Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sony DSC-RX10 Review


Super-zooms occupy an awkward in the market. Cameras like the Fujifilm HS50EXR and the Panasonic DMC-FZ200 gives loads of flexibility, but compete in an uncomfortable position with the entry-level DSLR cameras which often cost the same or less. Sony has found a way around that problem with the DSC-RX10... by pricing it much higher... $1,299 USD high, that is. Problem solved.


That strategy, is of course, classic Sony. The RX100 II is already an expensive camera, but because of it's unique value proposition of having loads of horsepower in a tiny body, some people are willing to forgive it that. Taking the same sensor and tacking on a Carl Zeiss 24-200mm f/2.8equivalent lens...does that make it worth almost double the money?


Body  and Construction


The RX10 is not a particularly small or light camera. It will only seem that way if you are stepping down from a DSLR. At 813g, it's the same weight as the Pentax K-3 body, and almost 200g heavier than a Canon SL1 with kit lens. There is a reason for all of that heft, though, and it is this:


The bulk is coming from all of the glass up front. This is a 14-element lens... you need a lot of glass to make the 24-200 range work, especially at a constant f/2.8. However, this does make the camera quite front-heavy. In your hands it feels like bridge camera that was hacked to accept an SLR lens.


The back of the camera strangely does not have the same premium-quality feel as the lens. The body is thin and small, and to be honest, not much different from cameras costing half as much. Overall, the camera loos oddly proportioned, with the lens being comically large, while the body and grip being tiny. This applies to the pop-up flash as well, which is a thin frail-looking unit that looks out of place on the body. This is a camera that you have to hold like a DSLR, two-handed, with your left hand supporting the lens from underneath.

The lens barrel has two rings, one for zoom or manual focus, and one for aperture. Both are electronically controlled. You can also zoom the lens by a rocker switch on the shutter button assembly. Focus modes are toggled by a switch on the front of the camera where you would find it on a lot of serious-enthusiast cameras. A nice touch about the aperture ring is that you can change its operation from traditional camera-like "click" operation to a smooth clickless operation for shooting video.

Overall the menus are clean and are not too cluttered, something that Sony seems to be moving in the direction of. (Applause!) Like many cameras launched in 2013, there rear controls can be customizable. Operation with the camera is not quick, though, and in adjusting menus and settings, the RX10 is more like a compact camera than it is a DSLR.

One thing that is cluttered, though, is the virtual horizon, which inconveniently blocks the middle of the screen. Unlike other cameras where the level indicator is offset or forms a ring around the periphery of the frame, the Sony indicator resembles a Star Wars TIE Fighter chasing your subject.

Image Quality


The blue Carl Zeiss label implies a certain level of quality. To make a long story short, yes, the lens does deliver. Here's the camera zoomed all the way out at 24mm equiv. (JPEG)


ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/160s, 24mm equiv

Sony's new Bionz X processor promises a few party pieces, like better image quality and electronic diffraction compensation. There's some electronic correction going on here as distortion and vignetting are at a minimum. As well, the automatic white balance has accurately rendered the scene; many cameras don't get the florescent lights bang-on. Because it's wide angle and wide-open, ultimate sharpness isn't really apparent in the above picture, but global sharpness and contrast are fairly consist across the frame.


ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/200s, 200mm

Zoomed in and the lens is still doing quite well for f/2.8. Overall, this looks like a lens with a fairly big sweet spot. Combined with the image processing, quality shooting will probably be a more care-free experience than what people have been used to with other cameras. Here's what the lens looks like in a more natural scene.

ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/125s, 24mm equiv

Once again, the camera has done an admirable job with the white balance on this scene. Many cameras struggle with the mall courtyard and render the whites as a dull sepia. Zoomed in, the courtyard looks like this:

ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/80s
Global contrast and overall detail rendition look good. There's not a huge amount of bokeh, but what little of it that there is comes from the longer focal length, not the aperture. Turning back to our favourite soda stand, the ISO range looks like this:

ISO 80
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Base ISO shows plenty of detail, but colour saturation drops off noticeably after ISO 800. This is virtually the same behaviour that the RX100 II shows. Like the smaller camera, the noise texture is smooth, but that's because of a heavier-hand in terms of noise suppression compared to what you might seem from either Nikon or Panasonic.

Conclusion


This is a unique camera, likely looking for a unique customer. The RX10 can be the all-in-one camera that many people hope for, forgoing the need to ever move up to a DSLR. The problem is that it costs as much as a DSLR; in fact it costs as much as a good DSLR with an all-around lens (D7100 with 18-105). It's exactly the same unique selling proposition that the RX100 has; if you want a smaller package, then pay the same price as something bigger, but get the quality to make the small package work. In one important way, though, the RX10 works better than the RX100. Truth be told, you wouldn't be that impressed with the quality of the optics on the smaller camera, but the same can't be said for the RX10. It makes the most out Sony's 1" sensor in a way that the RX100 II does not.


Pros

  • Excellent lens sharpness across the zoom range
  • All-in-one 24-200mm range at a constant f/2.8
  • f/2.8 is usable at the long and wide ends.
  • Accurate automatic white balance
  • Dedicated aperture ring
  • No bigger than an entry-level SLR
  • Clear and fast EVF

Cons

  • DSLR-like weight
  • Zoom and aperture ring are electronic and a bit sluggish feeling
  • Virtual horizon is smack in the middle of the display, obscuring subject
  • The jolt you get with the "You've got to be joking" price.


With thanks to Broadway Camera.

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