There are two sets of well-heeled people who will consider buying the Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX 100: Those with a DSLR and those without. But neither set will be able to deny that this Japan-made point-and-shoot camera is a thing of beauty, physically at least.
The RX100 is small, with a well-shaped, fairly-rounded, matt-black body that may just be able to resist some of those despicable scratches that are the usual result of a camera tumbling around a trouser or jacket pocket. And for a camera of its physical dimensions, this Sony is likely to spend a fair amount of time tucked inside clothing. No carrying case required, although the accessories booklet is inviting.
That, in fact, is one of its USPs. This is supposed to be a point-and-shoot that professionals will like toying with for an afternoon of ambling around the neighbourhood, or a somewhat serious amateur's prized possession that will be whipped out on a trip to the nearby monument or a picturesque waterfall and such.
So, what's packed inside does matter - and it's anything but disappointing. The RX100 comes with the exceptional Exmor CMOS sensor that packs in 20.2 megapixels without bloating up the size of the camera. To put it simply, this is possibly the closest one can get, so far, to DSLR quality photographs without a bulky body.
The 3.6x optical zoom on this fixed-lens camera is rather disappointing, but the quality of the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens, which opens up to f/1.8 at its widest, makes up for it. It's great for portraits; for instance, with a fair bit of bokeh (that lovely background blur) and should do well for a few hours spent shooting on the street.
The photographs are sharp and the shutter more or less snappy, with solid low-light performance. But the 4GB Lexar SDHC memory card that comes bundled is probably far too slow for most professionals, although it could hold up for amateurs with some patience. The controls aren't tedious to understand, with room for customisation, including the useful control ring that surrounds the lens body.
Not just that, the video performance is surprisingly good, too. Much like the stills it produces, the RX100's video is sharp, bright and pretty good quality. But the sound is suspect, and with no place to plug in a microphone, an external recorder will be required for any multimedia work. But again, given its size, one can't complain too much. And in all likelihood, no amateur will.
Yet, in its efforts to make the RX100 as small as possible, Sony may have inadvertently made this camera a little less palatable for more experienced hands. There's no hot shoe for stringing up an external flash, neither is there a viewfinder.
Instead, for the latter, Sony has relied on its 1229k dot resolution, 7.5 cm 'WhiteMagic' LCD, which may well work in most controlled environments, but out on the street, a viewfinder is almost essential. What doesn't help either is that the LCD, despite the technology, has a talent for retaining fingerprints, which is problematic considering it's the only display option available. The display needs a good scrub every time the camera comes out of the box.
So, shooting with the RX100 amidst dust or a grey, drizzling day, typical conditions for the subcontinent, is unlikely to be a great experience. With a price tag of Rs 34,990, rather hefty considering the Nikon and Canon DSLR ranges start out cheaper, that's not exactly acceptable performance.