By Leonard Goh (freelance writer/Singapore)
Into its fifth generation, the RX100 series latest iteration is a smart-looking camera that hands in superb grades on performance and image quality
Pros: Compact design, superb performance and image quality.
Cons: Underwhelming menu system can be confusing.
Overall: The RX100 V is a great compact camera that balances performance and image quality.
The Sony RX series requires little introduction since the first RX100 hit the shelves in 2012. With an 1-inch CMOS sensor packed into a compact body, it was one of the first advanced compacts to deliver high-quality images that even seasoned photographers took a liking toward. Now, the RX100 series is into its fifth iteration, the RX100 V. With it comes improved autofocus and faster shooting rate, though I think the menu system can be more refined. Read on to find out more.
There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. This can’t be more true with the design of the RX100 V. If you line up the entire RX100 series, it’s hard to discern which is which at first glance. Not larger than a deck of playing cards, the RX100 V will fit into most bags and pockets with ease.
The controls are also designed for one-handed operation in mind, though its petite size may leave those with larger hands fumbling a little. But for this Asian reviewer here, it’s easy to hold the RX100 V with one hand and tune most of the controls. The only time we had to use two hands to operate the camera was when we had to turn the ring around the lens to change settings, and that is dependent on the shooting mode you’re in.
One aspect about the RX100 series that always astound us is how Sony managed to cram a useable electronic viewfinder and flash into the small cavity of the camera. With this recessed EVF and flash, the camera looks really sleek and unassuming, which is great for street photography.
The RX100 V sports a utilitarian 24-70mm, f1.8-2.8 zoom lens, similar to the RX100 III version. The fast optics was obviously designed for low-light photography in mind, and with optical image stabilization in play, I found that it was quite easy to shoot sharp photos in low light situations.
As with its predecessor, the RX100 V version is able to record 4K videos with full sensor readout. Sony has also claimed that the “rolling shutter” effect is more controlled now, and in my tests I found little evidence of rolling shutter in our clips.
I liked the flip LCD on the RX100 V, which makes it easy to take overhead or low-angle shots with ease. However, it is not a touch-sensitive screen, so you’ll still have to rely on the physical controls to shoot. While I am not huge fans of touchscreens, I think that it’s time to implement this feature in the RX100 series already, granted how prevalent it is among advanced compacts.
A gripe that I have with the RX100 V camera is that even after five iterations, Sony still doesn’t seem to have worked out a useable menu system. New users will find it very frustrating to scroll through pages and pages of menu to find and change the desired camera settings, and this is time wasted when it can be put towards shooting. If there is a “simple” version of the menu that we can toggle, like what Olympus has done, it will make the RX100 V a lot more user friendly.
Since the RX100 III, Sony has removed the hot-shoe. I didn’t miss it that much, but I’m sure some photographers will see a need for it. Granted that the removal of the hot shoe allows the camera to be smaller, I leave it to users to decide if the absence of the hot shoe will be a deal breaker for them.
One of the new features of the RX100 V is the implementation of a new autofocus system. Phase detection-type AF covers approximately 65% of the scene, utilizing 315 spots for speed and accuracy. In my time of using the camera, I was very satisfied with the quick AF speed. It was fast enough to keep up with running children, and for street photography it was speedy in locking onto the subjects as well.
The RX100 V is also capable of capturing up to 24fps, again a great feature to have for capturing priceless, fleeting moments.
I noticed that the white balance for the RX100 V tend to be off in mixed lighting conditions; I tried to shoot with both fluorescent and warm lighting simultaneously, and it was more inclined to adjust the white balance for fluorescent. But if you can adjust the white balance manually, then that solves the problem.
Being the fifth generation RX100 camera, the RX100 V has a lot to live up to; one of such premise is the image quality, which Sony touts to be better than most other compacts due to the larger 1-inch sensor.
Firstly, the colors. Color reproduction from the Sony was faithful to the scene, and it appeared to be neutral without any color biases. This was so even for straight out of camera JPGs, which I find to be highly useable. With a larger sensor and a f/1.8 lens, the RX100 V is able to produce close up photos of subjects with a decent bokeh effect in the foreground and background.
Now, on to the ISO performance of the camera. One might come to expect that with the leap improvements in imaging technology in recent years, ISO performance of cameras will finally resolve the age old issue of smudgy high-ISO photos. Well, that is true to a certain extent in the RX100 V. Images captured below ISO 800 are very good. At ISO 1,600, that’s when I observed smudgy details, though if you look closely, you can still make out fine lines being reproduced in the photo.
At ISO 3,200, I was actually surprised to be able to make out fine lines, albeit being very faint. At ISO 6,400, details are heavily smudged, but if you are looking to just use the photos for web, it’s ok. The noise in photos from the RX100 V is well controlled; in favor of clean-looking high-ISO pictures, details get smudged. This is something we can live with, especially for a compact camera.
The RX100 V continues to carry on the legacy of the RX100 series in terms of performance and image quality, delivering on both aspects. This makes it one of the best 1-inch sensor compact cameras you can find on the market now. However, I really wish Sony can rework its menu system to make it more user-friendly.
Leonard is an advocate of photography in Singapore and also an educator in this field. He has served as senior writer for the now-defunct CNET Asia, before moving on to working for various camera companies in the business development and marketing capacities. He is also a co-founder of Platform, a not-for-profit photography initiative in Singapore which also published Twentyfifteen, a collection of 20 books to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50).