Sony RX10 Review

 
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Sony RX10 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly below average saturation levels and hue accuracy.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Saturation. The Sony RX10's mean color saturation at base ISO (106% or 6% oversaturated) is a little lower than average these days (most cameras oversaturate by about 10%), but the camera still produces attractive images. You can of course tweak the saturation setting to your liking, or choose a different color mode. The RX10 pushes strong reds, dark blues, dark greens, purples and browns, but just a little, and it actually undersaturates lighter greens, orange and cyan tones slightly, though yellow and aqua are moderately undersaturated. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, the Sony RX10 did well, producing fairly natural-looking Caucasian skin tones that didn't look overly pink or yellow. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Sony RX10 pushed cyan toward blue, orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green by moderate amounts, but most other shifts were pretty minor. The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors, and we don't find the resulting color objectionable. The RX10's handling of yellows and yellow-orange colors is one of its real weaknesses: Yellows are rendered closer to a yellow-green, and significantly undersaturated as well. With a mean "delta-C" color error of 5.87 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is a touch below average, but still well within acceptable limits. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm results with Auto white balance setting, slightly warm with Incandescent, good results with Manual. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, the RX10's Auto white balance setting worked better than many cameras, but it produced moderately warm results in our indoor portrait test. The Incandescent setting was also warm with a slightly yellow tint, but again, better than average. The Manual white balance setting was very good, producing the most accurate color balance, perhaps just slightly on the cool side. The Sony RX10 required +0.3 EV positive exposure compensation here, which is about average. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Very good results under harsh lighting, with good handling of contrast and exposure.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Sony RX10 performed well. +0.3 EV compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot. The average among the cameras we've tested is +0.7 EV, so the RX10 performed a little better than average here. Note that Dynamic Range Optimization (DRO) was disabled for these shots which tends to brighten shadows. (More on DRO below.) Contrast is a little high, as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera does a very good job of holding onto detail in bright highlights and shadows, even without the help of DRO. Yes, some highlights are blown in the white shirt and flowers, but fewer than most cameras in this class, and shadow detail remains pretty good so overall performance here is actually much better than average for its type. Colors are just a touch cool and muted in our Far-field shot using Auto white balance, though still quite pleasant. Exposure is bang on with very few blown highlights, though some shadows are very deep.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test images

Resolution
Very high resolution, ~2,200 to ~2,300 lines of strong detail from JPEGs.

Strong detail to
~2,200 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,300 lines vertical
Camera JPEG

In camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and a little more at 2,300 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for more, but aliasing artifacts start to interfere at those points. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until about 2,800 to 3,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test images

Sharpness & Detail
Very good detail and sharpness, with fairly minor sharpening artifacts visible around high-contrast elements. Low to moderate levels of noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.

Very good definition of high-contrast
elements with fairly minor
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Sony RX10 captures sharp, detailed images, with only mild edge enhancement artifacts on high-contrast elements such as the sharpening halos seen around the text in the crop above left. Very good results here. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows good detail with low to moderate levels noise suppression in the darkest areas of the model's hair. Quite a few individual strands are smudged together in areas of low contrast at base ISO, but performance here is actually quite good considering the size and resolution of the sensor. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

False Colors. We did however notice color moiré patterns in the bricks of the building in our wide angle far-field shot taken at f/4. This is an indication that the Sony RX10's lens is very sharp and the sensor's optical low-pass filter is inadequate to ensure aliasing artifacts like these will be avoided. We only saw hints of aliasing artifacts in a few other RX10 shots, though, so it's likely a pretty minor issue.

Note that we've seen similar false coloration in other cameras, particularly ones with larger sensors that have either a weak or no optical low pass filter. The Sony RX1 is a good example.

ISO & Noise Performance
Class-leading noise vs detail performance.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 80 ISO 125 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600
ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12,800

As you'd expect, the Sony RX10's high-ISO performance isn't up to the level of APS-C and Four Thirds sensors, but it's head and shoulders above most if not all current all-in-ones and long-zooms. The camera's high resolution means that the crops above are at a larger scale than those of many cameras you might compare it to, but there's no denying that cameras with larger sensors will beat it in the ISO sweepstakes. When you compare to cameras that the RX10 competes with, though, there really is no comparison. Noise levels are much better than typical all-in-one cameras.

The RX10's images are pretty clean and very detailed at ISOs 80 and 125. ISO 200 shows a bit of softening, but fine detail is still quite good. ISO 400 has more aggressive sharpening applied giving the impression of more detail, but there's a bit less. Still, performance here is very good. ISO 800 is noticeably grainier with more visible sharpening artifacts, but a lot of fine detail remains. ISO 1600 is softer as you'd expect, and the noise pattern starts to take on a crystalline look, but detail is still fairly good given the sensitivity. ISO 3200 isn't too bad , but image quality goes south quickly at ISO 6400 and above, where fine detail all but vanishes with a very mottled look. Chroma noise is well-controlled up to ISO 3200, but the highest ISOs show blotchy clouds of purple and yellow.

Overall, though, excellent high ISO performance for an all-in-one, especially considering the 20MP resolution. As always, check the Print Quality section below to see how well the RX10's images appear in print.

RX10 ACR converted RAW
ISO 3200, no ACR NR applied
RX100 II ACR converted RAW
ISO 3200, no ACR NR applied

RAW. Interestingly, the RX10's noise performance is not quite as good as the Sony RX100 II's even in RAW files, even though they apparently use the same sensor. As you can see above, the RX10's Adobe Camera Raw converted ARW file (left) is a bit noisier with a coarser "grain" structure than the RX100 II's at the same ISO setting of 3200. (No noise reduction or sharpening was applied in Adobe Camera Raw to either.) Note that ACR version 8.3 was used, with preliminary support for the RX10.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Very high resolution with good dynamic range for a compact. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness. Special modes make it possible to capture low-light images without a tripod.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. The Sony RX10 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. It was a tough call between the +0.3 EV and +0.7 EV shot here. The mannequin's face is too dim at default exposure and still just a little dim at +0.3 EV, but +0.7 EV had a few too many blown highlights, so we'd probably go with the +0.3 exposure here.

Contrast is a little high, but highlight detail is excellent, and shadow detail pretty good. Despite the apparent brightness, there are relatively few clipped highlights in the model's face and shirt at +0.3 EV. There were only a few shadows that were completely lost, but if you work too hard to pull up detail, the shadows break apart into discrete levels.

Of course it's best to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above, and better still to shoot in the shade when possible.

Face Detection
Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection Off
Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection On
Portrait Scene Mode,
0 EV

Face Detection
Like most cameras these days, the Sony RX10 has the ability to detect faces (up to 8 in a scene), and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection improved exposure with both Aperture Priority at f/5.6, and in Portrait Scene mode where the camera had control over aperture, and automatically applied DRO. Nice.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)

Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison
DRO
Setting:


Auto
(Default)


Off

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Dynamic Range Optimization is Sony's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. DRO divides the image into small areas, analyzes the range of brightness of each area, and adjusts the camera's image processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony RX10. You can also set the level manually, from 1 ("weak") to 5 ("strong"), or turn it off. As one would expect, DRO is only available for JPEG files.

The above thumbnails and histograms show the effects of the various levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.

As you can see from the thumbnails and associated histograms, DRO had only a slight effect on the highlights in this shot, though few highlights were clipped to begin with at default. The bulk of the difference between different levels of DRO is found in the shadows and darker midtones. The stronger the DRO level, the more boost is applied to darker areas. That usually results in more visible noise in boosted areas of the image, but the RX10 produces images with reasonably low shadow noise for its class, so increased noise wasn't really an issue even at the highest DRO levels.

Far-field HDR Comparison

High Dynamic Range. The Sony RX10's HDR mode takes three images in rapid succession, one nominally exposed , one underexposed, and one overexposed, then combines them into one high dynamic range JPEG automatically. Lighter areas from the underexposed image are combined in-camera with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with increased dynamic range. The overlaid images are micro-aligned by the camera, but it can only correct for so much movement. If it can't micro-align successfully, an icon indicating HDR capture failed will appear. For best results, the subject should be static or there could be "ghost" images, though the RX10 seems to do a good job at avoiding them. There is also a manual mode where you can select 1 EV ("weak") to 6 EV ("strong") difference in exposures.

Mouse over the above links to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image. As you can see the effect can be quite subtle with little difference between some of the settings, however the Auto setting did a pretty good job at boosting shadows, reducing highlights, while still retaining enough contrast. The RX10's HDR images also remain quite sharp and detailed (apart from any ghosting caused by movement), which isn't always the case with other cameras. As expected, RAW mode is not supported.



  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
80
Click to see RX10hLL000803.JPG
1.6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL000804.JPG
3.2 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL000805.JPG
6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL000806.JPG
13 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL000807.JPG
25 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL000807XNR.JPG
25 s
f2.8
ISO
125
Click to see RX10hLL001253.JPG
1.3 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL001254.JPG
2.5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL001255.JPG
5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL001256.JPG
10 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL001257.JPG
20 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL001257XNR.JPG
20 s
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see RX10hLL002003.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL002004.JPG
1.6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL002005.JPG
3.2 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL002006.JPG
6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL002007.JPG
13 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL002007XNR.JPG
13 s
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see RX10hLL004003.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL004004.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL004005.JPG
1.6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL004006.JPG
3.2 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL004007.JPG
6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL004007XNR.JPG
6 s
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see RX10hLL008003.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL008004.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL008005.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL008006.JPG
1.6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL008007.JPG
3.2 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL008007XNR.JPG
3.2 s
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see RX10hLL016003.JPG
1/10 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL016004.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL016005.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL016006.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL016007.JPG
1.6 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL016007XNR.JPG
1.6 s
f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see RX10hLL032003.JPG
1/20 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL032004.JPG
1/10 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL032005.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL032006.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL032007.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL032007XNR.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
ISO
6400
Click to see RX10hLL064003.JPG
1/40 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL064004.JPG
1/20 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL064005.JPG
1/10 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL064006.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL064007.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL064007XNR.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
ISO
12800
Click to see RX10hLL128003.JPG
1/80 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL128004.JPG
1/40 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL128005.JPG
1/20 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL128006.JPG
1/10 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL128007.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8
Click to see RX10hLL128007XNR.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8

Low Light. The Sony RX10 performed well in our low light tests, producing bright images down to the lowest light level we test at (1/16 fc) at all ISO settings. Noise is remarkably well-controlled, with essentially zero chroma noise at all but the highest ISOs, and very fine-grained luminance noise that is surprisingly unobtrusive up to ISO 3200.

We didn't see any significant issues with uncorrected hot pixels (except at lower ISOs when long-exposure noise reduction was turned off where you'd expect them), and no signs of banding (pattern noise) or heat blooming.

Auto white balance did a very good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance at all ISOs and light levels.

The RX10's AF system was able to focus down to just below the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. Fair results here.

Multi-Shot Mode
(All shots taken at 1 foot-candle)
Click to see RX10hLL002003_MFNR.JPG
0.8 s
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see RX10hLL004003_MFNR.JPG
0.4 s
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see RX10hLL008003_MFNR.JPG
1/5 s
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see RX10hLL016003_MFNR.JPG
1/10 s
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see RX10hLL032003_MFNR.JPG
1/20 s
f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see RX10hLL064003_MFNR.JPG
1/40 s
f2.8
ISO
6400
Click to see RX10hLL128003_MFNR.JPG
1/80 s
f2.8
ISO
12800
Click to see RX10hLL256003_MFNR.JPG
1/160 s
f2.8
ISO
25600

Crazy Low Light. In common with their SLR and CSC models, the Sony RX10 goes even further for low-light shooting, taking advantage of its fast multi-shot capability to boost ISO and reduce noise even further. It does this by grabbing multiple shots of a subject in rapid succession, and then micro-aligning and adding or "stacking" them together to produce the final image. The results are shots built from shorter individual exposures that are easy to hand-hold, and significantly reduced noise as a result of the summing procedure. The thumbnails in the table above link to examples of this, captured in the camera's Multi-frame Noise Reduction mode. Noise levels are between 1 and 2 stops lower with Multi-frame Noise Reduction active, however images are a bit softer.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their larger sensors, compact system cameras like the Sony RX10 tend to do better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

Output Quality

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 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 but 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 subtle detail and contrast in our red fabric swatch (which is fairly typical for all but some full frame cameras as ISO rises).

ISO 1600 produces an 11 x 14 similar to the 13 x 19 at ISO 800, 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 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 very good job in the print quality department given the typical constraints of a relatively small sensor. 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 when 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 zoom range, this camera is basically in a class of its own, and if you stay at ISO 1600 and below we believe you'll likely be pleased with your prints.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just 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 now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Sony RX10

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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.

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