Sony engineered an amazing compact camera with a comparably large 1 inch sensor in the recently shipped DSC-RX100 premium point and shoot. The sensor is the same size as Nikon’s J1 and V1 system as well as the just announced J2. So how does this new Sony compare with the Nikon’s compact system camera? Very well in many key areas. This little Sony may have one of the best compact body to sensor size ratios. Keep in mind that with all things being equal, the camera with the larger sensor will give you better image quality. Sure the Canon S100 maybe a bit thinner than the RX100 but Canon’s sensor is much smaller. When compared to the Nikon 1 series, however, while they both share the same sized sensor, Sony’s body is significantly smaller. Here is the comparison between the Sony and Nikon at camerasize.com. The Sony’s front face of the camera is a bit smaller but its retracting lens makes the RX100 down right svelte. So much so that the RX100 is a pocketable camera. The Nikon is small but chunky; you will need a bag for it. The Sony also has a zoom lens which starts at f1.8 which is much faster than the Nikon kit lens.
All this means that in theory (since the test results for the Sony are still coming in) with the same size sensor and the faster lens, the Sony should be capable of a higher image quality in a truly compact size. No wonder serious photographers are eyeing this camera with interest. The Sony has double the resolution at 20MP vs the Nikon’s 10PM. This may negatively affect Sony’s higher ISO image performance, we will have to wait for the results. At lower ISO’s however the 20MP sensor should give more detail with its resolution advantage. Until recently, the Nikon J1 was priced at the same $649 as the Sony RX100. Recent pricing pressure has finally taken a toll on the Nikon J1 and the new Nikon J2 that was announced today is at a lower MSRP of $549.
Readers of this blog will know that I like mirrorless compact system cameras. I own 3 Olympus Pens and a Sony NEX-5. The Nikon 1 series has some breakthrough features such as its fast focusing hybrid system but in general I thought it was over priced. Its 1 inch sensor is a lot smaller than the micro 4/3 standard or APS-C but the Nikon’s J1 body was not much smaller. It doesn’t have in body image stabilization and there were no fast primes (there is a relatively slow 28mm f2.8). Given the type of shooting I do, the Nikon is not compelling. Enter the Sony RX100. With its very compact body, fast lens and equally large sensor, the camera changes the equation. Sure I can’t change lenses on the Sony but with 28mm to 100m equivalent zoom lens from f1.8 to f4.9, the camera had more than enough range for me. From the early reviews, the camera appears to have fantastic image quality and that 1 inch sensor may be a game changer for point and shoot sized cameras. Sure my micro 4/3 cameras are probably better in image quality but this Sony will be small enough to take almost anywhere without a bag. At its widest setting the Sony will give me a 28mm f1.8 image stabilized camera. This is exactly the type of camera that would work great for street photography as well as the urban landscapes that I like to shoot.
Knowledgeable people will be aware that while the two cameras share the same sensor size, the two are targeted towards entirely different markets. The Nikon J1 and J2 are intended as a step up cameras for the average point and shoot crowd. These are the people who want better image quality and faster responsiveness but do not what the bulk of a DSLR. The Sony RX100 is for the serious photographer that wants a small carry around camera. These people probably own a DSLR and possibly a mirrorless and want something that is smaller. Clearly, the Sony is targeted more for me. Despite Nikon’s positioning, I believe, for most people, the Sony would be a better camera. Portability is very important for most people and if you can get equal of better image quality, why not pick the Sony. I think the Nikon is on shaky ground and Nikon knows it. The Nikon has the edge in action photography and the ability to use the large Nikon SLR lenses. But that is about it.
Enter the just announced J2, which has minor improvements but is $100 less expensive. Is Nikon feeling the pressure from the competition? Perhaps. Did they meet their internal sales goals? No idea. But the $100 price drop makes the J2 a more compelling camera. I do think for the serious photographer, the Sony RX100 is still the better choice. As for me, there are three things with the Sony that hold me back. One might be a deal killer the other two are just a general concern. I will talk about those issues in a future post.
For now, I think it is very interesting how the competition is stacking up. As the DSLR prices continue to fall and the capability of the point and shoots increase, the mirrorless cameras maybe squeezed in the middle. For advanced shooters like me, the lens selection and functionality of particularly the micro 4/3 cameras works very well. For the novice however, it is increasingly confusing and I think it will get even more so. The camera manufactures are jockeying to fill every niche. For those with the knowledge and experience it is a fantastic time. However, for the average buyer, the proliferation of cameras at the Mega Stores may induce paralysis.