Hands-on: Sony RX100 Mark V

David Elrich
Digital Trends

With its speedy performance, the RX100 V comes close to being the perfect pocket camera.

Sony recently unveiled the Cyber-shot RX100 Mark V and A6500, two new cameras for enthusiasts that cost $1,000 and $1,400, respectively. They are follow-ups to the RX100 Mark IV and the A6300, the latter of which had been announced just earlier this year. Sony gave us a chance for some lengthy hands-on time with the RX100 V during a product launch event in New York City, but alas, just a brief chance to handle the A6500 (no shooting was allowed) since there were just a few pre-production models available in the entire world; because of that, in this first-look we will focus on the RX100 Mark V, but also offer some impressions of the A6500 at the end.

Same design, brand-new specs

We have used every RX100-series model since introduction, in 2012, so we’re very familiar with the cameras’ pluses and minuses. It’s a big hit with enthusiasts and pros that want a quality camera when they don’t need to lug around 75 pounds of DSLR gear. From the outside, the Mark V is basically the as the Mark IV. It’s an incredibly compact camera with an f/1.8-2.8, 24-70mm (2.9x) Zeiss lens.

Since the RX100 V is closer to release (October), there were plenty to go around for the assembled camera journalists. We were taken to the Highline Studios, a pro photographers’ factory, where a half-dozen subjects – jugglers, whip crackers, dancers with flowing costumes, classic 70s break dancers, martial arts demonstrators, and other actors – were on standby for an extensive photo shoot (see samples).

The highlight features of the compact RX100 V include a fast 24-frames-per-second burst rate (versus the Mark IV’s 5.5 fps) up to 150 shots. While the camera looks the same as its predecessor on the outside, inside is a new 1-inch, 20.1-megapixel stacked Exmor RS CMOS sensor that’s responsible for that fast burst mode when working in conjunction with a beefed-up Bionz X image processor.

Sony also claims the RX100 V has the world’s fastest autofocusing system (0.05 seconds), combining phase detection and contrast detection; it uses 315 dedicated AF points across 65 percent of the frame. Carried over from the Mark IV are 4K and super-slow-motion video capture; pop-up electronic viewfinder (EVF) and three-inch LCD; and an electronic shutter top speed of 1/32,000th of a second.

A very fast compact

Since most of the photo subjects were fast moving, we used the shutter priority mode and cranked up the ISO to capture the action (12,800 is the highest setting). Burst mode was set to 24 fps but it can be ratcheted down to 11 or 3.5, depending on the subject and how large your memory card is. We used a fast, 128GB SD card, so we fired away at will.

sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample
sony rx mark v hands on sample

The 24 fps setting is amazing and it really can rip off 150 shots before slowing down. None of our shots truly required the use of the feature, but we did it just for kicks anyway. With the new processor, there was very little blackout when shooting, and although there was some delay as the camera writes the 20.1MP files to the card, it performed much faster than earlier RX100s. One thing hasn’t changed though: The battery is still weak and we wore ours out during the session and had to pop in a spare. If you purchase this camera, a spare battery is an absolute must-have accessory.The RX100 V has a very comfortable feel, with the zoom toggle nicely positioned near the shutter. We love the results from the Zeiss zoom but really wish it had more telephoto reach beyond 2.9x – this has not changed since the first RX100. We know this is a major technological challenge but hopefully Sony’s engineers tackle the task with the next model.

Still shooting is a breeze, as is recording 4K videos. The small red-dot record button is still in an awkward place but you can customize a key to make it more accessible. The RX100 V records 3,840 x 2,160 (QFHD) movies using the XAVC-S codec. Check out the movie of the dancers to see the fluid motion and accurate colors.

Super-slow-motion (also known as High Frame Rate mode) recording is fun, especially with the subjects Sony provided such as dancers with flowing robes, knife-tossing jugglers, and martial artists. We shot at 240 fps, which is the best quality setting but you can go up to 960 fps for longer recording – sacrificing some quality. The effect you achieve is akin to “bullet time” moments in The Matrix.

We still must take Sony to task for making the HFR menu difficult to access and navigate. Even after using this feature many times, we still needed a refresher course. The results are worth the trouble, however.

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We have no doubt the RX100 V will be a hit, even at $1,000. It’s a compact that’s pretty close to the ultimate walking-around camera – keeping in mind the caveats detailed here. We’d love more focal range but the perfect camera has yet to be invented. The Mark V gets close, especially for those who don’t want to carry lots of gear yet want a lot of capability from a camera.

Sony’s new APS-C flagship mirrorless

As noted earlier the 24.2-megapixel A6500, which Sony dubs its flagship APS-C camera, was available to handle but not shoot with – a major disappointment. But if we had to make a prediction, the A6500 should be another strong offering, following the footsteps of the A6000 and A6300 – two DT Editors’ Choice cameras we loved using.

However, we did get a chance to play with the new touchscreen focus. The ability to touch-to-focus has been around for years but Sony did something very cool with it. When you hold the EVF to your eye you can use your thumb to drag the focus point directly to the spot you want then fire away. This is also not revolutionary (Olympus and Panasonic have been offering this for some time), but it makes shooting much more seamless when using the EVF.

Other points to note include built-in five-axis image stabilization, a first for the A6000 series; every lens attached can be stabilized. The camera also has Fast Hybrid AF with 425 phase-detection AF points; grabs 11 fps up to 307 shots; and dials up to a top ISO of 51,800. Naturally, we’ll do more a more extensive review when we get a production model for review. And for the record, the A6000 and A6300 will remain available.

Sensor production back to normal

During the launch event, Sony executives made an announcement that should make everyone in the camera industry happy. They reported their key chip-making plant in Japan is almost back in full operation. Since the company is the leading supplier of image sensors, the damage to the earthquake-stricken factory caused shortages not only for Sony but many other companies as well. Good examples include Nikon’s D500, which is still hard to come by, and Nikon’s DL-series of enthusiast compacts that were announced in January but have yet to see the light of day.

High

  • Fast autofocusing
  • Incredible 24 fps burst
  • Newly designed sensor and processor
  • Very compact
  • 4K, super-slow-motion modes

Lows

  • Short 2.9x lens
  • Poor battery life
  • Convoluted menus
  • Still pricey