Scafell Pike and Scafell during an ascent of Yewbarrow in the English Lake District.
Looking down Ennerdale valley and across to Pillar, the eighth highest mountain in the English Lake District.
Lazy days on Lake Garda in northern Italy.
I’ve long wished for a camera I can carry with me for personal trips into the hills that is not as heavy as my Nikon professional DSLRs and lenses but still has great enough image quality so that, if I do capture something worthwhile, I can add the images to my stock image library and use them, at least, for editorial photography submissions.
I recently purchased a Sony RX100 V compact camera to trial on non-working days out in the mountains. My first outing with the Sony RX100 was in the West Highlands of Scotland on an ascent of Beinn Sgulaird (a Munro) and its neighbour, Creach Bheinn (a Corbett). I was joined by my friend David Hetherington, who I’ve enjoyed numerous trips with, and fellow adventure photographer, Dan Bailey, who was visiting Scotland from Alaska with his wife on a 50th birthday present tour of the whisky distilleries of Islay.
The Sony RX100 V certainly is a compact camera (it measures 101.6mm x 58.1mm x 41.0mm and it weighs just 300g) but it’s not like any compact camera I’ve used before, with a wide range of functionality that includes full continuous autofocus at 24 fps and 4K video shooting. Early indications are that it will be a really good compromise for me compared to carrying a DSLR and it ticks a lot of positive boxes. I do though need to play with it more before I’m fully sold on leaving a DSLR behind on personal trips.
What I like about the Sony RX100 V
It’s lightweight and it has arguably the best image quality in its class - My primary reason for purchasing the RX100 was so I had an alternative to heavy camera gear when either I wasn’t working, the weather was poor, the landscape was ‘not worthy’ or I wanted to take photos when out running in the hills. Great image quality was my next priority and, whilst the RX100 raw files are not DSLR quality, the reduction in weight compared to the acceptable drop in image quality is I feel a worthy trade-off for the above occasions. The images definitely appear to be good enough for editorial submissions, which is what I’ll very likely use them for.
Button programming - Professional DSLRs are super easy to use in the mountains. All the key controls I make use of regularly (exposure settings, ISO adjustments, exposure compensation, etc.) are at my fingertips and are easy to use, even with big gloves on. The gloves aspect can’t be said for the RX100 but you can easily customise the controls to suit your preferences. I’ve programmed the camera as follows;
Front dial: Zoom
Left button: AEL toggle
Right button: AF/MF Ctrl toggle
Centre button: Focus standard (Enables me to move autofocus point when in Flexible Spot mode)
C button: Focus area
Function button (Top row): White Balance, Steadyshot (Movie) on/off, ISO Auto
Function button (Bottom row): ND Filter on/off, Drive mode, Steadyshot (Image) on/off, Center Lock-On AF
Function button: Zoom in 100%
Electronic viewfinder - It’s difficult to use a LCD screen in bright sunshine so having the option to look through an electronic viewfinder is very useful. I much prefer composing a shot when the camera is up at my eye.
Wifi - A Sony PlayMemories App (www.playmemoriescameraapps.com) enables you to transfer images wirelessly to your phone, which is ideal if you’d like to share images with someone or post them on social media. I also purchased Sony’s time lapse application.
Continuous autofocus at 24 fps - An essential part of outdoor sports photography is being able to capture an athlete in the right dynamic posture for that sport. The RX100 autofocus options include single shot, 3 fps, 10 fps and 24 fps. The latter you’d think would be ideal for outdoor sports but be aware it will ensure you have a TON of shots to review in your photography workflow. (You probably won’t mind though when you get 'The Shot’).
Battery life - The camera battery is rated for c.220 shots but, with the camera in 10 fps burst mode and operating in sub-freezing temperatures, I shot 1000+ shots in a day. High-definition video I’d imagine would soon chew up the batteries. I’ll always carry at least one or two spares.
What I’d like to see improved
Bigger buttons - It’s not impossible but it’s difficult to use the buttons with ski gloves on, especially when switching the camera on and off, changing the exposure compensation or adjusting the drive and autofocus modes. Making the buttons larger however would likely mean a bigger camera body so the law of diminishing returns would apply.
Menu - I’m not fully of the view, as are some others, that the Sony RX100 menu is awful but there are some odd choices in regards to where things sit within the menu categorisation. A custom MyMenu option like Nikon offers would be appreciated (though you can program buttons on the RX100 to your liking, see above).
A hotshoe instead of a pop-up flash - I’ve no desire to use the on-camera flash and would prefer a hotshoe to which I could attach a remote trigger for long exposure shots or an external Rode mic for video work. Frustratingly, the RX100 doesn’t support external mics and there’s a huge amount of wind noise in videos, even with the settings optimised in-camera (Tip: Ted Forbes, on his 'Art of Photography’ YouTube channel has a great off-camera mic solution for the Sony RX100 V).
Included accessories - I bought an AG-R2 camera grip (which I’d highly recommend), a camera strap and a battery charger. For the recommended retail price (MRP £1000) I’d expect Sony to include these with your purchase.
Sony RX100 I, II, III, IV - Possibly uniquely, all previous versions of the Sony RX100 are still available (as is a new versionVI with a longer lens). If you’re interested in the RX100, but budget is an issue, check out the features and reviews of the previous models
Sony A6500 - If I didn’t have my DSLRs I would choose the Sony A6500 over the RX100. Highly likely with a 16-70mm lens (I feel that 24-105mm on a full-frame body is a perfect do-it-all lens for personal trips into the mountains - I really wish Nikon did a Canon equivalent)
My second trip out with the Sony RX100 V camera was to the English Lake District, when I visited with a friend who was scouting out locations ahead of a 24-hour mountain running challenge. In regards to the camera itself, I’d stick with my initial thoughts about the controls being difficult to use in big gloves. I was essentially using it as a point and shoot camera in conditions below freezing with strong winds. I also had trouble with the on/off switch, when I was 100% sure on occasions that I’d pressed it - without gloves on - but the camera didn’t recognise my input. And, whilst I felt that 24-70mm gives a good choice of focal range, I think I’d prefer 24-105mm on this particular camera (compared to my Nikon DSLR, on which I prefer using prime lenses - a 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8, which I supplement with two zooms, a 17-35mm wide angle and 70-200mm telephoto lens).
Overall, my first impressions of the Sony RX100 V still stand and it appears to be an excellent camera for my intended purpose. I’ll add more thoughts as I use it more. In the meantime, I’ll share how much I enjoyed the Lake District. It’s roughly the same distance from Edinburgh as it is to Glen Coe (approximately 3 hours) and it opens up a whole new range of mountains for me to explore. I’ve already started some location scouting of my own, as I prepare for a mountain running photo shoot I’ve scheduled for later in the year. I’m really looking forward to going back.