Sony RX100 III: Perfecting the Threequel

 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III

Is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III the best walk-around camera available today? Aditya Nair seems to think so.

With the RX100 series, Sony has managed to do the unthinkable not once or twice but three times in a row. The original RX100 was the first truly pocketable camera with a 1-inch large sensor and a fast 28–100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens at the wide end. The second iteration saw improvements to the sensor, the addition of a hot shoe and enhanced video features. Needless to say, I was excited to see what the RX100 III had to offer.

Features
The first thing you notice about the camera is that while still extremely small, it is slightly larger than its predecessors. This is primarily for two reasons. First, the RX100 has a slightly wider and faster 24–70mm f/1.8-2.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens. It is shorter than the 100mm telephoto lens of the earlier cameras but still makes for a great multi-purpose walkaround camera. Secondly, Sony has add a nifty little popup SVGA OLED electronic viewfinder into the camera, making this the first camera that has a sensor larger than 1/1.7 inch, a fast lens and an EVF, all of these together.

The tiny form factor and the tilting LCD make it an extremely discreet camera to walk around and shoot with. Photograph/Aditya Nair

The tiny form factor and the tilting LCD make it an extremely discreet camera to walk around and shoot with. Photograph/Aditya Nair

There are some significant upgrades to video as well. Full sensor read out, first seen in the RX10 and XAVC S support for recording 1080p60 video at 50Mbps show a considerable improvement over both its predecessors and the competition.

The camera allows zoom while recording video. The camera has a few filters. But sadly, they can only be used when shooting JPEGs. RAW + JPEGs doesn’t work either.

Other features include a 20.1MP BSI-CMOS sensor, WiFi, 6fps continuous RAW shooting, a 3-stop ND filter, optical image stabilisation for both video and stills, a dual axis level and focus peaking.

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Handling
Aesthetically, the new RX100 follows the same look and design of the older cameras. It is 3mm broader and 10g heavier. The camera is made of aluminium and feels quite sturdy in your hand.
Sony says they were able to offer the wider focal length and much faster aperture by, “bonding two aspherical lens elements together”, while keeping the overall size of the lens manageable. This technology, according to them is a first of its kind. The lens also keeps the customisable ring first seen in the Canon S-series cameras.

To accommodate the larger lens, there is less space on the right-hand side for you to grip the camera. This can take a bit of getting used too. The camera could have done with a grip for improved handling.

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Improvements to the tilting 1.23 million dot (9.21k dot output) LCD means that is now goes a full 180° upwards for self portraits and down by 45° (earlier it was 90°/40°). A fully swivelling LCD would have been even better, but size concerns may have stopped Sony from incorporating one. I also wish the LCD was a little more resistant—the RX100 III’s screen attracts a lot of dust, smudges and scratches.

As a result of the EVF, the flash has been moved to the center of the camera because of which there is no longer a hotshoe. Personally, I think the inclusion of the EVF makes it worth it. However, videographers will miss the ability to use a microphone using the multi-interface hotshoe. There is no 3.5mm mic input either.

The EVF is small, but once you get used to it can be extremely useful. When you shut the EVF, the camera powers down. I wish this wasn’t the case as it meant wasting precious seconds turning it back on again.

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Photograph/Aditya Nair

The RX100’s tiny but powerful flash has an almost unnoticeable feature. It can be used as a bounce flash. Tilt it up to 90° and go crazy with it. I am calling it an accident, because you need to keep it held at that angle. Unlike the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 and the GX7, the RX100’s flash can’t be locked into place, sadly.

At the widest end, the flash throws a shadow of the lens into the image when the subject is near the lens. Given the camera’s 5cm minimum focusing distance and lack of a hot shoe, this can make closeup photography problematic.

The flash was tilted to illuminate only the leaves and not reflect off the shutter. Photograph/Aditya Nair

The flash was tilted to illuminate only the leaves and not reflect off the shutter. Photograph/Aditya Nair

The Fn button acts as a fully customisable quick menu. You can put up to 12 functions here. The left and right button of the four way control ring and the ‘C’ button are customisable too.

The battery life is average, but lesser than its predecessors. It allowed about 300 shots with liberal use of flash and playback. If you plan to shoot a lot of video or use WiFi, spare batteries are a must. But then, the lack of a dedicated charger (you can buy one separately for Rs. 3000) and the fact that the camera needs to be connected to the power source directly makes life difficult. Also, you can’t charge and shoot at the same time.

Performance
The RX100 III’s AF is accurate and fast in almost all lighting conditions. In good light, it is slightly faster than its predecessors. Continuous focus can be problematic. While it was mostly accurate, the camera would never give me an indication that focus had been locked, thus keeping me in suspense, all the time.

By compact camera (and compared to most mirrorless cameras), this is a fast camera. Powerup is instantaneous and focusing is quick, with no shutter lag. Photograph/Aditya Nair

By compact camera (and compared to most mirrorless cameras), this is a fast camera. Powerup is instantaneous and focusing is quick, with no shutter lag. Photograph/Aditya Nair

The ISO range it offers is 125–12800. At lower ISOs, images from the camera look incredibly good. In fact, you can easily shoot at 3200 and easily get away with it.

There isn’t a significant improvement between the RX100 II and III in terms of image quality. But then again, the fact that the lens is much faster at the telephoto end means that you will be using the highest ISO settings rarely. However, I would say that the camera performs better than the much larger and slightly more expensive Canon G1X Mark II.

Given the relatively small 1-inch sensor, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of details that could be recovered from the RAW files. Photograph/Aditya Nair

Given the relatively small 1-inch sensor, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of details that could be recovered from the RAW files. Photograph/Aditya Nair

The images produced by this camera are very sharp. The JPEG engine has been improved, but is not perfect. There is some amount of sharpening and noise reduction that is evident. The lens shows good centre-to-edge sharpness. Slight distortion and fringing is visible. Flare is well controlled.

Conclusion

Making a camera exciting three times consecutively is a rare feat and with the new RX100, Sony has achieved this. The camera is a good lowlight shooter, with a fast 24–70 lens, a 180° tilting LCD, an EVF and a bounce flash all the while being pocketable and discreet.

Effective IS and the use of flash ensured that the image was sharp the slow shutterspeed. Photograph/Aditya Nair

Effective IS and the use of flash ensured that the image was sharp the slow shutterspeed. Photograph/Aditya Nair

Whether I was photographing the streets of Puducherry, a pick-up volley ball game, indoors or just while zooming past in car, the RX 100 III had some feature that I could exploit to get great shots.

I have no doubt that it is a great travel camera, or even one to roam around with daily. Additionally, the video and WiFi capabilites make it an interesting option for serious blogger/vlogger too. Going beyond compact cameras available today, the RX 100 III easily competes against entry-level mirrorless cameras and their kit lenses. And it does this while giving you the pocketable convenience of a cellphone.

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Photograph/Aditya Nair

If you are fine with a lens that is f/4.9 at the telephoto end or need a little extra zoom, you try the RX100 II (Rs. 36,990) or the one that started it all, the RX100 (Rs. 28,990). But, if you want a significantly better camera with an EVF, the RX100 III (Rs. 54,990) is the one for you.

FINAL RATINGS
Features 1-inch sensor, fast lens, EVF, bounce flash, WiFi, no mic input, no hotshoe 18/20
Performance Fast AF, average battery life, excellent quality both in stills and video 38/40
Build Quality Strong construction, apart from LCD’s folding mechanism 13/15
Ergonomics Useful Lens Control Ring, camera is not as easy to hold as earlier versions 18/20
Warranty & Support Two-year warranty, limited service facilities 3/5

 

MRP Rs. 54,990
OVERALL 90%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3/5 Stars
Who should buy it? Anyone looking for a pocketable camera with excellent quality and an EVF.
Why? There is no camera that has a sensor this big, with a zoom lens this fast and an EVF, while still remaining extremely pocketable.

 

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Tags: Fast Lens, flash, EVF, PANASONIC LUMIX, Sony RX100 III, Sony RX100 II, Sony RX100 I, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III, pocketable compact camera, Canon Powershot G1 X Ma