Published on November 20, 2013 3:39 PM

Sony RX10 vs RX100 II: Same Sensor, Same Image?

RX10 gets a new lens and imaging engine

We're in the process of testing the Sony RX10 expert bridge, which uses the same 1" 20-Megapixel BSI CMOS Exmor R sensor already seen in the excellent RX100 Mk II expert compact (and the QX100 smartphone camera module). To accompany the inherited sensor, this top-end bridge gets a new 24-200 mm zoom lens with constant f/2.8 aperture, as well as Sony's latest Bionz X imaging engine that we saw work wonders in the Alpha 7R. So how does the RX10 compare with the RX100 Mk II? Can the new lens and processor take this star sensor even further?

Sony Cyber-shot RX10
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Comparing the RX10 with the RX100 II seems like a pretty obvious first step when testing Sony's new bridge. The sensor used in both models has a proven track record, and we've spent plenty of time waxing lyrical about it on DigitalVersus. But combining it with Sony's new Bionz X processor should further improve image quality and sensitivity. The new imaging engine promises improved detail, reduced diffraction and improved noise control with "area specific" noise reduction. So let's see how sample shots from the RX10 compare with those of the RX100 Mk II.

Detail: The RX10 Wins Thanks To A Better Lens

Comparing two zoom lenses with different focal ranges and apertures isn't all that straight-forward. Sony's bridge uses a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-200 mm f/2.8 lens, whereas its Mk II expert compact has a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 28-100 mm f/1.8-4.9 lens. We decided to look at how both behave at their wide-angle setting (24 mm for the RX10, 28 mm for the RX100 II) and at two different aperture settings—at f/2.8, which is full aperture for the RX10 but not for the RX100 Mk II, and at f/8, an aperture that's small enough to give us a good idea of the real potential of each lens. The following extracts are taken from the centre, the top right corner and the bottom of shots of our standard lab test scene.
RX10 RX100 f2 8 detail1

RX10 RX100 f8 detail1

In the middle of the frame, the RX10 beats the expert compact with a more detailed result (thanks to the lens) and higher micro-contrast (thanks to the processor). At f/8, the lenses are on par with each other. However, the image processing system in the RX100 Mk II gives softer, more subtle results, whereas the RX10 is more contrasted.

RX10 RX100 f2 8 detail2

RX10 RX100 f8 detail2

At all aperture settings, the RX10 gives better results around the edges of the frame than the RX100. Right from f/2.8, the RX10 moves into the lead and the RX100 never quite manages to catch up, even as the aperture heads towards f/8. As well as giving a more detailed shot, the RX10 does a better job of correcting chromatic aberration.

RX10 RX100 f2 8 detail3

RX10 RX100 f8 detail3

These last shots again confirm that the RX10 has a superior lens, even if the RX100 does almost match it at f/8.

In the end, the RX10 has a sharper lens that also keeps quality more consistent over the frame (from the middle to the edges). Plus, the new Bionz X image processor does a better job with micro-contrast and at eliminating coloured fringes. The RX10 therefore wins on detail.

Diffraction: Draw

We compared the two cameras at f/11, the smallest aperture available in the RX100. This should help us find out whether the Bionz X processor really does do a better job of keeping diffraction in check. Note that the shots taken at f/8 above offer an additional basis for comparison.

RX10 RX100 f11 detail1

RX10 RX100 f11 detail2

RX10 RX100 f11 detail3

Both in the middle and around the edges of the frame, it's hard to see any noticeable difference in diffraction between the Bionz (RX100 II) and Bionz X (RX10) processors. We'd even be tempted to say that the RX100 Mk II looks to do a slightly better job here. And it's probably best that we don't even mention the extreme f/16 setting, only available in the RX10, which soon succumbs to the density of the 17.2 Mpx/cm² 1" sensor.

Digital Noise

Our standard ISO sensitivity tests are just the trick for comparing digital noise and sensitivity. Here, the shots are taken at f/5.6 for both cameras.

Sony RX10

Montee ISO
Sony RX100 Mk II

When reviewing the Alpha 7R, which also uses the Bionz X processor, we noticed that images tended to look a bit dark and under-exposed. Here too, the difference between the RX10 and RX100 Mk II test shots is immediately obvious. While the level of detail is actually quite similar, the thin white line on the edge of the green circuit board (see above) soon gets totally drowned out by the heavier, denser dose of noise in the RX10. The results are similar up to 400 ISO, but beyond that the RX100 Mk II has the upper hand, with more finely detailed, more subtle and clearer-looking photos. And that's all the more surprising considering Sony's new "area specific" noise reduction claims to use different processing algorithms for different parts of the shot (for areas of texture, patterns, etc.). Plus, those algorithms are apparently borrowed from the Alpha 99.

RX10 RX100 ISO800 detail2

RX10 RX100 ISO800 detail1

RX10 RX100 ISO800 detail3

RX10 RX100 ISO3200 detail1

RX10 RX100 ISO3200 detail2

RX10 RX100 ISO3200 detail3

However, it's important to keep this difference in perceptive. The RX10 is certainly not a bad camera—far from it, in fact. Image quality is still very good, especially for a bridge. But compared with the RX100 II, we have to admit that we're a little surprised with the results, especially given the high hopes we had in store for the Bionz X processor. In any case, we'll be taking the RX10 back to the lab to run another round of tests to double-check the results. Stay tuned for the final verdict in our full review of the Sony RX10, coming next week.
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