With the same sensor as the RX100 II, which is one of the best compacts we’ve tested, could the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 bridge camera break the dominant hold of the DSLR and CSC? Read the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review...
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 at a glance:
- 20.2-million-pixel, 1in CMOS sensor
- Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-200mm (equivalent) f/2.8 lens
- ISO 125-12,800 (expandable to 80)
- 3in, 1.229-million-dot tiltable LCD screen
- Electronic viewfinder
- Manual aperture ring
- Street price around £1,000 body only
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Introduction
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you’ll no doubt have heard that compact camera sales are falling due to the popularity of camera smartphones. This has forced the camera industry to re-address its product lines, with many manufacturers reducing the number of cameras they produce and creating products with a clear target market, and very specific needs, in mind.
Alongside Fujifilm, Sony has been particularly successful at rooting out these new segments in the camera market. Its RX series of cameras started with the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, a premium compact camera with a large 1in sensor that is four times the size of the sensor found in many of its rivals. The RX100 was upgraded earlier this year in the form of the RX100 II to feature an improved sensor, a hotshoe/accessory port and Wi-Fi connectivity, although it is the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 that leads the product line. The RX1 has a 24.3-million-pixel, full-frame sensor, with a fixed Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, in an extremely small body.
Now comes the latest camera in the RX range, a premium bridge camera known as the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10. As with the other cameras in the RX range, Sony has identified a gap in the market where it thinks it can deliver a successful product. However, like the previous RX-series cameras, the RX10 comes at a price. With an RRP of £1,049, it is the most expensive bridge camera on the market by some margin, although Sony hopes that it will far exceed the expectations that most photographers have of bridge models.
With small compact-camera-sized sensors and low-resolution electronic viewfinders, bridge cameras have had a stigma attached to them for many years. They deliver the image quality of a compact camera, but with the advantage of a huge zoom lens and handling that aims to mimic a DSLR. For many enthusiast photographers image quality alone is a reason to avoid bridge cameras, but, says Sony, this is the first thing it tackled when designing the RX10.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Features
Images: The 24-200mm equivalent zoom lens is more than enough for most situations
With the same 1in (13.2×8.8mm), 20.2-million-pixel, back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor as the RX100 II, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 has a sensor four times larger than those found in most bridge cameras. This means that the 20.2-million-pixel resolution isn’t crammed onto too small a surface area, especially as the back-illuminated technology positions the circuitry on the sensor’s rear, leaving more space for the photodiodes. It certainly works with the RX100 II, which produces excellent images with a high dynamic range, low noise and good detail resolution.
Accompanying the sensor is a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 8.8-73.3mm (24-200mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens. This dominates the camera body, as the constant f/2.8 aperture makes the lens large and quite heavy for a bridge camera. This lens is not designed to be a super-high-powered zoom with a 50x range, but how many enthusiast photographers demand such focal lengths anyway? The reality is that most photographs are taken well within the 24-200mm range, so Sony’s thought process has been to make a high-quality lens with this range. The f/2.8 aperture will help ensure images can still be taken in low light, and that there is a reasonably shallow depth of field so photographers can be creative. The minimum working distance is between 3cm and 30cm, depending on the focal length that the lens is zoomed to, which is impressive given the size of the sensor and the complexity of the lens.
When using the speed-priority shooting mode, up to 10fps can be captured in a continuous burst, although the ability to focus between frames is sacrificed. In the standard continuous shooting mode, I found that the camera can take around 3fps when shooting raw and JPEG images, and is a little closer to 4fps when shooting JPEGs only.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 has a huge number of additional features, including sweep panorama, automatic redeye reduction, dynamic range optimisation, HDR image creation, a soft-skin effect and, of course, Sony’s excellent SteadyShot image stabilisation, which can be used in both still photography and video capture.
The RX10 is Wi-Fi compatible and can send images to a smartphone, tablet, computer or even a compatible Sony TV.
It also has NFC connectivity to enable almost-instant wireless connection.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Micro USB
It may seem a small feature, but the fact that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 uses Micro USB, or ‘multi-terminal’ as Sony calls it, is a bonus. Micro USB connection leads are used to charge almost all mobile phones these days, except the Apple iPhone, and the cables are readily available. Therefore, the RX10 can be charged via any powered USB socket, be that a mains USB charger, a computer or, more usefully for photographers, a back-up battery.
I keep cameras charging in my car via the USB port in the stereo while driving out to shoot. A back-up USB battery can be used to charge both your phone and camera, so I often carry one of these around for my compact instead of a spare battery. Basically, this means there is little excuse for not being able to charge your camera’s battery, which is a huge advantage if you do a lot of travelling.
A number of manufacturers have compacts and compact system cameras that charge via Micro USB connections, and it is definitely worth keep an eye out for this feature as it can be a real lifesaver.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Build and handling
Although the body of the RX10 is made of polycarbonate, the top-plate and lens barrel are built from magnesium alloy, giving the camera an extremely solid, robust feel. It feels good in the hand, with the large f/2.8 lens adding a nice weight to the camera and the fairly generous handgrip providing a comfortable hold.
Many little touches on the RX10 make it feel much more like a DSLR than a bridge camera. The metal shutter button, which is surrounded by the on/off toggle switch, is just like that found on an enthusiast-level DSLR. The attention to detail shown in the camera is great. For example, Sony has included a thread in the shutter button for a mechanical cable release. In these days of infrared, radio and Wi-Fi remote-release options, people still fight for the inclusion of a traditional cable-release mount and it is included in the RX10.
Another great feature on the RX10 is the manual aperture ring. Again, this signals a desire to make a premium-quality model that offers enthusiast photographers the experience of using a ‘proper’ camera. A discreetly hidden switch, almost on the underside of the lens, allows the aperture clicks to be switched on or off. Turning the clicks off will prevent the aperture ring from clicking into place at every 0.3EV aperture value, instead moving smoothly through the range. This feature has been designed primarily with videographers in mind, to allow them to quickly increase the depth of field while shooting a movie scene. However, it will also be useful for those photographers shooting in a very quiet environment, such as at a wedding.
The two features of the RX10 that remind us that this is a bridge camera and not a DSLR is the use of an electronic control for the zoom, and electronic, fly-by-wire manual focusing. The motor-driven manual focus operates in very slight increments, so manual focus is simple. This is particularly important given that a slight turn of the manual-focus ring calls up a 100% preview of the focus area, either on the rear LCD screen or in the electronic viewfinder. Using an electronic zoom control will never be as fast as a mechanical zoom, and I found it took five half-turns of the electronic lens zoom ring to move from 25mm to 200mm, which is much more effort than zooming an equivalent 18-200mm lens on a DSLR. There is also a zoom toggle control just in front of the shutter button that takes the lens from its shortest to its longest focal length in just over 3secs, which is an acceptable amount of time for a zoom lens of this type.
Sony has explained that one of the reasons for the electronic zoom, rather than a mechanical zoom, is to ensure that the lens can be operated smoothly and steadily at a variety of different speeds when shooting video footage. To this end, the zoom control of the lens does its job. In fact, the speed of the zoom on the RX10 is as good as, if not a little faster than, that found on other bridge cameras.
In use, the RX10 is difficult to fault. All the camera’s buttons and dials are placed logically, and the on-screen menu system is the same as that found in other RX-series and Sony Alpha cameras. The menu is bright and clear, but most importantly, all the camera’s settings are where you would expect to find them.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Metering
Image: A good level of detail can be recovered in highlight and shadow areas
With the metering system based on that of the RX100 II, the RX10’s multi-pattern evaluative metering system produces virtually identical exposures. Spot and centreweighted metering are available, but with a dedicated exposure-compensation dial on the camera’s top-plate it is easy enough just to use evaluative metering.
I found that the RX10 can be relied upon in evaluative metering mode, and for the majority of scenes there is no need to adjust the metering. It did tend to make dark scenes brighter, thus producing a lighter image, so I occasionally had to reduce the exposure slightly to prevent images from becoming too light and losing atmosphere. However, this is a characteristic of metering systems in general, not the RX10 in particular. That said, one thing the RX10 does do well in evaluative mode is to strike a good balance between retaining highlight detail and producing a bright overall image. The system isn’t scared of producing a burnt-out highlight or two in JPEGs, but there weren’t large areas of burnt-out sky.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Autofocus
Image: The lens of the RX10 has a reasonably close focus distance of 3cm-30cm depending on the focal length
Although I wouldn’t expect the contrast-detection AF of the RX10 to be as fast as that of a DSLR, it is surprisingly snappy and once again its performance is largely on a par with the RX100 II compact camera. At longer focal lengths there is a drop in speed when focusing between minimum and maximum distances, but it is still more than adequate for a general all-round camera.
The RX10’s focusing has a few interesting features. One of these is face-detection AF, which goes one step further than most, and – as seen on Olympus’s OM-D cameras – it focuses not only on the face of the subject, but also on the closest eye to the camera. For portrait photographs and candid shots this can make a real difference, particularly when shooting with the f/2.8 aperture at longer focal lengths.
Of course, the camera also features focus tracking, enabling particular subjects to be tracked regardless of whether the subject or camera moves. For moderately moving subjects, or for those who like to use the centre AF spot to focus and recompose, it is a good way to ensure your focusing is accurate.
Those wishing to manually focus are also well catered for. While the zoom ring can be used for this, it is an electronic ‘fly-by-wire’ motorised system that nevertheless makes it possible to focus with a good level of accuracy. To aid manual focusing, a magnified section of the image can be shown on the rear screen or in the viewfinder, and there is also the option to use focus peaking set to one of three strengths. The focus-peaking tool highlights edges that have reached their highest point of contrast. The system works well, although it requires a little practice to work out exactly how to get the best from it.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Image: The JPEG compression and noise reduction appear a little harsh when compared to edited raw images
As a premium bridge camera, the image quality of the RX10 will be the defining factor when considering a purchase. The 20.2-million-pixel sensor is the same as that used in the RX100 II, and image quality is again excellent from the RX10 with its f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens.
Our resolution chart images show that at ISO 100, the RX10 can resolve to around 28. With well-controlled noise levels and a high resolution, even at ISO 800 the camera reaches around 26. In fact, at ISO 6400 it reaches 24, which is very good for a sensor of this size and resolution. When pushed to the maximum sensitivity of ISO 12,800, resolution remains at 24, but it is clear that quite heavy luminance noise reduction has taken place, resulting in a softer image with less contrast. Those who shoot only JPEGs should stick to sensitivities below ISO 800 for best results, although images are acceptable up to ISO 6400.
Raw files resolve roughly the same amount of detail as the JPEG images in our resolution chart test, although in real scenes the JPEG compression and localised luminance noise reduction and sharpening take their toll on JPEG images. Some areas with a slight texture are completely smoothed by the compression and noise reduction, while the sharpening of edges increases the effect of luminance noise.
I found that the best results were achieved by shooting raw files at a sensitivity of less than ISO 400, reducing any slight colour noise and performing a little sharpening. Increasing the luminance noise reduction from 0 to 5 in Adobe Camera Raw does just enough to take the edge off the noise without sacrificing detail.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 24-200mm equivalent lens set to 55mm setting and f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Dynamic range
The results of our dynamic range test were particularly impressive, showing that the RX10 has a dynamic range of 12.37EV. This is extremely good for a sensor of this size, no doubt helped by its back-illuminated construction.
In use, when combined with the evaluative metering, I found I did get the occasional burnt-out highlight area, as you would expect from a camera with a smaller sensor. However, the raw files are very impressive, and a lot of detail can be recovered that looks completely lost in the corresponding JPEG files.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – White balance and colour
Image: The colours produced by the RX10 look great. This JPEG was shot in the standard colour setting
Again, I find myself comparing the images produced on the RX10 to those of the RX100 II, but given that both cameras use the same sensor this is no surprise.
In its default image setting the RX10 produces bright colours that are reasonably well saturated, and with a good level of contrast. Those who want to print straight from the camera and who don’t want to do much editing should be pleased with the default setting, although there is of course a full complement of image styles from which to choose for those who want to be a little more specific.
Image: Autumn colour mode came in particularly useful when shooting with the RX10
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
One area where the RX10 really defines itself as a premium bridge camera is the choice of EVF and rear screen. With a 1.228-million-dot resolution, the 3in tilting LCD screen is excellent. It has an RGBW screen, giving it a white dot alongside the standard red, green and blue dots.
This makes the screen brighter and gives it the ability to produce a greater range of colours. It is difficult to fault the screen, and for times when bright sunlight makes it awkward to use the electronic viewfinder is on hand.
No compromise has been made on the quality with the EVF of the RX10, which is the same as that found in the Sony Alpha 58. With a good level of contrast and a fast refresh rate, there are no problems with coloured tearing or lag between the actual scene and the screen.
Sony is keen to promote the video capabilities of the RX10. This offers full HD 1080p video capture at a rate of 30fps, a f/2.8 aperture for shooting in low light, and a 24-200mm (equivalent) zoom lens, so the camera could be a good all-in-one solution for videographers.
Having external microphone and headphone sockets show that Sony is taking the video market for this camera seriously, but the nicest touch is the ability to turn the aperture click off for smooth depth of field changes while shooting. This also means that the camera’s built-in stereo microphone won’t record the audible click as you change the aperture during filming. It is an impressive feature set.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – The competition
There are a number of bridge cameras on the market, with most of them having high-powered zoom lenses but standard compact-camera-sized sensors. Panasonic’s FZ range of cameras has performed well in previous tests, particularly the FZ200, but we are looking forward to testing the latest FZ72 and its 60x, 20-1200mm equivalent optical zoom lens. Similarly, the Fujifilm X-S1 has a 2/3in sensor, which is a little larger than standard, and it has a manual mechanical zoom lens.
The Nikon 1 V2 should also be considered. Like the RX10, the V2 compact system camera has a 1in sensor, but with only a 14.2-million-pixel resolution. Combined with the Nikkor 10-100mm f/4.0-5.6 VR lens, it would provide a 27-270mm equivalent focal length for around the same cost as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 review – Our verdict
It is clear that Sony has identified a niche in the market, and has created an excellent camera to fill it. However, it is a niche for a reason, and the real difficulty comes not in designing and making the camera, but in selling it. With a RRP of a little over £1,000, the RX10 is a very expensive bridge camera. The quality and features of the product do justify its price, and no doubt the street price will fall, but the trouble is, even though the RX10 is superior to other bridge cameras, it is also considerably more expensive. Furthermore, those potential buyers looking for a smaller, lighter alternative to a DSLR could instead buy a compact system camera with an APS-C-sized sensor and 18-135mm lens for around the same price that produces images of equal, if not better quality.
Sony should be congratulated for producing another excellent camera in its RX series, and arguably the best digital bridge camera that we have tested. Is it worth the cost? In terms of features I would say yes, but there are certainly other options available, depending on your reasons for buying a bridge camera in the first place.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – Key features
EVF and eye sensor
The 1.44m-dot OLED viewfinder is automatically activated by an eye-level sensor.
As well as a built-in pop-up flash, the RX10 also has a multi-interface hotshoe that allows the connection of flashguns and other accessories, including a variety of microphones.
This button allows video recording to be started and stopped quickly.
Headphone and microphone socket
On the side of the RX10 is a pair of jack sockets for connecting both a microphone and a pair of headphones for audio recording and monitoring.
The screen can be tilted forwards or backwards to help when shooting at high or low angles.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 at a glance:
- 20.4-million-pixel, 1in CMOS sensor
- 1.29-million-dot articulated screen
- 1.44-million-dot EVF
- 25-200mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss zoom lens
- Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity
- RRP £999.99
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 – Introduction
Sony’s RX fixed-lens cameras certainly caused a stir. The premium compact cameras hit specific gaps in the market, such as a genuinely pocketable camera with a larger-than-standard sensor in the shape of the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, but most notably a compact camera with a full-frame sensor in the form of the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1. Now Sony is tackling bridge cameras by introducing the premium Cyber-shot DSC-RX10.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 – Features
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 has the same 20.4-million-pixel, 1in sensor as the RX100 II. The RX100 II compact impressed us when we reviewed it in AP 27 July, and if the RX10 matches the RX100 II it could be one of the best bridge cameras for image quality that we’ve seen.
However, it isn’t just the sensor that looks great on paper, as the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 8.8-73.3mm f/2.8 lens is equivalent to a 25-200mm lens (in 35mm terms), with a constant f/2.8 aperture. The lens dominates the camera, and despite the RX10’s small sensor it has to be large to accommodate the constant f/2.8 aperture.
No expense has been spared on the electronic viewfinder, with the camera having a 1.44-million-dot display. The tilting rear screen is a 3in, 1.29-million-dot model, and like the viewfinder it is bright and crisp, with a good level of contrast.
Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity are included, along with a small pop-up flash and the new Sony multi-interface hotshoe.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 – Build and handling
Like other RX models, the RX10 feels robust and solid. Its polycarbonate body is neatly put together, but, more importantly, it provides a good range of buttons and dials without being overly complicated.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is clearly designed for enthusiast photographers. There are the expected features, such as a function button on the rear and an exposure-compensation dial on the top-plate. However, little touches, such as the power switch being wrapped around the shutter button, and the fact that the shutter button has a screw thread for a cable release, will appeal to those wanting a bridge camera that replicates the feeling of using a DSLR.
One neat feature is the manual aperture ring around the lens. It will no doubt appeal to many photographers, but it has an additional advantage for those who shoot video. The clicking of the aperture ring can be switched off, so rather than clicking into position, the aperture smoothly changes in size. This is great for smooth and silent depth of field changes.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 – First impressions
Photographers often say they want to replace their DSLR with a CSC due to the reduced size and weight. The reason they don’t choose a bridge camera is because the smaller compact-camera-sized sensor does not provide the image quality they demand. In the RX10, Sony may have created the perfect compromise between size, sensor and lens. However, the camera is quite heavy due to the amount of glass used, and the price might be a sticking point. That said, if the image quality performs as we expect, the RX10 could be one of the best bridge cameras out there.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is out from mid-November, priced £999.99. It will be tested in AP 7 December.