Sony RX10: A truly first of it's kind bridge camera with a versatile lens and tons of good details. Review

I miss my EX1, or rather, i miss the parfocal smooth ENG zoom lens that goes with such a camera. It's something we're missing in the interchangeable lens market. At the moment, sony is the only one making decent range power zooms, but they're not even constant max aperture. The 24-200mm equivalent F2.8 lens of the RX10 was by far the most attractive thing to both myself, and probably everyone else who saw the first spec sheet. The pairing of the rx100 mark 2's sensor with such a lens sounds just amazing in theory. Now we're getting to see if it holds up to trials.

Note that this review covers this camera's video abilities, and all sample photos posted are screen grabs from video.

The sensor.

No, it's not full frame, no it's not aps-c, no it's not m43, and no i seriously don't care. It's no secret i'm at odds with big sensor fanboys. Since aquiring the C100 (aps-c) my 5d mark 2 (full frame) gets very little use. And now that i have the RX10, it will be my primary walk around/vacation/stock footage camera. So what's the big deal some people make about wanting a big sensor? the two biggies are low light and shallow depth of field. Anyone whose shot an EX1 knows that with the 1/2" sensor and the f1.9 lens, you can get some nice background bokeh/separation. So imagine the RX10 which has a 1" sensor, it's much bigger than the ex1, it's bigger than the black magic pocket camera by a smidge, and many people are quite happy with the DOF abilities.

Then there's the low light performance. I do wish it were a 12mp sensor and not 20, but what's the point in nitpicking? Up to iso 1600 is great, up to 3200 can still be darn good if you have correct exposure, and above that does get you something depending on the situation. This shot is at iso 2000.

I'm a C100 shooter, i'm used to using 12,800 iso if so desired and not taking a huge IQ hit. But there's no way i'm going to throw the same expectation towards the RX10. The most sensible way i can put it: If you're used to point and shoot cameras, the RX10 is bloody brilliant in low light. If you're used to interchangeable lens type cameras, you'll find the RX10 is satisfactory in low light. In my informal tests, i favored using a slower shutter instead of higher iso. 1/30 shutter is totally cheatable in anything but high motion scenes, and if shooting something where there's not much motion at all, sometimes a 1/15 can even work, and can help keep that ISO down.

Rolling shutter should also be noted exists but is very well controlled, i had to really try to create it to see any.

The lens

8.3x zoom doesn't sound great if you're used to 50x point and shoot cameras. And in fact, sony's marketing team are horribly brilliant with the angle they took it on, and instead of pushing an '8.3x' zoom, they marketed the 35mm equivalant range of 24-200mm, and said it's like having their 24-70 and 70-200mm f2.8 big camera lenses all packed into this tiny form factor. And of course we all went holy crap that's great, because when you put it like that, in the correct perspective of someone whose used to interchangeable lens cameras, it's just brilliant. Oh, and it's a ZEISS lens! If that doesn't mean anything to you, it just means it should be held to high standards.

Like i said, i miss having a power eng zoom lens so i can get a great zoom in or zoom out shot. There are practically zero options on the market for a fast constant aperture, wide range zoom lens that doesn't cost a mortgage for any interchangeable lens camera. People like me have been pining for one, and it's never come. Sony has made a few interesting power zoom lenses which i wish canon made for us canon shooters, but it's just never come. The lens on the RX10 is exactly that, it's a seemingly parfocal, fast, constant aperture power zoom lens which goes from reasonably wide, to reasonably telephoto, you also have an up to 2x digital crop called Clear Image Zoom, which is somewhat loss-less. It compares to the GH camera's ETC mode, which just means it's taking a smaller portion of the sensor to create the 1080 end image, and this should result in no resolution loss since these cameras are in fact photo cameras with many more pixels than is needed to make a 1080 video. I like that this extra reach is not just an on/off 2x switch, but rather similar to a point and shoot, when you activate it, it acts as a power-zoomable extension to the optical zoom, so once you hit the optical limit, it will smoothly go into the digital crop as if it were optical. It's not entirely perfect, there is an inconsistent transition between optical and digital which is expected. And while there technically isn't any resolution loss from this digital zoom, you are still effectively magnifying any noise. For this reason, i'd only recommend CIZ at lower ISOs, though it's always worth a try and if you like what you see, use it! This shot is 2x CIZ, so effectively 400mm.

And as you can see with that closeup, the CIZ can actually look fantastic, but still, only use it if you need to. For all intensive purposes in considering the 2x CIZ, you could look at this camera as a 24-400mm full frame equivalent.

It truly is a first for anything remotely near this market segment and price. The performance of the lens, thus far has lived up to the zeiss name. Even at wide open, it's sharp and mostly free of unwanted artifacts. Most likely there's in camera corrections happening, but that's just another benefit of the lens being non-interchangeable, it allows the engineers to really match the lens to the sensor as much as possible. Distortion is very minimal, with very true lines. You can spot some color fringing/CA'ing at longer focal lengths in high contrast situations, but most would consider it well controlled.

Lens controls and operation.

One of the things that really shows they were thinking of video people are the lens controls. You have a multi use ring which can be used for zooming or focusing, and an aperture ring which can be clicked or clickless. Starting with the multi use ring,  it's very nicely dampened and smooth, but it's fly by wire, which i'm not happy about, but accept it for what it is. It means there's no real mechanical connection to you turning the ring, it's electronic. Because of this, it's not a great experience when manual focusing. If you're used to setting markers, forget it, no 2 pulls will be the same. I really hope sony refines this more, it seems like all the pieces are there to be able to make it far better than what it is, but as it is, you have to pull focus completely by eye and almost not at all by feel. Autofocus is very useful especially in decent lighting, and if you learn the settings, you can use the settable focus point to have the camera perform an admirable rack focus for you. That of course wouldn't be all that peachy for more complex situations but hey, for some simple stuff it should work pretty nicely. 

So when you switch the multi use ring to zoom mode, you have two options: full zooming, or step zoom. Step zoom gives you the feel of a bag of primes, since it locks in at common focal lengths. While that's nice, i've yet to use that ring much at all for zooming, and instead opt for the zoom control lever on the handle. This is another wish i have for sony: refine this more, it is pressure sensitive, but i for the life of me haven't tamed it. I've conceded to just pushing it slightly which gives a pleasingly slow but not laborious zoom speed. Some people have shown concern over the lens's slow movement, and that they'll miss quick happening shots because of it. Well, for video i don't see this as much of a concern, as i'd rather have a zooming in shot anyway, but for photos it might be a nuisance. The lens at its fastest takes just over 2 second to fully zoom in or out. The final little drawback i've found is that if you're zoomed to 200mm, when you start to zoom back out, theres a little bit of a wobble in the image, like it's kicking back into gear or something, and while it's not a disastrous thing, it is certainly noticeable and should be kept in mind for narrative works where something like that could break the 4th wall.

Did i forget to mention this thing has an ND filter built in? Like, and actual, 3 stop ND filter! NDs are important to us video fellas, and having it in there is a great valuable feature, especially considering the aperture only goes to f/16! 

The codec

If i had to pick my least favorite part of the camera, the codec would be it. Codecs are a tricky thing, and just because it says avchd 24mb/s, doesn't mean it's the same as avchd 24mb/s in the FS700, or C100, and in this case this codec seems to suffer a tid bit more from motion artifacting/macro blocking. Meaning that high amounts of motion in the image will cause blockiness in those areas. This could be solved by one simple thing: a higher bitrate. If i were to suggest something for the troops to rally around and urge sony to address, it would be to up the bitrate. I've already submitted my request to them, citing the panasonic GH3 as a reasonable competitor, who has a bitrate of 72mb/s. But you can't go in expecting them to change anything, so the question is: am i satisfied with it as it stands? The answer is yes, not an enthusiastic yes, but yes the recorded image is very satisfying especially if the motion isn't all over the place light a leafy tree in high wind. And there is a silver lining as well: They gave us clean uncompressed HDMI output, meaning you can plug in a $700 ninja-2 and get 4:2:2 prores that should be pristine, it's still 8 bit, but again we're talking about a mostly consumer oriented camera here. It should be noted though that it's an HDMI micro connector, which is tiny and easily dislodged, and i hope there's a solution out there to keep it secure other than vicious amounts of gaffers tape.

There's a little nuisance with certain sony cameras that you'll experience when dropping the files into editing: to see the full range you'll need to correct the white and black output levels from 0-255, to 15-235, which is basically bringing up the shadows, and down the highlights to where they're supposed to be. The camera records above 100 IRE, and this is especially important if you have blown out highlights, you'll be able to bring some of them back with this correction.

One of the special things about how this camera processes its video is that it doesn't skip lines like most DSLRs, instead it samples the entire sensor, which means it out-resolves most of the photo cameras out there when it comes to video. I put it up to my crappy resolution chart, and that 1000 line section of the chart is clear as day, this thing resolves 1000+ lines like a 1080 camera should. Compare that to most Canon DSLRs like the 5d mark 2, 70d, t5i, etc.. which are all resolving a good notch under 1000 lines in video mode. This is especially apparent in landscapes, i've never been satisfied shooting landscape videos with my 5d2, but the RX10 gets them nice and crisp.

It should also be noted that aliasing and moire are also very well controlled and practically a non-issue. You can easily spot it on that test chart, but no one is shooting test charts in real life. My real life test is bobby the conure, and he looks as adorable as ever, nearly artifact free.

The body and controls

Feels great, it's mostly a good strong metal and feels built more like a professional camera than it does a consumer camera. It's supposedly dust and moisture sealed, though i'm wondering just how so being that the lens does a whole lot of moving in and out for zoom. The lens when extended does have some wiggle. All the buttons and switches seem solid, though as a person with medium to large size hands, such a small camera takes some getting used to.

The monitors

You get both a quality LCD and a quality EVF. The EVF is much better than my C100's, and i really like that it sticks out a bit from the body so your nose isn't smushed up against the LCD. That does create a caveat though: since the LCD can rotate to face up or down, if pointed strait up, the EVF is blocking quite a bit of it. Why Sony couldn't you use a left mounted swivel screen? But anyways, both screens are more than adequate, and feel more like something you'd find on a pro oriented camera, rather than a consumer oriented camera. 

Focus peaking is included which was a nice addition, but for now i've pretty much stopped using it, the dots are too darn big, making me second guess focus quite a bit. It depends on the situation, some instances it helps a lot and some i switch it off, so it's nice to have the option. You also get a digital punch in focus assist, which is a more surefire way of verifying focus, and yes you can use it while recording, and you can also move it around, making it very versatile and great.

It's also a nice touch that we get a top readout LCD, but to be honest, i've yet to use it in practice, the LCD and EVF do what i need.

Options and features

This thing is stuffed full of features. The smartphone app is neat: you can use your phone to see a live, nearly lag free image from the camera, and even zoom in and out and take photos from your phone/tablet. The big disappointment though, is that you can't control video at all. Be sure to bug sony about this. This feature has lots of potential and would be great to gain additional functionality. Sony has an API for this function, so if you're savy about that stuff, please dive in. 

You also have reasonable control over the image, you can't get cinestyle onto it, but you can get a pretty flat image. i'I've found the portrait profile the be the flattest, but neutral, deep, and standard all are pretty similar with contrast dialed down. You get contrast, saturation, and sharpness control over each profile, but only +/- 3. The contrast control has a significant effect on the profiles, but i've found that sharpness and saturation have much less of an effect. I find that saturation and contrast at -3 and sharpness at 0 gives me the most out of it. If you've used a C100/300, i've likened it to the WideDR profile, but a tad flatter.

You also get nearly complete control over setting buttons and whatnot, they fit the most buttons one could reasonably fit into this size body. You also get a fn button for a quick settings menu which you can set a bunch of menu items to for quick access. I'm overly pleased with how i've set mine up: the main dial on the back i set for iso, so iso is changed just like aperture or shutter: just turn the dial. the C button on top i set to ND filter, and the AEL button i set to focus punch in. Shutter speed has it's own dial on back and aperture is of course set with that aperture ring on the lens. 

Final thoughts

My main use for this camera is to be my walkaround, have on me most of the time, vacation lens. I suspect that i might also use it for certain event type coverage where that parfocal zoom would get me shots that i otherwise wouldn't be able to get with my C100. If i happen to need a second camera for a shoot, i wouldn't hesitate to bring out the RX10, i'd pick it up over my 5d2 for video 9 out of 10 times.

Is it overpriced? I was willing to shell out 1300 for it, and it looks like many others were as well, so i'd say no it isn't overpriced. I think it would have been a lot more attractive at $999, but i think i got what i paid for, it doesn't exist anywhere else.

Added on 2013-12-02 by
Darren Levine

Darren Levine

Stimulus LLC

DP/Videographer, Video/Film Editor, Actor
Equipment in this article
Sony RX10
by Sony

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