Movie Mode

One of the big selling points on the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is its movie mode. You wouldn't know it from looking at the already impressive spec sheet, but the way the RX10 creates its videos allows for much greater quality than most other cameras.

The reason for the higher quality is how video is sampled. Since the sensors on the vast majority of cameras cannot be 'read out' quickly enough, they don't read the whole sensor when recording video. Instead they skip lines of pixels, which means that the amount of data used to generate is frame is reduced. The gaps between these lines reduce the resolution they can capture, and can introduce moiré.

The RX10, on the other hand, samples the entire 1"-type sensor, so no lines are skipped. The results are noticeable both in our test scene and real world samples. Speaking of test scenes, we've used the same test chart used for stills to illustrate video quality as well. Here's how the RX10 compares to some other cameras:

Right off the bat, you can see how much better the video quality is on the RX10 versus Olympus' Stylus 1 premium superzoom. For example, you can't even read 'Digital Photography Review' above the logo on the Stylus. Here's another illustration of how much more fine detail is captured by the RX10. The RX10 also excels against the video-centric Panasonic GH3 as well as full-frame cameras like the Sony Alpha 7. What we're getting at here is that the DSC-RX10 arguably has the best video quality that we've seen.

In terms of actual specs, they aren't a whole lot different than other high-end Sony cameras (mainly constrained by the consumer-focused AVCHD recording standard):

Sizes • AVCHD
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 24 Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 17 Mbps (standard quality)
1920 x 1080 60p Avg. 28 Mbps (highest quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 24Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 17Mbps (standard quality)

• MP4:
1440 x 1080, 1080p (30/25fps), Avg. 12Mbps
640 x 480 (30/25fps), Av. 3Mbps
Audio • Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC
• Stereo audio capture via built-in or optional external mic.
Format AVCHD / MPEG4
Recordable time Approx 29 minutes for AVCHD, 20 minutes for MPEG4 (1440 x 1080)

The RX10 provides videographers with an impressive set of tools. As you'd expect, you can adjust shutter speed and/or aperture. In manual ('M') mode, you can fix the aperture and shutter speed, and use Auto ISO to maintain brightness. The RX10 also has an ND filter which can be turned on or off in movie mode (the 'Auto' option is for stills only).

There are two image stabilization modes available for video. There's the standard version, plus an 'active' mode for reducing severe shake. The 'catch' with active mode is that a portion of the image is cropped, and that resolution is reduced slightly.

Adjusting depth-of-field is easy. Just turn off the 'click' and the manual aperture dial moves smoothly. The zoom ring is variable speed, and turns smoothly. It adjusts the focal length at a much slower pace than the controller on the top of the camera - ideal for recording video.

In manual focus, this ring switches function, but remains variable in speed. This can make precise movements a bit challenging (since it's inconsistent) and makes it very hard to use follow focus rigs. Having a 'linear' mode that moved focus independent of dial rotation speed would be most helpful. In addition, the RX10 lacks a distance scale (when manually focusing) or a single AF mode in movie mode.

Speaking of focus, Sony provides a focus peaking display to allow pull focusing from one subject to another while recording. After some 'back and forth' establishing where the peaking was strongest, we were able to move from one subject to another with relative ease. You can also enlarge the frame while recording - just as with stills - with or without peaking enabled. Something that would make life easier is a distance scale. A touchscreen display would make it easier for those who wish to stick with autofocus to get a similar effect.

New to the latest Sony models is 'zebra', an exposure warning display.

The threshold at which stripes are displayed can be set in 5% increments from 70 to 100, with an additional 100+ options only showing totally overexposed regions.

Zebra stripes continue to be visible while you're shooting movies (without affecting the recorded footage).
Zebra can be combined with focus peaking, if you're manually focusing your video.

Buttons can be assigned to engage and disengage both features quickly, so you don't have to have them both visible throughout shooting.

Another useful tool for shooting video is zebra pattern, which displays overexposed areas of the scene. The threshold at which the pattern appears can be set from 70 to 100+. The RX10 has several options for audio recording, as well. These include audio level adjustment, a wind filter, and two choices for audio output ('live' or 'lip sync'). There's also a Auto Slow Shutter setting (which is on by default), which lowers the shutter speed automatically in low light, to reduce image noise, at the cost of more blurred frames.

Given all that's been said above, it should come as no surprise that the DSC-RX10 can output uncompressed 4:2:2 video over HDMI. This allows you to send video directly to an external recorder - something serious videographers will appreciate. Video output can be 'clean', meaning that no information is overlaid.

One thing that would've been nice on the RX10 is the ability to trim video in-camera, which could avoid a trip to Final Cut Pro or Premiere, for users wanting to perform simple edits.

The Cyber-shot DSC-RX10's video quality is truly excellent. The sharpness, lack of artifacts, and sound quality are top-notch, which makes the camera a compelling choice for serious videographers. We explained what makes the video quality better at the top of this page - now let's see some real-world samples:

Sample 1

First up is a quiet video taken on Lake Union. The camera is on a tripod with the resolution set to 60p and wind filter turned on. Water often shows strange artifacts, but there are none to be found here. The wind filter also does an impressive job.

1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 18 sec, 54.8 MB  Click here to download original file

Sample 2

Everyone likes construction machinery, so here's an exciting video taken at 24p (also on a tripod) of a giant claw taking apart a local building. While the video is a bit overexposed, the amount of detail captured is impressive.

1920x1080 24p 24Mbps, MTS, 27 sec, 68.2 MB  Click here to download original file

Sample 3

Lastly, we have an example of manual focus pulling. The camera's on a tripod and manual focus (with peaking) was used. The frame rate is a very cinematic 24p. If you don't hear any sound, that's intentional.

1920x1080 24p 24Mbps, MTS, 28 sec, 74.1 MB  Click here to download original file