There's no doubt that the Sony RX100 and RX100 II are the most talked about compacts on the market. And while the large 1” sensor and fast lens are worth all the talk, the RX100 lacks one thing—a good zoom. Sony's December 2013 introduction, the RX10, takes the nice large sensor of the RX100 and adds a nice 24-200mm f2.8 Zeiss lens. (In case you don't speak in mm, that's the equivalent of a 8.3x optical zoom, 66x total.)
And while the RX10 is being categorized as a super zoom, it can just as easily take macro shots too. Versatility is important—especially when you are talking about dropping $1,300 on a fixed lens camera. Can a single lens camera pack in enough features to warrant such a hefty price tag? I took the RX10 for a test run in Lookout Mountain, GA, and was surprised at what the RX10 could do.
Sony RX10: Body & Design
The Sony RX10 is smug—if this camera was a high schooler, she'd be wearing all the latest, most expensive clothes. And while you may have hated a girl like that in high school, when it comes to electronics, smug is a good thing. Smug means you're not spending $1,300 on a piece of plastic that breaks before you've had it for a week. The RX10 is a luxury super zoom, and it's built like one.
The RX10 just has a nice feel to it from the start. Made from magnesium alloy, the body is built to last. As an added perk, it's also designed to resist dust and moisture. Dust can cause a lot of lens issues, so it's a nice feature for a camera where the lens is the best asset.
The RX10 has the feel of a DSLR without actually being a DSLR. It's no pocket camera for sure, but considering the zoom range, it's actually not that big. A 200mm Canon lens by itself (no body), for example, weighs in at over three pounds. The RX10 weighs one pound, 12.7 ounces, including the everything.
The layout and controls also resemble a DSLR, most notably in the screen at the top of the camera displaying all the vital shooting information, a feature you find on more high end models like the Nikon 7100. There's one control wheel at the back for shutter speed; the aperture is adjusted through a ring on the lens. You can zoom using the lens barrel, or use the point-and-shoot style toggle at the top of the camera, which, along with a nice EV dial, is near the shutter button. The mode dial is on the opposite side of the camera, after the pop-up flash and hot shoe slot. The back of the RX10 is dominated by a nice tilting LCD screen.
Navigating through the RX10's menu and shooting options is very similar to the systems on Sony's a7 and a7R. For the shooters, like me, who use the viewfinder 90 percent of the time, there's a nice view option that displays shortcuts to all the frequently used settings, instead of the live display. The shortcut display and amount of physical controls make adjustments easy.
Sony RX10: User Experience & Performance
A macro shot with the Sony RX10.
To be honest, I wasn't really all that excited about a $1,300 fixed lens camera. But, as I shot with the RX10, I gradually forgot that I wasn't using a DSLR. It's safe to say the RX10 is the most versatile, non-ICL camera I've reviewed so far. No, you can't change the lens, but you can shoot macro and telephoto using one lens, and sometimes, the ability to quickly shoot macro and then telephoto without pausing for a lens swap is priceless.
To me, a good camera allows me to forget about the equipment and just focus on the photography—and the RX10 did that. During my brief hands-on shooting with the RX10, I didn't notice any serious lack of speed, autofocus troubles or other big performance issues. I just shot. I shot macro. I shot landscapes. I shot telephoto wildlife. I said it once, but it's worth saying again: the beauty in the RX10 is in the versatility.
Again, I didn't notice any lack of speed using autofocus, even when shooting in low light. Most of the time, I left the aperture on the lowest setting, which produced an excellent bokeh effect and allowed for some nice low light shots.
The RX10 shoots at up to 10 fps, which is excellent for the category. While my few hours with the camera didn't allow for much action shots, it performed quite fast as I was shooting. I shot with both JPEG and RAW and the processor was able to keep up without slowing me down.
Speaking of RAW, Sony's RAW files, at the time of my review, were actually too new to be read by Photoshop. But, all it takes is a quick download of software from Sony to edit and convert RAW. A minor annoyance, but something that's bound to change shortly after the camera is released.
Sony RX10: Image Quality
So the Sony RX10 ended up exceeding my expectations in terms of design and performance—how did the images measure up? First off, the f2.8 maximum aperture, which can be used throughout the zoom range, produced an excellent bokeh as well as good low light shots. Lenses are often overlooked and the priority given to the camera, but without the lens, the RX10 would just be a good, but average camera. The lens is what gives the camera its versatility, and it plays a big role in the image quality.
Color reproduction on the RX10 was also excellent. The saturation levels on even subjects like colorful autumn leaves were true-to-life where many cameras tend to overdo it. Sony included different color settings to make the images more or less vivid, so the colors can be enhanced based on the scenario.
Noise, even at ISO 3200, is minimal when viewing the entire image. Cropping out a portion or making a large reproduction will get some noticeable grain, but it isn't overwhelming from the start. The RX10 has a 1” sensor, which is huge for a fixed lens camera, but smaller than even the entry-level DSLRs, so resolution won't be as strong. The trade-off is the lens, which is much better than most kit lenses or any lens you could pick up with the body for the same price as the RX10. For most consumers, who mostly share images online and never print more than an 8x10, the better lens will offer the quality they need.
The Sony a7 and a7R have taken up a lot of the hype lately, but the RX10 is deserving of some recognition too. The RX10 outperformed my expectations in nearly every area. It's an excellent, albeit luxury, super zoom.
While I loved the design, performance and quality from the RX10, I am still a bit hung up on the price. $1,300 is a lot to drop on a fixed lens camera. Getting a DSLR with a lens of that quality would be much more expensive (a Canon f2.8 70-200mm lens costs $2,500, for example), but you also get a better resolution with a DSLR's larger sensor. The RX10 lives up to its price tag, but it's really out of reach for many.
The RX10 is an excellent camera, particularly for the consumer that would pick up a DSLR with a kit lens but never add any additional lenses. The lens on the RX10 is much better than most kit options, with more zoom and a better aperture. The price, however, makes it a luxury item for most.