Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Game Changer

From time to time a new gadget comes out to shuffle the deck and change the way we regard things. The most classic examples I can give is the iPhone: mobile phones are not the same since the iPhone, particularly the iPhone 3, came out. It now seems to me like Sony has an ace on its hands that might reshuffle the deck for compact cameras.
The Sony DXC-RX100 is the culprit. As dpreview mentions here, this is no ordinary compact camera: in addition to all the rest of the stuff one would expect from a compact camera designed to appeal to the more enthusiastic photographer that likes to take control of their photos (as opposed to compact cameras designed to operate automatically), the RX-100 has a fairly big sensor. It's much larger than the usual fingernail sized sensor one normally gets in compact cameras: it's more comparable to the sensor in the four-thirds category and it wouldn't feel too bad next to a normal APS sized digital SLR.
This large sensor means the camera can get away with a 20 mega-pixel resolution without too much noise. It also means the camera is able to have better depth separation (backgrounds more blurry than the subjects), as opposed to the "everything sharp" look one always gets with compact cameras. It can take up to ten photos a second, too. In short, what one has on their hands with the RX100 is a camera that performs not unlike an SLR but costs much less and - wait for it - would comfortably fit in one's pocket. To that I will say: Wow!
No, SLRs are not dead. Yet. The RX100 is still fairly limited by its lens. And no, the RX100 will probably not revive the compact camera market in this age where the people have had their say and found their preferred camera to be that of their smartphone (the most popular camera on Flickr, for example, is the iPhone).
However, if one is looking for a compact camera and one can afford to spend a bit more than your average compact's price, then one has few reasons to settle for less than the Sony. The same goes for the enthusiast: the reality is that for the bulk of occasions, the RX100 will do just as well as an SLR without breaking the back and the bank.
Between the mirror-less revolution and now the compact RX-100, I strongly suspect my current SLR is also going to be my last SLR ever.



Image: Sony

12 comments:

wile.e.coyote said...

Looks great camera for my needs (going on vacations from time to time and the 8MB Samsung Camera is not enough)
Currently use Sony compact camera 10MB which is about 5 years old.
Only issue is the price, up here is cost 3200 NIS (20MB + big sensor Exmor® 1” CMOS sensor)
Previous generation costs less 800 - 1500 NIS (16MB + 1/2.3” Super HAD™ CCD image sensor)
Not sure if is worth it for me

Moshe Reuveni said...

In my opinion, the larger sensor makes a big difference. I hate the "in your face" quality you get with photos taken on a smaller sensor.
I'm out of touch with the way things work in Israel, but I wonder: in Australia you can get companies to gray import stuff for you (you only pay the postage). You can get the new Sony for $600 or so in the USA. Can you get the camera this way?
Assuming you can't, I can certainly appreciate your money concerns. I wouldn't recommend the older model, though: if it's a compact camera that you're after (smaller sensor alert!), then there are some better ones out there aimed at the photographer (as opposed to the snapshot taker) from the likes of Canon (G series). Canon also has the G1X with a larger sensor. Alternatively, you can try the Olympus Pen four-thirds offerings, but these will probably be more expensive.
Then again, you're asking the wrong person. I would tell you that in the ideal world you would still get an SLR.

Moshe Reuveni said...

The dpexpert review came in today, saying pretty much what I did and even copying my headline:
http://dpexpert.com.au/?p=1606

And another note for wile:
Have a look at the table of competitors to this camera that dpreview provided at http://www.dpreview.com/previews/sony-dsc-rx100
It should allow you to identify an good alternative you can afford. Personally, however, I don't think there is any other compact camera I would put my money on at the moment (unless some very specific requirements present themselves).

wile.e.coyote said...

I’m not such a big photographer fan, 80% of the photo I take are from my 8MB phone camera which usually present poor results but are enough for my day to day needs
I only carry my Sony Cyber-shot dsc-w something (10MB, 1/2.3 sensor) in my pocket when I’m on some kind of a vacation/business trip (don’t know the exact model number as it is now on its way to the top of the Kilimanjaro).
As of that the main factor for me is accessibility, if it is located in my left front jeans pocket, there is a chance I will do the photo, otherwise I will leave it at the hotel and use the phone.
This RX100 seems to be a big bigger than my dsc-w something, but will still seat well in my pocket (or I’m just happy to see you)
If you say this is the best for this size, I will grab one on my next trip to the states

Moshe Reuveni said...

Now I understand enough about your requirements to know that I am talking apples and you are talking oranges. I don't know much about cameras of the type you are after; I tend to dismiss them as toys. I don't see myself carrying one of those anyway: my phone will probably do.
I therefore don't have any specific recommendations. You can look into cameras with bigger zooms (although these will offer blurry results most of the time), you can look in dpreview for recommendations, but you shouldn't look at me because I just don't know.
The RX100 is a good camera, but if you're after something that would fit your pocket and your wallet you should look elsewhere. I'm sure Canon and Panasonic would love to have your money.

wile.e.coyote said...

Maybe I should save some additional $s and go for the DSC-RX1?
It is just X 6 expensive and have the ~same size as the DSC-RX100.
I guess that the main diff is the sensor size again.
This time it is the full frame version

Moshe Reuveni said...

I don't know if you're serious or not, but assuming you are:
The RX1 is intended for pros. It's got a fixed 35mm lens you probably won't find too practical. And yes, it's stupidly expensive: it competes with the likes of Leica.
That said, its importance is in showing us the future - there is no reason why large sensors cannot be fitted to a compact camera.

Haim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wile.e.coyote said...

I know how to understand how additional MB makes the image better and it is clear to see it
I know that the images I get on the mobile device does not look as good as the simple compact camera I have (same MB)
It is hard to understand what is the benefit to increase the sensor from 1/2.3” into 1” and into 35MM to the image
Does increase MB from 5MB to 20MB is the same is double the sensor size? Really don’t understand

Moshe Reuveni said...

First, you appear to be confusing the megabyte count of the picture file with the sensor’s megapixel count. The former is a result of the latter, sure, but the amount of compression (and loss of detail) that’s applied has a lot to say, too.
With that out of the way, let’s go back to the basics as I try to answer the question of what difference does the megapixel count makes in comparison to the difference the sensor size makes.
Generally speaking, the potential quality of a digital camera is derived from three main components: the lens, the sensor and the digital processing of the sensor’s input. The lens’ quality explains a lot about why camera photos are almost always better than a mobile phone’s photos.
Focusing on the sensor, the amount of pixels on the sensor – that megapixel count – determines the resolution of the photo. The more you have, the more you can crop out of the photo to keep the bits you’re really interested in and the more you can blow the picture up and print it on large paper but still have a nice image to look at. That said, the megapixel count is grossly overrated: my 2004 spec Nikon D70 SLR, with its meagre 6MP count, easily beats anything coming at it from compact cameras (not to mention mobile phones) with double the pixels. The problem is that megapixels, being a single number, are easy for marketing departments to push on us.
Why is the old Nikon better? For several reasons, one amongst which is the sensor size. You need to understand how the typical sensor works: it’s a chip with light sensing diodes covering it, each sensitive to either red, green or blue. That is, each pixel is a binary toggle that says something like “I’m feeling red” or “I’m not feeling red”. How the camera takes the inputs of its array of pixels and converts it into a nice picture is all to do with special propriety algorithms that each camera manufacturer comes up with.
Now that you know how a sensor works, think what happens when you cram more and more pixels into the same area: it becomes harder and harder for the camera to apply its algorithms and determine what the picture is like. In other words, you get noise! The easiest way to lower this noise is to enlarge the sensor (that’s what Sony is doing); the other way is to limit the number of megapixels, which Canon did with its G series of compacts when it took the count down on some of its newer models.
Another effect of a larger sensor size is to do with optics. The larger the sensor the more you can play with depth of field effects, as in – have the main object focused but the rest blurry. It’s a very nice effect that you can’t get with a small sensor, where everything looks flat – and dead boring.
Hope I’ve answered your question!

wile.e.coyote said...

I think I got over this part. What is hard to do is the quantification.
I can feel what will it do to a camera if I will double the amount of MB (amount of pixels on the sensor), if I take the same camera and double the MB, I will be able to print it on a double size paper (ignoring the added noise)
Now how can I compare it to changing the same camera sensor size from the current 1/2.3” to the 1" sensor size, what is the quality improvement will that do?
Will I get the same great quality with the DSC-RX100 (20MB+1") that you are getting from your 2004's Nikon D70 SLR (6MB)

Moshe Reuveni said...

The short answer is: you can't. I can add that your life would greatly improve if you were to stop trying.
The long answer is that things are not so simple. Comparing the Sony with the Nikon D70, it is obvious the Sony's sensor is superior (even though it is smaller). On the other hand, the Nikon allows you to fit a $5000 professional lens while the Sony is stuck with its stock lens. On the processing side, the Nikon is stuck in the past but it still allows you to take your photos in RAW and process them using the latest and greatest.
There is no quantification here to help you. What you can do is compare one package to another and make your own mind up, based on your budget and requirements.