Modern smartphones have all but killed the inexpensive pocket camera market. It’s not a surprise—for casual snapshots, there are few more convenient tools than your phone, and the results are more than adequate for most folks.
But there are still people out there who prefer to use a dedicated camera. You might want some zoom capability, or simply find it more comfortable to work wih physical controls. If that’s you, you’ll want to think about a model that outpaces your phone in image quality.
The RX100 Concept
The original Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100—we’re just going to call it the RX100 from here on out—debuted in 2012. It was an iteration on an existing concept—an expensive point-and-shoot with features to match.
If you’re summing it up in a few words, they’re obvious: big sensor, bright lens. The 1-inch sensor format, now used by many camera makers, is about four times the size of the imager behind your smartphone lens, and more than twice the size of the 1/1.7-inch design that dominated the premium point-and-shoot market prior to 2012.
It was a big deal at the time, and separated the RX100 from an ocean of competing models with small sensors and $200 price tags. And it proved to be popular—Sony continues to sell the original version, and has released a new model on a seemingly annual schedule.
But it hasn’t discontinued many of the older models. Instead, Sony’s been introducing new cameras at higher price points, and adjusting prices for downmarket models as needed. The end result is an unprecedented level of customer choice across a single line, and a similar amount of confusion.With so many choices, picking the right RX100 can be difficult, especially if you’re not intimately familiar with the series.
We’re here to sort everything out. We’re spotlighting each model, talking about its capabilities, changes in the market since release, and offering up ideas for smart alternatives with similar features. If you’re shopping for a pocketable camera with better-than-smartphone imaging, read on.
The Original: RX100
Still on sale today, the original RX100 set the paradigm for models to follow. Like all of its siblings, it features a 1-inch sensor with 20MP of resolution. But its design is older, so it lags behind newer models in low-light imaging.
Its lens is also a little dated. It covers a 28-100mm (full-frame equivalent) angle of view, with a bright f/1.8 aperture at the wide end. But it drops to f/4.9 when zoomed all the way in, which limits low-light performance. You’re best off keeping the lens set to the wide angle when working in dim conditions.
Modern features like a tilting touch screen, 4K video, and Wi-Fi are missing. Because of this, the camera isn’t as stellar an option today as it was on its release. This is taking its current asking price, which is hovering around $450, into account.
If you’re on a budget, think about the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II as a more modern alternative. The $480 camera has a slightly shorter zoom (28-84mm f/2-4.9), a newer generation image sensor, and wireless transfer.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Review
The Follow-Up: RX100 II
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
The RX100 II is a straight upgrade to the original camera. It uses the same basic design and lens. Sony added a hot shoe, so you can use an external flash or accessory EVF, and put a hinge on the LCD for low-angle and selfie shooting. But it’s still not a touch screen.
It’s the first RX model with an Exmor R sensor, Sony’s branding for Backside Illumination (BSI) tech. The sensor design rearranges layers of silicon, with the net result being about a one-stop advantage over similar non-BSI chips when working in dim light.
The RX100 II doesn’t appear to be in production as of early 2020—most photo speciality retailers are sold out and mark it as discontinued, though it is still listed as a current product on Sony’s web site. As with the original RX100, we don’t recommend buying one today, unless you get a deal on a used copy.
A more modern take is the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III. It’s a little more ($750), but offers a brighter 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom, backed by a newer image sensor and processor. It also has a tilting LCD with touch support, and 4K recording.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II Review
An All New Lens: RX100 III
The RX100 III earned Editors’ Choice marks in 2014, and is still a good choice for many photographers. Its lens, a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom with excellent resolution and an integrated ND filter, is a big reason. The pop-up EVF, which lowers into the body when not in use, is the other.
The sensor is the same as the RX100 II, but the lens doesn’t lose as much light when zoomed in. It offers a fast 10fps burst capture rate with locked focus, plenty for most shots. Video mavens will lament the lack of 4K—1080p is the best it does—but remember its age.
It sells for $750 today, a modest drop from its $800 debut, If you want 4K video, think about the Panasonic LX10 as an alternative. It sells for $700 and offers a similar 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 zoom lens, a tilting touch LCD, and 4K—it does omit an EVF, though.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Review
Going 4K: RX100 IV
The fourth-generation RX100 IV is an iteration of the RX100 III. For an extra $150 you get 4K video, a sharper EVF, and a bit faster autofocus system for 16fps shooting. The other aspects—the lens, body design, and interface—are all the same.
Despite a $900 price, the RX100 IV still doesn’t offer a touch screen. It stands out as a weird omission, especially considering the advanced tech behind the IV’s image sensor. It’s the first RX100 model with a stacked sensor design. It puts the processing and memory that drive the sensor into the unit, netting faster readout speed.
The stacked design gives the RX100 IV one of it’s big differentiating features. It adds HFR (High Frame Rate) video, up to 960fps, for playback at speeds as slow as one fortieth of real-time. It’s a feature that’s carried on to every RX camera that has followed.
You might miss the touch screen, of course. Think about the Canon G7 X Mark III ($750) or G5 X Mark II ($900) as alternatives. Both offer stacked-sensor tech, along with tilting touch LCDs, and the G5 X has an EVF. They don’t do extreme slow-motion video, though—that’s a feature that is still exclusive to Sony’s offerings.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV Review
Bigger Zoom Power: RX100 VI
You’d think the RX100 VI’s touch screen would net headlines—Sony was overdue adding the feature, but it finally appears here. The lens is actually the big change, and it’s something that makes the VI model very different from the III, IV, V, and VA.
The RX100 VI more than doubles the zoom power, with 24-200mm coverage. It’s not the first long zoom we’ve seen with a 1-inch sensor, but the f/2.8-4.5 lens captures more light than competitors. But it’s not as good in low light as models with the 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens—remember that at f/1.8, a camera captures more than twice the light as at f/2.8.
The lens is different, but the sensor and processor are the same from the VA. The camera shoots at 24fps with phase detection focus, offers HFR slow-motion video, and as we mentioned, has a tilting touch screen. The EVF is slightly upgraded—it rises out of the body with a single button push, eliminating the need to lock the eyecup into position manually as with earlier models.
The VI sells for around $1,200, which is a lot of money. Panasonic offers up two alternative options at lesser asking prices. The ZS100 has a 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 zoom and sells for around $500; the ZS200 has a longer 24-360mm f/3.3-6.4 lens and goes for around $800. Each sacrifices optical quality as well as fit and finish to get to their lower price points.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI Review
Next-Generation Focus: RX100 VII
The latest RX100 VII has a lot in common with the VI—the same body (with the addition of a mic input), lens, for $100 more. Inside? It’s all different. The sensor is a new stacked design with a faster readout speed.
It “only” shoots at 20fps, but does so with the same Real-Time Tracking autofocus system used by the professional-grade a9, and with wider phase detection coverage than the VI. You lose a little bit of speed, but there aren’t many shots you’ll get at 24fps that you won’t at 20fps. It adds a 90fps mode, a first for any RX, but it is limited to seven shots with a single point of focus.
As with the a9, the autofocus seamlessly switches between eye detection, face detection, and general subject tracking. The focus system also includes eye detection for humans and pets.
Vloggers will appreciate the mic input, but will be disappointed by the lack of 60fps capture at 4K. The video enjoys better stabilization, a mix of optical and digital, which delivered results close to gimbal quality in a test video shown off by Sony.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII Review
The Other RX: RX10 Family
The 1-inch sensor size isn’t restricted to pocket cameras. Sony also has a bridge-style family, the RX10. It’s not nearly as confusing—there’s the RX10 and RX10 II, with 24-200mm f/2.8 lenses. The RX10 shoots video at 1080p, where the second version adds 4K support.
The RX10 III and RX10 IV use a new lens, a 24-600mm f/2.4-4 zoom. The RX10 III offers contrast focus and 14fps capture, while the RX10 IV features phase detection focus (similar to the RX100 VA and VI). For more advice on buying a bridge camera, read our list of top picks.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV Review
The Best Compact Cameras
If you definitely want a high-end compact camera, but haven’t decided on Sony, check out our list of the best point-and-shoots we’ve tested overall. And once you’ve found the right model for you, head over to our beyond-basic digital photography tips.