In terms of what is the best camera under 500 dollars that is small enough to easily take with you, and that delivers premium image quality, there is one camera that stands apart from the rest.
If you are looking for a versatile high-end compact digital camera, based on extensive testing and my own personal user experience, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is the best camera under 500 dollars available today.
I am not alone in my opinion. The majority of reviews rate the Sony RX100 in the same regard, and the Sony RX100 is often recommended online as the best camera under 500 dollars.
Striking the ultimate balance of form and function, the stylish, aluminium-built RX100 camera inherits many advanced imaging features from Sony’s α range of A-mount and E-mount cameras, delivering beautiful still images, crisp full HD videos and a level of manual control and creativity unmatched by any other camera of its size.
The Sony RX100 (2012) is the first generation in a series of four camera’s with the same name, the only differentiating naming factor being the number in the series.
The lineup consists of the Sony RX100, Sony RX100 II (M2), Sony RX100 III (M3) and most recently the Sony RX100 IV (M4).
Each model has its unique set of specs and offer progressive improvements, although out of the four cameras, the 1st generation Sony RX100 is the only one that is offered below 500 dollars.
The Sony RX100 is a compact camera that is small enough to fit in a pocket, and yet delivers a powerful photographic feature set for the hobbyist and more advanced photographer.
The Sony RX100 is a suitable step-up model for point and shoot users not interested in larger DSLR or compact system cameras, and a great choice for enthusiasts who may already own a large DSLR and are looking for a high-quality, pocket-sized ‘all-in-one’ second camera.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 premium compact digital camera is able to deliver quality that meets professional requirements.
The RX100 can also be set to a user-friendly point and shoot Auto mode if so desired. The camera determines the best settings based on the scene at hand. Ideal if lending your camera to someone else that is not as familiar with its operation or for more novice users.
The above image was taken on a recent family vacation with the camera set to Superior Auto mode. The photo was captured by a kind passerby who simply had to push the shutter release button to get the shot.
As an example of the level of image quality that the Sony RX100 is able to produce, photographer Anuar Patjane Floriuk used a Sony RX100 to capture his photograph “Whale Whisperers”, an image that won a prestigious 2016 World Press Award (Nature Singles Category – 2nd Prize).
The image was taken with the camera encased and protected in an optional waterproof housing.
Above: a humpback whale and her newborn calf swim near Roca Partida, the smallest island of the Revillagigedo archipelago, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. “Whale Whisperers” by Anuar Patjane Floriuk.
The fact that the Sony RX100 compact digital camera is capable of producing image quality that is good enough to win a significant international photography award while competing against images produced by professional DSLR camera’s is an impressive accomplishment.
What makes the image quality from the Sony so much better than the average point and shoot type of camera, is that the Sony RX100 features a larger sensor compared to the smaller sensors found in the majority of compact cameras, and significantly larger than the sensors found in most smartphones.
At the heart of the Cyber-shot RX100 is the world’s first 1.0-inch type Exmor® CMOS sensor with a resolution of 20.2 effective megapixels. Specially developed by Sony, the sensor has an area that’s approximately four times larger than the 1/2.3-type sensors in traditional point-and-shoot cameras.
The iPhone 6 and 6s have sensors that measure 1/3-inch in size. A large sensor is one of the most significant factors in terms of providing good image quality.
The sensor’s larger area takes in more light while capturing content, resulting in beautiful, detail-packed images and Full HD movie clips with low noise.
Larger sensors provide for better low-light performance, improved dynamic range, and less noise (grainy look), and better general image quality (colour, sharpness, depth of field ratio, etc.)
The sensor in the Sony RX100 is coupled with a bright (F1.8 – F4.9) high quality optical image stabilized 3.6x Carl Zeiss T* zoom lens.
With a focal length from 28mm to 100mm in 35mm equivalent terms, the Sony RX100 offers a flexible zoom range suitable for walk around photography, portraits, scenery and landscapes.
With its wide open fast lens aperture, the Sony RX100 is able to deliver very good background blur that puts the camera in a unique class versus conventional compact cameras.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 offers automatic ease of use, or full manual override with P/A/S/M shooting modes.
What really sets the Sony RX100 compact digital camera apart from its closest competitors is the quality of output that the camera produces, especially in terms of HD video recording capability.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 offers excellent video recording capabilities (broadcast quality) and has stereo microphones built-in.
One reason alone to label the Sony RX100 as the best camera under 500 dollars is the impressive HD video quality that the camera provides.
The camera can record 1080p 60i HD movies in the AVCHD format, and you can even snap a picture while doing so with the Sony RX100’s dual record feature.
The camera features a Movie One Touch Recording button making easy to start and stop recording video clips.
The RX100 can record mov. QuickTime movies to make it easier for post editing and for maintaining smaller files.
The Sony RX100 also offers the option of capturing still images in the camera’s native RAW format providing a broad range of versatility for advanced photo editing.
The camera was set to Auto ISO and Aperture Priority Mode.
See the latest offers on the Sony RX100 at B&H Photo and Video. B&H Photo ships internationally. Recommended honest and trusted photography equipment suppliers since 1973.
The Sony RX100 features a pop-up built-in flash that raises out of the body when required.
One feature that I really like about the Sony RX100 is that the built-in flash sits on a spring like platform that allows you to angle the pop-up flash to perform bounce flash photography.
By directing the flash away from your main subject so it does not illuminate from head on, you can achieve a softer and more natural light effect by bouncing the flash off a low ceiling. Very cool.
The image on the left is taken with the flash aimed directly at the subject, and the image on the right is a result of bouncing the light by aiming the flash at a ceiling.
The Sony RX100’s superior high quality still images, and class leading HD video recording performance, can be attributed to the camera’s excellent hardware (larger than average image sensor and high end optical zoom lens), and the advanced capabilities of Sony’s internal image processing system.
The technologies incorporated in the Sony RX100 combine to deliver DSLR like high quality images, with consistent and well balanced pleasing results.
If you are looking for a high quality enthusiast oriented compact digital camera that is geared towards hobby, travel and family type photography, the Sony RX100 is the best camera under 500 dollars available on the market today.
The Sony RX100 was awarded the best “Advanced Compact Camera” for 2012- 2013 by the European Imaging Sound Association (EISA). See the announcement and a brief overview on the Sony RX100 in the below video.
Best Camera Under 500 Dollars:
Sony RX100 Major Features
20.2MP Exmor 1-inch CMOS Image Sensor: the camera’s large 1-inch 20.2 MP CMOS sensor captures highly detailed images that take full advantage of the camera’s sharp Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* lens.
Bright F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with 3.6x zoom: Large-diameter bright F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens delivers refined background defocusing – bokeh.
A premium multi-layered T* coating also dramatically reduces ghost and flare caused by light reflection.
The RX100 features a control ring around the lens barrel which can be customized to serve one of eight functions, left at the default setting or disabled.
Functions that can be assigned to the control ring include; Exposure Compensation, ISO, White Balance, Creative Style, Picture Effect, Zoom, Shutter Speed, or Aperture. Can also be deactivated.
Optical SteadyShot™ with Active Mode: Camera-shake compensation using Optical SteadyShot/Active Mode provides for sharp, blur-free movies even when zooming in unsteady situations, such as shooting with one hand while walking.
Sophisticated metal body: The camera’s aluminum body is lightweight, slim, and strong.
The Sony RX100 is a very compact camera considering its rich feature set. The camera measures only 102 x 58 x 36 mm (4 x 2.29 x 1.41″) in dimension. The weight of the Sony RX100 with battery and memory card installed is 240 grams (8.4oz).
The Sony RX100 is not as wide as the smallest iPhone on the market, the new iPhone SE. Carrying the Sony RX100 around is as easy as bringing a phone.
Although the Sony RX100 is considerably thicker than an iPhone SE, the height of the camera is almost exactly the same as the width of the iPhone SE (or the height when the phone is on its side).
User Friendly Control Dial: The Sony RX100 offers a user friendly shooting mode control dial on top of the camera.
Modes include, (iA) Auto, (iA+) Superior Auto, (P) Program, (A) Aperture Priority, (S) Shutter Priority, (M) Manual, (MR) Custom Programmable Setting, Movie Mode, Panorama Mode, and Scene Mode Selections.
On-screen prompts help you refine your skills, build your confidence and exercise greater creative control.
Full HD 1080/60p movies: Record crystal clear movies at the highest resolution available with capabilities for 60p in 1080. This provides fast motion video with less distortion for playback on your HD TV.
With dual record of stills and movies, you can shoot both at the same time.
3-inch Xtra Fine LCD™ Display: The 3-inch (1,229k dots) Xtra Fine LCD™ Display makes it easy to scroll through menus and preview images. WhiteMagic™ increases visibility in bright daylight.
Low-light ISO 6400 sensitivity: Clear low-light pictures made possible by the low-noise Exmor® CMOS image sensor and refined BIONZ® image processor. The Sony RX100 offers a native ISO range from 125-6400 ISO.
The ISO settings on the Sony RX100 can be boosted to 25,600 ISO (Multi-frame noise reduction).
Capture JPEG files, RAW files, or both: The DSC-RX100 saves pictures as compact JPEG files and/or ultra-high quality RAW files.
RAW files save images prior to de-mosaicing, white balance, sharpness and color enhancement. This retains maximum latitude for enhancing the image on your computer.
High speed Auto Focus: the Exmor® CMOS sensor incorporates technologies that result in fast, DSLR-like focusing speeds even in low light.
Four focusing modes: the sony RX100 offers two Autofocus modes: Single-shot AF (AF-S) or Continuous AF (AF-C), which tracks moving objects.
It also has Manual Focus for manual focusing freedom, and Direct Manual Focus (DMF), that first uses autofocusing to focus on the subject, and then allows fast and easy switching to manual focusing for even more precise adjustment.
Capture the decisive moment with up to 10fps: Capture full 20.2 megapixel resolution images at up to 10 frames per second, helping to ensure that the decisive moment is captured such as the soccer ball flying into the goal.
In addition, a mechanical shutter helps reduce distortion when continuously shooting moving subjects.
Built in pop up flash: The built-in flash on the Sony RX100 can be used in Auto mode, as a forced fill-flash, and provides a slow shutter flash mode. Exposure compensation is available.
Fn Button and MR Mode frequently used functions can be assigned to the Fn (function) button for instant access, and the Memory Recall (MR) feature can store up to three groups of customized shooting settings based on user preference.
HDR Mode: the RX100 features Sony’s three-shot HDR, that uses three different exposures to maximise the range of brightness information it can capture, then blends the exposures into a single image.
Multi-shot noise reduction: a feature that shoots six images and then combines them into a single, cleaner image. Because noise occurs randomly, combining multiple shots allows the camera to average that noise out.
Artistic options to expand creative shooting possibilities: option for six different creative styles and a variety of popular picture effects including Toy Camera, Partial Color, HDR Painting among others.
Auto Portrait Framing: a feature found on Sony’s latest α range of A-mount and E-mount cameras — making it simple to create sharp, perfectly framed portraits.
This unique feature automatically detects faces in a scene, crops the picture accordingly creates a tighter, pro-style composition at full resolution.
Both the original and cropped photo are saved for review.
Sony RX100 Optional Accessories: there are a number of optional accessories for the Sony RX100, including hand grips, and fitted cases.
The camera comes supplied with a Lithium Ion NP-BX1rechargeable battery (approx. 330 shots per full charge), although it is a good idea to purchase an extra battery for back up use when travelling.
Just like a smartphone, the Sony RX100 compact premium digital camera is easy to take with you. Ready in an instant to grab shots on the fly but with the performance and specs to produce gallery-quality photos.
It also has enough features to satisfy the creative urges of high-end users. As such, the Sony RX100 is the best camera under 500 dollars.
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