Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 review

DxOMark
Sensor
66

Introduction

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

With an overall DxOMark Score of 66, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 comes in at 54th place among all cameras tested on DxOMark, and takes first place among conventional digital compacts equipped with a zoom lens. Only the Fujifilm X100 with its APS-C sensor does better.

With a DxOMark Portrait Score of 22.6 bits, the RX100 places 54th in terms of color depth among all cameras tested, and likewise is at the head of the pack of all conventional compacts tested (beaten only by the Fujifilm X100).

With a DxOMark Landscape score of 12.4EV, the 1″ CMOS sensor offers a high dynamic range for a digital compact. It ranks 32nd in the standings, tied with the APS-C sensor of the X100, and even surpasses several older-generation full-format reflexes such as the Nikon D700 and D3, and the Sony Alpha 850. By way of comparison, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II measured 11.9EV.

Low-light sensitivity: no miracles here with this 1-inch sensor, large and small at the same time, that fits in between the 1/1.7-inch sensors of the usual expert compacts and APS-C or 4:3 sensors of the hybrids and entry-level reflex cameras. Achieving 390 ISO and ranked 137th for this criterion, the Sony RX100 remains the most sensitive of the small-sized expert compact digital cameras, second only to the very bulky Canon Powershot G1 X. The RX100 gains 1 stop with respect to the scores for the more conventional compact sensors, a gain directly tied to the sensor surface area.

The strengths of the Sony RX100 sensor

  • The best color depth of all expert compacts with a zoom lens
  • The largest dynamic range of all expert compacts with a zoom lens
  • Significant progress relative to the 2011-generation 1-inch Nikon 1 sensors
  • Sensitivity equivalent to the Nikon 1 despite 8 additional megapixels on the same sensor

The weakness of the Sony RX100 sensor

  • A slight retreat in sensitivity with respect to micro 4:3 hybrid compacts and the Canon Powershot G1 X because of a smaller sensitive surface area.

Sony RX100 vs Canon S100

A powerful sensor, an expert design, and pocket-sized: this is what the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 brings to the contest with the Canon Powershot S100. With a 70% larger sensitive surface area, the Sony takes the advantage even though its 20-Mpix resolution is greater than the Canon S100’s 12Mpix. (Sony’s pixel pitch is 2.4µm vs 1.8µm for the Canon, and is therefore higher.)

comparison
  • Overall score: with a score of 66, the Sony RX100 easily dominates in the face of the Canon S100’s 50 points. The difference is reflected across all DxOMark performance criteria.
  • Color depth: One gains nearly 2 bits by choosing the Sony compact (22.6 bits) over the Canon (20.7 bits).
  • Dynamic range: The difference in favor of the Sony RX100 reaches almost 1EV, (0.8EV to be  precise — nearly 1 stop). This difference manifests itself in the camera’s ability to record information about highlights and shadows, and in the image quality of a RAW-format photo processed with software that can exploit extreme tones.
  • Low-light sensitivity: Bigger sensor, larger photodiodes, more recent technology — the results are clear: the Sony RX100 is 1 stop and a third more sensitive than the Canon S100. The graph of the signal-to-noise curves clearly shows the superiority of the RX100 compared to the S100, a gap that increases on photo prints — the noise having been drowned in the Cyber-shot’s higher resolution.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 vs Fujifilm FinePix X10

The 2/3″ CMOS sensor of the Fujifilm X10 (as well as of the excellent high-end bridge, the X-S1) shows the same differences as the Canon S100 relative to the Sony RX100 in terms of color depth and dynamic range. However, its low-light sensitivity measurement limits the damage: with a DxOMark score of 245 ISO, equivalent to 2/3 of that measured for the RX100 (1″ sensor vs 2/3″ sensor). An image displayed at 100% shows the same amount of visible noise. As for prints, however, the RX100’s high degree of resolution provides a rendering that is slightly more aesthetic (equivalent to 1/3EV).

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 vs Nikon 1 J1

Related technology, two CMOS sensors, the same sensitivity surface area, two 1-inch sensors, an advantage in favor of the Nikon 1 J1 hybrid in terms of pixel pitch (3.38µm vs 2.4µm for the Sony RX100)… but surprise, surprise, the Sony RX100 easily surpasses the Nikon J1 with a DxOMark overall score of 66 versus 56 for the Nikon J1.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
  • Color depth: with 22.6 bits vs 21.5 bits, the Sony provides finer color nuances than the Nikon. The extra gradations provided by one more bit of color depth are subtle, but the progression is definitely there and measured by the DxOMark tests.
  • Dynamic range: here is the criterion by which Sony’s new 1-inch CMOS sensor garnered points when compared to the Nikon J1 sensor. The Sony RX100 can capture 1.4EV more exposure than the Nikon compact and this can be seen on the chart: the dynamic range of the Sony sensor changes more rapidly as the sensitivity is lowered than does the Nikon. Equivalent at 1600 ISO for the two cameras, the dynamic range shows a difference of 1.4Ev at 100 ISO.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
  • Low-light sensitivity: here is a field in which physics retains its logic, even while stressing the excellent design of Sony’s 1-inch sensor. The more generous size of the Nikon’s photosites allows it to tie with the Sony. When displayed on a screen at a scale of 1:1, the image from the RX100 appears noisier than that of the J1, but the two images are comparable in terms of noise when printed (the natural destination of a photo), with a equivalent SNR for a 8 Mpix print because of the Sony’s high (20 Mpix) resolution.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

And compared with micro 4:3 compact hybrids?

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100

The Sony RX100’s 1″ sensor is smaller than those of the micro 4:3 compact hybrids from Olympus and Panasonic, and once again, in terms of sensitivity, the observable results obey the laws of physics, with a difference 2/3EV in favor of the Panasonic G3 compact hybrid that we chose for our comparison.

This said, the RX100’s sensor still achieves an DxOMark overall score of 66 versus 56, thanks to its clearly superior scores for color depth (22.6 bits vs 21 bits) and for dynamic range (12.4EV vs 10.6EV — a difference of nearly 2EV).

With the exception of the Canon Powershot G1 X, whose format is not comparable to that of the Sony RX100, the Cyber-shot is the expert compact with the largest sensor. But Sony’s 1″ CMOS sensor distinguishes itself not only by its large size and by providing the best sensitivity among the expert compact cameras (G1 X excepted), it also achieves record-breaking color depth and dynamic range in its category. The Cyber-shot RX100 doesn’t just crush its direct competitors in the expert compact market, it also encroaches on the territory of certain compact hybrids such as the Nikon 1 J1, J2, and V1, all more bulky and an entire generation behind this new sensor designed by Sony engineers (who are obviously the most inspired in the entire industry).

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