I don’t do equipment reviews, and this certainly isn’t one. But I borrowed a Sony RX100 a while back. It’s an interesting little camera. David Pogue of The New York Times calls it, in his inimitable fashion, “… the best pocket camera ever made.” Camera geeks and reviewers can be a contentious bunch, but most seem to agree on one thing: Because most people have cellphones with semi-decent cameras built-in, sales in the basic point-and-shoot camera market are waning. So camera companies are concentrating on what’s called the “enthusiast” market. This means small cameras with a number of features point-and-shoots and cellphones don’t bother with: bigger sensors (which mean far better image detail); faster lenses, manual controls, RAW capability and more.
The Sony RX100, above, fits into that segment of the market and at least for now seems to be leading in the pocket camera slice of it. There are small cameras with bigger sensors, but they aren’t really pocket cameras. Basically, you can think of the RX100 as a Canon S100 with a much bigger sensor. The image below, which like the one above is from DPReview’s first look at the RX100, shows the relative sensor sizes of some cameras, and you can see where the Sony fits in.
One stumbling block for a lot of us: no optical or electronic viewfinder, just the rear LCD screen. I used the camera on a snowy, squally day a few weeks ago and thought it performed well. However, between the falling snow and the overall outdoor brightness, I could see almost nothing in the LCD when I was trying to compose pictures. I really just had to point, shoot and hope for the best. So, despite the 1.8 Zeiss zoom lens and a host of other great features, it’s not a camera for me. But it seems like every week new small cameras with large sensors come out. Nikon unveiled one last week and Fuji has a series of them using APS-C sensors, which are as large as those on most entry level DSLRs.
One thing: Enthusiast is really spelled “enthu$ia$t.” All of the cameras for this market are relatively expensive. The RX100 goes for about $650 and the Fujis start around $1,000. But the camera companies keep introducing new ones, so there’s always the possibility that this season’s models will eventually be cheaper, if there are any left when the newest small-camera/big-sensor model comes out. Sony’s small-camera line culminates with the RX1, a little camera with a full-format sensor, the same size as top-of-the-line professional DSLRs use. It costs about $2,800. But that’s another story.