Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX100: The Evolution of an Iconic Point-and-Shoot

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In 2012 the obituaries for pocket-size point-and-shoot cameras outnumbered the number of announcements for their replacements. Five years earlier, Apple had unveiled the original iPhone, and though the image quality of the then-current iPhone 4 still wasn’t enough to plant a knockout punch to the point-and-shoot market, every generation of smartphones that followed further pounded away at what was left of it. And then Sony came along and introduced the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100.

The Birth of a Classic—The Original Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100

Design-wise, the RX100 was the right camera at the right time. In addition to a small, smartly designed form factor, the camera contained an all-new 20.1MP Exmor CMOS “1-inch” (13.2 x 8.8mm) sensor format that singlehandedly breathed new life into the premium point-and-shoot and bridge-style camera market.

The RX100’s 28mm-100mm f/1.8-4.9 Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom lens was equally well matched for the camera. The lens was fast on the wide side for low-light street photography and long enough for tight headshots at more modest apertures. Under brighter light, the RX100 was capable of capturing up to 10 fps in “Speed Priority” mode, and for video, switching to 1080p (ACHHD) with stereo sound capture was a matter of pressing the little red button next to your right thumb. As for image quality—the pictures that came out of this camera were sharp and gorgeous.

Other features found on the original DSC-RX100 included Steady-Shot image stabilization, an ISO range of 125-6400 (expandable to 80-25600), and Face Recognition for up to 8 faces.

Pros quickly caught onto the RX100’s imaging abilities and began taking RX100s along on assignment as an “after-hours camera.” It wasn’t a big surprise when photographs captured with what was technically a point-and-shoot camera began gracing magazine covers.

If there was a downside to the camera, it had to be the lack of an electronic viewfinder (EVF)—viewing was limited to a 3" 1.2M-dot LCD, which like all LCDs could be difficult to view under bright lighting conditions. But this issue would be put to rest two years (and two generations) later when the RX100 III was introduced.

Fast Forward to 2021 and We Have Not One, But Two RX100s to Choose From

Since its introduction almost a decade ago, Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 has gone through over a half-dozen updates, and each has proved to be an improvement over previous-generation RX100s in terms of performance and imaging abilities. No matter where I’ve traveled over the past few pre-pandemic years, I never failed to spot people taking photographs with an RX100. The interesting thing is that throughout the camera’s existence, previous-generation RX100s have maintained popularity and have often been sold concurrently with two or three generations of their replacement models. This is something you seldom see in the retail market.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

Having carefully measured consumer feedback, Sony currently markets two versions of the camera—the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA. Both cameras share much in common. They both feature the same 20.1MP BSI-CMOS sensor, Bionz X image processor, 125-12800 ISO range, 2,360,000-dot pop-up EVF, 1/32,000th-second top shutter speed, and video capture formats.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

While there are subtle differences between the two cameras, the biggest difference has to do with their respective lenses. Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII features an 8.3x 24-200mm f/2.8-4 (equivalent) Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens, which is geared to consumers for whom an ample zoom range takes priority over aperture speed. The RX100 VA features a faster 2.9x 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 (equivalent) zoom, which is better geared toward low-light street shooting. Optically, they are both top-shelf performers.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA

Other significant differences between the two cameras include the cameras’ LCDs (the RX100 VII features a 921,000-dot touchscreen; the RX100 VA has a 1,228,000-dot, non-touchscreen display), continuous frame rate (90 fps for the RX100 VII versus 24 fps for the RX100 VA), and memory card options (both cameras accept SD/SDHC/SDXC and Memory Stick Pro Duo; the RX100 VA also accepts Pro-HG Duo cards). Additionally, USB charging and time-lapse recording are only available on the RX100 VII.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA

Video capture is also different between the two cameras. The RX100 IV records UHD 4K30p video with HLG & S-Log3 Gammas, while the RX100 VA captures Internal UHD 4K24p video with S-Log2 Gamma. The RX100 VA is also capable of capturing HD video at 960 fps in High Frame Rate mode. The RX100 VII features an external mic input for higher levels of sound quality. The RX100 VA only records sound internally.

All Things Considered…

Over the years I have personally owned two versions of the RX100, including the first model, and I’m actually considering one of the current cameras as a compact-yet-serious alternative to my ever-present iPhone. I love many of the pictures I have taken with smartphones over the years, and the quality and features continue to evolve exponentially. That said, the photographs I can take using any of Sony’s RX100-series cameras simply blow the doors off photographs captured using my cherished iPhone. Conversely, I cannot make a phone call with a Sony RX100, so maybe we should let matters be and call it a draw.

As for which of the two RX100 cameras I’ll ultimately go for…I’m still not sure…I like both of them.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV and Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II

Sony produces two other cameras as part of its RX-series line-up, and each is an interesting camera in its own right.

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV is a bridge-style point-and-shoot camera that features a 1" Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor. It’s notably larger than the RX100, but then again it sports an image-stabilized 24-600mm (equivalent) Zeiss Vario-Sonnar f/2.4-4 zoom lens, which optically speaking, is about as inclusive as the term “all-in-one” gets. Sony’s RX10 IV is ideal for travel and sporting events and is often viewed as a good companion camera to the RX100.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

In addition to a 25x zoom lens, other features found on the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV include 24 fps burst rates for up to 249 JPEGs, UHD 4K video with 40x super slow motion, weatherproof construction, a 315 phase-detection point hybrid AF system, and manual overrides for both focus and exposure.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 R II is unique unto itself. The RX1 R II, which features a fixed 35mm f/2 Zeiss T* lens, is perhaps the smallest full-frame mirrorless camera on the market. Literally palm-size, the lens on this camera was designed specifically for use on this camera. As a result, the photographs by this gem-of-a-camera’s 42MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor are intensely detailed from corner to corner.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

Other features found on Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 R II include a Bionz X image processor, a 0.39" 2.36M-dot XGA OLED EVF, ISO sensitivity up to 102400, uncompressed 14-bit RAW files, and a 399 phase-detection point AF system.

Have you used any Sony RX-series cameras? If so, what’s your opinion of these cameras? Let us know in the Comments section below.

3 Comments

Good summary on the Sony RX100 models. Just wondering why is the RX100 VII so much more (about $1200) than the Sony RX100 VA (about $850 on BH). You have noted some of the difference but surely that isn't enough to explain the big gap in pricing.

I have the RX vi and use a Mag filter ring for ND filters. It is my preferred camera to grab and go take pictures on the run.  I also have a fun Fuji X-70 with a fixed wide angle lens. I find the Sony Cybershot RX 100 vi the fastest and the Zoom very convenient except for the vignetting on wide angle when using the Mag Filter adapter. I just wished Sony would put some creative modes into their cameras like in-camera multiple exposure and film simulations like Fuji and Nikon. Sony’s menu system is not as intuitive as my Nikon Coolpix. It would be great to take the best features of all three and combine them into one point and shoot camera. I know Olympus made a great point and shoot Pen camera but i don’t have one. They have all come a long way and produce great images on the fly. 

Thanks for your feedback, Tricia Y.! We appreciate hearing from readers regarding their experiences and preferences, and hope that someone from Sony is reading here.

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