Sony’s RX100 cameras, pricey point-and-shoots for those with cash to burn, have always been well-received. But smartphone cameras, now boasting features like optical zoom using multiple lenses, have made the simple dedicated camera more redundant than ever. But after spending a few hours with Sony’s latest version, the RX100 Mark VI, I realized something: Point-and-shoot cameras might still have a place in the world after all—especially $1200-dollar point-and-shoot cameras. With the right set of features, carrying one to snap the shots your smartphone can’t take might give the category a new leg to stand on.
The RX100 Mark VI looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, though its internals have been redesigned to accommodate the 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 lens, capable of a whopping 8x optical zoom, something your smartphone can only dream of. By comparison, the Mark VI’s predecessor, the Mark V, had a had an 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens, capable of 2.9x optical zoom. Weak.
Inside are 15 glass elements—a number usually reserved for zoom lenses—arranged in a dozen groups. While the number of elements usually isn’t an indication of quality, aspherical lens elements are more costly than spherical elements, and better correct distortion. The RX100 Mark VI uses eight aspherical lens elements designed to keep things in focus, even at long zoom ranges. That lens, paired with a 20.1-megapixel sensor, makes shooting subjects that aren’t in your face a pretty simple affair.
At longer zoom lengths, you’re more likely to suffer from color fringing, a complication the Mark VI corrects for with the two lens elements, a pair of low-dispersion elements designed to suppress chromatic aberration.
Side-by-side shots from the RX100’s 8x optical zoom lens compared to the iPhone X’s 2x optical zoom lens are like comparing a flashlight to a car’s high beam. They say the best camera is the one in your pocket, but you might reconsider the adage when you see how close you can get without moving an inch.
Around two hours in, with the RX100 dangling on my wrist while I sweat and snaked my way through the city, I realized how convenient the point-and-shoot camera really is. It fit (with some effort) in the back pocket of my jeans, didn’t attract attention like my larger a6000, especially when paired with my 55-200mm zoom lens.
The RX100 Mark VI’s performance was impressive, as expected. Autofocus was instantaneous, continuous shooting was only mildly irksome when it came time to process shots, and the LCD touchscreen allowed for touch focus and touch shutter functionality (but that’s about it, a real disappointment). A pop-up viewfinder saves space in your pocket, and its LCD touchscreen can do a complete 180-degree flip so you can see yourself when you shoot a selfie on it, a useful holdover from the previous generation.
Sony, during its announcement of the RX100 Mark VI, also showed off a new $100 grip designed for vloggers looking for increased stability, and something more compact than a bulky camera gimbal. It has a non-removable Micro-USB cable that plugs into the camera, allowing for photo, video, and zoom controls within thumb’s reach. There are also two legs integrated to the stubby handle that can transform the grip into an emergency tripod, just in case you need to capture a sunrise or two.
Still, even with a pretty useful grip, the Mark VI ain’t perfect. That impressive zoom lens makes some sacrifices in terms of speed compared to the previous Mark V, which had a fast f/1.8-2.8 lens. Point-and-shoot cameras usually go wherever you go, including dark places like restaurants, dimly lit buildings, and hotel bars, so I’m not sure casting aside wideaperture for zoom functionality one might consider overkill was the right move. Then again, can’t you just use your smartphone for all that close-up bokeh stuff?