Sony RX0 Camera Hands-on Review

The Sony RX0 is tiny, rugged, and waterproof. But while it might look like Sony's answer to GoPro, it packs a surprising amount of high-end…

Highlights

  • Tiny, rugged, and waterproof body.
  • Zeiss lens with 24mm focal length (in 35mm equivalent). Aspherical lens, so minimal distortion.
  • Excellent image quality for an ultra-compact camera.
  • Shutter speed up to 1/32000 second.
  • 4K 1-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed video out of the HDMI port.
  • It’s quirky and is missing some key video features you might expect (eg. 4K).

I’ve been shooting lately with a Sony RX0. I’ve been intrigued by them for a while but hadn’t had a chance to use one. I’ve now had a chance to spend quite a lot of time with the RX0. For all its quirks and eccentricities–and there are certainly some–it’s a camera I’ve come to really enjoy using. It has become a staple in my bag, which is not something I expected when I first started using it.

The short version is that the RX0 is an ultra-compact waterproof camera that has a 1″ sensor that generates images up to 15 megapixels.1 To put that in context, that’s the same size sensor that’s in the renowned RX100 line. It also has a Zeiss 24mm-equivalent prime lens. It shoots 1080p60 video itself, which you can increase to 4K by using it as a live camera that outputs uncompressed 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video via its HDMI port.

The first clue that this is not GoPro knockoff is that RX0 is in Sony’s long-running Cyber-shot range; its formal model number is DSC-RX0. The prefix DSC is for Digital Still Camera. The instruction manual, box, and marketing materials also prominently refer to it as a Digital Still Camera. And that strikes me as important in making sense of this odd but very interesting camera. Of course, the line between still cameras and video cameras has been blurred for a long time, ever since DSLRs and then mirrorless cameras started getting high-end video features. And the RX0 does have some remarkably powerful video capabilities that are quite unique for a camera of this size and price point. But it’s fundamental design seems to have been guided by a stills-first approach. Put another way, its bloodline is with the stills cameras. (That seems somewhat out of sync with the marketing, which seems to have appealed mostly to video shooters.) It also separates it from Sony’s video-first handycams and action camera line, which generally have the prefix FDR. Drilling down further into this camera’s model name, it’s also in Sony’s RX category, which is designated for some of Sony’s most innovative and technology-forward cameras like the RX1R and the RX100 series. All of the RX cameras stand out from the crowd.

All of that makes more sense to me now that I’ve used it, but I first came to this camera with the expectation that it was Sony’s answer to GoPro. Looking at it, the Sony RX0 looks like a GoPro knockoff. It has that same action camera look and is about the same size as the current generation of GoPro cameras. But now that I’ve been shooting with it, I realize that I was wrong. As much as it might look like a GoPro and even share similarities in key features, this is quite a different kind of camera. It looks and feels like an action cam–and it’s waterproof and rugged in a way that you can take it where conventional cameras have no good business going–but in its settings and features it behaves more like a miniature version of a full-featured compact camera along the lines of Sony’s Alpha mirrorless cameras (at least in some respects).2

That brings with it good and not-so-good. If you’re looking at it as a GoPro alternative, you’re likely to end up disappointed. It’s not quite the same simplicity in terms of point and shoot as a GoPro, and it’s unlikely to appeal to the average GoPro user. But if you’re after something with more control and, potentially, better image quality, the RX0 has a lot going for it. That’s especially true if, like me, you like to use action cams as still cameras. It has the kind of options that photographers will appreciate but aren’t necessarily going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

But then there are the camera’s quirks and problems, and there are plenty of those. One of the most widely reported has been its overheating problems when you connect it to the wireless app. I’ve had that happen too, and it’s a showstopper when it happens. There’s even an option in the settings menu for you to toggle the threshold for the overheating shutdown, which is an indicator that Sony knew this might be an issue. Its autofocus system can potentially be much better than a compromise fixed-focus approach, but it also greatly increases the risk of out-of-focus shots, and it’s taken me a while to figure out how to minimize those. And today’s action camera buyer is likely to be confused as to why it doesn’t shoot 4K video (at least, not by itself), maxing out with its onboard capabilities at 1080p60.

So now that I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time shooting with the RX0, here’s my hands-on review.

Design, Build, and Controls of the Sony RX0

In broad strokes, the RXO has the action camera shape and look pioneered by GoPro. The camera’s own body is waterproof, so you don’t need a separate housing to make the camera waterproof. Sony rates the RX0’s waterproof, dust-proof, and shockproof performance as equivalent to an IEC60529 IP68 rating down to 33 feet (10 meters). So it’s expected to be fine submerged under water at depths of up to 33 feet (10 meters) for 60 minutes or dropped from a height of 6.5 feet (2 meters).3

It’s a small rectangular box, measuring 2 3/8 × 1 5/8 × 1 3/16 inches (59.0 x 40.5 x 29.8 mm). And it weighs just under 4 ounces (110grams) with the battery and memory card inserted.

The body is made of metal, not plastic. That’s important. For one thing, it makes the body stronger, which helps protect it against the kind of knocks and shocks that are common when filming on the go. For another, it’s also an indicator that this camera has been meticulously crafted. It might be tiny, but the RX0 doesn’t in any way feel like a toy. It feels like something you can trust on a professional shoot.

On the front, the lens is centered and protected by a glass panel that covered the whole front of the camera. Unlike GoPros, the lens port doesn’t protrude–most of the front is of it is covered with a panel of glass, with nothing sticking out. There are no buttons or controls on the front, but on the bottom are two microphones.

On top are two buttons–a power button and the shutter/record button. It has a single button for the shutter. Some cameras have separate buttons for the video and photo shutters, and that’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing on this camera as a quick way to switch between shooting modes. As it is, if you’re going back and forth between still photos and video you have to use either the menu system or the Fn button quick menu access (more on that below).

On top, there’s also another microphone.

The large button with the red circle is the shutter/movie button. The other is the power button. Both sit flush with the body of the camera (ie. they don’t protrude).

One side has nothing other than a small attachment point for the wrist strap.

There is a small embedded mount point for a hand strap. Oddly, as you’re holding the camera to shoot, it’s on the left side of the camera. In terms of holding the camera, it would be more logical to have it on the right.

On the other side is a door for the battery port. It’s spring-loaded and has a gray rubber seal to keep the water and dust out.

The locking mechanism to open or close the battery compartment door is a single, small latch release. It works well enough when clean, but it’s also relatively easy to get some grit caught in there that makes things more difficult to lock.

The battery compartment.

On the bottom is a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount socket. So you can mount the camera using that without the need for a separate housing or frame.

On the bottom is a standard 1/4-20 socket. It’s centered and quite strong (compared with some camera that have a flimsy plastic casing).

Controls

Aside from the power button and shutter, both of which are on the top, most of the controls and access points are on the back. And with only a small space to work with, it’s quite crammed. Much of the back panel is covered with a screen. The menu system that displays on it isn’t any more complicated than any other Sony camera, but the difference is that it’s displayed on a tiny screen. It’s much smaller than you might be used to with even a run-of-the-mill compact camera–but it’s sharp, bright and crisp. It’s not a touch screen, and it doesn’t tilt.

The back panel has the screen, the menu navigation buttons, and a door for the connections and microSD slot.

To the screen’s right and bottom are several buttons. To the right of the back screen are buttons for moving vertically through the menu as well as a select/OK button. On the bottom is the main Menu button as well as the buttons for moving horizontally through the menu system. Since the screen is not a touchscreen, the only way to navigate through the menu system or change shooting modes is by using these buttons.

To the left of the screen is another door. Behind it are the ports for the micro-HDMI, micro-USB, microSD memory card, and a headphone socket. The door itself isn’t on a hinge–it’s held in place by a thin strand of rubber, and while I haven’t broken it, it does seem like a pretty flimsy approach that would be easy to break and potentially lose the door. The door has another waterproof seal attached, and the door simply clicks into place (insert the end with the small white line first, then clip the other end it).

The micro-HDMI and micro-USB connections, the microSD slot, and an audio out.

One useful feature that’s available by default is that you can use the Fn (Function) button for quick access to some of the major settings. That’s something I’ve found myself using a lot to change shooting settings like shooting mode, exposure compensation, ISO, or focusing mode. It’s a shortcut that provides that is much quicker and easier than scrolling through the full menu.

With a bit more customization, you can also assign buttons to specific buttons for functions such as exposure lock.

The menu system will be very familiar to you if you’ve used any recent Sony camera. It’s laid out in the same way, with category tabs and subsheets.

Finally, the RX0 has Wifi, and you can control it with Sony’s mobile app. I’ve found its performance underwhelming, and one big issue is that it can cause the camera to overheat too quickly. It also drains the battery power more quickly.

Lens

One of several features of this camera that helps it stand out is its lens. For one thing, this isn’t just some cheap afterthought. It’s a step up in quality, being a Zeiss Tessar T* lens. For another, the focal length is much closer to a “normal” perspective than most action cameras. GoPros and their competitors generally use an ultra-wide or fish-eye lens that’s good for cramming lots of visual information into the frame and creating an immersive look when you’re truly in close (or, conversely, a very distant, detached look if you’re too far away), but it also adds a lot of distortion that doesn’t suit every taste or situation. *

It’s an aspherical lens, so any barrel or pincushion distortion is minimal. For the most part, straight lines stay straight and you don’t get distracting curved horizons or bent building columns.

The RX0’s lens is good, but it’s by no means perfect. The corners can get quite soft, and there’s some blue fringing that shoes up in some shots with high-contrast, sharp lines. But overall, it’s much better than many compact cameras.

Focal Length

The Sony RX0’s lens is a fixed focal length of 7.7mm. When combined with the camera’s 1-inch sensor, is the equivalent perspective of a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera, providing an angle of view of 84 degrees. So it’s still wide-angle prime lens, but nowhere near as wide as a GoPro’s fish-eye lens. The Sony has far less distortion, and the results are a much more conventional view. I like 24mm as for general use, and I’ve written before that 24mm is my favorite focal length for my travel photography.

There are pros and cons for that. The more “normal” perspective is far more useful for most people photos, and it’s more useful for everyday snapshots or travel photos. At 24mm, it’s still squarely a wide-angle perspective, and you can pack quite a lot of information in the frame. The lack of barrel distortion also makes it look much more professional.

But there’s also a good reason that many action cams use that ultra-wide view–it’s far more forgiving when you’re trying to film action in close quarters. As an example, I recently had both the RX0 and the HERO6 Black in the surf with my kids trying to get a fun family shot of them boogie boarding. It wasn’t a situation where there was a lot of opportunity for careful framing of the shot, and I was very close in with them. It was a case where the HERO6 Black’s fisheye lens, as distorted as it is, ended up capturing far more fun and immersive photos than the much more restrictive view of the RX0.

Aperture

There’s one more important aspect to to the lens, and that is its aperture. You can control the shutter speed and the ISO, but the aperture is a constant ƒ/4. That’s not especially fast, which can be noticeable in low-light shooting. Thankfully, the camera’s sensor is surprisingly good even at higher ISOs around 6400, which compensates for it. And having that slightly smaller aperture has the benefit of making the focus a bit more forgiving (it would be less forgiving if it was ƒ/2, for example).

Focusing Techniques

Another issue is the autofocus. Many action cameras have a fixed focus, which tries to keep everything in focus all of the time. It’s a compromise on focus sharpness and quality, but it’s foolproof. It is almost impossible to take an out-of-focus photo or video with a GoPro.

The RX0 lens actually focuses each time just like larger cameras. So you potentially have much more creative control over where the focus is. But it also great increases the risk of getting out-of-focus shots. Here’s an example, using that same boogie-boarding session as an example. In what is otherwise a fun shot, when you look closely the focus is on the water in the foreground at bottom left rather than the main subject of the photo.

Just as with larger, more traditional full-featured cameras, there are several focus modes you can choose from:

  • Single-shot AF (AF-S)
  • Preset Focus (PF)
  • Manual Focus (MF)

Not every focus mode is available in every shooting mode. AF-S, for instance, is available when shooting stills but not when recording video (which is mostly a good thing to avoid the ugly effects of searching). When shooting photos, you only have the choice of AF-S or MF.

You can also choose from among several different focus area settings:

  • Wide (the most general of them using the whole frame, analyzing several areas in the frame at the same time. Specifically, it’s a 25-point contrast detection AF)
  • Center (using the middle of the frame)
  • Flexible Spot Manual (can choose small, medium, or large spots)
  • Expanded Flexible Spot (allows you to moved the focus point around the frame)

It also has focus tracking that locks onto a designated subject or part of the frame and follows that around the frame. While it’s not as accurate and powerful as some high-end DSLRs, I’ve found it to work quite well and it’s something I use a lot as a quick way to reframe the shot if you want to focus on something that’s not dead center or don’t want to mess with moving the focus point around using the buttons (since there’s no touch screen to do it quickly).

The RX0 also has face detection, which helps to detect and prioritize faces in the frame. You can store face data as well (simply by taking a photo of the person while in the setting store screen), which will prioritize recognized faces when there are several faces in the frame.

Despite all of these options, the focusing is one of the aspects of using the RX0 that I’ve found must frustrating. The autofocus is quite slow because it has an annoying habit of searching back and forth for every shot, and because it’s in AF-S mode, it generally won’t let you take the shot unless it’s registering focus on at least part of the frame.

Focusing Distance

One final note about the lens: it’s closest focusing distance is about 1.7 feet (50 cm), which is further than I would have expected. With such a tiny camera that can fit into small spaces, I would have preferred that it could focus closer to get some interesting foreground-background perspective shots. With one of the settings, you can specify whether it focuses on the 50cm to 1 meter range when it’s in in the preset focus (PF) focusing mode (it’s the NEAR Mode in PF setting).

Taking Photos with the Sony RX0

When shooting photos, the RX0 behaves more like a full-featured stills camera than a GoPro. It has many more shooting options and settings. Its lens is a more conventional 24mm perspective (in full-frame equivalent). The lens actually focuses, with focus points, focus-point tracking, facial recognition, and so on. And you have control over shutter speed and ISO; what you can’t do is change the aperture (that’s fixed at ƒ/4). And you have shooting feedback with histograms and guides.

So if, like me, you like shooting stills with GoPros, the RX0 is a real joy, because it out-performs GoPros in this respect nearly every time. With a largish sensor, it has has surprisingly good results even at its maximum ISO of 6400. And the shutter can fire at up to 1/32000 second, which is very fast for any camera.

Shooting Modes

There are several photo shooting modes available, including manual exposure and two that use scene recognition: Intelligent AUTO, and Superior AUTO. But the one I find most useful is the basic Program Auto because it’s the most flexible in which settings are available (some key ones aren’t available when using the scene recognition modes, such as the ISO Auto setting).

Pairing that with the exposure compensation and auto exposure lock, as well as being able to control the ISO, gives plenty of flexibility without going full manual.

General Photo Options

Quality. You can choose JPEG, RAW (.arw), or RAW & JPEG (saving both at once). If you choose JPG, you have the option of Extra Fine, Fine, and Standard settings, which refer to the amount of image compression applied and therefore the image quality (Extra Fine, obviously, is the highest quality).

Image Size. While the sensor is technically a 21MP sensor, the largest image size is 15 megapixels (the large setting, which creates images that are 4800 by 3200 pixels). If you want, you can also dial down to 7.7 megapixel (medium) or 3.8 megapixel (small) sizes, both of which are useful for saving on storage space on the memory card and for large sequences of burst mode photos.

Aspect Ratio. You can choose from among 3:2, 4:3, 16:9, and 1:1 aspect ratios.

Color Space. You can use sRGB or AdobeRGB. The simplest option is to use sRGB, a colorspace that’s widely compatible with most devices. If you’re going to be doing post-processing and want the highest quality, you can switch the wider AdobeRGB colorspace.

White Balance. It has auto white balance by default, but it also has a set of the standard presets (incandescent, etc) as well as some slots that you can use to define and use for your own custom white balance presets.

Shutter Speeds

There are two things to note about shutter speeds on the RX0. One is that at the top end it has some unusually fast options. Shutter speeds of up to 1/8000 of a second have been standard for years now, but the RX0’s top shutter speed is 1/32000. You need a lot of light to make that work, but it makes for some really interesting possibilities for freezing action.

The other is that the slowest shutter speed is 1/4 second. It’s not clear to me what the rationale for that is, but it means that you can’t drag the shutter for long exposures (at least, not without some post-processing trickery with blending multiple exposures).

ISO

You can use Auto ISO, where the camera chooses the best ISO for the exposure on the fly, or set the ISO manually.

When using Auto ISO, you can set a minimum shutter speed as the floor before it kicks up to the next ISO step. I often set this to something like 1/60 or 1/125 for general shooting to reduce the risk of blurry images. You can set it higher for fast action shots.

In Auto ISO, the ISO will range from 80 up through 6400. To access the range beyond that–8000, 10000, and 128000–you’ll need to step out of Auto ISO mode and choose them manually. I have more on that here.

Unsurprisingly, considering Sony has a well-earned reputation for some of the best image sensors in the business, the high-ISO performance is pretty good. It’s not as good as the full-frame sensor cameras like the a7r iii or a7 iii, but for a camera this size it’s very good indeed. I’ve posted a number of high-ISO photos taken with a Sony RX0 separately.

High ISO NR. This refers to noise reduction when you’re using high ISO settings. The options are normal (the default), low, or off. It only applies to JPGs generated in the camera, not RAW files. And it’s not available in every shooting mode; if you’re using the Super Auto or Intelligent Auto shoot modes, the High ISO NR option is grayed out and you can’t change it.

Drive Modes

There are several settings bunched under the Drive Modes setting, from fast sequences to capture action to shutter self-timers to bracketing (that is, taking several photos with different exposure settings or white balance settings.

Even in the standard single shot mode, the camera can take shots surprisingly quickly after the last one because the camera is so responsive. So even the single mode can be very useful if you suddenly need some rapid-fire shots. Although the AF-S autofocus can create hiccups if elements are going out of focus between shots.

If you know you’ll need fast sequences, you can choose from two burst modes. One that I find particularly useful is known as continuous mode, where you can take a fast sequence of photos as long as you’ve got the shutter held down (some GoPros also have this feature). This shoots at about 5.5 frames per second. There are some advantages to use this rather than the more ad-hoc approach of just hitting the shutter button for each shot. For one, the interval between each shot is consistent (more important if you’ll be displaying them as a sequence). For another, it doesn’t try to refocus between shots.

If you need faster, there’s an even quicker burst mode called speed priority continuous shooting that shoots at about 16 frames per second. Combine that with the super-fast shutter speeds available (+ bright conditions) and you have some very interesting possibilities for capturing fast-moving action.

Here’s the fuller list of drive modes for taking still photos:

  • Single
  • Continuous shooting (just hold down the shutter)
  • Speed priority continuous shooting
  • Self-timer (10, 5, or 2-second delay with a single shot or a series of 3 or 5 continuous shots with the same delay before the first one)
  • Continuous bracketing (0.3EV steps / 3 images)
  • Single-bracketing (0.3EV steps / 3 images)
  • White balance bracketing (you can choose low or high)
  • DRO bracketing (dynamic range bracketing / you can choose low or high)

Metering Modes

There are three metering modes available:

  • Multi (uses most of the frame and averages)
  • Center weighted (prioritizes the center area of the frame)
  • Spot (uses a specific, narrow point)

You can also use exposure compensation from -3 stops to +3 stops.

Time-lapse

The RX0 doesn’t have time-lapse built in as an in-camera function, but you can shoot time-lapse with the RX0 using the Remote Camera Control computer app connected via USB acting as an intervalometer.

There are several obvious drawbacks to that. The most obvious is that you’ll need to keep the camera tethered to a computer for the duration of the shoot. That’s okay for studio or lab environments, but it’s not practical in the field.

So while it is technically possible to shoot time-lapse with the RX0, it’s not useful for serious time-lapse shooting in the field. If you need something this size for remote time-lapse shooting, a GoPro or other larger camera is a much better choice.

JPG Processing

If you’re shooting JPGs, there’s a wide range of in-camera processing options, from dynamic range merging to noise reduction to picture effects to creative styles to more fundamental editing such as contrast and sharpness.

Sample Photos Taken with a Sony RX0

Here are a few photos I’ve taken with the RX0. I’ll post a much larger collection of sample images separately, as well as a collection shot at high ISOs.

Sony DSC-RX0 at ISO 6400 and ¹⁄₆₀ sec. Prime 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) at fixed aperture of ƒ/4.

Sony DSC-RX0 at ISO 125 and ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec. Prime 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) at fixed aperture of ƒ/4.

Taken at ISO 125 and a shutter speed of ¹⁄₁₂₅ sec. The RX0 has a fixed prime 24mm (35 equivalent) with a fixed apertured of ƒ/4.

Sony DSC-RX0 at ISO 4000 and ¹⁄₆₀ sec. Prime 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) at fixed aperture of ƒ/4.

Sony DSC-RX0 at ISO 6400 and ¹⁄₆₀ sec. Prime 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) at fixed aperture of ƒ/4.

Sony DSC-RX0 at ISO 500 and ¹⁄₆₀ sec. Prime 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) at fixed aperture of ƒ/4.

Sony DSC-RX0 at ISO 125 and ¹⁄₁₂₅ sec. Prime 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) at fixed aperture of ƒ/4.

Shooting Videos with the Sony RXO

At the risk of getting repetitive about this–but it is a fundamental point, after all–the RX0 behaves more like a stills camera that shoots video than a video camera that shoots photos. And you can see the effects of that in the options for shooting video.

The video capabilities and performance of this camera are a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has the kind of high-end features that will appeal to professional videographers, like the ability to output 4:2:2 4K video from its HDMI port and S-Log2.

But at the same time it’s also missing some features and capabilities that have become common on capable action cams mirrorless cameras, and DSLRs. It’s not that the RX0 can’t shoot great video–it can. It’s that when you compare it to something like the GoPro HERO7 Black, the range of options available and the control you have is much more limited. 4K has become a standard for leading action cams and even for many other cameras with decent video capabilities, but the RX0 can’t shoot that by itself. Its onboard capabilities top out at 1080p60 or 720p120.

You can use the RX0 to shoot 4K video, but to do that you need to use the camera just for capture and connect it to another recording device via the HDMI port. But here’s the kicker: when most cameras record 4K video, they record a compressed version that brings the file size and bitrate down to manageable sizes but also impacts the quality of the video. With the RX0, the video stream out of the HDMI port is 4K 4:2:2 video, which is 10-bit broadcast-quality with increased color depth and chroma subsampling that greatly increases the flexibility in color grading and editing. Do most users need that? Not really. Do professional videographers need it? Probably–at least, it’s very nice to have.

The upshot if you’re looking to share videos online and are willing to settle for 1080p, the RX0 can handle that and creates good-quality video. If you want 4K, it’s a far more involved (and expensive) process, because not only do you need an external recorder (extra $$$), but you’ll need a post-processing workflow and computing and storage power to handle it.

Shooting Modes

You can choose between NTSC and PAL.

There are a few different video shooting modes, including Program Auto, Manual Exposure, High Framerate Mode (up to 1000 frames per second), and two scene recognition modes (Intelligent AUTO and Superior AUTO).

Video Formats

There are three recording formats available for video: XAVC S HD, AVCHD, and MP4.

The highest quality and bitrates come with the XAVC S HD format, which uses the H.264 codec with a bitrate of around 50 Mb/s.

The AVCHD format is more widely compatible but suffers a little in quality compared to XAVC S HD. The AVCHD format records up to a maximum of 28 Mb/s.

The MP4 format is the widely compatible and is best used for quick sharing (the other formats are better if you plan on editing or processing your movies).

There’s also another option: Dial Video REC. That records an MP4 alongside either of the two higher-quality formats so that you can have the best of both worlds in terms of quality and compatibility. Since you end up with two copies of the video, it also obviously uses up more space on the memory card.

Resolutions and Framerates

The highest combination of resolution and framerate that’s available to record directly in the camera is 1080p60.4

The bitrate for that resolution/framerate combination varies according to the format you’re recording in. If you’re using XAVC S HD, it’s around 50 Mb/s. With AVCHD, it’s around 24 Mb/s. And with MP4, it’s around 16 Mb/s. Because they’re encoded with variable bitrate codecs, the actual bitrate you end up with can vary a little from these.

In terms of today’s digital cameras, 1080p60 isn’t particularly impressive. There are many other cameras that can film in 4K. And the RX0 can, but only with a massive asterisk. Using the camera as a standalone camera, it can’t record 4K. But what it can do is output 4K through its HDMI port, which means you can connect the camera to a separate recorder to capture the 4K video stream. That, obviously, adds new layers of expensive and complication, but if you do that, the RX0 has a party trick up its sleeve: the 4K stream is 10-bit 4:2:2 video that’s functionally uncompressed, which allows for vastly higher quality than the average 4K video recorded by something like a GoPro.

So this is something that will appeal to professional and highly specialized setups, but isn’t practical for your average on-the-go shooting.

Multi-Camera Video Rigs

The RX0 is specifically designed to work well in multi-camera rigs. With Sony’s dedicated Camera Control Box (option extra), you can connect up to 100 RX0’s for super precise synchronization and control.

This isn’t a feature I’ve tried, but you can find more about it here.

What It Doesn’t Have

There are some features that are becoming pretty standard on some other cameras with advanced video features that are not available on this one. The obvious one is 4K in camera. There’s also no in-camera stabilization, so for smoother footage you’ll need a gimbal or other stabilizer or try to fix it in post. And there aren’t bells and whistles like GPS or on-board telemetry sensors.

Batteries and Charging

The RX0 takes a removable lithium ion battery that’s rated for 700mAh / 2.7V / 2.6Wh. Its model number is NP-BJ1.

If you’re used to using GoPros, this battery looks tiny by comparison. It’s about the same size in height and width, but much thinner in depth. It also hold much less capacity–the battery for the HERO7 Black, for instance, is rated for 1220mAh (compared with 700mAh for the Sony).

One thing to note with the battery is that while it looks symmetrical and you can easily insert the battery the wrong way, the locking mechanism that holds the battery in place won’t go across if you have the battery in the wrong way. So if that’s not springing across, chances are the battery isn’t in the right way. Another way to check is that the contact points on the end are not symmetrical, and you can see where they line up in the cavity.

Even though the battery isn’t very big, using the slower micro-USB system rather than the newer USB-C one means that charging is slow. Sony says that the charging time using the supplied AC adapter is approximate 135 minutes, which is slow.

You can shoot while connected to external power, which is the only real option for longer-term shooting. It uses a standard USB charger (one is included in the box) with a micro-USB cable.

Finally, the battery life is quite poor. If you’re shooting video, you can expect around 35 minutes in real-world conditions, or about 60 minutes if you’re doing a single continuous take. If you’re shooting photos, expect roughly 240 photos. Those are the times and figures provided by Sony (p.17 of the manual), and you can expect variance based on all sorts of things, from what settings you’re using to the health of the battery to how cold it is (lithium batteries don’t work well in very cold conditions). Even the type of memory card you use can impact it; some are more efficient at writing data than others.

If you’re shooting stills, I’ve found that the battery life is reasonable. I also have the auto power off set to 2 minutes. Another thing I’ve done is swap out the standard Sony battery for an aftermarket version that’s rated for 1200 mAh, which is significantly higher than the standard Sony one. While I haven’t done a direct side-by-side test to compare the battery life of the aftermarket battery with the Sony one, I’ve been getting significantly more life out of them in real-world use.

What’s in the Box?

  • The camera.
  • A rechargeable battery. If you’re looking for a replacement or spare, its model number is NP-BJ1.
  • AC adapter charger (for USB)
  • micro-USB cable
  • A lightweight wrist strap

What’s Not in the Box?

  • Memory Card. It takes a microSD card. It’s compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, but you’ll want one that’s fast enough, especially if you’re shooting video or burst modes. I’ve got some

SD Cards for the Sony RX0

The Sony RX0 takes a single microSD. It’s compatible with microSDHC and microSDXC cards (I have explanations of what these mean here

An important consideration when using the RX0–particularly if you’re shooting video using the higher-quality codecs–is that the video bitrate are relatively high, which in turn means you’ll need a memory card with a sequential write speed that’s fast enough to handle the stream of data that the camera throws at it. The RX0’s bitrates for in-camera recording are not the highest available–even the latest GoPros have higher bitrate video, and some cameras like the Panasonic GH5 have much higher bitrates–bit a bitrate of 50 Mb/s still means you can’t just throw any old SD card in there and expect it to work.

I’ll put together a more detailed post on this separately–testing memory cards is something I spend quite a bit of time doing–but here are some quick recommendations for cards that I’ve used in the RX0 that work well as a good combination of quality, availability, and price.

SanDisk Extreme V30Samsung EVO Select U3Lexar 1000x U3

Sony RX0 Firmware Updates

At the time of writing, the most recent firmware update is v.2.00, which was released in January 2018. You can find the latest firmware updates here.

Sony RX0 Manual

You can find a PDF version of the manual here.

Accessories for the Sony RX0

Compared to the GoPro world, there are relatively few dedicated accessories for this camera. And there’s a good reason for that: instead of a proprietary or GoPro mounting system, it uses a standard 1/4″-20 thread on the bottom of the camera. So it’s compatible with an enormous range of tripods and mounting systems that also use that traditional thread (and you can also get a reverse adapter to use accessories that use the GoPro-style attachment system).

But there are some interesting accessories worth noting. They include:

  • Batteries. So the battery situation is interesting. The model number for the original battery is the Sony NP-BJ1. You can pick those up no problem at major camera retailers. But what they don’t mention is that this is the same battery as the much more widely available Nikon EN-EL19. They’re both exactly the same size and shape and have the same specs (3.7V, 2.6Wh, 700mAh). While Sony is never going to recommend it, I’ve been using EN-EL19 batteries in the RX0 with no problem at all. And the benefit of that is that you can find many more third-party and reasonably priced versions and chargers listed for the EN-EL19 batteries (including some with slightly higher capacities, like this one).
  • Shooting Grip. Grips that fold out to tabletop tripods are dime a dozen these days (well, not quite, but you get the idea). But Sony has one with a twist. Using the built-in USB connection cable, the grip has on-board shutter and control buttons. So you get the extra stability as well as the more convenient controls. It sells for just under $100, and its model number is VCT-SGR1. I have a more detailed review of it here.
  • Filter Adapter Kit. It’s a 30.5mm filter adapter that includes a lens hood and multi-coated UV filter. Model number VFA-305R1, for $150. It’s overpriced for what it is, but I’ve put one of these on for two reasons: it reduces lens flare, which I’ve run into a bit with the naked camera, and it protects the main lens port cover (they cost around $100 alone to replace). Since I got the Sony version, I’ve come across this aftermarket version at a fraction of the price, but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.
  • Cage. Sony makes an aluminum cage that is covered with attachment points, including 35 standard 1/4″-20 thread holes. All while still maintaining access to the camera’s buttons and controls. Sony has their absurdly overpriced version for $250 (Model number VCT-CGR1), but you can also pick third-party variations priced much more reasonably.
  • Dive Housing. While the camera itself is waterproof down to 33 feet (10 meters), you can also get a more robust dive housing that’s rated down to 330 feet (100 meters). The catch is that at $900 it costs more than the camera. Model Number MPK-HSR1.
  • Control Box. This allows you connect up to 100 cameras and control units to be synced with precise timing. That’s not going to be something that your everyday shooter is going to be able to do, but it can be useful for professional studios shooting “bullet-time”, VR, or other special effects shots. Model CCB-WD1, for $700.
  • Float. It doesn’t float, and it doesn’t come with a floating strap or grip (it comes with a very lightweight wrist strap, but not the floating kind). So if you want take it out on the water, some kind of floating strap will come in handy.

Adding Filters to the Sony RX0

With the help of some accessories sold as optional extras, it is possible to add polarizer, UV, neutral density, or other standard photographic filters to the RX0.

There’s no good way to add filters to a naked Sony RX0. There’s nothing stopping you from simply taping gels across the front panel, of course, but if you’re looking for something more robust and workable, you’ll be wanting to add a filter mount to the front.

Sony has their own Filter Adapter Kit as an optional extra (model number VFA-305R1). It replaces the front panel, adds a thread mount to screw on 30.5mm circular filters, and also includes a lens hood to reduce the risk of lens flare. The result is not waterproof, because you have to remove the front glass element to put on the new panel, so it’s not a viable solution for shooting with red or orange underwater filters.

There are also aftermarket solutions that involve a cage with a filter thread mount. The ones I’ve seen (like this one) don’t require you to remove the front glass panel, so they don’t impact the camera’s waterproofness.

Quibbles

There are some things I really like about this camera, but there’s also plenty that I’m less fussed about. Some of these are bigger deals than others, but I mention them here in case they’re helpful to anyone else.

Back Screen. The back screen is crisp, clear, and bright. I mostly don’t have any complaint about it not being a touchscreen–that’s a feature I can take or leave, especially on a space this size. The issue I have is that it’s very small. Obviously, there’s a good reason for that–there’s simply not a lot of spare real estate on a camera this size. But the screen size can be a real issue when using the menu system. There’s a lot of options crammed in there, and the text is very small. It’s basically the kind of menu system you’d expect from a larger camera that has been crammed into a space about 1/4 the size. That’s not just a matter for less-than-perfect eyesight–it also makes it hard to read when you’re moving, whether that might be walking or running, bumping along in a car or bike, or bouncing around on a boat. It might be alleviated somewhat if the door on the back was somehow moved to the size or bottom and the screen expanded into the space. Overall, this is less a complaint that pointing out that it might be an issue worth considering.

AutoFocus. The fact that this camera actually focuses the lens rather than relying on fixed focus can be a plus. But it can also be a negative. I’ve run into that with fast action shots, where the camera ended up focusing on parts of the foreground rather than what I actually wanted it focusing on (and there wasn’t time when shooting to frame it more carefully). It’s also tricky when shooting foreground and background elements with video. And the autofocus can be slow as it hunts for a lock.

Overheating. When you connect the mobile app, it clearly puts a lot of pressure on the camera’s onboard circuitry, because the camera gets very hot and can overheat quickly. This is a showstopper and is a major strike against the camera.

Restricted On-Board Video Capabilities. By itself, the camera maxes out its video at 1080p60 with a bitrate of 50Mbps. Most other leading cameras these days can shoot 4K. And this one can, but only if you set it up in such a way that mainly professionals will be interested in, by separating the camera and the recording device. That’s because the camera can send out a 4K uncompressed feed through its HDMI port that you can then capture with a separate recording device. So it’s messy if you want 4K, but at the same time, that it’s uncompressed video promises higher quality (as well as much bigger files).

Poor Battery Life. A tiny battery means tiny battery life. It’s less of an issue shooting still photos, but you’ll notice quickly when shooting video that the battery doesn’t last long. In normal conditions, you might get somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes of video shooting. In hot or cold conditions it might be less. It will also be less if you keep the mobile app connected–that really sucks battery life from the camera.

Mobile App. You can control the camera wirelessly with the PlayMemories smartphone app over WiFi/Bluetooth. But I’ve found the app doesn’t release the camera smoothly when you disconnect it, and it essentially locks the camera up. Ini my experience, it’s just not as polished as you might expect from Sony.

Wishlist

The RX0 is an imperfect camera, but I can’t help but be excited by its possibilities, particularly as a stills camera. I really hope Sony continues this series with an updated version (they’ll probably have to use a name like RX0 II, because they’ve already used the RX1 name for something quite different).

Not that they have any reason to take any notice of what I say, but for what it’s worth, here are some things that I’d love to see on the next version:

  • **Faster lens. **I like low-light shooting and I’m always after faster glass. That will make the focusing a bit more complicated simply because it will be more unforgiving with a narrower focal plane, but that’s something other cameras have worked out (including Sony’s own). Something like ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/2 would be great.
  • High-ISO. It’s surprisingly good even up to the maximum ISO 6400, but this is an area that is a staple for improvement. Sony has some of the best camera sensors in the business, and I’d love to see what they can do with a next-generation sensor and paired on-board processing engine.
  • Touchscreen. Touchscreens on the back of cameras can be a mixed bag. On a camera this small, it would be hard to make it useful for navigating the menu or changing settings. And while I know I wrote above that I don’t consider the lack of a touchscreen a big deal, at the same time it’s true that having a touchscreen on the RX0 would be very useful as a way to quickly choose focus points and auto-exposure reference points (which might help with the focus issue I mentioned above).
  • Faster Autofocus. For all the autofocus features of this cameras, the autofocus can be a bit hit and miss and frustratingly slow.
  • Preset Infinite Focus in Photo Shooting. A dynamic autofocus can often offer higher quality and sharper images, but there are also times that a preset focus can result in a more usable shot, particularly with fast action point and shoot-type shots. Maybe it could be combined with a stepped up aperture of, say ƒ/8, as a locked “action cam mode” that makes it virtually impossible to get an out-of-focus shot. That mode would make it a wonderful tool for street photography and action photography.
  • USB-C. The RX0 has a micro-USB. That’s good for compatibility, including with Sony’s own accessories like the shooting grip, but USB-C would open up a world of fast-charging and bring it up to date with the system used on many newer cameras.

Final Thoughts

The Sony RX0 is an odd duck of a camera. Its features include a mix of ones that are excellent and others that are underwhelming. If you’re coming at it expecting an action camera, as I was initially, you’ll probably end up disappointed or confused. At least at first.

After shooting with it for a while, I now understand why it has never really taken off in a mass-market kind of way. And that’s because it’s actually quite specialized. Overall, the RX0 is definitely not a camera for the masses (nor does it try to be), but if you have specific needs, it might well fulfill them very well.

It also has something of a split personality. The parts that appeal most to me are its features for shooting photos. And it really shines in some respects for still photos, particularly if you’re looking for the kinds of control and settings that more usually come on high-end (and larger) cameras. But at the same time, it’s less forgiving than many point-and-shoots and action cameras, making it less suitable for casual shooters.

For all that, it has features and performance that are likely to appeal to professional videographers. High-framerate video, uncompressed 4K (with an external recorder), and the possibility of frame-accurate syncing of multiple cameras (again, with an external hub) are examples of some of the highly specialized features. And yet it lacks basic video features that many other shooters will want and need.

The RX0 is quirky and sometimes frustrating to use, but it also has some wonderfully redeeming features as well. And it’s one I’ve started using quite a lot for general travel photography but also for everyday family and walking around shots. That’s not really the target market for Sony’s marketing efforts for the RX0, but it has been a pleasant surprise to find how well it works for those. When I was originally testing the RX0, I was using a borrowed camera. But I ended up liking it so much that I bought one myself, and it has since become a staple in my kit. For me, it’s just a fun camera to have on hand when I’m out and about and on the go, and I’ve found myself taking this when I would typically have taken something like a Ricoh GRII.

Where to Buy

I bought mine at B&H Photo. You can also find them at Amazon and Adorama. If you’re in the UK, you can find them at Jessops.


  1. The sensor itself is actually larger–about 21 MP–but the effective area of it measures around 15.3 MP. It’s an Exmor RS CMOS sensor with a native aspect ratio of 3:2.
  2. The cameras in the Alpha series are not technically in the same DSC category. They have model names that start with ILCE for “Interchangeable Lens Camera with E-mount.”
  3. When it comes to waterproof and shockproof performance and ratings, there are several factors and qualifications that come into play. If you’re planning on using the RX0 in conditions that might be putting these features to the test, I’d recommend first reading the “About water-proof, dust-proof, and shock-proof performance of the camera” section of the instruction manual, which you’ll find on page 8.
  4. The instruction manual says it’s 1080p120. That’s incorrect.

View Comments

  • What a thorough review! Great, balanced detail, and there is a concerted effort to give an objective, unbiased opinion.
    I have one question though. Using this camera as a box camera on stage for IMAG, for example, you do mention that the HDMI output is clean. However, what is the latency of the output? 2-3 frames is regarded as pretty good. GoPro's have a large latency, so would be no good for IMAG. So this camera seems to have a lot going for it in terms of a using it for IMAG, except the latency is unknown. Any clue?

  • I read on another review that you can't shoot RAW while in program auto mode for stills. Is this true? I'd really like to not have to go full manual to shoot RAW... Also thanks for such a comprehensive review

    • I'm a bit confused by this, but I don't have my RX0 handy to test out to see what it might be referring to since I currently have everything packed up in the process of moving house. But I wonder if it meant that Auto HDR won't work with RAW (which is true). But no, you don't need to go into full manual to shoot RAW. My standard setting is Program Auto with RAW files.

  • Say I want one of these to carry around on me most of the time rather than a smartphone for capturing (still) moments of my kids and doing a bit of hiking photography, do you think I'd be better off with the original or the upgraded version? The only advantage I've noticed in the Mk II is the closer focusing range. I don't need the video features, and the selfie screen just makes it 5mm thicker and seems like something to break.
    Is there anything you'd add to that as pros or cons?

    Also good job predicting the name haha.

  • Hi mate, great review. One question if you don't mind. When you use the self timer mode, does focus lock when you click the shutter button to begin the timer, or does it focus right before taking the actual focus (i.e. 10 seconds later)? Thanks!

    • That's a good question, but unfortunately I can't try it out to test right now. I have everything packed up in the middle of moving house (great timing, right!?) and don't have ready access to the RX0.

  • Thank you very much for this review and for all the other articles related to the Sony RX0. I know this camera is a bit outdated today but I think it would be perfect for me. I'm not that interested in shooting video so the lack of 4k60p is not an issue for me. I need a camera that I can bring when my ordinary (Sony A5100) is too big or when I need something splash proof. A retailer where I live (Stockholm, Sweden) are selling the RX0 for (approx.) 475 USD. That's a decent deal, isn't it?

    • That does seem a good deal and is cheaper than the usual places I shop. There is a newer model, but the upgrades are rather specific and don't offer much to every user.

  • Hello! I'm planning to buy a camera with a good image quality even in low light. Is RX0 II good for it? And would like to know if you could compare it with Canon EOS M50. Please... Thanks! :)

    • The RX0 II is one of the cameras I'm shooting with at the moment, but I don't have many high-ISO examples to share just yet. I have posted some from the RX0 here. I haven't used the ESO M50 so can't speak to how they compare. The M50 does have a larger APS-C sensor, though. In theory, that suggests a higher potential for better low-light performance. But even though the RX0 and RX0 II have smaller sensors, Sony is just so good at sensors and their processing engines that it might be closer than you might otherwise expect. But without actually shooting with the EM50, I can only speculate, I'm afraid.

  • I enjoyed reading the review. Regarding timelapses with the RX0, I can confirm that the Neewer brand intervalometer works for that purpose. The remote is still twice the size of the camera though!

    • Actually, the shutter responsiveness is one of the things I like about shooting with this camera. There's practically no lag in manual focus. In AF, there can be a very brief lag while it focuses, but it's easy to get around that with prefocusing. There's also very little movement in the shutter button to get it to register, so it's very quick. It's one of the aspects I've been impressed with.

  • As now, u still think it's greater than any light camera, like gopro?I plan to buy one, cause I need one light camera to record some photo or video while I backpack travel or diving.

    • I think it is potentially excellent, and you can get higher quality out of it than a GoPro. It also has better battery life and more conventional options and flexibility. My only real hesitation comes down to the reliability of getting the shot. A lot of that has to do with the autofocus on it--I miss more shots than I'd like due to the autofocus. If I was choosing only one of those two to take, I'd probably take the Sony, but I'd also be sure to practice with it first to make sure you're getting the results you want. It would be heartbreaking to get home and find many of the photos out of focus. The GoPro, on the other hand, works more reliably out of the box (it has a broad fixed focus and is very hard to shoot out of focus) but doesn't have some of the higher-end refinement of the Sony.

      Another option maybe worth considering is the Olympus TG-5. It's bigger than these two--the size of a normal compact camera--but it works very well and is waterproof. It's also a good option for diving, since you mention that. I have a detailed review of it here and a collection of sample photos here.

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