I've been on location with a number of other journalists who cover digital imaging for the past few days, shooting with a trio of Sony's latest cameras. I was most excited to put the Alpha 7 and 7R through their paces, but it's been the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 that has really surprised me. On a personal level the fixed-lens 24-200mm f/2.8, D-SLR-styled compact isn't the type of camera that excites me. I generally prefer interchangeable lens cameras, f/1.4 glass, and big full-frame sensors.
The RX10 doesn't have any of that. It packs the same 1-inch image sensor as the RX100 II( at Amazon). The f/2.8 zoom lens won't ever capture as much light as a fast prime, but it I found it adequate in all but the toughest lighting conditions, and was impressed by the speed at which the camera locked focus.
The body is not that far off in size from an SLR; it measures 3.5 by 5.1 by 4 inches and weighs 1.8 pounds. That weight includes the integrated Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens, so there's significant weight savings compared to an SLR, especially one paired with the two zooms that would be required to cover the 24-200mm focal length range.
It's the price that's offputting—the RX10 is a $1,300 camera. I'm not ready to say that this is the best in its class until it's put through proper lab testing, but real-world experience tells me that it delivers impressively sharp images throughout its zoom range. It may not represent a better value than our current Editors' Choice superzoom Panasonic FZ200( at Amazon), but what I've seen from the lens and what I've seen from the same sensor in the RX100 II tells me that it'll better it in image quality.
The control layout is one of the better ones that you'll find on a fixed-lens camera. Zoom control is electronic, and can be activated by twisting the barrel or by using the zoom rocker that is integrated with the shutter control and power switch. There's a physical aperture dial on the lens, which can be set to one-third-stop clicks or set to be variable without detents. On the top plate there's a mode dial, an exposure compensation dial, a customizable control button, and an monochrome information LCD.
The rear of the camera houses two control dials, one next to the movie record button, and one that surrounds the center enter button. That wheel has four directional controls; the top direction changes the amount of information displayed on the LCD, and the others are there to navigate through menus and control other settings. The rear also houses the Fn and autoexposure lock control buttons, and image playback controls.
There's a tilting rear LCD that's very sharp to my eye; the specs indicate that it's a 1,229k-dot design. It's quite bright; I had no issues using it outdoors, but I didn't have an opportunity to shoot on an extremely sunny day. There's also an eye-level EVF, and it's by far the best that I've seen in this type of camera. It's an OLED design with a 1,440k-dot resolution. It's not as impressive on paper as the 2,359k-dot OLEDs found in cameras like the NEX-6 ( at Amazon) and the Alpha 7 and 7R, but even shooting side by side with the latter I didn't notice a drop-off in quality when shooting with the RX10's EVF.
The camera supports Raw and JPG recording. I only had a chance to process some of the shots in Raw; Lightroom doesn't yet offer support for the RX10, and Iridient Developer was my only option to open its files. I converted a few selections to TIFF using Iridient just to get an idea of how they held up. They were just as impressive as those from the RX10; I was able to adjust shadows, highlights, black levels, contrast, exposure, color saturation, and all the various things that a Raw file delivers.
This is not to say that you need to shoot in Raw to get the most out of the RX10. I happily used the in-camera Wi-Fi to transfer images to my phone and send them out to the world via Twitter. The addition of Wi-Fi to a camera like this is a boon. It's one that's especially well suited for travel, and it will let you share a few images with friends and family while you're on the road; you can save Raw editing for when you return home.
Sony developed a new method of video processing for the RX10 that promises to deliver more detailed footage than the RX100 II. I didn't get the chance to perform side-by-side tests, but I have seen some side-by-side footage that backs Sony's claim. It's not an earth-shattering difference; had I not looked at the footage side by side, I probably would have been happy with either output. Video is recorded in up to 1080p60 quality, but you can also roll at 60i or 24p if you desire. The footage I recorded was at the default 1080i60, 17Mbps setting and it looked great to my eye. The lens is stabilized and I did see some wobble when recording handheld video at the 200mm focal length, but it was a relatively smooth, subtle motion.
There's a multi-function hot shoe, so you can add an external mic. For the most part I was happy with the audio quality from the internal stereo omnidirectional mic. I got some unwanted audio of a horse breathing as its rider rambled on about his favorite whiskey, and when recording footage at a Ben Folds performance the audio clipped during the louder parts of songs. The latter issue is entirely my fault; there are audio level meters displayed when rolling footage, and it's possible to lower the sensitivity of the microphone for those times when you know you'll be recording in a loud environment.
It's an impressively speedy camera. It starts and shoots in about 1.7 seconds, it can rattle off shots at 5.3fps for 9 Raw+JPG shots, or at 7.6fps for 23 JPG captures before slowing down.
The RX10 made a very good first impression. It may be a better option than an SLR for shooters who buy a body and never move beyond the kit lens, and pros who don't want to carry a lot of heavy gear for more casual use will want to take a look at it as well. PCMag will follow up with a more formal review once it comes into the lab for testing.
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