With the 20-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10, announced earlier today, Sony has pulled off a significant feat: The compact camera includes features that let you produce a variety of high-quality shots and video that would otherwise be attainable only with much larger SLRs or mirrorless SLR-likes and several lenses.
How does it do this? In short, the RX10 couples a long, 8.3x optical, 24mm-200mm zoom lens (which has a constant f/2.8 aperture) with a large 1-inch CMOS sensor, while maintaining a rather small, compact camera-body footprint (it's made from a strong, but lightweight magnesium alloy). That means Sony included the two most important factors in image quality—a high quality lens and a large image sensor—in one relatively compact digital camera.
You may be able to find larger sensors in SLRs or mirrorless SLR-likes, but their camera bodies are large and bulky. Also, you'd need to use multiple lenses with the SLRS and SLR-likes to get the same zoom range and constant aperture as the RX10. (A constant aperture is important for a number of reasons, including letting more light in over the length of the zoom for better low-light shots and for creating a shallow depth-of-field even at the telephoto end of the zoom, which can produce more professional-looking photos. Most fixed-lens cameras' zooms get smaller as you increase the zoom.)
You can also find lots of digital point-and-shoots with longer zoom lenses, as much as 60x, on the market. But all of them have much smaller image sensors than what’s found on the RX10, which can also negatively affect image quality.
For more on SLRs and other advanced cameras, check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras.
In addition to the lens and sensor, the RX10 includes a host of other powerful features, including a high-quality electronic viewfinder, a swiveling 1.2-million-dot 3-inch display, optical image stabilization, a vast ISO range (ISO125-12,800), built-in Wi-Fi and NFC (near field communication), full HD-resolution video (1080 at 60p), and manual controls, such as an aperture ring. It even allows you to hook up the camera via an HDMI cable and view your images on a 4K HDTV.
But all this technology isn't cheap. The Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 will sell for $1,300, available in November.
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.