Sony’s original RX100 was one of those bits of camera gear that just nailed it on the first try. The idea is simple: Cram a quasi-professional set of features and good-quality glass into a camera you can fit in your pocket.
The product has been part of Sony’s lineup for a long time, so long that it’s part of the Cyber-shot family and from a time when “cyber” seemed like a cool thing to be called. Now on the sixth iteration, the Sony RX100 VI (technically the Cyber-shot RX100 VI, but no one says the Cyber-shot part) is still a great camera with the same simple idea. Take one helping of pro features, one handful of great optics, stir them together and pour into a teeny package.
This sixth iteration of the camera adds a longer zoom lens, much faster AF, 24 fps burst shooting and better 4K video capabilities, plus some tweaks to the user experience. Somehow Sony managed to add all of this in a body that’s the same size in all but one dimension than the RX100 V.
Even with updates, or perhaps because of them, this camera is still full of compromises, as is any camera in the compact space. It’s also a particularly expensive compact camera—it’s the king of the “premium” compact camera line—with a retail price of around $1,200. Before you stop reading, though, keep in mind that this camera offers image quality and features found in much bigger systems, and it fits in your pocket.
The RX100 VI’s main selling point is the (35mm-equivalent) 24-200mm lens, one that carries the same Zeiss branding as the lens in the previous RX100 V. This lens has a variable maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/4.5. The RX100 V had a 24-70mm lens with a faster ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture range. Having that extra stop at the wide end was nice, but it’s not a deal breaker.
The built-in stabilization on the RX100 VI compensates well for the extra length of the lens. I didn’t notice any lens blur associated with holding the camera outstretched at the long end of the zoom in good lighting.
Sony has put the same resolution sensor in the RX100 V but steps up the continuous shooting capabilities to 24 fps. Sony claims a 233 JPEG image buffer, but in my testing, the camera buffer filled up rather quickly. The 233 image spec is likely based on standard JPEG size, and I shot mostly the highest JPEG setting for the best-looking images.
Impressively—and this is the explanation for the non-optical portion of the camera’s price—it can perform continuous AF and AE even at 24 fps. That’s a feat that most pro and enthusiast cameras can’t match, with focus and exposure locking at the first shot’s settings to take high-frame-rate shots. Focus is preternaturally good, with the system easily able to track faces and subjects. Sony set up tests for us with street performers doing acrobatics, and the camera missed nary a shot.
The pop-up EVF on the RX100 VI now borrows a trick from the Sony RX1R II. The previous EVF required the user pull out part of the viewfinder to move it into place for use. The new RX100 VI instead pops up fully in place. The time savings is big enough that I rely primarily on the EVF now, not having to fiddle with it to get it working.
The RX100 VI has also improved the 4K functionality, and I suspect this is part of the reason for the existence of this new camera. Sony has added its 4K HDR mode called HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) to the camera, which gives it the same high dynamic range capabilities as the company’s newest Alpha mirrorless cameras, and the same as the company’s new 4K and cine cameras. You could take footage from an RX100 VI and match it easily in post-production, allowing this camera to be used as a B-camera in a pinch. The 4K footage is shot at 5.5k at 100Mbps (translation—you get a really high-quality 4K image) and up to 30p. The camera also can capture slo-mo at up to 120fps.
A Few Misses
As I mentioned, there are some tradeoffs any time you add features to a system. There are two issues for me that reduce the effectiveness of the RX100 VI. The first is that the built-in ND filter from the fifth-gen camera has been left out of this sixth-gen model, and I think that’s a shame. While the majority of users likely never even knew it was there, it was extremely useful for those of us who did. The ND filter allowed the RX100 V to capture images in super-bright scenes, the kind of on-location shooting a tiny little camera might encounter.
For video users, another miss is the lack of a microphone jack. The company has worked on positioning this camera as a perfect vlogging unit, but without a microphone jack, shooters have to rely on the built-in mics (not a great choice) or an external recorder (an even worse choice) to capture high-quality audio. It seems odd to give users a camera that can create top-end video but completely ignore audio.
While the screen is more versatile than previous models, it’s still not as versatile as some competing cameras. It can flip up for selfie shots, but the camera body covers some of the bottom of the frame. An LCD screen that could flip out to the side would be a great solution; perhaps we will see that on a future camera.
The LCD screen now (finally) has touch focus and touch shutter, but the resolution of the screen has dipped a bit, from 1.3M dots to 921k. In practice, I didn’t notice any lower of a quality image on playback, but going backward on camera specs is always disappointing.
In a final caveat, the battery life of the RX100 VI was underwhelming when shooting bursts. The press assembled at the Sony event had batteries die in the middle of testing the burst photo capabilities over and over. It could be argued that the average shooter won’t use the camera as much at high speed as we did, but a parent at a kid’s sporting event could easily exhaust the battery. Bring some spares.
The image quality on the RX100 VI is, like the preceding models, excellent. I shot the RX100 VI at the same time as testing the a7R III with the Tamron 28-75mm lens, and until I zoom in on the images, it’s hard to tell them apart. The quality of Sony’s 1-inch stacked CMOS sensor is well known, and the photos from the RX100 VI are at least as good as previous models.
After discussing the drawbacks, I think it’s important to talk about the fact that at the end of the day, it’s the image that counts. The whole idea of the premium compact market is to try and create a great image in a camera that’s ultra-transportable, and in that the Sony RX100 VI succeeds. I’d rather have the image quality of the RX100 VI over the battery power of another system any day.
The RX100 VI is rather expensive, but it’s also targeting a specific customer, one who wants to have a camera with them all the times that provides the utmost flexibility and the best image quality for the camera’s size, and for that the RX100 VI is worth every penny.