Sony RX10 Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Mostly excellent ergonomics and control layout
  • Weather-sealed design
  • Smaller than the typical SLR with kit lens, but with much better optics
  • Far smaller and more affordable than an SLR or CSC with similar optics
  • Excellent image quality for its class
  • Best-in-class high ISO performance
  • Good dynamic range
  • Very versatile 24-200mm equivalent zoom range
  • Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • Excellent optical performance for its type
  • Fast autofocus similar to that from a DSLR
  • Extremely low prefocused shutter lag
  • Very good cycle times
  • Very fast 10 fps JPEG burst mode with generous buffers
  • Fairly fast 6.5 fps burst mode for raw files
  • Large, high-res electronic viewfinder
  • LCD tilts, is bright and clear, visible even on a sunny day
  • Great movie features, and full-sensor readout reduces moiré and false color
  • Optional click detent on aperture control
  • Useful and fun multi-shot modes
  • Very fast USB 2.0 downloads
  • Good battery life when using the LCD monitor
  • Much less portable than RX100 and RX100 II
  • Expensive compared to other bridge cameras
  • Slow menu response after burst shooting mars otherwise-good performance
  • Zoom drive mechanism is a little slower than we'd like
  • Upper rear dial is hard to turn or even feel with your thumb
  • Lower rear dial is easily bumped, causing accidental ISO changes with default settings
  • Default colors somewhat muted compared to most cameras
  • Yellows are undersaturated and shifted toward green
  • Occasional aliasing artifacts with some subjects
  • Uncorrected RAW files show high distortion and high chromatic aberration at wide angle (that's not unusual, though)
  • Panorama mode is prone to stitching errors
  • High ISO performance not quite as good as RX100 II, which uses the same sensor, even in RAW files
  • Flash badly shaded by lens for wide-angle macros (but it's OK at telephoto, which can frame almost as tightly)

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 we can remember. 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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