Picking a Pocket Camera: Sony RX100 Edition

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Believe it or not, Sony now has manufactured seven different versions of the RX100, and all but one are still available for purchase. After six years of development, we decided to take a close look at the differences and changes introduced in each generation, both to illustrate the evolution of Sony’s perfect pocket camera and to help you figure out which is the best choice for your bag.

Series Overview

When Sony launched the first RX100, in 2012, it changed things. With a “large” 1"-type sensor, the pocketable camera could deliver higher-quality images than point-and-shoots and smartphones. Almost every year since, we have seen this model get better and better, adding impressive features like built-in EVFs, high-frame-rate video, 4K, 24 fps shooting, and more, all culminating in the just-released RX100 VA and the RX100 VI, released in 2018. This had led to some major differences between the models. For an overview of all these changes, we put together this table.

RX100

RX100 II

RX100 III

RX100 IV

RX100 V & VA

RX100 VI

Year Released

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016 & 2018

2018

Sensor

20.2MP Exmor

20.2MP Exmor R (BSI)

20.1MP Exmor R (BSI)

20.1MP Exmor RS (BSI/Stacked)

20.1MP Exmor RS (BSI/Stacked)

20.1MP Exmor RS (BSI/Stacked)

Lens

28-100mm f/1.8-4.9

28-100mm f/1.8-4.9

24-70mm f/1.8-2.8

24-70mm f/1.8-2.8

24-70mm f/1.8-2.8

24-200mm f/2.8-4.5

Video

Full HD 1080p60 (AVCHD)

Full HD 1080p60 (AVCHD)

Full HD 1080p60 (XAVC S)

UHD 4K 2160p30 (XAVC S)

UHD 4K 2160p30 (XAVC S)

UHD 4K 2160p30 (XAVC S)

Picture Profiles

None

None

S-Log2

S-Log2

S-Log2

S-Log2/3 & HLG HDR

HFR Mode

None

None

None

Yes, 960 fps

Yes, 960 fps (Improved)

Yes, 960 fps (Improved)

Shooting Speed

10 fps

10 fps

10 fps

16 fps

24 fps

24 fps

EVF

None

Optional via Hot Shoe

Pop-Up 1.4m-dot

Pop-Up 2.36m-dot

Pop-Up 2.36m-dot

One-Touch Pop-Up 2.36m-dot

Screen

Fixed

Tilting (Up: 90°, Down: 40°)

Tilting (Up: 180°, Down: 40°)

Tilting (Up: 180°, Down: 40°)

Tilting (Up: 180°, Down: 40°)

Tilting Touchscreen (Up: 180°, Down: 90°)

E-Shutter

None

None

None

Yes, up to 1/32000 sec

Yes, up to 1/32000 sec

Yes, up to 1/32000 sec

AF System

Contrast

Contrast

Contrast

Contrast

Hybrid with 315 Points

Hybrid with 315 Points

Wireless

None

Wi-Fi & NFC

Wi-Fi & NFC

Wi-Fi & NFC

Wi-Fi & NFC

Wi-Fi, NFC, & Bluetooth

Now for the hard part—deciding which will be best for you. The easiest way to do this is to run through the lineup describing the differences and upgrades with each successive model, and let’s start with the first.

RX100

The OG RX100 is still hanging around, though many could successfully argue it is getting a bit long in the tooth. It is, however, the most affordable. Bear in mind that, while the tech may be older, the 20MP 1"-type sensor Sony packed into it is still going to be significantly better than the exceptionally tiny option squeezed into other types of point-and-shoot cameras. It also has a great 28-100mm equivalent f/1.8-4.9 lens tacked onto the front, along with many of the same dials and controls you will find on later models. It may not be the best, but it is a perfect starting point for anyone looking to pick up an everyday camera.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Digital Camera

RX100 II

Looking for a little more than the original but still have a tight budget? The RX100 II might just work, because its use of the BIONZ X processor and a newer back-illuminated 20MP 1"-type Exmor R sensor help boost image quality across the board. It also is the only option with the Multi Interface Shoe, meaning it can accept the optional FDA-EV1MK EVF, a real flash or radio trigger, and even an optional microphone for better audio quality in video. Other nice tweaks include a new tilting screen, though limited to 90° up and 40° down, and built-in Wi-Fi with NFC. It does keep the same 28-100mm lens as its predecessor.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II Digital Camera

RX100 III

You could say that the RX100 III is when everything changed for the series. It was the first model I purchased because the massive number of changes and improvements were just too tempting. For pros looking for a solid pocket camera, this is where I would recommend they start. The use of a better and faster 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens, Full HD video getting boosted with XAVC S and S-Log2 for pro-level capture, and a pop-up 1.4m-dot EVF puts the III in a whole other league compared to the earlier models. Also, for vlogging and selfies, this model introduces the 180° tilting screen. There is even a built-in ND filter to help handle the brightest scenes and more control in video. It does lose the hot shoe for a slimmer profile.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Digital Camera

RX100 IV

With the RX100 IV, Sony decided to make more refinements to the internals, using a “stacked” sensor architecture for the first time in a compact camera. The 20MP 1"-type Exmor RS sensor found here features a dedicated memory chip underneath the standard sensor components, resulting in dramatically improved speed and processing and unlocking some new functions. One such upgrade was to video, because it can now record UHD 4K at 30p using XAVC S. A new High Frame Rate option was added, as well, for the creation of Full HD videos at up to 960/1000 fps (NTSC/PAL). Speed advantages translate to stills also, with the sensor readout now being fast enough to support an electronic shutter with practically no distortion at up to 1/32,000 second and continuous shooting of up to 16 fps with AF-C at full resolution, a notable boost from the 10 fps of the earlier models. For physical changes, the EVF got upgraded to a higher 2.36m-dot resolution, while the rest of the camera remained nearly the same.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV Digital Camera

RX100 V and VA

With the RX100 V, which is now discontinued, Sony focused on speed. It added a Front-End LSI to the BIONZ X processing engine for increased data throughput. Also, the 20MP 1"-type Exmor RS sensor got a focus boost with a Fast Hybrid AF system featuring 315 phase-detect points. Image quality gets a nice tweak, of course, with video shooters likely finding more to appreciate. UHD 4K video is sharper, with even less rolling shutter and the high-frame-rate mode features improved quality and longer shooting times. You can now even shoot continuously in raw with autofocus at an insane 24 fps.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V Digital Camera

You can’t get your hands on a new RX100 V that easily anymore, bu you can acquire the RX100 VA. This is the latest release, and serves as an upgraded replacement—with improved processing—to match that of the VI. This means a continuous shooting buffer of 233 frames, up from 150, better Eye AF, and reduced lag in the EVF. Also, the menu is the latest and greatest, with plenty of other options built in. Both options maintain the 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 first introduced in the III.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA Digital Camera

RX100 VI

How do you make this pocket camera even better? If you ask Sony, it would be to upgrade the lens with a longer 24-200mm equivalent f/2.8-4.5 lens while keeping the camera’s size essentially the same. The RX100 VI is possibly the best travel camera, something I even tested with some cross country travel earlier this year. Beyond this, the ergonomics have been significantly upgraded, with a rear touchscreen that can now tilt 180° up and 90° down and a one-touch access pop-up EVF for instant deployment. The latest menu system is installed here and for video you now have access to S-Log3 (in addition to S-Log2) and HLG for Instant HDR workflows. And finally, it gains Bluetooth, which enables geotagging via a smartphone. It does, however, lose the built-in ND filter, no doubt due to the new lens design. For the best all-around, you will need to choose between the VI and the VA, and likely you will be choosing based on the versatility of the VI’s 24-200mm zoom or the low-light benefit of the VA’s 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI Digital Camera

If you are deciding on which to get, I would say to start with the RX100 and work your way up until you find the feature set you need and then make judgements on whether to move up or not based on your budget. You can’t really go wrong with any of the RX100s, and we hope this guide helps explain all the differences. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the Comments section, below!

5 Comments

Nice article but I believe I found a typo under the RX100 VI section.   "benefit of the VA’s 24-170mm f/1.8-2.8 lens"

Oops. Thanks for catching that! It has been fixed.

Very nice article...my big question is when will Sony incorporate  an "external audio in" to this camera. The image quality is there for using this as a second camera on a video shoot, so it would be nice if it could record decent audio as well.

Nice article, great comparison of all the different models available. This should be helpful to anyone getting ready to buy a RX100.

I've been using Sony Cameras since they bought Minolta years ago, It is amazing how the technology has change over the years and even more amazing that they still keep figuring out how to put more features into smaller camera bodies.  

I bought the RXl00VA about a month ago. Great camera, it will do everything I need it to do and more. Low light capabilities are excellent.  I chose the RX100VA for that reason. Camera shake is no problem with Sony's built in anti-shake system and excellent low noise high ISO . I am also using off camera flash when needed with Joe McNally EZYBox  with Yongnou  Speedlight YN560 in slave mode triggered with built in flash at lowest power setting. Works great. I

What a great way to take quality pictures with minimal equipment to pack around. The best part is I always have my camera on hand when I need it, right there in my pocket ready to go, Instead of it being in the truck or worse at home, because I didn't want to carry it around. We are all guilty of that at some point.

Again, Thank you for the great article and Thank you Sony for the great line of Cameras.

 For the best all-around, you will need to choose between the VI and the VA, and likely you will be choosing based on the versatility of the VI’s 24-200mm zoom or the low-light benefit of the VA’s 24-170mm f/1.8-2.8 lens.

Must be a typo>. 24-170mm  should be 24-70mm?

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