Sony RX10 User Impressions:

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Ray Sachs, Dec 2, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I received a loaner of the Sony RX-10 on Tuesday afternoon, just in time to spend a couple hours running through the menus and options and getting to know the camera before an onslaught of holiday visitors arrived later on Wednesday. My initial impressions were overwhelmingly positive and most of those impressions still hold after using the camera pretty extensively over the Thanksgiving holiday. Knowing the quality of the sensor from my brief ownership of the RX100 and having faith in the quality of the HUGE Zeiss lens, I was quite sure this camera would be an excellent all-in-one travel zoom, something I wouldn’t likely buy. But I also had hopes for this camera’s ability to work as a low light candid portrait camera; possibly good enough to replace part of my m43 setup AND fill in as a good all around travel zoom. No better time than Thanksgiving weekend with a house full of family to find out what the camera could do in this respect.

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    Stroud walk-51-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    After a LOT of indoor low-light shooting and just enough good light shooting on a family hike, I’ve concluded that it is a GREAT all-in-one travel zoom option for those content to live between 24 and 200mm. But also that it’s not quite up to the standard of current m43 gear as a low light candid portrait camera. It isn't terriblet for this purpose, but it's not something I'd ever use instead of m43 for this application.

    On to the positives and negatives of this camera…


    * A very comfortable and well-built body, and a nice size. About the size of the Olympus EM1 with the Panasonic 12-35 or the Olympus 75mm lens mounted, except that the diameter of the lens is quite big, almost enormous. While that’s a bit of a shock when you first see it, it doesn’t really add anything to the functional outlines of the camera’s size and doesn’t affect its carry-ability at all. The rounded shoulders of this camera also make it look at bit larger than it is, but this doesn’t affect its actual size or handling either. I believe it’s even reasonably weather resistant as well – a nice feature for a travel camera for sure.

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    Stroud walk-34-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    * Excellent, awesome, wonderful, incredible interface and controls! I really like the controls of this camera. It’s got a dedicated aperture ring (which can either click or not click at the flick of a switch – brilliant!), a dedicated exposure comp dial at the right rear corner, and almost the same compliment of programmable buttons and options as the RX1, a couple of custom setting spots on the mode dial, etc. Functionally, it’s as close to a clone of the RX1 as a zoom camera could be and I count that as a very VERY good thing. It’s got two rear control dials that you might never use except to navigate the menu unless you use shutter priority or manual mode a lot. And the dial around the four-way controller can be set to be constantly armed to change a number of settings, including ISO – also a very very good thing. Probably because of it’s similarity with the RX1 and my familiarity with that camera, I felt very much at home with the RX10 almost immediately.

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    Stroud walk-24-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

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    Stroud walk-12-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    * Better than too many auto-ISO setups, basically the same as the RX1. It allows for auto ISO in manual mode with the ability to designate minimum and maximum ISO and with full access to exposure compensation. This is a lot more than a lot of very good cameras offer. OTOH, the camera also follows Sony’s convention of not allowing the user to designate a minimum shutter speed while using auto-ISO in aperture priority mode.

    * The EVF and flip up rear screen are both excellent, both useable in very bright light. I think I’ve read that the EVF is not as good as the one in the RX1, Nex 6/7, etc, but I couldn’t tell this by looking. Very big and bright and seems accurate.

    Stroud walk-45-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    * The camera is pretty quick and responsive in terms of AF, write times, startup, etc. There is only one notable area where it’s lacking in responsiveness – I’ll get to that in the cons.

    * Silent Leaf Shutter – Dead silent operation all the time, Nuff said. I guess there are some max shutter speed implications, but there’s a built in ND filter too, so no worries there…

    * The LENS LENS LENS! This is a really impressive lens. Once I’d worked with the RX100 a bit, I figured this was a sensor that could really sing if paired with a better, ie LARGER lens. Well, this is a VERY large lens, and it’s really nice throughout it’s 24-200mm range, all at f2.8. Which makes the camera highly useable in almost any light conditions except for the very lowest of light, where the limits of the sensor become apparent.

    First RX10 shots-10 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    * The sensor is the same sensor developed for the RX100 and RX100 MII, paired with the newest processor Sony has. I’ll leave the tech talk on this sensor to others, but it didn’t disappoint me in the least. It’s not as good as current m43 or APS sensors but it's not too far off of that standard - it’s quite good. The high ISO limits seem about a stop or maybe a bit more than a stop below m43 – I found 3200-4000 to be the effective limit for this camera. ISO 6400 is useable, but only in decent light conditions where you don’t really NEED 6400.

    * Overall low-light performance (when you have time to set up the shot). For a bridge camera the low light capability of this camera is pretty astounding. With an effective ISO limit of 3200-4000, a constant f2.8 lens, and a pretty decent stabilization system, you can shoot in very low light. Here are a couple of sample shots taken in town on a recent night and it does quite well. The first of these shots is handheld at 1/8 of a second, so the stabilization is at least good enough.

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    RX10 night streetscapes-15 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

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    RX10 night streetscapes-9 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    This one is at the full 200mm extension:

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    RX10 night streetscapes-14 by ramboorider1, on Flickr


    Two fundamental negatives, either of which might prevent me from buying this camera, but might not be deal breakers for others:

    * The power zoom is slow. There are two ways to control the zoom – with the zoom/focus ring (which switches from a zoom ring to a focus ring in MF mode – another very smart touch) or with the zoom rocker just in front of the shutter button. The zoom ring can either control the zoom as a step-zoom or a smooth zoom with no discrete stops. The zoom rocker does not have a step zoom option. So far, so good – all very smart design decisions. The problem is that regardless of which zoom control you choose, the sweep of the zoom is SLOW! It takes about two full seconds to zoom from 24mm to 200mm or 200 back to 24. I’d read about this and it didn’t really sound like a problem, but in practice I found it very frustrating. Two seconds is a LONG time when you see a shot and you’re trying to line it up. Most manual zooms can be adjusted across the full sweep in a fraction of a second. I found this slow zoom to be a real deal-breaker – something I wouldn’t want to deal with on an everyday basis. If this camera had a manual zoom over-ride it would make a huge difference. Given the difficult and varied roles the one ring (other than the aperture ring) has to play, I’d imagine adding manual zoom control would be impossible without making this already large lens even larger, but it’s a real functional issue that I’d expect would bother quite a few users.

    * Low light candid portrait shooting. It’s not BAD with this camera, but not up to the standard of m43. In highly controlled shooting of a willing stationary subject, it does pretty well and arguably well enough, but it’s a bit softer and grainier than the EM1 or GX7 even at identical apertures, ISOs, etc. But in less controlled shooting, just winging it with a lot of people around in fairly low light, the m43 gear just gets the shot far more consistently and the quality is notably (if not overwhelmingly) better when it does. Notably sharper and cleaner images, seemingly better face detection – just better results more easily and consistently obtained.

    This type of shooting may be an unreasonable hope/expectation for a bridge camera like this, but if it was going to find a place in my bag, this is something it had to handle better than it does. I’m not sure exactly where the differences are and it’s probably a combination of factors (sensor, face detection, stabilization quality, etc) but the sum total is that I just got too many misses and not enough clean hits in conditions where the EM1 or GX7 were nailing shot after shot, also at f2.8. Part of this is just the sensor performance – a full stop means a lot in these marginal shooting conditions - ISO 3200 looks about like 6400 does with the current m43 sensors and that matters.

    First RX10 shots-102-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

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    First RX10 shots-119-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    First RX10 shots-67-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    For this type of shooting, the bottom line is that I was getting softer and noisier shots from the RX10 in situations where either the GX7 or EM1 would produce clean and sharp shots almost without fail. This is a big issue for me. Probably not a problem for everyone, but if it is, check this camera out carefully before deciding if it’s up to your expectations (or other gear!). The other thing I should be clear about is that I'm basing this on shooting without flash – I almost never use flash and so that’s the standard I’m checking for. I did a few of these type of low light portrait shots with the little built-in flash and the camera handled them well, dropping the ISO back down into highly useable levels and seeming to expose the shot pretty well. So, if you’re ok shooting with flash, this concern can be easily overcome…

    One other point worth mentioning – jpeg vs raw. The first night I had this camera I didn’t realize that it’s raw files were supported in Lightroom version 5.3 (release candidate), so I was shooting in jpeg without really changing the default settings, including noise reduction. At web viewing sizes, the jpegs didn’t look all that bad even at 3200 and 6400, but with ANY degree of pixel peeping, the NR smearing and artifacts are really pretty offensive. Although at about ISO 2000, they’re not too bad even at 100%. Then I discovered that the raw files are supported (thanks Serhan!) and started shooting raw. And I then found that the raw files in low light at 6400 are ugly and noisy enough that I couldn’t really fix them presentably with the NR in Lightroom (which I find to be pretty effective for most manageable NR tasks). The noise still showed up at normal web viewing sizes and was really ugly at 100%. In general I’d always use raw with a camera like this – you can change WB, pull details out of the shadows and highlights that you won’t get out of the jpegs, etc. But in really low light at really high ISO, it kind of depends on how you’re displaying the shot. For small web images, the jpeg might look better because you can’t see the ugly NR at those sizes and you can still see the noise in the raw files. Here are a couple of shots of my brother, both taken at 6400, the first in jpeg, the second in raw, followed by 100% crops of both to illustrate this. The raw shot has a pretty good dose of Lightroom NR applied – about 33% on the luminance slider.

    First RX10 shots-43 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    First RX10 shots-126-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

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    First RX10 shots-43 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

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    First RX10 shots-126-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    My overall conclusion is that the RX10 would make a phenomenal travel zoom if you’re OK with the range of focal lengths offered - I’d always want something wider than 24mm personally, but many people would be very happy with a range of 24-200mm. In almost any lighting situation, particularly for static subjects where AF isn’t too challenging, the image quality of this camera is quite good, probably almost indistinguishable from m43 except in really difficult low light and dynamic range situations where m43 still seems to hold a small advantage. But if you’re OK with the focal range and have reasonable expectations for how well an all-in-one camera can handle specific types of shooting you might have higher standards for, I’d strongly recommend taking a look at this camera. I'm unlikely to buy one, but it could eliminate the desire for a couple of very expensive m43 zooms and handle 99% of what I'd do with those zooms very very well. So I haven't ruled it out altogether and I should be able to continue using it through some Christmas holiday travels, so never say never.

    It's a very very impressive camera....

    • Like Like x 18
  2. RidgeRunner22

    RidgeRunner22 Regular

    May 31, 2013
    Jackson, WY
    " OTOH, the camera also follows Sony’s convention of not allowing the user to designate a minimum shutter speed while using auto-ISO in aperture priority mode"

    This is what I have found most annoying, with my rx100. A mode is what i would prefer to use but because of the this logic I have to use S mode alot. I wouldn't mind this so much except that I have to pay very close attention to what aperture is being used at a given shutter speed. Obviously the much nicer lens will give you a better sweet spot as far as usable aperture.
    Slow zoom sounds like a bummer to, as I enjoy birding and wildlife viewing , I was thinking that the a nice zoom and a 1inch sensor would be pretty cool.

    Its a cool idea though. one very versatile lens a good sensor all in a compact package. I really like fixed lens cameras with nice glass!
  3. serhan

    serhan All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    Excellent review. It looks like a good alternative for a travel camera, other then the power zoom which sounds like it's made for videos... f/1.8 on the wide side makes RX100 useful for me for low light and I guess that 1.3 stops makes RX10 a little worse at low light...
  4. demiro

    demiro Serious Compacts For Life

    Dec 15, 2011
    As always Ray, thank you for the review. Maybe a bigger thank you than normal this time, as you are potentially saving me some money!

    If the RX10 doesn't quite live up to expectations for indoor portrait type stuff it would be a hard choice for me over something like the Panasonic FZ200, where you pick up 400mm of FL and save $700+, while admittedly trading off some IQ. That IQ tradeoff has to be pretty big to justify the total package of the Sony though, and it just sounds like it's not quite there.
  5. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I"m still sort of undecided. If I got the RX10 it would save me money over achieving the same function in m43 gear. For the kind of low light portrait shooting that m43 excels at, I do usually end up shooting with the 75mm anyway. I have the Panasonic 35-100 and it's a great general purpose telephoto but over the holidays I used it some but used the 75mm MUCH MUCH more because it's simply perfect for that and there's an extra stop + of light gathering. So if I sell the 35-100 that almost pays for the RX10, let alone I avoid buying a 12-35/40 and possibly a second body to complete an m43 system to cover the same ground. So one option I haven't tossed out is just keeping one m43 body with the 7-14, 75mm, and the 75-300 (used rarely but nice to have and not much value left in it anyway so no point in selling), and maybe adding the 45 f1.8 for that shorter portrait option. Sell the 35-100 and get the RX10 to cover that 24 to 200 range in one very handy package with excellent IQ in all but the most challenging situations. For which I still have the RX1 and Nikon A. And the m43 gear will serve as originally intended, for very specific uses where it's combination of features and, as importantly, lenses, are just better than I could do for those uses any other way (without going huge or hugely expensive).

    I'm going to shoot with the RX10 as much as I can over the month I have it and then will probably either decide to buy it as a general walk-around companion to the RX1 or a single very light travel option (although I can't imagine not also bringing the RX1 and Nikon A along for ANY sort of travel!). Or I fill out the m43 system to handle more than only the specialty role I've got it in at the moment. The RX10 would be the less expensive option - I just have to see how much I like using it over time...

  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Yeah, the RX10 is a little worse in low light at the wide end, but much better pretty quickly as you move up through the zoom range, and of course much more zoom range with a better lens throughout the range. The RX100 I never enjoyed shooting with. The RX10 I enjoy a lot except that the slow zoom is a real buzz-kill. I'll see how much that bugs me or if I learn to anticipate with it better...

  7. drd1135

    drd1135 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    Lexington, Virginia
    Nice review. Thanks for the taking the time to write this. Those are a nice set of images. Still a bit too pricey in my book, but in many ways it's a one-of-a-kind camera so I guess they are entitled, at least for while.
  8. bobbywise

    bobbywise Regular

    Jun 2, 2012
    Nantes, France
    Robert Wisbey
    Thanks as ever for the great review Ray.
    I think the fact you compare it with pretty much the latest M43 gear kind of shows how good the RX10 is.
    Personally, I won't go for the RX10 (for a sensor that size, I prefer the pocketable cameras).
  9. retow

    retow All-Pro

    Jul 24, 2010
    An excellent review, lots of information and very nice pictures. The RX10 looks like a good family holiday and travel camera.
    I wished I could mate this sensor with the excellent Nikon 6.7-13mm wide angle zoom or the outstanding f1.2 32mm and the Nikon`s V1 AF speed. This would be quite something and easily competing in mft territory.
  10. jiamflash

    jiamflash New Member

    Dec 3, 2013
    Thanks for a good review. RX10 is THE perfect travel camera for me, until I learn about the sloowwww electronic zoom. Like you, that is a deal breaker for me as well.
  11. Yeats

    Yeats All-Pro

    Jul 31, 2012
    New Jersey, USA
    I wonder when/if Sony will make that sensor available to others?

    I wonder if there will be a similar m43 camera, perhaps an f/2.8 - 4.0 lens to accommodate the larger sensor.

    I wonder if Sony had Olympus sign a no-compete agreement prior to providing them with senors?
  12. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I think Sony probably just controls the sensors they give to Olympus to make sure they don't compete too directly. Sony doesn't make anything with a 4-3 or a 1/1.7" sensor these days do they? I too hope Sony decides to make this sensor available to others. As I noted in another thread, this sensor in something like an LX7 spec with a larger body (maybe X-100 size?) to make the controls and the lens speed work would be my ideal compact. I might even buy and use one rather than just admiring it...

    • Like Like x 1
  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    One more thing on the slow zoom.

    I did some shooting at my town's Christmas Parade last night. I used an m43 setup with the new Olympus 12-40 lens (and the Panasonic 35-100 in the bag). And I tried some shooting briefly with the RX10. This is one of those contexts where the slow zoom was a huge impediment, pretty much unusable as a zoom. You could set it to one focal length and shoot it like a prime and then change it every now and then. But for quick reaction quick changes in focal length, not a chance. The manual zoom on the Olympus was basically instant, as is pretty much any manual zoom I've used (other than a couple of really horrible kit zooms I've tried over the years).

    I'd say for a lot of travel uses, the RX10 zoom would be fast enough. But for some of the more active types of shooting I've tried with it, it just doesn't cut it. It's a fine camera and I'd sort of hoped it might be a replacement for a PART of an m43 system. But, for me at least, it's not.

    So it's packed back in it's box now, but it doesn't have to go back right away, so if anyone has any questions, I'll have it available a while longer.

    • Like Like x 2
  14. serhan

    serhan All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Couldn't agree more - my findings on the zoom, the IQ, and the overall high quality of the camera and interface are just about identical to Michael's. I wish I liked the two things I didn't like just a little bit more, because I like the rest so much I'd like to have bought the camera. But they were just far enough below what I wanted/needed to be deal breakers for me and I've doubled down on m43 instead.

  16. GeirJ

    GeirJ New Member

    Apr 8, 2012
    I have had my RX10 for three days now, but I haven't been able to take more than a few pictures with it so far, since I live in Norway and I'm at work during the few hours of daylight we have at this time of year. For me this is very close to being an ideal everyday camera. Every camera is a compromise and what works for one person will not neccessarily work for someone else. I don't find the zoom to be too slow, and as soon as DxO Optics Pro has a module for it high ISO shots should not be a great problem.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. RT Panther

    RT Panther All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    I love what Sony has done with the new Super-Compact King....

    If it can pass the "no professional cameras/no cameras with removable lenses" event security test, I just might have to get one of these! :smile: