Professional compact camera comparison: which Sony RX100 model should you choose?
In 2012, Sony revolutionized the professional compact camera market with the introduction of the first version of its RX100 camera which had a sensor around 4 times larger (1 inch) than most other cameras on the market. The most amazing thing about the RX100 is that Sony managed to fit a much larger sensor and a 28-100 mm zoom in the type of small-sized case that has come to be expected of any compact camera.
The fact that six different versions of the RX100 (RX100, RX100 II, RX100 III, RX100 IV, RX100 V, RX100 VI) now figure in this manufacturer’s product catalog is a real testament to its remarkable design. Equally remarkable are the technological innovations which have been incorporated into this camera with each new iteration. However, with each new version, this camera’s price has also continued to increase – to the point where the latest RX100 has become almost prohibitively expensive.
That being said, which Sony RX100 model should you choose? What are the key innovations that were introduced with each new version? Which device is best-suited to each particular type of photography? Which model has the best quality to price ratio? This article will try to answer all of these questions.
Progressive evolution: from Sony RX100 to RX100 VI
The following is a table summarizing the different characteristics of the six RX100 models. We have indicated significant developments in bold. On some displays, it may be necessary to scroll horizontally to view the entire table.
First innovation: a retractable electronic viewfinder
The first version of the RX100 stunned people with its ultra-compact design, its light weight, its 1-inch sensor, and its very respectable zoom. All of these revolutionary innovations enabled this compact camera to rival most hybrid and even some reflex cameras. At the time, it also allowed Sony to compete against the increasing popularity of smartphones. With the success of the first RX100, a second model was released one year later, in 2013.
In addition to being slightly more lightweight, the RX100 II introduced several innovative features such as a pivoting display, WiFi and NFC connectivity (for sharing images), but above all, a backlit sensor capable of reaching 25 600 ISO.
RX100 (on the left); RX100 III (on the right) with a flash and a retractable viewfinder
The RX100 II represented a new success for Sony, even though, in retrospect, the innovations it introduced seem minor when compared to those introduced by the third version of its camera – the RX100 III (released in 2014). The RX100 III was the first model to incorporate a retractable electronic viewfinder – positioned on top of the camera.
The fact that this EVF does not negatively impact the camera’s compact design in any way is a testament to Sony’s ingenuity. The RX100 III was the first model to allow its users the ability to alternate between framing their shots by means of a display or a viewfinder (for more accurate focusing or to be able to shoot in strong sunlight, for example). Sony reduced the maximum focal length of the RX100 III’s zoom (which dropped from 28-100 mm to 24-70 mm) but gave it greater luminosity (thanks to a wider aperture opening: f/1.8-2.8 versus f/1.8-4.9). The increased luminosity of the RX III’s lens attracted a number of new users, while its shorter focal length was a disappointment to other users. The RX100 III’s burst rate also dropped to 5 images/second (down from 10 i/s) despite its incorporation of a new BIONZ X processor. Discrete, the Sony RX100 III also incorporated an ND 3 filter which would, unfortunately, subsequently disappear on the Sony RX100 VI.
4K/UHD recording and hybrid autofocus
In 2015, the RX100 IV introduced 4K/UHD video recording. Sony also made an effort to improve the RX100 IV’s viewfinder by giving it a higher definition. As with previous models, the fourth version of the RX100 was also more lightweight than its predecessors. While this camera still used the tried and true BSI CMOS 20.1 Mpx sensor used on previous versions, it incorporated a DRAM chip for the first time. This chip gave the RX100 IV improved overall responsiveness and endowed it with a continuous shooting rate of 16 images/second.
The fifth version of the RX100 (the RX100 V, released in 2016) incorporated a faster and more precise hybrid autofocus system with phase and contrast detection. The RX100 V’s burst rate also increased to 24 images/second. Both the RX100 IV and the RX100 V put the emphasis on increased responsiveness.
The introduction of a more versatile 24-200 mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom and a touchscreen
In 2018, Sony’s inexhaustible creativity resulted in its RX100 VI, which, in addition to incorporating all of the previously mentioned innovations, also features a more versatile but less luminous zoom (24-200 mm f2.8-4.5). While its display has a lower definition than previous models, it is, nevertheless, a touchscreen capable of pivoting over 90° downwards and 180° upwards thanks to its double hinge. The VI’s viewfinder is also easier to deploy than ever before (only requiring a simple pressing action). The RX100 VI gained 7 mm in thickness and 60 grams in weight. While this represents a significant increase compared to the first RX100, the RX100 VI remains relatively compact and lightweight compared to its competitors – especially given the increased focal length of its zoom.
Here are a few examples of photos taken with the RX100 VI. Full-size versions of these photos are available on Sony’s website.
24mm; 1/400; f/4,5; ISO 125
100 mm; 1/125; f/4,5; 400 ISO
200 mm; 1/800; f/4,5; ISO 400
Declining battery autonomy
As this camera has evolved, its battery autonomy has consistently declined (which is the main drawback of this product line). All of its successive technological innovations have made this camera increasingly power-hungry. We eagerly await the introduction of a new battery to offset this problem; between the RX100 and the RX100 VI, there is a difference of over 100 shots in terms of battery autonomy.
Based on your needs, which model of the Sony RX100 professional compact camera should you choose?
Now that we have discussed the major innovations introduced by each model in this product line, let’s focus on which model is best suited to each particular need. The prices listed below are those at the moment of each camera’s release. Since then, these prices have dropped (with the exception of the Sony RX VI which is still Sony’s top of the line model).
For people on a tight budget
If you are interested in good image quality (at least in better image quality than most other compact cameras and smartphones are able to provide), the RX100 and RX100 II remain interesting options despite their age. Given its low price, the RX100 is the most interesting alternative. However, your interest in having WiFi connectivity and a pivoting display will ultimately determine which of these two models you should choose.
If you absolutely need a good viewfinder
If having a viewfinder is an indispensable consideration, you may want to consider the RX100 III which combines a good viewfinder with a more luminous lens. However, we recommend the RX100 IV which has a more precise and higher definition viewfinder.
If you are interested in recording 4K/UHD video
From the fourth version onward, Sony’s RX100 reached a new height of technological development by introducing features susceptible of attracting professional users, such as 4K/UHD video recording. In our opinion, this is not the most revolutionary feature introduced by this product line. We feel that the RX100 V is a more interesting option because of its hybrid autofocus and its ultra-fast burst mode – features which should prove highly useful to photographers and videographers in search of a responsive camera.
If you require a versatile zoom
The RX100 VI is a technological marvel which incorporates all of the innovations introduced by previous models: compactness, good image quality, versatility, 4K/UHD video, hybrid autofocus, responsiveness… It is perfectly suited to travelers who would like to be able to transport a single camera capable of handling any situation. However, this amazing camera retails for quite a high price: $1,198! This makes the RX100 VI more expensive than most entry-level and mid-level hybrid cameras.
Sony RX100 III: the best value for your money
The newest versions of the RX100 have many great features, but are they really worth their price? Unless you are especially interested in a particular feature, you may not be willing to invest in an RX100 VI, however great it may be. All things considered, the RX100 III appears to have the best value of any of the cameras in the RX100 series – especially given that it often retails for less than the RX100 II. At the moment, the RX100 III retails for around the same price as the smartphones being sold as camera replacements (such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G6, and Huawei P9 – all of which have a smaller sensor than the RX100 III). While the RX100 III may not be as fast as later models, it combines all of the essential features expected of such a device: compactness, good image quality, a luminous zoom, good connectivity, and a viewfinder.
Purchasing any Sony RX100 represents a sizable investment, but you will be investing in very good image quality. However, these compact cameras do not offer the same degree of upgradability as hybrid cameras. You will have to decide whether this is an important consideration for you.