Sony RX10 Review -- Image Quality Comparison

The Sony RX10 truly stands in a class by itself -- a premium fixed-lens, long-zoom camera with a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, a 1-inch-type imaging sensor, and a hefty pricetag. Since the RX10 has no direct competitor, we had to pit it against a wide variety of cameras to help give you a better idea of how unique this bridge camera is, and where exactly it fits among DSLRs, mirrorless models, bridge cameras and enthusiast compacts. And we're glad we did, as we soon discovered that it stacks up surprisingly well against larger-sensored cameras. Is the Sony RX10 a plausible replacement for an SLR or mirrorless camera and expensive, bulky constant-aperture lenses? See for yourself!

Below are crops comparing the Sony RX10's images against those taken with the Canon T5i, Olympus E-M1, Panasonic FZ200, Panasonic GX7 and Sony RX100 II.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses except for fixed lens cameras.

Sony RX10 versus Canon T5i at Base ISO

Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Canon T5i at ISO 100

This is an interesting lead-off to be sure. The T5i DSLR has a much larger APS-C sensor, while the RX10 has roughly two megapixels more resolution. Surprisingly, it's a very close race here overall, with the RX10 managing a bit more fine detail in the mosaic tiles and both fabric swatches, despite its apparent limitations.


Sony RX10 versus Olympus E-M1 at Base ISO

Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 200

The E-M1 is the most expensive camera in these comparisons, and the only camera body priced higher than the RX10. Add in excellent lenses covering the same focal length and aperture range, and the Olympus mirrorless system camera could cost twice or three times as much as the Sony. In this direct comparison at base ISOs, the E-M1 fares slightly better with detail in the mosaic tiles and the pink fabric swatch, but the RX10 is a bit better in the red fabric swatch.


Sony RX10 versus Panasonic FZ200 at Base ISO

Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 100

At first blush, the FZ200 may seem like the closest approximation to the RX10. After all, it's a fixed-lens zoom with a constant f/2.8 max aperture. However, the FZ200's sensor is considerably smaller, and the camera costs about a third as much as the RX10. As is obvious in these comparison crops, the RX10 outperforms the FZ200 in terms of image quality across the board at base ISO. In a moment, we'll see if it fares even better as sensitivity rises.


Sony RX10 versus Panasonic GX7 at Base ISO

Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Panasonic GX7 at ISO 200

Flipping the scales, the GX7 compact system camera sports a larger Micro Four Thirds sensor than the RX10, and about four fewer megapixels in resolution. However, the two cameras stand quite close to each other in price, once you add on the cost of a decent zoom lens to the GX7 (although once again f/2.8 zooms covering the same range would be much more expensive.) Here, at base ISO, image quality between the two is very similar, although the RX10 does a slightly better job at resolving detail in the fabric swatches. Read on below to see if higher ISOs alter the playing field in this comparison.


Sony RX10 versus Sony RX100 II at Base ISO

Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Sony RX100 II at ISO 160

We saved the best comparison for last (if only for alphabetical reasons), as many of you will want to know just how this new big brother compares to the highly touted RX100 II, given that each camera sports the same sensor. Here at base ISO, each performs quite admirably in the first two crops, while the RX10 does a much better job at resolving detail in the fabrics. (Is this camera made for interior decorators, or what?)

 

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting, especially those with smaller sensors, so this is where the real fun begins.

Sony RX10 versus Canon T5i at ISO 1600

Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Canon T5i at ISO 1600

Given the much larger APS-C sensor of the T5i, it's remarkable that the RX10 holds up as well as it does at a higher sensitivity. The T5i wins the battle for fine detail in the bottle crop and mosaic, but it's a lot closer race than we would have predicted based on sensor size alone. Perhaps with the RX10 you can finally get a fixed-lens zoom camera that delivers the performance of a decent DSLR, but without having to buy multiple lenses?


Sony RX10 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

Though the E-M1 is rather aggressive with its default sharpening algorithms, those combined with its larger sensor produce superior images at ISO 1600, compared to the smaller-sensored RX10. Expect this separation to increase as sensitivity climbs.


Sony RX10 versus Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 1600

Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 1600

This is where the RX10 shows the world that it stands in its own class, as the FZ200 just doesn't have enough sensor area to compete at higher sensitivities. The RX10 with its 1-inch backlit illuminated sensor produces far superior results at ISO 1600. (The FZ200's much lower price point does deserve mentioning here again, though.)


Sony RX10 versus Panasonic GX7 at ISO 1600

Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Panasonic GX7 at ISO 1600

As expected, the larger Micro Four Thirds sensor on the GX7 holds down noise levels, which in turn allows for much less aggressive noise reduction processing. The result is better resolving of subtle detail in the bottle label, and lower image noise in the background shadows.


Sony RX10 versus Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600

Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600

The sibling rivalry continues here. The results here are almost identical, save for minor variations in detail and noise. Not unexpected, given that the RX10 and RX100 II both use the same sensor, but the processor in the RX10 is much more powerful. It'll be interesting to see how this difference plays out at even higher ISOs.



Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Sony RX10 versus Canon T5i at ISO 3200

Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Canon T5i at ISO 3200

The RX10 pulls off a bit of a magic act here, coming very close to performing like an APS-C camera shot with a sharp reference lens at ISO 3200. Yes, the T5i again does somewhat better with fine detail and lower noise in the background, but the difference isn't nearly what we'd expect, considering the difference in sensor size. The Sony RX10's noise reduction and JPEG processing is simply exceptional.


Sony RX10 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

Here again, fairly aggressive sharpening is apparent in the E-M1 at its default noise reduction settings, but even with the sharpening artifacts, it still produces noticeably better image quality here.


Sony RX10 versus Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 3200

Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 3200

With a 1/2.3-inch sensor, the FZ200 simply can't match the RX10's results, with the differences here at ISO 3200 even more profound than before. The FZ200 loses the ability to produce even a decently detailed image at this relatively high ISO, again making the RX10 a more interesting proposition for those looking for the best all-in-one camera, and having the budget to afford the RX10.


Sony RX10 versus Panasonic GX7 at ISO 3200

Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Panasonic GX7 at ISO 3200

The GX7 continues to outperform the RX10 in resolving fine detail as ISO rises. Remember, though, that even though the GX7 body costs a few hundred dollars less than the RX10, the Sony still gives you something that will cost a ton more to add to the Panasonic -- a sharp, bright 24-200mm equivalent f/2.8 zoom lens.


Sony RX10 versus Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200

Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200

Once again these two siblings go stride for stride in most respects, although the RX100 II does demonstrate quite a bit less noise in our bottle crop than the RX10. We're frankly surprised by this result. We'd really been expecting to see the RX10 pull ahead, thanks to its more powerful BIONZ X processor. However as it turns out, raw data from the RX10's sensor appears to be a little noisier.

 

Detail: Sony RX10 vs. Canon T5i, Olympus E-M1, Panasonic FZ200, Panasonic GX7 and Sony RX100 II

Sony
RX10

ISO 125
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
T5i

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus
E-M1

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Panasonic
FZ200

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Panasonic
GX7

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
RX100 II

ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Detail comparison. For fine, high-contrast detail, looking at the above text allows us to really read between the lines, so to speak. For the past few years Olympus cameras have tended to all but dominate this table, as the E-M1 certainly does here. And all the cameras in our comparison except the FZ200 look sharp at base ISO, but by ISO 3200 and again at ISO 6400, only the E-M1 and GX7 are able to resolve the lines in the lettering with any semblance of real detail. Take particular interest in these comparisons if you crave fine detail in mid- to low-light settings and need the better light gathering power of a larger sensor (though somehow the largest-sensored camera here, the T5i, doesn't do well when pitted against the E-M1 and GX7). Meanwhile, the Sony RX10 shows fine detail at lower ISOs, but loses some of its magic at ISO 3200 and 6400 when compared to the interchangeable-lens models. We again feel compelled to point out how much more expensive and bulky it would be to equip any of the interchangeable-lens bodies with lenses covering a 24-200mm equivalent zoom range at f/2.8.

What we find interesting about these comparisons is just how well the Sony RX10 stands up to SLRs and mirrorless cameras with larger sensors. As you'd expect, it does extremely well at low ISOs, where sensor size is less of a factor. It clearly loses some ground at ISOs of 1,600 and above, but it's important to note that we're pixel-peeping pretty hard here, looking at images from a 20-megapixel camera 1:1 on-screen. Let's take a look at how it does in print:

 

Sony RX10 Review -- Print Quality

Good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 80/125; a decent 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 80/125 images are good at 24 x 36 inches, with crisp detail for this sensor size. Wall display prints are possible to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 200 prints are good at 20 x 30 inches, although 24 x 36 inch prints are fine for less critical applications, with only a minor loss in fine detail.

ISO 400 yields a good 16 x 20 inch print, with only minor noise in flatter areas, and is otherwise a good print.

ISO 800 prints a 13 x 19 that passes our 'good' standard, but does have some apparent noise in some areas and begins to lose contrast detail in our red fabric swatch. That's fairly typical for all but some full frame cameras as sensitivity rises.

ISO 1600 produces an 11 x 14 similar to the ISO 800 print at 13 x 19, which is acceptable but still has some noise in flatter areas.

ISO 3200 is where the relatively small sensor for this price range starts to lose ground, and the 8 x 10s here are just too noisy to call good. This is also where we are starting to see strange mottling and blotchiness in areas with noise, likely the result of the RX10's JPEG noise reduction algorithms. 5 x 7s work just fine here.

ISO 6400 also prints a good 5 x 7. All contrast detail is now lost in our red fabric swatch, but colors are still retained throughout the range.

ISO 12,800 yields a good 4 x 6, which is great for this sensor size.

The Sony RX10 does a good job in the print quality department, given the typical constraints of a relatively small sensor for this price range. 24 x 36 is a nice, large size for base ISO, equalling all but the higher-end full frame cameras, and the RX10 is generally pleasing all the way to ISO 1600. After that, it takes an odd turn and the noisy areas take on a mottled look, forcing the acceptable print size down to 5 x 7 at that point. This is only relevant if comparing to cameras like the RX100 II, which sports the same size sensor but yields a higher possible print size at many ISO settings. But if comparing to superzooms like the Panasonic FZ200, the RX10 yields far superior print quality results, besting it by 2 to 3 prints sizes at most ISO settings. Given what it can do with its constant aperture and generous zoom range, this camera is basically in a class of its own, and if you stay at ISO 1600 and below you'll likely be pleased with your prints.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 



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