Few markets are collapsing as fast as the one for compact cameras, aka point-and-shoots. Sales are declining at double-digit percentages year over year. But products in a few niches within the compact market continue to battle to hold their own. One is the high-end, premium-price segment, typified by Sony’s RX100. The popular and capable model is now in its seventh generation: the new Sony RX100 VII ($1,298). It is the most powerful, but also the most expensive model of the RX100 so far. We put a review unit from Sony through its paces by using it as our primary camera for a couple of weeks.
Sony RX100 VII by the Numbers
Early generations of the RX100 were limited by a short zoom range. The last couple versions, including the Mark VII, have addressed that by providing a 24mm-200mm equivalent zoom — enough for most applications.
The actual sensor in the RX100 hasn’t changed as much, but it has been updated. The VII features a 20.1MP 1-inch format sensor and, as you’d expect, can capture RAW or JPEG or both. However, the Mark VII features a redesign of its EXMOR sensor and pairs it with Sony’s high-performance Bionz X processor, which helps provide its impressive frame rate. The camera has optical and digital image stabilization and a Zeiss-branded, 15-element, variable f/2.8 to f/4.5 aperture lens. It has an impressive close focus capability down to 8 cm (3.15 inches) — although that is only when zoomed out.
The Mark VII has a native ISO range from 100 to 12800, with the option of extending up to 25600. Shutter speeds up to a reasonable 1/2000s and down to 30s are possible, and even faster ones can be achieved by relying on the electronic shutter. Power users will appreciate a variety of built-in bracketing and interval shooting options. Videos can be recorded in 4K at up to 30fps or 1080p at 120fps. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support 4K at 60fps.
In addition to fielding a relatively large sensor and high-quality lens, the RX100 VII differentiates itself from mid-range compacts by its speed. It is fully capable of 20fps, even at full resolution with autofocus, and can support bursts of 7 frames at a very impressive 90fps. Supporting that is one of the very best autofocus systems we’ve seen in a compact camera. Sony claims focusing times as low as .02 second, and from using the camera I believe them. In many cases focus is essentially instant — supported by 357 phase-detect and 425 contrast detect sensors. Along with that, you get real-time subject tracking.
Another feature photographers used to traditional cameras will love is a high-quality pop-up viewfinder with 100 percent image coverage. There is even a diopter adjustment for the EVF, a nice feature to find in a compact camera. Unlike some other models that require both popping-up and then extending the viewfinder the RX100 VII only needs a quick push on the EVF slider to have it ready. Its pop-up flash is similarly easy to operate. The rear LCD can be tilted up and down, making for easier off-angle shooting. You also have lots of AF area and metering options so you can customize the operation of the camera to fit your particular shooting style or situation.
Connectivity includes micro USB, micro HDMI, Bluetooth, and a jack for an external microphone. It also supports NFC for one-touch remote operation and one-touch sharing. As you’d expect, the Mark VII also comes with a wide variety of shooting mode presets, and an impressive 37 screens of menu settings. The NP-BX1 battery pack is rated to be good for 240-310 shots depending on whether you are using the monitor or viewfinder, and of course how much use you make of them. That isn’t world-beating but should get most people through the day. Similarly, the 40-70 minute movie endurance should be enough for most users.
Shooting With the Sony RX100 VII
The most daunting aspect of shooting with the camera is the massive number of controls, modes, and settings. This is made more complicated because not all modes and settings are compatible with each other. On the bright side, simply setting the camera to Intelligent Auto does an impressive job in most circumstances.
The RX100 VII features a broad array of autofocus options. Like its menu system in general, they can be somewhat overwhelming. Most users are familiar with a few basic options, but the VII adds a variety of Face, Eye, Smile, and Tracking AF choices, including a specialized Animal Eye AF mode. Be forewarned that you’ll want to practice with these modes before trying to set one up in real-time while your subject is getting bored or starts to wander off while you fiddle.
That said, the intelligent focus was reliable and fast. It also did a nice job of tracking moving subjects like cars and bicycles.
As you’d expect from Sony, the RX100 VII is also a highly capable video camera. The ability to output up to 100Mbps over HDMI and the inclusion of an external microphone jack mean that it will find a home in the kit of a lot of videographers. The only tradeoff here is a lack of 60fps recording at 4K resolution.
To give you a sense of what it means to have a 24mm-200mm zoom range, here is a shot of Fry’s Electronics at 24mm, followed by zooming into 200mm on the store’s sign:
Should You Buy a Sony RX100 VII?
For starters, the RX100 VII may be the very best camera you can fit in a pocket. It has most of the features you’d expect on a mirrorless or even entry-level DSLR. But you’re paying for the privilege, so you have to decide your budget can handle the $1,298 price tag. You’ll also need to spend some time learning the controls on the camera, and getting it set up the way you like it. Once you do, you’ll have a powerful and flexible image creation tool that is a lot smaller and lighter than buying into an interchangeable lens system.
[Image credit: David Cardinal]
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