Is The Sony RX100 The Best Compact Camera?

Filed Under: Travel Technology

For quite a while now I’ve been eying a new camera. I’ve been using the same camera for over five years, and I’d say it has served me extremely well, given how many tens of thousands of pictures I’ve taken with it.

While I’ve been open to getting a new camera, I’m also a creature of habit. I have a hard time actually making the decision to change my behavior when I’m so used to what I have, and also when I’m at an information disadvantage as to what I should get (since I’m not very good with technology).

For the past two years I’ve been considering which camera I should get. I first posed the question in July 2014, and got a lot of great responses. In April I finally decided I wanted to get a Sony RX100, but was trying to decide on which version to get. I made that decision because the RX100 was the camera by far most recommended by readers.


Just shortly after I made that post, someone reached out to me on behalf of Sony to ask if I wanted to try out the Sony RX100 III and Sony RX100 IV. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to get them both for a trial, to decide which one I wanted to buy at the end of it.

Anyway, I’ve been using the Sony RX100 III on the outbound portion of my trip to South Africa, so figured I’d share my thoughts.

What I look for in a camera

Let me start off by saying that I’m not at all tech savvy, and for that matter I’m not trying to be a professional photographer. Instead I care about a camera which is great for taking pictures for my trip reports. The following features are most important to me:

  • It needs to be compact, both so it’s easy to travel with, and also so it doesn’t arouse suspicion on airplanes and in public spaces
  • It needs to be great in low light conditions, since I’m often taking pictures on planes with limited light
  • It needs to be easy to use, since I’m not very tech savvy
  • It needs to take crisp, effortless pictures; I don’t want to be playing around with the settings, but rather want to just point and shoot and get a great picture
  • It needs to be good at taking pictures while moving, given that I’m often taking pictures during takeoff and landing

So, what do I make of the Sony RX100?

On this trip I’ve been trying to snap pictures of the same things with both the Sony RX100 and Canon S95, so I can provide the best head-to-head comparison. I’ve always been very happy with the pictures my Canon S95 took (which at this point is outdated technology).


As I started taking pictures with the Sony RX100 I sort of said to myself “okay, I’m not sure I see a huge difference here.”

But then I uploaded the pictures to my computer, and noticed that the difference was huge. Huge. Take a look at the below pictures, with the first of each set being with the Canon S95, and the second of each set being with the Sony RX100. Let me clarify that I’m sure both cameras could get higher quality shots, but I figured I’d compare my attempt to take “effortless” pictures with both cameras.







After seeing the difference side by side I’m now sold on the Sony RX100. What do I love about the Sony RX100?

  • It has a short processing time, so you don’t have to wait very long between taking pictures
  • It’s wider angle than my previous camera
  • Most importantly, the pictures are just freaking awesome without any effort; they’re crisp, vivid, and colorful

Like I said, I’m not trying to provide some super technical review, but rather just the perspective of the average guy who isn’t great with tech but values taking good pictures with ease.

There are a couple of things I don’t love about the camera, though, which aren’t deal breakers:

  • When you turn on the camera for a second time in a row, it takes a bit longer to start up (I know I should just leave the camera on when taking multiple pictures, but sometimes I think I’m done, and then there’s something else I want to photograph)
  • Sometimes the camera focuses a bit too much to create an artistic shot, when I just want a simple shot; I’m sure there’s a setting I can use to fix that since I’m presently just using the “auto” function, and for that matter my iPhone usually does the trick in those instances

I also want to clarify that I’m not trying to make a direct comparison between these two cameras here, in the sense that one is outdated technology, while the other is cutting edge. So I should note that Canon has newer models as well, like the S120, which I haven’t tried (I went with the Sony RX100 based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback from readers).

Bottom line

While my trial isn’t yet complete, I’m thrilled with the Sony RX100. It’s a huge improvement over my old camera, and effortlessly takes crisp pictures. I’ll definitely be upgrading in the coming weeks.

Now I just need to compare the Sony RX100 III and the Sony RX100 IV, though I believe the major advantage of the latter is that it takes great video. So I think I’ll be buying the III, but will report back for sure at the end of the trial.

Let me know if you guys notice a big difference between the above pictures, or if I have some sort of confirmation bias.

Thanks to everyone for their camera tips so far, and I’ll report back after I have more time to play with the camera. In the meantime I couldn’t help but share how much I’m enjoying the Sony RX100 so far.

  1. The photos on that Sony look freakin good. Especially the lounge picture, looks like a different place. I use a DSLR (mainly for work) and I am impressed that a point and shoot could turn out photos that look that good.

  2. I’m glad you like your new camera. The thing I don’t quite get is that if you really value quality, which makes sense because it relates to your job and also who you are as a person, why not really go for top-notch quality, like with a Canon 5d, mark iv? You seem to relish the best things in life, like flying f, so why not find the equivalent in a camera?

  3. @ Boco — I really value having a compact camera, because it looks less suspicious. I take pictures all the time with tons of people around, and generally you’ll raise fewer eyebrows with a compact camera than one with big lenses, etc.

  4. Lucky, makes a lot of sense, for what it’s worth my wife who is 5’0″ and weighs less than 90 lbs lugs her Canon 5D around and takes pictures everywhere–the airplane, lounges, on the streets–and no one ever gives her crap about it. I think it’s because she doesn’t feel self-conscious. Ironically, I think someone who’s weary about being seen as weird and carries a small camera to snap pictures will get more weird looks and responses than someone who feels comfortable with a serious camera. If anything, people will think you’re a photographer and leave you alone.

    Regardless, your blog is continue to be great. But if you’re up for it, since you’re already experimenting with cameras, take a professional camera with you on a trip and see what that’s like. (And if any flight attendant threatens to imprison you once you land I’m sure one of us on this board will gladly bail you out 😉

  5. I’ve taken pictures with little thought on my Sony RX II I bought a few years ago that look like I could sell them to magazines. It’s a pretty amazing camera for a novice even if I’m not getting 85% out of it as expert users might.

  6. Too bad you were not able to compare to the more modern G7 X. It might not take as good of a picture but it’s more “pocketable”.
    BTW. Both the G7 X and the RX100 are due for refreshes in June 2016.

  7. New camera looks great! And I think you make a really important point when you say: “Let me clarify that I’m sure both cameras could get higher quality shots, but I figured I’d compare my attempt to take “effortless” pictures with both cameras.” Some people are gonna be all like “omggg if you just change some of the settings and tweak a few dials on the Canon you’ll get great photos too!!” But the point is that, with MINIMAL effort and MINIMAL understanding, the Sony takes better photos. Technology should match our desires, and it sounds like with your preferences, the Sony is a clear winner.

  8. A Ricoh GR will be even better because of a prime lens and the APS-C sensor, but it doesn’t have a zoom. Fits in my pocket and works awesome.

  9. @Boco As someone who loves amateur photography, I’m still on Lucky’s side that point-and-shoot>DSLR for his purposes. I’ve lived out of carry-ons too, and despite my LOVE of photography, having one extra bulky item can be really annoying when you have limited space. And it really is impossible to be subtle with a DSLR in air. People might not bother your wife because she’s 5’0″ and 90 pounds, but they sure bother me (a 6’3″ guy) when I’ve used my DSLR in public spaces. Maybe they feel more threatened?

  10. If you really wanna look inconspicious I heard Huawei’s Leica engineered P9 takes some fantastic photos (but lackluster video).

  11. What happened to the wide angle lens on your iPhone? While the RX100 doesn’t weigh a ton, it is probably double the weight of your Canon. I think it’s definitely an upgrade, but I think that your trip reports could really benefit from having some wide angle shots.

  12. Researching cameras myself right now for a safari trip to Tanzania. I don’t typically pack a separate camera from my iPhone, but this trip I know an iPhone isn’t going to get the quality required from a safari vehicle as well as the precise zoom.

  13. The Sony has a 1″ 20 megapixel sensor while the older Canon has a .58″ 10 megapixel sensor. Bigger sensor means much better low light sensitivity… That’s why you’re seeing such a huge difference. It’s not your imagination.

  14. A post above describes the Canon GX7 as “more modern”. But what I really love about my RX100 (Mark I) is the ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ options to do smart in-camera processing of the image when I don’t have any particular effect in mind. Slows things down, but it means I don’t have to make any decisions. It’ll do HDR when it thinks it’s necessary, not based on whether I choose HDR.

    Does the GX7 have anything like that?

  15. Incredible difference in quality.
    Maybe the construction quality has changed, but I stopped buying Sony cameras all together, years ago. I was a fan and had purchased many different model cybershots in the past, but have had bad luck and their mechanical fail rate seems to be extremely high. I couldn’t get one to work properly for more than a year or so. I hope this has changed as they take great pics
    I now use all Canon/Nikon with no complaints.

  16. I am an optics engineer and a professional photographer. Do I get paid for my advice/consultancy? Seems strange to be inquiring about such topics when you are earning a revenue from viewership and obtaining knowledge for free from others…

  17. The most important element is always the photographer.

    What you are seeing is the benefit of having a larger sensor and Sony’s processing which makes things like the colors more saturated. Taking the time to learn what the controls do and how and when to use them would be a big benefit to you. You’ve got all of that free time when you’re traveling, so a little bit of reading up might be a big benefit to you.

    It’s really a never-ending debate for a lot of people. And the technology marches on. But I’ve not regretted for a second moving to the micro4/3 system. My Olympus E-M1 is pretty much the perfect camera for me. I dragged a DSLR and lenses around for several years. But going lighter has made a huge difference. And most people would never be able to tell the difference.

  18. Photographers are really passionate and usually that means they really want to impose their choice on you even if it doesn’t fit your use case. I think the Sony RX100 either 3 or 4 (depending on which you choose) will serve you well.

    For your “artistic shot” comment, my guess is that you mean the camera is blurring out the background and foreground. If you want to override that, switch the dial on your camera to A (called Aperture Priority ) and increase the Aperture value. That should give you the results you want.

  19. @LR

    Why not? This website profits from Ben giving advice to us. Should we not profit from giving him advice too? Oh, by the way. No one cares what you have to say. In the words of a wise person, “either give advice or stfu.” Cheers sweet cakes!

  20. @Bob

    Lucky blogs, gives travel advice, promotes credit cards, runs a travel company and creates a community. One that many of us feel a part of. In that context it’s totally appropriate for him to ask the community for help. Relationships aren’t always binary.

    My undergrad (a long time ago) was in aerospace engineering. But now I work on optical systems. None of which has anything to do with anything. I just thought we were sharing such things today.

  21. @ Frog – I agree relationships aren’t always binary… but I wonder if this qualifies as an actual relationship. I wonder if he views this as anything other than a business.

    Anyways, the response to the title to this blog: Definitely Not. The best mirror-less compact camera around: Leica M.

  22. @Lucky: that lounge picture, is that the lobby inside the Four Points Sheraton in Richmond, BC?

  23. I think it’s fantastic to provide this kind of info. I take a lot of photos as a dentist in my practice but don’t have the time to do a lot of research on cameras. Have a couple SLR s and attachments but certainly could do much better. Point and shoot is probably where I should be given my inexpertise. Thank you for the info.

    That being said, for transparency, are you getting a commission from Sony for this blog? I’m fine with that but a lot of cameras do what you show,

  24. @Bob:

    Lucky offers free advice of comparable quality under Ask Lucky. You’re more than welcome to offer Ben more premium advice at a price.

    As for the Leica M, that’s not what he meant by “compact”. When a member of the general public says “compact”, they mean point-and-shoot level. That’s not a category that something with a removable lens will ever fall into.

  25. I own a Leica M9. It’s a sick camera. By sick I mean awesome. I’d say the best I’ve owned and it’s pretty compact IMO. However, nothing that Ben needs for the stuff he uses a camera for. A decent and cheap (< 1000 USD) would be fine for him. But I do agree with Bob about the answer to the question presented as the title is the Leica M. Plus I love the retro and simple aesthetics.

  26. Ben,

    We travel as much as you, or maybe even more, 365 yr. There is alot of commonality we have. In this case, the same type of camera and we have experimented with a few over the last 10 years.

    We recently chose another Sony model for other reasons. But Sony is usually good. Just don’t point your lens directly into the sun, some cameras failed because we did that trying to take that memorable shot.

    The difference is we don’t publicise what we do and where we go, but certainly we have offered others assistance on the road of the knowledge we have (for free, no advertisements, no commissions, no fees).

    At times we give our prayers to those in need.

    And we always put a pray to the Angels for any homeless person we see, if we don’t have something for them. It doesn’t take much, just a good wish, ask an Angel to watch over them.
    We usually prepare something before we head out each day, but in some places there are so many we run out.

    We thank Richard Gere for his courageous movie.

    As you well know, even for you and us, having hotel rooms to stay, it still gets lonely on the road. We can’t imagine how difficult it is for those fallen down and out.

  27. @Ben

    Ben, I have never needed to make use of any of the offers or advice that you offer since most of my travel is self-managed and on biz jets. However, I still find your blog fun and entertaining to read so keep up the good work!

    As for cameras, I don’t think you need anything excessively complex or spectacular. Since you are stuck on a Sony, just stay with the newer version that you have. If you are seriously considering a “do it all” upgrade, try the Panasonic Lumix TZ80. I think it’s a handy kit.

  28. I work in commercial photography with many of the biggest photographers and clients in the world. Camera choice is relative: the ideal camera for someone shooting a Macy’s catalog or an ad campaign for Ralph Lauren or Samsung might not be right for a travel blogger (e.g. Lucky). I won’t go into too many camera specifics as there are plenty of forums dedicated to that; suffice to say I think Lucky made a great choice. Too much camera is just as bad as not enough. I just finished a personal project and had two 5DmIII’s as my main body (and backup) and the RX100m4 as an off the cuff point and shoot that could still deliver usable photos. It’s a great little camera.

    Truthfully, at the end of the day it’s what in front of the camera that counts and the best camera is the one you have with you.

  29. @David: agree with your comment fully. As a photographer and travel writer for Nat Geo, my experiences are resonated by your advice to Ben.

    @Ben: you have selected a good camera and your images look good – I like the color balance as well as the natural tones your recent images. There are sophisticated functions on these cameras. Just play around with them and your images will shine. Most of all, just use your aesthetic sensibilities and you have got a winner.

  30. Can someone recommend a compact camera a bit lower in price, around $300? The most important features are zoom (preferably optical but digital could be okay if the resolution is high enough) and low light performance.

  31. You cannot and, for the sake of fairness, you shouldn’t compare cameras from two different photographic ages. There is simply no point in saying that the old CCD on the S95 with an extended, but slow zoom lens cannot keep up with a 1-inch BSI-CMOS and a limited and very fast zoom lens. I can assure you that the differences between the latest S120 and the first/second Sony RX100 (same period) are not that clear in most situations. I have a Sony RX100 only because Canon stopped the production of the fantastic S series with smaller sensors (and lower price).

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