Monday, 6 January 2014

Size Matters, and Smaller Is Better

I have been using the compact Sony RX100 camera for several months now, and through time and opportunities managed to use it under various circumstances. Enough circumstances for me to be able to compare it to an APS sensor equipped digital SLR. In my case, the comparison is between the 2012 model RX100 and my 2009 model Pentax K-7 SLR.
So here goes.

If you want the executive summary, then here it is: The RX100 can do everything an SLR can, with the notable exception of being able to change lenses. In other words, anything a non professional user would want to do with their SLR, with the exception of zoom photography, can be achieved with the compact, almost pocket grade, RX100.
Quality wise, the RX100 shows how much of an advantage three years of technological development can provide. Generally speaking, the quality of photos taken with this camera is superior to that of my K-7. Obviously, the Sony's lens does not let it down. If that is not enough, its video performance trounces that of the older SLR.
From RAW photography through HDR, being able to take 10 photos a second, high sensitivity ISO settings that are still usable and entirely manual photo taking (including long exposures that are usually the sole realm of the SLR), the Sony does it all. And again, it does it in a very small package.
While the Pentax has a wonderful user interface that allowed me to quickly change its settings to my liking, the Sony features programmable dials and buttons that allow me to essentially achieve the same (albeit after a bit more fiddling around).

The RX100 does have its issues, although I am of the opinion these are all relatively easy to live with.
First and foremost, there is the lack of a viewfinder. This means that under bright conditions (read: the Australian outdoors) it is often hard to tell exactly what is being shot. Second, I find its macro performance rather lacking; compared to my Pentax, I find myself having to hold the camera further back than I would have liked in order for it to be able to focus. Then again, when it comes to macro photography my iPhone shines. And third, its fastest shutter speed of 1/2000 has been known to limit me from choosing the large aperture I wanted to use.
There is another disadvantage, a rather silly one: the RX100 is so small that I have already dropped it once, something that never happened to me during all the years of SLR photography. I strongly suspect the Sony's end of life will not come through superior technology making me stop using it, but rather through it crash landing somewhere while being used.
And that's it for disadvantages.

The verdict is thus clear. For non professional uses, I really do not see any justification for dragging an SLR along with me anymore. The difference in bulk and weight when going out is astounding, yet the difference in quality is still in favour of the smaller package. Oh, and price as well.
Just like the tablet is killing the desktop and its sexier sibling, the laptop, the large[r] sensor compact camera should and will kill the hobby grade SLR.
Thus if you were to ask me for my camera purchasing recommendations, then here they are:

  1. If you are after the ultimate in quality, go for a full size sensor camera. Sony has new smaller sized offerings there, but to date not a wide range of lenses to support their two cameras. It's therefore the usual Nikon/Canon story, or wait for Sony to revolutionise this niche as well.
  2. If changeable lenses are mandatory yet going full sensor is too expensive, then the Four Thirds system is the way to go. Olympus in particular has some very cool looking offerings there. The alternative, in the shape of the Sony NEX system, is somewhat less convincing.
  3. Last, but not least - and obviously my personal choice: If the "normal" lens that does 95% of the photos anyone takes is enough for you, there is no reason in the world the RX100 would not do great things in your service.

In my view, matters are very clear: the Sony RX100 is not only the best compact camera around, it is also the best camera around. And that's all I am trying to say with this post.

Image by FUWEWE1119, Creative Commons licence


wile.e.coyote said...

In the old country they sell the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 for 2K NIS and the Sony CyberShot DSC-RX100 ,II for 3K NIS.
Does the added features worth the additional 50% in price?

Moshe Reuveni said...

Obviously, I don't know what your personal value of money is. I can tell you, however, that although Down Under the difference between the Mark II and the original is much smaller I went for the original.
As far as I can recall, the advantages offered by the newer model are:
1. Marginally better sensor (imporved performance in the dark).
2. Tiltable screen, making it easier to see what you shoot.
3. Wifi, allowing you to - amongst others - control the camera via your phone. That's quite useful for taking delicate photos without shaking the camera by pressing a button; insread you use your phone as a remote control.

The choice is yours.

Moshe Reuveni said...

insread = instead

wile.e.coyote said...

Well a common friend of us might start working for Sony next week.
In that case I will ask him for a piece on his employee discount plan.

Not sure if I follow your recommendation, you say the mark II is better, but you went for the original?

Moshe Reuveni said...

Looks like this requires a clearer clarification:
1. If you thought the old RX100 can both better and cheaper, you're wrong.
2. If you really think the RX100 is the best camera out there, you're wrong. A model 2013 (or, for that matter, 2012) SLR will most definitely give you better photos.

The point is that of value for money, and even better, quality for bulk. Or rather, how much good is good enough for you.
In my case I got the RX100 for a deal that meant it would have been stupid of me to pay an extra for the marginal return of the Mark 2.
Your case may be different.