Point and shoot cameras with long zoom lenses (typically called "superzooms") have been around for years, but they've all suffered from a few tragic flaws: poor low-light performance, slow AF, and large, cumbersome build. Sony is hoping to resolve two of those problems with its new RX10 camera, a $1299.99 superzoom camera that promises no compromises in image quality and a speedy autofocus system.
The RX10 is the latest member of Sony's RX line of cameras (which now includes the RX1, RX1r, RX100, and RX100 Mark II) and it features a 20.2-megapixel, 1-inch, backside illuminated sensor behind a massive 24-200mm (in 35mm equivalent) constant aperture f/2.8 optically stabilized lens. The sensor is the same impressive chip found in the RX100 Mark II, which we've seen to provide stellar image quality, even in low light conditions. The lens is branded as a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*, and Sony says it is the first constant f/2.8 aperture lens with that kind of zoom range. It also boasts a very short 3cm working distance for macro shots.
Aside from low-light image quality, superzoom cameras also typically struggle with autofocus speed. Sony claims to have solved that issue on the RX10 with the latest generation of its in-camera processor (now known as Bionz X) and a new, high speed ultrasonic focusing system. The new system makes the RX10 capable of firing off 10 frames per second with continuous autofocus, which is no small feat. The RX10 also has a new Eye AF system, which tracks focusing based on the subject's eye, not just their face. For video, the RX10 can shoot 1080p HD video at 60fps, and it is capable of processing data from each one of the sensor's pixels, as opposed to many DSLR cameras that drop pixels when they shoot video. The camera is also able to output native 4K images to compatible TVs over standard HDMI cables, providing four times the detail for stills over 1080p.
Sony left no feature off of the RX10
All of that lens and sensor technology means the RX10 isn't especially compact, but it is roughly the same size as a small, entry-level DSLR. Matching its high-end specs and price tag is a magnesium alloy body with weather sealing, a bright and sharp XGA OLED electronic viewfinder, manual aperture ring (which can switch between stepped for stills and smooth operation for video), electronically damped zoom ring, and as many dials and switches as Sony could manage to fit on the camera's frame. Sony didn't leave any feature off of the RX10 and it has pretty much anything a demanding amateur photographer can ask for: dual stereo mics, headphone jack, external microphone jack, variable angle LCD, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, and an accessory shoe to mount external microphones or flashes.
We got to spend some brief time with the RX10, and for the most part came away impressed. Sony's claims about focusing speed seem to be accurate — we were able to focus on close subjects and then switch to a far away subject almost instantly. The build quality of the camera was right in line with other cameras in its price range, and the eye-level viewfinder was one of the best electronic viewfinders we've laid eyes on. We really did not like Sony's electronically controlled zoom ring, however; it didn't move fast enough for our liking and just didn't feel right on a camera of this caliber. Further judgements on the camera's image quality will have to wait for a full review, but we don't expect significantly different results from what we've seen on the RX100 Mark II.
Will buyers pay more than a DSLR for the convenience of the RX10?
Sony plans to make the RX10 available at most retail stores and online next month. Its extensive list of features and impressive optics and sensor promise to make it the ultimate camera for soccer moms everywhere, provided they don't mind lugging it around. Sony is quick to point out that matching the quality and range of the RX10's lens with a typical DSLR would be considerably more expensive and larger in size. Now the question is, will those parents shell out more money than a DSLR for the convenience and performance of the RX10?