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After  almost a decade of absence, Sony has reentered the premium compact digital camera market with an all-new design. The just-launched Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 features a high resolution 20 megapixels CMOS sensor paired with an ultra-bright F/1.8 zoom lens. The sensor measures 1″ diagonally which equates to a 2.7X crop-factor compared to full-frame cameras. Coincidentally or not, this is the same sensor-size Sony provides for the Nikon 1 V1 and J1. The lens has a 3.6X optical zoom factor which is equivalent to 28-100mm in 35mm terms. This is a common range for large-sensor compacts which cannot afford very long zoom without much added bulk.

The 20 megapixels sensor has a native ISO sensitivity range of 125 – 6400 with expansion 80 – 25600. Sony has provided the RX100 with optional Multi-Frame Noise-Reduction to reduce possible noise at higher sensitivities. The sensor is also capable of shooting continuously at 10 FPS at full-resolution and recording full 1080p HD video at 60 FPS. As a premium camera this one provides full manual controls, including the traditional PASM modes with Program-Shift and Bulb exposure. No time limit is specified for Bulb exposure but this feature is unique among fixed-lens camera, at least as far back as our product database goes!

Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100

For efficiency, the RX100 has dual control-dials, one on the rear and one around the base of the lens barrel. This is reminiscent of the Canon Powershot S100 which falls in the same category with a sensor which is not quite as large.  There are a number of other premium compacts being offered, notably the recently reviewed Fuji Finepix X10 and Olympus XZ-1.  Both these feature large sensors by compact-camera norms but are smaller than the one used on the RX100.

The mix of features chosen by Sony puts the emphasis on image quality above everything else. As such the Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 is designed to impress people looking for high image quality in a compact form-factor without the hassles – or benefits – of interchangeable lens cameras such as Sony’s own NEX series. Additionally, the bright F/1.8 aperture allows the use of lower ISO sensitivities to improve image quality in fixed conditions.

Simplicity is key for the RX100 which does not encumber itself with expansion options like a Hot-Shoe for an external flash like most other large-sensor compacts or an accessory port for an optional EVF like the Olympus XZ-1. This may sound limiting to some but puts the RX100 squarely in a different market than NEX cameras. The biggest challenger to the RX100 is the Canon Powershot G1 X which has a 1.5″ sensor , similar to entry-level DSLRs but with a 4:3 aspect ratio.  This one also features dual control-dials, full manual controls but a dimmer F2/8-5.6 lens with a similar 28-112mm optical zoom range. Unlike the RX100, the G1 X includes an optical viewfinder and hot-shoe. With cameras, a bigger sensor translate into a bigger lens which makes the Canon almost double the thickness of the Sony.

With the Cybershot DSC-RX100, Sony has now an offering in every segment of the digital camera market. The really interesting thing is that they are pursuing all lines in parallel. Particularly having introduced SLDs first, it the launch of a new fixed-lens premium camera means they believe that ILCs are too complex for some and that a great number of photographers want high quality images without complexity.

The Sony RX100 is scheduled to ship at the end of next month for $650 USD. It is already available for pre-order here from BH Photo. No word yet on Canadian pricing or availability.

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