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Sony RX10 Video Recording

Sony RX10 Review -- Front 3/4 view

The Sony RX10 is that rare camera which is truly unique. It's a bridge camera, but with a far larger sensor than its bridge camera rivals. It lacks an interchangeable lens, yet it's arguably more versatile than any SLR or mirrorless camera kit of similar cost. And if you equip the interchangeable-lens camera with lenses to cover a similar focal length range and aperture, the RX10 works out to be much more affordable and compact.

Where the RX10 really stands out most of all, though, is on the video front. It might have the SLR-like form factor you'd associate with a still camera, but the RX10 is a surprisingly good movie camera as well. In some respects, it offers features that best even professional, movie-oriented interchangeable-lens cameras. For example, it reads out the whole sensor for every frame, greatly reducing moiré and false color effects, and improving image quality. It also has a built-in neutral density filter, to help put your shutter speeds where you want them.

You can select between framing and reviewing your videos either on a superb, roomy electronic viewfinder, or a bright, tilting LCD monitor. And Sony provides an optional, clickless mode for the aperture dial which, although the aperture itself does still move in discreet steps, helps keep the camera steadier and reduce ambient noise. So, too, does the zoom rocker control, which serves as an alternative to the lens' zoom ring. (Although you're limited to a very slow zoom rate during video capture, no matter which control you use.) And considering it's contrast-detection based, the autofocus system is swift and confident.

Although the choice of video capture resolutions, frame rates, compression levels, and compression types aren't quite as generous as in some pro cameras, they're great by fixed-lens camera standards, and better some interchangeable-lens models. And of course, there's sound as well, courtesy of a built-in stereo microphone which is exquisitely sensitive. (Max the gain, and it easily picks up not just the quietest whisper from several feet away, but even the sound produced if you gently rub your thumb and forefinger together.)

Throw in features that are rare to unheard-of in fixed-lens cameras, such as uncompressed HDMI output, zebra stripes, focus peaking, fine-grained manual levels control, external microphone and headphone connectivity, manual focus or full-time autofocus, and manual exposure control, and you've got one heck of a movie-capture tool. If listening with headphones, you can even opt to have audio delayed just slightly to match the live view shown on-screen, or played in near-real time to avoid a disconcerting delay if you're using open headphones.

In short, we think Sony is going to sell more than a few of these to professional videographers looking for a light and (by movie camera standards) very affordable capture device with which to supplement their dedicated cameras on a shoot. Sure, pros would doubtless have preferred interchangeable lenses, but they'll likely get by with the built-in lens just fine. And as for enthusiasts, well -- the Sony RX10 is in a class of its own, once again. If you like shooting movies, you're going to like this camera a lot. Here's the full rundown of the RX10's video capabilities, along with our usual selection of sample videos.

 

Sony RX10 Basic Video Specs

 

Sony RX10 Video: Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

The Sony RX10 offers three different video resolutions and five frame rates, although only two or three rates are available at any given resolution.

Sony RX10 Video Options
MPEG-4 AVC Format (H.264, .MTS files)
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Frame Rate
Bit Rate

1,920 x 1,080

16:9

60p (59.940 fps)

28 Mbps

50p*

60i (59.940 fps)

24Mbps
17 Mbps

50i*

24Mbps
17 Mbps

25p*

24Mbps
17 Mbps

24p (23.976 fps)

24Mbps
17 Mbps
MPEG-4 Format (.MP4 files)

1,440 x 1,080

16:9

30p (29.97 fps)

12 Mbps

25p*

640 x 480

4:3

30p (29.97 fps)
3 Mbps

25p*

* NOTE: All frame rates marked with an asterisk are not available in US-market cameras, but may be available in certain overseas markets

The Sony RX10 can shoot in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats, with the resolution dictating the type you must use. AVCHD video uses variable bitrates depending on subject matter, while MPEG-4 video uses a constant bitrate.

At Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution, you have a choice of frame rates, both progressive-scan and interlaced. In US-market cameras, PAL frame rates of 50p, 50i, and 25p are not available. In other markets where PAL is in use, you may have a much greater selection of frame rates. When shooting Full HD, you also have a choice of two bit rates at all frame rates, with the exception of the highest-quality 60p mode, which is fixed at 28Mbps.

At lower resolutions, your frame rate and bit rate are fixed in US-market cameras, although cameras in some overseas markets may provide a choice of frame rates.

Unlike some manufacturers, Sony does not limit the minimum shutter speed to the frame rate of the captured video. Instead, it allows shutter speeds as low as 1/4 second, and repeats frames as necessary to match the video frame rate. The result is better low-light shooting capability, but at the expense of noticeably jerky, stuttering motion when your shutter speed falls below the frame rate.

Sony is also a little unusual in providing only for Full HD video. The widely-adopted 720p (1,280 x 720) pixel resolution is not available, and in its place is the rather rarer 1,440 x 1,080 pixel resolution, also known as Anamorphic HD. This still plays back with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and simply sacrifices horizontal resolution for a smaller file size. Horizontal resolution is around 25% lower than in a Full HD video.

The inclusion of 1080p HD video at 50/60 frames per second is a great feature, as it allows users to more easily film fast action scenes. The faster frame rate also helps should you want to create a slow-motion video in post-production.

Another great feature is the inclusion of a built-in neutral density filter, helpful if you want to slow your shutter speed to better match your frame rate. (Video recorded at high shutter speeds lack the subtle motion blur our eyes expect to see with fast-moving subjects, and this can cause a choppy-looking result, which the RX10's ND filter will help you to avoid.)

Most computers and editing programs made within the last few years should be able to play RX10 files with little problem, but editing of high-def files may strain older systems, especially with high frame rate, high bitrate video. With the highest-quality 28Mbps, 60p Full HD mode, you can expect around 3MB of data for each second of video. That's a lot more reasonable than cameras using interframe compression, such as older cameras with Motion JPEG compression, or Canon's ALL-I capable cameras. The use of interframe compression means more work for your computer in editing, however, as rendering any given frame involves accounting for the cumulative changes of every frame since the last key frame.

Surprisingly, Sony only recommends a Class 4 Secure Digital card with the Sony RX10, a recommendation we'd disregard. Secure Digital cards -- even relatively fast ones -- are quite affordable these days, and we'd suggest a Class 6 card as an absolute minimum. Faster Class 10 and UHS-I cards will likely pay dividends with buffer clearing times for still image shooting, and provide a better video experience as well.

Note that the Sony RX10 has a 29 minute clip length on video, and will stop capture once that limit is reached -- or earlier, if the image sensor's temperature threshold is surpassed. (Shooting at higher frame rates will increase the temperature load on the sensor, so if you face issues with temperature causing recording to stop, try a lower frame rate if possible.) There's also a 2GB file size limit, although for AVCHD capture, the RX10 will automatically span multiple files without interruption, which you can then merge in post-production.

 

Sony RX10 Video: Image Quality

The Sony RX10 produces excellent image quality in video, batting well above what you'd expect from its sensor size. In part, that's thanks to the fact that it reads off the full image sensor for every frame, then downsamples in-camera to achieve the final video resolution.

By contrast, most still/video cameras -- even those aimed at professional videographers -- only read off a limited number of pixel rows, skipping the remainder to reduce the amount of data the image pipeline and processor must handle. That undersampling of the original data leads to the issues with moiré, false color, and other objectionable artifacts that we see in video from most cameras.

The Sony RX10 is much less prone to these issues, thanks to the greater amount of data that goes into making each frame of its video. With that said, we did still see some occasional moiré, although the RX10 is certainly much less prone to it than most.

It takes a powerful image processor to handle so much data, and we understand that BIONZ X contains a subsystem dedicated just to its downsampling. It's certainly worthwhile, though. Video from the Sony RX10 is loaded with fine detail, and in a completely different class from typical bridge cameras and even APS-C models. In fact, to our mind it rivals video from the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a full-frame camera which has been widely-adopted in the movie business.

By default, we found bright daylight scenes a bit too contrasty, but that's easily fixed by using a different Creative Style, or simply tweaking the default style. Night scenes, too, were rather contrasty by default, but had lots of detail and relatively modest noise. (This is another area where downsampling the whole sensor rather than simply skipping rows helps -- the noise gets averaged out across a greater number of pixels.)

Below you can see our standard array of sample videos for the RX10:

Sony RX10: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

 

Sony RX10 Video: Exposure Control

Unlike most bridge cameras, the Sony RX10 allows for full manual exposure control, including full control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity, both before and during recording. If you prefer to leave the camera in charge of some variables, the RX10 provides for both aperture and shutter-priority shooting. It also allows automatic or manual ISO sensitivity control in all modes, including manual. (In effect, providing a shutter-and-aperture priority mode. And of course, you can shoot with program autoexposure.

That means you can opt either for a very user friendly experience, for a degree of hand-holding, or for full control over how your videos look. No matter your experience level, you should be able to get the results you're after.

 

Sony RX10 Video: Focusing

Many cameras these days -- especially interchangeable-lens models -- are adopting hybrid autofocus systems that combine on-chip phase detection with contrast detection. The idea is to combine the speed and directional awareness of PDAF with the accuracy and simplicity of CDAF.

With the RX10, though, Sony opts instead for a 25-point contrast-detection based system that is nonetheless fast and confident. It functions both before and during video capture, but its functionality is somewhat more limited for video than it is for still imaging. With that said, we still found the system to be eminently usable by consumer standards, locking on and tracking subjects well, and adjusting focus smoothly -- and for enthusiasts or pros, it'll likely be ignored altogether in favor of manual focus, anyway.

Although in other modes you can opt for center and spot autofocus with a choice of AF point sizes, the RX10 allows only wide-area 25-point AF during video capture, and you can't select which autofocus point the camera will use. Nor can you opt for single autofocus operation, triggered when you choose. Instead, the RX10 operates in continuous autofocus mode at all times when AF is enabled -- that is to say, if the Focus Mode dial is set to Single, Continuous, or Direct Manual Focus.

You can, however, opt to focus manually -- and indeed, can change the focus mode during capture, although the dial is hard to turn without shaking the camera, and its strong detent leaves a very audible click when the position is changed. Switch to manual focus, and you can control the focus distance yourself using the dial around the lens that would otherwise control lens zoom. (When manual focus is enabled, lens zoom is controlled with the rocker around the shutter button.)

It's worth noting that the manual focus system is fly-by-wire, and so there's no direct mechanical linkage between ring and lens. If you turn the ring faster than the camera's focus motor can keep up with, it will simply continue along at its maximum speed until it catches back up. On the plus side, the system operates very quietly indeed, and while we could easily hear the fly-by-wire lens zoom operating in our recorded video -- even though it zooms much more slowly than in still image mode -- we had no such issues with the autofocus system.

If you're focusing manually, you can enable a focus peaking display that helps you determine the point of focus by illuminating high-contrast edges. Four peaking strengths are available: High, Mid, Low, or Off. When active, you can choose from Red, Yellow, or White peaking colors. Interestingly, you can change the color, strength, and whether peaking is active both before and during recording, if you configure the camera's controls appropriately.

There's also a 4x focus magnifier function, which allows you to position a "window" anywhere within the image frame, and then view this area with greater magnification. (You can also pan the window around the frame while magnification is enabled.) Again, this can be enabled, disabled, and moved either before or during capture, and it works not only with manual focus, but also with autofocus.

And when autofocus is active, you can also opt for a couple of handy aids to letting the camera know what you're trying to focus on. There's a face detection function which locates and takes into account your subjects' faces, and a face recognition function that allows you to register and prioritize certain individuals over other detected faces, when they appear in the frame. There's also a focus tracking function which allows you to identify your subject at the center of the frame, and then have the camera track it as it moves around the frame, attempting to keep that subject in focus.

 

Sony RX10 Video: Audio Recording

ports

Even by the standards of the typical interchangeable-lens camera at this price point, the Sony RX10's audio feature set stands out from the crowd. By bridge camera standards, it offers unheard-of versatility, and makes clear that Sony intends this camera be used by journalists or even professional videographers.

On the top deck sits an exquisitely sensitive stereo microphone -- and when we say sensitive, it is easily able to pick up the sound of a finger and thumb gently rubbed together from a distance of several feet, a sound our own ears can barely pick up on from the same distance.

If that's not enough, then you can attach a stereo microphone to the standard 3.5mm jack hidden under a hinged, plastic door on the RX10's left side. Beneath sits a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which allows for monitoring of audio levels. And since the Sony RX10 is a live view camera, which by necessity involves a degree of lag between the action happening and its representation appearing on the LCD monitor or viewfinder, you have two choices of how audio can be played back. The RX10 can either play audio on your headphones in near-real time, or it can delay it just enough that it matches what you're seeing on screen. (If you're using closed-ear headphones, you'll probably prefer the delay; those with open-ear headphones will likely find the echo-like delay disconcerting, and switch to real-time audio.)

That in itself sounds like a lot, but it goes even further. Thanks to the Sony RX10's Multi Interface Shoe, you can attach a variety of external microphone and audio adapters, such as the ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone (which caters to sound-field control with adjustable microphone direction), or the XLR-K1M adapter kit which offers up two standard XLR connectors and a range of separate audio controls for each.

The Sony RX10 also offers a fine-grained 32-step (including mute) audio levels control, complete with on-screen stereo VU levels display and peak hold display. The levels display is calibrated in standard dB units on the levels adjustment screen, while that shown during live view (which can be enabled or disabled during capture) simply shows the VU bar without any unit markings. And if you feel that your audio is starting to clip or get too faint, you can adjust levels during capture, as well. There's also a wind cut filter function, which simply reduces levels for low-frequency audio.


Sony RX10 Video: Image Stabilization

Since it has a reasonably far-reaching fixed, non-removable lens, image stabilization is an important feature of the Sony RX10. Although the bright f/2.8 maximum aperture gives it good light-gathering capabilities, you'll still appreciate the camera's image stabilization in low light, and doubly so when shooting video. That's because the RX10 includes Sony's SteadyShot Active mode, which increases the corrective ability of the stabilization system.

When SteadyShot Active is enabled, you lose a little of the RX10's wide-angle capabilities, because a slight sensor crop is applied. That's worthwhile, though, because it makes it possible to shoot very watchable movies even while walking, with only a little effort to keep the camera steady. If you're planning on staying still and want the maximum wide-angle possibilities, though, you'll want to switch to the standard SteadyShot mode. And of course, stabilization can be disabled altogether.

Focal lengths for 16:9 aspect movies range from 26-212mm, while 4:3 aspect movies offer a range from 31-259mm. When SteadyShot Active mode is enabled, you'll get 29-315mm in 16:9, or 35-386mm in 4:3 aspect.

We didn't notice much in the way of operational noise from the stabilization system in our recorded movies, either, which is good news.

 

Sony RX10 Video: Rolling Shutter Artifacts ("Jello effect")

Like all large-sensor, video-capable cameras on the market today, the Sony RX10 has to contend with rolling shutter artifacts. These image distortions are caused by the way the image is read from the camera's sensor. Data is read line-by-line, rather than the entire frame at once, so the top of the image is recorded at a slightly different time than the bottom. Therefore, when panning or moving the camera side-to-side quickly, vertical lines in the image can appear to bend and slant back and forth in a "Jello-like" effect.

The RX10 does very well controlling the amount of rolling shutter distortion, especially when you consider that it is reading out the whole sensor for every frame, and can't skip lines in video mode like almost every other camera does. At 1080p60, rolling shutter distortion was noticeable but slight, and 1080p30 video showed only a little more pronounced rolling shutter. 1080p24 video seemed to show rolling shutter more severely, but we'd still consider video at this rate pretty usable. Overall, the RX10 turns in a very good performance when it comes to rolling shutter. As long as you are mindful of this effect, and avoid quick pans or back-and-forth motions, particularly around objects with vertical lines like trees and buildings, you probably won't notice the rolling shutter distortion.


Sony RX10: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MTS, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

 

Sony RX10 Video: Wireless Connectivity

The Sony RX10 includes built-in Wi-Fi and NFC wireless networking connectivity, allowing you to shoot remotely, and to transfer data from camera to smart device without a cable. The function does work for movies, but with limitations. Still, it could be useful when you want to distance yourself from your subject at least somewhat.

In our testing, we didn't have access to an iPhone, but attempted to use Wi-Fi and NFC with two Android devices: an HTC One X+ smartphone (International edition), and a Google Nexus 10 tablet. NFC worked just fine on both devices, launching the PlayMemories app automatically, or prompting to install it (and calling it up in the Google Play store) if it wasn't already installed. The NFC functionality also triggered a Wi-Fi connection to be established automatically. So far, so good -- very simple indeed. (Sadly, Apple users can't take advantage of this simplicity, because Apple products don't include NFC.)

From this point on, things got rather spottier, though. Our HTC One X+, which works fine on Wi-Fi with every other network and device -- including cameras -- which we've tried was never once able to connect to the RX10, showing an interminable "Connecting" message. Our Google Nexus 10 tablet connected just fine, but the connection was quite flaky, with a range of just 10 or 12 feet, and never working beyond line of sight. Even when side-by-side with the camera, the connection also regularly dropped out altogether, or connected fine (as confirmed by the working live view feed), but showed an animated, circular "busy" symbol at the center of the screen that never went away, preventing any of the cintrols from being used.

When it did work -- which unfortunately for us, was perhaps only two thirds of the time -- the live view feed was extremely quick, with perhaps a quarter-second of lag or less. Resolution was fair -- certainly nowhere near that of the Nexus 10 tablet, but sufficient to judge focus. And the controls, albeit basic, worked well too. Zoom was responsive and could be racked simply by holding your finger on the on-screen soft button, and lag before starting or stopping movie capture was minimal.

Unfortunately, settings control is extremely basic indeed, which robs the feature of some versatility. Beyond the optical zoom and shutter, no functions can be controlled remotely. Movies are shot with Program autoexposure, and all on-camera controls are ignored -- including even the focus mode and exposure compensation. There is no way to select a subject for focus, to focus manually or in single-servo mode, to adjust the exposure level, or to do anything except change the zoom position and start or stop capture. For still imaging, there's not a whole lot more configurability, either.

Equally frustrating is that the movie you've just captured isn't transferred to the smart device automatically. You have to disconnect the devices and then reconnect before you can transfer any data between them, and even then, you can't transfer AVCHD movies. Only MPEG-4 movie transfer is available, and that rules out access to Full HD movies from your smart device, since these can only be shot as AVCHD. Hence you can only view and share Anamorphic HD (1,440 x 1,080 rectangular pixel; 16:9 aspect) and standard-def VGA (640 x 480 pixel) movies from your smart device.

You can, at least, select single or multiple movies for transfer, from either the camera or smart device. There's no way to preview information about movies before transfer, though -- all you get is a thumbnail and a filename from which to make your transfer decisions. And we found transfer to be fairly slow, taking around 25-30 seconds to send a single, 45-second, Anamorphic HD MPEG-4 movie of around 63MB. This may explain why AVCHD transfer isn't possible at all.

We should also note at this point that our testing was done in a relatively quiet Wi-Fi environment, with only four visible networks other than the camera -- and three of these only showing a weak signal. Hence, we wouldn't expect issues with Wi-Fi dropouts and transfer rates, and nor do we see them with other devices. The tablet was also set to hold a Wi-Fi connection even when asleep, to choose Wi-Fi frequency bands automatically, and not to minimize power usage when Wi-Fi is active.

Still, even if it's limited in its feature set, the presence of Wi-Fi remote control and transfer at all is a nice touch, and it's quite possible that updates to the camera's firmware and to Sony's PlayMemories Home app on Android could resolve some of our issues. The iOS app may also perform better, although we didn't have the chance to test this.

 

Sony RX10 Video: Wired Connectivity

If you aren't a fan of Wi-Fi transfer, you'll find that the Sony RX10 includes both USB and HDMI connectivity to help you get your data off the camera without removing the flash card. The USB data connection is pretty straightforward, providing for USB 2.0 High Speed data transfer via a Micro USB connection, with a choice of either USB Mass Storage Class or MTP transfer modes.

The HDMI connection is a bit more interesting. That's because, according to Sony, the RX10 can output an uncompressed 8-bit, 4:2:2 live feed on the HDMI port, which uses a Type-D Micro connector. We didn't have access to an external recorder with which to test this out, but it allows capture of the raw video feed without compression artifacts, which is big news if you're after the maximum image quality. Of course, there are no overlays when outputting uncompressed video, as well.

Alternatively, you can just use the HDMI port to hook the RX10 up to your TV. If you take that route, you'll find that BRAVIA Sync -- Sony's brandname for HDMI Consumer Electronics Control -- is included. This will allow you to control certain of the camera's playback functions from your Sony Bravia HDTV remote. The same may or may not be true when using other TV brands. And there's another unusual feature here, too: The Sony RX10 supports output of 4K imagery via HDMI, so if you're lucky enough to have a 4K HDTV, you'll be able to experience razor-sharp playback when the camera's tethered to the display.