Sony RX100 III Review
|Full model name:||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III|
|Sensor size:||1 inch|
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Dimensions:||4.0 x 2.3 x 1.6 in.
(102 x 58 x 41 mm)
|Weight:||10.1 oz (287 g)
|Full specs:||Sony RX100 III specifications|
RX100 III Summary
It was clear from its heritage that the Sony RX100 III would be an exciting camera, given that both its predecessors earned our Pocket Camera of the Year award, two years running. But that level of success also meant some mighty big shoes to fill. Sony's pocket-friendly shooter line are in a class of their own, and we shot all three models side-by-side to determine once and for all -- which is the best compact camera that money can buy? Did the RX100 III have what it took to steal the crown? Read our Sony RX100 III review, and find out!Pros
Pocket-friendly design; Popup electronic viewfinder; Bright lens across the zoom range; Great performance with very fast autofocus; Very high resolution gives lots of detail in good light; High ISO noise levels much better than most pocket camera rivals; Wi-Fi wireless networkingCons
Feels a little unbalanced without an accessory grip; Not as much telephoto reach as its siblings; Noise processing is heavier-handed than in earlier models; Quite pricey for a fixed-lens cameraPrice and availability
Available since June 2014, the Sony RX100 III is priced at around US$800. Just as with the earlier RX100 and RX100 II, only a black body color is offered.Imaging Resource rating
4.5 out of 5.0
$699.00 (11% less)
4.2x zoom (44% more)
$617.22 (21% less)
3.6x zoom (23% more)
$448.87 (43% less)
3.6x zoom (23% more)
$490.27 (37% less)
12.1 MP (40% less)
Also has viewfinder
5x zoom (71% more)
Sony RX100 III Review
By Mike Tomkins
06/18/14: Shooter's Report Part I: Up, up and away!
07/08/14: Shooter's Report Part II: Time for a road trip!
07/22/14: Shooter's Report Part III: Answering your questions (and mine, too!)
08/05/14: Image Quality Comparison and Print Quality Analysis
08/22/14: Tech Info and Conclusion
The most exciting series of pocket-friendly cameras on the market just got even more exciting! Sony has taken the design of its incredibly popular Cyber-shot RX100 and RX100 II, and overhauled them to produce -- you guessed it -- the 20-megapixel Sony RX100 III. And boy, is this ever one cool camera, with major updates throughout.
Changes include a brand-new lens that's bright across the zoom range, plus Sony's latest-generation BIONZ X image processor, improved autofocus, a selfie-friendly 180-degree tilting LCD, and a clever pop-up electronic viewfinder.
And the RX100 III makes a much better movie shooter, too, providing better stabilization, full-sensor video capture, zebra striping, and even a clean HDMI output function.
Announced two years ago, the original RX100 remains one of our very favorite cameras. Between that model and the followup RX100 II, Sony won our Pocket Camera of the Year award twice in a row. That gives the Sony RX100 III some mighty big shoes to fill, but it's more than up to the job.
For our money, the new Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*-branded lens is clearly the big story. It's bright across the zoom range, starting from f/1.8 at wide angle, and remaining at f/2.8 by the telephoto position. The tradeoff is that it's also a little wider, with a 35mm-equivalent range of 24-70mm, and the overall zoom range is curtailed, down from 3.6x in the earlier cameras to 2.9x in the new one.
Sensor resolution is still a high 20.2 megapixels, from the exact same backside-illuminated chip used in the RX100 II. The RX100 II adds a built-in, 3EV neutral density filter, though, making it more likely you'll be able to take advantage of the wide aperture to blur backgrounds or avoid diffraction, even in bright light.
And the even cooler news is that there's now a built-in, pop-up electronic viewfinder, there when you need it and hidden when you don't. Its inclusion makes the Sony RX100 III seem altogether more grown-up. Sure, you can still frame at arm's length if you want, but if you want to a steadier, tripod-like stance with the camera to your eye, now you can do that too. And given its size, it's a very nice viewfinder, as well. But to make room for the viewfinder, this model must forego a flash hot shoe, as did the original RX100.
Inside, the next-generation Sony BIONZ X image processor replaces the earlier BIONZ chips used by the RX100 and RX100 II. That makes the RX100 III a noticeably swifter camera in most areas, and that performance increase is coupled to an improvement in buffer depths.
Another nice touch is an updated LCD articulation mechanism. This can now tilt upwards 180 degrees, or downwards by 45 degrees. That means it's still great for shooting high above your head or low to the ground, but it also makes the camera well-suited to shooting selfies at arm's length.
As we mentioned, Sony has also upgraded the RX100 III's movie capture capabilities in quite a few areas. Most notably, thanks to the new BIONZ X image processor, the new camera now records video by offloading the entire image sensor contents for every frame, and then downsampling to the output resolution. There's also a new XAVC S compression option, with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (Full HD) or below, and a bit rate of 50Mbps. And the RX100 III bests its predecessors in the video stabilization department, too, thanks to new SteadyShot Intelligent Active Mode technology.
Like its direct predecessor, the Sony RX100 III also sports built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, as well as Near Field Communications tech for fast pairing with Android cameras. The RX100 III also adds support for Sony's PlayMemories Camera Apps, which add functionality to the camera -- sometimes for free, sometimes as a paid extra. Available apps include such things as time-lapse and star trail, and they're installed via Wi-Fi.
As well as its wireless connectivity, the Sony RX100 III also sports both the aforementioned Micro HDMI port for high-def video output, and a USB 2.0 High Speed data port for connection to your computer. Images and movies are stored on a single slot compatible with either Secure Digital or Memory Stick Duo cards, and this is also compatible with SDHC, SDXC and UHS-I SD cards, not to mention PRO Duo, Pro Duo High Speed or PRO HG MS Duo cards.
Power comes courtesy of a rechargeable NP-BX1 lithium-ion battery pack, the same type used by both earlier RX100 cameras, and the battery is charged in-camera via the Multi Terminal Micro USB port. Sony rates battery life as 320 shots using the LCD monitor, or 230 shots with the electronic viewfinder, to CIPA standards. That's a little less than either the RX100 (330 shots) or RX100 II (350 shots), but still pretty good for the class.
Sony RX100 III Shooter's Report Part I
Up, up and away!
Back in 2012, Sony turned the compact camera market on its head, launching the Sony RX100. Prior to its arrival on the scene, you had two choices if you wanted a reasonably large sensor and a zoom lens: go with an interchangeable-lens camera, or go with the Canon PowerShot G1 X, a relatively chunky, coat pocket camera. And then along came Sony with a camera sporting twice the sensor area of typical enthusiast compacts, yet in a body that easily slipped in a pants pocket.
I was among the many photographers who immediately saw the Sony RX100's possibilities, and no sooner had we completed our review than I bought one of my very own. Two years is a long time in the camera market, though. At this point in the RX100's life cycle, Sony is likely hoping that its follow-up RX100 III earns some upgrades from photographers like me, not just purchases from brand-new customers.
But is it time for me to upgrade, or am I better staying with my RX100? That's something I'm hoping to answer during my time with the camera. I'm lucky to have all three cameras -- the RX100, RX100 II, and RX100 III -- on my desk as we speak, so I can make a completely valid side-by-side comparison.
What do I think of the Sony RX100 III? Click the link below for the first part of my Shooter's Report.
Sony RX100 III Shooter's Report Part II
Time for a road trip!
Right as I was getting ready to take the Sony RX100 III out for some more gallery shooting, the weather here in Knoxville, Tennessee took a turn for the dreary. There was only one solution: It was time for an impromptu, out-of-town trip. My family agreed that they could use a change of scenery, while I could use some sunlight and interesting subjects for the gallery.
We decided it had been too long since we saw the sea, so we headed out of town for a whirlwind long weekend in Norfolk, Virginia. Why Norfolk? Simply put, it was the nearest seaside destination with a sunny forecast, and as a navy town I figured it would also have some interesting sights.
Before hitting the road early on a Saturday morning, I packed a camera bag with the Sony RX100 III, RX100 II, and my own, original RX100, plus an assortment of batteries, chargers and flash cards. I planned to shoot mostly with the RX100 III, but nevertheless wanted to have its siblings along for a few side-by-side comparison shots.
How did the RX100 III perform on the road trip? Click the link for more of my Shooter's Report.
Sony RX100 III Shooter's Report Part III
Answering your questions (and mine, too!)
And so, I've reached the end of my Sony RX100 III Shooter's Report, with the third and final section. For my last report, I wanted to answer some of the reader questions I've received, and to take a look at a few features I'd not yet had the chance to try. Topics for discussion include a look at image stabilization (and how it compares to that of earlier models), some flash testing, and a quick walkthrough of the newly-added PlayMemories Camera Apps. Last of all, I take a look at video capture, an area that has seen some important improvements.
Image stabilization comparison
I'll start with image stabilization, since that's probably the most important feature of the group. I received reader requests to compare the Sony RX100 III's stabilization capability to that of the earlier RX100 and RX100 II, which have apparently drawn some criticism from users since those cameras' launch. (Personally, I haven't found stabilization particularly troublesome on the earlier models, but I think I have a fairly steady hand, which may have helped to bolster my impression.)
So how did my time with the Sony RX100 III end, and will I be buying one for myself? Read on!
Sony RX100 III Technical Insights
A closer look inside this clever little compact
The Sony RX100 III takes the design of the incredibly popular Cyber-shot RX100 and RX100 II, and overhauls them to produce -- you guessed it -- the 20-megapixel Sony RX100 III. And boy, is this ever one cool camera, with major updates throughout.
A brighter, shorter lens
For our money, the new Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*-branded lens is the big story. Although the lens shared by the original RX100 and RX100 II had a bright f/1.8 maximum aperture at its 28mm-equivalent wide angle, by the time you zoomed all the way to the 100mm-equivalent telephoto position, the aperture closed down to a rather dim f/4.9.
There's no such worry for the RX100 III, as its lens is bright across the zoom range, starting from f/1.8 at wide angle, and remaining at f/2.8 by the telephoto position. It's also a little wider, as well, with a 35mm-equivalent range of 24-70mm. The overall zoom range is curtailed a little though, down from 3.6x in the earlier cameras to 2.9x in the new one.
Sony RX100 III Image Quality Comparison
See how this popular premium compact handles the competition
The Sony RX100 line of premium compact cameras became a trilogy with the release of the RX100 III this summer, taking on a brighter lens, pop-up viewfinder and sporting the highly touted BIONZ X processor found in Sony's new full frame mirrorless trilogy, the A7, A7R and A7S. Given the enormous popularity of the first two offerings in the RX100 series this has certainly been a camera largely followed here on our site.
At a current street price hovering around its retail price of US$800, this new model is now in an interesting price bracket. The mk II can now be purchased for ~$650, and the mk I for even less than that, so we know readers are interested in knowing what they can expect in the image quality department as compared to these two siblings in the line. And this price point also puts the mk III in direct competition with several other popular and relatively compact models that while perhaps not all technically known as premium compacts, are all still fairly small in size for their class.
See how the RX100 III stacks up against other popular premium compacts
Sony RX100 III Print Quality
How does this premium compact look in the real world?
Print quality and image quality are similar but not identical, because what you see on a print isn't always the same as what you see on the screen. Our print quality analysis answers the important question: "Just how big can I print my photos at higher ISOs?"
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.
You've seen the images on-screen, how do they look on paper?
Sony RX100 III Conclusion
The best compact camera on the market, bar none!
It's not very often that we go into a review with access not just to the camera we're reviewing, but also every prior version in the line. We had that rare privelige with the Sony RX100 III, though, and it made for a very interesting side-by-side comparison. Initially, we were offput by the gradual increase in size and weight across the line, but it actually turned out not to be a big deal at all, although we'd definitely recommend an accessory grip for the Sony RX100 III.
Once we got used to the size and realized that this camera really does still fit in your pocket, though, we had a whole lot of fun shooting with the RX100 III. And shooting with it side-by-side with the earlier models, we really grew to appreciate some of the thoughtful changes. Little things like the tidier menu system end up making quite a big difference to the overall experience, but it was the increase in performance that really grabbed our attention, coupled with much more generous burst depths.
It's time for our final verdict on this beautiful little pocket-friendly compact!
In the Box
The Sony RX100 III retail box ships with the following items:
- Sony RX100 III camera
- NP-BX1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
- AC-UB10 USB charger (charges battery in-camera)
- Wrist strap
- Shoulder strap adapter
- Micro USB cable
- Instruction manual
- Warranty card
- Extra NP-BX1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack for extended outings
- BC-TRX battery charger, so you can charge a spare battery while using the camera
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. Given the high resolution and large file sizes of the RX100 III, 32GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. If you plan to capture high-definition movie clips, shoot image bursts, or shoot in raw format, Sony recommends you look for cards with markings indicating Class 4 or higher. (A surprisingly low requirement; personally we'd opt for at least Class 6. Smaller numbers are slower cards.)
- AG-R2 attachment grip, or one of Richard Franiec's excellent accessory grips
- LCJ-RXF-B premium jacket case and/or PCK-LM15 LCD protective cover if you like to treat your cameras like gold dust
- Small camera bag or medium to large pocket. ;-)
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Sony RX100 III
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.