The recent launch of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV, the latest in the company's lauded RX100 series, was highly anticipated. The first two models were named editor's choice in the best compact prosumer category in The Straits Time Digital Life Awards in the past years.
Although the third model missed out on this year's award, I have high expectations of the latest one.
My enthusiasm was stoked by a number of its innovative features, including the world's first stacked 1-inch CMOS image sensor. Unlike conventional image sensors, this 20.2-megapixel sensor is built by putting layers on top of each other.
This allows more space behind each individual pixel for high-speed signal processing circuitry, for faster data readout. An attached memory chip acts as a buffer to store data, so the Bionz image processor can handle the data at a smoother pace. The result is five times the readout speed of its predecessor.
As a result, the camera is able to capture slow-motion video at up to 960 frames per second (fps), 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) video capture and operate at an ultra-fast shutter speed of 1/32000 second.
IMAGE SENSOR: 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor RS CMOS
LENS: 24-70mm f/1.8-f/2.8
DISPLAY: Tiltable 3-inch LCD with 1,228,800 dots; Built-in electronic viewfinder with 2,359,296 dots
SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 16 frames per second
SENSITIVITY: ISO 80-12,800
CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi, Near Field Communication
WEIGHT: 298g (with battery and memory card)
FEATURES: 1 2 3 4 5
DESIGN: 1 2 3 4 5
PERFORMANCE: 1 2 3 4 5
BATTERY LIFE: 1 2 3 4 5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 1 2 3 4 5
OVERALL: 1 2 3 4 5
Resolution of its electronic viewfinder (EVF) has gone up to 2.36 million dots from 1.44 million dots. Burst speed has also gone up to 16fps from 10fps. The new features have come at a cost though. This camera is $200 more expensive than its predecessor.
DESIGN AND HANDLING
The Mark IV looks much like the previous model. The smooth aluminium frame feels great to hold. It has no contoured grip but its light weight makes it good for street and travel photography.
Button layout is well thought-out. A Mode dial on top lets you change shooting modes easily and quickly. Sony has combined two automatic modes in Mark III - superior auto and intelligent auto - into one automatic mode in this model. It also added the high frame rate (HFR) video mode.
I like that this Mode dial takes some effort to turn, which reduces the chance of users accidentally turning to other modes.
A rear clickable dial allows for quick access to Flash, Drive and other setting changes. A control ring around the lens barrel can be configured for lens zooming or other settings, via the camera's menu.
In Manual mode, you use the control ring to adjust aperture size, and the rear dial for shutter speed. In the Aperture-Priority mode, the control ring and rear dial both control the aperture settings. This duplication of functions appears in the Shutter-Priority mode as well, in which the control ring and rear dial are used to control shutter speed.
This is a waste, as one of the controls could have been used for exposure compensation instead. Hopefully, a future firmware update will fix this.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is bright and sharp, and especially useful when shooting in bright sunlight. I prefer composing pictures with an EVF rather than a display, so the improved resolution of the EVF in this version is a welcome addition.
The 3-inch display can be tilted down by 45 degrees and up by 180 degrees - perfect for selfie lovers. By default, the camera automatically activates a 3-second timer with the display in these positions. But the display is still not touchscreen.
The camera starts up and shuts down in 1.6 seconds - marginally faster than its predecessor. Zooming from 24mm to 70mm takes the same 2 seconds.
Autofocusing (AF) is almost instantaneous in bright light. In dim light, it takes about 1.1 seconds to achieve focus with AF assist light.
Using an SD card with a writing speed of 95MB/s, the camera captured 43 RAW images in 6.2 seconds before the buffer ran out. That's nearly twice the speed and buffer load of its predecessor. It seems the new stacked image sensor is working.
One more thing: Please note that you will need a 64GB SDXC card for slow-motion video capture.
Images are sharp with crisp details and have nice saturation across the entire focal range. But the edges seem to be a tad soft and chromatic aberration is visible in high contrast scenes.
Image noise performance is similar to its predecessor, with no noise artefacts until ISO 800. Only at ISO 1,600 are noise artefacts visible.
Pictures shot at ISO 3,200 are good for small prints like 3R size. But anything above ISO 6,400 may show up too many visible noise artefacts during printing.
Video quality - both full high-definition (HD) and 4K - is crisp. But it may take 2 seconds to get a sharp focus when you pan to a new scene.
Slow-motion videos at 960fps (which yields 1,136 x 384 pixels image quality) are upscaled to full HD. So don't expect true HD video quality when shooting in this mode.
Battery life is at about 280 stills on a full charge - around 30 frames fewer than the previous model.
• Verdict: The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI should satisfy even discerning compact camera lovers, since it is essentially a "RX100 IIIS" with faster operation, quality 4K and slow-motion video capture.