Sony’s RX100 is smoking hot, but better than the Panasonic LX7 or Canon’s S110 line ? Here’s my take on what Time Magazine listed as one of the 50 best inventions of the year (next to “indoor clouds”).
Since I’ve been in the market for an upgrade to my Canon S95 (and have been playing with my friend’s S110 recently), I thought I’d grab one of each and give them a solid workout… at least until the store’s return policy was up. Now, normally most of my reviews are film gear related, but which one of us doesn’t own a point and shoot camera, really?
Two weeks in and here’s a photo of what’s sitting on my desk as I write this (taken with my good old Canon SD800).
Yes, I work in the film world and that’s NOT a Mac.
First, this is going to be more focused on the RX100, as it is the new 800lb gorilla. The LX7 and the S95/S110 are referenced more as counterpoints, as each represents a quite different take on the enthusiast point and shoot.
Sony RX100… THE BAD
BAD TRIGGER. The pre-trigger on the shutter button is like squishing a mushy pea, vague and soft. You’re likely to go with a full press by accident most of the time. This is like having a bad keyboard for your computer or a bad shifter in your car… it’s your primary interface with the item, it MUST be good! The LX7 does the job right, nice and crisp. I should point out that the autofocus is so good, even on a fast subject, you’re probably still going to make the shot, though maybe sooner than intended.
SUICIDAL. One of the reasons you want a small camera is to whip it out and shoot it one handed. The weight balance is bad and the grip position is, well, there simply is no place to grip this. I’ve dropped it by accident while trying to control the buttons one handed (caught it with my foot, phew). Didn’t anyone pick this up in the R&D department and actually shoot it? It might work better in the hands of a little person. EDIT: I dropped the damn thing again last night, this time on carpet. I’d better return it before I ruin it.
DOUBLE EDIT: I was directed to a glue on aftermarket grip for the RX100. $35 shipped and this stick on bit of metal revolutionizes the way this camera feels. It’s unbelievable that such a small change could make me do a full 180 on this point. Google it, there are several choices, but this is a must have.
SLOW TELE. The slow tele end of the lens kills off some of the usefulness of the clean/high ISO capabilities of the big sensor quite quickly in anything by high light. I shoot a lot of stuff at telephoto and/or in mediocre light. This is where the Panasonic LX7 at f2.5 at full tele really screams, proving that fast glass can beat (ok, tie) big sensors. Of course, I know that putting faster long glass on a bigger sensor is a whole different ball game, would make it fatter and price it into way out of this range.
MOVIE MODE: 1080-60p looks great… but there’s times when I want to shoot 24p, know what I mean? Big advantage to the LX7 here with both 24p and 720-120fps! Also, sound quality leaves more than something to be desired.
THICKNESS. The benchmark of a camera this size is… does it fit in the pocket of your jeans? It either does, or doesn’t. If it does, it fits in the Canon S110 category and competes with it (where the RX100 easily wins). If it doesn’t, then it competes with the LX7… and EVERY OTHER camera that doesn’t fit in your jeans either! All the way up to the m4/3, Sony NEX and Nikon 1 series DSLR-esque cameras that can be squeezed into a jacket or purse (the next category of portability). Now, I can get the RX100 in the back pocket of my jeans, but compared to my S95 it looks like a midget (oops, little person) is growing out of my ass. IMHO, that puts it in the big camera market and strips it of it’s main advantage over everything else. The Canon S series camera (at least to me) remains as the only truly pocketable enthusiasts camera.
INTERFACE. There’s something I just don’t like about the interface. I can’t figure out what it is… It’s like it thinks I’m stupid or something. Oh wait, I just spent $650 (+$35 for a grip) on a point and shoot camera so I can’t hold this one against it. The truth is, it’s so packed with features and technology, that it’s almost too much, too deep. You get bogged down in the tech very quickly. I like a quick, fast, simple camera that takes great pictures. The menu layers are too deep. Each time you change the mode wheel a screen pops up telling you what the new mode does. I KNOW WHAT THE “M” STANDS FOR ALREADY! Is the tech worth it? Absolutely. Could the button/menu system have been done better? Yes.
NO CHARGER INCLUDED WITH RX100! Sony you cheap bastards… no manual is bad enough but I just dropped $650 for this damn camera and you can’t even include a battery charger with it? Who do you think you are, GoPro?? Maybe that’s what really set me off against this thing… I can (edit – and did!) buy an RX100 Chinese knockoff battery charger off Ebay for $5, which means they cost about $.15 to make… and you want me to charge this by plugging the whole damn thing into the wall? Yes, THAT’s what an enthusiast wants to do with their camera…
Not really a rant, but just in case you still want the RX100 to get shallow depth of field shots… Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not a DSLR with an 85mm f1.8. Results between it and the LX7 are very, very close. The S110 is not in contention except in the best possible conditions.
PRICE. I’m actually not going to complain about the price. It’s a flagship point and shoot camera. It has a big sensor, which requires bigger glass and has a ton of technology packed into it. I think it actually IS worth $650. The problem here, is that you can buy the LX7 for $350 new if you shop around (msrp is $500). That’s staggeringly cheap for an amazing camera at half the price (remember, you need the RX100 grip too). So is the RX100 worth double the LX7? See my conclusion.
It’s easy to go on about what’s good with this camera. Really, if you’re reading this, you probably already know. Yes, it’s got a massive sensor for this segment, high ISO, a fast lens (at the wide angle), and modes galore… I’m going to skip all the stuff you know already, and focus on two that maybe you don’t.
IT”S A BETTER PHOTOGRAPHER THAN YOU ARE. Wait, what? Yes. Sort of. I hated this camera for the first two weeks I had it, because doing anything I wanted with it in Manual mode was sloppy. Even on P mode, which was faster, I was pulling better shots out of the LX7. It wasn’t until I switch to the I+ mode, that it really started to shine, automatically grabbing the best modes/settings/etc for the shot faster (and more accurately) than I could by going through the multi-layered menu settings. Yes, I hate saying it (as an ex-cinematographer)… this camera (not just me) takes really good pictures. Yes, other cameras have great AI settings, but this is… just… brilliant.
NOISE. All cameras have noise at some point, that’s just part of the game. However, some have noise and some have… ugly noise. I’ve owned several Panasonics over the years, and for some reason the noise they produce turns me off. Canon, not so bad. The RX100 noise is not horrible, and ever so slightly organic (at least until it gets to the point of no return). However, the important thing to know about the noise in this case is, relative to the resolution/file size, it has SMALLER noise than the LX7 or S110. Let me explain a bit, since it isn’t talked much about in most reviews. Since the noise is relative to the physical image size, by having more pixels (20mp or so) when you display it side by side with a shot at the same given print size as the other 2 cameras, because of the larger resolution, the noise is physically smaller in the print. This means that if you are printing 8×10’s from any of these cameras, you’ll be able to shoot at a higher ISO on the RX100, not just because its cleaner, but because the noise will appear physically smaller in the print. Huge advantage.
Is the RX100 as cool as an indoor cloud? No.
Is the RX100 the best camera in its class? Once you add the aftermarket grip, yes.
Is the RX100 worth double the price of the Canon S110? Yes.
Is the RX100 worth double the price of the Panasonic LX7? Ah… If cash isn’t an issue for you? Sure, why not? If you’re on a budget? No, it isn’t. The LX7 is a fantastic camera, probably one of the best implementations of a “pro” point and shoot on the market. It’s underpriced at $350 and I’m not sure why it’s selling that low below list price. It shouldn’t be. Not to say the LX7 is perfect…. the menu layouts are weak, the aperture only ring is a waste of a great tool, I don’t care for the look of the noise and it gets noisy fast, the AWB is often off, and… for crying out loud, Panasonic, could you figure out a way to integrate the damn lens cap already?
I kept the RX100. I kept the LX7. I kept the S95.
Why all three? I love my S95 and it’s not worth anything to sell, I’ll use it as a party cam. The LX7 is simply a better pocket video camera than the RX100, and cheap enough that I’m too lazy to return it (plus my wife needs a point and shoot camera too). The RX100 is the closest thing I can keep to a DLSR in my pocket, and I don’t like dragging my 5Dmk3 around town.
It’s a great time to be a photographer at any level. No matter what you buy, you can’t go wrong.
Sony RX100 A-
Sony RX100 + aftermarket grip A+
Of course, it has to be said, the right camera for you is the one that feels right in your hand and you take everywhere you go, so get some hands on time with any of these before you buy.