You would be forgiven for confusing the RX10 for an SLR from the very beginning. It's sturdy: SLR-like bits and pieces protrude from all the right places, with the notable exception of a pentaprism hump. Then, there's the wallet-busting price of AU$1499. All up, it sounds like SLR territory in price and form factor, that's for sure.
Obviously, there's no doubt you're reading this because the RX10 is something a bit special, not your ordinary SLR. In fact, it's not an SLR at all. It's a fixed-lens camera. Some might even call it a superzoom. And yet, 8.3x optical zoom is not all that much in the grand scheme of things. So what do you actually get for your money?
Design and features
A lot of camera, for starters. The RX10 sits like a trusty steed in the palm of your hand, complete with its dust and moisture-resistant magnesium alloy chassis. All this metal does come at a price, which is the weight. All up, with battery and memory card inserted, the RX10 is 813 grams.
Behind that 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens sits the crowning glory of Sony's latest cameras: the 1-inch image sensor. Like the RX100, the RX10 boasts a 1-inch backside-illuminated sensor that makes the brains of most other competitors look like shrimps in comparison. It is a 20.2-megapixel Exmor R sensor, teamed up with the new Bionz X image processor for faster results. It's the same processor that appeared in the A7 and A7R, for those playing along at home.
Around the lens is a touch that photography enthusiasts will enjoy: an aperture ring. Elsewhere on the barrel is a switch that lets you change how the ring feels when it is rotated. Choose from having a smooth, fluid movement or having the ring move in click stops. Further inside the camera is a 3-stop ND filter that can be turned on or off as needed.
Click clack, front and back. The switch that de-clicks the aperture ring.
The lens has an impressive minimum focusing distance of 30cm at the telephoto end of the zoom. As a comparison, other cameras like the Panasonic FZ200 can only manage a minimum focusing distance of 1 metre at its telephoto extreme.
At the top of the camera, alongside a mode dial on one side and an exposure compensation dial on the other, you'll find an LED panel. Similar to panels found on higher-end SLRs, you can check exposure information on the fly as well as keep an eye on battery status. It even illuminates with a deep orange glow for night-time use.
Glow in the dark.
Apart from the top LED panel, you also get a 3-inch, 1.22-million dot tilting screen at the back of the camera. Video buffs get the option of 1080/50 interlaced or progressive filming (or 60i/p when shooting in NTSC) as well as a built-in stereo microphone located just behind the pop-up flash. The OLED electronic viewfinder is bright and crisp, meaning that it's easy to achieve correct focus as needed.
Connectivity is provided via Wi-Fi and NFC, while there is also a headphone and microphone jack on the side of the camera. A multi-interface shoe accepts a number of different Sony-branded accessories.
Exposure modes are pretty standard for a Sony camera, and on par with other superzooms on the market. Full PASM control is provided while there is also an automatic, scene, movie, sweep panorama and two custom options on the dial.
To use the RX10 with your smartphone or tablet, download the PlayMemories Mobile app for iOS or Android. The app allows users to transfer photos and videos from the camera or use the smart device as a remote viewfinder. With this latter option, there is no manual exposure control, but you do get full control over the extent of the zoom from the app itself.
There are plenty of photo filters on the RX10, including toy camera, selective colour, sepia and an HDR painting option.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The RX10 can take a burst of 20 JPEG shots or 9 RAW shots in its fastest continuous shooting mode until the camera slows to buffer.
We found that the RX10 had patchy AF in low light situations. Changing the AF area didn't seem to help things much either; a half-press of the shutter button to focus often did not pick out the right point of focus even when the subject was in the centre of the frame. We suggest turning on peaking for a clear indication of where your focus plane is, or use expanded focus and your manual focusing lens on the ring to double-check AF when needed.
Ergonomically, the RX10 is very nice to shoot with. For photographers who prefer manual exposure modes, the combination of the aperture ring and the rear dial for shutter speed adjustment works particularly well. The lens feels sturdy and the body is weighted well for two-handed photography. Though the lens moves pretty slowly between wide and telephoto ends, we can see why it does, because if you want to zoom during video recording, smoother and slower is better. Still, it would have been nice to have a selectable zoom speed hidden somewhere in the menus, just in case you get a bit impatient like we do.
Sony rates the battery at 420 shots. The battery is charged in-camera using a micro USB cable and a charging pack.
Like to leave the camera on automatic and just point and shoot? The RX10 can do that without any trouble. On default settings and picture styles, colours are natural without being excessively saturated, though compared to other superzooms and even Sony's RX100, they are a little subdued.
For those who want to push the camera's capabilities a bit further — and if you are spending AU$1499, why wouldn't you? — there are plenty of good things to write home about in terms of image quality.
Images stay relatively clean up to and including ISO 800. ISO 1600 and 3200 are definitely usable, but if you want to crop images or make enlargements you may want to perform some noise reduction.
In automatic exposure modes, the RX10 does tend to err on the side of overexposing in bright situations, which can cause some highlights to blow out. Automatic white balance is accurate, leaning towards slightly warm when used in indoor (fluorescent) conditions. Outdoor results are on the money, with the RX10 delivering good results in full sunshine and overcast conditions.
Shooting on JPEG delivers good results straight out of the box. If you prefer to shoot in RAW you get photos with lots of usable detail, but at the widest end you do see quite a lot of barrel distortion that needs to be corrected in post. If you shoot exclusively in JPEG the camera will automatically apply some correction for you. Note that if you like to shoot in RAW+JPEG, you don't get the option of having the highest-quality (extra fine) JPEG capture.
RAW images produce the best results for editing and tweaking purposes, but the RX10 still pushes out a fine JPEG too.
For a camera with a constant f/2.8 lens and a relatively large sensor for a superzoom, the RX10 does deliver some nice bokeh, but it obviously can't be a match for an SLR. Though the pop-up flash looks small, it does offer decent coverage across the focal length of the lens.
Sony has really tried to raise the bar when it comes to video performance. Adding a number of valuable settings like on-screen audio monitoring and clean HDMI output means that the RX10 can be used for some serious video work.
In use, the RX10's image stabilisation system is very effective in video recording, particularly when shooting at the telephoto reach of the lens. The zoom moves smoothly during filming, though it is still at the same slow speed as usual. For precision adjustments to focus and exposure for the video image, focus peaking and zebra stripes come in very handy.
Video quality is excellent from the RX10, with fluid motion and a sharp image captured. You can de-click the aperture ring for fluid, noise-free transitions if you need to stop up and down during filming. The audio recording input has 32 steps to choose from, with the quality from the built-in stereo microphones turning out very good quality sound. You have the option to turn on or off the wind cut function for the internal mic.
Click on each image for the full-resolution JPEG version, straight from camera.
Sony started off pushing the boundaries in the photographic space with the release of its large-sensor RX100 camera, the 35mm full-frame RX1 and now the RX10 follows in those intrepid first footsteps. It is more expensive than most entry-level SLRs or mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, but what you are getting for your money is a fast, constant f/2.8 zoom lens that would be incredibly costly on its own.
It certainly stands alone in the field of superzooms — there really isn't any comparison on the market at all. If you are in the market for a fixed-lens camera that can (almost) do it all, the RX10 is hard to pass by.