Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII Review & Rating
The Sony RX100 series represents the top tier of the point-and-shoot market. The seventh-generation model, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII ($1,299.99), sports the 8x lens introduced in its predecessor, along with an autofocus system that puts the camera on the same footing as the company’s high-end interchangeable lens models. It’s a premium camera, with a price match, but backs it up with top-notch speed and optics. That earns it our Editors’ Choice.
Smartphone cameras continue to get better thanks to advancements in image processing—computational photography—but there are some who simply prefer the feel of a dedicated camera in their hands, or want a bit more zoom power than you get from a multi-lens iPhone.
The RX100 VII offers plenty of zoom power, with a lens that matches a full-frame 24-200mm in terms of coverage. It’s longer than the 24-70mm design used in some others in the series, including the RX100 VA, but only captures about half the light. If you want a similar camera with a bit of zoom and a brighter lens, consider the Canon G5 X Mark II, which has a 24-120mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom.
At 2.3 by 4.0 by 1.7 inches (HWD) and 10.7 ounces, the RX100 VII isn’t the lightest, slimmest compact out there. But it slides into jacket pockets easily, and its weight comes from complex optics and construction that’s more metal than plastic. It doesn’t have any sort of protruding handgrip, but there are first- and third-party add-on grips available for photographers who prefer one.
You’ll still want to take care when using it—the camera isn’t rugged or waterproof. Sony’s larger bridge-style RX10 series offers dust and splash protection, but true rugged options are few and far between if you want one with an image sensor that’s bigger than your smartphone. Sealife sells a 1-inch waterproof model, the DC2000, but it doesn’t have a zoom lens and its functions are downright primitive in comparison.
Ergonomics and Controls
Sony may churn out RX100 after RX100, year after year, but it hasn’t done a lot to change the basic design and layout of controls since it launched the series. For more on the differences between each model, refer to our RX100 buying guide.
There’s a freely turning control ring around the lens—you can configure it for various functions, but I like using it for EV compensation. It’s joined by the typical zoom rocker switch, shutter release, Mode dial, and On/Off button on the top, with the remainder of the controls on the rear, to the right of the tilting display.
There are rear buttons to start and stop videos, access the on-screen Fn menu and more extensive text-based menu system, and to play and delete photos. They’re joined by a flat command dial with directional presses that adjust the flash output, drive mode, and EV compensation.
EVF and LCD
The camera sports a tilting LCD, 3 inches in size with a crisp 921k-dot resolution and support for touch control. It’s mounted on a hinge, so you can tilt it up or down to get shots from more interesting angles, or point the LCD forward to shoot selfies and vlogs.
Touch input works well—you can tap the screen to select a focus point or subject for tracking when capturing images or video. But there are limitations—you can’t navigate menus via touch, nor can you use the screen as a touch control for focus when using the EVF. Some of Sony’s competitors, including rival Canon with its G5 and G7 compact camera series, include this feature, often referred to as touchpad autofocus.
The RX100 feels a bit more pro thanks to the inclusion of an eye-level viewfinder. Hidden in the body, it pops out via a mechanical release, and unlike some older designs, is ready to use without having to lock its eyecup in place. The OLED finder isn’t as large as you’ll get on a mirrorless camera, but its 0.59x magnification rating still gives you a good view of your frame.
My complaint with the one-touch design is the same as with the RX100 VI—if you’re not careful, it’s easy to push the eyecup in when using it, especially if you wear eyeglasses. You just have to be careful not to put pressure on it, because as the eyecup is pushed in, the finder’s optics lose focus. Even with this grip, I prefer it to the older design, which required you to pull the eyecup back before using it, and to push it back in before collapsing the EVF back into the body.
Connectivity and Power
Sony includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in the camera, and supports it using the free Sony Imaging Edge Mobile app for Android and iOS. The app works as a remote control for the camera, and also lets you copy photos from its memory card to your phone.
The included battery is rather small, and is rated by CIPA for about 260 shots per charge, which can be extended to 310 by enabling an automatic sleep mode. You’ll easily exceed those numbers if you utilize the 20fps burst capture liberally.
But for more normal use—a few shots here and there, a few video clips, and some Wi-Fi transfers—the estimates are a bit generous. I definitely recommend carrying an extra charged battery or an external USB battery—the RX100 VII charges via micro USB—if you plan on making images all day.
There is a single memory card slot with support for UHS-I SDXC media, as well as Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo. I’d like to see Sony drop Memory Stick support in favor of faster UHS-II SD media, but it has been slow to do so, even in its full-frame a7 line.
The big change from the RX100 VI comes with autofocus. Sony redesigned the camera’s sensor so it polls its autofocus points more frequently, and covered it from nearly edge to edge with phase-detection pixels.
There are two practical benefits. With the Real Time Tracking interface, the RX100 VII does a seemingly perfect job of tracking moving subjects, and is able to automatically detect faces and eyes, with settings for both humans and pets. (Officially cats and dogs are supported, but it’s worth turning on if you’re at the zoo.)
The second is that you never lose track of the frame when shooting in burst mode. At 20fps the camera uses an electronic shutter, and instead of the screen going black for an instant each time an image is made, the display simply lights up an outline. By default there is a faux shutter sound too, made by the camera’s speaker, but you can turn that off for silent imaging.
Real Time Tracking isn’t on by default, but I recommend trying it out. You’ll need to set focus to AF-C and select it from the focus mode option—in the camera menu, it’s simply called Tracking. Once enabled, it identifies subjects and moves the focus area to keep up with their motion for as long as you half-press the shutter button, and continues to track your subject when firing off shots in burst mode.
The focus system keeps up, even at 20fps. The RX100 VII also has a sizable buffer—enough for 77 Raw+JPG pairs, 80 Raw, or 170 JPG shots. But there is a delay to write long bursts to memory—65 seconds for Raw+JPG, 42 seconds for Raw, and 60 seconds for JPG. Annoyingly, you can’t start a video as the buffer clears to memory. This is one area where support for UHS-II would come in handy, as it’s a much faster card format than UHS-I.
In addition to the standard burst mode, the RX100 VII also has a 90fps burst mode. It shoots 7 Raw shots, with fixed exposure and focus, all within a tenth of a second. It’s useful for shots where you’re trying to capture fleeting moments of action—a baseball bat hitting a pitched ball or a balloon popping, for example.
Imaging and Video
The RX100 VII uses the same 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens as the VI version of the camera, and while its sensor reads out a bit faster, there’s no change in image quality. It shoots Raw or JPG images at 20MP resolution.
The lens is an excellent performer. Imatest tells us that it delivers sharp results, at its widest f-stop, from 24mm all the way through 200mm. The only concern is some loss of resolution at the edges of the frame when working at 24mm. You can improve image quality by setting the aperture to f/5.6 or f/8—but even at f/2.8, it’s not something you’ll notice without zooming in close on a picture in Photoshop or printing very large.
Low-light image quality is in line with other 1-inch sensor cameras—even rivals Canon and Panasonic use Sony-made sensors in their competing models like the G5 X Mark II and ZS200.
The JPG output offers good detail and little visible noise through ISO 800, and isn’t that far behind at ISO 1600. There’s a bit more loss of clarity, due to the smudging effect of noise reduction, starting at ISO 3200, and getting worse at the highest settings—the sensor can be made as sensitive to light as ISO 12800.
If you use Raw capture you can eke a bit more detail out of high ISO shots. Noise control in processing software, including Adobe Lightroom, does a better job than the camera’s JPG engine. You’ll get images with more detail, and some visible grain, at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. You should still expect very rough, grainy shots at ISO 12800.
The big limiting factor for working in very dim light (without the aid of flash) is the lens’ f-stop. Sony has opted for a longer 24-200mm zoom here, a departure from the short 24-70mm used by earlier models like the RX100 VA. The VA’s lens opens up to f/1.8 at its wide angle, capturing more than twice as much light as the VII’s f/2.8 zoom.
The Canon G5 X Mark II is a good compromise, with a 24-120mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom, but with the latest night shooting modes in Google Pixel and Apple iPhones, you may find that you prefer using them for casual, low-light snaps.
Video Updates for Vloggers
There are a few upgrades on the video front, specifically aimed at vloggers. The camera has a standard 3.5mm mic input jack, so you can now add an external mic for better audio quality. You will have to add an accessory bracket to mount a shotgun mic.
There’s some additional digital stabilization applied to video, which is especially useful for walk-and-talk vlogs. You also get face and eye detection during video, so focus won’t drift to the background when recording interviews or selfie video.
You can opt for 60Mbps or 100Mbps 4K video at your choice of 24 or 30fps, or drop the resolution down to 1080p to record at 120fps for slow motion, with active autofocus.
There’s also a slower slow-motion option, accessed by changing the mode dial to the HFR position. It gives you up to 960fps recording for extreme slow-motion capture. At the top frame rate the quality isn’t great, but 480fps delivers good results. Just remember that focus is locked when using HFR, and this type of slow motion is written to memory in real time; if your finished movie is a minute long, it will take the camera a minute to create it.
In for a Penny…
Sony continues to push compact camera technology forward, but it’s pushing the pricing envelope at the same time. At $1,300, the RX100 VII is the most expensive model yet—$100 more than the VI’s retail price.
Despite the uptick in cost, we’re awarding the RX100 VII the same rating and Editors’ Choice award as the previous entry in the series. Its features are a little better, and if you’re thinking about spending $1,200 on a point-and-shoot, chances are you’re open to a $1,300 model as well.
Sale prices, and the used market, may change your mind. If you’re a more budget-minded buyer, think about the Canon G5 X Mark II instead. Its zoom lens isn’t as long, and it doesn’t have the same autofocus performance or quite as many video options, but it’s more affordable at $900. If you’re shopping at the top of the market, you might as well go all the way with the RX100 VII.