Sony’s RX100 is a storied line of compact cameras that have always packed a powerhouse of features into small but sturdy frames. This fifth iteration (the Sony RX100 V also know as the DSC-RX100M5) builds on that history with a wealth of features for a modern photographer’s needs.
Who the Sony RX100V is for
The RX100 Mark 5 is, in my mind, the perfect camera for family travel, street shooting, and as a secondary landscape camera when your main camera is occupied. The 24-70mm equivalent zoom lens lends enough useful range while the 24mm end of the lens works well for landscapes, group shots, and even the occasional selfie.
I bought the RX100 V specifically for its high frame rate for video but have grown to love the high-quality 4K video in such a compact body. With a frame rate up to 1000 frames per second (fps), it is amazing what can be captured with this small package. The 20MP sensor makes for excellent image quality with some room to crop to your liking.
This camera will appeal to landscape photographers who might want some freedom for unique compositions while their heavy DSLR is stuck to a tripod. Street photographers will love its compactness and flip out screen. I don’t see it getting a lot of use as a portrait camera, although it does have a nice f/1.8 – f/2.8 starting aperture range.
Small Package – Big Stats
Let’s take a look at some key stats from Sony’s website:
- 20.1MP 1″ sensor
- 2.9X optical zoom – 24-70mm equivalent
- 11 – 44x at digital zoom
- 2.95″ 1.2MP rear screen with 100% coverage
- Active Optical SteadyShot
- Four focus modes including Manual
- 315 point wide phase detection autofocus, 25 point contrast detection plus four other modes
- Exposure Compensation from -3EV to +3 EV in 1/3 stop increments
- Full expanded ISO range from 80-25,600 for stills and 125-12,800 for video
- Shutter Speeds from Bulb/30 seconds to 1/2000th maximum
- Auto High Dynamic Range and ND Filter capabilities
- Exposure and White Balance Auto Bracketing feature
- 4 x 2 3/8 × 1 5/8 inch (101.6 x 58.1 x 41.0 mm) physical size
- Approximate weight of 10.5 oz (299 g)
- All kinds of picture effects, creative styles, and picture profiles
- US $999 suggested retail price
The controls are a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are few of them and most photographers will be familiar with how to change ISO, adjust the Exposure Compensation and zoom the lens. On the other hand, after a year of testing, I have found the main rotating dial for mode selection is getting a little sticky. It’s not as smooth as it was when new.
I do like the ease with which you can shoot 4K video (see 4K video section later in this article for my impressions on that). The video button is right by your thumb when holding the camera and makes for ease of use. I would say it’s even easier to use than most smartphones. You use your pointer finger for shooting still images and your thumb for shooting video.
As is typical with Sony cameras, the menu screens are arranged over and then down and there are a lot of them. As I mention later in the Apps section below, this can make things a little cumbersome, but with all the features manufacturers pack into their software these days, it’s to be expected.
The flash is activated with a manual catch release and must be manually pushed down, leaving it a bit exposed for possible damage.
The flip screen is a handy feature which I love. If you take anything off-angle, especially low shots, this feature will save your back and help you better compose your images. It flips both up and down as well as options in between.
It’s not a touchscreen, which is a little disappointing, and it doesn’t rotate to the side and front like some screens. But the simple versatility of flipping up and down is a bonus. Those looking for help composing selfies need only flip the screen all the way up and the image will correct for front viewing and composition.
For those of us who learned manual focus and are familiar with the use of a manual aperture ring, this feature is a great throwback which feels natural to me. Using the big ring around the lens feels like a natural way to change the aperture and it is a lot smoother than lenses from the 80s and earlier.
It’s also a great way to tighten focus when getting in close or shooting video. While not perfect, it can be used to rack and control focus on video shoots to a finer, smoother degree than with buttons or knobs. I find myself using this feature often.
DXOMark gave the sensor a rating of 70 on its 0-100 (or 102 if you count the Hasselblad X1D-50c) scale. This puts the Sony RX100 V in the middle of the pack for its peer group and I tend to agree. You can comfortably shoot up to ISO 1000 without much noise encroaching on image quality, but after that, you’ll start to notice a difference.
The ability to shoot as low as ISO 80 is a nice touch for landscape photographers. While it is an expanded option (meaning it is not true ISO 80 according to the standard) the smoothness is a delight.
Going to the other extreme, ISO 6400 will show a lot of noise but can be cleaned to an acceptable degree in post-processing. Below are images with no noise reduction applied, shot at ISO 6400.
I’m not too sure why the Sony RX100 V has a viewfinder. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon, but looking through a viewfinder only to find a smaller screen always seems weird to me. Also, accssing it requires the flick of a small catch on the side of the camera and then you have to manually pull out the viewfinder.
It does have a diopter for those who need that. But the viewfinder requires manual pushing to put it back in place. It seems antiquated.
Sony’s hybrid phase/contrast-detection autofocus system will delight most parents. It’s not DLSR super-fast, but with 315 focus points and quality action tracking, the camera can keep up with most children. What does that mean for people without kids?
While the maximum focal length of 70mm won’t make this camera a secondary in sports photographers’ camera bags, the autofocus speed and lock-on capabilities make it no slouch for everyday action. I found the camera quick to latch on to main subjects and tracking was accurate while following things like swinging pocket watches that were on fire.
One downside I found was having to use the four-way directional controller (via your thumb) to slowly move the focus point while in Flexible Spot mode. It’s slow, but there isn’t another option. Having the flexibility is great, but don’t expect to use it for fast moving subjects.
One note on manual focus: Having the zoom assist for manual focus is awesome when shooting the small things in life and for checking to ensure what you want really is in focus.
Burst Mode – High-Speed Stills
The high-speed continuous shooting mode is awesome. It shoots up to 24fps while autofocusing and can shoot in either JPEG or RAW, which is impressive. It takes a while for the memory to dump to your card but this feature is superior to most DSLRs.
The burst mode is great for any kind of close (remember the 70mm limit) action. It is especially useful when the camera is coupled with an underwater housing and you are trying to snap photos of turtles or fish that are much agiler than you.
It does, however, mean you will have a lot more images to delete. 30 minutes of shooting various subjects at 24fps can easily lead to over 1000 images to cull.
Average. Let’s just put that out there.
A flash this big, with an index rating of 1.31 ft to 33.46 ft (0.4 m to 10.2 m) in Auto shouldn’t be expected to outperform a dedicated strobe with its own battery pack. It’s good up to about 10 feet in/3m in real-world use and does the job.
But you don’t buy this camera to use the flash all the time. The is no dedicated hotshoe either, so adding a speedlight isn’t an option.
This is one area I find the RX-100 V stands above its competition. I love the high frame rate shooting, with speeds up to 1000 frames per second (FPS). The video is shot in a maximum size of 1040p, or standard HD, so don’t expect 4K at 1000 fps (that will run you maybe $50,000).
The clips are at a maximum of 2 seconds long, but with NTSC rate of 960 fps, that’s 80 seconds of video when played at 24 fps. Using the high-frame-rate is fairly easy and you can choose to activate recording either before or after pressing the record button. Meaning, it will buffer video once activated so you can move through the action and then stop recording when finished. Or, hit record and then move through the action.
For instance, I shot some burning hourglasses for Andy Suzuki and the Method for a music video of theirs called Overtime. Not knowing how long it would actually take to (quickly) move with and through the flames and capture the hourglass on fire, I chose to freely buffer and stop recording after I knew I tracked through the shot. It worked quite well as you can see below.
To be sure, not all 4K videos are equal. Comparing the Sony RX100 V to a $5000 video camera would not be fair, so I chose to grade the Sony against expectations for a dual-purpose camera. Most importantly, I wanted to see good video quality (great was not required at this price point and form factor) and decent audio.
With those parameters, the Sony did not disappoint and did better than expected. I would label it a quality 4K video that fits into the middle ground between consumer grade and semi-pro grade. It’s already blissfully far ahead of my other Canon gear (which sadly lack 4K in cameras that cost five times the Sony).
The SteadyShot capabilities should be taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion. While it does help, the camera’s small size makes it difficult to get truly steady shots while shooting handheld at 4K.
I was first introduced to Sony’s panoramic mode while teaching a student. It was intriguing then and still works today. It’s a lot like most smartphones now, in that you pan the camera over a limited range (about 180 degrees) and the camera will work its magic for you.
I had some trouble recently after not using the camera for a while.
My family was visiting Grand Canyon National Park, which just begs for panoramas. It had been about 5 months since I used the feature and it took me five tries before I was successful. When you fail, the camera usually doesn’t tell you what you did wrong, just that things didn’t work (sometimes it will tell you to move faster or slower, but other than that, you’re in the dark).
This frustration took away from the enjoyment of the scene in front of me.
I’ve been shooting panoramas since the days of masking 35mm film and feel I understand how it works in smartphones and other digital devices. Why the camera was not cooperating with me that day is still unknown to me. My advice is to practice before you need to use it.
I’m not used to a camera that has additional apps available and it looked like a cool idea at first. Then I realized I needed to pay to upgrade the camera to do things others already do, like time-lapse shooting.
The apps are a little clunky to get into, requiring navigation through the directory of menus just to switch mode, essentially. I wish there was an easier way to access them.
That being said, the time-lapse app is very useful and has some pre-baked settings to help with sunrise, sunset, passing clouds and other common situations. That helps a lot.
This camera comes packed with the modern convenience of wifi. It can connect to your phone if you have the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app. For those that love the instantness of transferring images to their phone, you’ll enjoy it. It’s not the simplest setup, but once activated, transfers are pretty easy (but buried in the menus).
After a year of use, I eventually removed the app from my phone. I wasn’t using it that often as I found it just as easy to wait and plop the SD card into my laptop when back at home. The zoom on the camera wasn’t much more than simple zooms with my phone and considering my viewer would see the image on a phone, most likely, the 20MP were wasted for this.
In the Field
I remember buying the Canon Powershot G-1 back when it first came out in 2001, just before my daughter was born. I was frustrated then with the startup speed and those memories came flashing back when I start the RX100 M5. It’s just not quick to come into play. I ran some tests to find that it takes 2-3 seconds realistically to start up. It seems like an odd slowness and I had to adjust or be disappointed about missing quick shots.
The weight of the camera is just right in the hand. It feels solid, even though I worry about breaking the flash and viewfinder because they are a little less robust.
It’s not truly compact enough to fit in your pocket comfortably unless you have tight pants, but it’s also comfortable enough to carry in your hand most of the time when exploring a new city. It also fits perfectly in a coat pocket or purse.
What Could Be Improved
First, it seems everyone expects a touchscreen on a camera of this size these days. They even want them on DLSRs. It’s helpful when focusing and choosing exposure settings and it would be a huge help the Sony RX100 series.
Second, battery life is not that great. Sony says it’s good for 220 shots or 110 minutes of video. While shooting 4K video out the plane window from LA to Seattle, I changed the battery three times during a two-hour flight. No flash, not a lot of focus adjusting, just video shots out the window and about 40 stills. It seemed subpar.
Lastly, they need to add or assign some programmable hot-keys so photographers can pick and choose the features to have at hand. Having to go into and out of an app to shoot time-lapse is cumbersome (after I paid $9.99 for it as well). Maybe they could make it assignable to one of the Scene modes available from the top dial.
Wait! One more pet peeve about cameras of this size – no external charger. Charging is in-camera via micro-USB, which is easy enough, but shipping the unit with a charger would be much appreciated considering how quickly it can go through batteries while shooting video.
Two Great Accessories
This camera is thankfully small enough to hide in most coat pockets (not so much with jeans, unless you have fairly loose ones) but I eventually wanted to take the camera backpacking. Worried about the danger of scratches and dents (or worse), I looked around and found that Lowepro makes a perfectly sized case for it.
It’s called the Tahoe 25 II and has room for the camera plus a memory card or two in the zippered pouch in front. A belt loop makes it ideal for hiking and I used it often during an attempted climb of Mt. Whitney.
The second accessory is an underwater case from Ikelite. There is a more expensive version of this case and it offers full control of the camera. But I found the action case to cover what I needed without shelling out too much (it retails for about $300 US).
My conclusion is the Sony RX100 V is a winner of a compact camera. It’s packed full of feature and has the ability, with apps, to expand as new software is created. The 4K video is excellent and the high-speed video is a lot of fun.
This camera is perfect for family trips (while reviewing images for this article, I noted I had previously rented the Sony RX100 IV for a family trip to Europe and enjoyed that version as well). It can fit the family in for a group selfie while not breaking your shoulder carrying it around all day. Compact enough for a purse or coat pocket, it is always at hand when your phone just won’t give you a quality image.
With a dynamic range around 12 stops, it can already deliver a wide range exposure latitude. Couple that with the user-adjustable bracketing and there is almost no scene you can’t capture.
Lastly, this camera is slowly but surely turning me into a Sony convert.