Sony RX10 Review
|Sensor size:||1-inch type|
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Dimensions:||5.1 x 3.5 x 4.0 in.
(129 x 88 x 102 mm)
|Weight:||29.3 oz (832 g)
RX10 Review Summary: Conventional wisdom says that if you want the best pictures, you want interchangeable lenses. The Sony RX10 turns that theory on its head, substituting the interchangeable lenses for just the one fixed lens -- but what a great optic it is! With a bright f/2.8 aperture and a generous 24-200mm equivalent range, you'd need a lot of bulky, expensive glass to match the RX10's lens on your SLR or CSC. The RX10 also has a huge advantage over its bridge camera rivals, thanks to a much larger sensor, and it debuts some interesting features including full-sensor readout for video capture. Is it pricey? Sure, but we think it's worth it. This could just be the camera which convinces you that interchangeable lenses are overkill!
Pros: Smaller than SLR/CSC with comparable lenses; Larger sensor than other bridge cameras; SLR-like body without the hassle of changing lenses; Weather-sealed; Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture; Generous zoom range; Great viewfinder; Swift performance; Plenty of enthusiast-friendly features including raw shooting; Wi-Fi and NFC wireless sharing.
Cons: Expensive compared to other bridge cameras; Menus respond slowly after burst shooting; Lens doesn't zoom very quickly; High ISO performance doesn't match RX100 II.
Price and availability: Shipping from November 2013, the Sony RX10 comes in at a list price of around US$1,300. Only a black body color is available, as you'd expect for a camera aimed at enthusiast use.
Sony RX10 Review
Overview, Extended Walkaround, and autofocus / video insight by Dave Etchells
Shooter's Report and Tech Info by Mike Tomkins
Once a popular category, the market for enthusiast-grade, all-in-one cameras (aka "bridge" cameras) has been a little moribund in recent years. The new Sony RX10 promises to breathe new life into the high end of that field. While there's been a steady stream of new bridge-camera models, increasingly compact and affordable mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have squeezed the category unmercifully, making it harder to justify spending $500 to $600 on what's basically just a small-sensor camera.
Canon upped the ante some in early 2012 by introducing their G1X, bringing a near APS-C sized sensor, and a price point of $800 to the fray. It was a very capable camera, but some found its 4x zoom range a little limiting, and the maximum aperture at the tele end was only f/5.8. Now comes the Sony RX10, using the same (excellent) 1-inch type sensor as the RX100 II, but this time adding a bright, constant aperture, 8.3x f/2.8 zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent range of 24-200mm.
That's just the very tip of the iceberg of goodness, though. The Sony RX10's feature list is pretty eye-popping, including superior electronic viewfinder optics, a new and super-fast autofocus system, 10 frames per second shooting, and exceptional video capabilities.
The Sony RX10 also sets a new high mark for bridge-camera pricing, with an equally eye-popping list price of US$1,300. Given its feature set, excellent sensor and quality optics, though, we think Sony's going to sell as many of them as it can manage to produce. This is a bridge camera that truly redefines what's possible for the category.
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Sony RX10 Review: Extended Walkaround
I've always liked the all-in-one convenience of bridge cameras, and have owned and used a number of them in the past. At some point I became frustrated with the low-light limitations imposed by their small sensors, and AF speed was often lacking as well. For a while, I resigned myself to lugging my SLR along everywhere with me, or at least everywhere from which I cared about bringing back reasonable-quality images. But the bulk of not only the camera body but the necessary complement of lenses made that frustrating as well. As mirrorless cameras have improved in performance and simultaneously become more compact, I've gravitated to them but there were still lenses to lug, albeit much smaller ones than the equivalents for my APS-C SLR bodies.
I immediately loved the Sony RX100 and the even better-performing RX100 II when I first saw them, as they were quite pocketable while still delivering excellent image quality, even in low-light conditions and after dark. I still wished for more than the short 3.6x zoom range, though, and while I loved the f/1.8 maximum aperture at wide angle, f/4.9 at tele made it harder to isolate subjects with shallow depth of field. While the RX100 has let my SLR and CSCs stay home more often than not, its lack in the telephoto department meant that I still felt the need for a CSC with a longer zoom when going on any extended trips.
The Sony RX10 changes all this, though, as it not only offers a 200mm-equivalent telephoto, but a 24mm-equivalent wide angle, usefully wider than the RX100's 28mm.
The Sony RX10's great optics don't come without a price, though, and the first thing I noticed when I picked one up was how large and heavy it was -- comparatively speaking, at least. Nobody is going to mistake this baby for a pocket camera. Comparing it to the RX100, which very much is a pocket camera, the RX10 weighs in at 1lb 13.3oz (832g), compared to the RX100's 8.5oz (240g). When it comes to size, the RX10's roughly 5.1 x 3.5 x 4.1 inches (129 x 88.1 x 102.2mm) bulk is fully 5.2x larger than the RX100's svelte 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.5 inches (102 x 58 x 38mm).
OK, so the Sony RX10 is a solid handful, but making the comparison in the other direction, a Micro Four Thirds shooter would need to pack along a body and two lenses to cover the same range at an f/2.8 constant aperture, a 12-35mm f/2.8 and a 35-100mm f2.8. Those two lenses plus even a smallish Micro Four Thirds body would end up involving more bulk, more hassle, and considerably more money than what the RX10 provides in one package. And that's just for Micro Four Thirds; a similar setup on many mirrorless systems and DSLRs would likely be even larger.
Admittedly, the Micro Four Thirds system sports a sensor about 35% larger than the one found in the RX10, but the RX10's uses backside illumination for greater light-gathering efficiency, so the actual difference in picture quality at higher sensitivities isn't as much as you might expect.
In the hand. As noted above, the magnesium alloy-bodied Sony RX10 is a substantial handful, but it's still quite compact for what it offers. It has a fairly deep grip, which I always like, given my longer-than-average fingers. In the interest of keeping the whole package as small as possible, though, it's also a relatively narrow grip. One of the consequences of this is that I found myself having to reach back a bit to get my index finger on the shutter button. Really, though, given the desire for as small an envelope as possible, there wasn't much of a choice for any other way to do it. I'll gladly accept that minor ergonomic bobble for the sake of not having the camera be any bigger than it is.
In addition to the deeply-sculpted grip, my hold on the camera was enhanced by the pronounced thumb lip on its rear panel. Between the two, the camera always felt very secure in my hand, to the point that I could actually shoot one-handed if I wanted, despite its mass. That said, I'd very much want to shoot with a two-handed grip as a matter of course, as the RX10's weight and balance almost demand it.
Cameras can be heavy without necessarily feeling well-built, but that's not the case with the Sony RX10. You'd expect a $1,300 camera to feel solidly constructed, and thankfully that's very much the impression the RX10 conveys. Controls feel precise, and the body has a very solid, "quality" feel to it. The zoom lens, too, seems quite solid, even when extended to full telephoto. Some zooms have a tendency to rattle around a little when fully extended, but the lens on the RX10 struck me as more solid than most. I could wiggle it a little at full extension, and it didn't seem as loose as many do.
The lens has two control rings on it, one to adjust either the focal length or manual focus, and the other for lens aperture. The zoom setting can also be controlled via the zoom toggle that surrounds the shutter button. (If you're focusing manually, then this is the only way to control zoom.) As is the case with most fixed-lens cameras these days, zoom operation is always "fly by wire". The zoom ring only instructs the camera to adjust the focal length setting; there's no direct connection between the ring and the optical elements. The same is true of focus and aperture, as well.
A common gripe I have about fly-by-wire zoom controls is that they often aren't very fast, and the Sony RX10's zoom operation is unfortunately no exception. Whether controlled via the zoom toggle or the zoom ring on the lens, the RX10's zoom operation can best be called leisurely. I understand why fly-by-wire zooms need to move at a very measured pace when controlled via a toggle control, but a zoom ring offers much richer possibilities, in which large or small, rapid or gradual motions of the ring could convey to the camera detailed information about the user's intent. Why not free the zoom ring from the plodding pace dictated by the zoom toggle, and allow for both more rapid and more precise control? It's possible that the very measured pace of the RX10's zoom operation is all that the actuator can manage, but if there's some margin for greater speed, I hope Sony will consider a firmware update to provide more responsive control when the zoom ring is used.
Electronic viewfinder and LCD screen. I liked the Sony RX10's EVF and LCD displays quite a bit. The LCD sports a resolution of 1,228,000 dots, better than than the vast majority of cameras out there. It can be tilted 84 degrees up or 43 degrees down for low-level or overhead shooting, and offers either automatic brightness control, or a manual option with 5 steps of adjustment. It also has a "sunny weather" mode that cranks the brightness up enough that I had no trouble seeing what was going on, even in full sunlight.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) has an OLED screen, with 1,440,000 dots of resolution. That's a step down from the incredible EVF resolution of the Sony Alpha 7 that was announced at the same time, but it's sufficient that there's relatively little pixelation visible when looking through the eyepiece. Text and readouts did appear a bit sharper in the A7 and its dynamic range is greater as well, but the EVF in the Sony RX10 is clearly in the top tier of what's out there, regardless.
Speaking of the eyepiece, Sony's really outdone itself with viewfinder optics on the RX10. We're told that the viewfinder lens has no fewer than four double-sided aspheric lens elements, an unprecedented level of optical sophistication for an EVF. It shows in the view you see when looking through it, though. No fuzzy corners, chromatic aberration or other distortions; the view is clear and crisp, from corner to corner.
The RX10's EVF view is quite expansive as well. It has a 33 degree angle of view, and a 0.7x viewfinder ratio. Bottom line, it's a big, roomy viewfinder with an unusually broad field of view. Unfortunately, as an eyeglass-wearer, this also means that I need to mash my glasses against the viewfinder eyecup a little, in order to be able to see all of the frame without shifting my eye position. A minor gripe there, but I'll gladly accept the trade-off for the expansive view inside. While it can be tough seeing the entire EVF frame when wearing glasses, the good news is that the Sony RX10's dioptric correction appears to cover an unusually wide range. It has a working range of -4.0 to +3.0m-1, and handled my roughly 20:200 nearsighted vision easily, with some adjustment left beyond that level.
User interface. The Sony RX10's user interface will be immediately familiar to anyone who's used a Sony camera in the recent past. It's very similar to the UI on the RX100 and RX100 II, an efficient collection of tabbed menus that does a good job of presenting a wide range of configuration options in a compact format.
I always prefer more functions available directly via external buttons, versus less, and the Sony RX10 scores well in that area, with two more buttons than its little brothers. First and foremost, there's a nice exposure compensation adjustment dial on the right rear corner of the top deck, right under your thumb - excellent! There's also a C ("custom") button on the top deck that can have multiple functions assigned to it, as well as AEL and Fn buttons on the rear panel, along with the usual four-way keys surrounding a central button, all inside the rear-panel control dial. Another dial is presented edge-on, above the Fn button and to the right of the dedicated Movie button.
Like other recent RX cameras and the simultaneously-announced A7/A7R, the Sony RX10's user interface is highly configurable. You can assign any of 41 different functions to the C button, 41 to the AEL button, 42 functions to the center button inside the rear control dial, and 37 functions to each of the left/right/down buttons. Even the rear control wheel can have one of four different functions assigned to it.
As if that's not enough, the Fn button brings up a "Quick Navi" display across the bottom of the screen, whether you're viewing the LCD or EVF, with 12 slots or tiles in it. Each of these tiles can have one of no fewer than 27 functions assigned to it, or it can be left empty or blank, to simplify the function display.
For the most part, this interface worked the way I expected; the Fn button drops you into it and the up/down keys let you scroll to the function you want to adjust. I experienced a bit of a disconnect between the operation of the upper command dial and the lower control ring (lower rear dial), once I'd positioned the cursor over the function I wanted. The control ring would always immediately act to change the selected setting when I rotated it, while the upper command dial would only do so for ISO adjustment, the rest of the time requiring that I press the center button to first to enable it. Why not more consistent? (I initially commented on this originally with our pre-production camera, but have confirmed behavior is identical with final Version 1.00 firmware.)
One hugely welcome change from earlier Sony models is that the terribly modal user interface now offers useful explanations of why you can't select a menu item that's grayed-out. Previously, various options would be grayed-out if they didn't apply to the current camera configuration. (For example, a setting pertaining to manual focus would be grayed out if you were in an autofocus mode.) The problem was, the camera wouldn't tell you why something was grayed out! It was often a puzzle and guessing game of many steps to figure out why the @#! you couldn't change a given menu setting.
I suspect others complained to Sony about this as well, so it probably wasn't just me bringing it up every time I had a chance to talk with their engineers, but I'm happy to report that Sony listened, and the new RX10 (and the A7/7R that were announced at the same time) actually tells you why you can't access grayed-out menu options! To my mind, this was the single biggest thing Sony needed to change in their user interface, and they've done it! It doesn't appear that every grayed-out menu has an information screen associated with it (a couple still say only that "this function is currently disabled") even in production firmware, but it's nevertheless a huge improvement.
The Sony RX10's larger body also enabled another welcome addition, namely the top-panel LCD data-readout screen. While most of what's displayed there is also visible in data overlays on the rear LCD screen, my old-school side likes seeing them clearly displayed on the camera's top panel.
Shooting with the Sony RX10
by Mike Tomkins
The RX10 foreshadowed. When Sony announced its RX100 compact camera -- spiritual forebear of the RX10 -- in the middle of last year, I was thrilled -- and I was among the first to rush out, credit card in hand, to buy one for myself. The RX100 answered what seemed to me to be an obvious need for some middle ground between point-and-shoot cameras with the image quality you'd expect of a postage stamp-sized sensor, and mirrorless or SLR cameras with the bulk you'd expect from a large sensor.
My RX100 wasn't intended to replace the latter -- and you'll still have to work hard to pry my SLR from my cold, dead hands -- but its combination of significantly better image quality than the typical point-and-shoot and a much more compact body than an interchangeable-lens camera made huge sense to me. It's gone on to become my go-to camera, with my cellphone relegated to throw-away snapshots, and my SLR to carefully-planned, you'll-never-have-another-chance photo opportunities.
Why do I shoot with the RX100 so much? I have a four-year old son, and since his birth, travel -- whether it's halfway around the world, or just a few miles down the road -- has become much more of an event. My smartphone doesn't provide satisfactory image quality for my keeper shots, but at the same time, my heavy, bulky camera gear now invariably has to be left at home in favor of a more compact, portable option.
And doubly so when traveling overseas. Everything required to occupy (and care for) my son takes up most of the carry-on space, and I'm hesitant to send my expensive camera gear for a dropkick ride in the cargo hold. (I have family who worked in the airline industry, so I know very well just what my checked bags -- and their contents -- go through.)
Answer to the RX100's shortcomings. Much as I loved my RX100, though, I longed for a little more in the lens department. The Sony RX10 answers that need in spades, providing a spectacular lens that gives far more zoom reach and a bright f/2.8 constant aperture across the whole zoom range. When I first heard that the RX10 was on the way, I was both excited, and a little worried. Could Sony put the ball out of the park again? It seemed a tall order, and I was especially concerned about the RX10's size and price.
I shot the Cyber-shot RX10 alongside Sony's full-frame Alpha A7 and A7R for a week, on a press trip in Nashville, Tennessee, and I've used it for a couple of weeks since. It rapidly became my go-to camera, getting great shots I'd have missed while fumbling with lens changes if shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. It's also smaller and less expensive than either, once you include similar optics.
Would size be an issue? When I finally got my hands on the RX10 at a Sony press event in Nashville, Tennessee a couple of weeks later, my concerns about the size were redoubled, but only briefly. This is a much bigger camera than the RX100, certainly, and initially I found that a little offputting. But then, I sat down and thought carefully about what I'd need to provide similar coverage and a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture with an interchangeable-lens camera.
The answer was pretty clear: I'd need at least a couple of lenses just to match the Sony RX10's coverage, and that's even before I considered trying to account for the bright, constant-aperture design of its lens. No matter which mirrorless mount I chose, I couldn't find one that could compete with the Sony RX10 on size and convenience, let alone would an SLR manage to do so.
The turn-to camera. Once I got out and started shooting with the RX10, my impression that its size wasn't really an issue was reinforced. For most of the next week, I shot the RX10 alongside Sony's full-frame A7 and A7R mirrorless cameras side-by-side, and quickly found it becoming my favorite of the trio. I've since shot the RX10 by itself for a couple more weeks, and my love for it has only grown.
Incidentally, my rapidly-forming positive opinion of the RX10 was mirrored by what I heard from more than a few of my fellow journalists at Sony's press event. Sure, the larger sensors of the other cameras were nice, but there was definitely something to be said for having plenty of zoom reach -- not to mention some handy macro performance -- on tap, without having to constantly switch lenses back and forth. And the RX10's huge, crisp viewfinder was inviting indeed.
The image quality of the RX10, also, was more than sufficient for the majority of my photos. And even if I'm not really a movie guy, per se, it didn't hurt that the RX10 had great video chops as well.
The RX10 in-hand. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's return, for a moment, to how the RX10 handles.
Not surprisingly, given its greater size than my RX100, the Sony RX10 is pretty comfortable in-hand. Its large lens coupled with a relatively narrow grip meant that it wasn't terribly conducive to single-handed shooting -- the center of gravity is just too far from the grip for that -- but shooting two-handed was a delight. And with this style of camera, with zoom / focus and aperture rings around the lens barrel, I'd really want to shoot two-handed anyway. Occasional shots single-handed were no problem, certainly.
Tilting display. The tilting LCD display -- not a feature of my RX100 -- was great for shooting over my head, or low to the ground. It's a shame that it doesn't help out with portrait-orientation shots, though, and for that reason I would have preferred a side-mounted tilt-swivel screen, even if it cost a little more.
With default settings, colors were a little muted compared to typical point-and-shoot cameras, but I think the Sony RX10's target customer will likely prefer this to blown-out, garish colors. (And not only is there a lot of scope for tuning this to your taste in camera -- you can also shoot raw for total control.)
Gorgeous viewfinder. When I wasn't framing from a challenging angle, I shot almost exclusively with the electronic viewfinder, which is very inviting indeed. It's not quite as high-res as that in the Alpha 7, but it's certainly more than sufficient in terms of sharpness and resolution, and it's sharp right out into the corners, as well.
Perhaps more importantly, it compares well even to my APS-C SLR, with a large, bright view and relatively minimal lag. Add in the benefits of being able to see info overlays, exposure, white balance, and even menus without taking my eye from the viewfinder, and even I -- someone who has long favored a prism-based TTL viewfinder -- am pretty much sold on the merits of the EVF.
And for bonus points, it projects a good way from the rear of the camera, so I don't feel I have to smoosh my nose against the screen to see anything.
Split personality zoom. Initially, I found the presence of two zoom controls -- the ring around the lens, and the rocker around the shutter button -- a little confusing. I quickly realized the reason for this, however: there's no dedicated manual focus ring, and so the zoom ring takes over this action when manual focus is enabled. That means a backup control is needed for the zoom, and so the rocker makes perfect sense.
There's not really room to comfortably accommodate another ring around the lens, and I don't think I'd want to sacrifice the aperture ring to gain a dedicated manual focus ring, as I control aperture manually much more than I focus manually.
Lens rings. Both rings are fly-by-wire types, and while I'd have preferred to have had a direct, mechanical connection, they were reasonably responsive. The zoom ring allows very small, accurate adjustments -- much more so than I could achieve with its rocker control -- but I did find myself wishing the drive mechanism was faster, and could better keep up with swift turns of the ring. (There's a step zoom function, but this doesn't increase speed, just steps the zoom to certain predefined focal lengths instead of zooming smoothly.)
The aperture ring was interesting to me for another reason: the small switch on the base of the lens which is used to enable or disable its click detents when the ring is turned. I'm not used to seeing controls placed on the underside of the lens barrel, and so it took me quite a while to find this. (In part, perhaps, because my RX100 has conditioned me to expect a smooth, clickless ring on RX-series cameras, as that on my RX10 was when I took it out of the box.) On the plus side, it's very unlikely to get accidentally bumped in this location.
The optional click. I was thrilled once I finally found the switch, and was able to provide the click stops that my RX100 lacks. That little bit of tactile feedback makes a world of difference to me. But why, then, provide a click-free option? The answer is for video shooting, where the clicks wreck the audio portion of your movie, and make it hard not to shake the camera, to boot.
The RX10 also betters the typical bridge camera in terms of autofocus performance, responding much like a DSLR in this regard, even though it lacks a phase-detection sensor, and so has to rely on contrast-detection. And if you focus manually, shutter lag is actually less than most consumer DSLRs.
Sadly, the stepless ring isn't accompanied by a stepless aperture -- peek in the front of the lens as you turn the ring, and you can still see that the aperture diaphragm still stops down in measured steps. The RX10 does do a reasonably good job of minimizing steps in brightness as you turn the ring, though, and for consumer use it's likely good enough to make playing with depth-of-field effects in video enjoyable.
Weather sealing. (!) Another nice surprise came when I took a closer look at the RX10's specifications. I hadn't realized this at launch, but the RX10 is environmentally sealed against dust and moisture, both on body seams and controls. We've not seen the degree of sealing stated in the US market, but overseas, the camera has been described as "splash and dustproof", suggesting that you shouldn't have to worry too much about a little light rain.
Occasionally imperfect. There were only a few things I'd like to see changed about the Sony RX10's body. Perhaps the most significant of these was its upper rear dial, which is presented end-on, just barely protruding from the body. It's sandwiched top and bottom by slight bulges in the camera body, and this coupled with shallow knurling made it a bit awkward to turn with the pad of my thumb. The problem wasn't helped by the texturing on the camera body, which made it hard to differentiate whether or not the dial had even turned, unless I paid attention to the value for the setting I was adjusting in the display or viewfinder.
My impression of the upper dial, incidentally, wasn't helped by the fact that there was noticeable panel flex / creak around this point on the RX10's body. Albeit slight, it was the only place in which I noticed this, and it detracted a bit from what otherwise seemed like a pretty bullet-proof body.
A mind of its own? The lower dial, which sits side-on in a ring around the OK button, and doubles as a clickable four-way controller, was also the source of a little early frustration for another reason. This dial turns smoothly and easily, but perhaps a little too easily. It defaults to ISO sensitivity control in most modes, and it took me a little while to realize why the sensitivity kept changing on me seemingly at random, until I realized that my shirt buttons were turning the dial as the camera swung around my neck.
A quick visit to the menu system, and I simply disabled the dial altogether, but a slightly stronger click detent on the dial would have obviated the need to do so (and to lose a valuable external control in the process.)
Just a few times, I found that the exposure compensation dial -- which has a relatively mild detent -- had gotten turned by mistake, as well. It only happed perhaps three or four times in several weeks of shooting, though, so I don't consider it to be a huge issue. I just made sure to glance at exposure compensation a little more often than I normally would.
White balance was pretty good for the most part, although indoors and under street lighting it often tended a little on the warm side with a bit of a yellow cast. Of course, you can always shoot raw, and then fine-tune the color to your heart's content after the fact, without affecting image quality.
Plenty to love. Otherwise, though, I really loved the body. Controls were in just the right places, and comfortably within reach -- mostly, without even needing to adjust my grip. The menu system was straightforward, and mostly pretty logical. The addition of hints as to why features are disabled when you can't access them (and how to fix the problem) is great, and helped me to become familiar with the camera much more quickly.
Bright, clear monitor. I've already mentioned the Sony RX10's viewfinder, but I should note that its main, tilting LCD is also great. It combines high resolution with Sony's WhiteMagic technology, and just like that on my RX100, it's very visible even on a bright, sunny day, with minimal glare and reflections. It's also surprisingly resistant to fingerprints and smudges, and those which manage to adhere are easily wiped off with a lens cloth.
Not only does it have a bright f/2.8 constant aperture; the Sony RX10's zoom lens also provides plenty of reach, from a generous wide angle to a healthy telephoto. I seldom felt limited by the zoom range, and that's definitely good news. Both shots here were taken moments apart from the exact same point.
Handy status display. The top-deck LCD info display is a great touch, too. I actually didn't use it as often as I expected to, and as I would with my SLR cameras, perhaps because there's so much info already available through the electronic viewfinder. It was great for checking basic setup at a glance, though, and the backlight design is very thoughtful. (There's a small button next to the display, used to enable and disable the backlight, and its not-too-bright orange color didn't disturb my night vision as some info LCD backlights can.)
The menu delay. Performance was, for the most part, excellent. There was one thing, though, which I found quite frustrating. (And I'm probably more sensitive to it than most photographers, because I take lots of bracketed raw+JPEG sequences which take a while to write to the flash card.) For some reason, the Sony RX10's menu system takes a second or two to come back to life after each burst of shots. More frustratingly, when it does finally appear, quite a few menu options are grayed out for a further second or two. (And there seems to be no rhyme or reason to which these grayed-out items are.)
It strikes me that the menu system likely takes very little processor time to render and display, and that the same is likely true of changing an individual setting. The fact that you have to wait around for this to happen can make the camera feel sluggish when it really isn't, and I'd like to see Sony address this with a firmware update. Simply allowing all settings to be accessed while your images write to the flash card would let the photographer get on with the job of setting up for their next shot while they wait for the buffer to clear, and reinforce the impression of a high-performance device.
Otherwise, a swift performer. And that, if you ignore this menu system quirk, is how the camera largely feels in other respects. It starts up reasonably swiftly, considering that the lens must be extended an inch or so at power-on. Autofocus is swift and reliable, and worked confidently for me even under relatively dim street lighting on a dark night. (In fact, in terms of AF performance, I'd describe the Sony RX10 as SLR-like, which is impressive for a contrast-detect based camera. And burst performance is reasonable, too. In fact, if you're willing to lock focus from the first frame, you'll get a full ten frames per second in JPEG mode, although for me with my raw shooting, that fell to a bit over six fps.
On-camera flash. I don't use on-camera flash particularly often, as I find it harsh and unflattering, and prefer to use an external strobe or a higher ISO sensitivity for a more natural look. Sadly, I didn't have access to any of Sony's external strobes in my time with the RX10, and so didn't get to give off-camera flash a spin. The internal strobe certainly seemed up to the job, though, with pretty good range for its size, and throttling down well for macro subjects. I was concerned about the lens shading the strobe, but in actual fact this wasn't a concern until I got very close to my subject at wide-angle. Shooting at telephoto, I could frame almost as tightly (and with less distortion, to boot), yet the flash wasn't blocked by the lens even at its closest focus.
Fun with macros. And man, could I ever focus close with the Sony RX10. I was surprised by just how small an area was covered, especially at wide-angle if I didn't need artificial light on my subject, and didn't mind a bit of distortion. OK, many point-and-shoot cameras will manage a smaller macro, but they don't typically do so without needing to enable a macro mode. And with an SLR or mirrorless camera, you'd be looking at buying a macro lens to get closer than the RX10 will. With the RX10, though, you can frame an area of around three by two inches at wide angle straight out of the box, and not a whole lot larger at telephoto.
Great image quality. Overall, I was quite impressed with the RX10's lens and sensor pairing, especially in Sony's corrected JPEG output. Not surprisingly, uncorrected raw files show quite a bit of distortion and chromatic aberration, but out-of-camera JPEGs at lower ISOs had lots of sharp detail, and controlled the lens defects well. Color was pleasing, and white balance mostly accurate, although it tended a bit warm under indoor lighting, and struggled to compensate for street lighting, with quite a yellow cast. (But then, that's not exactly rare.)
Noise levels. Compared to my RX100, noise at higher ISO sensitivities seemed -- not stronger, but less even and blotchier. Partly, it was likely down to differences in noise processing, but interestingly our lab testing also showed slightly higher noise in raw files compared to the follow-up RX100 II, with which we understand the RX10 to share its image sensor.
Even at the highest sensitivity, there's still a fair bit of detail left, although a good bit has been lost to noise and noise processing. Images can get a bit blotchy at ISO 3200 and beyond, though.
The difference isn't night and day, though, and the bright f/2.8 maximum aperture across the zoom range means you'll be needing those higher ISO sensitivities less than you would with many bridge cameras in the first place. Not to mention that, while larger SLRs and mirrorless cameras with their larger sensors will better the RX10 in terms of noise performance, its bridge camera competitors all have much smaller sensors, and the RX10 will simply trounce them in terms of noise performance. (Of course, it also costs a lot more than the typical bridge camera.)
Surprisingly good video camera. I'm not much of a movie shooter myself, as I don't have the mindset for video editing, and simple single-perspective video clips aren't the most exciting. Still, the Sony RX10 has some seriously impressive video chops. We'll have a video page shortly explaining this in more detail, but in a nutshell there are a few things to know: It's significantly less prone to moire and false color than most other video-capable still cameras, even interchangeable-lens models that cost a lot more. The RX10 also offers a built-in ND filter to help you tame too-fast shutter speeds, external mic and headphone connectivity, levels display and fine-grained levels control, and the (optionally) smooth-turning aperture ring I mentioned earlier. Throw in full-time autofocus to keep the consumer videographers happy, and the RX10 makes for quite a video camera.
Our in-depth Sony RX10 video page is coming soon. Watch this space for the full story on RX10 video!
But what about the price? Does it merit its pricetag? If you ask me, the answer is yes, and if I had the money available right now I'd probably pick one up myself. (Unfortunately, I don't -- but chances are I'll be buying an RX10 of my own, sooner or later.)
There really is nothing comparable to it on the market, much as was the case with the RX100 last year, and it offers a heck of a proposition for anybody wanting great image quality without an interchangeable lens mount. (And realistically, that's a lot of people -- many photographers will buy an ILC and then seldom if ever change the lens anyway -- in which case, why not go with a great fixed lens, rather than a kit lens that's almost an afterthought?)
I've had a huge amount of fun shooting with the Sony RX10 -- more so than any fixed-lens camera I've shot with in years. That, to me, says it all.
The Sony RX10 is among the rare ranks of cameras that really hurt to give back when the review's over. It's a safe bet that, sooner or later, I'll be picking one up for myself -- I enjoyed shooting with it too much and got too many great photos for that not to be the case.
Sony RX10 Review: Tech Info
Sensor. It might have a completely different form factor, but the Sony RX10 is based around the exact same 20.2-megapixel, 1.0"-type Exmor R CMOS image sensor seen previously in the Sony RX100 II.
Typical point-and shoots with similar zoom reach use a 1/2.3"-type sensor; the RX10's sensor is almost 4.1x larger. All other things being equal, that greater size translates to more light-gathering area, and a better signal-to-noise ratio. (Read: lower noise.) On the other side of the coin, though, the RX10's sensor area is only about one-third the size of an APS-C sensor, as used by most DSLRs and some CSCs.
Backside illumination. We mentioned that the Sony RX10 uses an Exmor R-branded image sensor, indicating that it's a backside-illuminated design. BSI sensors move their circuitry beneath the active layer of the sensor, as shown in the diagram below, so that incoming light isn't blocked. That gives the RX10's chip an advantage in terms of sensitivity and noise performance, compared to a standard image sensor of the same size.
Sensitivity. The RX10's image sensor offers sensitivity ranging from ISO 80 to 12,800 equivalents. Although it uses the same image sensor as the RX100 II, and has the same upper sensitivity limit, the lower end of that range reaches a little further. (The RX100 II bottoms out at ISO 100 equivalent.)
As in Sony's other recent cameras, there's a multi-shot function which reduces image noise by averaging subsequent exposures. Dubbed Multi-Frame NR, this function has an upper limit of ISO 25,600 equivalent.
Performance. Thanks in part to Sony's new BIONZ X image processor, the RX10 is capable of shooting at a fast burst rate of 10 frames per second in Speed Priority Advance mode, which locks focus (but not exposure) from the first frame.
Ordinarily, the performance is more modest, ranging from 2.5 fps for raw+large/fine JPEG to 3.1 fps for JPEG images, in continuous burst mode with autofocus between frames. Burst depth in this mode is 13 raw+large/fine JPEG or 30 JPEG frames.
Lens. The Sony RX10's 8.3x optical zoom lens is its headline-grabbing feature. For one thing, it offers far more reach than the lenses of other RX-series cameras, covering everything from a 24mm-equivalent wide angle to a 200mm-equivalent telephoto. That's a pretty good walkaround range, with enough reach to pull the action up close, and enough wide angle for architecture, interiors, group photos, and the like.
Even more impressively, though, the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*-branded optic has a constant aperture, unlike most long-zoom lenses. It doesn't matter where you are in the zoom range, a maximum aperture of f/2.8 is available. Focusing is possible to as close as 1.2 inches (3cm), for some impressive macro shots, as well.
The lens' optical formula is not surprisingly quite complex, including 14 elements in 11 groups, of which seven elements are aspherics. There's also a seven-bladed, rounded aperture, and a T* coating which reduces ghosting and flare. There's also a built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, which can be deployed automatically or manually as needed to attain a slower shutter speed, or disabled if you prefer not to use it for a given shot.
Stabilization. As you'd expect, Sony has included its Optical SteadyShot lens-based image stabilization in the RX10. For video capture, the system provides a greater corrective range; Active Mode, in Sony parlance.
Focusing. When they briefed us on the RX10, Sony called particular attention to the new autofocus drive system it contains. It's a contrast-detect AF system, but the company has made major strides in AF speed, thanks to the combination of a CMOS sensor with very fast readout, a greatly-enhanced image processor, and an all new hybrid-drive AF actuator.
To understand what this is all about, it would help to take a moment to understand how contrast-detect AF works in the first place.
The basic idea behind contrast-detect AF is that crisp detail means the maximum brightness difference between adjacent pixels, wherever there's a contrast edge in the original subject. Think about it - when an image is out of focus, everything is soft and blurry, and nothing changes very rapidly as you move across the image. On the other hand, when an image is crisply focused with fine detail, the brightness will change much more abruptly as you look across the image. This is the basis of contrast detection. The camera looks across a row of pixels, and adds up the differences from one pixel to the next, all across the image (or all across the area it's concerned about evaluating focus for). The summed differences between pixels is a measure of the overall contrast of the image, which in turn is a measure of how well the image is focused.
This is a relative measurement, though, since the summed contrast will vary enormously depending on the subject. The only way the camera can tell whether the focus is optimum, then, is to measure the contrast, adjust the focus slightly, and measure the contrast again. If the contrast number increased, the focus improved. If it decreased, it worsened.
Most people understand that being able to make the contrast measurement quickly will be key to being able to focus rapidly, but fewer realize how critical it is to be able to move and stop the lens quickly. After each contrast measurement, the camera must move the lens a precise amount, and then have it stop moving before the next measurement can be made. It turns out that this last requirement is one of the most difficult to achieve. It's (relatively) easy to make a lens motor more powerful, so it can get the lens moving quickly, but it's often another matter to bring it back to a stop with equal quickness.
Sony developed a special hybrid actuator for the RX10, making dramatically faster AF cycles possible. The RX10 uses a standard ultrasonic-wave motor to get the lens moving, but then uses a special piezoelectric actuator (borrowed from Sony's sensor-shift image stabilization technology) to stop the motion quickly and precisely. As it was explained to us, the piezo actuator in this case isn't so much operating as a driver, but rather as a brake. Apparently, the ultrasonic-wave motor is good at getting things moving, but not so good at stopping them, hence the need for a brake or "friction clamp", in the form of the piezo element.
The NDA briefing was a little sparse on deep technical details for this, but if we understood correctly, Sony says that this hybrid system can complete 50,000 start-move-stop cycles per second(!) That's apparently how many cycles the focus-actuator system can perform per second, but it's not clear how many cycles the camera actually performs in practice, as clocking the image data off the array and performing the contrast measurement will add at least some time to the process, and we don't know whether the 50K/sec spec included the contrast measurement process or not. It's likely that contrast measurement is very fast, though, given how fast we know the array can be read (from the video processing mentioned elsewhere), and that we know the new BIONZ X processor has an enormous amount of processing horsepower to bring to bear.
Regardless of the cycle rate, though, this new system clearly works. Our lab testing found autofocus on the Sony RX10 to be as fast as most consumer DSLRs using phase detection. And this was also borne out in our real-world shooting with the camera, too: It focused quickly and confidently, and nailed focus right where we wanted it most of the time.
Viewfinder. The Sony RX10's body has SLR-like styling, and that provides plenty of room for a viewfinder. Of course, there's no reflex mirror here, and so it's not an optical viewfinder. Arguably, though, it's better. It's an electronic viewfinder, and one that's clear, bright, sharp even in the corners, and with very generous magnification.
The RX10's EVF is based around a 0.39-inch organic LED display, and has 100% coverage. Resolution is 800 x 600 pixels (that's 1,440,000 RGB dots), and magnification is 0.7x with a 50mm lens at infinity.
Tilting display. We found ourselves using the electronic viewfinder most of the time, but that's no reason to skimp on the LCD. Fear not, Sony didn't do so. It's retained the same VGA (640 x 480 pixel; 1,228,800 RGBW dot), WhiteMagic-branded unit used in the RX100 and RX100 II. That's great news, because it pairs good resolution with excellent outdoor visibility -- even under sunlight. (And indoors, the design saves power, since the backlight can be run dimmer than a standard RGB LCD at equivalent brightness.)
The RX10's LCD is articulated in just the same way as that of the RX100 II, and allows tilting upwards by 84 degrees, or downward by 45 degrees. It's great for shooting from the hip, low to the ground, or over your head, and makes the RX10 significantly more versatile than cameras with a fixed screen. It's not quite as versatile as side-mounted tilt/swivel displays, though, offering no help with self-portraits or shooting high / low shots in portrait orientation.
Dials and rings and levers (oh my!) The Sony RX10 sports a triple-dial design, if you count the combined multi-function controller / dial on the rear of the camera. It's not the traditional front-and-rear dial arrangement you'd find on most SLR bodies these days, though. Instead, the front dial is replaced by an aperture ring around the lens barrel as it did in the days of mechanical aperture linkages. Don't be fooled, though: It's still a fly-by-wire design, even if it's a very nice one. (A particularly rare touch is the ability to switch between a stepped and a smooth, click-free rotation on the dial, courtesy of a switch on the bottom of the lens.)
Two of the three actual dials are on the rear of the camera, and neither is the most satisfying. The upper dial is presented end-on, is very small, barely protrudes from the camera, and is consequently not terribly easy to locate and turn by feel with your thumb. The lower dial sits face-on, and is easily located and turned -- but perhaps a little too easily so. It defaults to control of ISO sensitivity in most modes, and accidental bumps can cause unintended sensitivity changes. Thankfully, the dial's function can be changed or disabled altogether, if you find it to be an issue.
The remaining dial is dedicated to exposure compensation, and sits on the top deck. Its presence makes clear this is a camera aimed at enthusiasts, who want the quickest access possible to important exposure features like these, and don't want to be caught hunting in the menu system while there's a photo opportunity slipping away.
There's also a dedicated zoom ring around the lens barrel, as well as a zoom rocker around the shutter button. The zoom ring, like that for aperture control, is fly-by-wire rather than a mechanical linkage. Ordinarily, you can use either control for zoom adjustment, but the ring around the lens is both more accurate and faster. If you enable manual focus, however, the ring around the lens becomes a focus control, leaving zoom control to the rocker.
Flash. The Sony RX10 includes both a built-in, popup flash strobe, and a hot shoe for external strobes. The popup flash is released mechanically with a small flash button just to its right, and it's very strongly sprint-loaded indeed, popping up quickly and with a loud "thunk".
Given the size of the camera and especially its lens, it doesn't raise terribly high, though. Even at wide-angle, and with the lens retracted to its shortest length, the flash is still partially blocked by the lens for any subject closer than a couple of feet. Sony rates working range as 3.3 to 33.5 feet (1.0 to 10.2m) using Auto ISO, and the maximum range at ISO 12,800 at 66.9 feet (20.4m).
For better flash exposures -- and bounce flash, which isn't possible at all with the internal strobe -- you'll want to switch to an external flash. Here, Sony offers up its Multi Interface Shoe, a proprietary intelligent flash hot shoe that's based on the standard ISO 518 hot shoe. This accepts strobes including the HVL-F20M, HVL-F60M, and the HVL-F43M (which includes an LED video light.) You can also mount older strobes including the HVL-F20AM and HVL-F43AM using an ADP-MAA Multi-Interface Shoe Adapter.
Sony doesn't state flash sync speed of the DSC-RX10.
Accessory Terminal. As noted, the RX10's flash hot shoe also doubles as an accessory terminal that accepts a variety of accessories. (Hence, the name Multi Interface Shoe). Not all of these will make sense -- for example, the Viewfinder and Wi-Fi accessories would duplicate features built into the RX10 -- but there are nevertheless quite a few options available beyond flash strobes. We've already mentioned the ADP-MAA shoe adapter. Other accessories you can attach include the HVL-LEIR1 video light, ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone, and CLM-V55 clip-on LCD monitor.
The Sony RX10 shoots sweep panoramas, but the stitching can be a bit iffy, as in this shot. (Notice the regular, repeated vertical bands in the trees, where individual trees are repeated more than once.)
Exposure. The Sony DSC-RX10 includes the usual array of operating modes -- Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual -- that you'd find on a consumer-oriented SLR or mirrorless camera. It also offers an Auto mode -- in lieu of the separate single-shot Intelligent Auto and multi-shot Superior Auto modes typically found on consumer-oriented Cyber-shot models -- plus a Movie mode, a Sweep Panorama mode, and two Memory Recall modes that let you save settings groups for quick access. And, of course, there's a generous selection of user-friendly Scene modes.
Metering modes include Multi-Segment, Center-weighted, and Spot. Shutter speeds range from 1/3,200 to 30 seconds, plus Bulb, although the longest time varies depending on exposure mode.
Creative. Like the RX100 and RX100 II, the Sony RX10 features a wide variety of Sony-specific tools aimed at making it easier to get great photos. (Or at least, what the camera feels to be great photos, greatness being a rather subjective thing.)
The Clear Image Zoom function is based on what Sony calls By Pixel Super Resolution algorithms. In essence, it's a digital zoom that tries to improve quality by using pattern matching. (A standard digital zoom function is also available, but the two can't be combined). Clear Image Zoom interpolates (read: guesses) missing data, but does so in a more intelligent manner than the standard digital zoom.
The underlying pattern-matching, interpolating algorithms also come into play for Auto Portrait / Object Framing, which uses face / subject detection to locate your subject, and then recrops the image based on a rule-of-thirds algorithm for a more pleasing layout. After cropping, your image is interpolated back up to the same resolution as the original shot. Both your original and the new shot are saved separately, so if you don't like the results, nothing is lost.
There's also still a Self Portrait Self-timer function, which automatically starts a countdown timer when either one or two faces are detected in the scene, saving you the trouble of pressing the shutter button at all. Since the tilting display still can't face forwards, though, you're flying blind with this function.
The RX10 retains Sony's Picture Effects function for soft focus, watercolor, miniature, and many more effects, as well as the other creative functions we've come to expect: High Dynamic Range, Dynamic Range Optimizer, and 2D Sweep Panorama.
Level gauge. The RX10 features a dual-axis level display function, which helps you avoid tilted horizons and converging verticals. Since it also has an electronic viewfinder, the function is particularly helpful, letting you see and account for pitch and roll even when framing against your eye.
Movies. Sony is making a pretty big deal about video performance with the RX10, and with some justification. The Sony RX10 ticks off all the proper check-marks for video shooting, including jacks for both external microphones and headphones. It also has real-time audio level readouts and 31 steps of manual level control. When it comes to video specs, it's capable of recording Full HD (1080p60) high-definition video in the AVCHD format, at a 28 Mbit/second data rate. (Very good, if not full pro quality.)
There's also a 3-stop ND filter built in, that can be activated manually or automatically. The significance of this is that you can shoot video with the RX10 in bright daylight with reasonably large apertures, while maintaining low enough shutter speeds that your video won't look choppy. (And yes, the RX10 has full Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure control in video mode.)
Speaking of full exposure control, one very nice touch for the Sony RX10 is that the aperture ring has a mechanical switch on it, to disable the 1/3-stop click detents. This is great for video shooting, as you can shoot in aperture-priority or manual-exposure modes with silent aperture actuation. Very slick, even if the aperture itself does still move in steps (and so does cause noticeable shifts in brightness)!
|Sony RX10 - De-clickable Aperture Ring Demonstration|
Where the Sony RX10 really breaks new ground for video, though, is that it's the first camera we're aware of that reads out the entire sensor pixel array for every frame, performing sub-sampling/video anti-aliasing in the processor. This addresses the huge bugaboo of still-camera video recording, namely the tendency towards moiré and false-color artifacts, thanks to the mismatch between still-image and video resolution.
Pretty much every digital still camera we've tested produces very noticeable moiré patterns and color artifacts in its video. (The Canon 5D Mark III deserves note as doing better than most, but even it still shows some level of video artifacts.)
The issue is that still cameras have to get rid of a lot of their image data in order to output a 1,920 x 1,080 video image. They usually don't have enough processor horsepower to do a proper job of sub-sampling the image in the vertical direction (across scan lines), so resort to simply skipping rows of pixels, jumping 2, 3, or 4 rows for each one actually output. The problem with this is that the image data is way undersampled from an image-processing standpoint, so moiré and artifacts are pretty much guaranteed. It's not that the industry doesn't know what to do to prevent the problem, it's just that there isn't enough processing horsepower available to do what the job requires -- until now.
Besides its advantages for still image processing, the new BIONZ X processor in the Sony RX10 has a special LSI front-end processing section ideally suited to processing huge amounts of video data on the fly. For the first time (that we're aware of), the RX10's processor clocks the entire 20-megapixel image off the array up to 60 times/second, and then sub-samples the raw image data digitally (think of it as a special class of signal averaging), to produce the final 1,920 x 1,080 video image. Doing so effectively performs a low-pass filtering operation on the video data, thus greatly reducing the propensity for moiré and false color artifacts.
While we didn't find the RX10 to completely eliminate moiré patterns, they were greatly reduced relative to just about every other camera we've seen, and there were no false-color artifacts to be seen anywhere. Not only that, but the video itself was very clean and crisp-looking, so the reduction in false color and moiré didn't seem to come at the expense of mushy subject detail.
The RX10 is also rare -- perhaps unique, among point-and-shoot cameras -- in providing uncompressed HDMI output without any overlays, if you want to record straight to an external device without your video getting trampled on by a compression algorithm. It can also display 4K stills via HDMI, incidentally, an even rarer feature.
With its constant-aperture f/2.8 24-200mm equivalent lens, advanced video capabilities, and compact size given the focal length/aperture range we suspect the RX10 will open up new video applications that have been impossible until now.
Wireless networking. Much like the compact Sony RX100 II, the RX10 includes built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communications radios. This is big news if you're a fan of social networking, because it means you can get your photos and videos off the camera via your smart device, without the need for third-party hardware.
And if you have an NFC-compatible device, you can even establish a connection without any intervention at all -- just enable NFC on the smart device if necessary, and then hold the two devices together briefly. This is enough for a Wi-Fi connection to be negotiated between both devices, and your data then transfers via that high-speed connection.
Unfortunately for iPhone and iPad users, Apple has yet to implement NFC in any of its devices, but many newer and more sophisticated Android and Windows Phone devices support NFC.
Once paired, you can not only transfer data between camera and smart device, but also remotely control the camera's shutter, and view a live view feed. That could prove very handy, whether you're looking to film skittish wildlife without getting too close yourself, or just want to confirm everybody's standing in the right place before tripping the shutter on a group portrait.
Wired connectivity. Four ports sit under flaps on the left side of the camera: a 3.5mm stereo microphone input, a 3.5mm headphone output, what Sony dubs the Multi Terminal, and a micro HDMI port for high-definition video output. The HDMI port can provide both uncompressed video with no overlays at Full HD resolution, and 4K still images, if you have a 4K display. The Multi Terminal is both a USB port, and a wired remote control port compatible with the RM-VPR1 remote commander, and tripods such as the GP-VPT1, VCT-VPR1, VCT-VPR10, and VCT-VPR100 which feature built-in wired remotes.
There's also the aforementioned Multi Interface Shoe on the top deck, which allows a variety of accessories to be connected to the camera.
Storage. The Sony RX10 stores data on SD cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards, and the higher-speed UHS-I cards. It also accepts Sony's own Pro Duo / Pro HG Duo types.
Power. Sony is using an NP-FW50 InfoLithium rechargeable battery pack in the RX10. The company rates the combination as good for 420 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards, which includes 50% flash usage and generous zoom usage.
Power consumption with the electronic viewfinder is significantly higher, at 2.7W versus the 2.1W of the LCD in record mode. That leads to a 20% shorter battery life of 340 shots with the EVF. If you plan to shoot predominantly with the EVF, you'll want to pick up a second battery.
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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
Sony RX10 versus Olympus E-M1 at Base ISO
Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 200
Sony RX10 versus Panasonic FZ200 at Base ISO
Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 100
Sony RX10 versus Panasonic GX7 at Base ISO
Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Panasonic GX7 at ISO 200
Sony RX10 versus Sony RX100 II at Base ISO
Sony RX10 at ISO 125
Sony RX100 II at ISO 160
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
Sony RX10 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 versus Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 versus Panasonic GX7 at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Panasonic GX7 at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 versus Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600
Sony RX10 at ISO 1600
Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600
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
Sony RX10 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 versus Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Panasonic FZ200 at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 versus Panasonic GX7 at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Panasonic GX7 at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 versus Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200
Sony RX10 at ISO 3200
Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200
Detail: Sony RX10 vs. Canon T5i, Olympus E-M1, Panasonic FZ200, Panasonic GX7 and Sony RX100 II
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.
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.
In the Box
The Sony RX10 retail box ships with the following items:
- Sony RX10 camera body
- NP-FW50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
- AC-UB10 battery charger (charges in-camera via USB)
- Lens cap
- Lens hood
- Hot shoe cap
- Eyepiece cup
- Shoulder strap
- Micro USB cable
- Instruction manual
- CD-ROM with Sony PlayMemories Home and Image Data Converter 4 software
- Extra NP-FW50 battery pack for extended outings
- BC-VW1 battery charger (if you want to charge one battery while shooting with another)
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 16GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity for a consumer DSLR, but if you plan to capture HD movie clips or shoot in RAW format, look for larger cards with Class 6 or faster ratings.
- External shoe mount flash (HVL-F20M, HVL-F60M, or HVL-F43M), or other accessory flash
- ADP-MAA shoe mount adapter (if you want to use an older strobe with Sony / Konica Minolta's proprietary shoe, colloquially known as an iISO shoe)
- AC-PW20 power supply kit with DC coupler
- HVL-LEIR1 or HVL-LE1 video light
- ECM-CG50 mono or ECM-ALST1 / ECM-XYST1M / XLR-KM1 stereo microphone
- CLM-V55 clip-on LCD monitor
- RM-VPR1 remote commander
- PCK-LM15 screen protector
- Small-to-medium size camera bag
Sony RX10 Review -- Conclusion
When Sony announced its RX10 bridge camera last month, the news was met with a mixture of excitement and confusion. Some saw it for what it was, and were absolutely thrilled. Others didn't understand: Weren't the days of thousand-dollar-plus bridge cameras long gone? What was the point of a smaller sensor than a mirrorless or SLR camera, but in a body of similar size? Just whom was this thing for?
For many of those who got it, there was little question that the Sony RX10 was a camera they'd long been waiting for. Perhaps there was a stifled groan at the price, followed by a quick look over our samples to be sure, but chances are they've already bought theirs, or at least made a mental note to do so just as soon as they can.
It's the latter group that our conclusion will really speak to, then. We're here to tell you that this camera is essentially unrivaled. Yes, it might be pretty pricey, but that's for good reason: The Sony RX10 is revolutionary in a way few cameras truly are these days, and it provides things no other camera does.
Compared to its mirrorless and SLR rivals, the Sony RX10 is both significantly more compact and affordable, once you factor in the lenses you'd need to match that built into the RX10. And bear in mind that both body and lens are also weather-sealed, something that's not too common in affordable, compact interchangeable-lens cameras and their optics.
Compared to bridge cameras, the Sony RX10 might be a lot more expensive, but it's in a totally different league when it comes to image quality, thanks to a great lens and a much larger image sensor. Compare it to Panasonic's Lumix FZ200, for example. Both might have constant-aperture f/2.8 zooms (admittedly, the Lumix lens with a lot more telephoto reach), but the sensor in the Sony RX10 has four times the area of that in the Panasonic -- and it's a more sensitive backside illuminated chip, to boot.
That makes for a huge difference in light-gathering capability, which is after all what cameras are all about. And boy, does that difference ever show up in our image quality comparisons.
Realize all this, and you start to understand that the cost of the Sony RX10 could be justifiable. Take a look at the great images it produces, and some of the other unique and very useful technologies it includes -- most notably, full sensor readout during high-definition movie capture -- as well as its ergonomics, which are for the most part well-considered, and we think you'll agree the price is fair.
Is the Sony RX10 perfect? Certainly not, but no camera ever is. Things we'd like to see addressed include the rear dials, one of which is too hard to use, and the other too-easily bumped. The lens zoom's drive mechanism could also use a boost in speed, and the menu system is surprisingly unresponsive for a few seconds after shooting a burst of photos, something we'd hope to see Sony fix in a firmware update. The RX10's default color is rather muted, and noise levels are slightly higher than those of the RX100 II. But none of these are showstoppers -- you can work around them pretty easily.
If you're not sold on the Sony RX10, or are still put off by its pricetag, we'd suggest that you take a look at our sample and gallery photos, then have an internal dialog with yourself about just what you'd need to match or better the RX10's lens, sensor, and size / weight from another camera system. You may well find your mind changed after the exercise. We must admit we weren't entirely convinced by the RX10 ourselves, until we went through that same exercise.
Has our opinion changed since spending some time with the Sony RX10, and realizing just what it offers? Very much so. We had more fun shooting with the Sony RX10 than we've had with any fixed-lens camera in years. And not only is it fun to shoot with, it gets great results in all manner of shooting situations. If you'd told us beforehand that we'd have set aside two full-frame cameras so we could shoot more with a fixed-lens camera, we'd have told you that you were crazy -- but time and again, we found ourselves doing just that. The Sony RX10 quickly became our default choice whenever we saw a photo opportunity; only once the RX10 had already gotten the shot would we spend time fiddling with lens changes on our other cameras.
With the RX10, Sony offers something truly different to any of its rivals, and we don't feel that we have any grounds to quibble about the price until there is a realistic competitor to this camera. The Sony RX10 is a clear Dave's Pick, and easily one of the most exciting cameras of 2013 -- a year that's already had far more than its fair share of exciting cameras!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.