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Small and sassy shooting
The compact, solid-bodied Sony RX100 camera. Supplied picture

The world of small, high-quality cameras continues to open up before us. Compact bodies, bigger sensors, improving lens quality.

Part of the camera- manufacturing industry would like us to think that we can all put away our big Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras and move into the new generation of mirrorless cameras - losing the weight on our shoulders without compromising quality.

Canon has taken a slightly different tack, seeing for example the Canon 5D MkIII and Canon G12 as a good travelling package for serious photographers, and the Canon GX-1 mirrorless as something in between, but not replacing the DSLR.

Out and about, the Olympus PEN mirrorless camera system, which can be bought economically as a twin lens kit, is proving successful for travellers interested in photography but who don't want to carry a full bag of gear.

The same with Nikon 1 (once again, in a 10-30mm and 30-110mm kit is a good buy).

The specifications for Sony's Cyber-shot RX100 read like a dream for travellers.

The camera has a 1.0-inch type 20.2 MP Exmor CMOS Sensor - the biggest ever incorporated into a pocket camera.

It has a wide, fast F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar lens which has a seven-bladed circular aperture - it makes for super quality and flexibility. The camera has an aluminium body. It is just 102 x 59 x 36mm (4.02 x 2.32 x 1.42") and weighs only 213g.

All of which add up to a dream camera for me - and, says Sony, to what a reviewer in the New York Times called "the best pocket camera ever made".

So you can imagine how excited I was to get my hands on one and take it out on the road.

The camera feels tough, the lens is clearly good quality, but the heart of it is that sensor. This Exmor CMOS effectively gives a resolution of 20 megapixels and is four times bigger than the 1/2.3-type sensors traditionally used in compact pocket cameras.

But I struggled initially to get good pictures from it, and even when I had got used to the camera, I did find it quite easy to get duds. I also found it a bit slippery and fiddly to use.

But an absolute winner of a feature kicks in when you take control of the camera to use it in semi-manual modes, which the photographer does, with creative intent, primarily to take control of either aperture (to control the distance in focus before and after the subject) or shutter speed (to stop the water dead, so you see every drop, or allow a lot of it to pass the lens, so it looks milky).

For the Sony has a very nifty feature - a control ring around the lens body, which can be used to take control of these, alter exposure, zoom, use creative picture effects and a number of other custom functions. Functions that are often used can be assigned to the Function button and the Memory Recall feature can store up to three groups of customised shooting settings. It is a very good feature.

The camera also has many artistic presets and Auto Portrait Framing, which is programmed to frame portraits perfectly. This Sony feature detects faces in a scene and can automatically crop the picture to create a tighter composition at full resolution. (The original and cropped pictures are both saved.)

For the fast stuff, the RX100 can shoot up to 10 frames a second in full resolution and its autofocus is designed to lock on to a subject in as little as 0.13 of a second.

Its sensitivity can be set up to ISO 25,600 (for this it uses Multi Frame Noise Reduction). Videos are high definition.

Anthony Moy, product manager for digital still cameras at Sony Australia, says: "It's a perfect step-up model for point-and-shoot users not interested in larger DSLR or compact system cameras, and also an outstanding choice for enthusiasts or professionals who may already own a large DSLR and are looking for a premium, pocket-sized 'all-in-one' second camera." It's a lot of quality for $799.

Even though I didn't instantly take to it, don't necessarily be put off. This is one photographer's reaction to one camera.

Few things truly replace anything any more - the next new brainwave thrust upon us is just "more". Just as we have a laptop, an iPad, a Kindle and still read the paper and buy a hardback book for the shelf, so I carry a DSLR and compact, and have a couple of mirrorless cameras for different sorts of trips.