Sony RX100 VII review

The first Sony RX100 launched at the height of the digital camera industry back in 2012, and the 7th version, the Sony RX100 VII, arrived seven years later. However, in terms of camera sales, 2019 is a very different place, but is there still a place for the compact camera because smartphones are so ubiquitous?

With the RX100 VII trailing on the heels of the 2018 RX100 VI edition, Sony sure seems to believe so, at least at the high end of the market. The 2019 model keeps its predecessor’s main specifications – 20 megapixels, 24-200mm zoom lens, electronic pop-up viewfinder and LCD touchscreen – but has made it even faster.

With a DRAM chip and the newest BIONZ X processor, the Sony RX100 VII has a newly built 1.0-type stacked CMOS image sensor, the latter being the same processor used for the mirrorless Alpha A9 camera.

Sony RX100 VII: Price

Sony RX100 VII: Features

Although the first five RX100 versions retain a comparatively restricted zoom range and a wide maximum aperture, the RX100 VI substituted it for a 35mm lens equal to 24-200mm, and the RX100 VII retains this optic. It was amazing that Sony crammed this lens into a body no larger than before, but a decrease in maximum aperture was the trade-off.

To help keep things rosy, the lens has aspherical, advanced aspherical, and extra-low dispersion glass on the inside, while Optical SteadyShot technology has also been integrated to keep things safe.

In seven successive versions, it is very rare for a camera to have the same sensor resolution; however, the sensors have not been the same this entire time, and it is no wonder that the RX100 VII was blessed with a different one, albeit one that still complies with the same 1-inch dimensions and stacked architecture as before.

It still also has a separate DRAM chip to assist crunch at speed across all the sensor data, and it now operates with the new iteration of the BIONZ X engine of the business, and that collaboration offers some very staggering burst-rate estimates.

It still also has a separate DRAM chip to assist crunch at speed across all the sensor data, and it now operates with the new iteration of the BIONZ X engine of the business, and that collaboration offers some very staggering burst-rate estimates.

Sony RX100 VII: Video

Once again, videos are filmed at a maximum of 30p at 4K UHD resolution, without pixel binning and the 4K Active SteadyShot option, which is claimed to be eight times more powerful at steady footage than the more traditional 4K Regular SteadyShot.

If you don’t need to film 4K, at frame rates up to 120p, you can knock this down to Full HD. Various super-slow motion options are on top of this, with frame rates of up to 960fps available, and when filming in 4K, it is now also possible to circumvent the usual five-minute recording constraint.

All of this is enabled by a powerful secondary video feature set with a 3.5 mm microphone port on the side of the sensor, S-Log2, S-Log3, S-Gamut3.Cine and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) modes, and several previous Sony models have had the normal focus peaking and zebra options. When you shoot vertically, the sensor will even sense and maintain this orientation after video has been offloaded.

The big video improvement is that during filming, the RX100 VII provides Real-time Monitoring and Real-time Eye AF. Up to now, these have only been made available for A9 and A6400 stills (and now the more recent A6600), but here it’s available for both stills and movies, and we’re going to discuss just what they allow and how well they work in a second.

Sony RX100 VII: Performance

In the past, Sony has won several sticks for its menu systems, which are somewhat overloaded with options, while color coding in recent versions has made them easier to use.

What we’ve got on the RX100 VII is pretty much the same as it was before. There’s a lot to wade though, but a saving grace is the option to open up a tab for your own options, while here and there is always the occasional irritating abbreviation.

The touchscreen works well for setting the focal point, being friendly and sensitive to even lighter touches, and by using the viewfinder, you can even use the screen as a touch pad, still helpful instead of a joystick style control.

The screen can also be used to zoom in on filmed images and switch through them, but that’s about it. It does not appear that anything has actually improved from the RX100 VI, which means that the screen is good for simple functions, but it puts the camera elsewhere behind its peers; in upcoming versions, it will be great to see touch function at least come to the Fn menu.

Sony RX100 VII: Key Specifications

  • 20MP 1″-type stacked-CMOS sensor with phase detection and built-in DRAM
  • 24-200mm equivalent F2.8-4.5 zoom
  • 20 fps continuous shooting with full autofocus and auto-exposure, and no blackout
  • Seven frames, 90 fps ‘single burst’ mode
  • Retractable 2.36M-dot EVF with 0.59x equiv. magnification
  • 3″ touchscreen LCD (flips up 180° or down by 90°)
  • Oversampled UHD 4K video (up to 5 min clips in standard temperature mode)
  • Combined lens and digital ‘Active’ stabilization mode in video
  • High-speed video at up to 1000 fps
  • Intervalometer
  • Wi-Fi with Bluetooth and NFC

Sony RX100 VII: Build and Handling

From the outside, the RX100 VII gives no hint of its strength. It’s scarcely larger than a normal point and compact shoot, but it’s a slightly different story when you power it up and the lens stretches, particularly when you zoom right to 200 mm.

The body has a slightly slick semi-matte black finish, and there is no traction on the front to help you maintain a comfortable hold. You slide a button on the side of the camera to pop it up, and press it back down into the body when you’re done. There is an optical viewfinder, but it’s secret. It is wise, but it seems like an unwanted complication as well. Wouldn’t it be easier for the body to be just a little wider so that it wasn’t necessary?

The mode dial on the top of the camera is small but functions well, and the integrated control dial and four-way controller on the back can be seen to be the same. All the buttons and levers are small, but if you have fragile fingers, it’s perfect, but not so good for those who have large paws.

The small room for external controls ensures that the menu scheme, touchscreen interface and Fn/quick menu button are highly reliant here. Sony has done well to make the complex set of functions of these cameras fairly available, but this feels like a camera whose features have outstripped its physical nature for a long time.

Sony RX100 VII: Low Light Performance

In sub-optimal lighting settings, another place where Sony’s RX100 VII and its 1-inch sensor are going to get a leg up on your smartphone is Bigger cameras, with stronger blacks and shadows, mean larger pixels and less noise. Sony also uses a layered backlit camera, and optical image stabilization is built-in, which ensures you can take better pictures at lower shutter speeds, allowing more illumination for clearer shots.

In reality, pretty good low-light images are what you get, especially outdoors with ambient light present, or in decently well-lit indoor environments. You’ll get fairly noisy results in weaker lighting conditions or when you’re trying to freeze action in low light, especially when compared to an APS-C or full-frame camera. Sony’s invention can do a lot to make the most of less than optimal imaging environments, but it runs up to the boundaries of what’s feasible at some point.

With computational photographic techniques to digitally compensate for lower usable light, Sony also does not get nearly as aggressive, like the Pixel phones and the new iPhone 11. However, that’s not always a bad thing-by contrast, the photographs from the RX100 VII present more detailed night and indoor shots, and with the RX100 VII you can still get way better indoor pictures than you can with any smartphone.

The camera does exceptionally well as long as there is one well-lit subject or part in the picture, as you can see in the gallery above. When the overall picture is universally dark, it’s less powerful, but if you’re looking for better shots in those situations, you should definitely consider upgrading to a larger camera with a larger sensor.

Sony RX100 VII: Conclusion

The Sony RX100 VII is undeniably an outstanding camera. It was inevitable that any improvements Sony made here would only make it a stronger performer, considering the good success and immense popularity of previous versions, and that’s almost the case.

The Sony RX100 VII may be a spectacular technical accomplishment, but we’d choose a different camera for each of the stuff it’s good at. If you need ALL of its powerful capabilities, including ultra-high-speed shooting, zoom range, 4K recording, sophisticated AF system, and compact size, the RX100 VII just makes sense, and that considerably narrows its potential audience.

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