Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Review

November 22, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |


The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is a premium bridge compact camera aimed at the keen enthusiast photographer. The RX10 offers an integrated 8.3x, 24-200mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom lens with a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout the entire focal range, a 20.2 megapixel 1.0-type Exmor back-illuminated CMOS image sensor, New BIONZ X processor and Full HD 60p/50p/25p/24p high-definition video recording with stereo sound and full manual control. The Sony RX10 also boasts built-in wi-fi and NFC connectivity, an OLED Tru-Finder with 1440k dots, a tiltable 3 inch LCD screen, Multi Interface Shoe and Multi Terminal accessory connections, continuous shooting at up to 10fps at full resolution, high-speed autofocus, built-in pop-up flash, dust- and moisture-resistant design, support for the Raw format and full manual controls. The Sony Cyber-shot RX10 is available now for around $1299 / £1049 in the USA and UK respectively.

Ease of Use

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 builds on the runaway success of its little brother, the RX100, by pairing the same 20.2 megapixel 1.0-type image sensor and premium look and feel with a longer, faster lens and a built-in viewfinder. Taking on the likes of the Panasonic DMC-FZ200 and the Olympus Stylus 1, the RX10 is Sony's serious take on the bridge camera category, with an equally serious price-tag to match.

The Sony RX10 offers a relatively large 13.2 x 8.8mm CMOS sensor, which is the same size as that used in the Nikon 1 series compact system cameras and 4x as big as a typical compact sensor, a fast f/2.8 lens throughout the 8.3x zoom range, a large and high-resolution LCD screen that can be tilted up and down, an electronic viewfinder, speedy auto-focusing system plus manual focusing too (complete with focus peaking), full control over exposure and Raw file format support. The Multi Interface Shoe allows a number of accessories to be fitted, with an external flash, stereo microphone, LED video light and shutter-release remote controller all available.

Amazingly the Sony DSC-RX10 has a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 all the way through from the wide-angle 24mm setting to the full 200mm telephoto focal length. The combination of the fast lens with a seven-bladed circular aperture and the big sensor is a real joy to use, allowing you to easily create defocused depth-of-field effects that you simply can't achieve with most other pocket cameras. If you've been searching for an all-in-one fixed-lens camera that will give you DSLR-like bokeh, then look no further than the RX10 - check out our Sample Images page to see just want you can achieve. The combination of the f/2.8 aperture, effective built-in image stabilizer and maximum ISO speed of 25600 also makes this camera well suited to hand-held low-light photography.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10's lens loses the RX100's innovative control ring, but gains an aperture ring and a zoom ring instead. Disappointingly there's no dedicated manual focus ring, but the zoom ring does automatically becomes the focusing ring in Manual Focus mode. Zooming the RX10 from 24mm to 200mm takes around three full turns of the zoom ring, a rather slow and awkward process. Alternatively you can also use the finger-operated switch on top of the camera, which takes a slightly quicker 5 seconds to progress through the full range. The aperture dial is a very welcome feature that makes it quick and easy to set this key photographic control, although we didn't particularly like the Click switch on the bottom of the lens barrel. This switch changes the aperture ring's mechanism from one with a positive click to one with a smooth transition, which is quieter and better suited to movie shooting. Our main criticism is that the Click switch is too easily moved, so much so that we invariably moved it accidentally whenever we used the zoom ring. Sony should really have added a locking mechanism.

Despite its large image sensor and correspondingly physically big zoom lens that dominates the front of the camera, plus the inclusion of a tilting LCD screen, electronic viewfinder and Multi Interface Shoe, the Sony RX10 is still manageably compact, measuring 10.2cms in depth, 8.1cms in height and 13cms in width. It is heavy, though, weighing 813g with the battery and a memory card fitted.

On the back there's a large 3-inch, 1228k-dot resolution LCD screen which can be tilted up to 45° downwards to shoot over crowds or up to 84° upwards. Sony's WhiteMagic technology results in a a very high contrast screen that can be comfortably used outdoors even in harsh sunlight. In addition the RX10 has an excellent OLED Tru-Finder 0.39-type electronic viewfinder with 1440k dots, complete with eye-sensor control for easy switching between the EVF and LCD and diopter control for glasses-wearers. The electronic viewfinder is easily good enough for constant use if you prefer that method of composition, with the advantage over a traditional optical viewfinder being that the EVF shows lots of shooting information and a live preview, just like the LCD screen.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
Front Rear

As well as being able to see the camera's key settings via the LCD and EVF, Sony have added a third way - the top-panel monochrome LCD display, which even comes complete with a light. Reminiscent of more advanced DSLR cameras, this panel displays the shutter speed, aperture, white balance, exposure compensation, ISO speed, battery life, burst mode and remaining frames, amongst other settings. Used in conjunction with the EVF, you could conceivably turn off the LCD screen and still be able to shoot with the RX10.

On the front of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is a chunky handgrip with enough room for three fingers, the massive lens and already mentioned zoom and aperture rings and the Click switch, a porthole on the left for the self-timer/AF illuminator, and a handy switch at the bottom-right for selecting the auto-focus mode.

There's a clever fold-out pop-up flash unit on top of the camera which is manually raised via a small button to the right and then pushed back into place., and behind that is the Multi Interface Shoe flanked by the stereo speakers. To the left is a traditional round shooting mode dial with a knurled edge and positive action which lets you quickly switch between the various shooting modes that are on offer.

Sony has included Intelligent Auto scene recognition, which works in virtually identical fashion to the intelligent auto modes of Panasonic's and Canon's compact ranges. Simply point the RX10 at a scene or subject and the camera analyses it and automatically chooses one of 11 pre-optimised settings to best suit. There's also the Superior Auto mode, which places greater emphasis on reducing blur and noise and increasing the dynamic range.

Adding to the RX10's snapshot simplicity, these features accompany face recognition and smile shutter functionality on board, the former mode biasing human faces in the frame and the latter mode firing the shutter when it detects a smiling subject. The Face Detection system automatically adjusts the focus, exposure and white balance for people in the frame, and can even be set to distinguish between children and adults. Smile Detection offers three self-explanatory options, Big, Normal and Slight. Used in conjunction, the Face and Smile Detection systems do result in more hits than misses, especially in contrasty lighting conditions, although all those smiling faces could ultimately freak you out a little! The self-portrait options in the self-timer menu work by automatically taking the shot with a two second delay after either one or two people have entered the frame.

In addition to the regular Program mode, which provides the full range of camera options and additionally allows you to change settings like the ISO speed and metering, is the welcome inclusion of Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual modes which let you independently set the aperture and shutter speed, making the RX10 instantly appeal to the more experienced photographer. The range of apertures on offer is extensive for a compact camera, ranging from F2.8-F16, and the ability to choose from 30 - 1/3200th second shutter speeds opens up a lot of creative potential. There's also very welcome support for the RAW file format, which is really the icing on the cake for serious photographers looking for a backup-pocket camera to their DSLR.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
Front Side

The proven Sweep Panorama mode lets you capture a panoramic image very easily without the use of a tripod. All you need to decide is whether you would like to start from left or right, top or bottom. Then press and hold down the shutter release while doing a "sweep" with the camera in hand. Exposure compensation is available before you start the sweep, but the exposure is fixed once you depress the shutter button. After you are done with the sweeping, the camera does all the processing required, and presents you with a finished panoramic image. There are two modes, Standard and Wide. Note that if you do the sweeping too slowly, or you let go of the shutter release button too early, the panorama will be truncated.

In the Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur scene modes, the DSC-RX10 takes six shots in a rapid sequence, typically at a high sensitivity setting and a (relatively) fast shutter speed, and then combines them into a single image that has somewhat less noise than a single shot taken at the same ISO and exposure settings. In our experience, the difference between the two modes is that in Anti Motion Blur mode, the camera is more willing to pick a really high ISO setting like ISO 1600 to maintain a fast shutter speed, whereas in Hand-held Twilight mode, it will only go as high as absolutely necessary to avoid camera shake at the chosen focal length. If light levels are truly low, however, the RX10 will pick a high ISO speed even in this mode.

The Clear Zoom function effectively digitally doubles the zoom range to 16.6x, using Sony's new Pixel Super Resolution Technology to increase the magnification. The Auto Portrait Framing mode uses face detection and the rule of thirds to automatically crop and create tightly framed portrait shots. The same Pixel Super Resolution Technology ensures that the resulting image is still a full 20 megapixels in size, and the original uncropped image is also saved for easy comparison.

Sony's long-standing D-Range Optimizer and HDR functions are present to help even out tricky exposures, for example where a bright background would normally throw the foreground into deep shadow. You can see from the examples on the Image Quality page that these features produce a photo with noticeably more dynamic range than one taken using one of the standard shooting modes, but at the same time without replicating the often "false" look of many HDR programs, and both offer a wide degree of customisation that's previously only been seen on Sony's DSLR/SLT range.

The Sony RX10 can shoot full-resolution 20 megapixel pictures at up to 10fps, a very fast rate for a compact camera. To achieve the full 10fps you need to set the drive mode to the Speed Priority Continuous option, which locks the focus and the exposure at the first frame. The RX10 can shoot up to 13 Fine JPEGs or 10 Raw files at 10fps, with the regular continuous burst shooting changing the focus and exposure between frames but providing a much slower rate of 2.5fps.

Present and correct is the ability to shoot full 1080p High Definition video clips with stereo sound. The various options are 1920x1080 60p/50p at 28Mbps, 1920x1080 60i/50i at 24Mbps, and 1920x1080 60i/50i at 17Mbps, all in the AVCHD format. There are also 1920x1080 25p/24p at 24Mbps or 17Mbps, 1440x1080 30fps Fine at 12Mbps, and 640x480 30p/25p at 3Mbps options available, all in the MP4 format.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
Pop-up Flash Tilting LCD Screen

There is full use of the 8.3x optical zoom during recording plus the ability to change the EV level, white balance, and metering options and turn on either standard SteadyShot or the Active Mode mode, which provides up to 10x more anti-shake effectiveness with no side-effects. If you set the shooting mode dial to Movie, you can also choose from Program, Aperture or Shutter priority and Manual modes, giving you full control over exposure for both stills and movies. The stereo sound can be tweaked with an audio level meter and adjustable levels, while the microphone jack and headphone output allow for more accurate level monitoring.

There's also a direct "clear" HDMI output from the camera, useful for playing back your footage on a HDTV set or recorded to a separate storage device, although sadly there's no HDMI cable supplied in the box. The dedicated Movie button on the rear of the DSC-RX10 allows you to start recording a movie with a single push of a button, and then stop recording by pressing the same button - a lot more intuitive than having to select the movie mode then press the shutter button, as on most compacts. You can also activate the movie mode via the Shooting Mode dial.

Slide the On/Off switch on the top plate and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 quickly readies itself for action in a just over a second. The adequately sized shutter-release button has a definite halfway point, quickly determining focus and exposure with a bleep of affirmation even in low-light, focus points highlighted as green rectangles on the LCD. The shutter-release button has a threaded insert that accepts a traditional mechanical remote release. When you manually focus, MF Assist automatically magnifies the image to help you get sharp results, and there's also the same convenient Peaking function from Sony's DSLRs that highlights sharply-focused areas of the image on the LCD screen. Go on to take the shot and JPEG or Raw images are quickly committed to memory in a single second, the screen momentarily blanking out and then displaying the captured image before the user can go on to take a second shot.

The shutter release button is encircled by a responsive forefinger-operated push/pull rocker zoom lever, with the RX10 taking around five seconds to zoom from wide-angle to full telephoto. Sony have added a clever step zoom function which lets you quickly choose from a range of popular focal lengths using the zoom ring - 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm or 200mm. Completing the top of the RX10 is a user-configurable Custom button, which defaults to ISO speed, and a traditional Exposure Compensation dial (+-3EV), which has a knurled edge and positive action.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is wi-fi capable and the functions can be adjusted in the Settings main menu. You can WPS Push to force locate a hot spot, access settings, edit the device name, display the MAC address or format all settings if you wish. More “on the spot” wi-fi functionality is done in the quick menu. Choosing where to transmit the images to (either smartphone or computer) is done in the Playback menu when you're looking at the pictures you've taken. One cool feature of the wi-fi is being able to link the camera to your smart phone using the PlayMemories Mobile app. You can then use the phone as a remote so those outstretched arm 'selfies' will be a thing of the past. The RX10 is also the latest Sony camera to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect it to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC-enabled camera by simply tapping them together.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The rear of the DSC-RX10 is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen, with the resolution a pleasingly high 1228k dots. As already mentioned, the screen can be usefully tilted up and down. Top-left of the screen is the Menu button - press this and a number of shooting and setup folders appear on screen, with white text on a black background aiding visibility. The five shooting folders allow users to select image size, ratio and quality and - if JPEG (RAW and RAW+JPEG also available) - compression rates too, plus features like SteadyShot, long exposure and high ISO noise reduction - all in fact activated as a default. The Movie folder contains the video quality and audio options, while the Settings folder allows you to tweak the RX10 to your way of working. The other three folders contain the various Wi-fi, Playback, and Setup options.

To the right of the screen is the one-touch movie record button next to the thumb-operated control dial and the rubberised thumb-rest. Underneath is the AEL button and the Function button, which accesses up to 12 customisable options that appear on the LCD screen as two rows of icons. The Function menu proves to be a very handy way to quickly change the RX10's key settings and one of the main ways of setting the camera to suit your shooting style.

The traditional round navigation pad can be used to navigate through menus and options, in conjunction with the small button in the middle which activates whatever it is you've chosen. The Up direction on the navigation pad provides a quick way of setting the Display, while the other three direction can be configured as you wish (they do nothing by default). The navigation pad also doubles up as a control ring that's used to set the shutter speed in the creative shooting modes, amongst other things. The ring is a little small, but it's not too over-sensitive and the ability to take full control of the RX10 in conjunction with the rear control dial is very welcome.

Underneath the navigation pad are buttons for playing back and deleting your images. Users have the ability to dip in and out of created folders of images or the calendar view, view thumbnails, select slideshows and choose transitional effects and accompanying music, or delete shots. Press the shutter button halfway and you're helpfully catapulted back into capture mode. And that's basically it. With a press of the Menu button in playback, users have access to a few in-camera retouching effects, including the ability to crop and sharpen an image and apply red-eye correction.

The bottom of the Sony RX10 features a standard metal screw thread for attaching it to a tripod. A lockable plastic cover protects the lithium-ion battery, good for 420 shots or 210 mins AVCHD video. Note that the camera battery is charged via the USB port, rather than a more convenient separate charger, so it's a good idea to invest in an extra battery or two for a full day's shooting. The removable memory card is housed in a compartment on the camera's right-hand flank, with the RX10 supporting the SD / SDHC / SDXC format in addition to Sony's own proprietary Pro Duo Memory Stick format. The Multi Terminal, HDMI, headphone and microphone ports are located on the left underneath sturdy plastic covers.