The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is one of the best compact digital cameras ever made. Its large 20-megapixel sensor captures very sharp images even at high ISO settings and in low-light situations, aided by the camera’s fast f/1.8 lens. Its autofocus system performs very quickly, it has a full range of manual controls, and can shoot full HD video at up to 50 frames per second. However, at $649, the RX100 is more expensive than some DSLRs and interchangeable-lens compacts, and almost double the price of the Canon PowerShot S100. If you’re looking for the best compact camera available, and aren’t put off by its price, get the RX100. Otherwise, the PowerShot S100 remains a great option, and is a bargain by comparison.
The RX100’s user interface makes very clear that Sony has concentrated on making a camera that enthusiasts will be happy with. The difference between this and the beginner-focused interfaces on the Nikon 1 models (and the Sony NEX cameras when they were first launched) couldn’t be more stark. The RX100 doesn’t go overboard with manual controls but the now commonplace lens-encircling control dial is key to its usability. Add to this a customizable function menu – allowing you to specify which settings you want quick access to, and in which order – and you have a very controllable compact. The way Sony has done this is an extension of the options added to NEX cameras but is also reminiscent of the Ricoh control interface (still probably our favorite on a high-end compact).
And these differences from the entry-level mirrorless cameras are telling. Clearly Sony believes there is a photographically-savvy audience that wants a second camera without having to battle against a simplistic user interface or invest in a second lens system. It’s pretty clear it also hopes that some existing compact owners will want something small and high quality, but will recognize themselves as part of the majority that buys interchangeable lens cameras but never takes the lens off. The RX100’s $650/£550/€650 price tag may well work against this, though.