Sony CyberShot DSC-RX100: travel notes (English Version)

Categoria: English Pubblicato: Mercoledì, 26 Giugno 2013 Scritto da Max Angeloni


So we must say it has been a hard choice to decide how to go on with this review. Hard, because the material collected with the RX100 was massive. It’s simply impossible, indeed, not to bring this little tiny camera with you. Yes…tiny!
So tiny that the back pocket of your jeans, or the interior one of a jacket is enough to have this camera always with you. Apart from Sony’s “stratagies” , that lead its photographic department renovate cameras with an hysteric hurry really close to the one that affects consumer electronic, the RX100 is the very first high-level pocket-camera. Before the sony, this segment was almost dominated by Canon Powershot S series, a photographic tool that despite its incredibly tiny dimensions is capable of very good performances.

Of course, never ask for miracles from the Canon. The last S110 packs a 12MP, 1/1.7” sensor (7.44 x 5.58 mm) with a 24-120mm (eq.), F2-5.9 198 grams only! What else can you ask for?  In the other hand the little Sony (240 grams) is equipped with a 1” sensor (13.2x8.8 mm) and a 28-100 eq. zoom (F1.8-4.9). It’s obvious that such kind of cameras have to deal with compromises, usually with the brightness of the lens, in order to maintain the minimum size. The good news is that on the wide angle end of the zoom range the lens shows an impressive 1.8 aperture. The not so good news, on the other hand, is that the widest equivalent focal lenght is 28mm, instead of the 24mm we’re used to.

Anyway, it is important to understand how to manage the big difference in brightness between the wide and the long end of the zoom range, especially if you come from classic compact cameras with a bright lens. Me personally think the RX100 is a perfect all-around photographic tool, at least when the available light is enough. As soon as the light goes down I prefer to leave it at 28mm and use it as a fixed lens camera.  Again, it is normal that with such extreme cameras it’s necessary to deal with compromises to reduce the size. The RX100 is the most extreme compact camera around, and this is why I really like it. The philosophy behind the camera is shared with its big sister, the RX1, but some limits are percieved as less important due to the different target of the camera. The camera body is built in a workmanlike manner, something even Leica may envy.

Elegant and sinuous, despite the rigor of forms, it is a tool that immediately attracts the interest and curiosity of both enthusiasts and novice photographers. It is a camera you can easily lend to beginners, thanks to the automatic modes, but is also a camera you can push to its limits thanks to the all the controls you have. It’s really difficult to find any shortcoming. The sensor is packed with megapixels but is still capable of producing amazing files at the lowest ISO settings. Also, as soon as you push the ISO sensitivity the dimensions of the sensor (bigger than the usual) allow to handle the noise in an acceptable manner. A sensor with less megapixels could have probably helped to do even better at the high ISO settings.
This is what happens with the Nikon 1 (same sensor size, less megapixels), a camera that is being tested by Donato Chirulli during these days. But hey, it what it is! We like Sony’s courage and their extreme choices.

We like less when they decide to follow geek’s ideas that lead them to install on their cameras LCD screens that are criticizable under many aspects. As for the RX1, the back LCD of the RX100 becomes almost unusable under bright and intense light. Sony’s engineers...Did you ever try to take a picture with these cameras in June, at the Tropic of Cancer, when the sun hits the ground with an almost perpendicular angle even at 9.00AM? Also, monitor like these are more smartphone oriented rather than photographic monitors. Each picture look wonderful, vibrant...they look like they come from a National Geographic print!  If the target was Instagram, it could even make sense...But since the “RX” series are designed for professionals and enthusiasts, whose final destination should be the print, it would have been better to have different LCD, more consistent with the real recorded picture. Let me also say that during my life I had the possibility to use hundreds cameras, and I never ever scratched any monitor...until I got the RX100.

The resistance of any other part of the camera is... Me-proof, and that means a lot! Dust, tobacco, sand, water, moisture and very high temperatures didn’t even scratch what is under the very solid alluminum chassis (as you can see in the opening picture).
Even the damper that protects the lens didn’t show any looseness and proved to be a valid barrier to protect the Zeiss lens. The convenient multifunction dial around the lens is very smooth. It can be used to assign functions, change the ISO, shutter speed or aperture as well as it can be used to move the lens throughout the zoom range. For what concerns the lens, the Zeiss Vario Sonnar T does its job...of course, don’t expect something similar to the RX1’s 35mm Sonnar. They share the name, but that’s it. Anyway, Zeiss is always Zeiss, and this is true for the RX100’s lens: it is a variable aperture zoom, installed on a small sensor (compared to the RX1). Notwithstanding the above, that sophisticated flavour of the good lenses is still there. It shows a good bokeh, especially at the long end of the zoom despite its maximum aperture there. Less impressive is for sure the distorsion at 28mm, something you can easily see. As always, the on-camera Jpeg applies an automatic distorsion correction, as well as the bundled software (Image Data Converter) does with the RAW files.

Finally, just few words about the responsiveness of the camera. Few words because there’s nothing to say...the camera is fast, responsive and in less than a second after you turn it on you are ready to take your picture. The AF is fast, very fast and maintains its performances even in dimmed light. There’s no waiting when the camera writes its big-fat RAW files and every time you push the shutter button the camera doesn’t show any hesitation. What is a bit quirky is the way it handles the flash. The only way to let it pop-out (and activate it) is to select the “Flash Auto” mode or “Flash Forced” mode with the control on the right of the control dial. Nothing critical but sometimes it may be confusing.  In conclusion this is a camera long awaited from included. It’s not perfect, and it couldn’t be given its size, but it’s really versatile and enjoyable. It’s not the classic “enthusiast” camera. The ones who prefer direct controls via dials and buttons, as well as a bright lens throughout the entire zoom range, should look somewhere else. The RX100 is a different camera, and justifies its presence in your gear even if you have other compact cameras.

Travel Notes

Now...what were we talking about?
Oh, Yes...what to do with the RX100’s material? The little RX100 fits your pocket as a notebook (the paper one...of course) does.
And the Sony is just another way to take your notes, to capture moments and memories, colors and flavours from far away places around the world, and bring them home with you. Far away places like the ones I had the pleasure to visit during a photoshoot for the magazine I work with. In every single moment the little RX100 was ready in my pocket, or in a little pouch. Ready to be swapped with the cameras used for the work.
But I couldn’t focus on the work only. Here I found old age gestures, moments that seemed coming from and ancient memory. An old age where kings were celebrated, but life used to flow very slowly on the old river’s edges...
A life made of little things, spent on the back of a donkey.
A life where farming is still sweat, arms, and a frugal harvest that still allows a decent life.
A decent life you can easily read on the thousands of smiles we’ve crossed, the same smiles I tried to capture.
That’s why the travel notes taken with the RX100 sometimes are meditated, sometimes are quick snapshots, sometimes taken from behind a bus window.


The trip. To get to Luxor from Marsa Alam we crossed the Egyptian Eastern desert for about 230 Km. Once on the shores of the Nile near Edfu we headed up the lower Nubia to get to Luxor after about 130Km. During the six hours of the travel we could make only one stop, in the only existing refreshment point, located in the desert and run by Bedouin tribes. During our way back, we had a short stop in the periphery of An Nazul, a small rural town located on the border between the desert and the fertile area. The average temperature we had in Luxor during the middle of the day was near 50° C. Being at the Tropic of Cancer,close to the June solstice, and given the very high temperatures, there was no hope to have good lighting conditions during the day. This is why I gave to my files a particular treatment I developed for this set of pictures. The target was to maintain a consistent visual and narrative style regardless the hour of the day or the place where the pictures were taken.

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/1600 -  f/4- Iso 400

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/800 -  f/6.3 - Iso 125 (courtesy Romeo Manganiello)

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/1600 -  f/4.9 - Iso 250

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/2000 -  f/4.9 - Iso 640

Bassa Nubia 1/2000 -  f/1.8 - Iso 320

Bassa Nubia -  f/4.9 - Iso 3200

Nilo 1" -  f/5.6 - Iso 125

Luxor - Karnak 1/500 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/640 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/125 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/400 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/125 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/400 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/800 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/320 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Karnak 1/800 -  f/6.3 - Iso 100

Luxor - Nilo 1/800 -  f/6.3 - Iso 100

Luxor - Luxor 1/200 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100

Luxor - Luxor 1/160 -  f/5.6 - Iso 100


Luxor - Luxor 1/80 -  f/1.8 - Iso 100

Luxor - Luxor 1/20 -  f/1.8 - Iso 100

Luxor - Città 1/320 -  f/5.6 - Iso 125

Luxor - Città 1/2000 -  f/1.8 - Iso 800

Luxor - Città 1/2000 -  f/1.8 - Iso 500

Luxor - Città 1/2000 -  f/1.8 - Iso 320

Luxor - Città 1/2000 -  f/4.5 - Iso 1000

Luxor - Suq 1/100 -  f/4.9 - Iso 125

Luxor - Suq (working - courtesy Mara Genoese) 1/100 -  f/2.8 - Iso 125

Luxor - Suq (working - courtesy Mara Genoese) 1/100 -  f/2.2 - Iso 125

Luxor - Città 1/100 -  f/2- Iso 125

Luxor - Città 1/2000 -  f/2.2 - Iso 125

Luxor - Città 1/2000 -  f/2.2 - Iso 125

Luxor - Città 1/1600 -  f/2.2 - Iso 125

Luxor - 1/2000 -  f/1.8 - Iso 640

1/2000 -  f/4.9 - Iso 640

An Nazul, Nubia 1/2000 -  f/2.5 - Iso 125

An Nazul, Nubia 1/640 -  f/5 - Iso 125

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/200 -  f/5.6 - Iso 125

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/1250 -  f/8 - Iso 125

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/2000 -  f/4.9 - Iso 3200

Deserto Orientale Egiziano 1/2000 -  f/1.8 - Iso 400

Roma 1/2000 -  f/4.9 - Iso 3200