Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sony RX100 Is What The G1X Should Have Been

Sony has again shown the incumbent companies how to do things correctly. They did it with the innovative SLT system. They did it with their generation-defining EXMOR sensors. They did it with the amazing NEX-7. They positively upended the mirrorless market by bursting in and shoving aside the extant players. The NEX 5n and NEX 7 are easily the top selling mirrorless cameras in the US and Europe (a success Sony desperately needed). Only in Japan are Olympus and Panasonic really tearing up the charts. Now, again, they are doing it with the RX100.

I am not alone in my assertion that camera companies, whose sales of P&S models is being decimated by cell phones, need to move their compact models upmarket. They need to provide a value proposition beyond cell phone cameras, which are very limited. Their failure to do this, even with the writing on the wall for years, has resulted in their entire market possibly being leap-frogged by the Nokia 808 PureView.

Nikon arrogantly produced the "1" series of cameras: an evolutionary dead-end if there ever was one. Canon produced the ridiculously overpriced G1X. Fuji's X10 is even more overpriced than the Canon. Olympus and Panasonic have been doubling down on their still unproven belief that Micro 4/3 is a replacement for P&S for THREE YEARS.

But now we have Sony, seemingly the only company with any real grasp on what the market wants. The sensor is as big as the Nikon "1", but it's placed inside an actual, compact camera. None of this faux SLR crap with bad lenses. No! Sony has attached a real lens, taking full advantage of the smaller format of the sensor to produce a stellar f/1.8 max aperture. That also eliminates one of two major disadvantages to the Canon G1X, seeing as its glass is quite slow for a compact, integrated lens.

And while on the subject of the Canon G1X, can I just say how stupid I found it. It's an $800 camera built on pretensions. What do I mean by that? First, it's eight-hundred-freaking-dollars. Second, it has a viewfinder on it. It's not a real viewfinder!! It has no data in it. It's not a rangefinder or TTL. It's nothing. It's the very expensive equivalent of the little flip-up plastic squares that were attached to cheap 110 cameras. That's freaking absurd. Ditch the useless VF and give me a larger screen, smaller body, or more physical controls.

But back to the Sony. TechRadar has posted a review of it, Focus Numerique has posted test images, and Imaging Resource has posted their full overview, all showing the camera pretty soundly beating its only direct competitor, the Nikon "1". It's lagging the Canon G1X slightly, which is expected considering its larger sensor, but otherwise performs excellently. It even manages over 12EV of dynamic range in TR's review.

TechRadar complains about some limited RAW functionality, but I consider it a small problem. I think that Sony has produced the best possible camera for the size and price. This is precisely where a P&S should be. It should be good enough as a back-up for enthusiasts, but should primarily focus on people who want higher quality photos out of a camera that they simply turn on, aim, and press a button: the very raison d'être, of point & shoots everywhere. That means that it can't cost too much.

If it costs a bundle, enthusiasts will contemplate whether the camera is worth it or simply a faster/smaller lens for their existing system. Upgraders will be dissuaded since they don't enter the situation with the same value equation that enthusiast photographers have. That's why the Canon G1X was such a stupid creation. I said in my first impressions of it that it would be a much more attractive prospect if it had been priced $100 lower. Well, Sony went and priced theirs one hundred and fifty dollars lower. I think that they should have gone for $599, but $649 is probably going to be very acceptable to the market.

In comparison to the other camera in this general market, the Fuji X10, the Sony again shines. The lens isn't quite as good, with the Fuji lens only dropping to f/2.8 instead of f/4.9 like the Sony lens. But that doesn't matter. The Sony sensor is almost precisely twice the size of the Fuji, giving it a massive performance advantage. The Sony may not have the sexy body, but the Fuji has that same worthless viewfinder that the G1X has. As with the Canon comparison, the Sony wins.

I am very impressed with this camera. It is what it needs to be, a P&S, just a better one.


  1. You clearly have no real working knowledge in photography. You're basing your judgement on specs and what you consider to be of value/worthless. I happen to own the rx100 and a fuji x10 ( and about a dozen other digital cameras ranging from waterproof p&s to full-frame slr) and IMO i am able to capture better overall images with the x10 bc as a tool I can create the image, with all the parameters vital to composing a balanced image, effortlessly with the control points (incl the all glass viewfinder which I use in bright days mainly) in a manner that I cannot achieve as efficiently on the rx100. Also due to the crop factors of both cameras, you actually achieve similar levels of overall DOF from both cameras yet the fuji is indeed a faster lens, thereby compensating for the sensor size difference

    1. I appreciate your comment but not your opening insult.

      I don't doubt that you find it easier to take photos with the X10. Much of what makes a camera work is the way that it "connects" with the user. That's why I don't make fun of Leica users. They connect in a particular way, the camera costs a certain amount, they are willing to pay it. More power to them.

      I do not connect with the X10. I just can't get over the viewfinder not really being a viewfinder. I want something more than a tube through which I look. For the price, I want more than ergonomics and a sexy body.

      As I mentioned, it's for this reason that I reject Canon's G Series. I am confident that the majority of people feel similarly to me since, if we base sales data on the number of Amazon reviews, the Sony RX100 has already well-surpassed the G1X, and seeing as it is (as I write this) still #2 on Amazon's sales ranks after more than two months, it will soon pass both the Fuji X10 and X100.

      Fair dinkum, I'm not sure that I would connect with the Sony. All I've done is hold it for a short time. But considering its technical abilities, and the fact that it is completely pocketable, I can't come up with a comparable "walkaround" camera.

  2. The problem with Canon G1 X is that the camera is inferior by design. Canon does not want it to encroach on higher profit margin DSLR. So you get pathetic continuous shooting frame rate, lower-resolution, etc. Sony RX100 does superb 10fps and superb regular continuous shooting mode. Totally agree, Sony is creating the best camera possible today with current technology. With RX100 I am getting P&S simplicity with superb image quality and speed. Besides, the RX100 is so small and carry anywhere that leaves the bulky/pretentious G1X in the dust.

    1. For me, the size along with F/1.8 makes the RX100 a thing of significant temptation. I love to take photos with friends at dinner, but even my GF1 gets in the way at times, and seeing as the G1X is even BIGGER, it was never a serious contender for my cash.

  3. I have lugged with intent a film SLR through several countries in the Middle East. But travelling in Indonesia with primary goals other than photography, any camera had to be effortlessly pocketable - part of getting dressed in the morning. Which means a phone camera or point-and-shoot. I now have a rich haul of images which were often an in the moment quick-draw snap. The RX100 squeezes into the 'keys, wallet, phone, camera in pockets--go' category.

    The RX100 is fast, capable and in terms of IQ, matches the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in colour depth and dynamic range (DxOMark). I'd love to dust off my old Zuiko F1.4 50mm, but my pockets are not that wide.

  4. Aaron, you nailed it in this article. Keep up the great your blog!

  5. I am an enthusiast, not a pro. Own Nikon D800 with Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.4, Nikon 24-70 2.8, G9, S95, G1X, RX100. Considering Sony RX1.
    Before the G1X I enjoyed always having the S95 in my pocket as I went to work or elsewhere. Had it with me even when I didn't need a camera. I was always ready. But then the Samsung Galaxy SIII took beautiful pics so why bother?
    When I first got the G1X thinking it was a "better" G9 etc I absolutely hated it. No macro. Focusing across the table on a dining companion was iffy at best. Didn't touch it for two months. Then took it to Seoul because i didnt feel like bringing a DSLR. But when opening the jpegs at home found the pics to be excellent, when measured against my prior expectations. Bought the Samsung NX200 with 2 kid lens while in Seoul but never liked the IQ.
    Finally got the hang of the G1X when I stopped thinking of it in terms of the previous G series. Wonderful IQ in good light. Dont like the built in flash but if i were to use a speedlite i might as well bring a DSLR. So it is useful as a light camera for travel abroad alongside the DSLR. Acceptable IQ when I got fed up with hauling the DSLR when trying to enjoy a vacation. No the G1X is not pocketable. That is a big difference. I cannot have it on me all the time.
    Next comes the RX100. Obviously I can enjoy walking around with a camera in my pants pocket without noticing it too much, only now with hugely improved IQ over the S95. Canon G1X and S series have totally useless manual focus. Not so the RX100.
    Is the RX100 perfect? Of course not. I have a wish list but then this is as good as it gets for now.
    What improvement do I want for the RX100?
    1) Even a smaller viewing screen that can have some sort of foldable eye piece over it to double as EVF. However good the screen is claimed to be, they often don't show up on a good screen. Sharing views on the screen is not that important to me.
    2) The 1.8 aperture quickly degenerates to 3.2 or 4 or worse as you zoom a bit, even just to avoid a fisheye look. For indoor photography that means a choice of slow shutter speed or high and somewhat noisy high ISO. Luckily the flash is good because you can bend it back to bounce provided you increase flash power.
    Yes if there is one single improvement I want above all it would be 1.8 - 2.8 max. Everything else really unimportant to me at this stage.
    Yes I am quite happy the RX100 does not have things like hotshoe or articulated screen or dedicated buttons for a lot of things. I accept those compromises that are necessary to keep it small for me to carry inconspicuous everyday.

  6. As an ex owner of FUJI X100S and X20, I switched the RX100 RX1 because of the lens, quality of image, autofocusing abilities and superb metering. I used Fuji because all my life I have only shot with Velvia and Provia slides and Fuji digital would bring me close to those colors. However when I tried the RX100, it was love at first sight. This is what Fuji should have been. The sensor in RX100 may not be APS but heck, combined with the Zeiss coated lens, it gives me performance that I and my colleagues think equates DSLR in most cases and thats good enough for me. When I bring in RX1 to the equation, it has no competition period.


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