- Bristling with high-end features that are matched by impressive performance, the RX100 V is a great premium compact that’s only let down by some frustrating handling quirks.
- Built-in EVF
- 24fps burst shooting
- 315-point AF system
- Excellent image quality
- Advanced 4K video
- Some handling issues
- No touchscreen
- Pricey compared to rivals
With smartphones pretty much destroying the low-end compact camera market, manufacturers have had to work hard to keep people’s interest in this sector.
Rather than opting to compete directly with smartphones, Sony hit on the idea of producing a high-end, premium compact camera that delivered much better images than smartphones, but without the bulk of a mirrorless camera or DSLR.
The original RX100 was a true landmark camera, and led to the likes of Canon and Panasonic following suit with cameras like the PowerShot G7 X II and Lumix LX10 / LX15.
The RX100 arrived back in 2012, and since then we’ve seen another four models, including this latest Mark V version – you certainly can’t knock Sony’s enthusiasm.
But with so many updates arriving in a relatively short space of time, does this latest model offer the photographer anything new – especially when all four previous iterations are still available?
- 1.0-inch CMOS sensor, 20.1MP
- 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens
- 4K video capture
While it may share the same 20MP resolution as the original RX100, the 1.0-inch sensor in the RX100 V is a quite different beast. Using the same stacked Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor technology that we first saw in the RX100 IV, Sony says it has tweaked the chip, while the clever stacked sensor design means it has memory chips built right onto the back of the sensor.
This means data doesn’t have to flood out to the edge of the sensor, and, coupled with a new LSI chip, it means the sensor can deliver incredibly fast readout speeds.
This enables one of the key improvements in the RX100 V over the IV, with the latest version capable of shooting at an incredible 24fps compared to a still-snappy 16fps. What’s even more striking is the fact that it can do this at full resolution with continuous AF and auto exposure.
The fast 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens remains the same, and while it’s not quite as fast as the lens on the Panasonic LX10 / LX15, which has a 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 optic, you’re still getting a high-quality Zeiss-branded standard zoom lens.
Unlike in its A6500, which was announced at the same time as the RX100 V, Sony hasn’t been tempted to bring touchscreen functionality to this camera’s rear 3.0-inch display, which seems quite an oversight for a camera of this type, especially as its closest rivals sport this feature.
The resolution of the vari-angle screen also remains the same as on the IV at 1,299,000 dots, and it also has the same range of movement: 180 degrees outwards and upwards, and 45 degrees downwards.
The concealed pop-up electronic viewfinder that we first saw on the RX100 III carries over to the V, with the 0.39-type EVF sporting a 2.36-million-dot resolution, again the same as on the IV.
While the RX100 IV was capable of shooting 4K video footage, the V takes this one step further. Now oversampled from 5.5K (5,028 x 2,828 pixels), footage promises to be even sharper that we saw from the RX100 IV, while the even faster sensor readout that enables the RX100 V to shoot at 24fps should also suppress the effect of rolling shutter (that horrible jello effect when shooting some moving subjects) in captured footage.
This also has a benefit when shooting stills. While the RX100 V has a mechanical shutter that can be used with shutter speeds up to 1/2000 sec, there’s also an electronic shutter that kicks in at speeds above that, up to 1/32000 sec.
The faster readout speed from the sensor and LSI reduces any distortion that may occur in fast-moving subjects, as the scene is scanned on the sensor from top to bottom, rather than a whole snapshot of the scene being taken with a mechanical shutter. This is important because to achieve that rapid 24fps, the RX100 V has to use its electronic shutter; there’s an option to solely use the mechanical shutter, but this is limited to 10fps.
Build and handling
- Solid metal construction
- Design remains virtually identical to RX100 IV
- Weighs 299g
Sit the RX100 V next to its predecessor – or the RX100 III for that matter – and with the exception of the model number you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. The pocket-sized metal body is pretty much exactly the same, and follows the same minimalist design we first saw on the original RX100.
It’s certainly a sleek, understated-looking compact, with the high-end, premium feel you’d expect from a camera of this calibre.
However, sticking with the same design ethos also means Sony continues to determinedly avoid putting any form of handgrip on the front, which is a shame, because the smooth finish doesn’t deliver the secure grip we’d like, especially when you compare it to the Canon G7 X Mark II, which has a raised and textured grip to provide a much more satisfying hold.
There are aftermarket solutions – including some from Sony itself, like the AG-R2 – but it would have been nice to have seen some effort to come up with a built-in solution on what is, after all, the fifth-generation model.
The RX100 V kicks into life either via a press of the On/Off button or when you release the pop-up viewfinder – there’s a sprung switch on the side of the camera that releases the EVF, and the front section then extends away from the casing before being locked into place.
It would be nice to see a little more resistance here, as we found that on occasion, especially if you’re wearing glasses, it’s a little too easy to inadvertently push the viewfinder back into the housing when the camera is raised to your eye.
There’s a customisable control ring around the barrel of the lens to which you can assign a range of functions, but it does have its quirks. If you’re shooting in aperture priority mode it’s intuitive to set the ring to adjust the aperture, but the rear control ring also defaults to this function, with exposure compensation accessed only once you’ve tapped downwards to activate it – it would be nice to see exposure compensation enabled here by default.
Swap to shutter priority mode and the control ring is disabled, requiring you to dive back into the overly complicated menu system to re-assign the functionality of it. You can still use the rear control ring to set the shutter speed, but it’s frustrating that the front control ring can’t just swap automatically between aperture and shutter control when you switch between these two popular shooting modes.
To make life simpler, the most straightforward setup we found was to set the front control ring to exposure compensation, and use the rear control ring to adjust either aperture or shutter speed, depending on which mode was selected.
Don’t get us wrong: there’s a wealth of customisation available with the RX100 V, but it can be unnecessarily fiddly getting to some settings, and perhaps it’s time Sony took another look at the control layout, which has remained pretty much unchanged since the original RX100, given that several new features have been added since the first model came out.
- 315-point phase-detection AF
- 5 focus area modes
- Advanced focus tracking
Perhaps the biggest change from the RX100 IV is the arrival of a 315-point phase-detection AF system – something we’ve never seen before in a 1.0-inch sensor compact camera. Coverage is pretty impressive too, with most of the frame covered, with the exception of the extreme left and right edges.
That said, if you’re in Single AF mode you’re unlikely to appreciate the level of sophistication on offer from the AF, with the RX100 V relying on a hybrid AF system – phase-detect AF is used to initially snap the subject into focus, with contrast-detect taking over to fine-tune focus, so there’s a very brief delay (and we’re splitting hairs here) as the system monetarily hunts to acquire focus.
Select the Wide area AF option in Single AF mode, though, and you’ve got a fast and hassle-free way of getting your shots in focus, with the camera automatically deciding what part of the frame it wants to give prominence to.
If you need to give the RX100 V some direction you’ve got Center, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot (with the addition of eight points around the desired AF point to assist with AF) modes – with the latter two of these enabling you to manually move the AF point round the frame.
This is where a touchscreen interface would come in handy, as to shift the AF point round the frame you first have to hit the button in the center of the rear control ring, before toggling it round the frame to arrive at your desired point – and not forgetting to hit the central button again to exit AF point selection, otherwise you’re locked out of the RX100 V’s other shooting controls. It would be much easier and quicker to simply tap where you wanted to focus.
On top of that there’s Face Detection, which can be switched on and off within the menu.
Continuous AF is where things get interesting though, if a little complex given the multitude of settings at your disposal, especially as there’s the extra Lock-on AF focus mode added to the mix, with the choice of Lock-on Center, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot. There’s almost too much choice here.
Once the camera has locked onto your subject – once you’ve specified your subject that is, which isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem, with brightly colored subjects seeming to take precedence over the subject we pointed our AF point at – the speed at which it tracks your subject is impressive, and all this at 24fps.
- 24fps burst shooting
- 150-shot buffer at 24fps (Extra Fine JPEG)
- 220-shot battery life
While the Sony RX100 V’s 24fps burst shooting speed would make the likes of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Nikon D5 blush, just as impressive is the fact that it can sustain this for 150 shots (Extra Fine JPEG) before it needs to take a breather, and for raw shooters, 72 continuous frames isn’t to be sniffed at either.
When it comes to metering, meanwhile, keep the RX100 V set to Sony’s multi-zone mode and you’ll be rewarded with dependable results, only having to intervene in high-contrast lighting conditions, while the camera’s Auto White Balance does a decent job under a range of lighting conditions.
There are no complaints about the rear display either – Sony may have used the same-resolution screen since the first RX100, but clarity is great. And for those looking to shoot candids on the street, the ability to shoot at waist-level with the screen pulled outwards is most welcome – just remember to turn down the volume of the annoying AF confirmation beep first. Put a touchscreen interface on there, however, and things would be even better… come on Sony.
Considering how compact the viewfinder is, when you lift your eye up to the camera it’s a pleasant surprise to see how generous the field of view is. Don’t get us wrong – it’s nothing like we’ve seen in some recent mirrorless cameras, but it’ll certainly do the job.
Here’s the thing though: we found that we relied on the rear display much more than we’d thought we would, only resorting to the EVF on the odd occasion. Everybody’s style of shooting will be different, but it’s something to consider if you think this is a feature you can do without.
Battery life has taken a bit of a hit compared to the RX100 IV, down from 280 shots to just 220 (and 100 fewer than the RX100 III). This is perhaps due to the improvements in performance that Sony has carried out under the skin, but you’ll soon be getting a flashing red battery light should you get a bit trigger-happy with a series of 24fps high-speed shots.
- ISO125-12,800, expandable to 80-12,800
- Image quality virtually identical to RX100 IV
- Multiple picture effects
The results from the RX100 V are pretty much identical to those from its predecessor, but that’s no bad thing at all, with perhaps the only tangible difference being slightly more pronounced sharpening of JPEG files.
You can expect plenty of detail from the 20.1MP sensor when shooting at the lower end of the sensitivity range, with the camera outputting files at 5472 x 3648 pixels, allowing you to make an A3 print at 300dpi without the need to increase the size of the file.
It’s only when you increase the sensitivity beyond ISO400 that detail resolution begins to dip, and image quality only really begins to suffer at ISO6,400 and 12,800.
Image noise is nicely controlled at under ISO800, but above that you’ll start to see color noise encroach on the shadow areas of the image. That said, even at ISO3,200 images don’t look at all unsightly. There’s some color and luminance (grain-like in appearance) noise present, but that’s to be expected. We certainly wouldn’t have an issue using this setting – and raw files offer even more scope for noise control should you need it – although we’d avoid the top end of the scale as far as possible.
Dynamic range is also very impressive, and the RX100 V has a host of Dynamic Range Optimizer settings; even with JPEG files we found it was possible to recover plenty of detail post-capture, especially in the shadows, although for more natural-looking results we’d always prefer to do this in camera.
The RX100 V is one of the most advanced compacts we’ve seen, with a specification dripping with advanced features that would shame some pricier mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
This isn’t entirely a good thing however – the RX100 V is almost too advanced for its own good, and you have to question how many photographers actually need this level in performance in a pocket camera. Being able to burst-shoot at 24fps is great, but with a 2.9x optical zoom its application is pretty limited.
It can also be a frustrating camera to use on occasion. We don’t want to bang on about the absence of a touchscreen, but it would transform the handling, while the absence of a decent hand grip is also disappointing – at the very least the AG-R2 grip should be included in the box when you consider the RX100 V’s price.
If it sounds like we’re being a bit harsh on the RX100 V, we’re not meaning to be. There’s no question that it’s a fabulous camera, and a brilliant showcase for some of Sony’s best camera tech, and it will certainly have a pull for those with deep pockets who are looking for a highly-capable compact stills and video camera. But there are more affordable alternatives out there which, while they might not offer the same jaw-dropping performance as the RX100 V, are still great premium compacts in their own right.
Sony RX100 III
It might seem strange to recommend a model two generations older than the RX100 V, but it’s still available (in fact, the whole RX100 line is) and if you can live without 4K video, higher resolution EVF and the rapid burst shooting, the RX100 III is a great buy.
Canon PowerShot G7 X II
Canon’s second-generation G7 X Mark II has a longer 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 lens, a built-in ND filter and a defined rubber grip that provides superior handling to the RX100 V. It’s a shame that video recording tops out at Full HD, while there’s no built-in EVF or the option to attach one.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 / LX15
Panasonic’s answer to the RX100 series, the LX10 (known as the LX15 outside the US) is a very capable premium pocket compact camera. There’s no EVF and like the RX100 V, doesn’t have a very satisfactory grip, but handling is very intuitive and is a joy to use.