While smartphone cameras have indefinitely replaced the need for a compact digital camera, there are some who still prefers a little more in terms of image quality with a bit of old-school style street shooting. Cameras like the Sony RX100 series have helped the digital compact camera market to sustain with the threat of smartphone cameras. We are going to review the Sony RX100 Mark V and find out if the pro-level purchase of the camera is worth over a high-end smartphone camera.
Design and Features
While Sony has been adding more and more features after each generation of the RX100 series, there has not been any major design change from the previous generation. The latest RX100 Mark V looks exactly similar to the previous Sony RX100 Mark IV with both almost weighing 299g each.
Sony has included a battery on the RX100 Mark V that can only shoot up to 220 still images. On the contrary, the previous Sony RX100 Mark IV can shoot up to 280 still images. Shooting with the viewfinder of the Mark V allows you to shoot up to 210 images (230 on the Mark IV). This is quite a let-down for those who are planning to jump from the Mark IV to Mark V.
Speaking of which, I absolutely love the way how it OLED electronic viewfinder pops out. One of the cool features is that the camera turns on by itself when you pop-up the viewfinder. It feels like you’ve opened the lens of a sniper scope and the electronics just turns on by itself, ready for action. It’s a better way to turn on the camera in style while you need to shoot the right moment, instantly. The image quality in the 2,359,296-dot OLED viewfinder is drop-dead gorgeous and Sony has been implementing these viewfinders in almost all their pro-cameras till date. Although, while the camera is small, the viewfinder helps to give the feel of a pro-camera. After popping out the viewfinder, you will also need to pull out an extra magnifying eye-piece to clearly see your subject.
The RX100 Mark V features a tiltable screen that can go up to 180 degrees. It basically means that you can use the display to take selfies with the camera. While turning the display on to the opposite side, the camera automatically goes into its timer mode. So, when you click on the shutter, a 3-second timer initiates that helps to compensate any shakes that can be caused due to the pressing of the shutter button. This results in a clear and focused selfie shot. Smartphones usually don’t have this issue as you will only need to lightly tap the screen but a shutter button requires a bit of pressure that results in slightly shaking the camera.
The TFT LCD display on the RX100 Mark 5 is 3-inches in size with 1,228,800-color dots that’s quite sufficient for the job. The display isn’t a touchscreen which can be a let-down for some users since the Sony A6500 already features a certain degree of touch control. One thing that disappointed me is the display which isn’t scratch-proof by any means. Unfortunately, the camera’s main display screen got accidentally scratched by nothing but with just a pair of my Sony XB earphones when I kept the RX100 Mark 5 in my pocket. I can’t seem to understand why Sony failed to include a scratch-resistant display on the costly RX100 Mark 5 that’s meant to be a pocket camera. I must also mention that I personally own a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera for taking product shots and its display had also faced a similar issue in my camera bag. I’m sure that many of the Sony pro-camera users have faced the same annoying issue and I think Sony must seriously consider to include a scratch-resistant screen on all their future cameras.
That being said, the movie record button is located on the right side of the rear controls. The MENU and Function keys are right below the thumb grip and then is the rotating dial that also allows selecting different modes such as timer control, exposure compensation, image details and the continuous burst mode.
On the left is the trigger for the viewfinder and on the right side is the ports for micro-HDMI and the micro-USB connections. The battery bay and a tripod connector are underneath the camera.
The flash trigger is located on the top of the device. The popular pop-up flash that the RX100 series is known for is still in the top where the horseshoe used to be placed. The trigger is placed above the display and is easily reachable. The mode dial allows you to choose between the iAuto, Video, HFR, Panorama, Scene presets, Aperture, Program, Shutter and Manual mode. The power button is placed on the left side and the trigger button with zoom in and out functions on the front end.
The most striking feature is the Vario-Sonnar T* ZEISS lens on the front with an optical focal length that ranges from 24mm to 70mm. The aperture that starts from F1.8 goes up to F2.8. Unfortunately, the aperture cannot stay constant when you use the zoom feature as it goes to F2.8, which is still good enough for clean bokeh effects. The ring that sits around the lens is one of my most favorite feature that allows you to select between options. For example, the ring lets you adjust the aperture in manual mode or selecting the scenes when the Scene mode is activated. The clicking sound effects from rotating the ring give you a nostalgic feeling that you’re using a vintage pro-camera.
Some users may get disappointed by the fact that this camera doesn’t come with an audio jack, but that’s understandable for a camera of this size. Nevertheless, the NFC functionality allowed me to transfer my pictures to my Sony Xperia Z5 Compact by simply tapping the NFC tag against one another and the PhotoMemories App opens in my smartphone to initiate the WiFi photo transfer.
One of the best things about the Sony RX100 Mark V is that it features the world’s first 1-inch back-illuminated stacked image sensor. The 20MP Exmor RS CMOS image sensor with its stacked design allows users to shoot up to maximum 24fps continuously. That’s a lot of burst speed power for such a small camera and if you got a high-speed SD card in place.
Having a burst speed of 24fps may not be enough to get accurate shots, that’s why Sony has now included a 315-point phase detection autofocus system on the RX100 Mark V. The new AF system is the first in the series as the camera is now capable of instant autofocusing for video and images. I absolutely love the way how my Sony A6000 phase detection smoothly transitions between different subjects and the Sony RX100 Mark V is no slouch either. The AF speeds on the RX100 Mark V is smooth and fast which makes it a perfect street shooter and a V-Logger camera. You get the focus options as wide, center, flexible spot, expand flexible spot and lock on the flexible spot. ISO ranges from 125 to 12800 and is extendable up to 25600.
Another major feature is the HFR mode that lets users record slow-motion videos at 240 fps, 480 fps, and 960fps at 60p 50M settings. Priority can be given for quality or time taken. We did try the slow-motion and it was quite good. However, we could see a degrade in video quality when recorded at time priority basis. Video file formats include MP4, AVCHD, XAVC S HD and XAVC S 4K. You can choose XAVC S HD for 60p 50M and 120p 100M settings. The XAVC S 4K includes video settings such as 30p 60M and 30p 100M.
We did use the Sony RX100 Mark V for video shots with XAVC S HD and 4K and the quality is quite good but with some grains for low-light situations. However, the camera does overheat a bit while recording and our 4K video test recorded up to 9 minutes and 20 seconds before the camera shut down. That said, I loved the SteadyShot video stabilization of the camera. We took the camera for a walk and the camera was able to compensate and reduce the shakes caused during walking. But the image stabilization of the camera isn't as good as I expected. After tweaking with shutter speeds that require absolute shake free situations, the camera wasn't able to reduce the slight shakes caused by freehand movement, even when the image SteadyShot is turned on. You either have to be very calm or sit somewhere to take blur-free images at slower shutter speeds. I really wish and hope that Sony includes the 5-axis Optical Image Stabilization feature on the next Sony RX100 Mark 6 camera. The 5-axis SteadyShot are currently included in most of the flagship cameras such as the Sony A6500, the Sony A7R II and recently launched Sony A9.
But the image stabilization of the camera isn't as good as I expected. After tweaking with shutter speeds that require absolute shake free situations, the camera wasn't able to reduce the slight shakes caused by freehand movement, even when the image SteadyShot is turned on. You either have to be very calm or sit somewhere to take blur-free images at slower shutter speeds. I really wish and hope that Sony includes the 5-axis Optical Image Stabilization feature on the next Sony RX100 Mark 6 camera. The 5-axis SteadyShot are currently included in most of the flagship cameras such as the Sony A6500, the Sony A7R II and the recently announced Sony A9. There is also a nifty feature that lets you select scenes from a video and convert it into images.
It all comes to the user's preferences whether he wants to use a smartphone or a separate digital compact camera for photography. While smartphone cameras have evolved to produce DSLR-like images, it's very hard to convince a normal user to spend on a pro-level pocket camera that costs a lot more than a flagship smartphone. That said, there are a lot of photographers and enthusiasts who would love to have a pocket camera that has a bigger image sensor than all the smartphones. Users will surely notice the difference in quality and lesser noise when it comes to low-light situations. The background bokeh is much better and cleaner than most flagship smartphones that I've used such as the LG G6 and the Huawei P10 Plus. Images are also not over-saturated, something that I've noticed on most of the mentioned smartphones as well. The phase detection AF really helps when recording videos.
Users will surely notice the difference in quality and lesser noise when it comes to low-light situations. The background bokeh is much better and cleaner than most flagship smartphones that I've used such as the Galaxy S8, the LG G6, and the Huawei P10 Plus. Images are also not over-saturated, something that I've noticed on most of the mentioned smartphones as well. The phase detection AF really helps when recording videos.