Sony RX100 M1: Steady Shot and the General Issue of Sharp Photos

Introduction | My Tests | Further Obstacles to Achieving Sharp Photos | Conclusions | References

On this page, I examine whether Sony's Steady Shot image stabilizer is effective in achieving sharp still images at lower shutter speeds. In addition, I discuss further obstacles to achieving sharp photos (including DOF, excluding focusing issues).

Note: Steady Shot for videos works differently and seems to be very effective. I do not cover this functionality here.

 

Introduction

For quite some time, digital cameras use mechanisms to stabilize images in order to get a higher success rate particularly for lower shutter speeds. Some approaches use a sensor shift mechanism (for example, Minolta, Sony DSLRs, Ricoh for small-sensor cameras, ...), while others use optical stabilizers (for example, Panasonic). According to the manual, the Sony RX100 M1 uses an optical stabilizer named "Steady Shot," which can be activated/deactivated for still images on page 4 of the "Shooting" menu (item "SteadyShot", options "On", "Off", default is "On").

Since the camera does not make any noise related to the image stabilizer, as we were used to from my wife's Ricoh cameras, and since there were quite a few blurry shots, particularly at longer focal lengths, I suspected that the stabilizer may not work. I therefore took some photos at different shutter speeds with Steady Shot on and off. The results are discussed in the following paragraph, but I can already give away that the stabilizer does work and that it makes a difference.

I also consulted Sony-related forums (for example the Sony forum at dpreview.com) to learn more about the effectiveness of the "Steady Shot" stabilizer. Here are some opinions that I found (see the dpreview thread for details):

 

My Tests

I took several series of photos to test whether the Steady Shot stabilizer really works in our camera and how effective it is. For these tests, I varied the following parameters:

Further parameters: S mode, 100 mm equiv. focal length*, ISO at various values to compensate for differences in shutter speed, all shots hand-held
*) At the beginning, I used the focal lengths of 70 and 100 mm equiv. for my test shots. But since 70 mm did not seem to offer much more insight, I used only 100 mm equiv. for the majority of my tests.

I used the following scenes for my tests: a computer keyboard, small flowers, lilac leaves, and a cupboard. Since it does not make much sense to show sharp and blurred photos, I show only example photos of the scenes below:

    
Example: Keyboard   Example: Small flowers
     
 
Example: Lilac leaves   Example: Cupboard

Figures: Example photos of the scenes used in my tests

I used the "success rate" as a measure of the effectiveness of the Steady Shot image stabilizer, that is, the number of sharp photos that I got under the various conditions and for the different shooting situations. The following table lists my results:

Scene Steady Shot 1/25 s 1/50 s 100 s Comments
Keyboard On 3 (4) 3 (4), 4 (4) 4 (4) 1/50 s tested twice, camera pointed downwards
Off 1 (4) 1 (4) 4 (4) No difference between 1/25 s and 1/50 s, camera pointed downwards
Small Flower On 1 (5) 4 (5) 5 (5)  
Off 0 (5) 2 (5) 2-3 (5) A matter of taste...
Lilac Leaves On 1-2 (5) 3-5 (5) 5 (5) A matter of taste...
Off 0 (5) 1 (5) 4 (5)  
Cupboard On 1 (5) 5 (5) 4-5 (5) A matter of taste..
Off 1 (5) 2 (5) 2 (5)  
Overall
success rate
On 6-7 (19) 19-21 (23) 18-19 (19) 43-47 (51)
Off 2 (19) 6 (19) 12-13 (19) 20-21 (47)
Both 8-9 (38) 25-27 (42) 30-32 (38)  

Note: 3 (4) means 3 out of 4.

Overall, I draw the following conclusions from my tests (for 100 mm equiv.):

Please note that the scene and the way how you hold the camera also play a role in this "game"...

 

Further Obstacles to Achieving Sharp Photos

When the Sony RX100 M1 was new at our home, I found that we got quite a few blurry photos. We used mostly the P (program) mode. I found that both the shutter speed and the ISO value were often fairly low, that is, lower than expected. Thus, the camera tended to choose long exposure times (1/30 sec for 28 mm equiv.) and low ISO values (ISO 125). Furthermore, it tended to use large apertures (e.g. f/1.8), for which focusing needs to be more precise because of the lower DOF (depth of field).

These were just my observations, but, in the meantime, I found some sources on the Web that confirmed these observations. In a thread in the dpreview.com Sony forum, the default shutter speed of 1/30 sec for A mode is discussed (the P mode seems to work the same). The original posters writes:

I also found another thread discussing the for the Sony RX100 M2, but still valid for the M1. In the end, it was confirmed that there is no such thing like a 1/30 sec default in A or P mode. The camera simply follows the 1/(focal length) shutter speed rule as much as possible. Some posters recommend using S mode (that's what I used in the old days...) , although its adaptability to varying lighting conditions is limited. Others bemoan the camera's preference for large apertures. I also found a longer discussion about this topic in a German forum - without bringing me any further...

In his review of the RX100 M2 (also valid for the M1), blogger Ron Martinsen notes that his wife had similar, and even more pronounced, issues with the RX100:

The Wife Verdict: Nothing really changes from my previous review. My wife loved the size of this camera, but this camera’s love affair with 1/30 sec in aperture priority and 1/250 sec in full automatic (on very sunny days) resulted in a majority of the photos being blurry in real world use (even with Steady Shot on). The reason for this was often due the camera choosing the incorrect shutter speed (as previously mentioned) even in the auto modes, and its quick to jump to f/1.8. At such a shallow depth of field, even on this small sensor camera, incorrect auto AF selections put faces slightly out of focus.

I therefore checked our RX100 M1, set it to P mode and Auto ISO limits to ISO 125 and ISO 6400. I varied the focal length (28 mm and 100 mm equiv.) and observed the shutter speed and ISO values on the display under various lower lighting conditions (mostly indoors because I wanted lower light levels). In addition, I compared the camera's behavior with my Ricoh GXR A16 camera unit (using ISO setting Auto-Hi) and my Leica X Vario. All three cameras showed a similar behavior in the P mode (although I could not observe the ISO value in Auto ISO mode for the X Vario).

My conclusions for the RX100 M1 are as follows:

This also means that the camera does not use shorter shutter speeds, even when this would be possible by either increasing the ISO value or opening aperture (or both). Generally, however, higher ISO values seem to lead to higher shutter speeds. Therefore, you can enforce higher shutter speeds by increasing the lower Auto ISO limit or by setting ISO manually to a higher value (ISO 200, 400, or 800).

I made another quick comparison of the RX100 M1 and my Leica X Vario under better lighting conditions. When I set the RX100 to ISO 200, which is mostly our default ISO value for this camera, it selected a shutter speed of 1/320 sec. When I set it to ISO 400, it selected 1/640 sec as the X Vario did at ISO 400, which is mostly my default ISO value for this camera. Thus, both exposure systems worked very similarly in P mode. But when using lower ISO values for the RX100 M1 (because of the smaller sensor), you get longer shutter speeds in return.

So, what is wrong or different with the RX100 M1? Actually, there is nothing wrong with it, but a few things may be different:

So what can you do to improve the success rate? There is no "easy solution" for those people who prefer to shoot with intelligent automatic (iA) or program (P) mode. But if you are willing to invest a little more thought and effort, you can do the following:

This is my advice for now. Perhaps someone else has better ideas...

 

Conclusions

Steady Shot

Steady Shot is effective for the Sony RX100 M1, but not as much as image stabilization is for some small-sensor cameras as well as DSLRs, which have very effective stabilization systems these days. In my opinion, the larger 1" sensor combined with the size constraints of a compact camera prevent the stabilization mechanism from being more effective.

All in all, activating Steady Shot seems to be a "must" and works at least at the long end of the lens fairly effectively, although there is always the danger of blurred shots. I therefore recommend to take several shots under such conditions to make sure that you will get a sharp one.

Other Issues

The camera prefers shutter speeds according to the (1/focal length) rule and does not select shorter ones even though this would be possible, either by opening aperture or increasing the ISO value (or both). It also has a fairly shallow DOF for a compact camera (compared with small-sensor cameras). My advice here is to increase the lower limit of Auto ISO or to set a higher ISO value manually, and to use A mode with a smaller aperture (f/4 or f/5.6). Generally, higher ISO values lead to shorter shutter speeds and should therefore be used (ISO 200...800).

 

References

 

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14.02.2016