Sharing my first impressions of the Sony RX10 video. And a little twinge of hesitation.

No beating around the bush here. I wanted to know what the RX10 would do if pressed into service as a video camera. I had some time this afternoon, no models around, no ready subject matter and the ominous threat of rain so I pressed myself into service as on camera talent. That's probably why I'm showing you a still of the camera instead of some web compressed footage...

I put the RX10 on a tripod, fired up the florescent lights that were already set up and aimed through big, white diffusion, and got ready to shoot. I wanted to test the image quality, the ability of the camera to work autonomously by using face detection AF, and I wanted to see how it would handle sound. That's where the big Rode StereoMic comes in.

The video menu is straightforward and while I would have liked some options other than AVCHD for my high definition setting I didn't have much other choice so I selected to shoot at 24 fps giving me a data stream that hums along at 24 mbps. I set the shutter speed at 1/50th, left the white balance at AWB and stopped down one stop to f4. I wanted to use ISO 200 and as fate (and experience) would have it that ended up being the optimum setting.

I plugged in the mic, tossed on a set of isolating headphones and went into the menu to set manual sound levels. Easy as pie.

I pushed the magic red button and walked back around to the front of the camera. I spoke for about three minutes and moved around enough to present a decent challenge to face detection. Then I took out the SD card and stuck it into the card slot on my computing appliance. Wonder of wonders! Apple computers will now recognize and play back AVCHD files in QuickTime Pro.

I watched carefully at full screen on a 24 inch monitor and listen to the audio through a Tivoli audio system. Here's what I thought:

The visual image was very good. Not as rich as the Panasonic GH3 video. Not quite. But if you've shot video with a Sony a99 or a77 camera imagine twice as much fine detail and a very natural expression of sharpness. A big improvement. I haven't shot a Canon 5DIII in video but I did shoot several industrials with the older 5DmkII and I'd prefer the RX10 files over the stock 5D-2 files mostly for their cleaner appearance and greater impression of sharpness and detail.

I was shooting me in a dark cotton shirt against a dark gray canvas background so I didn't expect any moire or weird artifacting and I didn't find any. I know that AVCHD video has trouble with quick motion in shadow areas and I can see how that would be problematic for a lot of different narrative subjects but for the kinds of interviews I generally do it doesn't seem like it will be an issue.

Now, keep in mind that I like to light and my footage benefits from higher light levels and lower ISO settings (they go hand in hand).

The face detection AF worked as advertised and only got confused if I turned my face away from camera. I could certainly use the RX10 as a second, unmanned camera for an additional point of view in a static set up. Okay. So, video really pretty good. Not as perfect and rich as the higher level codecs in the GH3 but a generation better than Sony's previous still cameras.

What about sound? Taking into consideration the four foot distance between me and the microphone and the live nature of the room I'd say the sound was very good. I used the gain pretty far up on the manual level controls but I knew I'd be pretty safe as the camera has permanently implemented limiters which keep it from really nasty peaking noise. The overall impression was that the microphone inputs were nicely balanced but had a little bit of high end (hiss) noise to them. No problem while I was talking but just on the edge of "there" when there were silent spots. Yes, I checked. I was in manual.

If you were really picky about audio you'd have two other choices. You could choose to do "second sound" and run your microphones into a digital audio recorder and sync up everything later or you can buy Sony's XLR mixer that plugs into the multi-function interface in the hot shoe. The balanced XLR inputs would probably make a difference in noise while the (allegedly better) included pre-amps would also make a difference. It's an expensive solution and I suppose that I'll mostly choose to work with the standard input for stuff like PSAs that also have music beds, special effects and announcer voice overs that would cover any inherent noise. If you use one of these cameras to make a feature film with lots of dialog you'd probably (wisely) choose one of the first two options.

What else can I add about shooting video with the camera? Well, it has settable zebras which is like focus peaking for exposure, in a way. You can set the zebra's from 50% to over 100% and what happens is that when an area in the frame exceeds the level you've set the area over that level has what look like peaking outlines and fill in overlays in the overexposed areas. Why all the variable settings? Suppose you are shooting for good skin tones with a talent on a white background. If you set the zebras to 95% or 100% to show you when you are or are about to blow out the whites you really have no idea what the skin tones are doing. You might set the levels for 70% which would be just about right to trigger zebras when you are just about to go over for skin. By that point the background areas would be blinking like all hell. But you'd know where that exposure inflection point is and that's probably most important.

You also get focus peaking. I didn't force focus peaking into a death match with zebras but I can guess with both implemented at the same time things in the finder might get a bit confusing.

I also appreciate that the camera gives me level controls for the headphones. It's a nice touch.

So what about my twinge of hesitation? Just being a bit silly. I made the image above (Jpeg, no retouching or corrections) with a Panasonic GH3 and I used a venerable 70mm Pen FT f2.0 lens stopped down to f5.6. The file just looks so beautiful. And it reminded me that, with the exceptions of zebras and focus peaking that the GH3 has the same great video functionality but it also has nicer, richer files. It's all a trade off. I think the video review sites on the web are mostly correct. The RX10 is designed to be more of an electronic news gathering camera than a full on studio production machine while the GH3 is the opposite. Someone wrote that the RX10 was like the first Henri Cartier Bresson-like, handheld, reportage hybrid camera. I'll agree with that. It's very facile and quick and the quality is more than good enough---especially since I like converting most stuff to black and white anyway.

More to come as I work with it. Nice to run through the functions ahead of the paying jobs.

Have a nice weekend.

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John Krumm said...

To me it looks like a very nice, lux travel camera for someone who doesn't mind a little bulk. I was surprised how high DXO rated the sensor (69 I think).
Did Samsung send you the NX30? Would be interested in your thoughts since of course it has a viewfinder.... Looks like they have a fast zoom for it too.

Michael Matthews said...

Audio: so much fun.

Realizing this was just a quickie test, now you get to troubleshoot the source of the high frequency hiss. Does that Rode mic contain a battery? Could be getting low. Just as Sony has a reputation for adding a bit of correction even to raw files, the camera may be straining to maintain a minimal level during silence even in manual mode. Try switching the light source. Fluorescents can be busy little transmitters of RF. Or wait for natural light; could be something else in the building is the source. Then there's the Sony miniplug connector -- always ready to serve as an antenna. Even XLR-connected mics can be defeated if the final connection (say, from an impedance match box) is miniplug to the recording device.

If it persists under all circumstances, maybe a filter in the audio stage of your video editing program can knock out that range of frequencies without having any noticeable impact on voice or music tones.

Audio: yes, so much fun.

Dave said...

Nooooooo. Man I hope you figure this out. I've been selling myself on the RX10 for a couple weeks but the GH3 keeps hanging by a thread of doubt. If the GH3 had focus peaking this would be the other way around. After a GH1, GH2 and a G6 I have nagging doubts about Panasonic but darned if they don't "get it" with regards to photo/video hybrids.

So here's to the RX10 and Kirk ironing out the wrinkles.

Richard Leacock said...

A great read as usual. Looking forward to your updates as well as the informative comments :)

Claire said...

I agree that turning *both* Peaking and Zebra on at the same time (I did with the A7) can soon make your camera shimmer and blink like a well lit Christmas tree ! However both features are great to have, adn it's only a matter of finding the right settings and/or getting used to the visual feedback.

jonpais said...

What are your "nagging doubts" about the G6? I thought it's supposed to be a great video camera...

Eric said...

You might also want to try a different microphone. The Shure VP83F has its limitations (mono sound), but it's a shotgun mic (better for sound coming from some distance forward of the camera) and has built-in recording circuitry. So you can use the audio it pumps into your camera, or the mic's recorded audio, or some mix of both.

Anonymous said...

I bought one on Monday. If you think of this cameras as a superzoom bridge/compact camera that can do video, too, it may indeed seem a bit confusing.

But this camera is really a video camera. When you think of it as a video camera that can take decent stills, too, it starts making much more sense than the other way around.

I bought it as such, and I consider the fact that my new video camera can take pretty decent stills just as a nice bonus. It can be handy when on the road with a bike, for example. I think I already found a nice little bag for it, a one which has room for the camera, a mic and a small tripod or a monopod. That's it. I'll be all set and good to go with that small setup.

Since I've got it less than a week to date, so the new camera smell hasn't even faded yet.
But it does seem quite promising. It might even become a keeper, even if I end up buying another "better" (read: interchangeable lens camera) camera for video later on.

Being used to interchangeable lens cameras, the fly-by-wire focusing and the dual-purpose focusing ring on the lens needs some getting used to. I'd prefer a fully manual and mechanical focus and zoom ring.
Nevertheless, when I tried the camera in a local showroom before buying, I thought I can live with the fly-by-wire focusing. No focus pulling with physical markers, but still usable with the help of focus peaking and the focus magnification thingy.

The slow zoom is not much of a problem to me since I never zoom while shooting. I only use it to change the field of view in between the clips. I sort of hope Sony had left the ring on the lens for manual focusing only. though.

I for one have had focus peaking and zebras on at the same time, no problem. Fortunately the zebra feature is more elegant than in some Panasonic DSLM models where the screen may indeed "blink like all hell," as you put it.

As for the sound, well, may be a bit too early to tell but I haven't noticed any major issues so far with my two Røde Videomic Pros. But then again I almost always use an external audio recorder with any camera, and then mix the audio sources in post. So no biggie in my case. So far.

I'm slightly bummed that Sony didn't give us something better than AVCHD internally in this camera. I'm glad that they gave us clean HDMI out, though. You can bypass the internal AVCHD codec and record 8bit ProRes in 220 Mbit/s on an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja 2.

I haven't bought the Ninja yet, but I think getting one for this camera is an absolute no-brainer. Despite the fact that I'll need to come up with a rig of some sort. But I think a minimal rig, like a simple L-shaped handle with a hot shoe on top is still worth it.

If you plan on playing with the RX10 a while longer, I do hope you'll get your hands on a Ninja 2, too. I'm told the RX10 is much better with one.

As for comparing the RX10 to GH3, I think that's a bit unfair. The GH3 has a larger sensor and is an interchangeable lens camera to begin with, whereas the RX10 is an all-in-one design with a small sensor. Horses for courses, as they say.

Oh and BTW, a little bit of nit-picking in the end, if you don't mind;

"Wonder of wonders! Apple computers will now recognize and play back AVCHD files in QuickTime Pro."

At least Mountain Lion had no trouble in previewing the .MTS files in Quicktime X without transcoding. But when I moved away from the feline dynasty into the current Californian one, the .MTS files suddenly became strangers, like all the way to grey and green icon level.

So it's not really a wonder of wonders. Apple computers were in fact able to recognise and play back the AVCHD files in Quicktime before Mavericks appeared, and only lost it for a while during the early days of the Kaliphornian dynasty.

John M Flores said...

Just the considered opinion I was looking for. Thanks Kirk!

Ivan Singer said...

I think you had me at G6.

Just last year, you were writing about the same tests with your Sony A58, which is a $600 camera. Like the GH3, this is a $1200 1080p60 camera, with a fixed focal length and not even capable of a 4K video image. In a multi-camera setup, these cameras make a pretty pricey outfit.

RFS said...

For me, the question is becoming 'if I want to shoot video, why don't I just buy at darn camcorder and be done with it?" It seems like for $1200 you can buy a fairly decent video camera and not have to put up with the drawbacks of DSLR-style video. Or are you trying to say that this little guy is the ideal bridge between them?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi RFS. Put a little thought into this. All the video cameras in the same price range have tiny sensors which means there's very little depth of field control. The much, much smaller sensors also mean more noise (all other things being equal) and in that price range there are no advantages to stand alone video cameras such as XLR connectors and all the other production touches. At least with the Sony you get a lot of production features the ability (with an adapter) to get XLR mic connectors and really clean audio pre-amps, etc. as well as one of the best bridge cameras ever built. I'd say that's a lot different.

Anonymous said...

RFS: What Kirk said, plus it's not just about the size of the sensor, it's about how the sensor and the processing engine are doing the job of capturing and processing the video signal.

In practise it means the RX10 gives you better video than most dSLRs, full frame or smaller. The footage is sharper and has clearly less aliasing and moire than all but just two or so dSLRs, which don't do line skipping, either, but cost much more. Especially with similar lens reach.

The AVCHD codec is the Achilles heel of the RX10, (mostly when shooting scenes with a lot of movement), but as noted earlier, one can minimise that by adding an external recorder. Plus, you'll get a fairly decent photo camera, too, as a bonus.

You'd have hard time finding a camcorder for $1200 or less that can do the same or more. You might have to go for the new, just released 4K camcorder from Sony ($2k), albeit it doesn't have as nice a lens as the RX10.

Joe V said...

Good article, Kirk. I would comment regarding using mirrorless cameras, like the GH3 and G6, for video instead of a dedicated camcorder, that to me the main advantage is interchangeable lenses and, especially with micro-4/3, being able to choose from a large selection of film-era SLR lenses, via adapters, that can lend a very cinematic look.

christophe said...

Nice article. I noticed you mentioned the A77. I have one. I like the camera a lot. I know the menu, the profiles, the trics,... thus the Rx10 certainly appeals to me. It fixes the apparent weakness of an A77: lack of detail in wide landscape shots.

So I wonder, how would they go together? the A77 for shallow DOF shots (flowers, birds,..) and the Rx for wide shots.
Or is the IQ simply too different to mix them...
tnx upfront!

alfred said...

Today's cameras toss around the term "HD Video" left and right. And it might seem like there isn't a lot of difference between one camera and another but there is.

Atomos External Recorder