Review: Sony RX100 V For Live Music Photography

Foo Fighters Live, Taken With Sony RX100 V

1,024 x 576 1:1 crop, photo cropped from 5,472 × 3,648

In the summer of 2017, I made a return to live music after eight years away and I wanted to document my live music gig experiences with photos and video. Previously, I had bought a Canon Powershot SX730 HS for this reason and felt massively disappointed by its low light performance. This disappointment led me to buy the Sony RX100 V, which costs a cool $1,000 for what is still a point and shoot camera. This is within $100 of what I paid for my Canon 80D DSLR, which I am barred from using at live shows.

The Sony RX100 V does succeed where the Canon SX730 HS failed, low light performance is much better with it’s 1.8 aperture when zoomed out to 24mm, which reduces to 2.8 when zoomed into 70mm. I simply set the aperture to 2.8 so I would not have to deal with the variable aperture as I zoom in and out.

Even when set at 2.8, the Sony is better than the Canon, which, even at it’s widest has an aperture of 3.3, which drops to 6.9 when zoomed into the maximum extent, that’s a light loss of over two stops. This is a definite win for Sony, but to be fair to Canon, there is a $600 price difference between the cameras.

Not that this matters in live music photography, the Canon does win on shutter speed, ranging from 15 seconds to 1/3200 of a second, while the Sony has a 30 second to 1/2000 of a second range. I feel that having a higher shutter speed is more useful for most than a super slow shutter speed, which is why I give this one to Canon, but in this use case, it really is irrelevant as I’ll be shooting at 1/15 to 1/125.

At the recent Foo Fighters gig I attended at Intrust Bank Arena, I found a setting of 1/100th of a second, 2.8 aperture and 800 ISO worked well. Not having to push the ISO to the maximum of 3200 like on the Canon SX730 HS, means cleaner shots, much less noise, still nowhere near DSLR territory at the same ISO, but it is a much smaller 1.0-inch sensor, compared to the APS-C size sensor in my Canon 80D.

Where the Canon most definitely wins is zoom range, from 24mm to 960mm, whereas the Sony is limited to 2.9x zoom from 24mm to 70mm. In a venue like Intrust Bank Arena, that can become a problem if you want anything more than a wide shot. The 40x zoom on the Canon SX730 HS allows you to get up close and personal with the band, if you have a steady hand, as hand movement is also exaggerated 40x.

Focus is a major issue with the Canon SX730 HS, in constantly shifting lighting conditions, the Canon missed focus repeatedly, sometimes it would take half dozen attempts to lock onto the subject. The Sony RX100 V is much better, I hit focus nine times out of 10, even with changing lighting. While shooting continuously, it would hit focus shot after shot despite the constant movement of subjects and lighting.

The Sony allows for me to shoot in RAW format, giving me much more control in post-production in Adobe Lightroom, something that is lacking in the SX730 HS, which only shoots in JPEG.

The Sony also has a popup OLED viewfinder, which is a nice feature allowing for a more traditional shooting experience. However, if you are an eyeglass wearer, in my experience, it has some issues. When you pop up the viewfinder, you have to pull out the focusing lens to focus on the OLED screen, I found that while attempting to get close enough to see full viewfinder coverage, my glasses would push it back in, and suddenly, all you can see is a blurry mess, it would be nice if that could be locked into place.

I am unsure whether I would recommend this camera for live music due to it’s limited focal range, but if you are in a smaller venue where you can roam and get closer to the stage, I’m sure it will work very well based on my experiences so far. I will find out just how good the Sony RX100 V is when I go to see Papa Roach at The Cotillion on December 3, 2017, where I will have the freedom to roam around the venue.

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