At A Glance: Sony DSC-RX10

Do you really need a DSLR nowadays? That’s a question many photographers and video shooters are asking themselves due to the surge of high-quality mirrorless cameras hitting the market, including Sony’s full-frame a7R and Panasonic’s Lumix GH3. Some of the reasons for this surge include the compact size of the cameras due to the lack of a mirror box and a pentaprism, as well as improvements in electronic viewfinders.

Under the shadow of Canon DSLRs, Sony has been creating some disruptive video products in its consumer photo and camcorder division. Initially branded by the camera blogosphere as an overpriced fixed-lens consumer camera ($1,299), Sony’s mirrorless DSC-RX10 has unique features under its hood for motion capture. Although its 1-inch (13.8×8.8mm) sensor may seem small for full-frame or APS-C shooters, for 16mm or ENG shooters where shallow depth of field isn’t essential, a 1-inch sensor is more than sufficient and is actually larger than a Super 16 frame (12.52×7.41mm).

And although it’s a fixed lens, the compact RX10 has an amazing 24-200mm ƒ/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens. In my opinion, the lens itself justifies the price tag of the camera since a Zeiss 24-200mm zoom with a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture would cost double the price of the camera. In fact, you can almost think of the RX10 as a compact Super 16 camera that you can take anywhere with you. And one thing your 16mm camera can’t do is capture high-quality stills with a 20.2-megapixel Exmor R sensor.

One smart feature on the lens is that, with the click of a switch, you can rotate from a selectable click or click-less aperture ring. For video shooting, especially documentary or run-and-gun-style shooting, you’re going to want to adjust your aperture smoothly while shooting continuously in changing lighting environments, so the click-less works much better when shooting on the fly. Another cool feature is that you can shoot not only in 24p, but also 60p for a sharper (although less cinematic) look.

The RX10 has several features that really differentiate the camera from other still cameras in terms of motion capture. For manual focus, Sony has also included a Peaking function, which lets you see in fine detail whether or not you’re in focus. For exposure, there’s a valuable Zebra feature to check for blown-out highlights.

Also for exposure, the RX10 features an internal ND filter that will enable you to cut down on harsh light when shooting day exteriors in order to shoot at a constant 1/50 shutter speed and wider aperture for a more cinematic look. (Having an internal ND filter will save you a lot of cash if you’re a DSLR shooter who owns a lot of lenses.)

In testing, one small complaint is, because of the RX10’s smaller sensor, low-light performance suffers a bit, especially when compared to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. But my biggest complaint about the camera is its codec, which is AVCHD. At 60p, the bit rate is 28 Mb/s, and at 24p, it’s 24 Mb/s, which doesn’t really cut it anymore. Canon’s 5D Mark III and 70D can capture roughly double the bit rate with its MOV (MPEG-4 H.264) files, and the GH3 can reach speeds of up to 72 Mb/s. Luckily, the camera does offer a Clean HDMI out so you can capture ProRes files, although only 8-bit. Hopefully, Sony will abandon AVCHD for future cameras.

But the one video feature that has received the most buzz is the RX10’s sensor, which can read out its entire 5472×3080 resolution through its Bionz X processor. Although you still need to downsample back down to 1920×1080, because it’s not employing line skipping like most DSLRs, the RX10 isn’t wasting nearly as much image information, which should eliminate a lot of aliasing and moiré. It’s too bad the compression really hurts this unique feature.

Contact: Sony, www.sony.com.

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