Hands-On Preview of the Sony RX10: A Quality Superzoom Camera for Photographers Who Hate Superzooms

November 1, 2013

By Theano Nikitas

With all the excitement generated by Sony’s new full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R, it’s easy to overlook the simultaneous arrival of the 20-megapixel RX10 superzoom “bridge” camera. That’s unfortunate because the RX10 is outfitted with a solid range of features and impressive under-the hood specs including the same 1-inch sensor as the well-reviewed RX100 II compact camera. The RX10’s 24-200mm Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens isn’t the longest megazoom on the market but that’s almost secondary because it boasts an impressive f/2.8 constant aperture.

I had the opportunity to shoot with the RX10, along with the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R on a trip to Nashville with Sony. Since there were only a handful of RX10’s available, it’s likely that the unit I tested is an early production model (at best), so please keep that in mind when it comes to performance and image quality. But we think the test unit is fairly accurate gauge of what to expect with this camera.

The Sony RX10’s body is well built and weatherproof, so I was able to take it with on a short rainy walk during the trip with no ill effects. Meanwhile, the bundled lens hood kept the optics free from raindrops. Despite its size (5 1/8 x 3 ½ x 4 1/8 inches) and weight (1 pound, 12.7 ounces with battery and media card), the RX10 is comfortable to hold thanks to a good-sized grip. A large, bright EVF and a tiltable, 1.22k dot 3-inch LCD were a pleasure to shoot with; the latter’s auto brightness worked well in bright sunlight, but 5-step manual adjustments and a “sunny weather” setting are available as well.

Focal length for the Sony RX10’s colossal zoom lens can be adjusted via the lens focus ring, or a zoom toggle surrounding the shutter button and on/off switch. An aperture ring makes it easy to adjust exposure while in aperture-priority and full manual modes. Since I always rested the lens in my left hand, I preferred using the lens ring for zooming. But whether you’re manually zooming or using the toggle, don’t expect a speedy response from the lens while adjusting focal length. Overall, it’s a bit slow.

While the RX10’s menu options — and many of the features — are the same as the A7/A7R, the control layout is somewhat different. External controls are minimal in comparison but, like its full-frame siblings, the RX10 is highly customizable. Not only can you assign one of more than three dozen functions to the C (custom) button, control dial options (including the dial, center button and left/right/up/down keys) but you can also designate what settings appear in the Fn button menu, in the EVF and on the LCD. I would, however, caution against assigning ISO to the control dial as I did since it’s too easy to change the light sensitivity by accident. I ended up shooting at ISO 10000 and it wasn’t pretty.

Image Quality
Although it’s too early to say definitively (and we’ll have to wait until final RAW processing options are available), image noise at high ISO wasn’t as good as expected — at least under some lighting conditions. (See some of my Sony RX10 test shots on this page.) Very dark, nighttime shots delivered rich, dark shadows with little visible noise while somewhat better lit scenes at high ISO were a little disappointing straight out of the camera. The RX10’s in-camera noise reduction helped but I think the best results will come from post-processing RAW files. Maximum native ISO ranges from 50-12,800 and at lower ISOs, test shots looked really good.

Preliminary test shots indicate that the RX10’s lens is capable of capturing sharp images with a good amount of detail. But further testing is certainly needed to fully analyze image quality. (Check out the high-res versions of two of the images here and here.)

The camera also offers NFC and WiFi and a solid set of HD video options but, for the past couple of days I concentrated on shooting stills. A full review of the camera will, of course, cover more details. Initial impressions strongly suggest that the RX10 — despite its high $1,300 price tag — is definitely worth a closer look.

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