Sony’s RX100 line of point-and-shoots are widely considered to be among the best you can buy. Beginning with the original RX100, Sony’s pocket powerhouse pushed the limits with a 1-inch sensor coupled with a sharp Zeiss-branded lens. That success was followed shortly after by the RX100 II and RX100 III, each adding features like a pop-up EVF and improved controls.
Sony has raised the bar once again with the fourth installment of the series: the Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 IV (MSRP $948). The RX100 IV builds on its predecessor with a new (and slightly improved) sensor and processor. These upgrades enable it to capture 4K footage and faster bursts of photos, providing a hybrid capability unheard of in a pocketable camera.
Like the previous RX100s, version IV makes a strong case that it’s the best point-and-shoot you can buy. The problem? Buying it costs more than ever. And with the original RX100 still on the market–often for under $500–the RX100 IV’s biggest competition might just be its predecessors.
And you wouldn’t be sacrificing much by opting for the older model: the RX100 IV has the same compact body, same lens, same controls, and (almost) the same pop-up viewfinder as last year’s model. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the RX100 series, the cameras are like the pocket-sized bazookas of the camera world; they pack class-leading firepower into a modest body that can fit in your shirt pocket.
As far as shooting with the RX100, there is a tilting rear monitor that is used as a viewfinder, to navigate menus, or access playback. The left side also has the release for the pop-up viewfinder, if you want a more locked-in shooting experience. I prefer using the pop-up viewfinder, but it’s small, and the rear LCD is very handy for getting shots from unique angles — or the perfect selfie.
Sony largely hasn’t messed with the RX100’s design because it strikes a great balance between usability and portability. It’s a perfect solution for someone that cares about image quality, but doesn’t want to lug around a large camera body.
While the new sensor certainly improves what the camera is capable of, we didn’t see much change in image quality on the still side. That’s not to say the quality is bad–it’s easily the best quality you’ll get out of any pocketable point-and-shoot–but if you’re looking to upgrade from the RX100 III for improved image quality alone, you’ll end up disappointed.
Color and white balance accuracy, both of which are always iffy on point-and-shoot cameras, are fantastic on the RX100 IV. While shooting in uncompressed RAW mode is always the best route for ensuring accurate colors, you can trust this camera’s auto white balance to get it right in most lighting situations.
Most of the notable improvements actually come on the video side, largely thanks to the addition of highly effective 4K recording. And thanks to the fast lens and backlit sensor, we were able to shoot in near-dark settings with very little drop in quality. Video enthusiasts looking for an on-the-go 4K option should look no further.
Burst shooting also received a bump in performance, capturing a blistering 16+ frames per second while using the Speed Priority Continuous mode.
One upgrade we are very fond of is the improved electronic viewfinder (EVF). The RX100 III had a 1,400,000 dot LCD, which we found extremely useful for shooting on bright days. Sony took this a step further and upped its resolution from 1.4 million dots to 2.36 million dots, producing a more detailed image to frame with.
We still would’ve appreciated a touchscreen, however–especially considering the steep price tag. Touch-to-focus would also help to improve the video functionality.
Even without touch-to-focus, the RX100 IV has a plethora of handy new video features. For starters, video can now be shot with picture profiles, giving users more control of the look of their videos. You can now shoot up to 960fps for super slow motion footage — though its quality isn’t great. And “Dual Rec” allows you to shoot 17MP still images while simultaneously recording movies.
Ultimately, Sony has once again produced one of the best pocketable cameras that money can buy—it just requires a lot more money than it used to. Frankly, unless you need 4K video or the burst mode capabilities, you’d be better off going with the RX100 III. And if you can live without an EVF then you can go one step further and and pick up the RX100 II (less than $600) or the original RX100 (less than $500) without sacrificing much.
There are other solid options outside of the RX100 line, as well. For more advanced photographers who don’t need zoom, the Ricoh GR is an excellent choice. While you lose the amazing video features, you get a larger APS-C sensor and a lower price point.
Another strong contender is Panasonic’s Lumix LX100. This is the camera that, just last year, dethroned the RX100 III as the best compact point-and-shoot on the market. It has a larger Four-thirds sensor, better viewfinder, and also offers 4K video. The RX100 IV edges it out, but not by much.
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