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Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you?


Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 1

Okay, some of our RX100’s have seen better days.

Now that we’ve pulled the wraps off of our Sony RX100 V review, we couldn’t help but reflect a bit. After all, the RX100 lineup is extensive, offering potential buyers five models that range from $450 all the way up to $1000. The lack of any price overlap allows them to sit fairly comfortably alongside each other, but for users not so well-versed in their spec differences (and since they all look nearly identical at first glance), we’ve put together this short primer to help you pick the RX100 that’s just the right fit.

These are the headline changes between models, but there’s some interesting specifics that vary between them that we’ll delve into.

  RX100 RX100 II RX100 III RX100 IV RX100 V
MSRP $450 $600 $750 $900 $1000
Sensor (resolution/size) 20MP CMOS 20MP BSI-CMOS 20MP BSI-CMOS 20MP stacked BSI-CMOS 20MP stacked BSI-CMOS
Lens 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 24-70mm F1.8-2.8
Viewfinder No Optional 2.36M-dot 1.44M-dot 2.36M-dot 2.36M-dot
Video 1080/60p, line skip 1080/60p, line skip 1080/60p full-sensor readout 4K/30p, HFR 4K/30p, HFR
Autofocus Contrast Detect, 25-points Contrast Detect, 25-points Contrast Detect, 25-points Contrast Detect, 25-points Phase Detect, 315-points
Burst w/ continuous AF 10 fps 10 fps 10 fps 16 fps 24 fps
Screen type 3″ 1.23M-dot fixed 3″ 1.23M-dot tilting 3″ 1.23M-dot tilting 3″
1.23M-dot tilting
3″ 1.23M-dot tilting
Max shutter speed 1/2000 sec 1/2000 sec 1/2000 sec 1/32000 sec (elec.) 1/32000 sec (elec.)
Hot shoe No Yes No No No
Wi-Fi No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life 330 shots 350 shots 320 shots 280 shots 220 shots

Sony RX100

Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 2

Key specs:

  • 20MP 1″-type CMOS sensor
  • 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 zoom lens
  • 1080/60p video
  • 10fps burst shooting
  • CIPA rated to 330 shots per charge
  • 3″ fixed rear display
  • Slimmest RX100 of the line

The original RX100 was the first camera to put a relatively large 1″-type sensor into a camera you could consider pocketable, and it started a revolution. Today, not only do you have five 1″-sensor models from Sony, but you have multiple competitors from the likes of Canon and Panasonic, too (and, hopefully, Nikon at some point).

At the time of this writing, the RX100 can be had brand-new for $450, making it the cheapest 1″-sensor compact out there (the Canon G9 X is slightly more expensive still, but with a different feature set and even slimmer size). That makes it a great option for budget-conscious folks that still want to have a camera with them all the time. This model produces a bit softer and noisier JPEGs than the others, albeit not by much (image quality is largely determined by sensor size, common across all models). AF is can be challenged in low light, particularly with low-contrast subjects like facial features, and the screen doesn’t tilt like it does with all subsequent RX100s, and there’s not even an option to add a viewfinder. But hey – that’s why it’s the cheapest.

So if you can live without some added niceties and don’t need top-level low-light image quality, the RX100 is still a perfectly competent compact in 2016 for a great price. 

Sony RX100 II

Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 3

Key updates:

  • New Bionz X image processor
  • Multi-function hot shoe for a flash or electronic viewfinder
  • 3″ tilting display (90 degrees up, 40 degrees down)
  • Wi-Fi built-in

The multi-function hot shoe, which could work with either an electronic viewfinder or external flashes, was only seen on the RX100 II.

For an extra $150, you can get the second RX100, which added an impressive number of new features without appreciably increasing exterior dimensions.

The RX100 II has the highest-rated battery life of all the models in the range (CIPA rated at 350 shots), so if you want to avoid carrying extra batteries around, this is likely the best bet. There’s a modest improvement in image quality, with more detail in low light JPEGs and less noise at the highest ISOs in Raw thanks to the BSI sensor. The RX100 II also has a multi-function hot shoe, which can be used for an external flash unit, or Sony’s grotesquely expensive FDA-EV1MK electronic viewfinder (at least it’s high quality – which it should be, for $450 MSRP). The LCD can tilt, and its at this point where Wi-Fi with NFC was introduced to the lineup. The Mark II was the last RX100 to have the 28-100mm zoom lens, so if you value the reach of this model over the speed of later iterations, this is your best bet (or, of course, you can check out other manufacturers’ offerings).

If you can swing the extra cost and size – the Mark I is appreciably slimmer and lacks the hotshoe hump – the RX100 II offers quite a bit over the original model, with Wi-Fi in particular being a valuable addition (though the original RX100 was Eye-Fi compatible). But it’s not as massive a leap as comes later in the series. If you can’t live life without a viewfinder, it’s best to skip this model and go for the next one, which has a viewfinder built-in – but with some other changes that you may want to consider.

Sony RX100 III

Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 4

Key updates:

  • New 24-70mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 zoom lens with built-in ND filter
  • Pop-up 1.44M-dot EVF
  • New Bionz X image processor
  • Full-sensor readout 1080/60p video with higher bitrate
  • 3″ screen now tilts 180 degrees for selfies
  • Battery life drops to 320 shots
  • Hot shoe eliminated
  • Improved customizable Function menu
  • Greatly improved JPEG engine
  • Removed hot shoe

Sony’s innovative pop-up electronic viewfinder has found its way into a few other models, and we’re big fans.

The RX100 Mark III was a big jump for the series. As you can see at right, there’s a substantial list of changes (mostly improvements) that you get for an additional $150, with this model’s MSRP jumping to $750.

The biggest changes from a usability standpoint are the addition of an industry-first pop-up electronic viewfinder, which will make sunny-day shooting much easier, and a much needed custom Fn menu for quick access to most features. The new 24-70mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 lens is a showstopper as well, providing excellent optical performance and faster speed compared to the previous lens, though it gives up quite a bit of zoom reach. Whether you value the extra speed over the extra reach is a profoundly personal decision, but we often felt just a bit limited with this newer, though brighter, design. Note, too, that this is the beginning of some significant battery life reductions that only continue on later models.

Beyond that, there are some impressive leaps forward in image quality as well. Raw files are largely unchanged over the Mark II, but JPEGs throughout the ISO range are sharper (albeit with some haloing) and less noisy. Full-sensor readout for 1080/60p video results in much sharper footage with fewer artifacts. 

Sony RX100 IV

Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 5

Key updates:

  • New 20MP stacked BSI-CMOS sensor
  • 16fps continuous shooting
  • 4K/30p video with Log gamma
  • Up to 1000/960fps high-speed video
  • Up to 1/32000 sec exposures with electronic shutter
  • Pop-up 2.36M-dot EVF
  • Improved Auto ISO control
  • Eye AF-C and faster, more accurate AF performance
  • Battery life drops to 280 shots

The RX100 IV is shown here sandwiched between the III and V, which are virtually identical in terms of body and design elements.

The fourth iteration of the RX100 series brings the MSRP an additional $150 higher, to $900 (though it launched at $999). After three iterations of (albeit, slowly) evolving physical design, Sony has changed literally nothing about the outer design and handling with the IV.

On the inside, though, you get a new sensor that’s ‘stacked,’ meaning it has memory chips built right onto the back of the sensor itself, giving it incredibly fast read-out speed and buffering capabilities. Almost all the improvements you see at right, including some significant improvements to autofocus speed and low light accuracy, come from this industry-leading sensor technology.

Of course, with more power but the same battery, it’s no surprise that battery life dips to 280 shots, though you also get a significantly higher resolution electronic viewfinder, faster burst rates, and completely silent shooting. Usability improvements include instant 1:1 magnification of the AF point in playback, and best-practice Auto ISO control that allows you to more finely dial in how you want the camera to bias the ISO as related to shutter speed. Stills image quality isn’t drastically improved (though JPEGs are more intelligently sharpened), but 4K video and a host of video support tools like log gamma put it a significant step ahead of the Mark III if you’re looking for more of a hybrid shooting experience, as opposed to just stills.

Continuing on, we see the addition of new features like continuous Eye-AF and high frame rate video, which really start to overwhelm the RX100’s controls and menu more than ever before. The RX100 IV clearly epitomizes Sony’s new priorities regarding the RX100-series, with vast technological improvements under the hood, but only limited improvements to usability. 

View our Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV Field Test in the Yucatan

Sony RX100 V

Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 6

Key updates:

  • New ‘Front-end LSI’ processor for more speed
  • 24fps burst shooting with full autofocus and auto exposure
  • 315-point on-sensor phase detection autofocus system
  • Oversampled 4K video with almost no rolling shutter
  • HFR clips can now be twice as long as before
  • Battery life drops to 220 shots

As with the previous model, the RX100 V soldiers on with nary a change to the physical design, but with some big upgrades under the hood.

The newest RX100 comes at a $100 premium over the previous model bringing us back to an MSRP of $1000, for which you get even more speed, even better 4K video, and a phase detection AF system that is the most advanced in its class.

The RX100 V offers little image quality advantage over the RX100 IV, but 4K video, now oversampled from 5.5K, offers greater detail, though the significant reduction in rolling shutter in 4K is going to offer the biggest benefit to your footage.

This is definitely a camera for speed freaks (not a criticism). 24 fps burst shooting with autofocus tracking and Eye AF is a first for the industry, helping you nail the decisive moment. The doubling in length of high frame rate video clips makes them eminently more usable. For many of us, though, there’s just more speed than we even knew what to do with.

Unfortunately, that the RX100 series has become so powerful has thrown its handling into harsher light than ever before. We find that the controls and customizability do a disservice to the sheer capability of the camera (especially one so expensive), encouraging one to use the camera as a point-and-shoot. The world’s best point-and-shoot, to be sure, but the fact that this is the second RX100 in a row with few real usability updates (the pop-up viewfinder was genius, so Sony is capable of great innovations here), is a disappointment. But if you really need 24 fps burst shooting, and can look past these shortcomings, the RX100 V is an incredibly powerful machine.

What’s the right RX100 for you?

Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you? 7

Now, the important part. Which one is a fit for whom?

RX100 – the budget option

If you’re on a tight budget, the original RX100 is a fantastic value and is capable of excellent results, even now, four years after its introduction. It obviously loses out on some niceties of the later models, but it still offers a good sensor, great reach from its zoom lens, and is the smallest of the bunch. And though Wi-Fi isn’t present, you can always add an Eye-Fi mobi card. Read our review

RX100 II – the travel option

The RX100 II is going to be perfect for those that want the best RX100 they can get, but find a 24-70mm zoom reach to be limiting – and built-in Wi-Fi and the best battery life of the bunch all combine with the zoom reach to make this a great choice for travelers. Image quality is slightly improved over the original RX100 thanks to the BSI sensor, and the hot shoe makes it a great choice for lightweight strobist work. If you need a viewfinder (and remember, this one includes a tilting LCD that will help with framing as well), we can’t help but recommend you skip this model, as the add-on unit is an expensive $450 proposition. Read our review

RX100 III – for the stills purist

There are, and always will be, photographers who just want a camera that takes great stills – and the RX100 III has noticeably improved JPEGsover the previous version, and with a brighter lens, offers you shallower depth of field and greater low light performance, so long as you don’t miss the extra zoom reach. The built-in ND filter allows you to use that fast aperture in broad daylight. And even if you do want to take the occasional video clip, this model’s 1080p is still a big step ahead of the first two RX100’s (and the series’ video image stabilization is remarkably effective). Meanwhile, the clever pop-up viewfinder makes this model a better value than the Mark II if you have to have an EVF. So if you’re mostly going to be shooting stills and have your eye on an RX100 of some sort, save yourself some money over the IV and V and grab this one. Read our review

RX100 IV – all-around capability

If you’ve been eyeing the RX100 IV, now is a great time to pick one up, with a recent $100 price drop. It offers improved stills capability in the form of nicer JPEGs and better AF performance, particularly in low light and during bursts, and for candid portaiture thanks to continuous Eye AF. 16 fps continuous shooting (albeit without AF) makes it easier to catch just the right moment. The real story comes with impressive 4K, high frame rate output and a slew of impressive tools (Log gamma, for instance), making this possibly the best pocket video camera out there. Well, until we get to the V, that is. Read our review

RX100 V – for when you have to have the best

At a steep $1000 MSRP, we have to admit that the RX100 V is worth that price for those that need it. There’s no other camera out there – none – that will shoot 24 fps bursts of Raw + JPEG with full autofocus and autoexposure. And as we saw in our review – the new autofocus system is easily capable of keeping up. Video quality is improved, though mostly due to impressive suppression of rolling shutter, more so than the oversampled 4K output (which was already very detailed on the IV). Read our review

What about the rest?

If you’re in the market for a new large-sensor compact, well, even though there’s five RX100 models, there’s finally some compelling competition in the marketplace. Though image quality lags a bit and the burst shooting, AF, and video capabilities are less impressive, we found Canon’s G7 X Mark II to be a much better handler, and an overall more enjoyable experience (the Canon G9 X also remains on the market for a good price, if you can get along with the touchscreen-centric controls). If you’re looking for even more reach, there’s Panasonic’s ZS100 (TZ100 outside of North America) which offers this sensor size with an impressive 25-250mm equivalent, albeit slower zoom lens. And like the Canon, we also enjoyed its handling quite a bit.

As always, it’s best to try to get your hands on the camera model you’re thinking about to see for yourself, but in case you can’t, we try to address these options – and more – in our roundup articles.

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