Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V Review
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V is the company’s newest addition to its lineup of premium compact cameras. As with the previous two versions, it has a 1″-type sensor, 24-70mm equivalent F1.8-2.8 lens but gains 24fps burst shooting in both JPEG and Raw with full autofocus and autoexposure(!), oversampled 4K video recording, and plenty more. In short, the RX100 V has an incredible amount of technology stuffed into an easily pocketable package – but despite major increases in performance, we find that some of its more peripheral qualities could still use some attention.
- 20MP 1″-type stacked BSI-CMOS sensor
- 24-70mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 zoom lens
- 24fps burst shooting in JPEG + Raw, with full AF and AE
- 315-point phase-detection autofocus system
- Detailed 4K video capture with well-controlled rolling shutter
- Good quality high frame rate video capture
Where to begin, besides the original? The first RX100 made quite the splash when it was released back in 2012, and rightly so – it was the first camera to take a reasonably large, 1″-type sensor and place it within a camera body you could easily put into a pocket. There were, of course, pocketable compact digital cameras before it, but the RX100’s much larger sensor was the key here for really allowing it to stand above the crowd.
The original RX100 brought us one significant step closer to the diminutive, high-quality 35mm film compacts of the 1990s. As far as video, the RX100 V shoots oversampled 4K clips, resulting in impressively detailed footage.
Sony’s launch presentation for the RX100 V showed that this series of cameras is increasingly being chosen by existing mid-to-high-end DSLR shooters looking for a carry-everywhere compact. The RX100 V works exceedingly well as a capable point-and-shoot camera, but as with previous models, we’ve found ourselves frustrated when trying to take greater control over it for decisive-moment shooting.
That is, frankly, a shame. For all that Sony has done to make this a worthy upgrade from the Mark IV, it’s also the things they haven’t done that bear mentioning as well. There are still just too few controls on this camera, there still isn’t a touchscreen (to more easily take advantage of that snazzy new PDAF system), the user interface is still unfriendly and the sluggish speed at which the camera reacts (or doesn’t react) to some inputs stands in stark contrast to how unbelievably fast it can pull images off the sensor.
Body, ergonomics and controls
While Sony’s RX100 line went through some evolutionary changes earlier on, the outer appearance of the RX100 V is identical to that of the IV (and for that matter, the III). This can be seen as a good thing for users coming from one of the previous models to this one, as there is some consistency. Unfortunately, if you weren’t a fan of the handling of previous models, this is less positive. Because while the Mark V benefits from all of the improvements the Mark IV brought to the line, it suffers from its usability shortcomings as well.
All three of the latest RX100 models share identical dimensions, body elements and features, and are within ten grams of each other. If you’ve handled one, you’ve handled them all. While this means the RX100 V is satisfyingly dense and feels well-built, it also means that it soldiers on with the same smooth and slippery casing that would really benefit from just a strip of rubber on the front.
Yes, there are plenty of aftermarket grips for it (including one from Sony itself), but as they don’t protrude past the front of the lens or make the camera less pocketable, we wish one was just included. We should also admit we’ve been spoilt by the Canon G7 X Mark II’s excellent front grip, which makes that camera much more secure in the hand without adding much bulk at all.
Around back, you’ll find the exact same LCD panel Sony’s been using since the first RX100 (and, in fact, on many other Sony models), which is to say, it’s of good quality. It isn’t touch-enabled, yet, despite this, the coatings that are used on it make it difficult to see through the inevitable smudges and fingerprints that come with handling small cameras. A familiar array of controls sit to its right.
There’s also the very handy and very high quality pop-up electronic viewfinder. To engage this you need to operate a switch on the side of the camera then pull the eye piece towards you (we wish it would automatically extend like the viewfinder on the Sony RX1R II).
And here’s our gripe. The prospect of a 315-point phase detection autofocus system in such a portable camera is exciting, and yet the controls simply aren’t set up to make the most of it. Should you choose to take control over where you want your AF point to be (or where you want to initiate subject tracking), you are forced to either re-select your focus area from the Fn menu, or assign a button to ‘Focus Standard,’ which then enables you to use the four-way controller to (many clicks later) position your point where you want it.
Personally, we’d rather just have to tap on the screen to do that.
There is sone consolation in the fact that ‘Focus Standard’ is now a toggle: while it’s helpful to have the 4-way controller dedicated to AF point placement, you have to remember to toggle out of this mode if you wish to use any of the other assigned functions, like Drive mode.
Lastly, we wish the RX100 V had inherited an option for the lens control ring to be ‘clicked’ or ‘unclicked,’ like the Canon G7 X Mark II or Sony’s own RX10 III. The ‘unclicked’ nature of this control ring makes it great for manual focus or when shooting video (though that comes with its own set of problems – see the video page for details), but makes for a rather disengaged experience when using it for ‘stepped’ adjustments, like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, or exposure comp. The lack of feedback is a problem as is the lag before it registers that you’re trying to make a change. Also, it could be further damped – we’ve found it’s easy to turn accidentally, and therefore alter settings unintentionally, particularly when handing the camera off to another user.
And for such an important dial (you can’t customize the rotation of the rear dial), we continue to be frustrated by the lack of per-mode customization. For example, you may wish to have the dial control exposure comp in P/A/S modes, but aperture in M mode. Not possible. Speaking of per-mode customization: these cameras would benefit from separate button and Fn menu customizations for stills vs. movie modes, as the set of features you’ll want to access in each may be vastly different.
Taking the good with the bad
If it sounds like we’re being a little harsh on the RX100 V, well, it’s because we are. We collectively find that the capabilities of this camera, which are many in number and impressive in quality, are done a disservice by the lack of direct controls and a cluttered menu system that lacks the updates that came to the a6500 and a99 II. Of course, if you are chiefly looking to use the RX100 V as a point-and-shoot, perhaps just in ‘Wide’ autofocus area mode, where the camera picks the subject for you, you won’t have any problems.
The moment you want to go from ‘auto’ to specifying your focus point, though, you’ll find yourself clicking buttons and interacting with menus and, maybe, missing your decisive moment. Ultimately, the lack of direct control ends up encouraging one to use the camera as a point-and-shoot, which will be great for some, but frustrating for others.
But it isn’t all negative. The RX100 V is, just like its predecessors, built very well, with a minimalist but attractive design. It incorporates a pop-up bounce-able flash, which the Panasonic LX10 lacks, and a pop-up viewfinder, which both the LX10 and Canon’s G7 X II lack, into a body that’s smaller than both of those competitors. That’s quite a feat.
Once you become familiar with the camera, you’ll learn what you can do to work with it quickly and minimize menu dives, but because of limited customization options combined with the sheer volume of features you’ll find yourself wanting to use, there will always be some things that you must dive into a menu for. The RX100 V is small enough to be ‘the best camera that you always have with you,’ but even so, you may find you’re missing moments by just trying to get the camera to do what you want it to do – even if it does shoot full Raw and JPEG files at 24fps.
Performance and image quality
The RX100 series has always been about exceptional image quality in a camera the size of a pack of playing cards, and this latest iteration falls in line with that. Particular attention has been paid to burst shooting and video quality, and stills image quality is largely unchanged from the Mark IV – which is to say it’s still very good.
Our latest test scene simulates both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the ‘lighting’ buttons at the top of the widget switches between the two. The daylight scene is manually white balanced to give neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests. Raw files are manually corrected. We offer three different viewing sizes: ‘Full’, ‘Print’, and ‘Comp’, with the latter two offering ‘normalized’ comparisons by using matched viewing sizes. The ‘Comp’ option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.
The only image quality difference Sony has claimed this time around is that JPEG processing has been tweaked, particularly at the highest ISO values. Accordingly, when looking at the Raw files, there is really no discernible difference in.
, there appears to be a slight tweak to , showing an ever so slight ‘halo’ on high contrast edges vs. the Mark IV, albeit nowhere near as offensive as with . Thankfully, the tweak yields even sharper JPEGs: small details are retained and even , despite similar underlying . It’s fair to say Sony’s sharpening remains , balancing fine detail and microcontrast without overt haloing.
At, noise reduction is more aggressive, tending to . On the other hand, the increased sharpening can yield a slight with the new model – particularly in – albeit at the potential cost of .
In real-world use, I pretty much left the camera in ‘Standard,’ but I did find myself itching to process out the Raws. There’s not much that’s technically wrong with the camera’s JPEG output: indeed Sony’s noise reduction and sharpening are still class-leading. However, default noise reduction can be a bit heavy handed (we suggest setting it to ‘Low’) and JPEG colors still have some issues with comparatively.
Metering in general is spot-on, with histograms generally showing very little clipping despite high-contrast scenes. There’s an exception though: when faces are detected, exposure is often significantly boosted, routinely yielding clipped skies. We’d love to see an option to turn off face-biased metering, but for now you can get around this by turning off face detection and using Eye AF (which doesn’t bias metering). Compared to the IV, will you be able to spot the difference in the real world? Not likely, save for a bit sharper, yet smudgier in low light, JPEGs. The real story is (as Sony has indicated) the outright speed of the RX100 V.
Dynamic range is very good and remains unchanged from the Mark IV, which you can read about here. What’s more, the dynamic range remains the same even during 24 fps burst shooting. The camera’s ‘Dynamic Range Optimizer’ and S-Log2 functions also allow you to make use of this extensive dynamic range in JPEG and video: enable one of these modes and (under)-expose for the highlights, and the camera can dramatically boost shadows to make them visible.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – the RX100 V’s 24fps burst shooting is almost something you have to see to believe. It’s easy to second-guess whether or not you’ve actually hit the shutter because you’re basically watching a movie unfold on the screen – but unfortunately, despite the exciting possibility of being able to essentially shoot (short) clips of 5.5k Raw footage for video, there is no provision for controlling focus versus shutter priority, so the burst rate doesn’t always remain constant at 24 (with a drop in fps with shutter speeds longer than 1/100s).
Thanks to the improved processing in the RX100 V though, you can enter playback immediately after having shot a burst and view the last image the camera has written to the card. You can also now zoom in and check focus, see how many images are left to be written in the upper left corner of the screen, and tap the shutter to go back to shooting more bursts. This alone makes the camera feel much more responsive when shooting action, as opposed to the vague error messages you got on previous models if you tried to enter playback before everything was done writing.
The above video demonstrates Sony’s argument that the RX100 V is the ultimate ‘decisive moment’ camera – the 24fps maximum burst essentially lets you capture a 20MP movie of the scene in front of you, allowing you to get just the moment you’re after.
Unfortunately, you still cannot enter menus or switch from stills to video while the buffer is clearing – which seems strange, given that if you can enter playback and zoom in to check focus while the camera is writing to the card, it seems like you should be able to enter the menus as well. And though the buffer is huge, card write speeds still feel a little pokey when shooting JPEG + Raw.
Which brings us to another complaint we’ve had with the RX100-series since its inception – general operation just doesn’t live up to what this camera should be capable of, and the result is a disconnected experience. Aside from limited functionality while the buffer is clearing (which can take a very long time), if you change any shooting settings during normal operation, and there’s just enough of a lag to be irksome before your changes are reflected on the screen.
Same goes for hitting the the ‘Fn’ or ‘Menu’ buttons. In so many instances, there’s just enough of a hiccup between initiating an action and the camera responding that it’s off-putting. This ‘hiccup’ of course isn’t unique to the RX100-series, nor is it as bad as the original RX100 or G7X, but it is noticeably more pronounced than on competitors like the Canon G7 X Mark II or Panasonic LX10.
Auto ISO and Wi-Fi
Auto ISO control continues to be a strong suit on Sony cameras. You can dictate the ISO range you want, and either set a minimum shutter speed yourself, or let the camera automatically change the minimum threshold depending on your zoom level. Beyond that, you can also bias it faster or slower by one or two stops depending on what you’re shooting. You can even assign a custom button or Fn menu item to directly access the minimum shutter speed setting, which often means we never leave Aperture Priority and simply adjust the minimum shutter speed threshold on-the-fly to account for subject motion.
Also of value is that this excellent Auto ISO behavior carries through to shooting in manual stills and video, which means you can quickly specify your shutter speed (to keep your video from getting ‘juddery’), then specify your aperture (to keep your depth-of-field from changing drastically while shooting), then let camera ‘gain’ up or down depending on the lighting you find yourself in, also allowing for you to bias the Auto ISO behavior through exposure compensation. It’s a capability we’re pleased to see Sony implementing across its consumer camera lineups. Note though that the minimum shutter speed setting is ignored in video if you’re in, say, aperture priority as opposed to fully manual.
The RX100 V has Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC that works well. Transferring images is simple and easy, but like its predecessors, the RX100 V lacks in-camera Raw processing, to let you perfect your images before transfer.
The downside to all the extra processing that Sony has squeezed into the RX100 V is battery life. As shown in the introductory spec table, battery life is impressively bad, at least compared to its peers. The CIPA rating of 220 shots is the same as the Sony RX1R II (which uses the same battery, but a much larger sensor), a camera that, in our experience, struggled to get 100 shots on one battery in colder weather.
It all depends on usage, of course. CIPA testing requires unusually high flash usage and the screen staying on after each shot, which means you’ll often be able to shoot more than the specified number of shots. During very heavy burst shooting during Sony’s RX100 V press event, we were able to net 1500-2500 shots on a single battery, plus some 4K and HFR video clips, possibly because bursts don’t leave the LCD in playback mode for several seconds between each shot. Broadly speaking, the CIPA numbers are comparable between cameras, though.
In short, carry a spare battery or two, be mindful of ambient temperature, and take the battery out if you’re leaving the camera overnight (Sony cameras drain batteries even when off). One important addition though – the RX100 V can run off of USB power (as long as there is a battery in it), so you could also plug it into a USB power bank if needed. It’s an especially handy feature for running long timelapses, so long as you’ve shelled-out the extra $10 required to purchase the required, timelapse app from Sony.
The RX100 V gains a 315-point phase detection autofocus system, which is a first on any 1″-sensor compact that’s ever been released (or shipped, anyway). You may not notice a huge change when shooting stills in Single AF, but it makes a noticeable difference when shooting with continuous autofocus. No more hunting or ‘CDAF wobble’. Initial acquisition speed is blazing fast in the auto ‘Wide’ AF area mode. The system can keep up with your subject even if you’re at the full 24fps burst speed. Of course, this is so long as you’ve had the camera successfully lock onto your subject, or are following the subject yourself with ‘Center’ or ‘Flexible Spot’ modes. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to follow your subject since you’re viewing a 24 fps, movie-esque feed during bursts.
The RX100 V’s AF system is, in terms of options, identical to its predecessor. There are five different focus area modes:
- Wide – this setting analyzes the full scene in front of you and will automatically choose where to initiate focus. It prioritizes faces when face detection is on.
- Center – This setting uses a box in the center of the frame to focus.
- Flexible Spot – this allows you to use a box of three preset sizes that you can manually move around the screen to choose your point of focus. You can place it in the center of the frame, obviously, rendering the ‘Center’ area mode redundant.
- Expand Flexible Spot – this mode uses a central AF point, and utilizes surrounding ‘helper’ points to maintain focus on your intended subject. You can move this cluster around the frame, like you can in Flexible Spot.
- Lock-on AF – This can only be used in continuous AF mode and offers all the other autofocus area modes as sub-options. This can be very confusing, and occasionally, redundant.
Some area modes, like Wide, behave exactly the same whether you choose it under the ‘Lock-on’ sub-menu, or just choose it on its own. Others, such as ‘Flexible Spot,’ behave very differently – under Lock-on, it will attempt to identify a subject to track around the frame, but if you select it on its own (not Lock-on), it behaves more or less like single-point continuous AF.
Here’s a hint to Sony: get rid of ‘Center’ which is just a special case of ‘Flexible Spot’, and get rid of all different sizes of Flexible Spot under ‘Lock-on AF’, since it tends to ignore your chosen setting anyway. And why does ‘Lock-on AF’ have a ‘Wide’ option anyway? You use Lock-on to specify a subject, you use ‘Wide’ not to – there isn’t a single situation you’d want to use them together, as their intents are orthogonal. More menu items means more stuff to sift through till you arrive at your desired setting; when you’re sifting through items no one uses, you’re wasting valuable user interface real estate!
On top of all of this, there’s Face Detection, which is turned on/off separately and can be assigned to the Fn menu. This will indicate any faces that the camera has detected in the scene but the camera will only focus on these faces if your chosen focus area mode overlaps with or is near the face (so an off-center face won’t be prioritized over the subject in the middle of the frame, if you’re in Center AF area mode, for instance). There’s also an option to teach the camera specific faces, which it will then prioritize over unknown faces. You can even prioritize which faces it should prioritize over others. In real-world usage though, this isn’t a terribly reliable way to tell the camera which person to focus on; we generally have better luck indicating which face we’re interested in on-the-fly using Eye AF with the center point and recomposing in AF-C.
Eye AF is available in both single and continuous AF, even when shooting with continuous drive at 24 fps (it’s really something to behold). To use this mode, you’ll need to assign Eye AF to one of the camera’s precious few custom buttons. In AF-S mode, it will highlight an eye for around 1 second as the eye is focused on. Eye AF is eminently more usable in AF-C mode, where pressing and holding your assigned Eye AF button will find and follow the eye nearest your selected AF point, or simply the nearest eye the camera can find in the scene in ‘Wide’ area mode. Frustratingly, Sony’s Eye AF algorithm continues to ignore your initial subject if it loses it even for a split second. Eye AF does not require Face Detection to be engaged to work.
Vestigial ‘Center Lock-on AF’
Just to add a further level of complexity, the camera still offers Center Lock-on AF as a separate function (not to be confused with the Lock-on AF Center AF area mode, with which it’s incompatible). So far is we can tell, this is a vestigial feature that dates back to before Sony got the far more usable Lock-on AF area mode (triggered with a simple half-press of the shutter button) worked out.
The Center Lock-on AF function is locked onto a subject by pressing the central button on the back of the camera and presumably remains in the camera because it’s the only tracking AF mode available while in movie mode – which is something we really wish would change. There’s no reason for Lock-on AF area mode to be unavailable in video, and it’s particularly a shame because of how user-unfriendly Center Lock-on AF is: you’ll have to either assign it to a custom button or Fn menu, then turn it on, then press the center back button to initiate subject tracking.
The phase detection difference – or lack thereof
As with other Sony cameras with phase detection, the RX100 V uses a hybrid approach to autofocus when in AF-S (single AF) mode. This means there’s a focus ‘hunt’ (which is still quite rapid), as the camera uses phase detection followed by contrast detection to ensure accurate focus.
However, when in AF-C and certain area modes, AF can be nigh instantaneous, indicating that, unless the camera fails to find focus right away, the contrast-detect ‘hunt’ is skipped, prioritizing the phase detection data from the new system. Given the accuracy of Sony’s on-sensor phase-detect system, we wonder why Sony doesn’t skip the contrast step in AF-S as well.
Unfortunately, the phase detection system has not helped the dependability ofacquiring a subject in Lock-on AF in continuous autofocus. Often, we simply had better luck leaving the camera on ‘Wide’ and allowing it to choose a subject to track – which it does nearly instantaneously. When we tried to use the Lock-on: Center or Lock-on: Flexible Spot AF areas, the camera would often result in a lag before initiating tracking, presumably because object recognition is trying to figure out what it is in your AF area it’s meant to track. More often than we’d like, Lock-on even ignored the subject under our AF point, immediately jumping off to another subject somewhere else in the frame.
To put this in perspective, Canon’s iTR is often just as unreliable tracking subjects in complex scenes, but that’s our point: like iTR, once you drop below a threshold of reliability, you just don’t use it. With the image sensor available for object recognition, we expect better subject tracking – perhaps on par with the camera’s own Eye AF tracking ability or, ideally, something as good as Nikon’s 3D tracking.
With some caveats, the RX100 V can keep up with moving subjects ably, whether you keep a manually positioned ‘Flexible Spot’ over your subject, or let the camera do its own tracking, and whether you’re shooting single frames or around 24 frames every second. Here’s what that looks like when you make it into a video and have it loop a few times.
Perhaps most notably, autofocus performance doesn’t seem to change whether you’re shooting at the mid-burst rate of 10fps, or at the max of 24fps. That means the AF algorithms are working fast, thanks in no small part to the stacked sensor and front-end LSI that helps siphon data off the image sensor at incredible speeds.
Real world performance
The obvious benefit to having a camera that can autofocus during incredible bursts like the RX100 V is that you have the opportunity to catch just the right moment at just the right time. Of course, that the lens only goes to 70mm means this isn’t the best camera for shooting sports from the sidelines, but for, say, photographing an excitable child, it’s a godsend. Just point. And. Shoot.
So while it’s a shame that Lock-On is still kind of a pain, shooting the RX100 V in ‘Wide’ AF area mode with face detection, or jamming the Eye AF button in AF-C, was easy and performed very well. So well as to challenge some of the best DSLRs.
The RX100 V isn’t just great for parental photographers: hard drive and memory card manufacturers are going to like it, too. During Sony’s shooting event in New York after the RX100 V’s announcement, we captured almost three thousand images on one card (and one battery) in less than two hours. Yikes. One of us even turned the camera down to its ‘mid’ burst rate of 10fps, which was often fast enough.
In keeping with the theme of this review, the Sony RX100 V shoots all the same video modes as its predecessor, but takes some significant steps forward behind the scenes. Class-leading features like S-Log2 for massive dynamic range capture, focus peaking, and zebras are present in the Mark V, but in terms of improvements, most notably, 4K video is now oversampled from 5K footage. This results in beautifully detailed clips that will challenge dedicated video cameras costing 10x as much as this little pocket wonder. As an added bonus, Sony’s claimed that this is as close to a global shutter as they’ve ever achieved in a consumer camera, and it shows in the drastically improved rolling shutter performance in 4K.
Of note for some users will be the five minute recording limit in 4K, to prevent overheating. While this obviously limits the RX100 V’s appeal as an ‘interview’ camera, it won’t impact the vast majority of users. Note, though, we did have one instance of a heat warning while shooting multiple clips of HFR and 1080/120p in a warm band practice room. Your mileage may vary.
Rolling shutter comparison
The RX100 V has dramatically improved rolling shutter performance over the Mark IV when shooting 4K. While you can clearly see this in the scrappy sample clip below, it will be even more apparent in your real-world capture, with (hand-held clips especially) will exhibit far less distracting ‘jello’ effect. Which means you can mount this little baby on a drone and capture some incredible aerial footage.
Autofocus in video
One big benefit to having on-sensor phase detection autofocus is that autofocus can be more decisive when shooting videos. That basically means that you will see the camera ‘hunting’ for accurate focus far less than in previous models, which admittedly already controlled that behavior rather well. What’s particularly great about the RX100 V, though, is it doesn’t exhibit the tendency to shoot off and focus on the background (like the a7R II), instead smoothly maintaining focus on nearby subjects.
Unfortunately, the lack of a touchscreen makes choosing your initial subject and initiating any form of subject tracking somewhat difficult. It can be done, but it requires some more button pressing (and, therefore, camera shake) than you would require on the touchscreen-wielding Panasonic LX10. Matters are made worse by the – at this point inexcusable – fact that only ‘Center Lock-on AF’ is available for subject tracking, not ‘Lock-on AF’. You do, though, have control over the speed of focus acquisition and its sensitivity to re-focus should an obstacle appear between you and your subject, which are thoughtful details.
We found we had best results when sticking to ‘Wide’ AF area in AF-C, and generally letting the camera just control the focusing. If you’re noticing a theme here in our review, you’re correct: the RX100 V functions best as a point-and-shoot, encouraging you to relinquish all control. That’s both a good and bad thing, because the completely auto ‘Wide’ AF area mode doesn’t give you any indication of what exactly the camera is choosing to focus on but, thankfully, using Face Detection for clips of people, and generally trusting the camera for other scenes, worked out remarkably well. As a continuing theme, its only when you want (or need) to take greater control over the camera does it pose a problem.
Manual and single focus in video
Another aspect of the RX100-series that continues to irk us concerns manual focus in video. In stills shooting, the camera defaults to magnifying the view as you turn the manual focus ring either in manual focus mode. Unfortunately, that behavior is not enabled when shooting video, which makes sense if you’ve got focus peaking enabled, but forces you to reassign a function button to magnify focus for critical focus, which then becomes redundant when you switch back to shooting stills, as you can’t set up the camera with separate sets of button functions for stills and video. Dear Sony: we’re still waiting for per-mode button and Fn menu customization. #facepalm.
As far as Single AF, there simply isn’t an option for it on the RX100 V, which is a bit frustrating. The use-case here is that you could simply autofocus once on your chosen subject, then re-compose and hold the camera without worrying that it will try to re-acquire focus and potentially mess up your footage. It would effectively provide the ‘one push autofocus’ offered on more video-focused cameras.
High Frame Rate video
Sony’s HFR mode, which stands for ‘high frame-rate video,’ can be a little difficult to get used to at first, but is capable of absolutely staggering slow-motion clips. The mode creates slow-motion clips from high-speed footage, captured at lower resolution and then upscaled to 1080 (save for 120p, technically not an HFR mode, that captures at Full HD but requires you to slow down and conform the footage after-the-fact).
The capture resolution at the 240fps setting gets you very, very close to native 1080p footage (see crop factors for various HFR frame rates here), and the results just speak for themselves, with either 8x or 10x slow motion depending on your chosen playback rate. If you’re okay with less resolution, you can go even slower, and the new buffer on the RX100 V means you can record clips twice as long as you could on the Mark IV. The RX100 V’s performance in this regard, despite the somewhat awkward nature of HFR’s activation, only adds to the ‘caught moment’ appeal of this camera, so long as you can set it up in time to catch the moment in front of you.
In case you couldn’t tell, much of this review has been a bit of a battle between the spec sheet and real-world use, and between being impressed by the capability but let down by the experience. Just going by the specifications, the RX100 V is a peerless beast despite its petite dimensions – we wouldn’t argue with that in any way. The real problem starts with that second bullet in the ‘Cons’ list – that there are limitations imposed on the user by the controls, customization and user experience that discourage the full use of what is an incredible feature set.
In fact, many of us in the office simply resorted to using the RX100 V as a point-and-shoot, because that’s what its user interface – or lack thereof – encourages. Depending on the user, that can be both a good and bad thing.
Ergonomics and controls are a subjective matter, and this usability concern all but disappears if you do end up using the RX100 V as more or less a point-and-shoot – and you’ll consistently get good results doing so. And while it’s fair to say that a large group of people will use the camera this way and be perfectly happy, some users (DSLR/ILC owners wanting a second body, perhaps) will want to take more control, and that’s precisely where the RX100 V falters.
For example, when you want to change your AF area mode, simple AF point placement, take manual control over stills or video, or take some quick HFR clips or timelapses, there’s no arguing that the camera just doesn’t make it all that easy for you to do so. You’ll find yourself click-click-clicking away at a subtly laggy user interface.
Its closest rivals (other than the still-current RX100 IV) are Canon’s G7 X Mark II and Panasonic’s LX10. Both of those cameras come with touchscreens, which makes their autofocus systems much easier to use, despite the fact that the Sony’s system is without question far more advanced. They’re also more comfortable in the hand, offer better battery life and much better external controls. But of course, neither shoots 24 frames per second, nor continuously focus as fast or as well, nor offer oversampled 4K video capture with minimal rolling shutter, though they are both significantly cheaper than the RX100 V.
Body, ergonomics and controls
The Sony RX100 V shares the same dimensions and nearly the same weight as the Mark IV and III versions. It remains shirt-pocketable, with a minimalist but attractive design, and feels well-built and dense. The pop-up electronic viewfinder is very good and makes shooting in bright sun a joy, and the bounceable pop-up flash is great for when you need some fill.
We would have liked to see the lens control ring have an option for ‘clicky’ and ‘clickless,’ like the Canon G7 X Mark II and Sony’s own RX10 III, and find the controls are still too few and too small. You might argue that’s the price to pay for having a camera that’s this small, but the G7 X II is only fractionally bigger, includes a dedicated exposure compensation dial and a touchscreen and dials that are customizable per-mode and a usefully longer lens to boot (though, yes, you lose some niceties such as the pop-up EVF).
And with this being the first 1″-sensor compact you can buy with phase-detection autofocus, we’d love to be able to use a touchscreen to take better advantage of the 315 AF points at your disposal.
Performance and image quality
This is where where Sony really concentrated their efforts in the RX100 V. With extra processing power from the ‘Front-end LSI,’ the camera is now capable of 24fps burst shooting with full autofocus and autoexposure for 150 JPEGs or ~60 Raw + JPEGs. There isn’t a seasoned DSLR in the world that can accomplish this. You can now instantly review the latest image the camera has written to the card, and check focus at 100% instead of receiving some obfuscating error message. You can’t enter menus or change from stills to video while the buffer is clearing, though, which can still take a while, even with very fast cards.
Unfortunately, all that extra performance coincides with a 20% drop in rated battery life, landing it near the bottom of the competition in this regard. And while it’s true that none of the RX100 V’s competition has anywhere near this camera’s burst shooting capabilities, another problem remains in that the RX100 V doesn’t really feel appreciably faster in general operation despite the increase in processing power. Hitting the ‘Menu’ or ‘Fn’ buttons, loading up apps like the Timelapse app, or even just changing your shooting settings results in a disconnecting ‘hiccup’ before you see anything change on the screen. This isn’t unique to the RX100 V, but it is just enough of a lag to be irksome on a camera that can shoot so many frames so quickly.
Image quality is all but identical to the previous model with a few tweaks. The highest ISO values show a slight improvement in terms of detail retention of higher contrast subjects, but go somewhat backwards with heavy-handed noise reduction leading to cell-phone quality-esque images at default settings. Easily solvable: just set ‘High ISO NR’ to ‘Low’. Raw files continue to be impressively flexible given the sensor size, thanks to the incredibly efficient yet low-noise sensor.
Be aware that the ‘Standard’ profile can result in JPEGs that lack ‘punch’ when DRO settings are high (though this is a good thing in contrast scenes you underexpose). It’s best to experiment and find a setting that suits you – ‘Vivid’ results in more ‘pop’ right out of the camera. Even so, we almost always preferred editing Raw files to the out-of-camera JPEGs, thanks to Sony’s continued knack for greenish yellows and bluish greens which, needless to say, none of us in the office are fans of.
The autofocus system has been completely revamped. You get a 315-point phase detection system that is able to keep up with and track subjects even if you’re motoring away at the 24fps burst setting. It’s capable of truly impressive performance, and the extra decisiveness (read: almost no hunting) in video is a nice plus.
On the flipside, Sony’s autofocus options are still a confusing mess, with a number of AF area modes that are all duplicated under a sub-option called Lock-on AF when you’re using continuous autofocus. In fact, Lock-on AF continues to be somewhat unreliable when it comes to actually locking on to your subject, but once you do get it to lock on, it will track impressively well, unless it loses your subject. Couple all of this with the presence of some redundancies with regards to your AF area modes, and you can see that there’s plenty that could be tweaked and streamlined.
Lastly, it’d be nice to have Eye AF as an option that supplements Face Detection, rather than requiring it to be assigned to one of the RX100 V’s limited function buttons (why not have it simply assigned to shutter half-press while honoring your chosen AF area?). Overall, then, we were excited by the prospect of a highly capable PDAF system in such a portable package, but the controls and settings don’t make it easy to take full advantage of all the system has to offer. Unless, of course, you just use the camera as… a… you guessed it: point-and-shoot.
The final word
There’s no question that the RX100 V builds on its predecessor in many measurable ways, and the RX100 IV was already class-leading in many respects. The Mark V shoots faster bursts, has a vastly improved autofocus system, and its 4K video is something you’d expect to see from a camera that’s many times its size. But we can’t help but wonder whether it’s about time Sony shifted gears a bit.
We have the same body, screen (that isn’t touch-enabled), controls, GUI and battery as we’ve seen before. We’re now seeing competing models from the likes of Canon and Panasonic surpass the RX100-series with respect to these qualities, though admittedly, some of those are inherently subjective.
In terms of sheer capability, then? This RX100 V is absolutely a gold. But a camera is, and should be, far more than just the capabilities set out in its spec sheet.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V
|Max resolution||5472 x 3648|
|Other resolutions||3:2 (3888 x 2592, 2736 x 1824), 4:3 (4864 x 3648, 3648 x 2736, 2592 x 1944), 16:9 (5472 x 3080, 3648 x 2056, 2720 x 1528), 1:1 (3648 x 3648, 2544 x 2544, 1920 x 1920)|
|Image ratio w:h||1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9|
|Effective pixels||20 megapixels|
|Sensor photo detectors||21 megapixels|
|Sensor size||1″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm)|
|Boosted ISO (minimum)||80|
|Boosted ISO (maximum)||25600|
|White balance presets||9|
|Custom white balance||Yes|
|JPEG quality levels||Extra fine, fine, standard|
|Optics & Focus|
|Focal length (equiv.)||24–70 mm|
|Digital zoom||Yes (3.8x)|
|Normal focus range||5 cm (1.97″)|
|Macro focus range||5 cm (1.97″)|
|Number of focus points||315|
|Screen / viewfinder|
|Screen type||TFT LCD|
|Minimum shutter speed||30 sec|
|Maximum shutter speed||1/2000 sec|
|Maximum shutter speed (electronic)||1/32000 sec|
|Manual exposure mode||Yes|
|Subject / scene modes||Yes|
|Flash range||10.20 m (at Auto ISO)|
|Continuous drive||24.0 fps|
|Exposure compensation||±3 (at 1/3 EV steps)|
|AE Bracketing||±3 (3 frames )|
|Format||MPEG-4, AVCHD, XAVC S|
|Storage types||SD/ SDHC/SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo/ Pro-HG Duo|
|USB||USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)|
|HDMI||Yes (micro-HDMI with uncompressed 4K/30p output)|
|Wireless notes||802.11b/g/n with NFC|
|Remote control||Yes (wired or smartphone)|
|Battery description||NP-BX1 lithium-ion battery & USB charger|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||220|
|Weight (inc. batteries)||299 g (0.66 lb / 10.55 oz)|
|Dimensions||102 x 58 x 41 mm (4.02 x 2.28 x 1.61″)|