THE LITTLE CAMERA THAT COULD

camera market

Tо hear the media tell it, smartphones are all but obliterating the compact camera market. We beg to differ. True, the iPhone and its ilk have played havoc with the low-end camera market, forcing manufacturers to evolve their products quickly or else. But the good news is that, at least for now, Darwinism is on the cameraside. Companies are putting big, beefy sensors into small, sexy bodies and performing feats no phone can hope to (yet). Case in point: Sonynew DSC-RX100.

As you may have noticed, the megapixel wars have been replaced by the battle for the biggest sensor. The RX100biggest selling point is a 1-inch CMOS thatabout the same size as the sensor in Nikoninterchangeable-lens 1-Series system cameras. A little smaller than a Four Thirds chip, itabout two and a half to three times as big as most high-end compacts. Increased sensor real estate means the RX100 has better color reproduction and low-light performance than any other pocket-friendly camera weseen. Plus, the sizeable 20.2-megapixel resolution helps preserve detail, even when applying noise reduction. Itespecially noticeable when shooting RAW (a nice feature in itself).

The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens is faster than what you find on most compacts. It opens all the way to f/1.8 at its widest end and drops to a better-than-average f/4.9 at the long end.

 compact camera

While itsharp and bright throughout, its full-frame equivalent range of 28-100mm is not quite as wide as welike.

On the back of the RX100, a 3-inch LCD screen dominates. With 1.229 million pixels of resolution, itbeautiful. Still, at that size it doesnleave much room for buttons, and that can make navigating the full suite of manual controls a little cumbersome. The rotating control ring around the lens helps, but we wish it clicked as it turned like the one on the Canon S100 does. Our guess is that Sony omitted the clicks for the sake of its smooth-turning manual focus, which actually works pretty well thanks to the nifty MF Assist and Peaking features. Even so, weprefer to use it like a normal aperture ring.

 compact camera

A real viewfinder would help with manual focusing, but as the RX100 lacks a hotshoe, itnot even an option. Thata shame, partly because SonyEVF add-on for the NEX cameras is so excellent, but mainly because shooting with the RX100 will always happen at armlength.

If thata non-starter, youprobably better off with something like the Fujifilm X10.

 compact camera market

At $650, the RX100 competes directly and admirably with interchangeable-lens cameras.

In some areas it even outshines them: 1080p video at 60fps? Not even pro-grade HDSLRs can do that.

For now, the RX100 is an excellent and unique entry into the compact camera market, and we wouldnbe surprised if it becomes the new blueprint for compact cameras. When using fixed lenses, thereno penalty for using odd-sized sensors, allowing companies to use whatever chip offers the best imaging performance. And at the end of the day, photo quality is whatgoing to keep smartphones from eating compacts for lunch.

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