The original version of the RX100 was a groundbreaking camera at the time of its 2012 release. Its 1-inch image sensor ran circles around competing point-and-shoot cameras—the sensor format is about four times as large as image sensors found in typical point-and-shoot models. And while its 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens was dim on the long end, it didn’t take long for Sony to rectify that. It’s continued to iterate on the design, adding a wider aperture (but shorter) zoom lens starting with the RX100 III</a>, which remains our Editors’ Choice for premium pocket cameras.
Before we dive into the RX100 VI, let’s look at its place in the market. It does not replace the RX100 V, nor the IV, III, II, or the original, all of which are still in production and on sale at prices ranging from $ 450 to $ 1,000. I think Sony made a slight misstep in continuing with the Roman numeral naming for this model, as its lens makes it a different camera than the others in the RX100 family.
The III/IV/V lens design, a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8, is a short zoom built for shallow depth of field and low-light shooting. The RX100 VI sports a (full-frame equivalent) 24-200mm zoom, but with a narrower f/2.8-4.5 aperture range. It’s more similar to it larger cousins, the RX10 and RX10 II bridge models in coverage, although both of those 1-inch sensor shooters use a 24-200mm f/2.8 lens with superior macro capability. (The RX100 VI does a good job with close focus at its widest angle, focusing to 3.2 inches, but you need to beat least 3.3 feet from your subject when shooting at 200mm.)
It’s not the first time we’ve seen a long zoom 1-inch sensor camera in a pocketable, form factor. Panasonic started the trend with its disappointing ZS100 and has continued with its sequel, the ZS200, which sells for $ 400. It doesn’t have the fit or finish of the RX100 VI, and while we’re still in the process of testing the ZS200, we’ll talk about the differences in the quality of its 24-360mm lens and the RX100 VI’s 24-200mm zoom later on.
Despite having a longer zoom range, the RX100 VI is only larger by a factor of millimeters when compared with the cameras that have come before it. It measures 2.3 by 4.0 by 1.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 10.6 ounces. It’s smaller and lighter than the ZS200, which comes in at 2.6 by 4.4 by 1.8 inches and 12 ounces.
The camera is housed in a metal exterior, finished in matte black without too many adornments. The Sony logo is at the top corner in white, with the Zeiss badge in blue at the bottom corner—the lens features Zeiss branding as well. While it does collapse into the body when you power the camera down, the lens doesn’t sit completely flush. The space isn’t left unused—there’s a programmable control ring surrounding it. By default it adjusts shutter or aperture based on shooting mode, but you can change it to act as a zoom control, adjust the ISO, set exposure compensation (EV), or perform another sundry function. I set it to adjust EV, as the camera doesn’t have a dedicated dial adjustment for that function.
The pop-up EVF and flash both retract into the top plate when not in use, and are raised up with a mechanical switch. The EVF is slightly different from previous ones in that you don’t need to pull the eyepiece toward you in order to get it properly focused. The downside is that you need to be careful when using it—press the viewfinder up against your glasses and the eyepiece may give in, throwing the OLED panel out of focus.
But having to take a bit of care in use is worth it when you consider the size and quality of the EVF. It’s significantly larger to the eye than what you get with the competing Panasonic ZS200—0.39 inches measured diagonally—and extremely sharp at 2,359k dots. There is a diopter adjustment available to adjust the EVF to match your eyesight.
Top controls aren’t extensive. It has the On/Off button, a zoom rocker and shutter release, and the Mode dial. Rear controls are all located to the right of the LCD, which takes up the bulk of the available space. The Record button is nestled into the right side of the rear thumb rest. Below it you’ll find Fn and Menu buttons, the rear control wheel, and Delete and Play.
The rear wheel is used for aperture and shutter control, depending on the mode, and has directional presses to adjust the Drive mode, flash output, EV, and amount of information shown on the LCD or EVF. Its center button activates EyeAF by default (most of the buttons are programmable), a very useful feature for snapping portraits. Ergonomically it’s a little awkward to hold the rear button in and press the shutter while using the EVF, but it’s a bit easier to manage when framing shots using the LCD.
The Fn button launches an on-screen settings menu for quick access to additional options. It’s not touch sensitive—none of the menus are—which is an odd decision. The menu system is a bit dense, with dozens of options spread across multiple pages. It’s a testament to how much the camera can do, but can be daunting to navigate. It’s best to spend an hour or two with the camera in order to set it up to your liking when you first unbox it, so you don’t have to navigate through menus when you should be out capturing images.
Touch does work for other things, though. You can tap the rear LCD to set a focus point when shooting stills or video, and while you can’t pinch to zoom or swipe through shots in playback, you can swipe to move around an image when reviewing a magnified version. The display quality is premium, 3 inches in size with 921k dots of resolution and a hinged design. It can flip all the way forward for selfie shots or video, and also angles down to 90 degrees, sitting flush with the bottom of the camera.
The RX100 VI’s lens makes it an ideal camera for travel, as it can handle a lot of different situations, and its size means it’s a no-brainer to pack. If you want to Instagram from the road, the camera includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi so you can beam images and videos wirelessly to your Android or iOS device using the free Sony PlayMemories Mobile app.
There is a single micro USB port, used for data transfer and charging. Sony includes a micro USB cable and AC adapter in the box, but not an external charger. You can expect to snap about 240 images on a fully charged battery (according to CIPA standards) using the LCD. Sony states that you can extend it to 310 by enabling power saving, but the EVF uses more power so the camera is only rated for 220 shots when using it.
Those numbers are good guidelines for image snapping, but can vary greatly depending on how you use the camera. Shooting huge bursts of images will net more, and recording standard or slow-motion video and transferring photos over Wi-Fi will eat into battery life.
I only had a few hours to use the camera so far and was handed one with a battery that wasn’t fully charged, so I don’t have a great gauge on real-world battery life as of yet. You can recharge on the go via a USB battery, and the camera will work while charging. But for travel, I’d recommend picking up a spare battery as well as an external charger. I’ll look at battery life more closely when I have more time with the camera.
In addition to the micro USB connector, there is a micro HDMI port. But there’s no way to connect or mount an external microphone—you’ll want to move up to the larger RX10 series if that’s a priority.
The battery and memory card slot are accessible via the bottom plate. The RX100 VI supports UHS-I SD cards and Memory Stick Duo media, but doesn’t support the fastest UHS-II cards.
The RX100 V was the first pocket camera with on-sensor phase detection autofocus, and the feature continues with the VI. Phase detection, combined with a sensor with a design that allows for extremely quick data processing delivers shooting at up to 24fps with subject tracking, even in Raw format. Shooting that quickly is overkill for most scenarios, but having it as an option is certainly a benefit. You can also set the camera to shoot at a speedy, but more reasonable 10fps.
The camera buffer can handle about 106 Raw+JPG, 108 Raw, or 231 JPG shots before it fills up. But writing all of those photos to a memory card takes a long time—90 seconds for Raw+JPG, 62 seconds for Raw, or 80 seconds for JPG. You can continue to capture images as the buffer clears, but you won’t be able to start a video until the images are committed to memory, which can be frustrating.
In other regards, the camera’s speed leaves nothing to be desired. It starts, focuses, and fires in about 1.8 seconds, locks focus in almost no time in bright light, and in around 0.4-second in very dim conditions.
The RX100 VI’s lens doesn’t have as much reach as the Panasonic ZS200, but our tests show that it’s sharper, and the f-stop tells us it captures more light. At 24mm f/2.8 the Sony scores 2,477 lines on Imatest’s standard center-weighted sharpness test. Image quality is strong through most of the frame, but the edges are a bit soft, at 1,331 lines. That’s less resolution than we want to see at a minimum from a 20MP sensor, 1,800 lines.
Resolution holds steady at f/4 and f/5.6. There’s a slight drop in average sharpness at f/8 (2,263 lines), but edges are stronger, 1,554 lines. You can shoot at f/11, but you shouldn’t—it drops image quality, lowering the score all the way down to 1,713 lines.
Some edge softness at 24mm isn’t unheard of in a compact, and it’s really the only bad thing there is to say about the RX100 VI’s lens. At 50mm the maximum aperture has dropped to f/4, but overall image quality is strong. We see 2,341 lines on average, and while the edges aren’t as sharp as the center, they’re quite crisp at 2,045 lines.Image quality jumps at f/5.6 (2,897 lines), with edges that are just about 200 lines behind the average score. We see 2,549 lines at f/8 and 1,918 lines at f/11.
At the 100mm setting the maximum aperture is still f/4. The lens shows 2,838 lines here, with edges that touch 2,700 lines—it’s not dead even performance across the frame, but it’s close. We see 2,863 lines at f/5.6, 2,571 lines at f/8, and 1,865 lines at f/11.
Image quality holds up at 200mm. At f/4.5 we see 2,462 lines on average, and while the edges aren’t that sharp, they’re still acceptable at 1,843 lines. At f/5.6 there is 2,630 lines, with edges that show about 2,000 lines, and there’s a slight drop to the average at f/8 (2,457 lines) and a more noticeable one at f/11 (1,615 lines).
The lens on the competing Panasonic ZS200 has a longer zoom range, but it isn’t as sharp. At its best it shows about 2,300 lines (at the 50mm setting) and its edge performance is very weak at 24mm and significantly softer than the RX100 VI through the rest of its zoom range.
One of the advantages of a 1-inch sensor over the 1/2.3-inch designs you usually find in point-and-shoots and flagship smartphones is image quality at the higher ISO settings used when shooting in dim light.
I’ve only been able to look at JPG images so far—Adobe hasn’t yet added support for the RX100 VI to Lightroom Classic, our standard software for Raw conversion. But we expect Raw performance to be similar to the RX10 IV, which uses the same sensor and image processor.
When shooting JPGs at default settings, the RX100 VI keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 3200, two stops below its top ISO 12800 setting. Of course, it gets there by applying some noise reduction to images. There’s no noticeable degradation in image quality from the base setting of ISO 125 through ISO 800. At ISO 1600 there is a very slight step back, but one that you’ll only notice when printing large or cropping heavily. Details are more noticeably smudged at ISO 3200. Image quality suffers much more noticeably at the top ISO 6400 and 12800 settings.
Despite not supporting an external microphone, which limits the camera’s use for very serious video work, the RX100 VI has some excellent capabilities to record moving images. It can record 4K video at 24 or 30fps at your choice of 60 or 100Mbps, and 1080p is also available at up to 120fps.
There is a very slight crop applied to 4K video—it’s not really noticeable unless you’re working from a tripod and switching between still and video capture. Footage is very sharp, and the camera smoothly racks focus on demand and tracks moving subjects with aplomb. Proxy recording is supported—it’s a feature that records both 4K and a lower-resolution file at the same time, so you can easily edit the lower resolution footage and then apply the edits to the 4K clip, without putting too much strain on your workstation.
If shooting at 120fps isn’t good enough, you can move the Mode dial to the HFR position for High Frame Rate capture. You have the option of shooting at 240, 480, or 960fps in this mode, rendered out to a file that plays back at 24, 30, or 60fps. It’s a little tricky to use—you need to prefocus and frame a shot and start a buffer before you can start recording. And it takes a long time to render out the video. It’s done in real time, so if you record a couple of seconds of footage it can take a minute or two to render out, during which time you can’t use the camera for anything else.
The quality of the slow-motion video varies based on the capture rate. The 240fps footage looks the best, because its capture resolution isn’t that far behind 1080p and the shutter can fire at 1/240-second, so the ISO doesn’t need to be pushed as high. I tend to shoot at 480fps, as it’s a good compromise in quality and speed. The 960fps video is cropped, seriously upscaled, and the shutter needs to fire at 1/960-second to capture each frame—it’s best reserved for use in very bright light.
I’ve only had a few hours to use the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI, so I’m not giving it a rating at this time. I do have a fairly strong handle on the camera, as I’ve watched the RX100 series evolve over the past six years, and have used every model up to this point. The RX100 VI is the biggest departure from the original concept we’ve seen, and it’s because of the lens.
Instead of a short zoom with a bright aperture, you get a longer lens that never captures as much light as the other models in the series that start at f/1.8. For photographers who like to snap bokeh-filled images of fancy dinner plates in dim restaurant lighting, or images of their kids playing in the living room, the lesser light-gathering capability is a downer—so the RX100 III, IV, or V, or the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II are all better fits, depending on budget and performance requirements. But none of those have a zoom that matches the RX100 VI.
I’ll need some more time with the RX100 VI before delivering a final verdict. My first impression is that it looks like an overly capable pocket camera for photographers who want the best image quality, fit and finish, and autofocus in a model that fits into a pocket, and who also put priority on zoom range. I’m still working with the Panasonic ZS200, which sells for about $ 400 less, but its lens isn’t as good and it doesn’t have the same autofocus, burst shooting, or slow motion chops as the Sony, and its viewfinder is nowhere near as good.
Check back for a full review of the RX100 VI. It’s available to order now, and will start shipping in early July.