Sony RX100 III review, Fantastic but Costly

Sony RX 100 III-cover

Introduction

Sony is on something of a roll at the moment. The past few years have seen the company win plaudits for cameras such as the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 and RX1R, Alpha 7 and 7R, and Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 and RX100 II. The one thing these models have in common is that they offer larger sensors than other cameras in their class.Within the RX series, it is the pair of RX100 cameras that have proved to be the most popular. Enthusiast photographers have been impressed with not just the size of the cameras, but also the quality of the images they produce. The latest version, the RX100 III, adds further improvements to what is one of the best digital compact cameras.

Design

Sony doesn’t veer much from the tried-and-tested design of the earlier RX100 models. The RX100 III continues to look classy with its all-black plastic and metal body. The biggest changes are the inclusion of an electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the body and the exclusion of the hotshot. Other bells and whistles introduced RX100 II including the tiltable LCD screen and pop-up flash are retained in the RX100 III.The RX100 III isn’t very light, weighing approximately 290g including the battery and storage card. It isn’t super compact either, with dimensions of 101.6 x 58.1 x 41 mm. But for the power it packs, these numbers are almost unbelievable.

Sony RX 100 III-design 2

The camera will fit easily inside a loose pants pocket.The large Zeiss lens protrudes from the front and looks rather imposing. The back is dominated by a 3-inch tiltable LCD screen. To the right of the screen is a bevy of control buttons for movie recording, function selection, menu navigation, and image reviewing. The control wheel fits bang in the center of these buttons. There are a few more controls including the mode selection dial on top, next to the EVF and the flash.The left edge has a lanyard hook and EVF pop-up switch, and the right one has another lanyard hook and flaps hiding the HDMI and Micro-USB ports. The compartment for the battery and the memory card along with the tripod socket hole are on the bottom, as expected.

Sony RX 100 III-design

 

Features and Specifications

Let’s dive into the part where Sony puts all other compact digital cameras to shame. Inside the RX100 III is a 1-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor. Take that, all you 1/2.3-inch sensors! The Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* Lens has a focal length of 24-70mm. This means that it can capture a very wide canvas but on the other hand Sony has made a compromise on the telephoto end – a good 30mm has been shaved off. The RX100 III can capture images at 20.1 megapixels. It uses the new Bionz X processor which can also be found in the higher end Sony RX10 and in the A7 mirrorless camera. There is no internal memory but the Sony supports a truckload of storage media types, including Memory Stick Duo and microSD.There are a ton of shooting modes, apart from manual, including Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto, Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Manual Exposure, Memory Recall (1,2,3), Movie Mode (Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Panorama and Scene Selection. Additionally, there are many scene modes as well for those who want to get a little creative.With respect to connectivity, the RX100 III can connect to a smartphone via the now common Wi-Fi Direct option, but this is really cumbersome to configure. Once paird, you can use the Playstation Memories app on a smartphone to control the camera and see the photos you’ve taken. Thankfully, the camera also allows for pairing to compatible devices using NFC. This is a much easier method, though unfortunately iOS devices don’t use NFC.As we’ve mentioned, there is a new EVF. We were initially impressed that Sony had managed to pull this off, but after actually giving it a try, we’re not sure how much praise the company deserves. The EVF by itself shows clear images and it is definitely better than using the LCD, but the viewfinder is very small, and it feels odd to use it since the camera doesn’t have a great grip. Moreover, the pop-up mechanism is a bit too fiddly and delicate. It requires a two-step process which soon feels like a chore. Another annoying thing is that the camera shuts off each time the EVF is pushed back into the camera’s body.Sony goes berserk with the box contents. Apart from the camera, there is a huge manual, a Micro-USB cable, a charger, a 4GB memory card, and an HDMI cable. We wish that Sony had also provided a carry case, which we consider essential.

 

User Interface

For a spell, Sony began including touchscreens with its mirrorless cameras, such as theNEX-5N, but newer models, including the Alpha 6000 and flagship A7s don’t offer that feature. All three RX100 models also lack touch functionality, including this year’s iteration, which may be a disappointment to some. On the other hand, no touchscreen means Sony needed to include a range of dedicated controls and dials, which ultimately work to improve the experience. The trade-off, of course, is that you can’t tap to focus, which many shooters have come to count on when capturing video.The user interface hasn’t changed much since the original RX100. The menu layout is more or less identical, though there have been some slight cosmetic tweaks. The quick-access menu has been refined — it’s a bit more straightforward to use now — but indicators and the camera’s general workflow are consistent with past models. Like with the RX100 II, you can transfer images over WiFi using Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app for smartphones and tablets, but unlike competing products, you can’t control the camera remotely.

Sony RX 100 III-user

Performance and Software

To date, this is the best camera we have tested in our lab. The RX100 III wowed us with its performance in our ISO test. Noise started creeping in only at ISO 6400. Even at IS0 12800, the camera’s processor managed to smooth out images. As long as one doesn’t use photos at 100 percent of their size, almost all the ISO levels work well. Take a look at the samples below to see for yourself.Images captured in daylight had an incredible amount of detail, but the limited zoom capability did hurt our ability to compose shots a bit. There was absolutely no chromatic aberration, and all captured colors looked natural. The RX100 III had no problem focusing in the Single Shot AF or Manual AF modes, but struggled to pinpoint the object we wanted to focus on when used in the Continuous AF mode. For all practical purposes, the Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto modes work really well, but the whole point of buying such a camera is to use the controls it offers, which are comparable to those of a DSLR. We’d suggest users play with the options available in the Manual Mode for good low light photographs. Just ensure that subjects are not in motion, since the Optical Image Stabilization is not very good.The RX100 III performs admirably even in low light. It lets in a good amount of light and the captured details are good too. However, the Bionz X software processor works overtime with the post-processing and creates a mosaic kind of effect in its efforts to eliminate noise. This distortion is visible even in shots in which subjects are out of focus.Macro shots look phenomenally good. Take a look at the picture (enlarged) below and note the strands of thread on the lining of the red band. With a little bit of effort, one can capture really good macro images.For those who love taking selfies, there is a really cool implementation in the RX100 III. Sony allows the LCD to rotate a full 180 degrees so that it faces the person taking the image. There’s also a deliberate three-second shutter lag so that people can compose themselves in the frame. This is a really clever and useful software tweak.

 

The competition

Given all of the features that Sony’s managed to pack into the RX100 III, including a 1-inch sensor, an f/1.8-2.8 lens, an LCD that flips forward 180 degrees and that one-of-a-kind pop-up viewfinder, this is currently the only camera you can buy that includes that identical feature set. There are a few similar options on the market, though, with Canon’s PowerShot G1 X Mark II offering the most comparable specifications while still maintaining a point-and-shoot form factor. That camera, also priced at $800, includes a larger 1.5-inch sensor and a longer 24-120mm f/2-3.9 zoom lens. And while there’s no pop-up EVF, you can attach one to the hot shoe.If you’re looking for even more power, you’re not going to find it in a pocketable form factor. Instead, consider stepping up to a mirrorless camera or a DSLR. Our mid-range pick in the mirrorless category, the Sony Alpha 6000, which also retails for $800, offers many of the same features as the RX100, such as an integrated EVF and plenty of hardware controls, with the added benefit of a larger APS-C sensor and interchangeable lenses. You should also consider purchasing last year’s RX100 II ($650) or the original RX100 ($500) at a discount. Both are excellent cameras, and they’re considerably less expensive than this year’s model.

 

Battery Life

 I took the RX100 on vacation and managed to get through three days of exploring without charging up. On average, I probably used the camera for a few hours each day, so if you tend to capture hundreds of shots and dozens of video clips during each day of touring, you’ll need to charge up overnight. During that period, I was able to snap more than 500 stills and 13 minutes of 1080p/60 video, which was captured with the high-bit rate (and processor-intensive) XAVC S codec.

 

Conclusion

Sony is continuing a trend set with the RX100 and RX100 II, seeing the RX100 series as the compact camera for those stepping up from a smartphone or basic compact, the RX 100 II being for those who want something a little more and better image quality. The RX100 III is the ‘all-rounder’, for those who want the convenience of a compact camera, high image quality and a viewfinder.While we’re not entirely happy with how the viewfinder is activated, the RX100 III is an excellent camera. It is generally easy to get to grips with, pleasant to use and is capable of capturing high quality images throughout its sensitivity range.