Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the first thing that really hit me when shooting with the RX100 VI was the lens range. Which is pretty impressive. While I’ve personally always been happy to forego a bit of lens length if it means keeping the lens fast, I’ll be the first to admit there are times when you feel the limits of that approach. The lens used on the RX100 III, IV and V was lovely and bright but its 70mm equiv. zoom isn’t very satisfying for head-and-shoulders portraits, for instance. The Mark VI has no such problems and made it easy for me to shoot a variety of ‘people’ pictures as I walked along New York’s Highline.
I found myself appreciating the extra reach almost immediately, but I suspect it’ll take longer to get a sense for how much has been lost
You don’t get something for nothing, of course. The RX100 VI’s maximum aperture ranges from F2.8 to 4.5. Impressively this means it’s brighter at the long end than the original RX100, despite offering twice the focal length in a similarly-sized body. However, you lose a stop and a third of brightness, compared with previous RX100s, at the wide end. I found myself appreciating the extra reach almost immediately, but I suspect it’ll take longer to get a sense for how much has been lost, especially in terms of low-light capability, when shooting wide.
This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been left with mixed feelings about a camera in the RX100 series. Equally, though, it’s not the first time I’ve looked back at my images and found myself thinking ‘that’s really quite impressive for such a small camera.’
Touchscreen and controls
Despite the very different lens, another thing that very quickly made itself apparent was that this is still, for better or worse, an RX100. As such it takes great pictures but, broadly speaking, prefers to be used as a ($1200) point-and-shoot, rather than a camera that invites direct control.
The touchscreen relieves some of the pressure on the camera in that there’s now a quick and easy way to specify an autofocus point. There’s a slight lag after you touch the screen but it’s better than previous models and not a particular problem. I also found that configuring the left-hand side of the screen to act as a touchpad, when shooting through the viewfinder worked well for me. But, at least for people pics, I found myself not really wanting to specify an AF point at all. Instead, holding down the central button on the back of the camera engaged EyeAF, meaning I could leave the camera to focus on my subject’s eye while I worried about composition and blathering away about why I wanted to take their photo.
As with other recent Sonys, the touchscreen is only really used for setting the focus point. The Fn and main menus still require you to navigate using the four-way controller. This of course means the RX100 series still hasn’t caught up with the near-immediate tap the screen, click the lens ring level of control offered by the likes of the Olympus XZ-2, even after nearly six years and as many iterations.
Aside from the touchscreen, the camera is very responsive, as you might expect from a a model that can shoot at 24 frames per second, while maintaining full autofocus. However, shoot a burst and you start to notice just how much data that entails. The RX100 VI has a UHS-I style card slot, so can’t take advantage of the faster write speeds of the latest cards, which can sometimes mean having to wait for the buffer countdown to end before being able to make the settings change you want.
Like recent Sony models, there’s still plenty you can do while the camera is writing to the card. Most crucially, you can keep shooting, so it’s not going to cause you to miss a shot. But I did find myself sometimes wanting to drop out of continuous drive mode, but being unable to because the camera was still saving the images from the previous burst.
The lack of built-in ND filter severely limits what would otherwise be impressive video specifications
I was slightly surprised by how much difference the new ‘one-touch’ viewfinder mechanism made. I’d never thought of the two stage: pop-up and pull action as being that onerous but eliminating the need to pull out the eye frame and, perhaps more importantly, the need to push it back in before pressing the finder back into the body, makes the whole process quicker. I found myself using the viewfinder more often as a result. Though I’m going to have to disengage the function that shuts the camera off when you close the viewfinder…
Clouds in a bright sky
Although I didn’t encounter it (as I’ve mainly been shooting stills so far), there’s another small change that is likely to make a significant difference to me, and anyone else who enjoys shooting video. The lack of built-in neutral density (ND) filter severely limits what would otherwise be impressive video specifications.
Without an ND filter, or any way to easily attach one, it’s difficult to maintain anywhere near the 1/50th or 1/60th of a second shutter speeds that filmmakers will typically aim for. It’s a problem I encountered recently when shooting with the Panasonic ZS200, meaning I simply couldn’t shoot video in bright light. The lens on the RX100 VI stops down a little further than that of the Panasonic, but at small apertures, diffraction negates the benefit of the RX100 VI’s detailed, oversampled 4K footage.
It’s worth noting of course that if this is a limiting factor for you, the RX100 V (with its faster lens and built-in ND) is still a very capable video camera, and it remains available. There’s no mic socket on either camera, though.
Personally, I find 200mm equivalent is enough to cover most of the shooting I do. Except for very specific needs, I don’t find extending beyond that gives me much additional benefit. And my initial shooting rather confirms that for me. It was liberating to be able to shoot at 200mm equiv with a relatively large sensor camera with a reasonably bright aperture, yet then be able to stuff it into my jacket pocket.
But the thing that most struck me about the using RX100 VI was how often, when I showed my images to the strangers I’d just photographed, was how often I got a smile and a response along the lines of “that’s a really good camera.”