Sony RX100 III -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Sony RX100 III with the Sony RX100 II, Canon G1X II, Nikon J4, Olympus Stylus 1 and Panasonic GM1. We chose to include a variety of sensor sizes in this comparison to show what you could expect as ISO rises, as all models listed are in roughly the same general price bracket here.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). Your own results with RAW conversions may of course vary somewhat. All interchangeable lens cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Sony RX100 III versus Sony RX100 II at base ISO

Sony RX100 III at ISO 125
Sony RX100 II at ISO 160

At first glance the RX100 III crops seem to pop off the page and appear sharper overall, but a careful study shows unnatural sharpening artifacts, while the older mk II images look far more realistic and natural. This sharpening can be turned down for JPEG shooting in-camera, and of course RAW conversions can be made to order, but it's important to remember that unless you want this much sharpening applied at base ISO, it's advisable to turn this setting down before shooting.


Sony RX100 III versus Canon G1X II at base ISO

Sony RX100 III at ISO 125
Canon G1X II at ISO 100

The G1X II has a much larger sensor than the RX100 III, with more than twice the surface area, but roughly 7mp less overall resolution. This makes for a somewhat challenging comparison. As with the RX100 II, the G1X II does appear more natural here at base ISO overall, regardless of the resolution difference.


Sony RX100 III versus Nikon J4 at base ISO

Sony RX100 III at ISO 125
Nikon J4 at ISO 160

Here we have two 1" type sensors, with the RX100 III having slightly more resolution, but it's fairly close. The RX100 III clearly shows more fine detail in all areas, but again is over-sharpened, while the J4 has difficulty resolving fine detail in most areas, especially the fabric swatches.


Sony RX100 III versus Olympus Stylus 1 at base ISO

Sony RX100 III at ISO 125
Olympus Stylus 1 at ISO 100

The Stylus 1 has a sensor less than half the size of the mk III, and far less resolution, making for an odd comparison. The first two crops from the Stylus 1 look nice and very natural here at base ISO, but the small sensor has trouble resolving the fabric swatches.


Sony RX100 III versus Panasonic GM1 at base ISO

Sony RX100 III at ISO 125
Panasonic GM1 at ISO 200

The GM1 has a much larger sensor, not quite as large as the G1X II but close, and roughly 4mp less resolution than the RX100 III. Of all cameras in this comparison, it produces the most consistent images of any camera, not really losing out in any of the target areas. Its default settings are not dialed to be as sharp, but the result is more natural and sharpening easily added in post.

 

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Sony RX100 III versus Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600

Sony RX100 III at ISO 1600
Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600

And now the real fun begins, as virtually everything but the best full frame cameras start to show strain at ISO 1600 and above, so it's nice to gauge just which ones handle it the best and which struggle more. The RX100 III's aggressive default processing shows odd and unwanted artifacts in some areas, notably the mosaic tiles, while the mk II delivers more consistent imagery, though obviously not very detailed.


Sony RX100 III versus Canon G1X II at ISO 1600

Sony RX100 III at ISO 1600
Canon G1X II at ISO 1600

The larger G1X II sensor shines here, able to resolve fine detail in most areas that the RX100 III lacks in. There are some apparent NR artifacts, but they're manageable and minor compared to the RX100 III.


Sony RX100 III versus Nikon J4 at ISO 1600

Sony RX100 III at ISO 1600
Nikon J4 at ISO 1600

There's not enough detail left in the J4 images to be of much use in a photograph here, although neither camera produces worthwhile results at this ISO. This is fairly common for this sensor size though.


Sony RX100 III versus Olympus Stylus 1 at ISO 1600

Sony RX100 III at ISO 1600
Olympus Stylus 1 at ISO 1600

Similarly, this ISO begins to be too high for a 1/1.7" sensor as found in the Stylus 1.


Sony RX100 III versus Panasonic GM1 at ISO 1600

Sony RX100 III at ISO 1600
Panasonic GM1 at ISO 1600

As with base ISO, the GM1 wins against all cameras in this heat for consistently good imagery with the fewest unwanted processing artifacts. A nice job for this ISO, and would likely yield usable images in most shooting situations.

 

ISO 3200 is generally an area for APS-C and Full Frame size sensors, but it's worth taking a look to see if any of the cameras in this comparison can match stride here given today's powerful in-camera processors.

Sony RX100 III versus Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200

Sony RX100 III at ISO 3200
Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200

This ISO is clearly too high for most sensors of this size, although the RX100 II certainly handles the noise much better, with images that appear much cleaner than the mk III.


Sony RX100 III versus Canon G1X II at ISO 3200

Sony RX100 III at ISO 3200
Canon G1X II at ISO 3200

The G1X II looks surprisingly good in the bottle crop for this ISO, but then loses fine detail in the other crops. Still, it yields images far superior to the RX100 III here.


Sony RX100 III versus Nikon J4 at ISO 3200

Sony RX100 III at ISO 3200
Nikon J4 at ISO 3200

As with ISO 1600, these two cameras clearly weren't designed to be pushed to this ISO.


Sony RX100 III versus Olympus Stylus 1 at ISO 3200

Sony RX100 III at ISO 3200
Olympus Stylus 1 at ISO 3200

Ditto for the smaller-sensored Stylus 1, which is really designed to remain at ISO 800 and below.


Sony RX100 III versus Panasonic GM1 at ISO 3200

Sony RX100 III at ISO 3200
Panasonic GM1 at ISO 3200

The GM1 finally begins to show signs of strain here, as its sensor is still only about a quarter the size of a full frame offering designed to handle this ISO, but it puts forth a gallant effort here regardless, and will likely yield usable images in less critical shooting situations at this ISO.

 

Detail: Sony RX100 III versus Sony RX100 II, Canon G1X II, Nikon J4, Olympus Stylus 1 and Panasonic GM1.

Sony
RX100 III

ISO 125
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
RX100
II
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
G1X II

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
J4

ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus
Stylus 1

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Panasonic
GM1

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. Ah... fine detail. Certain types of photography require the ability to render fine detail, and this crop of the "Pure" bottle lettering helps separate those that can. The RX100 III's aggressive sharpening lends itself to this crop, as it looks rather good compared to the mk II and the Stylus 1 and holding it's own against the rest. It loses ground though as ISO rises and the two cameras with larger sensors are still able to resolve some detail in the lettering, especially the GM1. This is one of the reasons why we chose to show different sensor sizes here, so that you would know what you were getting and giving up at this general price point.

 

Sony RX100 III Print Quality

Very good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 80/125/200; a good 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a nice 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 80/125 yield a good 24 x 36 inch print, with nice detail, depth, contrast and color. 36 x 48 inch prints are fine for wall display purposes here.

ISO 200 also prints a good 24 x 36 inch print, with only the mildest hint of noise apparent in flatter areas of our test target.

ISO 400 shots are good at 20 x 30 inches, again with only minor but acceptable noise in shadowy areas of our target.

ISO 800 shows a bit too much noise in these same low contrast areas to call a 16 x 20 inch print "good" here, as we did with the previous two RX100 models, though it's certainly usable for less critical applications. Sharpening and noise reduction at default JPEG settings have increased in aggressiveness compared to the first two models, resulting in a bit sharper detail but at the expense of increasing noise levels. 13 x 19 inch prints work fairly well here.

ISO 1600 prints warrant a reduction in size to 11 x 14 inches here. Where the RX100 II was able to yield a good 13 x 19, noise levels prevent that size here in the mk III.

ISO 3200 has results similar to 800/1600, where the mk III requires a size lower at default settings due to over-aggressive processing artifacts, and we can only call 8 x 10's good here.

ISO 6400 produces a good 5 x 7 inch print, bringing it back in stride with the mk II.

ISO 12,800 yields a good 4 x 6 inch print, again in stride with the mk II and capable of a good print at its highest ISO setting (not all camera models can do that!).

The Sony RX100 III takes a slight step backwards in the print quality department as compared to the great strides the RX100 II made. Aggressive default sharpening and noise processing results in visible noise and artifacts in the middle range ISOs that force a print size reduction compared to the mk II across 3 middle-range ISO settings. It is highly possible that conversions in RAW will yield larger sizes, but certainly not a guarantee. The RX100 II was such a big leap ahead for what a premium compact could achieve in low light performance, so we'd hoped for the trend to continue but, at least with print quality, this is not the case. Still, it's an amazing camera for its size, even with the slight step back from its predecessor in low light image quality.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 



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