: Full frame on the left, shot at 140mm. On the right are x6 magnified digital crops

For my hands, the Sony is just about right and I find it easy enough to handle. I suspect big-mitted photographers might find this camera just too small. It’s a case of trying it to see if you can cope with its miniaturised control and handling restrictions. 

  Above: Incense at 90mm, 1/160s at f/4.5. Below: At 200mm from afar, 1/500s, f/5.6
Above: Incense at 90mm, 1/160s at f/4.5. Below: At 200mm from afar, 1/500s, f/5.6

There are no such reservations when it comes to performance. The AF system on the Sony is extremely fast and accurate and is a joy to use. I particularly like the “Eye-AF” feature which helps ensure accurate focus in portraiture. Far from being a gimmick, this is a feature that really works and gives the sort of pinpoint accuracy that we all strive for with manual lenses.

  Typhoon threat: Looking from the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. 1/400s, f/4, 60mm
Typhoon threat: Looking from the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. 1/400s, f/4, 60mm

David Babsky is also very impressed with EyeAF: “It focuses on the nearest eye (or you can choose in a menu for ‘left’ or ‘right’ or ‘nearest’, if you can find any of that in Sony’s menu structure) and autofocus. Sony calls this ‘Fast Hybrid AF(phase-detection AF/contrast-detection AF’ but then they would, wouldn’t they? If you choose this option, the camera ignores all else, and goes straight for the eye — in this case the extreme top right (the man’s left eye).

Image stabilisation, offering a four-stop advantage, is particularly well implemented. It helps to overcome the tendency to camera shake with the unusual combination of a tiny body and a 200mm (equivalent) zoom lens. 

For general snaps, the RX100M6 slips easily in your pocket, has a zoom equivalent to roughly 24-200mm (actually 9mm to 72mm). This picture was shot at 42mm, equivalent to about 113mm in 35mm-full-frame terms, at 1/160th second at ISO 200. Pretty average, really, but with plenty of detail in the lettering on that memorial as you see from the crop. That’s without any additional tweaking of the simple out-of-camera jpeg (Image David Babsky)

Image quality

While I was impressed with the image quality from the Leica C-Lux, the RX100 VI ups the game. IQ excellent, slightly more involving and more lively if there is such a thing. And it is not just jpg output I’m talking about here. The RAW files, now I can access them in the latest version of Lightroom, are extremely malleable and offer more dynamic range to play with, as one would expect. 

This is no doubt also true of the C-Lux DNG files but I didn’t have the chance to check this at the time. In general, I prefer to work with RAW images but in this review, as with the recent C-Lux review, most of the examples from my camera come from jpgs (with a little tweaking) because neither camera was supported by Lightroom at the time. 

  Above: Budget eating in Temple Street market. Note the luxury napkins — and it’s a good idea to sterilise the chopsticks in hot tea. Below: Rather more upmarket dining at a Japanese aall-you-can-eat barbecue in Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Above: Budget eating in Temple Street market. Note the luxury napkins — and it’s a good idea to sterilise the chopsticks in hot tea. Below: Rather more upmarket dining at a Japanese aall-you-can-eat barbecue in Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Our camera reviews tend to concentrate on design, function and handling which are important factors in choice. Image quality, however, is more subjective and I think readers can reach their own conclusions rapidly enough from the examples. Is this the sort of result I would be happy with from the technical point of view? In the case of the Sony, I am very happy. The lens is extremely sharp throughout the range and I think pixel peepers will be content. 

Some of the images I collected during the past month have been impressively competent in terms of sharpness and overall rendering. And digital cropping is eminently possible, although I never like to rely on it with this sensor size. Up to 200mm, the Sony can more than hold its own with the C-Lux and, overall, I marginally prefer the results, subjective as such judgments often are. 

  The camera’s Picture Effects  —  which can be assigned to the ring around the lens (though that’s easily knocked to a setting you didn’t want) include Partial Colour with a choice of colours; here it’s Green (Image David Babsky)
The camera’s Picture Effects — which can be assigned to the ring around the lens (though that’s easily knocked to a setting you didn’t want) include Partial Colour with a choice of colours; here it’s Green (Image David Babsky)
  And here on normal white balance setting (David Babsky)
And here on normal white balance setting (David Babsky)

Whatever the quality of the image, there is no getting away from the physical constraints of this small one-inch sensor. How big can I print? A regular reader, John Blyth, contacted me after my original article on the RX VI — my visit to the Chinnor Railway — with a request for permission to take one of the images for printing. I gave permission and he printed the stationmaster on A3 in the machine at Boots the chemist. No special treatment there.

John was impressed by the results, although I haven’t seen the actual print, and they convinced him that the Sony could handle some of the semi-professional work he had in mind — as an adjunct to an APS-C or full-frame camera. 

Above: The station master at Chinnor (image Mike Evans) and on the right John Blyth’s A3 print which he ran off in the machine at his local Boots. The ruler and the books help emphasise the scale. The detail is extremely impressive, he says

As John says, “I guess the interesting point is what is adequate. It is very easy to get sucked into the marketing hype that bigger has to be better followed by the next version of bigger and better and so on. As far as I am concerned, that A3 print was more than adequate”.

Above: Plumbing the heights of ISO performance (for a 2018 one-inch sensor, but watch this space…). Mike in a pensive mood at ISO 6400. But magnify the image 28 times — cruel — and the smeary effect mentioned by David is all too apparent (Image Ian Chan). ISO 6400 is ok if you must, but a ceiling of 3200 is a better choice

Low light performance, bearing in mind the speed of the lens and the small sensor, is actually very good and even images at ISO 3200 were acceptable, although David points out that 6400 does bring some problems: “The built-in noise-reduction generally takes its toll on detail, producing the usual “watercolour” smeary effect.” 

Overall, though, a good performance in low light. In general, the image quality from this camera is outstanding. Here are some images taken at various ISO values with their 100% crops. (All images David Babsky). Click to enlarge.

Above: For lens ‘sharpness’, here’s a maximum telephoto (200mm equivalent) shot at ISO 125, hundreds of yards away together with the corresponding crop. Below, at ISO 640 indoors the colours (set vivid) look great, and detail’s good, too. Click on images to enlarge.

Above: At ISO 1000 image quality is still great crop on the right. Below, at ISO 6400 — and this is what the camera will probably choose in a dimly-lit room indoors (and we seldom get sufficient low-light appraisals) the built-in noise-reduction generally takes its toll on detail, producing the usual “watercolour” smeary effect, if you look closely. Click to enlarge.

Below: But that depends on the intensity, or otherwise, of the lighting. This was taken indoors at ISO 6400 at an immersive, engrossing, massive Gustav Klimt slideshow in Paris the other day. The bright areas still keep respectable detail, and the shadows aren’t too pitiful. The picture was shot at 9mm (the camera’s widest, equivalent to about 24mm on “full-frame”) and at 1/13th of a second hand-held, and the stabilisation (optical, with some electronic additional correction for video if necessary) has kept it absolutely sharp. Image David Babsky — click to enlarge

Video

As regular readers know, I am not a videographer and I am therefore unable to comment on the video capabilities of any review cameras. However, as I have read in numerous tests, the RX100 VI is an accomplished tool for creating videos, although many reviewers are disappointed that there is no microphone jack. As with any camera, sound from the built-in microphone is less than perfect and is subject to wind noise and other interference. The selfie-mode of the LCD screen means that this camera would be a good candidate for vlogging if it were not for the absence of the mic jack.

  Torrent of rain in Nathan Road, through the window of the bus to Kowloon City, trundling north. A quick snap at 1/80s, f/5
Torrent of rain in Nathan Road, through the window of the bus to Kowloon City, trundling north. A quick snap at 1/80s, f/5

David Babsky rather disagrees and, unlike me, has actually used the Sony extensively for video. His views should, therefore, override mine. The “teeny camera’s video performance is terrific,” he says:

“The Sony will record in NTSC (American and Japanese format) or PAL (UK and Europe) ‘Full HD’ (that’s 1,920 x 1,080 pixels) but also in 4K super-high definition — almost cinema quality — (that’s 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which, of course, doesn’t sound like much to stills photographers, because it’s only eight-and-a-bit megapixels) at 25 frames a second, but it also shoots slo-mo, or super-slo-mo, in ‘Full HD’ at 240, 480 and even 960 frames per second. This is not to mention a staggering 1000fps at 1,244 x 420 pixels.

“Stick this camera on a video slider, or one of those slide-down-a-wire thingies, and you get super slow motion replay (shot at high frames-per-second) of birds, trick cyclists, gymnasts, acrobats — you name it.”

David also takes issue with those reviewers who are disappointed by the absence of a separate external mic input: “Shoot your audio into, say, a Zoom-brand audio recorder, and then combine the audio and video tracks later with iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or whatever you use. Simple. The audio won’t drift out of sync, as everything’s so precisely timed nowadays. We’re no longer in the days of using a crystal sync unit between a Bolex film camera and a Nagra tape machine.

David has produced two video snippets which help demonstrate his enthusiasm for the RX100 VI’s movie-making capabilities. You can find them at the foot of this article. As he says, what more could anyone ask for?

  Sheltering from torrential rain (clearly visible) on a gloomy day in the Kowloon Walled City Park, ISO 4000, 1/200s at f/5, 200mm
Sheltering from torrential rain (clearly visible) on a gloomy day in the Kowloon Walled City Park, ISO 4000, 1/200s at f/5, 200mm

Battery life

Tiny camera, tiny battery. The unit, which is the same as that used in previous iterations of the RX100, is rated at approximately 220 to 310 shots (depending on the use of the viewfinder or rear-screen monitor) but that is probably optimistic. It depends on power-saving settings and how much use is made of the LCD screen. One thing is clear. If you need one extra battery with the Leica C-Lux you need two with the Sony. In fairness, the battery life is a necessary compromise in achieving such a small footprint and I have absolutely no objection to carrying a few spares.

  From the horse’s mouth: 200mm shot, 1/200s at f/5, ISO 4000
From the horse’s mouth: 200mm shot, 1/200s at f/5, ISO 4000

One thing I do approve of is in-camera charging. I can’t stress this enough. The camera comes with a USB power unit of the same type you would get with a phone or many other devices. It connects to the camera with a universal micro-USB plug and allows the battery to be charged while in situ. Many people are affronted when a manufacturer does not include a charging platform for external use, but in most ways, in-camera charging is the more useful function.

Apart from other considerations, there is no proprietary charger to be left at home at the start of a trip. Even if you forget the charger cable, you can walk into any electrical or phone shop anywhere in the world and pick up a replacement for a pittance. 

  Olivetta Lettera 22, ISO 2500, 1/30s at f/6.3, 24mm
Olivetta Lettera 22, ISO 2500, 1/30s at f/6.3, 24mm

In the absence of a dedicated charging pod, I can suggest buying a cheap dual USB charger such as this example from Patona. It costs under £12 and works flawlessly, allowing two batteries to be kept on standby.

  Getting the measure of the Sony: Another ISO 6400 shot, 1/30s at f/6.3, 28mm. Below, cropped detail magnified by x6.5. Somehow this crop is more pleasing than those from other featured 6400 shots in this review
Getting the measure of the Sony: Another ISO 6400 shot, 1/30s at f/6.3, 28mm. Below, cropped detail magnified by x6.5. Somehow this crop is more pleasing than those from other featured 6400 shots in this review

  Jewellery at ISO 640, 1/60s at f/6.3. Below, detail at x8.5 magnification
Jewellery at ISO 640, 1/60s at f/6.3. Below, detail at x8.5 magnification

  Modest tech meets lo-tech: 1/50s, f/6.3, ISO 1600
Modest tech meets lo-tech: 1/50s, f/6.3, ISO 1600
  More jewellery at ISO 500, 1/30s at f/6.3. Cropped detail below at x13 magnification
More jewellery at ISO 500, 1/30s at f/6.3. Cropped detail below at x13 magnification

Conclusion

The RX100 VI is a delightful camera which fulfils its role admirably. It is a true pocket camera, fitting into a trouser pocket with ease. In Hong Kong, it found a permanent home in the pocket of my chino shorts and it is so light that I often forgot it was there. It went everywhere with me, especially to restaurants in the evening when I wouldn’t have wanted to carry the CL. The zoom range is perfectly adequate and I never felt I needed the 360mm reach I had become used to with the C-Lux. 

The size of the camera brings minor compromises. It is more fiddly to operate than would be a slightly larger body (such as the C-Lux) and the number of physical controls is limited by overall size. The menu system is an acquired taste but a veteran user would be wholly at home. 

  Photo opportunities in Tsim She Tsui, a corner popular with dog lovers. ISO 125, 1/30s, f/2.8, 24mm. Below, the dog in question, complete with sailor suit  —  and digitally magnified x10. The optical zoom would have produced better results but I didn’t think at the time….
Photo opportunities in Tsim She Tsui, a corner popular with dog lovers. ISO 125, 1/30s, f/2.8, 24mm. Below, the dog in question, complete with sailor suit — and digitally magnified x10. The optical zoom would have produced better results but I didn’t think at the time….

But as an overall package, and bearing in mind the excellent image quality, this is a superb travel camera — at a price. It acts as the ideal complement to a larger camera (such as the Leica CL) when travelling and I can recommend, but not without reservations.

£1,150 this is a very expensive compact camera and makes sense only if you are totally happy with the small body and controls. The Panasonic ZS200 and Leica C-Lux are both nearly a third cheaper, provide a much longer zoom reach (although with some minor compromises in image quality) and are easier to use, with more physical control, a more convenient (though less impressive) viewfinder and a more substantial feel. The C-Lux could well be the sensible choice here, but there is no denying the attraction of a true pocket rocket.

  Selfies in the Korean fried-chicken joint: 1/80s, f/4.5, 200mm, ISO 4000. Would you have had the nerve to pull out your full-frame camera with a 200mm zoom lens? I thought not. You’d have been eating your Korean fried chicken off the pavement in short order. That’s where the little Sony really comes into its own, nobody gives it a second glance. You can’t beat it. And below, you would have needed an even longer lens to grab this view. Note she has broken the screen on her phone. Too many selfies?
Selfies in the Korean fried-chicken joint: 1/80s, f/4.5, 200mm, ISO 4000. Would you have had the nerve to pull out your full-frame camera with a 200mm zoom lens? I thought not. You’d have been eating your Korean fried chicken off the pavement in short order. That’s where the little Sony really comes into its own, nobody gives it a second glance. You can’t beat it. And below, you would have needed an even longer lens to grab this view. Note she has broken the screen on her phone. Too many selfies?

However, unlike the C-Lux, which compromises size in the quest for ultimate zoom reach, the Sony is built expressly as a pocket camera. It also performs extremely well overall, including in video. It is a great all-rounder in a tiny package, a camera that will not let you down and is so easy to carry. And, at 300g, it is only 50% heavier than my iPhone yet offers ten times the capabilities.

_______

 

Slo-mo video from the Mk. VI

First, two minutes of 40x super slow-motion (David Babsky). followed by 21s of slo-motion (250 frames-per-second) waves reflecting off the bow of a coastguard cutter. The first few seconds are wobbly while David levelled the camera, but the rest of the 21 second clip is super stable, shot hand-held, zoomed all the way in at 200mm (equivalent). Any residual slight wobble can be easily corrected with any video-editing program.







9 COMMENTS

  1. Once again, Mike, the photos really say it all. I have the Mk3, and continue to be stunned by the IQ. So I shall not be upgrading, given that there is a surprising amount of leeway for cropping. If I know I shall be wanting more zoom, then I pair the Sony with the Leica C (not lux!), and I still have a miniature dream team, because the C also punches far above its (even smaller) sensor size. I don’t know if the finger grip is standard on the Mk6. I bought it extra and it solves all the grip problems and still fits snugly in my old D-lux 4 case!
    Two small points: Your Waterloo coffee break portraits are a reminder that 35mm is not a good focal length for noses at close distance! Two: I like clicking the photos for larger screen, but when I click back, I get thrown out of the article back to the header and have to open it up again. Don’t know if this is just aproblem with my Mac.

    • John,

      Point taken on 35mm portraits. I would normally have moved further back and used a longer focal length but we were sitting in a small booth.

      The grip is an extra.

      I don’t know why the image magnifier is playing up. I can’t reproduce this but I know that there was a big Squarespace update last week and some other things are showing problems, I causing the Order-Order name in comments. I still have no idea a about that.

      Mike

  2. So overall, which do you prefer for use and image quality (not counting the size and weight difference) between the Sony and the Leica/Panasonic?

    • Andrew, I am putting together a comparison article so it would be premature to give a straight answer to your question at this stage. But I think all the clues are in the two reviews. It’s a choice between a more traditional, larger camera with better grip and ergonomics against a true pocket camera with slightly better image quality and a shorter zoom. I think there is a good case for both cameras.

  3. Hi Mike – Thanks for this wonderfully detailed and thorough review. I also have tried both and settled for the Sony, despite its slightly disappointing performance in low light. The files from the Panasonic and Leica C-Lux were much softer and the resolution was poor in many cases. And the build of the Sony as usual is excellent. For low light I will still rely on the D-Lux line. An aside comment; as a kid brought up in Essex, the Hoop Inn at Stock was not only our favorite weekend repair, but introduced me to the architecture of wood structure – an obliquely led to my career as an architect and historian. Hope you enjoyed the beer!

    • Tony, thanks for this added insight. What a coincidence with the Hoop Inn. I have friends who live at Havering-atte-Bower and we drove out in my new car for a country lunch. The Hoop it was and we had a very good lunch and a sip of beer.

  4. Hello Mike,
    I really appreciate you detailed review of the RX100 Mk6, it must have taken hours to put together, so informative. It is amazing what a good sensor and modern Zeiss lens is capable of producing especially in such a small body. The Station Master image that you sent to me when blown up to A3 was of superb quality.
    It seems to me that cameras these days whether with Leica, Zeiss, Fuji lenses etc all have their own characteristics are capable of top quality results.
    Thank you again for all your hard work, certainly food for thought!,,

    • What a massive undertaking that must have been, and a thorough assessment of the little Sony! ..No turn left unstoned, as the old Music Hall joke goes.

      I was really interested in those ISO 6400 shots, as all too often we see what any camera can give us outside in bright weather, but it’s not so often that you get to see what a small, ‘compact’ camera with a small sensor gives in low light. At 6400 in reasonably bright light, of course, you get far less ‘grainy’ results than at the same setting but in far less light. So it’s not the ISO setting ‘per se’ which makes pictures look coarse and ‘grainy’ and indistinct, so much as the amount of amplification (..or ‘push processing’..) that’s been done to a low-light sensor signal to boost it up to the required brightness. Just like film, really.

      Thanks for all the hard work, Michael, and the thorough practical assessment!

      • Thank you, David. That’s an interesting point you make of using higher ISO values in poor light and good light. It’s something I confess I hadn’t fully understood but it does make sense. Thank you too for your invaluable assistance in helping put together this article.

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