I was quite interested when Sony announced their new 20.1 MP Cyber-Shot RX100 III digital camera, the third model in the RX100 line. The first two models received high praise from photographers for their great image quality while still being pocket-sized. Since I never got the chance to really use either of the first two models, I really wanted to try out this latest model.
The RX100 III is compact (102 x 58 x 41 mm), lightweight (about 290 g battery and card) and extremely well built. The new 24-70 equivalent f/1.8-2.8 Zeiss lens automatically expands and retracts almost completely, making it compact enough to fit into most jacket or pants pockets, a purse or a bag, so there’s no excuse for leaving your house without a camera. Although it’s small, it’s relatively comfortable to hold, especially if you have smaller hands. A grip on the front would make it a little easier to hold, but one can be added from either Sony (AG-2, $19.99) or other third-party companies. Overall the buttons and controls are well placed for ease of use, however, the dedicated movie was a bit awkward to push as it was recessed into the body. The menus were straightforward and logically organized; there were no buried menu items.
The one-inch (13.2 x 8.8 mm) 20.1 megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor in the RX100 III is much larger than the sensors found in competitor’s compact digital cameras, allowing it to capture considerably more detail. The RX100 III incorporates Sony’s new BIONZ X™ image processing engine that’s also found in Sony’s newest mirrorless cameras (a7, a7R, a7s and a6000), which produces images that have excellent colour rendition and detail reproduction. It produces excellent RAW images, but I was slightly disappointed with the quality of its JPEGs. In my opinion, the default JPEGs were a little over-processed, with sharpening and noise reduction being a bit too aggressive, but some of that can be adjusted by making a custom JPEG setting. When shooting in RAW it produced excellent image quality up to ISO 800 and good images up to ISO 1600. At ISOs higher than 1600 noise becomes progressively more noticeable.
One of the best new features on the RX100 III is the inclusion of a built-in, pop-up OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) with adjustable diopter. Located in the upper left corner, when not in use the EVF disappears into the top of the camera, but with a push of a button it pops up and then you have to pull it towards you to fully activate it. Although the EVF is small it has excellent resolution (1.44 million dots) and brightness, with 100 percent image coverage. Being an EVF you can display information, like a live histogram or camera levels, on it while shooting, which is really handy. The one thing that I didn’t like about the EVF is that when you close it, the camera automatically shuts down, which I found frustrating and there’s no way to change that. Hopefully that can be changed in an upcoming firmware update. The large 7.5 cm (3 inch) LCD monitor has a 1,229,000-dot resolution that’s bright with 100 percent image coverage, a wide viewing angle and good colour rendition. I really like that the LCD screen can tilt up 180 degrees and downward 45 degrees, which allows for a good range of viewing angles.
Another one of its new features is its lens, the Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70 equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens, which is both faster and wider than the two previous RX100 models (28-100mm f/1.8-4.9). However, on the down side it gives up some at the telephoto end. There’s essentially no distortion, the centre sharpness is excellent and the corner sharpness on average is very good at all focal lengths and apertures. This lens is definitely a high point of the camera; overall producing excellent results. RX100 III uses contrast-detection auto focus with 25 focus points. The auto focus was very fast in bright light, but slowed down a little in low light conditions. It has built-in image stabilization (IS), with one mode for still images and three modes for video. I was pleased with the results I got when handholding the camera at less than optimal shutter speeds. Surprisingly, unlike most compact digital cameras, there’s no macro mode, however, the camera can focus as close as five centimetres, allowing for nice close-up photographs.
Like the camera, the battery is small and, according to Sony will last for about 320 shots per charge depending on the features used. In my testing, I would say that those numbers are fairly accurate, although when using the EVF extensively I noticed that the battery charge appeared to drop faster. I was disappointed that there’s no external battery charger included with the camera; the battery has to be recharged while still in the camera using the included mini USB cable and an AC adapter. An external charger can be purchased for $79.99, but for cameras of this calibre (and price) it should be included. A better value would be to purchase the Cyber-Shot Accessory Kit ($99.99), which includes the above external charger, spare battery ($59.99 by itself) and USB cable.
The RX100 III is capable of producing HD videos at various resolutions up to 11920 x 1080 (60p/60i/24p) and can support the newer XAVC S video codec operating at 50MBps. Both models have lots of features that will make most videographers very happy while still being easy to use for photographers who only occasionally shoot videos. I found that the videos that I took with it looked really impressive. Of particular interest to both video shooters and still photographers is the built-in three-stop neutral density (ND) filter. The ND filter will allow photographers to shoot at slower shutter speeds and shallower depth-of-field in bright light and create motion effects, like blurred flowing water.
For a compact camera, the RX100 III is well built, highly customizable and has lots of other features, making it a very versatile camera. Although it has a few shortcomings and is relatively expensive ($899.99), I was very impressed with it. I would highly recommend the RX100 III to photographers who are looking for a top-quality compact digital camera; it may well be the best compact digital camera that’s currently available.
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