IRL Sony RX10 Cybershot review

Mark 1 RX10; this camera is so old I doubt anyone cares about it; its so old that one inch sensors while a hit before, are now largely taken out by computational photography. It was a camera that really got me excited at its announcement; large sensor, magnesium body, constant f2.8 24-200mm Zeiss zoom; of course I never got it at its launch- much too pricey for me. Years later I would end up grabbing one off eBay along some other goodies and ….then it would go to the junkyard. For awhile. Until yesterday. When I brought it back from the dead like my favorite character class, the Necromancer. Here is my IRL review of the RX10 Mark I.

The RX10 claim to fame is of course riding off the R series platform in Sony Cybershot- this is their premium enthusiast line, most notable with the popular RX100 series and to a lesser extent the RX1 and R1 series. First launched with the R1 series way back in the early 2000s, it died out immediately with that line when Sony launched the a100 DSLR; DSLRs would take over the enthusiast segment until much later when Sony realized there was a market for premium large sensor compact cameras. The RX10 would be the zoom camera/bridge camera model. Coming out with 4 different model versions, the RX10 mark 1 and 2 focused on the 24-200mm f2.8 zoom range, while the mark 3 and 4 went to 24-600mm f2.4-4 and a much bigger body. Their biggest claim to fame was that large zoom cameras were known for really cool specs, but poor image quality due to too aggressive zoom ranges and lackluster lens builds, and too small of a sensor. The RX10 aimed to remedy that.

One of the interesting dilemmas is zoom range; its a known secret or not secret that long zoom ranges require a lot of compromise- you can fit a big range but it takes a lot of engineering to make that zoom a good quality; usually the reason why primes are favored over zooms. Especially in small super zooms. So this zoom actually breaks that trend by being a good quality zoom- that 24-200mm benefits from a big zoom size; usually a camera at this size has a lot of zoom range- i.e. Nikon p1000 going into the 1200mm range ; this is a 24-200mm and its much smaller of a range. The goal of a small zoom range is that it minimizes engineering required and by simplification, better IQ in theory. There are of course exceptions to this- very expensive zooms have shown prime lens quality – but again very expensive. Another way is to have size- smaller designs require more complex engineering. Sigma’s Art lenses follow this route- relatively inexpensive, very sharp, but very large. Sony’s RX10 series follows this somewhat- the zoom range is limited in the mark 1 and 2 series, and also is quite large. You can see it’s size is significant over the RX100 mark 3 24-70mm body or the Panasonic ZS200 24-260mm body. The RX10 mark 1 shows a much bigger lens design, and overall body accompanying it, despite the same 1 inch sensor. Is this a bad thing? Nope, if your goal is IQ. Generally, the lens quality here is considered quite good, a not difficult feat to achieve given the range and aperture of that lens. Pretty neat, and pretty unique. There are only a few other constant f2.8 large zooms out there and they don’t fare as well with smaller sensors- Olympus and Panasonic have a model or two that are largely forgotten like the FZ300. Its a neat enough addition, that despite the one inch sensor, its still a alternative body enthusiasts still look at. I would consider it the spiritual descendent of the DSC-R1- despite not having an APSC sensor, its modern 1 inch sensor and fast/sharp zoom lens make it an excellent bridge camera. That lens is really versatile. The argument against the RX10 series is that a mirrorless camera can be had with a two zoom kit that easily covers that range, has a larger sensor, and is cheaper. However, you do not get the constant aperture advantage, and arguably the two zoom lens kits are usually poor in quality, slow in aperture, and switching lenses is pretty annoying if you are out in the field. So convenience is a major factor here.

Design- that body is DSLR styled. Its a funny looking one with a thin grip, but its center mounted lens is pretty classic. I wish it had followed the weird body design of the R1 and F828/F717/F707/F505 bodies- I just think it looks cool. Handling wise, it probably makes more sense to have the lens center mounted for balance…I think. I especially like the top panel LCD readout- this is old school and probably not used all that much for me, but I like the styling and the orange back light. Few cameras have these top LCDs now. The build quality is great- feels magnesium and it feels premium. Its supposed to be weather proofed as well. I’ve never really tested the weather proofing of my cameras- just the action cameras in their waterproofed shelling. What can be said about the RX10 is despite the weatherproofing, anecdotally at least, there appears to be a problem with lens fungus- this may or may not happen if it was sealed, but it is fairly common to find front lens fungus complaints about this specific model. If you don’t know what lens fungus is, its fungus that feeds off the lens coating/glue material in a lens and it sounds disgusting and looks gross. And while it may not lead to IQ degradation (arguments galore online about how much damage a lens can take until IQ is affected), it looks gross. And if it does get worse enough, it will affect IQ. The unfortunate part of course is how do you clean it?

Cleaning the fungus- this is where this blog post comes in- after receiving this RX10 kit from ebay, I immediately noticed the wide angle lens adaptor had lens fungus growing in it. Of course, the seller tried to word his way out, noting the wide angle and tele photo adapters were bonus items to the auction. I got a good enough price that I didn’t want to bother arguing here even though the seller was definitely in the wrong; having an R1 model myself, I wanted to use these adapters. It turns out the adapters are so freaking heavy and cumbersome I never used them. Probably one of the worst designs ever. You can use them on the RX10 though, which is what I assume the seller was using before selling it off as a whole. It was from Florida, which is what I assume caused the fungus, with the heavy humidity/coastal area. I see a lot of fungus damaged lenses from Japan as well, likely a coastal issue. Anyways, the RX10 developed lens fungus years later, probably in 2020 or so, and this is where I got frustrated. How do you clean inside a lens? There were tear downs of the lens because of how many people likely dealt with it, fortunately. However, I got stuck once I removed the front lens element- it has two pieces and the fungus is in the middle. It wasn’t until this week when I saw a comment about ripping the silicone out, noting it doesn’t really matter if it is unsealed now, since its already infected with fungus. After careful ripping, I got the pieces apart! I was worried of scratching the lens, but I did not. Using a little soap and water, tons of lens cleaner and blow drying, I managed to clean the lens. I was worried the fungus had damaged the coatings, but there was no damage. After having the camera disassembled for more than 1.5 years, its back! Very happy.

General operations- being contrast detect only, its a great camera for still subjects, but for action its a pretty poor fit. The mark 2 upgrades with a stacked sensor but it really lacks the phase detect AF that the mark 4 gets for tracking movement. I took the RX10 to the amusement park and it was impossible to track the roller coaster- this is exactly what the a9 bodies are designed for. The RX10 when launched didn’t really aim to compete in the action segment- it was likely after the mark 3 with its 24-600mm focal length where tracking action became useful especially for BIF. It’s also pretty meh for tracking face and pupils; after using the excellent face and eye detect in the a7c and a9, its a bit of a let down to see the slow acquisition here. However, I do find generally shot to shot time and burst mode is quite responsive and I don’t get too lost waiting for the camera to respond. That is nice. I do miss manual lens adjustment- on a compact it doesn’t feel critical but on a camera this big, it feels like electronic zoom is slow- especially compared to the mechanical zoom in the f828 and r1.

IQ- I’ve touched base on this, but its pretty good. For the convenience of a 24-200 f2.8 zoom lens, the IQ feels great- I don’t notice any noticeable softness overall. I like the sensor color output too. And noise is not too bad – I have a few ISO 3200 shots that while not overly impressive- especially compared to full frame mirrorless output, I wouldn’t have gotten the shot otherwise. And carrying a 200mm equiv lens in a side satchel bag isn’t overly easy so not bad at all.

Compared to- So right off the bat, it is worlds better than the ultrazoom compacts – these are largely a dead camera model but are still for sale- the Sony HX300 being one of them. Image quality wise, the small sensors and slow aperture zoom lenses are dark, sensitive to noise, and generally low IQ in sharpness lens wise- they jam a lot of zoom in a small lens design. I can’t remember seeing one out and about now. They were quite the rage before, mostly from people including me who were excited about all that zoom, but quickly realizing that it was only good in bright outdoor conditions. Its a bit of a long shot to compare, but the zooms that I do have in my gear cabinet are the super duper old Canon S3is and Nikon S10. The Canon is a bit unfair and reflective of its time- poor noise quality all around- I never noticed obvious lens softness, but compared to other modern ultrazooms, it was only 12x and much smaller in range. It was considered quite good for its time- I would say the RX10 provides fast aperture at the tele end, and high ISO sensitivity as its main advantage. The Nikon S10 was just so bad in handling and JPEG output that I never really used it. It was neat to have a large zoom in a stylish body, but the slow aperture lens, meh IQ, and poor handling all lead it to not coming out a whole lot. How about modern ultrazooms? The Panasonic ZS200 is a good contender- I use this camera a lot, mostly because it has a 1 inch sensor and is a ultra compact 24-360mm zoom – its a camera that I can take and shoot unobtrusively, gather little attention, get reasonable IQ, and put in a jean pocket. Its focus is much better- although not phase detect, the DFD contrast based system seems more responsive. Its problem is the lens- although Leica branded, its quite soft and slow, a compromise for putting that much zoom in a compact with a 1 inch sensor. I can sacrifice that though, since its getting me shots I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The RX10 is built for IQ in comparison- fast zoom all around and a sharper lens. The Canon G3X gets a big minus point for being a) no EVF built in, requiring an add on accessory, an idea that still blows my mind with its 24-600mm zoom range and no EVF; b) manufacturer defect with the zoom eventually breaking down. IQ wise, I’ve read a lot that the RX10 has the better lens- whether thats the mark 1 or the mark 4- this makes sense because the RX10 models are a decent chunk larger, and likely didn’t have to compromise as much- AND they are faster aperture wise. Price wise, the G3x was much cheaper though and that was a big plus. The G3x never had a follow up unfortunately, which sort of sucks cause it had a lot of promise. Its a shame that Nikon never released their DL series- they had a long zoom competitor that would have made the market really interesting but the DL series was completed scrapped. All in all, I think the Sony RX10 1 makes a good argument for a high quality large zoom all in one body that can find a home in lots of photographer’s bags. It offers a quality zoom and larger sensor benefits over a smartphone – arguably as smartphones get better folded optics, it may not be as big of a sticking point for a zoom lens to be an advantage over a smartphone, but right now, most zooms end in the 130mm range (if at all, many are in the 75mm range).

Closing thoughts- I like this enough that I would have considered an RX10 4 just for the convenience of the all in one camera and a great lens. Butttttt I need to curb small sensor buying right now. I quite love it. I’m really glad I managed to fix the lens here. It’s really convenient and it inspires me to take it out and shoot. I brought it into the amusement park where there were tons of tight corridors and far away rides- getting coverage in these areas would require lots of focal lengths and lens swapping would be inconvenient. And all in one zooms in large sensors are generally not that great. And this is f2.8 constant. I love it.

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