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Sony RX100 VII review: The saviour of the compact camera?

Our Rating :
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Price when reviewed : £1200
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The RX100 VII could be a great choice for travellers with strict weight requirements - and deep pockets


  • Great video features
  • Beautifully made, beautifully small
  • Excellent stills gathering performance


  • Image quality good rather than great
  • Relatively poor low-light images

“The compact camera is dead”. It’s a great line – dramatic, portentous and, often, a sign that the following review will be an absolute monstering for whatever hapless electronics company had the temerity to release a compact camera in the face of ever-more amazing mirrorless models and increasingly capable smartphones.

But Sony isn’t stupid. Not for it the zero-sum game of trying to compete with smartphones for portability, or with entry-level mirrorless cameras for image quality. 

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Sony RX100 VII review: What you need to know

Instead, the RX100 VII is a compact camera that, thanks to some breathtaking computational power, pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with a pocketable camera. 20fps still shooting? Check. 4K, HDR video including S-log? Check. High-frame-rate options from 50fps to 1,000fps? Whoosh. As compact cameras go they don’t come much more powerful – where’s the catch?

Sony RX100 VII review: Price and competition

You’ll notice the initial catch as soon as you pop the RX100 VII in your online shopping basket: £1,200 for a compact, complete with a compact-camera-size sensor is an astonishing amount of money. Compare it like for like with other cameras and it comes off very poorly. For want of a mere £200 more you could have the Canon EOS RP – admittedly body-only, but with a sensor nearly seven-and-a-half times the surface area. The EOS RP doesn’t have anything like the performance – just 4fps with servo AF – and it’s much bigger, but if you want to produce images for print or another high-res reproduction there will be a huge difference in image quality.

If you don’t want the size of a full-frame camera, there’s plenty of choice. Look at the Canon EOS M6 Mark II – £100 cheaper than the RX100 VII but with a larger sensor and the option to attach a very wide range of lenses. The choices at this price are stark, particularly for those who really prize image quality.

Sony RX100 VII review: Features and design

This is a very small camera. It’s just 102mm wide, 58mm high and 43mm deep, and weighs just 302g with a battery and memory card installed. That makes it fantastically portable – certainly more so than any interchangeable lens camera and excellently suited to the adventures of those very sensitive to excess weight – or ostentatious-looking camera equipment. Bolstering its portability credentials is the fact it can charge via its USB Type-C port, so you don’t even need to carry a charger.

Just as well, we’d say – in one particularly productive morning shooting video, high-frame-rate video and stills, we killed the RX100 VII in perhaps two and a half hours, so a spare battery is a must.

In every other pint-sized way, the RX100 VII is a nearly unqualified triumph. The 3in, 921,000-pixel touchscreen is great, and can be tilted to 90 degrees downwards, allowing you to shoot over crowds, or can fold 180 degrees upwards so it’s pointing forwards.

If holding your compact camera like a n00b doesn’t appeal, there’s also possibly the world’s least noticeable EVF. Flick a tiny switch and, from the left hand side of the camera, a small, rangefinder-style EVF pops up. It’s a neat trick, it’s beautifully constructed and, once you’ve triggered it a few times, very likely something you’ll never use again. It’s certainly not something we used terribly often, but the 2,359,296-pixel, 0.39in display is nonetheless excellent.

Next to the viewfinder is a fold-down flash – again an intricate piece of design and, again, not something many serious photographers will reach for except in emergencies. A little disappointingly there’s no hot-shoe, which restricts the RX100 VII’s appeal for both photographers and videographers alike – the latter would appreciate somewhere to mount a microphone.

Otherwise, this is a superbly usable camera. The top plate offers the shutter release with a zoom toggle wrapped around it, the power button and a full PASM mode dial, including dedicated positions for video and high-speed video modes.

The back of the camera is a little more crowded – the RX100 VII’s small proportions inevitably mean small buttons, which makes it harder to use if you’re in a rush, in the dark, or in the cold. The compass points of the D-pad act as shortcuts to display mode, flash options, exposure compensation and drive/self-timer mode, while a pair of small buttons at the bottom let you call up previously shot images or delete them.

A final pleasing touch is the knurled dial at the very base of the lens. This ring – analogous to the focus ring on a DSLR lens – is very useful. It can be customised to within an inch of its life, performing actions from wheeling through the range of ISOs to adjusting white balance or scrolling through the picture effects applied to shots as you take them. It’s the largest control surface on the camera, so our recommendation is choosing a frequently used variable and setting it to that: we went for ISO.

Sony RX100 VII review: Photo quality

The lens itself is a good ‘un. The Zeiss branding is promising but it’s only when you start shooting with the RX100 VII you start to realise how the camera’s output transcends its small sensor. The lens is equivalent to 24-200mm in 35mm terms, which makes it a very practical travel optic, with an aperture range from f/2.8 at its widest focal length to f/4.5 zoomed in.

The sensor is a 1in unit with 20.1 megapixels, producing large, 5,472 x 3,648 images. It’s a stacked sensor, which means it combines light-gathering and image-processing chops on the same component, which allows for some seriously impressive performance. The headline is its ability to shoot 20fps in either full-resolution JPEG or RAW, with no blackout on the viewfinder. Even more impressively, you can shoot 20fps with autofocus and auto-exposure running throughout, allowing your subject to move into different light as you follow.

It works very well, using Sony’s Real-time Tracking that calculates autofocus up to 60 times per second. 357 phase-detection AF points and 425 contrast-detect points mean virtually the entire sensor is covered by autofocus points, giving you plenty of compositional flexibility. For a lot of our testing, we left the camera to decide its own autofocus points and were generally impressed with its performance, even when faced with scenes with plenty of detail to grab.

Sony’s face and eye detection is a constant source of joy to us when we review its cameras, so it’s good to see both working well here. Human subjects were picked up and focussed on with almost unerring accuracy.

The results from our image tests were clear – the RX100 VII easily beats the standard we’re used to from compact cameras, which is important given its price. Keep the ISO under control and you’ll be rewarded with good-looking images that easily withstand a little editing. At ISOs higher than 800 we started to see some fuzziness in fine details – if you’re the type to aggressively crop your images before subjecting them to demanding finishes such as large-scale printing, this won’t be the camera for you.

(Click to view comparisons at ISO 64, 800, 3200 and 12800)

For more moderate print sizes and online repro – the RX100 VII’s comfort zone, we’d say – image quality is adequate. That’s “adequate”, rather than “outstanding”, but given the RX100 VII’s usability, size, autofocus and continuous shooting performance it’s a sacrifice many will be willing to make.

READ NEXT: Canon EOS M6 Mark II review

Sony RX100 VII review: Video quality

Sony has built its house on video performance and, decent a stills camera though the RX100 VII is, its video performance is what makes it such a superb little unit.

Resolution first: of course you can shoot 4K – but with no pixel binning and full pixel readout, which is impressive. If you opt for SteadyShot Active, a digital/optical image stabilisation mode, you get a small 1.19x crop, but steadier footage if you’re hand-holding the camera on foot. 4K can be recorded at 25fps, but with a choice of bitrates – 60MB/sec or 100MB/sec. If you’re happy to shoot Full HD instead, frame rates up to 100fps become available.

More exciting than frame rates and resolution is the number of bells and whistles Sony has included that make the RX100 VII a great option for space-restricted videographers. You can opt for focus peaking and exposure zebras to help get your footage spot on, or shoot in S-Log2 or S-Log3 to allow you more grading flexibility in post-production.

You can even opt to shoot 720p proxy footage for quicker NLE production. The micro-HDMI port can be used to output a clean signal for use with an external recorder and – speaking of ports – the RX100 VII is the first in its lineage to include a 3.5mm audio-in port, allowing you to directly record audio from an external microphone. There’s nowhere to put one thanks to the lack of a hotshoe, mind, so keen videographers might want to look at a cage.

As with image quality, the RX100 VII excels as long as you keep it in its comfort zone. Push the ISO too high and you’ll start to see noise, and the relative lack of fine detail makes its presence felt here as well, which means shooting 4K with the hope of punching in aggressively won’t work. But video moves nicely and autofocus is quick and silent. We also found that even non-log footage was easy to colour-correct in post, making the RX100 VII a great option for videographers who need something very portable but with the flexibility and power they’re used to.

There are a few party pieces – the RX100 VII’s spectacular computational performance is leveraged to produce some eye-popping frame rates. You can shoot in Full HD at 250, 500 or even 1,000 frames per second, for ultra-slow-motion footage. You’ll need to plan pretty carefully for this, though – you can record about five seconds’ worth of footage in these high-speed modes, so you’ll either need good timing or good luck. Shooting 1,000fps also underlines the RX100 VII’s relative lack of ISO performance – getting the shutter to 1/000th of a second requires either loads of light or a high ISO.

Sony RX100 VII review: Verdict

The best compact on the market? The best compact in history? Certainly, it’s one of the most powerful. It’s easy to quantify that in terms of its sheer ability to gather and process high-resolution imagery, but it’s the camera’s features that really elevate it. Its video features in particular will be extremely desirable for pros, particularly those looking for a B or C camera that slots in with other, larger Sony equipment. It offers a superlative blend of pro features, reasonable quality and outstanding portability.

Stills photographers will need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons – sure, it’s light and small, but image quality takes a real knock, particularly when compared to mirrorless and interchangeable-lens cameras around this price. If you’re shooting for online only, or want a good-enough camera that will fit in your pocket, the RX100 VII might just be the saviour of the compact camera. Now that’s dramatic.

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