Should you buy the Sony DSC-RX100 IV?

We’ve had the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV (DSC-RX100M4) for a few weeks now and have used it extensively while traveling through Indonesia.

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This feature packed palm-size camera has a memory-attached 1.0-type stacked CMOS sensor which allows for better low light captures, smoother 40x super slow motion, super-high-speed 1/32000 sec captures, anti-distortion shutter, and true 4K video capture (limited to 5 minutes). Furthermore, a pop-up high-resolution electronic viewfinder is available for better image compositions.

Which begs the question, if you are shopping for a compact camera at this point, should you buy the RX100IV?

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Daylight shots always crisp with RX100IV. A little dim as EV set at -1.0 by accident but easily tweaked up in post production

All images shot with RX100IV have only been resized. Some have been cropped. All shots are handheld and without flash. Other than pictures of the RX100IV which was shot using another camera, none have been sharpened or tweaked in any other way.


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Overcast skies. Kawah Putih Jump in Auto Mode

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Note the fine detail of distant trees, and sun-rays cutting through morning mist (and haze)

 

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Are you a flower stalker? RX100IV captures tiny things really well. But note, some might consider the colors a little too vivid.

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Walked through dark backlanes of Malioboro for some low light picture captures

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A television room possibly shared by a few households in Malioboro area

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Sharp captures of rushing waves at dusk, Uluwatu

If you are on a tight budget, then the RX100IV  might be out of your range. At an average price of USD950, this mini black beauty is helluva expensive. It is nearly twice the price of some entry-level DSLRs. If you still want a high-end, feature filled compact camera, earlier models of the RX series should now have reduced prices and probably come with extra gifts to entice you further.

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Bar shots with flashing lights and moving bodies were challenging. Shot on Auto Mode. Noise evident in higher ISO.

If you aren’t constrained by a budget, then you can now take home this pocket-size wonder that is simply the leader in its class. What strikes most users first is how unbelievably compact it is. It looks sophisticated, sturdy and beautiful, all at the same time. Underlying the tiny matte black body that fits in the palm of an adult, is a powerhouse of components that churns out high quality images to rival the basic to mid-end DSLR cameras. Will it deliver award-winning image compositions in your hands? Well, that is if you have the eye for photography and can decipher the hundreds of settings embedded in the menu and buttons. Throw in some photoshop wizardry too, and you will have a high quality, professional looking photo.

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Roxanne left the red light on

Three of the key issues for us using the RX100IV is the lack of the touch function on the screen, limited zoom and lack of a hot shoe mount for external flash.

One would think the most high-tech compact camera (in the world) commanding such a high price tag would give you all the bells and whistles, but it seems Sony refuses to add the touchscreen or a touch focus function. For us transitioning from touch focus cameras, relying solely on manual focusing and thumbing through the complex menu with buttons was tedious and difficult. It increased our image composition time. Sometimes, we just missed the moment trying to fiddle with the focus settings or the focus ring. Sure, the tiny terror has a 20.1 MP 1″ Exmor RS BSI CMOS Sensor, and BIONZ X Image Processor which provides a fast, intelligent and responsive auto focus function providing near accurate focus during our use, but the inclusion of a built-in touch focus function would have made it the ultimate compact companion. One solution was to select Wide Focus which was to have as many subjects in focus so as not to miss any important detail in the picture.

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Remote live view via WiFi. Ignore the USB cable. Phone was being charged.

The other solution, which we assume was Sony’s plans to reduce manufacturing costs, was to have you connect your smartphone equipped with the PlayMemories app for remote live views. This app would then allow for tap focus and various other setting manipulations. This solution isn’t always that convenient to set up. Remote live view feature has its advantages but not always the case for quick photography. Do you really want to hold 2 gadgets?

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Capturing Ramayana performance in low light and at great distance. Handheld

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Ramayana Ballet with Prambanan Temple in the background. This was how far we were seated.

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Prambanan Temple possibly 400 meters away, at full zoom . A lot of details lost.

Though the RX100IV has a superior image sensor, processor and a bright Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/1.8-2.8 Lens, the limited (24-70mm) 3X zoom range might not be suitable for all travel photography needs. We still needed to reach for our interchangeable lens camera for longer range focus. For wide shots, the RX100IV performed very well. It’s just not for capturing distant subjects – made worse in low light conditions.

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Though not featured in this post. The video captures of the show was surprising sharp and the sound decent. You will just have to take our word for it.

The built-in pop-up flash in RX100IV works very well. It’s generally bright without being harsh. Capturing subjects in dark places with its flash wasn’t a problem thanks to its bright lens, fast focusing low light sensors, and effective internal flash level management. However, since we commonly shoot with external flash and enjoy the soft creamy light on subjects, the lack of a hot shoe mount meant we couldn’t attach an external flash. This is a drawback for us.

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What we liked most in the end, about the camera, was the pop-up viewfinder, articulated screen, and WiFi connectivity. Viewfinders are very useful for improved image composition especially for manual focusing, low light shooting, and when you don’t want the screen light drawing you attention in a dimly lit crowded room. The 2.35 million dot electronic viewfinder provided sharp images. The articulated screen, though unable to be pulled to the side and twisted, provided sufficient composition from high to low angles. WiFi connectivity is becoming common in many compacts now. The ability to quickly sync with smart devices meant easy remote views (and controls) in our smartphones and quick file transfers. This meant faster upload times for images and videos to our social channel feeds. The NFC option for quick connections to NFC enable smart devices didn’t work as quickly or effectively at all. Honestly, it only worked twice in our initial tests.

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In summary, if you are seeking a top of the line camera with the convenience to slip it into your pocket, then the RX100IV is the best compact camera you can buy. A close rival would be the Canon PowerShot G5 X which cost less but is bigger in size. If Sony is the brand you trust but don’t want to spend that much, then RX100III is your next best contender. The main difference between III and IV? The IV has an improved Exmor RS CMOS sensor, 4K video, 960fps high-speed video, higher resolution viewfinder, and higher shutter speed (40-1/32000).

Pros Cons
Top class viewfinder
Articulating screen (Great for selfies!)
Great images in low light
Fast shutter
Fast autofocus
Plenty of manual settings
Automatic mode has Superior mode for difficult lighting conditions
WiFi – Easy file transfers, helpful Remote Live View with smart devices
No touchscreen
Limited zoom range
No hot shoe mount for external flash
No external mic input
NFC (Didn’t work most of the time so we gave up)
Poor battery life
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