Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Conclusion - Pros
- Very good photo quality, especially when shooting Raw
- Top-notch video quality
- Excellent and flexible 24-200mm equiv. F2.8 lens
- Solid, weather-sealed body
- Many tools for shooting video: focus peaking, zebra pattern, step-less aperture ring
- Responsive AF in good light
- Fast continuous shooting mode
- Uncompressed 'clean' HDMI output
- D-Range Optimizer feature helps give well-balanced JPEGs even in high contrast scenes
- Numerous customizable buttons
- Silent shutter allows for stealthy shooting
- Generally well-implemented Wi-Fi feature
- Classic Sony features (Sweep Panorama, HDR) work well
- Headphone and microphone ports
- Convenient USB charging
Conclusion - Cons
- JPEG images are over-sharpened and over-processed
- Video bit rates not competitive with best digital cameras
- Autofocus can be hesitant, especially in low light; AF improves when assist lamp is turned off
- Camera 'locks up' while buffer is clearing after continuous shooting
- Manual focus can be challenging due to variable speed focus ring
- Limited remote control from smartphone
- No external charger included for rapid charging or keeping a spare battery topped-up
It's hard to compare the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 because there's literally nothing else like it on the market. While there are 'premium' superzoom cameras out there, such as the Olympus Stylus 1, the RX10's 1" sensor paired with a constant F2.8 24-200mm lens puts it ahead of the pack. Other cameras that some may consider are mirrorless models such as Sony's own Alpha 6000, or midrange DSLRs like the Nikon D5300, both of which can be equipped with lenses with a similar focal range (though not necessarily the same quality).
The RX10 has all of the features you'd expect on a premium compact: lots of manual controls, a relatively high resolution EVF and tilting LCD, dynamic range enhancement, 10 fps continuous shooting, and built-in Wi-Fi.
The RX10 is as much a video camera as it is a still camera. First and foremost, the RX10 uses the entire sensor to capture video, resulting in 1080/60p video quality that is right up there with the best digital cameras. Sony throws in tools like focus peaking, zebra pattern, and real-time audio level adjustment to allow for manual control. The step-less aperture ring and silent zoom dial allow for silent lens operation. Pros who want to view video on a separate monitor (or sent it straight to a recording device) will appreciate the RX10's ability to output clean, uncompressed video over HDMI.
The unique nature of the RX10 brings up an interesting question. Just who is this camera for? Travelers who want a relatively long zoom with better-than-average photo quality? Video enthusiasts? People who want a single, do-everything camera? We think the last answer is the closest, though we'd add the caveat, 'who are willing to spend $1300'.
The DSC-RX10 easily bests other premium superzooms in terms for photo quality for two reasons. First, its 1" sensor is 2.8X larger than the 1/1.7" CMOS in the Olympus Stylus 1, and 4.1X bigger than the 1/2.3" sensor in the Panasonic FZ200. In short, it captures a lot more light. Another part of the equation is the RX10's excellent 24-200mm F2.8 Carl Zeiss T* lens, which is sharp from corner to corner. This combo allows the photographer to keep the ISO sensitivity low for a longer period of time than on other cameras.
Sony's JPEG engine doesn't really do the camera justice, as it tends to smudge and over-sharpen details. You'll see much better image quality by switching to Raw, where you can adjust the noise reduction and sharpening to your liking. As for noise, there isn't much when shooting JPEGs, due to the aforementioned heavy noise reduction. When you analyze Raw images, however, you'll find that the RX10 is unsurprisingly noisier than APS-C cameras, but considerably better than other premium superzooms. JPEG dynamic range is typical for compact cameras, though you can gain an extra stop of shadow tones by use the D-Range Optimizer feature.
One of the RX10's other selling points is its video quality which is, indeed, excellent. By sampling the entire sensor (instead of line skipping), the resolution of the RX10's movies are noticeably better than even full-frame cameras. The only thing that really holds the camera back is Sony's use of the AVCHD system, which limits the bit rate to 28Mbps (at 1080/60p). By comparison, Panasonic's GH4 supports bit rates as high as 200Mbps. And Sony gives users plenty of tools with which to produce their videos (see below).
The RX10 isn't a compact camera by any means, which isn't surprising, given the amount of glass required for its lens. The body feels 'just right' in your hands, with a rubberized grip, enough room for your thumb, and more than enough space to support the lens. Controls are placed in such a way that they can be accessed with one hand, and the exposure compensation is stiff enough to prevent accidental rotation. While there's only one dedicated 'custom' button on the RX10, there are numerous other buttons that can have functions assigned to them.
While the camera has two control dials, one of them is the rear-panel scroll wheel that doubles as a four-way controller. Sony does make adjusting the aperture easy, though, with a ring around the lens that either can 'click' or turn freely. There's also an electronic zoom/focus ring around the lens which, while welcome, can be frustrating due to its variable speed (especially when manually focusing).
As mentioned above, one of the RX10's strengths is video, and Sony provides a host of tools that will appeal to enthusiasts. Aside from manual exposure control, users can take advantage of focus peaking, zebra patterns, and audio level adjustment. The focus peaking feature works well, though we found it hard to 'nail' focus due to the aforementioned variable speed focus ring. With the flip of a switch, shooters can silently adjust the aperture using the other ring around the lens. Dedicated video shooters will also appreciate the RX10's ability to output 'clean' 4:2:2 video over HDMI.
The RX10 performs quite well, with a fast startup speed (given all the glass that it needs to move), responsive autofocus (in most lighting conditions), and little delay between shots. Continuous shooting performance is impressive given all the pixels that must be pushed through the processor, though the camera does 'lock up' after longer bursts. Battery life is a very respectable 420 shots per charge.
The Final Word
While it takes quite a bit of head-scratching to figure out where the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 fits in the market, a few things are clear. First, it's the best big zoom camera on the market. Second, its video quality is top-notch, and Sony provides tools that work very well in most respects. Finally - and unfortunately - it's very expensive, especially for a fixed lens camera.
The bulky RX10 doesn't provide the telephoto power of traditional superzooms, nor does it contain a large sensor that one might expect in a camera this size, instead combining aspects of the two. While this may sound like a compromise to some buyers, we think the RX10 strikes a balance other users will find ideal. Sure, it's big, but that's the space required for the RX10's great lens. While the 1" sensor isn't huge, it produces photos that are orders of magnitude better than those from your typical superzoom and, especially if you shoot Raw, isn't far behind mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Sony has also been able to leverage this sensor, producing some of the best video quality we've seen.
Ultimately, the DSC-RX10 is a niche product that will most likely be picked up by photographers who want a 'best of everything' camera, and are comfortable spending $1299/£1079/€1199. We don't know how large the market is for the RX10, but for those whom the camera appeals to, it's a fantastic product, and one that is worthy of our highest award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Video and stills enthusiasts; travelers who want DSLR/mirrorless quality without having to carry one around
Not so good for
Budget-conscious buyers; those expecting more zoom power or who want the flexibility of interchangeable lenses
The Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 offers a great combination of still and video quality, thanks to its one-inch sensor and 24-200 F2.8 lens. Its focus is as much about video as stills, and the RX10 offers more controls in that respect than virtually any other camera. Its hefty price may put it out of reach for many enthusiasts, though.
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