The Sony's compact camera is fantastic

The Sony's compact camera is fantastic
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Undeniably compelling: the Sony RX100 Mark IV is so good, losing the old camera case luggage carrier just has to be tolerated.
Undeniably compelling: the Sony RX100 Mark IV is so good, losing the old camera case luggage carrier just has to be tolerated.
Sony's compact digital camera is really fantastic, see what AFR have to say about it.
The more I think about the way Sony's new RX100 Mark IV could affect the way I travel, the less I like it.
It's not the direct effect of carrying this amazing little camera I don't like. I've just spent the last week travelling for work with the RX100 Mark IV, and I'm so blown away by the image quality, the ease of use and the cutting-edge functionality of this little beauty, it has me seriously contemplating the possibility of no longer lugging around an expensive full-frame camera when I travel. I used both the RX100 Mark IV and an Sony Alpha 7 on the trip, and looking back on all the photos I took, I have to say I took a greater number of usable shots with the cheaper (but, at $1399, not exactly cheap), smaller camera than the with the big Alpha. Indeed, my best shots were taken with the compact camera. So if I don't carry the full-frame camera with its expensive lenses next time, I don't think I'll be any worse off in terms of output. Not unless I'm shooting portraits, where the full-frame image sensor really would make a big difference.

No, it's the indirect effects that worry me, the collateral damage of downsizing, if you like. If I no longer have to lug about the big Alpha 7 and its big lenses, but can instead just carry around a camera that fits into my jeans pocket (it's a bit of a squeeze, but it goes), then I no longer have an excuse to bring with me my favourite piece of luggage, a cabin-sized Rimowa suitcase I have converted into a camera case by lining it with foam.


Related: The Nikon D7200 D-SLR camera Express Review


And if I don't have that that Rimowa suitcase with me, that means I won't have its incredible wheels with me, and if I don't have its wheels that means I'll end up carrying my enormous computer bag on my shoulder rather than rolling it around effortlessly on top of the suitcase. I'll be carrying eight kilos more weight when I travel even though I'm travelling with a kilo or so less weight.
You can see the dilemma. If only the RX100 Mark IV were just a little less compelling, I'd know what to do.
But, alas, the RX100 Mark IV is undeniable. It's an ultra-compact camera with a 1-inch, 20-megapixel image sensor that, whilst not very big compared with a full-frame sensor (it's about one-seventh the physical size), is so jam-packed with technology, you can still wind up with amazing shots.

Information superhighway between pixels

For the Mark IV, Sony has introduced a new type of image sensor that layers its components in such a way that there's what you might describe as an information superhighway running between the individual pixels on the sensor (technically they're known as "photosites") and the camera's image processing engine, allowing for all sorts of new features compared with the previous model.
For starters, the RX100 Mark IV can shoot at 16 frames per second (that's almost motion picture speed) provided you have an ultra-fast memory card that can keep up with that amount of data. Similarly, it can shoot amazing super-slow-motion videos at up to 1000 frames per second, 40 times slower than regular video, allowing you view the world in ways you've never seen before. Slowed down by a factor of 40, simple things such as lighting a match look incredible.

The high-speed image sensor also lets you shoot 17 megapixel photos while you're shooting HD video – it's got so much bandwidth it can just multi-task like that – or it lets you shoot 4K videos at a startling 100 megabits per second, double the bit rate of the previous model. I haven't been able to figure out if I can shoot 17 megapixel photos whilst simultaneously shooting 4K video – such is the cutting edge nature of this camera, its functionality is based on a complex matrix of recording codecs, bit rates, memory card speeds and other settings, which can make it tricky to figure out which features are available at any given time – but who knows? So many things are possible with the new image sensor on the RX100 Mark IV, you may even be able to do that, too, with the right memory card.

Interestingly enough, the new image sensor on the Mark IV hasn't noticeably improved image quality compared with the Mark III. In our tests, the image quality looks pretty well identical, which is no complaint because the Mark III had brilliant image quality, and which suggests that Sony is pushing up against the laws of physics and is wringing every ounce of the quality that's available from a relatively small, so-called "1-inch" sensor. (The sensor on the RX100 is not actually 1 inch in any dimension. It's roughly 13 millimetres by 9 millimetres in size. The 1-inch designation goes back to the days of analogue TV cameras.)

Speaking of the laws of physics, I should mention that, while we've been getting terrific photos from the RX100, there are some photos that the laws of physics simply won't let you take with the camera. The main thing you won't be able to shoot is very shallow focus portraits, ones that have the subject standing out against a sparkling backdrop of defocussed bokeh​. Though the lens is a fast f1.8 at the wider end of its 24-70-millimetre (equivalent) zoom range, tapering off to f2.8 as you zoom in, the image sensor is physically too small for such photos.
So it depends on what sort of photos you want to take. If you're travelling and are willing to forgo that classic portrait look in exchange for a dazzling array of features on a pocket-sized camera that barely seems capable of taking a bad or out-of-focus shot, then the RX100 Mark IV is an easy choice.
As for me, I'm tempted to get the RX100 Mark IV and still ferry it around in my huge camera case. It will bounce around in there but, on the plus side, I guess I'll be able to fill the case with shopping.

Likes: Great image quality considering how small the camera is. Huge feature set. Super-slo-mo video is addictive.
Dislikes: Expensive. Due to the camera's tiny size, controls are really tiny. Dials could be better.
Price: $1399, plus cost of very fast memory card to take advantage of new features.
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