There have now been eight variants of the RX100 series, with at least seven of them still considered to be ‘current’ models. This variety of choice and the similarity of the names can make them difficult to tell apart, or choose between, so we’re going to look at the differences.
The biggest differences are the lenses: the first two versions were built around a 28-100mm equivalent lens with a bright maximum aperture at the wide end but one that’s much slower at the telephoto end.
The Mark III saw a move to a wider, shorter and much brighter lens: a 24-70mm equivalent zoom with F1.8-2.8 maximum aperture, bringing significant benefits in low light and allowing shallower depth-of-field than before.
Most recently, the Mark VI and Mark VII moved to slower but much more flexible 24-200mm equivalent zooms. This puts the RX100 into travel zoom territory.
Beyond this, we’ve tried to summarize the development of the series in terms of spec:
|Contrast Detect, 25-points||3″ fixed||None|
|Contrast Detect, 25-points||3″ tilting||Optional 2.36M-dot|
|1080p60||Contrast Detect, 25-points||3″ tilting||1.44M-dot pop-up|
|4Kp30||Contrast Detect, 25-points||3″ tilting||2.36M-dot pop-up|
|4Kp30||Phase Detect, 315-points||3″ tilting||2.36M-dot one-touch pop-up|
|4Kp30||Phase Detect, 315-points||3″ tilting touch-enabled||2.36M-dot one-touch pop-up|
|4Kp30||Phase Detect, 315-points||3″ tilting touch-enabled||2.36M-dot one-touch pop-up|
The RX100 II added the option to attach an external viewfinder, while for the Mark III Sony found the space to squeeze a pop-up viewfinder into the body. The resolution of the finder was updated in the Mark IV and the refresh rate increased in the Mark V(A) and VI. The Mark VI also saw the finder mechanism redesigned, so that it can be deployed or stowed with a single button press.
The RX100 IV gained a Stacked CMOS sensor with memory built into the chip. This allowed much faster readout, allowing 4K video and an electronic shutter mode, widening the range of lighting conditions in which the camera’s wide apertures can be used. The IV, V and VI can also shoot High Frame Rate video at up to 1000 fps, taken from increasingly low res crops of the sensor then blown up to 1080p.
The small body of the camera limits its ability to dissipate heat. This sees 4K video capture limited to around 5 minutes. The cameras will also dull their rear screens to minimize heat build-up as they approach this limit, which can make outdoor video shooting difficult in warmer climes.
Of particular note is that the Mark VII inherits Sony’s ‘Real-time Tracking’ technology, which allows the camera to seamlessly transition from subject tracking to face-and-eye-detection on the fly, with very little input from the user. It’s powerful and simple, and is the first time on an RX100 that you don’t have to assign a separate button to initiate Eye AF. Here’s a video of it in action.
- 20MP 1″-type CMOS sensor
- 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 zoom lens
- 1080/60p video
- 10fps burst shooting
- CIPA rated to 330 shots per charge
- 3″ fixed rear display
- Slimmest RX100 of the line
The original RX100 was the first camera to put a relatively large 1″-type sensor into a camera you could consider pocketable, and it started a revolution. Today, not only do you have five 1″-sensor models from Sony, but you have multiple competitors from the likes of Canon and Panasonic, too (and, hopefully, Nikon at some point).
At the time of this writing, the RX100 can be had brand-new for $370, making it the cheapest 1″-sensor compact out there (the Canon G9 X Mark II is slightly more expensive still, but with a different feature set and even slimmer size). That makes it a great option for budget-conscious folks that still want to have a camera with them all the time. This model produces a bit softer and noisier JPEGs than the others, albeit not by much (image quality is largely determined by sensor size, common across all models). AF can be challenged in low light, particularly with low-contrast subjects like facial features, and the screen doesn’t tilt like it does with all subsequent RX100s, and there’s not even an option to add a viewfinder. But hey – that’s why it’s the cheapest.
The original RX100 is still available and is now comparatively inexpensive. However, once you’ve experienced things such as the better lenses, improved responsiveness, viewfinders, up-rated video and more attractive color rendering of the newer models, it’s hard to go back. We’d tend to recommend saving up a little bit more for at least the Mark III, since that way you get the full IQ advantage of that big sensor at more than just the wide-angle setting.
Sony RX100 II
- New Bionz X image processor
- Multi-function hot shoe for a flash or electronic viewfinder
- 3″ tilting display (90 degrees up, 40 degrees down)
- Wi-Fi built-in
The multi-function hot shoe, which could work with either an electronic viewfinder or external flashes, was only seen on the RX100 II.
For an extra $180, you can get the second RX100, which added an impressive number of new features without appreciably increasing exterior dimensions.
The RX100 II has the highest-rated battery life of all the models in the range (CIPA rated at 350 shots), so if you want to avoid carrying extra batteries around, this is likely the best bet. There’s a modest improvement in image quality, with more detail in low light JPEGs and less noise at the highest ISOs in Raw thanks to the BSI sensor. The RX100 II also has a multi-function hot shoe, which can be used for an external flash unit, or Sony’s grotesquely expensive FDA-EV1MK electronic viewfinder (at least it’s high quality – which it should be, for $450 MSRP). The LCD can tilt, and its at this point where Wi-Fi with NFC was introduced to the lineup. The Mark II was the last RX100 to have the 28-100mm zoom lens, so if you value the reach of this model over the speed or cost of later iterations, this is your best bet (or, of course, you can check out other manufacturers’ offerings).
If you can swing the extra cost and size – the Mark I is appreciably slimmer and lacks the hotshoe hump – the RX100 II offers quite a bit over the original model, with Wi-Fi in particular being a valuable addition. But it’s not as massive a leap as comes later in the series. If you can’t live without a viewfinder, it’s best to skip this model and go for the next one, which has a viewfinder built-in – but with some other changes that you may want to consider.
Sony RX100 III
- New 24-70mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 zoom lens with built-in ND filter
- Pop-up 1.44M-dot EVF
- New Bionz X image processor
- Full-sensor readout 1080/60p video with higher bitrate
- 3″ screen now tilts 180 degrees for selfies
- Battery life drops to 320 shots
- Hot shoe eliminated
- Improved customizable Function menu
- Greatly improved JPEG engine
Sony’s innovative pop-up electronic viewfinder has found its way into a few other models, and we’re big fans.
The RX100 Mark III was a big jump for the series. As you can see at right, there’s a substantial list of changes (mostly improvements) that you get for an additional $100, with this model’s MSRP jumping to $650.
The biggest changes from a usability standpoint are the addition of an industry-first pop-up electronic viewfinder, which will make sunny-day shooting much easier, and a much needed custom Fn menu for quick access to most features. The new 24-70mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 lens is a showstopper as well, providing excellent optical performance and faster speed compared to the previous lens, though it gives up quite a bit of zoom reach. Whether you value the extra speed over the extra reach is a profoundly personal decision, but we often felt just a bit limited with this newer, though brighter, design. Note, too, that this is the beginning of some significant battery life reductions that only continue on later models.
Beyond that, there are some impressive leaps forward in image quality as well. Raw files are largely unchanged over the Mark II, but JPEGs throughout the ISO range are sharper (albeit with some haloing) and less noisy. Full-sensor readout for 1080/60p video results in much sharper footage with fewer artifacts.
Sony RX100 IV
- New 20MP stacked BSI-CMOS sensor
- 16fps continuous shooting
- 4K/30p video with Log gamma
- Up to 1000/960fps high-speed video
- Up to 1/32000 sec exposures with electronic shutter
- Pop-up 2.36M-dot EVF
- Improved Auto ISO control
- Eye AF-C and faster, more accurate AF performance
- Battery life drops to 280 shots
The RX100 IV is shown here sandwiched between the III and V, which are virtually identical in terms of body and design elements.
The fourth iteration of the RX100 series brings the MSRP an additional $150 higher, to $800 (though it launched at $999). After three iterations of (albeit, slowly) evolving physical design, Sony has changed literally nothing about the outer design and handling with the IV.
On the inside, though, you get a new sensor that’s ‘stacked,’ meaning it has memory chips built right onto the back of the sensor itself, giving it incredibly fast read-out speed and buffering capabilities. Almost all the improvements you see at right, including some significant improvements to autofocus speed and low light accuracy, come from this industry-leading sensor technology.
Of course, with more power but the same battery, it’s no surprise that battery life dips to 280 shots, though you also get a significantly higher resolution electronic viewfinder, faster burst rates, and completely silent shooting. Usability improvements include instant 1:1 magnification of the AF point in playback, and best-practice Auto ISO control that allows you to more finely dial in how you want the camera to bias the ISO as related to shutter speed. Stills image quality isn’t drastically improved (though JPEGs are more intelligently sharpened), but 4K video and a host of video support tools like log gamma put it a significant step ahead of the Mark III if you’re looking for more of a hybrid shooting experience, as opposed to just stills.
Continuing on, we see the addition of new features like continuous Eye-AF and high frame rate video, which really start to overwhelm the RX100’s controls and menu more than ever before. The RX100 IV clearly epitomizes Sony’s new priorities regarding the RX100-series, with vast technological improvements under the hood, but only limited improvements to usability.
Sony RX100 V (A)
- New ‘Front-end LSI’ processor for more speed
- 24fps burst shooting with full autofocus and auto exposure
- 315-point on-sensor phase detection autofocus system
- Oversampled 4K video with almost no rolling shutter
- HFR clips can now be twice as long as before
- Battery life drops to 220 shots
- Further JPEG Engine Improvements
The RX100 V brings a level of speed and AF performance never before seen in a compact camera.
The RX100 V received a mid-life refresh in July 2018, bringing the processor and menus from the RX100 VI and losing the ability to run in-camera apps. This article focuses on this “RX100M5A” variant.*
The V comes at a $100 premium over the previous model bringing us back to an MSRP of $1000, for which you get even more speed, even better 4K video, and a phase detection AF system that is the most advanced in its class.
The RX100 V offers little image quality advantage over the RX100 IV, but 4K video, now oversampled from 5.5K, offers greater detail, though the significant reduction in rolling shutter in 4K is going to offer the biggest benefit to your footage.
Whichever you choose, be aware of the existence of two versions of the RX100 V and make sure you’re getting the one you want.
This is definitely a camera for speed freaks (not a criticism). 24 fps burst shooting with autofocus tracking and Eye AF is a first for the industry, helping you nail the decisive moment. The doubling in length of high frame rate video clips makes them eminently more usable. For many of us, though, there’s just more speed than we even knew what to do with.
The update to V ‘A’ status brings better-organized menus and a custom ‘My Menu’ tab, which make it somewhat easier to cope with the camera’s extensive feature set. Sadly, the camera doesn’t gains the Mark VI’s touchscreen, so it remains an astonishingly able camera with a control system that works best when you point and shoot. It’s probably the world’s best point-and-shoot, but it’s hard not to look jealously at the more hands-on control systems on most of its rivals and imagine how easily it could be the world’s best enthusiast compact.
Ultimately, though, there’s no other camera that offers such impressive AF, such good video and such good image quality in such a small package.
*You may be able to find an original Mark V at a lower price for a while. This lacks the improved AF performance, updated menus and JPEG color of the Mark VI, but has the ability to install in-camera apps, such as the popular intervalometer app. Whichever you choose, be aware of the existence of two versions of the RX100 V and make sure you’re getting the one you want.
- 24-200mm equivalent zoom
- F2.8-4.5 maximum aperture
- Touchscreen control of AF point
- SIngle-press EVF release/close
- Bluetooth for location updates from smartphone
- Battery life improves to 240 shots
- Further JPEG Engine Improvements
The RX100 VI sees the camera gain a longer but slower lens to become an excellent travel companion.
The RX100 VI is the most radical camera in the series, arguably since its introduction. The adoption of a much longer lens significantly expands the types of photo you can take, making it an excellent travel camera. The trade-off is that the lens has become slower to keep the camera down to essentially the same size as the others in the series.
As well as the lens, the Mark VI also gains a touchscreen for AF point positioning and control during playback. The viewfinder mechanism has also been revised so that it can now be deployed or stowed with a single click. Both of these are distinct ergonomic improvements and there are further strides forward in operability with the addition of Sony’s latest menu system. This brings a more comprehensible structure and a custom ‘My Menu’ tab, for gaining quick access to the features you want.
Arguably the world’s best travel camera
The camera’s underlying performance is superb. The autofocus is hugely impressive (though it begins to struggle as light levels fall), the 4K video is highly detailed and has virtually no rolling shutter and the JPEG color rendering is the best yet. We were also impressed with the lens quality, given its ambitious range and reasonably fast aperture range. We still feel the user interface doesn’t expect you to take too much control over the settings but this makes more sense if you’re traveling and want to capture the moment, rather than intentionally devoting time to photography.
The costs of the new lens are twofold: its slower maximum aperture means it can’t capture as much light in low light situations, which means noisier images. These’s also no ND filter in the lens, which would let you use wider apertures for shallower depth-of-field or longer shutter speeds typically used for video, in bright light.
Overall, then, the RX100 VI is arguably the world’s best travel camera. It’s expensive, for sure, but nothing else can match its combination of size, lens range, image quality, AF and movie capability.
- 24-200mm equiv. zoom with F2.8-4.5 maximum aperture
- Real-time Tracking AF for seamless face-and-eye detect
- Blackout-free bursts at 20fps
- Microphone socket added
- Battery life now up to 260 shots
- Digital + lens-based stabilization for very smooth video
The RX100 VII is a refinement of the previous model, with better autofocus, and blackout-free burst shooting, but at a slightly lower 20fps.
The RX100 VII, the series’ latest model, is the most capable pocket camera ever made. While it inherits much of what made up the Mark VI, Sony’s found room to include some pretty dramatic improvements.
The most significant of these is the inclusion of a new type of tracking autofocus, which transitions seamlessly from incredibly tenacious tracking of any subject, to face and eye detection on people, with little-to-no input from the user. It’s powerful, simple, effective, and simply the best autofocus implementation on the market today.
The RX100 VII is the most capable pocket camera ever made
An updated processor also improves 4K video capture, as the camera is now capable of combined digital and lens-based stabilization. This crops your video in slightly, so you don’t get quite as wide an angle as before, but the extra stability is welcome. A newly added microphone socket will make it easier to get better quality audio as well.
And though burst shooting has actually slowed a bit, at 20fps instead of 24fps on the Mark VI, it now comes ‘blackout-free.’ This means you continue to see a fluid, live feed of your subject while shooting 20fps bursts. It makes following fast-moving subjects much easier.
The same compromises the previous model made are present in this model as well, though, and these include a usefully long lens that is hampered a bit by a slower maximum aperture, and a lack of any built-in ND filter that would be handy for video. The menus are still dense, and there’s still some overall operational lag. On the plus side, battery life has increased a bit, but you’ll likely still want to carry a spare.
What’s the right RX100 for you?
Now, the important part. Which one is a fit for whom?
With the release of the Mark VI and Mark VII, it almost becomes easier to make sense of the sprawling RX100 series. Now you can choose a camera with a long, slower lens or ones with a short, fast lens: there’s less sense in buying the short but increasingly slow lens models that started the lineup.
RX100 and RX100 II
With this in mind, we’d probably only recommend the original RX100 Mark I and II if your budget absolutely won’t stretch further. The latest versions have made so many improvements: in terms of JPEG quality, AF performance and video, and with the addition of useful features like the built-in viewfinders, Wi-Fi… The benefits of saving up for the faster lens of the Mark III, or rivals from Canon and Panasonic are, we reckon, worth it.
RX100 III – For the budget stills shooter
The Mark III would be our choice for an entry-level model RX100. It was the first in the series to gain the short, fast 24-70mm equivalent lens. Its F1.8-2.8 maximum aperture means you get the full advantage of that nice big sensor when you’re zoomed-in, rather than just at wide-angle. The Mark III has a lower-resolution viewfinder than newer models, and can’t shoot 4K video, but its image quality is pretty much a match for them, especially if you shoot Raw. Since this camera came out, though, Canon has introduced the PowerShot G5 X Mark II, which houses a similar sensor, more versatile lens and a similar pop-up electronic viewfinder in a body that handles better and has a friendlier interface. It’s also around $150 more expensive at the time of this writing, but we feel its worth the extra cash, overall.
RX100 IV – Stuck in the middle?
The RX100 IV falls into a similar trap to the first two models: once you’ve seen what can be done with newer technology, the more limited version might not make sense. It gains 4K video and a higher-res viewfinder over the Mark III but, although you’re paying for a more advanced Stacked CMOS sensor, the IV doesn’t have the phase detection autofocus or processing power to make the most of it. We’d either suggest saving up for the Mark V or looking closely at the Mk III, Canon’s G5X II or Panasonic’s LX10.
RX100 VI – For the world traveler
The RX100 VI, with its travel-zoom-territory 24-200mm equivalent lens, is a great choice for travel photography. Its maximum aperture of F2.8-4.5 means it’s pretty flexible, though it could be limiting for dim interiors and nighttime shooting. While its autofocus system isn’t quite as capable as the newer Mark VII, it’s perfectly fine for general use. Its 4K video capture is solid (the lack of an ND filter could be problematic though), and the Wi-Fi system means it’s easy to get images onto your phone and off onto the web. In the end, we’d recommend getting the Mark VI and saving a few bucks over the very latest model if you don’t need the absolute best autofocus performance or the most stable 4K video capture.
RX100 V (A), and RX100 VII – Ultimate capability, but for different things
The updated ‘A’ version of the already impressive RX100 V looks extremely promising. Its quiet introduction sees the camera creep back up to its launch-date MSRP but the benefits of the improved menus and better JPEG color add to what is already a highly capable camera. Updated AF algorithms should further improve things. We still don’t think it’s as engaging to use as some of its rivals but none of them can match the speed, AF performance or 4K quality of the Sony.
At which point you have to choose between the low-light capability of the RX100 V (A) or the greater flexibility of the RX100 VII’s longer lens. The V has a built-in ND filter, which will be useful for video shooters, while the VII has a touchscreen and quicker-to-use EVF mechanism. But it’s the lenses that should decide it for you.
It all comes down to what kind of photography you expect to do
The RX100 V and VII are both fast-shooting compacts that produce great photographs. They each have excellent autofocus and 4K video, though the VII has the edge in both cases thanks to its improved processing power. If you’ve decided the combination of price, performance, image quality and size is the one you want, it all comes down to what kind of photography you expect to do: the bright 24-70mm equiv zoom of the Mark V will shoot at any time, if those focal lengths work for your subject, whereas the 24-200mm equiv of the VII will shoot just about any subject, so long as there’s enough light. Which matters more to you?
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