Sony RX100 high-spec compact camera

If anything has been absent  from Sony’s compact camera range it would have to be a high-end model. Today the company lays that to rest with the announcement of the Cyber-shot RX100 - an advanced compact with a 1-inch sensor size.

The sensor, the same size as that found in Nikon’s 1-series of compact system camera, is laced with 20.2 megapixels for ultra-high-resolution images.

Sony is seriously packing in the pixels here, but with a sensor around four times larger than that found in a standard compact camera it’s got the space to do so. And yet at that resolution the overall quality may flounder - for now we can’t say as there are no final production RX100 models available to play with yet, but perhaps a 12 or 16-megapixel sensor might have lit our eyes up even more.

Matched with the sensor is the inclusion of a 3.6x optical zoom lens. In old money terms that’s a 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 equivalent. This Carl Zeiss optic has seven rounded aperture blades for a circular "bokeh" effect and more DSLR-like quality in shallow depth of field shots.

That bright wide-angle aperture will certainly be a headline sell for some, although the dip to f/4.9 at the 100mm setting may come as a slight disappointment. The reason for this will be size and cost – if it was a brighter lens throughout the zoom it would cost a lot more to manufacture and, therefore, rule out a lot of prospective purchasers, but it would also become large to the point of absurdity. Sony is also keen to point out the lens’s "AA" (Advanced Aspherical) design that makes the compact’s, er, compact size possible.

To complement the sensor and lens combination is Sony’s latest Bionz image processor. This means the RX100 can shoot from ISO 100-6400, or up to ISO 25,600 in the expanded settings. Such processing power also means a super-fast 10 frames per second (10fps) burst mode is available.

But that’s not all that’s fast: Sony claims that the camera’s high-speed autofocus can lock on to a subject in as little as 0.13 seconds. Fast, though not quite as fast as Panasonic’s “light speed autofocus” system which is down to 0.09 seconds. Splitting hairs? Probably, as no manufacturer’s autofocus system remains as quick when zooming up the lens’s focal length.

Although there’s no viewfinder the RX100 includes a 3-inch, 1,229k-dot resolution LCD screen. But that’s not all, this Sony is the first camera that we’re aware of to debut “White Magic” - a white pixel thrown in the mix for added brightness, much like that found in LG’s OLED TV technology. Although the screen may sound higher resolution than a standard 921k-dot LCD, it isn’t – the inclusion of that extra pixel account for a quarter of the “dots” that form the VGA (640x480 pixels) resolution screen.

Advanced users have full manual control, including manual focus, a programmable function button and a control ring around the lens itself.

The RX100 is built around an aluminium shell, adding to its list of premium features. This ought to be one lightweight, tough cookie of a compact.

Although there’s no official price, we anticipate that the RX100 will cost around £500-600 and launch at the end of July.

RX100: Quick Specs Overview

- 20.2-megapixel 1-inch Exmor CMOS sensor 
- 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 (equivalent) lens 
- ISO 100-6400, expands to ISO 25,600 
- 1080p HD movie capture 
- 10 frames per second burst mode 
- 3-inch, 1,229k-dot WRGB LCD screen 
- Raw & JPEG files 
- Aluminium body 
- Lens ring for advanced control

Will you be quick to snap up an RX100 or does another high end compact, such as the Canon G1 X, take your fancy?