When we first saw the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 we weren’t entirely sure that we "got it". This chunky, superzoom-esque camera looks more like a DSLR in terms of scale and design, but houses a 24-200mm f/2.8 maximum aperture alongside the same 1-inch sensor as found in the excellent Sony RX100 II. Who would buy such a camera given its £1,000 asking price?
We’ve been using the Sony RX10 for two days now while scouting around in St Lucia in the Caribbean and, by and large, we’re converted. Why? Because it’s a brilliant piece of tech. Yes, it’s large and bulky, and the zoom is a bit slow to travel, but - and this is what we’re here for ahead of our full review - the pictures produced from the combination of that lens and sensor outstrip any equivalent superzoom of its crown. The RX10 gives us that warm feeling inside.
First things first: the lens. With the ability to maintain f/2.8 at any given focal length using the physical aperture ring feels a bit like using a classic DSLR with manual lens. And for videographers there’s a switch to "release" the aperture ring so it glides smoothly through its f/2.8-f/16 range. Cool.
We've obtained the latest Adobe Camera Raw beta release to take a look at the raw files of the RX10's differ fairly considerably from their JPEG counterparts. There's a lot more grain and image noise visible, as it to be expected, but it's the constrast and exposure adjustments that stand out the most. Some well-exposed JPEG snaps look much brighter, near overexposed in their raw file equivalents.
The RX10’s scope has come into clear focus throughout our use. It’s great for close-up focus - and can even focus at 30cms from the lens when at the 200mm equivalent while at f/2.8, which is brilliant - and that wide aperture range enables lower-ISO shots that many other cameras wouldn’t be able to manage.
At the lowest ISO 125 setting (there are "extended" ISO 80 and 100 options) shots are sharp and there’s barely a whisper of chromatic aberration to the outermost edges. In raw files purple fringes are apparent to the edges when shooting at the widest angle, but they're "clean" and not of great concern - some quick adjustments will see them gone, just like in their JPEG counterparts.
Processing is a little harsh, perhaps, as some of the more detailed finery lacks the grain and pop that might be expected - but when we get to see the raw files we’ll be able to make a better judgement about that. It’s not DSLR quality; that 1-inch, 20.2-megapixel sensor isn’t going to outshine the likes of the full-frame Alpha A7, but it’s still top drawer stuff.
Bump up the sensitivity and we’ve found ISO 200 and 400 to be of similar ilk, with some mottled patterning visible to the out-of-focus areas. That shallow depth of field is beautiful, even if it lacks the fully-rounded bokeh punch of a higher-end system. We were shooting wild hens in Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Square in Soufrière that exemplify the in-focus sharpness achievable.
Push up into four-figure ISO sensitivities and the RX10 outlived our expectations. It’s typical for a compact-like camera - we know it’s not exactly compact in physical terms - to take a bit of a dive off a cliff come such ISO numbers, but not so with the RX10. That’s owed to the same sensor as found in the RX100 II, a camera that we’ve already found to deliver image quality of considerable stature.
Following a trek along the Tet Paul nature trail, rainclouds came rolling in and we took shelter in a restaurant at a nearby town. Decorations and local bird life were of interest to our lens and at the full 200mm equivalent extension and with the aperture stopped down to bump the ISO sensitivity, even the ISO 3200 shots held up well. Colour looks a little more washed out and there’s not quite the same level of detail as at lower ISO settings, but overall the results are impressive.
High ISO raw files reveal considerably more grain, but not surprisingly so. There's also a subtle shift in colour, but it's the lack of contrast that shows the most, particularly in gradient areas.
Overall the RX10 is not a budget camera, but for both stills and video the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 has a whole lot going for it. It’s an all-in-one solution that sounds expensive, but the equivalent lens on a system camera would cost a considerable amount - that’s the ultimate appeal of this model. If you, like us, weren’t convinced by the RX10’s concept at first, think again - it’s a one-stop shop that produces great images and looks to be worth every penny.