A little over two years ago, I wrote a review of the Canon S95 pocket camera and paid it the ultimate gadget reviewer’s compliment: I went out and bought my own.
I was (and still am) very happy with it. However, in the last month or two, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about a new model from Sony, the RX100, that might just be the new “best pocket digital camera money can buy.” High praise indeed. So when I got a heads-up that a review unit was coming my way, I was ecstatic.
I’ve peppered this review with a couple of the sample shots from my review camera; please note that you can click on any image to blow it up to a higher resolution.
Funny thing is, when I unboxed the R100 I did a double take – it looked a lot like the S95. As in a LOT, right down to the useful dial around the lens that can be twisted and turned to perform a variety of functions.
However, the resemblance is definitely only skin deep. For one thing, the Sony not only kicks the Canon’s ass in the megapixel wars (20MP vs 10MP), but it also drags it down the street in the sensor size department (13.2×8.8mm vs 7.6×5.7mm), beats it senseless in the screen resolution category (over 1,200 pixels compared to a little under 500), and insults its mother and sisters as far as continuous shooting is concerned (10fps vs 1.9fps).
But the biggest and most significant spec for me is the wonderful f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens on the Sony. For non-techies, it’s as simple as saying that this camera can shoot better in lower light and produce more of that pleasing background blur that makes your subject stand out and your photos look oh so professional.
Other things to note: the RX100 charges via USB — in fact the same micro-USB connector that I use to power my Samsung Galaxy S3 (or Android and BlackBerry units in general). This is incredibly useful because when I go on a trip, I can bring one less power supply, or even just a micro-USB cable to use with my laptop. For demanding users, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry a generic USB battery pack like the ones you’d normally use to recharge a phone or tablet.
In actual use, the RX100 is fast fast fast. Focusing speed is remarkably good by point and shoot standards (maybe even by SLR standards), and there’s no discernible shutter lag. And the playback image pops up on the screen instantly once you’ve snapped the pic. Quite remarkable considering how many pixels are getting pushed around inside this little wonder of a machine. High ISO shots are nice and clean to 800 and usable well beyond that, and color and white balance is great right out of the camera. Videos shot in movie mode suffer a little bit from the jellos (i.e. rolling shutter effect) but are still very impressive.
It’s not a feature unique to the RX100, but I loved how I could position a subject in the middle of the screen and tag it as the designated focal point with a button press. From then on, even if I moved around a bit and reframed the picture, a persistent white rectangle would follow the subject around the screen like a video game cursor tracking a bad guy. Very cool, and very useful.
That’s not to say manual focusing was unusable. In fact, quite the opposite – it was a joy to use, especially with the intuitive control ring around the lens being just a twist away. The RX100 helps you out with a “peaking” feature that essentially superimposes what looks like white crawling ants on the sharpest part of the picture. Just twist the ring until the ants are crawling on the specific part of the picture you want in focus, and you can be sure that the pic will come out the way you want it, especially for macro photos. See the pic above and below this paragraph for an example of how macro shots turn out so easy with manual focus. Oh, and the RX100 even has built in image stabilization for when you’re just too lazy to drag the tripod out.
So now you’re thinking, fine, I’m sold, gimme, I want one, where do I get it, and how much? Well, there’s a bit of a kicker: right now it’s only available at Sony Concept Stores, and the SRP will be in the general area of P35,000.
You don’t need me to tell you that that is a lot of money for a pocket camera. Heck, that’s pretty much entry-level SLR territory, or at least a Micro Four Thirds-type camera with an interchangeable lens. But here’s the thing: I’m willing to guess that with a camera this small yet this powerful, you’d wind up using it much more on a day-to-day basis than any SLR or interchangeable lens digicam that you would pick up for the same price.
The RX100 really does live up to the hype. In my week of testing, it helped me rediscover a joy of shooting that I hadn’t felt in a while, and I had tons of fun with it.
So in conclusion: *deep breath* anyone want to buy a 2 year old Canon s95? =)
Philippine SRP: P34,999 with free 8GB SD card
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