Review: Sony RX10

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In the pantheon of cameras that were, are, and will be, it is rare that a point-and-shoot will turn heads. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any, but so many compromises are made with cheaper cameras that it’s easy to forget about them altogether. Enter the Sony RX10, a point-and-shoot camera with an impressive lens and a DSLR aesthetic in the Cyber-shot line. It’s a bridge camera, and in Sony’s case, the halfway-point between its Cyber-shot and Alpha lines. Consider it a Cyber-alpha, really. Throughout the monthlong review period, I often forgot that I was working with a point-and-shoot, but I never completely forgot.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-A fixed-aperture Zeiss lens with a long reach, 24-200mm

-Aperture control with a dedicated ring on the lens

-Comfortable DSLR design

-Stellar image quality

Cons

-The lens’s main ring doubles as the focus and zoom ring depending on what mode you’re in, and the zoom is often too slow

-Fairly expensive at roughly $1,300

Gear Used

I used the Sony RX10 with no additional gear.

Tech Specs

Courtesy of B&H Photo Video’s listing:

  • 20.2MP 1″ Exmor R CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • Carl Zeiss 24-200mm f/2.8 Lens (35mm Eq)
  • 3.0″ 1228K-Dot Tilting Xtra Fine LCD
  • XGA OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • Full HD 1080i/p Video at 60 and 24 fps
  • Built-In Wireless and NFC Connectivity
  • Low-Light Sensitivity to ISO 12800
  • Multi Interface Shoe and Control Ring
  • Super Sonicwave Motor for Fast Autofocus

Ergonomics

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The Sony RX10 is a powerhouse as far as ergonomics are concerned. It’s got all the trimmings of a scaled-down alpha model, think anyone of the double-digit alphas. It manages to get away with a smaller size thanks to its 1-inch sensor. The RX10 has a magnesium-alloy body with a leatherette finish around the grip making it easier to hold and lose prone to a slip of the fingers. The front of the house has the big lens and focus selector.

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The front of the lens has a removable petal hood, and without it, the camera looks a bit naked. It sports a 62mm filter thread in case you want to use it for video shooting or anything else.

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This is what the RX10 looks like with the barrel fully extended. The lens is marked with its 35mm equivalent focal ranges from 24mm to 200mm. Depending on the mode you’re in, the large textured ring controls either focusing or zooming. Just behind it is the clickless aperture ring. Along the top is the mode dial, hot shoe, popup flash, flash button, display panel illumination button, display panel, exposure compensation dial, custom button, on/off switch, shutter, and zoom lever. Everything’s well-spaced and easily accessible.

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Along the back, there’s the menu button, EVF, diopter, movie button, control dial, autoexposure lock button, Fn button, control wheel, playback button, and trash button. All of this surrounds the articulating LCD that provides a stellar amount of detail and information.

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The right side of the camera at the back of the grip houses the SD card slot.

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The left houses the microphone, headphone, microUSB and headphone jacks. The bottom of the camera has the tripod thread and battery compartment.

For the most part, everything worked smoothly. The RX10 has the added benefit of focus peaking, which makes any electronic viewfinder easier to navigate. Zooming, however, was a different thing altogether. If you’re set in autofocus, the big ring on the lens controls the zoom, and it can either be set to Standard or Step. In standard, you can adjust the ring to anywhere along the focal range, and in step, a slight twist of the ring, will move it to a fixed step on the lens: 24, 35, 50, 70, 100, 135 or 200. The problem is zooming is just too slow. In a pinch, the moment’s gone by the time you’ve zoomed to the focal length you’d have needed for the shot, which makes street photography a bit of an uphill battle. I found it easier to set the lens to focal length, and have it be within a step or two of any other focal length I could potentially need, depending on where I was.

Build Quality

The Sony RX10 has a lot of muscle for a Cyber-shot camera, and it shows both in the way it’s constructed and how much it weighs. Most would assume you’re shooting with a DSLR, which isn’t a bad thing. Aesthetically, it has the quality of a serious camera, which is reinforced by its long lens. It handles well, but given its weight, I usually kept it around my shoulder, rather than around my neck.

Autofocus

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The autofocus on the RX10 was quick and accurate overall, but I usually kept it on manual focus with focus peaking turned on. With electronic viewfinders, I find manual focusing with focus peaking to be more reliable than autofocus. There were times when I did use the autofocus, and when I did, it worked.

Ease of Use

The RX10 is a fairly easy camera to use. It will, however, take some time to get a handle on the zooming and focusing as it relates to the ring around the lens and the lever around the shutter, and it’s best to decide ahead of time if you want the camera to focus to fixed focal lengths or anywhere throughout the range. The camera might have benefited from an aperture ring with clicks, but not having them is useful for video. Other than that, the menus are intuitive.

Metering

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This was shot in the late afternoon on the first day of spring in Bryant Park in New York City. At f4, ISO 200 and 1/100 sec, the RX10 accurately captured what I saw. A slight bump was made for contrast.

Image Quality

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The Sony RX10 never failed to impress with the images it produced, and it captured a surprising amount of detail on its 1-inch sensor. Colors popped and the images were sharp, thanks in no small part to the 24-200mm f2.8 lens. The RX10 performed well in a variety of situations, from protests to quiet moments on the road. More often than not, I was able to make the image that I wanted.

High ISO Images

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The RX10 performed well at higher ISOs, and I never had to go above 1600. The above image was shot at ISO 1600, and I never had issues that high. The RX10 was able to make the image in most lighting scenarios, though I can only imagine what it could have captured had the lens had a larger aperture.

RAW File Versatility

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The RX10’s RAW files had a good amount of information that worked well in Lightroom, but there are limitations with a 1-inch sensor. Had the RX10 been APS-C, or dare I say full-frame, the RAW files would’ve been far more flexible. That’s not to say the RX10’s files weren’t flexible. If my exposures or colors were off in-camera, I was able to save it in post.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusion

The Sony RX10 is a surprising contender in the crowded marketplace for cameras. It’s a bridge camera for the consumer that wants the capabilities of a DSLR without the hassle of deciding which lens(es) to buy. Of course, its 1-inch sensor slots it below Sony’s APS-C and full-frame options, but it’s not a knock against the RX10’s abilities. It has the capacity to make beautiful images from 24mm at the widest end to 200mm at the longest end. The RX10 gets an additional boost from its built-in Wi-fi, which makes sharing via the Sony Play Memories app a breeze. If I couldn’t get to a computer soon enough, I’d kick any selects to my iPhone rather quickly, and edit them in either VSCO Cam or Adobe Photoshop Express.

My quibbles about zooming aside, the RX10 is the type of camera that makes you forgot you’re holding a point-and-shoot.  It’d satisfy any hobbyist, traveler, and even some street photographers. Granted, it isn’t cheap, but for the price, you’re getting a good camera with a bevy of focal lengths at a fixed aperture. Most bridge cameras have a variable aperture throughout the zoom range, and the RX10 one-ups all of them.

You pick it up now at Adorama and Amazon.

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