This is a review of the best pocket camera ever made.
But first, a history lesson.
For years camera makers worried about competition from only one source: other camera makers. But in the end, the most dangerous predator came from an unexpected direction: cellphones.
Today, more photos are taken with phones than with point-and-shoot cameras. On photo sites like Flickr, the iPhone is the source of more photos than any real camera. No wonder sales of inexpensive pocket cameras are going down each year.
Cameras in phones are a delightful development for the masses. If you have your camera with you, you’re more likely to take photos and more likely to capture amazing images.
But in a sense they are also great for camera makers, which are being forced to double down in areas where smartphones are useless: Zoom lenses. High resolution. Better photo quality. Flexibility and advanced features. That’s why, even if sales of pocket cameras are down, sales of high-end cameras are up.
Now you know why the time is ripe for the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. It’s a tiny, pants-pocketable camera that will be available in late July for the nosebleed price of $650.
Or, rather, won’t be available. It will be sold out everywhere. I’ll skip to the punch line: No photos this good have ever come from a camera this small.
The first reason is easy to grasp. The Sony RX100 has a huge one-inch sensor — the biggest ever stuffed into a pocketable zoom camera. That’s not as big as the sensors in S.L.R.’s and other lens-swappable cameras. But it’s two and a half times the area of the Olympus XZ-1 and nearly three times the area of the previous pocket-camera photo-quality champ, the Canon PowerShot S100. (The RX100’s shiny black metal body looks exactly like them.)
A big sensor means big pixels, which gives you less grain in low light, better color depth and great dynamic range — the spectrum from darkest to lightest pixels.
A big sensor is also a prerequisite for that professional blurry background look. The RX100 easily achieves those soft backgrounds, a rarity in compact cameras.
The other star factor in the Sony is its Carl Zeiss lens, whose maximum aperture (lens opening) is f/1.8. That’s the widest aperture you can buy on a pocket camera. That, too, helps explain its ability to blur the background, and its spectacular results in low light.
(As on any camera, that aperture shrinks as you zoom in. When you’re fully zoomed on this camera, you’re down to f/4.9. That’s still better than the Canon’s fully zoomed aperture — f/5.9.)
But you know what? All of that is just shutterbug-speak for, “This camera takes amazing photos.” If you want to know what “huge sensor” and “big aperture” mean in the real world, stop reading and savor my annotated slide show of sample photos. There’s a small sampling at nytimes.com/personaltech, and a larger one at http://j.mp/LdUu4h.
There you’ll see what makes the RX100 such a revelation: insane amounts of detail and vivid, true colors. Hand-held twilight photos. A burst mode that can fire 10 frames a second. And macro shots — supercloseup — that will curl whatever’s left of your hair. A typical S.L.R. can’t get any closer than 10 inches from the subject with its included lens; the RX100 can nail focus only 2 inches away.
Read the full NYT story HERE.