Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III – pros
- An ingenious pop-up EVF that discreetly tucks inside the camera body when not in use
- A large 20.1-million-pixel, 1in sensor
- A new 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens, offering better low-light performance
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III – cons
- The Multi-Interface Shoe has been removed to make way for the EVF and pop-up flash
See sample images taken with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – 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 we have tested, but it comes at a cost of around £700.
Image: This picture was shot as a raw file on the RX100 III, then converted to a TIFF file using Sony’s Image Data Convertor and edited in Adobe Camera Raw
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – Features
Although the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III’s back-illuminated, 20.1-million-pixel, 1in (13.2 x 8.8mm) CMOS sensor is the same as that found in the RX100 II, there are some big differences between the two cameras.
The first improvement is that the RX100 III features the latest Sony Bionz X processor. This chip is far faster and more powerful than its predecessor, and as such allows for improvements in how the camera processes in-camera JPEGs. Colour rendition and lens corrections both benefit from this new technology.
Although the widest aperture of the lens is still f/1.8, the shortening of the focal length of the zoom lens from 28-100mm in previous RX100 cameras, to 24-70mm in the RX100 III, has allowed Sony to make the maximum aperture f/1.8-2.8, rather than the far smaller f/1.8-4.9 on previous versions. This will help improve low-light performance when zooming in, and will also offer a slightly shallower depth of field.
However, the standout feature of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III is the built-in electronic viewfinder. Sony isn’t the first to add an EVF to a compact camera, with Panasonic having used an EVF in both the Lumix DMC-LF1 and the DMC-TZ60. Yet Sony has bettered the resolution of both of these by using a 1.44-million-dot EVF that pops up from the top left of the camera in much the same way as a flash unit.
The new EVF does mean the loss of a feature, though. As the EVF now takes the position where the pop-up flash used to be, the built-in flash has been moved to sit centrally above the lens. As a result, the Multi-Interface Shoe that was introduced in the RX100 II has gone. This shoe allowed the optional EVF accessory, external microphone adapter or a flashgun to be mounted. Given that the EVF is an expensive accessory, and most photographers won’t require the use of a flashgun with such a small compact camera, it was clearly thought that the shoe was surplus to requirements with the addition of the built-in EVF. I think it is a shame to lose the Multi-Interface Shoe, if only because it did at least give the option to use a flash or an external microphone when shooting video. Given the audience for the RX100 III, though, I don’t see this as being a big loss in practice because the built-in EVF will be far more beneficial.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – Build and handling
Apart from the LCD screen now rotating almost 180° and the repositioning of the flash to accommodate the new pop-up EVF, nothing has changed in the layout of the RX100 III from its predecessor. The new lens adds a millimetre or two to the depth of the camera, but otherwise the cameras are almost identical in their dimensions. This is good news for those with an RX100, as the cases from the previous generation will still fit the RX100 III.
Although the buttons on the RX100 III are in the same positions as on previous models, some of them have new functions to take advantage of the new camera’s features. The Function (Fn) button now offers direct connection to the Wi-Fi transfer function when in Playback mode, and the ‘?’ help button is now a custom button, which makes much more sense given the more advanced audience for this camera.
Just above the NFC spot sits the catch to release the pop-up EVF, which then easily slides out horizontally to sit flush with the rear of the camera.
Overall, the RX100 III handles very well. It is easy to change the exposure settings via the rear control dial, and a quick press of the Fn button by default reveals an on-screen menu for the most common shooting, image and exposure settings. Also, the addition of a second control ring around the lens barrel gives the camera the sort of dual control that we are more accustomed to seeing on a DSLR or CSC. The lens dial can be used to change exposure settings, or it can be set to control the zoom or manual focus of the lens. It is a nice touch that once again will strike a chord with photographers wanting a more manual experience that is akin to using a film camera.
The menu system is relatively straightforward, although it annoys me that the creative style mode is tucked away on the third page of the shooting menu, while ‘control with smartphone’ sits largely unused on the first page, but I can’t complain about the number of different options that are available. While it isn’t quite as quick to adjust settings as it is on a larger compact camera where a larger body can accommodate more buttons and dials, the RX100 III will fit in a trouser pocket – something that not many of its competitors can actually boast.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – LCD and viewfinder
There has been a slight modification to the mounting of the rear 3in, 1.23-million-dot articulated screen from the RX100 II. The RX100 III is now able to tilt through almost 180° to enable photographers to shoot the notorious selfies. It is a nice touch, but one that I feel may be a little lost on the target market.
The screen is excellent, with a good level of contrast and colour. It is great to use in bright light, but when it gets too bright – which even the best screens still cannot completely cope with – thankfully the new EVF is on hand to allow you to keep shooting.
I must point out that I did shoot with the RX100 III for a long time before remembering that the EVF was there. I guess I am so used to using compact cameras without an EVF that it is easy just to hold the camera at arm’s length and get on with it. However, once I flicked the EVF up and started using it, I realised that it isn’t just for shooting in bright conditions, as it also helped early in the morning when the light was low. The natural position of holding the camera up to the eye allowed me to steady myself and shoot at slower shutter speeds. The EVF is good, and although I think most people will only use it to take, say, 50% of their images, combined with the lens-control ring it offers a more traditional experience.
There is one criticism I have of the EVF, from the position of a left-eye shooter, in that my nose tended to press right up against the screen. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just a bit awkward. A simple solution would be for Sony to make a slide-on eye-cup accessory. I think this would be a very good idea, and mean that using the RX100 III would almost be like using a mini NEX-7.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – Autofocus and metering
When comparing the AF system of the RX100 III with previous RX models, I noticed that the new camera was just a shade faster.
Like its predecessors, though, the focusing speed could best be described as fast, but not snappy. There is no real hunting back and forth to focus, but neither is the focusing lightning quick. The improvement in AF speed could be the result of the lens letting more light in at some focal lengths, which will no doubt help a little in low light.
With focus tracking and face detection, the RX100 III has all the modern conveniences that you would expect from a compact camera. However, I still wish Sony would introduce a touchscreen just to aid the AF-point selection. It is a small thing, and it would make the camera more expensive, but it would allow for faster selection of the AF point. At the moment, the quickest way to change the AF point is to select focus tracking, put the subject over the centre AF point and then recompose the scene.
Generally, the evaluative metering setting in the RX100 III works well, producing well-exposed images regardless of the lighting conditions. When the exposure does need tweaking, activating the exposure compensation is straightforward, and spot and centreweighted metering, as well as a number of different scene modes, are also on hand for more awkward lighting conditions.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – Resolution, noise, dynamic range and colour
Image: With a 20.1-million-pixel sensor, a lot of detail can be resolved
The performance of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III is all down to the 1in (13.2 x 8.8mm), 20.1-million-pixel backlit CMOS sensor. This offers not only a high resolution compared to many compact cameras, but also the larger sensor size allows for larger photosites. In turn, the greater light-capturing properties of the larger photosites offer an improved dynamic range, better low-light performance and reduced levels of noise compared to a compact camera with a standard-sized image sensor.
The dynamic range is very good for a compact camera of its size, matching that of many DSLRs. The amount of noise at given sensitivities is also around 2-3EV better than a standard compact.
The resolution of the sensor is about what you would expect for a 20.1-million-pixel unit. However, the advantage is that the well-controlled noise levels mean that, unlike a compact camera with a standard-sized sensor, the RX100 III can maintain a good resolution even as the sensitivity reaches higher levels.
Overall, there are few compact cameras that can come close to matching the image quality of the RX100 III. Those models that better its image quality use larger APS-C-sized sensors, but they also have the compromise of having fixed-focal-length lenses and far larger camera bodies.
Reaching around 28 lp/ph on our test chart, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III has a good resolution for a camera of its size. The reduced noise levels mean that the camera is able to maintain its high resolution as the ISO sensitivity increases, and even at ISO 800 it still reaches around 26 lp/ph on our test chart. At ISO 6400 and the maximum ISO 12,800, the noise reduction does start to reduce the resolution to closer to the 22-24 lp/ph mark.
The larger sensor and photosites of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III make a difference when it comes to the dynamic range of the camera. At ISO 80 the camera peaks with a dynamic range of 12.42EV, which is actually on a par with many DSLR cameras with APS-C sensors. It is an impressive result, which means there is plenty of detail in shadow areas, although you still have to watch that the highlights don’t clip.
This graph shows how much a colour shifts from the actual colour to a photographed chart. The higher the peak, the greater the colour shift from the original. This chart shows that natural hues are well rendered in the default JPEG colour setting, but some extra ‘pop’ is added to the red, blue and, in particular, purple. Generally, images produced by the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III are very good, although perhaps lacking a little contrast in a few of the default colour settings.
Fortunately, there the individual colour modes can be edited and more saturation and contrast added, or reduced according to your preference.
Image: The in-camera b&w picture style provides a good level of contrast
Both raw and JPEG images taken of our diorama scene are taken at the full range of sensitivity settings. The camera is placed in its default settings for JPEG images. Raw images are sharpened, and noise reduction applied, to strike the best balance between resolution and noise.
The images above have a resolution of 300ppi and are shown at 100% magnification, reflecting a full-resolution print size. As can be seen, it is possible to produce very smooth images from raw files right up to ISO 800, and the in-camera JPEG files aren’t far behind, with just a hint of luminance noise. At ISO 6400, the raw file is again slightly better, particularly in the shadow area that can be seen on the right-hand side of the pull-up. While the image quality at high sensitivities is good, those people wanting the very best image quality should keep to the range of ISO 80-800, only pushing it to ISO 1600-3200 when absolutely necessary.
The grey-card images shown above are JPEG files shot with the RX100 III’s default noise reduction and colour settings applied. The 300ppi images are shown at 100% magnification, so they reflect the noise that would be experienced when printing an image at its maximum size.
As can be seen, the camera keeps luminance noise well under control up to around ISO 800. At ISO 1600, luminance noise does start to creep in to the image, but by ISO 6400 colour noise is also apparent, although still quite muted. Naturally, ISO 12,800 is the worst sensitivity setting, but is usable at a push. There also appears to be some blocky JPEG artefacts.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – The competition
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II
Far larger than the RX100 III, but offers a larger sensor based on that used in a DSLR.
Excellent image quality from the large sensor and 35mm equivalent focal length lens.
Excellent image quality in a slim camera, matched by an excellent price.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III review – Our verdict
At a glance, you would be hard pressed to spot the external differences between the three RX100 cameras. The differences often appear to be modest, yet with each incarnation the actual improvements are enough to make existing users want to upgrade to the new camera.
For the majority of users, the larger aperture of the new lens and the shorter 24mm minimum focal length will be more of a benefit than the loss of 30mm, from 100mm to 70mm, at the furthest end of the zoom. The image-quality improvements also take the camera up another notch, offering excellent results where similarly sized compact cameras – but with smaller sensors – start to show their weaknesses. Add to this the built-in ND filter, which will help those who want to take long-exposure images and allow the use of the larger apertures in bright conditions.
However, it is the EVF that most photographers will be interested in. The fact that Sony has been able to fit in such a high-resolution EVF, without increasing the size of the camera, is quite a feat. Most enthusiast photographers will appreciate having an EVF, not only for bright sunny conditions, but also for adding stability when shooting. For the more traditional user, it feels like a film compact camera.
As a companion compact camera to take with you everywhere, the RX100 III is ideal and DSLR photographers could consider it as a backup. As photokina is being held this year, there’s no doubt that many other great cameras will soon hit our shelves, but Sony has set the bar very high with the RX100 III.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III review – Key features
This is seated on the camera’s top-plate and allows the shooting mode to be changed quickly. It includes the usual PASM as well as Sony’s Intelligent Auto modes.
Touching a compatible smartphone or tablet to this spot on the side of the camera allows instant connection between the two devices.
Built-in ND filter
The RX100 III has a 3EV ND filter. This should help when taking long-exposure images, but will also allow the f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture to be used in bright conditions.
Around the barrel of the lens is a dial that can be set to control a number of functions, including manual focus or aperture size.
The video-record button is situated so that it can be easily pressed with the thumb. It is slightly embedded, making it more difficult to press it accidentally and start video capture.
The EVF is released by a catch on the side of the camera and pops up from the camera’s top-plate.