Saying you’ve found “the best point-and-shoot camera” is like saying you’ve got “the best kind of toe fungus.” It’s something hardly anybody wants.
We’re all carrying around perfectly capable cameras on our smartphones, so if you’re going to recommend adding the bulk and expense of a compact camera without an interchangeable lens, it’d better be truly exemplary.
This is the camera that turned me around: The Sony Cybershot RX100, a $650 point-and-shoot. It’s not exactly a new camera — it’s been out since mid-2012, and I grew curious only after reading rave reviews from the likes of David Pogue at The New York Times and Steve Huff at Stevehuffphoto both of whom praised it as the best pocket camera ever made. It’s also The Wirecutter’s current top pick among all point-and-shoots. Talk about the belle of the ball, right? So, I called in a review unit and spent three months with it, carrying it around with me in the city, and taking it on a vacation in Hawaii to test it. At the end of those three months, I can agree with the others — if you’re in the market for a pocket camera that possesses rocket-fast speed, isn’t a burden to carry, and delivers absolutely awesome photos, this is the one to buy.
You get a lot for your $650. The lens is a thing of beauty, a Carl Zeiss monstrosity with a maximum aperture of f/1.8. There’s also a massive sensor inside: a 1-inch, 20.2-megapixel CMOS. I say “massive” because even though it’s not quite as big as what you get in a Micro Four-Thirds or DSLR camera, that’s way better than your average point-and-shoot. I also use “massive” in the sense that it’s reality-altering. The sensor has turned upside-down my expectations of what’s capable from a point-and-shoot. We’re talking beautiful, color-rich, absolutely clear photos in the most common daylight conditions, and very impressive photos in harsh light and low light.
The other impressive thing about this camera is the case. It’s remarkably compact, just a little bigger than a pack of cigarettes. The lens assembly only juts out about 11 millimeters (total thickness is 36 mm), and otherwise the case is smooth with no other protrusions. It’s the same size as a Canon S100, but a little thicker. Notably absent is a viewfinder of any sort, which I admit was an immediate turn-off for me. But after a month or so of use, I didn’t really miss it. The RX100 has a gigantic 3-inch LCD screen on the back, and it’s easy to customize the amount of real-time information shown on the display. Also, the controls are simple and stellar, with a mode selector switch on the top of the case, a dedicated video record button positioned near your thumb, a standard jog-click wheel below it, and an assignable control ring around the lens.
UPDATE, February 14th: When comparing cameras at the end, the original version of this review cited the wrong camera model from Olympus. The correct camera is the Olympus XZ-2.