Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI

The RX100 VI is the latest premium compact camera from Sony. This sixth-generation model is the biggest update we've seen in a while to Sony's growing range of RX100 pocked-sized high-end compacts. 

While the last three cameras in the lineup have shared the same lens design, with each iteration mostly only seeing a number of performance boosts and tweaks over previous models, the RX100 VI benefits from a much longer zoom range than its predecessors, making it a potentially much more versatile piece of kit. 

Sony has managed to achieve this without impacting on the overall size of the camera – so does this make the RX100 VI the ultimate compact camera? Let's take a look…

Features

  • All-new 24-200mm zoom lens
  • Touchscreen control is a first for RX100 line
  • 20.1MP resolution remains the same

While the RX100 V, RX100 IV and RX100 III all featured a fast Zeiss-branded 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens, this standard zoom range might be a little limiting at the long end for some, and it's all-change for the RX100 VI, with the new camera sporting a new 24-200mm zoom lens with a variable maximum aperture of f/2.8-4.5.

The payoff, then, is that while the lens offers considerably more reach over the 24-70mm optic, the maximum aperture available isn't quite as impressive. However, it's not quite as bad as it seems, as it's only a stop slower at f/4 when the lens is extended just beyond 70mm. It compares pretty favorably to rivals such as Panasonic's Lumix ZS100 (known as the TZ100 outside the US), which has a 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 zoom lens, and the new Lumix ZS200, with its 24-360mm f/3.3-6.4 lens.

To help reduce the effects of camera shake, the RX100 VI features Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, which delivers a 4-stop advantage. This means that rather than having to shoot at say, 1/250 sec with the lens fully extended at 200mm, it's possible to shoot at a shutter speed four stops slower, which would be 1/30 sec in this case, and still achieve sharp shots. 

It's a bit of shame, though, to see that the built-in neutral density (ND) filter, a feature on previous models, hasn't made it across to the RX100 VI – this means that in some conditions you won't be able to use the lens at its maximum aperture, or drag out the exposure. 

Just like the RX100 IV and V, the RX100 VI features a back-illuminated 20.1MP 1-inch sensor with a clever stacked design, which sees the memory chips built right onto the back of the sensor to deliver incredibly fast readout speeds. However, Sony has upgraded the BIONZ X image processor with a new LSI chip to enhance the performance of the new camera even further. 

This means that while the RX100 VI can match the staggering 24fps burst shooting speed of the RX100 V, the buffer has been extended even further to 233 (JPEG) images, compared to 150 shots on the RX100 V – and it'll manage this while shooting with continuous AF and auto exposure. 

It's fair to say that Sony has been one of the slowest brands to embrace touchscreen functionality on cameras, but the good news is that the RX100 VI is the first camera in the RX100 series to get this feature. This is means you now have the option to use touch focusing and touch shutter should you wish. 

The screen resolution does take a little hit, dropping from 1,299,000 dots to 921,000, but the range of movement of the vari-angle display has improved. While the outward movement of 180 degrees remains the same, the downward movement is extended from 45 degrees to 90 degrees. 

The good news, though, is that the EVF no longer needs to be manually extended when you pop it up to use it

The RX100 VI features a similar concealed pop-up electronic viewfinder (EVF) to the one we first saw on the RX100 III, with a 2.36 million-dot resolution and a magnification of 0.59x. The good news, though, is that the EVF no longer needs to be manually extended when you pop it up to use it, with a new mechanism doing this automatically. It may sound like a minor tweak, but it's a welcome improvement over the older design.

If you can get over the fact that the RX100 VI doesn't feature an external microphone port, it doesn't disappoint when it comes to video either. The camera is capable of shooting in 4K up to 30p, with a maximum bitrate of 100Mbps, using oversampled 5.5K footage from the entire sensor, which promises to keep moire to a minimum and avoid the ‘jaggies’ that can sometimes otherwise ruin footage.

If you want to shoot some dramatic slow-motion footage, the RX100 VI can also shoot in 1080p up to an impressive 120fps. The RX100 VI is also the first Cyber-shot camera to offer 4K HDR compatibility, thanks to its new HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) picture profile. 

Build and handling

  • Only 1.8mm thicker than RX100 V
  • Features a solid metal construction
  • Weighs 301g

Despite the substantially longer zoom ranged offered by the RX100 VI compared to its predecessors, you'd be hard pushed to pick it out of an RX100 series lineup, as the design is almost identical to previous generations – the RX100 VI is only 1.8mm thicker than the RX100 V at 42.8mm, and only 2g heavier at 301g.

This means the RX100 VI features the same sleek and understated look that previous RX100 cameras have enjoyed, with a durable metal finish that completes the premium feel of the camera (although it's not weather-sealed).

The slight downside to this relatively slimline design is the absence of any form of handgrip on the front of the camera, which compared to the comfy textured grip on the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II, for example, is disappointing. There are a number of aftermarket solutions, some of which are very high-end, while Sony itself produces the optional AG-R2 attachment grip for £14 / $14.99 – although considering the low price we'd really expect to see this bundled with the camera. 

The RX100 VI springs into life almost instantaneously when switched on (or when you flick the switch on the side of the camera to activate the EVF). As we've mentioned, the new sprung mechanism for the EVF is a lot more satisfactory than the previous method of manually extending the viewfinder out from the housing once raised from the top plate. Rather unhelpfully, though, by default the RX100 VI shuts down when you collapse the viewfinder back into the body – we reckon this will be one of the first functions you'll deactivate if you take the plunge with a RX100 VI.

Around the lens barrel is a customizable control ring that can be assigned to a range of functions; by default it's used to control aperture when you're in aperture priority mode, and shutter speed in shutter priority mode. Otherwise, there are relatively few body-mounted controls, with the four-way control wheel on the rear of the camera the only other key control to access the camera's main shooting settings. 

We’re certainly pleased to see touchscreen functionality come to an RX100 series camera

This arrangement can make the RX100 VI a touch fiddly to use, depending on the shooting combination you've selected. For instance, when shooting in aperture priority mode with Flexible Spot focusing selected, the four-way control wheel is initially assigned to select the AF area size and its positioning. Should you want to dial in some exposure compensation, you'll have to hit the central button to deactivate the AF area option, before selecting exposure compensation and then using the four-way control wheel to adjust. If you then want to then toggle the AF point again, you'll have to go back into the Function menu to select the Focus Area again. 

We're certainly pleased to see touchscreen functionality come to an RX100 series camera, but its implementation is a little limited, with only tap focus and tap shutter (with the camera focusing at the same time) on offer. This certainly makes focus selection that bit quicker in some instances, but you can't use the touchscreen to help you navigate the RX100 VI's quick menu and main menu, with the four-way control wheel on the rear used to access these. 

As we've seen with recent Sony Alpha cameras, the RX100 VI benefits from a slightly refined menu interface, making it a little more straightforward to find your way around the camera's various settings and modes. 

Autofocus

  • Sophisticated hybrid AF system improved over RX100 V
  • Touchscreen improves handling
  • Advanced focus tracking and EyeAF

The RX100 VI enjoys an enhanced version of the hybrid AF system that impressed on the RX100 V. This sees 315 phase-detect AF points covering 65% of the frame, supplemented by 25 larger contrast-detect AF focus areas, with the two systems working in tandem to acquire focusing. Initially the RX100 VI will use phase-detect AF to lock focus, with the contrast-detect system then fine-tuning where necessary. 

With the upgraded BIONZ X and Front-end LSI on the RX100 VI, Sony claims focusing is as quick as 0.03 seconds, and we're not inclined to quibble with this – it's certainly one of the quickest, if not the quickest, compact cameras out there in acquiring focus. The RX100 VI also includes Sony’s advanced High-density Tracking AF technology, which sees the focusing system concentrate AF points around a subject to improve tracking and focus accuracy, while Sony's Eye AF technology is also available, with approximately 2x the tracking performance of the RX100 V.

It’s when you select Continuous AF that the sophistication of the RX100 VI’s autofocus system really shines

Use the RX100 VI's Wide focus area in Single AF mode and you'll have a very competent point-and-shoot camera, with the camera making all the focusing decisions for you. If you want more manual input you've got Center, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot (with the addition of eight points around the desired AF point to assist with AF) modes, with the latter two of these enabling you to manually move the AF point round the frame. While you can do this via the four-way control wheel it does require a couple of button presses, so the new tap focus functionality is very welcome here. 

It's when you select Continuous AF that the sophistication of the RX100 VI's autofocus system really shines. This sees an extra Lock-on AF focus area mode become available, with the choice of various sub-modes on top of that. Tracking performance is incredibly impressive, with the screen lighting up with a multitude of AF points as it tracks your subject around the frame. 

The RX100 VI’s EyeAF works really well at locking on to your subject’s eye. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI, 1/640 sec at f/4.5, ISO125 

There's also Face Detection, but those shooting a lot of portraits will want to take advantage of the RX100 VI's EyeAF feature. Hit the central button in the four-way control wheel to activate this and the RX100 VI will focus on your subject's eye, and provided you have continuous AF selected the camera will continue to track the eye as your subject moves around the frame – clever stuff.

Performance

  • 24fps burst shooting
  • Buffer improved to 233 shots over RX100 V
  • 310-shot battery life possible

Want to fill up a SD card quickly? The RX100 VI will happily shoot a burst of 233 JPEG images at a staggering 24fps – a burst shooting speed that would make many high-end cameras look pedestrian, and a big improvement over the RX100 V's 150 shots. It can shoot raw at this burst rate as well, although the buffer is a little more modest at a still very impressive 109 raw files – also an improvement over the RX100 V's 77 raws. Curiously, however, the RX100 VI's card slot is only UHS-I and not UHS-II, which means you may have to wait briefly while the camera writes the data to the card before making any changes to shooting settings.

While the rear display may have seen a slight reduction in resolution compared to the RX100 V, you'd be hard pressed to notice this in real-world shooting conditions. We actually used the new camera side-by-side with a RX100 IV, and couldn't discern any difference. 

If you think the pop-up electronic viewfinder might be a bit of a gimmick, you'll be pleasantly surprised when you lift it up to your eye. There are certainly larger and brighter EVFs out there, but for a camera of this size it's very good indeed, with a crisp display and generous field of view. 

As we found on the RX100 V, the RX100 VI's multi-zone metering system is a dependable one, while you shouldn't have to stray too far from the camera's Auto White Balance to achieve decent results under a range of lighting conditions. 

Battery performance is identical to the RX100 V's at 220 shots if you're planning on using both the rear display and EVF, but this can be extended to 310 shots provided you shoot solely with the rear display and have this set to its auto-off mode. You may want to consider an optional battery, although the RX100 VI does support direct USB charging. 

Image quality

  • ISO125-12,800, expandable to 80-12,800
  • Image quality virtually identical to predecessor
  • Multiple picture effects

With the sensor appearing to be the same chip as in the RX100 V (and the RX100 IV for that matter), images from the RX100 VI don't throw up any nasty surprises. 

As we've seen in the past, the 20.1MP 1-inch sensor is capable of delivering images with impressive levels of detail. They're not going to trouble those from a mirrorless camera or DSLR, but for a compact they're very good, and  you should be able to make decent A3 prints at 300dpi without the need to increase the size of the file.

Image noise is controlled very well up until ISO800. Go above that and you'll find that color noise begins to appear in shadow areas. However, don't restrict yourself to these lower sensitivities, as even at ISO3200 images still hold up well, with luminance (grain-like in appearance) and color noise only encroaching on the image. We'd suggest shooting in raw above this if you can, but should you shoot JPEGs you might want to dial down the camera's noise reduction to its lowest setting. 

For a compact camera, the RX100 VI performs really well when it comes to dynamic range, with raw files offering a decent amount of latitude for recovering detail post-capture.

As for the new 24-200mm lens, there's little to complain about here. It appeared sharp throughout the zoom range in our testing, with distortion and vignetting well controlled. The obvious negative is the slightly slower maximum aperture range compared to the RX100 V – but if it was to have a comparable aperture you'd be looking at a decidedly larger camera. 

Verdict

If you look at the spec sheet for the RX100 VI alone, it pretty much wipes the floor with most of its compact-sized rivals. We don't think there's a more advanced or better specified compact camera out there at the moment. 

The trouble is that accessing some of these features, and the wealth of options available, can be a little fiddly. With relatively few body-mounted controls and limited customization options, the RX100 VI can be a bit frustrating to use on occasion. The addition of a touchscreen certainly alleviates some of these frustrations, but compared to more modestly priced rivals like Canon's PowerShot G7 X Mark II and Panasonic's Lumix ZS200 / TZ200, it still feels a bit labored.

The absence of a built-in microphone port is also disappointing, as this could make the RX100 VI a phenomenal vlogging camera; that said, you'd struggle to find another pocket-sized compact that features a built-in mic port.

Going back to the positives, the much greater zoom range opens up a much broader range of subjects, while the fact that the new camera is only 1.8mm thicker than its predecessor is incredibly impressive. Factor in the blistering 24fps burst shooting and highly sophisticated autofocus system and the RX100 VI is an incredibly versatile pocket camera. 

Should you buy one? In many ways this is one of the best compact cameras out there – certainly, when it comes to performance there's nothing else that can touch it, while the images from the 20.1-inch sensor are excellent. But the RX100 VI's strength is also its weakness, with some of the tech that's on tap – and which you're paying a premium for – feeling a little like a sledgehammer for cracking nuts.

Competition

Phil Hall
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