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Sony has 6 different RX100 cameras. Which one should you buy?

Since the introduction of the original RX100 in 2012, Sony has pushed out seven other variants of the popular compact camera. A lot of things have vastly improved over the past eight years, and the newest RX100 VII is the best point-and-shoot camera you can buy. However, the core feature of a 20-megapixel 1-inch-type sensor hasn’t changed, although it has improved over the years.

One thing that’s certainly developed over time is the price. In 2012, photographers shelled out $650 for the first RX100. That amount has nearly doubled with the RX100 VII, which currently costs $1,200. But does twice the price equate to twice as good a camera? Well, that depends on who’s using it.

Continuous shooting speed, autofocus, and video have all seen dramatic improvements over the generations, including the jump to 4K video in the RX100 IV. That’s certainly going to appeal to YouTubers who want quality video recording without the hassle of a larger, bulkier camera. (The Sony ZV-1, an offshoot of the RX100 line, has even more video-specific features for the likes of YouTubers and vloggers).

Sony has actually produced eight RX100 models, but only six are still available to buy new. Figuring out the differences between them can be perplexing. The natural inclination is to assume the latest is the greatest, but that isn’t necessarily true and you may be paying for more than you need. Here’s what to know about every RX100 camera so you can decide which is right for you.

Sony RX100

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When the RX100 first hit the shelves, it did so with impressive specs for its time that blew away all other point-and-shoots. A 24-100mm equivalent lens with an f/1.8-2.8 aperture, native ISO range of 125-6,400, 10-frames-per-second continuous shooting, and 1080p/60 fps video made it a fantastic travel companion. A max shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second was disappointing, but this was never going to be a camera that attracted fast-action photographers in the first place.

Aside from the everyday globetrotter, the RX100 was the perfect upgrade for the person who wanted to step up from their phone camera (or even step down from a DSLR). Although compact, it came with a relatively large 1-inch-type sensor — a format that would explode in popularity later.

Another nice touch was the 330-shot battery life, which remains the best of any RX100 camera.

While the sensor, processor, and lens have improved in subsequent generations, the original RX100’s image quality still holds up very well today. Its 20MP sensor was well ahead of its time.

Who’s it for? The photography enthusiast who wants more than the smartphone in their pocket and doesn’t need the fastest performance or best video quality.

Sony RX100 II

Image used with permission by copyright holder

We’re including this model in the interest of history, as it appears to no longer be available to buy new. It took just 12 months for Sony to release the second-generation RX100, aptly named the RX100 II. That’s half the time traditionally afforded to a camera’s lifespan in today’s status of upgrade culture. So with one year separating them, what was new with the RX100 II?

Sony bumped up the ISO, increasing the range to 160-12,800, putting it close to some of the best full-frame cameras of the time. That certainly made it more attractive for shooting in low light, but don’t get too excited: It’s still a 1-inch sensor, and it can only do so much. Don’t expect image quality to be spectacular at such high ISOs.

The LCD was now a 90-degree articulating screen, which gave shooters more flexibility when shooting stills or video from awkward, lowdown angles. Sony also added a hot shoe, allowing users to use an external speedlight and giving them more creative options when illuminating their subjects.

However, this feature wouldn’t last. The RX100 II is the only model in the whole lineup to feature a hot shoe (although, Sony brought it back for the ZV-1 in 2020).

The RX100 II was ever so slightly bigger and heavier than the original, but the increase was so small that it would be impossible to see with the naked and eye and feel in your hands.

Built-in Wi-Fi was certainly one of the most attractive upgrades. Having the ability to transfer files and post them online quickly was perfect for the photographer that’s always on the move.

Sony RX100 III

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The RX100 III was a bit of a strange one. The good news is that Sony fitted it with a new Bionz X processor, the same hardware used in its high-end cameras at that time. It also added a pop-up electronic viewfinder, which remains on the series to this day (although, the resolution was just 1.44 million pixels, which subsequent cameras improved). But, rather disappointingly, it still didn’t push the fastest shutter speed beyond 1/2000 of a second and made no improvement to burst mode. And battery life actually got worse.

Sony also redesigned the lens, but in a bit of twist, it made it less versatile, dropping from a maximum telephoto zoom of 100mm down to just 70mm. The f/1.8-2.8 variable maximum aperture was unchanged. However, it turns out the original lens wasn’t exactly the best, and the new model brought with it improved sharpness. It also added an integrated neutral density (ND) filter, while helped with exposure in very bright scenes to keep video smooth or to help compensate for the relatively slow 1/2000 second maximum shutter speed. Many photographers saw this as a worthy trade-off for the extra 30mm.

Videographers had another reason to upgrade, too, thanks to the ability to shoot slow-motion content up to 120fps, with up to 30 minutes of recording time. The LCD went from 90 degrees of articulation to 180 degrees, giving users even more flexibility (yay, selfies!).

Who’s it for? Video shooters who don’t need 4K and photographers after sharp results on a relatively tight budget.

Sony RX100 IV

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In 2015, Sony brought out the RX100 IV — and it was a big one.

We got to say goodbye to the underwhelming shutter speed, as Sony introduced an optional electronic shutter that could hit 1/32000 of a second. On top of that, continuous shooting jumped from 10 fps to an impressive 16 fps.

There was also more clarity and detail in the electronic viewfinder, which more than doubled resolution to 2.36 million dots. And there was a new sensor: Sony introduced its first “stacked” sensor with the RX100 IV, although resolution did not change. The stacked design improved performance, helping achieve that fast continuous shooting speed.

There was a vast improvement for videographers, as well. Sony leaped from Full HD to 4K (albeit, limited to just 5-minute clip lengths) and now offered slow-motion capture up to 960 fps (at significantly reduced resolutions).

Frustratingly, all this extra performance meant the RX100 IV offered the worst battery life of the series yet, with a rating of 280 shots.

Who’s it for? Photographers who have more interest in fast action, and videographers that want that 4K shooting experience.

Sony RX100 V (and VA)

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The fifth installment of this now very popular series pushed the needle even further.

For some time now, Sony has been an industry leader in the world of autofocus. Missing from previous models, the RX100 V came with phase-detection autofocus and 315 autofocus points across the sensor — this was a big deal for the time. Burst mode also took a significant leap again, with the camera now capable of shooting up to 24 fps. But beyond that, pretty much everything remained the same.

Sadly, better performance and technology put even more pressure on the battery. Sony hadn’t found a way to combat that, and poorer battery life was yet again a consequence. The V was rated for just 220 shots.

Then, two years later, Sony introduced the RX100 VA — and we’re not entirely sure why. It was an underwhelming upgrade for a such a long gap and, weirder, it came after the introduction of the RX100 VI (see below). The VA is basically what the V should have been, and as such, Sony discontinued the V — the first RX100 camera to have met this fate.

The VA did bring some small but welcome improvements, including a deeper image buffer for longer bursts in continuous shooting mode and the new, easier-to-use menu system from the RX100 VI. Other little features, such as three auto white balance options and zone AF area mode, were also added.

Who’s it for? Those frustrated with autofocus performance on their compact camera.

Sony RX100 VI

Daven Mathies/Digital Trends Image used with permission by copyright holder

By the time the RX100 VI came out, it was clear Sony was slowly starting to prioritize video. The VI brought HDR to video, allowing shooters to find more dynamic range in their footage. However, video recording performance remained the same, 4K at 30 fps.

That’s not to say photographers were completely forgotten. A new lens was fitted in the sixth generation RX100. Sony turned it into a fixed telephoto lens with an equivalent focal length of 24-200mm. However, this increased versatility came at the expense of light sensitivity, as the maximum aperture shrunk to f/2.8 at the wide end and f/4.5 at the telephoto end.

That’s the main reason why some customers may prefer to stick to an older RX100 camera; if you shoot often in low light, particularly indoors, a wider aperture is going to be much more desirable than a longer telephoto lens.

Who’s it for? Photographers and videographers who need a long zoom in a compact body.

Sony RX100 VII

Image used with permission by copyright holder

We’ve arrived at the latest version of the RX100 line — the RX100 VII. Released in the summer of 2019, the RX100 VII is undoubtedly the best version of the camera yet, but still built around the same sensor and lens combination as the VI.

New, exciting features like real-time tracking and real-time eye autofocus, borrowed from Sony’s mirrorless cameras, made their point-and-shoot debut. More autofocus points were added, going from 315 to 357.

Battery life was improved, but only compared to models newer than the RX100 IV, now offering 260 exposures. And for videographers, the introduction of a microphone port for the first time was a very welcome touch.

It is, naturally, also the most expensive RX100 camera. That alone reserves it to a relatively small niche of customers.

Who’s it for? Someone who wants the best of the best, without compromise.

Which RX100 camera is right for you?

It would be difficult for us to recommend the original RX100 in 2020, but it does only cost $400. It’s a nice camera, and the battery life is the best of the bunch, but in every other area, the original just can’t compete.

Although the RX100 VII is the most advanced, even if money is no issue, there is at least one reason to choose an older model: The brighter lens. The RX100 III, IV, and VA (and the new ZV-1) all use the same 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. Not only is the aperture larger, but this lens also includes the built-in ND filter, something the 24-200mm lens on the VI and VII lacks.

Due to the improved autofocus, we’d recommend photographers stick to the RX100 VA and newer. For videographers, we wouldn’t recommend a model older than the RX100 IV, which introduced 4K — but you might want to stick with the VA if you depend on autofocus, and note that only the VII includes support for external microphones.

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Dan Ginn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Dan Ginn is an internationally published street photographer, feature writer and content creator. Through his writing, he has…
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