Sony RX100 V review

Everyone knows I’m a Canon man, but Sony has been swaying me with its latest instalments in its RX100 line. In October 2016, Sony released the Cyber-shot RX100 V, and the big news is that it comes with the world’s fastest autofocus that, until now, had been reserved for bulky, expensive cameras. Don’t get me wrong—the RX100 V is probably the most expensive compact camera you can buy—but poor autofocus was one of the last downsides of filming with a smaller device. Well, not anymore.

If you’ve been making videos for a while, and you’re looking to move into the next level—we’re talking slow motion, 4K video, and incredible stills that easily outdo even the latest smartphones—keep reading for why I think you should consider investing in Sony’s latest industry-beating compact vlog camera.

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Note: The RX100 V offers some improvements over the previous instalment, the RX100 IV, most notably the faster autofocus. But the IV is still one of the best vlog cameras in its class, and also comes with 4K video. And it’s bound to be slightly cheaper now that this upgrade is released. Click here if you’d like to check that camera out.

Pros Cons
20.1 megapixels, 4K video, .5 second autofocus, optical image stabilization, Wi-Fi Expensive, overheats at 4K, no touch screen, short 2.9x optical zoom, screen not fully articulated

Portability: 3 out of 5
The RX100 IV is a truly portable camera, weighing just 10.5 ounces, and 1.6 inches thick, meaning it will quite easily fit in your pocket.

Portability is crucial in a compact camera—well, obviously, but that’s part of the reason the RX100 V is impressive. Sony has squeezed more features into this device than any other compact camera in the world, but still manages to make this one pocketable.

That’s something that might not impress you immediately, considering the other features this Sony vlog camera has going for it, but as someone who has used a camera of this size extensively, it’s critical to understand how important portability is when choosing a vlogging camera.

Video Quality: 5 out of 5

These days, almost all compact cameras come with autofocus. In theory, that’s a great idea. Autofocus means the lens is able to search what you’re recording, locate what it thinks you’re trying to focus on and, well, focus, without having to fiddle with any settings. In practice, however, most compact cameras struggle to autofocus effectively. I love Canon’s G7X, and its successor, the Mark II—but even the latest instalment can’t compete with Sony’s autofocus system, which can focus on an object in as little as half a second.

Sony has branded this autofocus as Fast Hybrid AF. Previously only found in Sony’s mirrorless cameras that have interchangeable lenses, this system uses phase-detection autofocus pixels. These provide the camera with a better sense of the depth of field in your shot, and where your subject is located, ie. the thing you’re trying to focus on (yes, that can be you). This system is great for quick autofocus, and the camera can track moving subjects without losing focus, too. This is a huge improvement, and immediately sets the RX100 V apart from earlier models, and miles ahead of competitors (yes, even the Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II.)

As for the video quality itself, the RX100 V shoots videos at a maximum of 4K at up to 30 frames per second. That’s a resolution of 4,000 x 2,000 pixels, otherwise known as theatrical movie-level picture quality. 4K from the RX100 V looks utterly beautiful, but it’s not that practical, as you can only shoot continuously for five minutes.

For that reason, 4K on the RX100 Mark V feels gimmicky, just as it did on the IV. If you’re determined to, you’ll find occasions where you can use it, but in all other situations, you’re better off sticking with 1080p Full HD. This mode still looks fantastic, and shines in low light conditions, where you’ll see little to no grain in your footage. Thanks to a f/1.8-2.8 lens, the RX100 V also provides great depth of field, meaning it pleasantly blurs the background of your shot while keeping your subject in crisp, clear focus.

There are a bunch of other features here, that may or may not be relevant to you depending on the kind of vlogging you’re looking to do. But one I need to mention is the slow motion filming. The RX100 can film at up to 960 frames per second. However, you’re better off shooting in slow motion at the 240 frames per second setting, as you’ll get much less grain than if you shoot at 960 fps.

Sound Quality: 3 out of 5

Compact cameras have come on in leaps and bounds within the past five years. You’ll know that if you’re still reading. But there a couple of areas in which such devices are still living in the late 2000s. What I’m talking about, of course, is sound quality.

For as long as video cameras have existed, the best way to capture audio has always been with a standalone device. (Picture the long, overhead mic boom from television news and Hollywood movies—there’s a reason they’re still using those today.) Because compact cameras are designed to be, well, compact, having an external microphone is simply not possible. The solution is, you guessed it, internal microphones. Lenses are getting bigger, and processors are getting more powerful, but microphones are still maligned—pushed into a corner to make room for the latest technology.  And so, sound quality suffers, and doesn’t sound all that great, even on some of the most expensive compact cameras.

That’s why the sound quality on the RX100 V is so surprising. It’s actually quite good. Unlike the Canon G7X Mark II (I keep using the G7X Mark II as a comparison because that’s considered the RX100 IV’s competitor), from which your sound can feel thin, and a little quiet, the RX100 V manages to capture louder, and richer audio that feels more authentic than any internal microphone I have ever used.

That said, it’s still susceptible to wind, which can rend audio unusable if conditions are particularly bad. But it’s possible to render that a non issue, or close to it at least, by picking up a miniature wind muff, like a MicroMuff. (I use one on my Canon PowerShot G7X, and it’s genuinely fantastic, and even stops the mic from peaking while filming indoors.)

Battery Life: 2 out of 5

Sony has created the most powerful compact camera in the world—but it still comes with a less than impressive battery life. We’re talking 20 minutes of continuous shooting on a single battery charge, according to Sony. That’s considerably less than most other compact cameras on the market, including Canon’s most popular offerings, but makes sense. There is an upshot: You can keep shooting while the camera is charging via USB.

While smartphone batteries take up most of the space inside the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7, for example, compact camera batteries are still far too small, and just not powerful enough to allow you to shoot video for very long. It’s one of the downsides of using a compact camera over, say, a larger, DSLR camera like the Canon EOS 70D. The solution here is to buy at least one spare battery. For the RX100 V, you’ll need a NP-BX1 (hey, at least they’re not prohibitively expensive).

Usability: 3 out of 5

Despite iteration after iteration, Sony is still accused of producing cameras with poorly-conceived user interfaces. It’s particularly noticeable on the RX100 V, which has a lot of features. That exacerbates Sony’s long-running UI problem of trying to fit too much in. Where other companies, such as Canon and Panasonic, have realized that it makes most sense to base a user interface around the most important features that customers use most often, Sony, it seems, never got the memo, continuing to add endless picture effect options, for example. The result is that it can take unaccustomed users longer than it should to figure out how to use all of this camera’s great features. That’s a real shame.

This Sony vlog camera has a 3-inch flip screen, which is vital if you’re a serious vlogger, and you’d like to be able to see yourself while filming. (This is not about vanity. A flip screen means you can frame these shots correctly, rather than realizing after a day of filming that you were shooting your forehead the whole time.) It’s not fully articulated, meaning you can’t turn it any way you want, but it does flip 180 degrees up (meaning it sits above the main body of the camera) and 45 degrees downward, which is helpful if you’re shooting something over your head, and still need to see what you’re shooting on the LCD screen).

However, this screen is not sensitive to touch, which is pretty shocking for a high, high end (this is the most expensive compact camera you can buy from a major manufacturer today—some DSLR cameras are cheaper). Having to use physical buttons makes scrolling though the camera’s endless list of features all the more frustrating. It also means you won’t be able to manually focus on a subject by tapping the screen, another inconvenience.

The RX100 V, like models before it, also comes with a feature somewhat unusual to modern compact cameras: a pop-up electronic viewfinder. While this has more of an application for photography—the viewfinder will provide you with a preview of the photo that’s less effected by the lighting conditions of your surroundings—it’s also helpful if you’re trying to shoot particularly stable video footage. That said, most instability will be corrected by the camera’s optical image stabilization.

Despite these downsides, Sony has partially redeemed itself by announcing the release of an official waterproof housing that works with the full line of RX100 cameras. The MPK-URX100A will be released in November 2016 and retail for $350, CNET said, and will allow you to take your camera to depths of up to 130ft. That said, you can buy this third party waterproof housing that you can bring to the same depth for almost half that.

Comes with…

Rechargeable battery (NP-BX1) AC adapter Wrist strap
Micro USB cable Strap adapter Manual

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Verdict: 4 out of 5

Make no mistake about it: The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V is the most capable compact camera you can buy. The new, faster, better autofocus is its primary selling point, and the main reason why I recommend picking up this one over an earlier model.

The problem is the price: for a couple hundred extra dollars, you could buy a DSLR that allows you to change lenses, and add an external microphone—two places where the RX100 V is most limited.

Still, if you can afford it, and you’re looking for incredible picture quality in a portable device, I’ve yet to find a compact camera more impressive than the RX100 V.

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One thought on “RX100 V: Brian’s Favorite Sony Vlog Camera”

  1. I was trying to find out how many continuous minutes of 1080p video you could record with this camera before the battery dies. It looks like from your post it is 20 minutes? Have you tested this yourself?

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