Warning: This is a boring camera review. If you don’t like photography you won’t like this post.
In 2015 I wrote an article reviewing the Fuji x100t. A camera that many reputable sources have pinned as “the best camera for travel”. Whilst it’s true, the Fuji did produce some magnificent images, I found it overall to be frustrating. It simply wasn’t versatile.
With the help of a kind friend back home I managed to sell that camera on E-bay and clawed back over half of the £1000 purchase price. I used the iPhone camera for a while but as someone that really likes photography that was never going to be a long term fix for my addiction.
In December 2015 after weeks of pouring over camera reviews online I bought a Sony rx100iv.
I’ve travelled with the Sony rx100iv now for nearly 2 years now.
I’ve dropped it a couple of times, tossed it into a bag or pocket without its case, and generally not respected it like I would have done with a much more expensive camera.
It’s not that I don’t like the tiny Sony. It’s just that it’s a pocket camera and it sells for £500 new. After my pricey Fuji and my even pricier Nikon, owning the Sony was to be an experiment in low budget convenience. I wanted something I could chuck around and not worry about too much.
First Some Bad Stuff
The Sony has broken on me a few times.
Nothing terminal but certainly outside of the bounds of what I would expect from a pro camera.
Unlike most pro cameras the Sony has a motorised lens that extends out from the camera body when it’s powered on. A few times that power-on extending lens has gotten confused and reversed itself so that the lens pokes out when the camera is off and closes away when the camera is on. Naturally this renders the camera unusable.
The first time this occurred I went through all the standard reset procedures recommended on the Sony forum. These involved the usual convoluted pressing of buttons whilst removing and reinserting the battery. Nothing worked for my Sony however, so I made the typical male decision to brute force it and just see what happened. I wasn’t very confident, but at this point the camera was inoperable anyway.
As delicately as I could, I grabbed a firm hold of the extended lens and pressed the power button.
The tiny contraption struggled with me for a few moments like a little fishy on line before giving up and resetting itself. Hey presto! Fixed.
I was a little surprised that the camera kept going after that but it did. Every couple of months it gets stuck again and I have to gingerly coax it back to position. I guess one day it will just die but a comfortable truce seems to have been drawn at the moment.
The grip on this camera is non existent.
It’s like holding a wet bar of soap.
There is a tiny rubberised portion where my thumb sits on the rear of the camera but everything else is shiny metal. The rubberised grip is glued on and it peeled off after a few months of use. In fairness, South East Asia is pretty hot and humid. I doubt the camera was designed to function at such temperature extremes for long periods. I managed to get some heat resistant glue and stuck it back on. It’s a non-issue for me but if ever I wanted to sell the camera I’m pretty sure the sight of a botched grip on the back may knock down my asking price.
There is an accessory grip available in Sony stores.
It’s only a tiny piece of shaped rubber that glues to the front area of the camera but it makes such a huge difference to the handling. I purchased one and would highly recommend it.
No Depth of Field or Bokeh
The Sony rx100iv has a tiny sensor which, combined with this lens offers zero depth of field.
I won’t go into the math here but essentially when you pair an f1.8 24mm lens with a 1 inch sensor you have the actual full frame depth of field equivalent of around f4.5 at 24mm. At the telephoto end, 70mm, the f2.8 aperture has a full frame equivalent of around f8.
Those dreamy out of focus backgrounds you can achieve on big cameras… not possible with a 1 inch sensor and this tiny lens.
The upside to this is that if you set your aperture to f8, practically the entire universe will be in focus. This is great for quick snaps in good light if you want to be assured of nailing focus every time.
Also, having no depth of field makes it very difficult to isolate your subject. How is that an upside you may ask? Simple. It makes you a better photographer because you can’t just crank down the aperture, you have to compose your images much more carefully.
Now the Good Stuff
Those issues aside there is so much to like about the Sony.
This camera is tiny. Just look at it!
It fits easily into any pocket, weights practically nothing and is almost silent in its operation. All of these things are a huge draw for anyone who travels a lot.
I chuckle to myself now when I see tourists lugging huge cameras around. A tiny pocket camera makes so much more sense from a practical travel perspective.
This camera shoots awesome video.
The Sony rx100iv punches way above its weight in terms of video features and ergonomics.
It does absolutely everything I could possibly need at my skill level.
I shoot mostly 1080p at 50m but this camera can go as high as 4K 100m. That’s an insane amount of image data. Remember, to buy a pro DSLR that shoots the same resolution and bit rate in camera you need to be spending upwards of £3000.
I could go on about the video features here but it seems pointless. This camera is great value if you shoot regular travel videos just for personal memories like me.
Stills performance is a little more complicated.
The Sony rx100iv shoots pretty nice stills in everyday use. It shoots very good stills if you take your time, use a tripod and plan your shots. It struggles in low light. I never use it for sports, action or wildlife.
When I first bought this camera I was disappointed in its stills performance. Side by side against my Fuji the Fuji images were way sharper and had much more detail despite the smaller pixel count. As I begun to get used to the Sony though I was able to push beyond what I thought it was capable of.
With a little effort shooting RAW and editing on Photoshop I was able to achieve some result that I was very happy with.
I love this little camera. Unlike the Fuji it met my expectations. I knew I was getting something small and not very durable. I knew I’d have no depth of field and crappy low light performance.
I wanted a tiny, inexpensive, discreet travel camera that did good video and good stills in most conditions. That’s exactly what I got.
So is the Sony rx100iv the perfect travel camera?
No. This camera is still lacking in some vital areas. If it had the Fuji x100T’s image quality, the Nikon’s depth of field and low light performance, then we might be somewhere close. That is never going to happen though.
The Sony rx100iv, for my money, is about as close as I can get.