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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10: Potentially great $1,300 camera or overpriced misstep?

With a large sensor and high-quality lens, the RX10 promises great photo quality. But its feature set may not match what many folks are looking for.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read
Sony Electronics

Well, no one can accuse Sony's digital-imaging division of risk aversion these days; it takes a lot of chutzpah to come out with an oversize enthusiast camera for $1,300.

True, there are a variety of sensible reasons for the pricing, but this still represents another push of the envelope for Sony. True, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 has a lot of attractive features, including the same 1-inch BSI sensor that's in the RX100 II -- but with the more powerful, updated Bionz X image processor that's in the new A7 and A7R -- a fixed 24-200mm f2.8 Zeiss T*-coated lens, 10fps continuous-shooting with autofocus, and a dust-and-moisture-resistant magnesium alloy body. And true, most people don't use anything other than the kit lens that ships with their dSLR; the equivalent-quality lens would likely run at least $1,000.

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The RX10: Sony's enthusiast uncompact

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But I suspect that there are some psychological hurdles to overcome here, not the least of which is that the camera size and lens make it look like a megazoom but it's not, and one of the markets that Sony sees for this camera is as a step-up choice for those current users. But megazooms are popular because of the long, relatively compact lenses, not because of the terrific photo quality or the big size, and I don't think a lot of folks would want to give them up. Panasonic's FZ200 has an f2.8 lens as well, but it's 24x and the camera is less than half the price of the RX10, and lots of people are willing to accept the less-than-perfect photos in exchange. (One notable advantage the RX10's lens has over the FZ200's is that it can focus at just under a foot at 200mm, while the FZ200 can't focus closer than 3.3 feet at the same focal length.) The Nikon Coolpix P7800 has a reasonably fast zoom lens that comes close in range, and the camera is a lot smaller and also less than half the price.

What about as an alternative or supplement to a dSLR? It's certainly smaller than one equipped with an equivalent lens. But as an alternative it lacks the interchangeable-lens capability, APS-C size sensor, and optical viewfinder; as a supplement, if I were planning to take something that big I'd probably just schlep the dSLR.

Sensor sizes of the FZ200 and the RX10

Sony's betting that people will appreciate the subtleties that have the potential to make the RX10 stand out from the crowd and be willing to accept the trade-offs necessitated by technological constraints. Pairing the larger sensor required for improved photo quality with a lens with a FZ200-like zoom range and large lens aperture would make the camera even huger and clunkier, or possibly prohibitively expensive. Despite its appearance, it's really just a bigger, more feature-packed alternative to the RX100 II.

In addition to a fast aperture, the lens uses a Direct-Drive SSM (Super Sonic Wave Motor) that in theory enables the lens to move and stop more rapidly than you typically find in fixed-lens cameras, with less overshoot and therefore more accurate control. The lens has zoom and aperture rings. While the zoom ring does feel nicer than similar designs, I really don't like the feel of the servoelectronic zooms. The aperture ring has a switch that toggles it between smooth and clicky. It does have a built-in three-stop neutral density filter, a pretty essential feature for lenses like these.

The image processing is ostensibly improved over the RX100 II with improved detail rendering and updates to the noise reduction algorithms. The increased processing power of the Bionz X chip also delivers sufficient bandwidth to enable improved tracking and eye-detection autofocus (humans only!), as well as pixel binning (aggregation rather than line dropping) for better video quality. It allows full manual controls in video and supports Sony's XLR adapter accessory as well as clean HDMI output.

It also has a nicer OLED viewfinder than you typically find on megazooms, bright with high magnification and a high eyepoint.

Some competitive context:

Nikon Coolpix P7800 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.2MP BSI CMOS 12.1MP MOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS
(7.6 x 5.7mm)
(6.2 x 4.6mm)
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - ISO 3200/6400 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 3200/ISO 6400 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 160 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 160 - ISO 12800
(35mm-equivalent focal-length multiplier)
28 - 200mm
28 - 100mm
Closest focus (inches) 0.8 0.4 1.2 1.9
Continuous shooting 8fps
6JPEG/ n/a raw
100 JPEG
(12fps with fixed focus)
unlimited JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/12 JPEG
Viewfinder EVF
0.21-inch/1,312,000 dots
100 percent coverage
n/a/1,440,000 dots
100 percent coverage
Tilting OLED
0.5-inch/2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
23-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
Metering 224-segment n/a n/a n/a
Shutter 60 - 1/4,000 sec 60-1/4,000 sec 30-1/3,200 sec; bulb 30-1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD 3-inch articulated
921,000 dots
3-inch articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Audio Stereo, mic input Stereo, mic input Stereo, headphone jack, mic input Stereo, mic input
Optical zoom while recording Yes
(Auto only)
Yes Yes Yes
Wireless connectivity Optional
via WU-1a ($59.95)
None Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots 540 shots 420 shots 350 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.7 x 3.1 x 2 4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 5.1 x 3.5 x 4.1 4 x 2.3 x 1.5
Weight (ounces) 14.1 (est) 16.5 28.7 (est) 9.9
Mfr. price $549.95 $599.99 $1,299.99 $749.99
Availability September 2013 August 2012 November 2013 July 2013

It's certainly an intriguing camera, and Sony's been doing a good job lately of delivering on its technological promises. But that raises the question: to whom does the promise of the RX10 matter and will they pay the price? It seems to straddle the worlds of the owner of the smaller-sensored but street-friendly enthusiast camera and the willing-to-lug-it megazoom devotee. I suppose with its video capabilities, it might appeal as an alternative to similarly priced dSLRs. What do you think?