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Sony DSC-RX10 Cyber-shot Digital Camera Review

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Introduction

It’s no secret that the compact camera market is declining, but one area which seems to continue to perform reasonably well is the bridge camera market.

Sony has already taken hold of another lucrative area of the market with its RX100 and follow up, the RX100 II, topping the sales charts of the premium compact area.

Now, the company has put that same sensor inside a bridge camera in the shape of the RX10. Not only does it have that excellent sensor, Sony has also designed a new processor, the Bionz X, which promises to deliver processing speeds which are three times faster than the equivalent found in its predecessor.

Other bridge cameras on the market generally feature a standard compact-camera sized sensor at 1/1.7 inches. This should make the RX10 a much better performer, both in terms of low-light shooting and also in helping to create attractive shallow depth of field effects.

Although the 8.3x zoom (24-200mm equivalent) lens doesn’t have the mammoth zoom range of cameras such as the Canon PowerShot SX50, it does offer something which most don’t; a constant fixed aperture of f/2.8. The only other bridge camera to currently offer that is the Panasonic Lumix FZ200, which includes a 24x optical zoom (25-600mm equivalent), but of course it’s worth noting that the sensor size inside the Panasonic is considerably smaller.

Sony RX10 review

On the back of the camera is a screen, which, although isn’t touchscreen, is tiltable for those awkward angled shots. Though it’s not fully articulated or 180-degree tiltable, making it less useful for self portraits or video work.

Sony RX10 review

There’s also a 1.4 million dot EVF. Many will groan at the thought of an electronic viewfinder, but Sony’s devices generally are very good, and with a resolution that high, it seems likely that the RX10’s device will not disappoint.

Sony RX10 review

As is starting to become standard with cameras now, the RX10 features inbuilt Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity.

Sony RX10 review

This means you can share shots you’ve taken instantly with your smartphone or tablet, or use one of those devices to control the camera remotely – something which will probably appeal to nature and wildlife photographers.

NFC is still a bit of a technology buzzword and basically means that if you have another device with the technology, you’ll get a one-touch connection. Plenty of Android devices are packed with NFC, but Apple users still haven’t been treated to the technology.

As well as an inbuilt flash, there’s also a hotshoe for attaching other accessories you may want to use, such as a flashgun.

Sony RX10 review

As it stands, it’s difficult to find a direct competitor for the RX10. There are no bridge cameras with such a large sensor, but if we’re looking at premium cameras in this market, then the Canon PowerShot SX50 and the Fuji HS50 seem like obvious choices. The Leica X Vario is also technically a bridge camera, but it features an even larger, APS-C size camera.

The biggest sticking point for this camera is likely to be the price. It is not cheap, coming in at over £1000/$1000. You could probably get three beginner DSLRs for that price. But that’s not the point; to get something which offers this focal length and maximum aperture with a DSLR would cost many thousands, and, what’s more, would be many times the size and weight of the RX10.

This camera joins the premium RX family, of which the RX100 II and the RX1 also belong. It’s an interesting trio, all of which are unique in the marketplace. Sony is proving to be an innovative manufacturer at the moment.

Build quality and handling

The RX10 is very reminiscent of a DSLR camera, especially a beginner model such as the Nikon D5200. It has a large, chunky grip with a textured rubberised coating which lends it an air of quality.

Sony RX10 review

On top of the camera are a number of dials and buttons which enthusiast photographers will no doubt appreciate, such as a mode dial for switching between exposure modes including aperture priority and shutter priority, and an exposure compensation dial.

Sony RX10 review

Anyone who has used a Sony camera before will be familiar with the extensive range of buttons and dials that can be customised, and there are a few available on the RX10 too, including a small "c" button on top of the camera, which is useful if you’re often looking to change one particular setting, such as sensitivity.

Sony RX10 review

On the back of the camera, all of the directional key buttons can be customised, which is great if you find you like quick access to a particular setting.

Sony RX10 review

The lens itself is fairly chunky, which also makes it quite satisfying to hold. An aperture ring can be found at the base of the lens, for quickly changing apertures.

Sony RX10 review

A small, but appreciated, touch is the ability to switch on and off the clicking noise it makes as you turn the dial, especially if you want to use the camera for video recording. This is done via a switch at the base of the lens, which unfortunately can be easy to knock on and off when you’re trying to change the aperture – this switch could do with being moved, or featuring a lock, to remove this problem.

Altering shutter speed (depending on the mode you’re in) can be achieved via a scrolling dial on the back of the camera. If you rotate the aperture ring when not in full manual mode or aperture priority, it does nothing. It would be nice to be able to use it for something else in this instance.

Zooming the lens can be done in one of two ways. You can zoom using the lens itself, or, if you prefer, you can use a switch around the shutter release button – the latter is likely to appeal to compact camera users and is helpful when you’re shooting one-handed. Either way, zooming is a fluid and quick motion.

Sony RX10 review

One very nice touch on top of the camera is an LED screen for displaying key settings. This can be illuminated when it’s dark, which could be handy in low-light conditions.

Sony RX10 review

The back of the camera has a tilting screen. You can tilt it downwards for composing from above, or upwards for shooting from high angles, such as overhead. While it’s a small shame that the screen doesn’t articulate, which would have been more helpful for portrait format shots, this may have added unnecessary bulk and perhaps even expense.

 Sony RX10 review

To change the autofocus point, you will need to use a combination of buttons and the scrolling dials/arrow keys on the back of the camera.

First, you’ll need to have the AF mode set to flexible spot, which you can do via the main menu or by assigning one of the custom buttons to this function. From there you can use the arrow keys to move around the screen and set the point.

Unfortunately, once you’ve done this, there’s no super quick way to change the point; you’ll have to set AF mode again to flexible spot, then move the point around the screen.

It can therefore be a little frustrating if you want to often change the AF point, so we’d recommend leaving it in the centre and focusing and recomposing the majority of the time. We’re a little disappointed not to see a touchscreen on a camera of this calibre as it makes things like setting the AF point so much quicker and easier.

Sony RX10 review

To make changes to various settings, a quick menu can be accessed via the function (Fn) button.

Happily, this menu can be completely customised, which is very useful if you find you’re not using a particular setting and want it replaced with one you do use more often. When in playback mode, this function button accesses the camera’s ability to send photos via Wi-Fi/NFC to your smartphone or tablet, which is a handy and quick addition.

Sony RX10 review

The LCD screen is also joined by an electronic viewfinder. Bridge camera viewfinders tend to have a bad reputation, but this has to be easily one of the best we’ve ever seen on a camera of its kind. It’s a large and clear device – the same as found on the Sony NEX-6, in fact – that is genuinely useful and easy to use. As there’s also an eye sensor, switching between using the screen and the EVF is a doddle.

Sony RX10 review

Another element which can be customised is the display, both on the LCD screen and in the electronic viewfinder. By hitting the Up button on the four-way navigational pad, you can move through the various options, all of which can be switched on and off in the main menu.

So, for instance, if you’d like to have the option to display an electronic level on the rear LCD, but never in the EVF, you can do this.

Performance

We were pretty much assured of the image quality of the RX10 from the get go, as it uses the same excellent sensor as the RX100 II, but it’s nice to have that confirmed by the full production sample.

Sony RX10 review

Colours are reproduced excellently, being bright and punchy without showing too much saturation.

Skies are represented well, as are skin tones.

You can alter the colours coming straight from the camera by altering the Picture Styles, for instance if you want more vivid or neutral colours. The good thing about these is that they can be shot in raw format, so you’ll have a ‘clean’ version of the image to work with should you need it later down the line.

Detail is also excellently resolved by the 20.2 million-pixel sensor, as we’d already seen in the RX100 II.

Sony RX10 review

All-purpose metering is generally good, though you may find you need to dial in some exposure compensation in particularly dark or high-contrast scenes.

Automatic white balance is also an excellent performer, although it errs towards warm, yellowish tones under artificial lighting conditions. Changing to a specific white balance setting overcomes this if it’s proving to be too problematic.

Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimiser helps to produce balanced exposures, especially if there are areas of high contrast in the scene. Generally, leaving it on automatic does a good job, helping to bring out detail in the shadows without being an over-the-top effect.

However, if you’re shooting something which has a particularly high amount of contrast, you can change the levels between one and five, with five offering the biggest effect. It’s not something you’ll want to use for every shot, but it can be very effective.

With an f/2.8 constant maximum aperture, you may find that shooting at high sensitivities is reduced, but nevertheless the camera does an excellent job in such situations. Image smoothing is present throughout the sensitivity range, but it only starts to become problematic from around ISO 3200, and then only if you’re examining an image at 100%.

Generally, image noise is minimal, while detail is kept well. Images are especially good when looking at them at normal sharing or printing sizes of A4 or below.

Sony RX10 review

Being a Zeiss lens, we expected the RX10’s optic to be a good performer, and it is. That f/2.8 constant aperture, coupled with the large sensor, means you can create some excellent shallow depth of field effects throughout the focal length. Out-of-focus areas are rendered beautifully, with some excellent bokeh visible.

Optical image stabilisation does a good job of keeping images blur free when shooting at the furthest reach of the telephoto end. Detail is also good at either end of the range.

If you find that the 200mm offered by the lens isn’t quite enough, you can choose to use Clear Image Zoom, Sony’s excellent digital zoom. This keeps the same resolution (20.2 million pixels) despite cropping into the image. Detail is well maintained when using this, although it’s not as sharp as the optical end of the zoom. But again, this is only something you’ll really notice when checking the image at 100%.

Unfortunately, you can’t shoot Clear Zoom if you’re shooting in raw format, so you’ll need to switch to JPEG only first.

Autofocusing speeds are pretty quick, but they’re not the fastest we’ve ever seen, with compact system cameras from the Micro Four Thirds family offering quicker times.

That said, it’s quick enough for most everyday situations, and in the main it’s accurate too. Speed does drop in lower-light conditions, but it’s only when it’s extremely dark that the camera struggles to focus at all.

Sony is one of the best manufacturers for the creative photographer, offering a wide array of digital filters alongside its great sweep panorama mode. Although there are no new filters on offer here, the selection is decent as always.

Again, though, you can’t shoot the filters in raw format, so you’ll be stuck with them if you decide you don’t like them after all. Using Picture Styles is one alternative, especially if you want to shoot monochrome images.

Sweep panorama is easy to use and quick to stitch in camera, but if you’re shooting something with lots of fine detail (such as an area with lot of trees) and you examine the image at 100% it’s likely you’ll see repeated patterns in some areas. It’s not particularly noticeable when viewing at a normal sharing size though.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony RX10, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

JPEG 100

Full ISO image. See the cropped (100%) versions below.

ISO 80 crop

ISO 80. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 100 Crop

ISO 100. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISo 200 crop

ISO 200. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 400

ISO 400. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 800

ISO 800. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 100. Score: XX (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 1600. Score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 3200 crop

ISO 3200. Score: 20 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 6400

ISO 6400. Score: 18 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 12800 crop

ISO 12800. Score: 12 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Raw

ISO 80 crop

ISO 80. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 100 crop

ISO 100. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 200 crop

ISO 200. Score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 400 crop

ISO 400. Score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 800 crop

ISO 800. Score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 1600 crop

ISO 1600. Score: 20 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 3200 raw

ISO 3200. Score: 20 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 6400 raw

ISO 6400. Score: 18 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 12800 crop

ISO 12800. Score: 16 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

We have compared the RX10 with the RX100 II, with which it shares the same sensor, as well as some other traditional bridge cameras currently available on the market – the Sony HX300, the Panasonic FX200 and the Fujifilm X-S1.

JPEG Signal to noise ratio

JPEG Signal to Noise

Here we can see that the RX10 clearly beats the other cameras on test, with the exception being the RX100 II with which, as we would expect, it is very closely matched. At the very top end of the sensitivity run, the Sony HX300 just pips it, but it sits comfortably above the Fuji and the Panasonic throughout the sensitivity run.

Raw (after conversion to TIFF) signal to noise ratio

Signal to noise ratio TIFF

It’s a little harder to compare raw format files, since so few bridge cameras offer this facility. However, we can that again it is reasonably closely matched with the RX100 II and shows a consistent performance across the range. The Panasonic FZ200 beats it at the lower end of its sensitivity scale (ISO 200), but the Sony overtakes it from the mid-range of ISO 400 and above.

JPEG dynamic range

Dynamic Range JPEG

The RX10 puts in a consistent performance across the sensitivity range, producing an almost flat graph. It is beaten at the very lower end of the sensitivity range (ISO 50-100) by the Panasonic FZ200, Fujifilm X-S1 and Sony HX300, but from ISO 200-400 upwards it either matches or beats the other cameras on test. The RX100 II, with which it shares the same sensor puts in similar scores, if a less consistent overall performance.

Raw (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range

RX10 TIFF DR

As we might expect, the RX10 puts in a reasonably similar performance to the RX100 II for raw format files (after conversion to TIFF) here. It beats the Panasonic FZ200 at every sensitivity too.

Sample Images

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Colours are represented well by the RX10.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Use Picture Styles to change the colour output of your files in camera.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Different Picture Styles can be used for different situations, for instance Sunset. Shooting in Picture Styles means you can also shoot in raw format, should you need a clean image.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Despite not having a dedicated macro mode, you can still get fairly close with the RX10.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

At the widest point of its lens, the RX10 offers an equivalent of 24mm, making it wide enough to take in a good wide view.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

The top telephoto end of the lens offers an equivalent of 200mm, which is enough for the majority of situations.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

If you do need to get even closer, use the Clear Image Zoom – Sony’s very good version of digital zoom. Note that this can only be used when shooting in JPEG only.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

You can create shallow depth of field effects with the RX10’s lens, which has an f/2.8 constant aperture throughout its focal length.

Sony RX10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image.

There’s lots of detail created by the RX10’s one-inch 20.2 million-pixel sensor.

Sensitivity and Noise Images

JPEG

Sony ISO 80

Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100% versions below).

ISO 80 crop

ISO 80 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 100

ISO 100 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 200

ISO 200 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 400

ISO 400 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 800

ISO 800 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 6400

ISO 6400 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 12800

ISO 12800 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

ISO 80 crop

ISO 80 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 100 crop

ISO 100 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 200

ISO 200 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 400 crop

ISO 400 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 800 crop

ISO 800 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISo 1600 crop

ISO 1600 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 6400 crop

ISO 6400 (click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 12800 crop

ISO 12800 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

The RX10 could be the camera to shake up the bridge camera market.

It’s a camera which offers a unique set of features in what is becoming an increasingly packed market. The fact that it uses the same excellent sensor as the RX100 II should make it extra appealing too.

That sensor has already proven its worth before, and here it continues to impress. The new Bionz X processor also plays a part in making this a fantastic all-round camera, which really does a pack a lot into one body, not least by including that f/2.8 constant aperture.

If you are looking for a complete camera, without having to worry about changing lenses or shelling out for expensive specialist lenses, this is the camera that will appeal to you. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s still cheaper than buying a beginner-level DSLR and a bunch of heavy lenses that you’ll need to lug around to achieve the equivalent focal length and maximum aperture of the RX10.

Sony RX10 review

The addition of Wi-Fi and NFC also makes the RX10 handy for those who want to share images quickly, and for those who want to remote control the camera – nature photographers in particular may find this to be a key selling point.

Creative controls, such as digital filters and panoramic mode, are an added bonus, although we’d like to see more flexibility with raw format shooting. We’d also like to see a touchscreen, especially as setting the autofocus point is more of a pain that it should be.

The design of the camera is reminiscent of a DSLR, and for some that will be another major selling point: you get all the kudos that a ‘big’ camera brings, without having the bulk, weight, and need to invest in additional lenses.

Sony RX10 review

Sony has once again thought about how enthusiast photographers like to use cameras: making so many of the buttons customisable is a smart move, for instance.

Electronic viewfinders have had a bad reputation for a long time, and in fairness, those that are found on the majority of current bridge cameras are nothing to write home about. Sony has been one pioneer in bringing excellent, usable EVFs to the market, though, and here in the RX10 they’ve installed another winner – it’s not quite as good as using a full-sized optical viewfinder, but it’s pretty damn close. And don’t forget that using an electronic device does have its advantages, such as displaying a preview of the taken image.

We liked

There’s plenty to like about this camera, but the image quality is the thing that should sell it the most.

Beautiful colours, lots of detail and excellent low-light shooting elevate it above other bridge cameras on the market, especially with the f/2.8 constant aperture lens.

We disliked

Some elements of this camera are harder than they should be. In particular, it’s disappointing that it’s tedious to change the AF point, something which the enthusiast photographer is likely to want to do often. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – a touchscreen would solve this problem pretty easily.

Final verdict

It’s difficult to know how well this camera will perform – at the end of the day, there isn’t generally a big audience for £1,000+ bridge cameras.

That said, it does offer quite a lot of value for an admittedly high outlay. For the real niche area of the market that this is aimed that, this could be a real winner.

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Image quality is excellent, while handling is solid and reliable, with the customisation giving it a real enthusiast feel. Other touches such as the aperture ring and top plate LED also elevate it beyond the standard bridge camera.

Overall, Sony has brought another interesting concept to the market, expanding its well-respected RX family with this addition. Great work.

By Amy Davies, TechRadar


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