Sony RX100 III Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly below average saturation levels and hue accuracy.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Click for a larger version.

Saturation. The Sony RX100 III pushes some colors likes strong reds, dark blues, dark greens, purples and browns, but not as much as many camera, and it actually undersaturates light green, yellow and aqua tones moderately. The RX100 III's overall color saturation (8.1% oversaturated) is a little lower than average these days, but the camera generally produces attractive yet realistic colors in its images. You can of course tweak saturation to your liking, or choose a different color mode. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, the Sony RX100 III did fairly well, producing reasonably natural-looking Caucasian skin tones that were a bit on the warm side, though they can sometimes appear overly pinkish depending on the ambient lighting. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Sony RX100 III shifts cyan toward blue, orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green by moderate amounts, but most other shifts are very minor. The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors, and we don't find the resulting color objectionable. The RX100 III's handling of yellows and yellow-orange colors is one of its weaknesses: Yellows are rendered closer to a yellow-green, and significantly undersaturated as well. With a mean "delta-C" color error of 5.75 after correction for saturation, hue accuracy is slightly below average, but still pretty good overall. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto setting produced overly warm results, though Incandescent was just slightly warm. Manual was pretty accurate, just slightly cool. No exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Manual White Balance
0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was warm and orange with the Auto white balance setting. Results with the Incandescent setting were pretty good, just a bit warm. The Manual setting was the most accurate, just slightly on the cool side with a very minor green shift. (Note: The RX100 III also has a Kelvin Temperature White Balance option, however we did not test that mode.) The Sony RX100 III required no exposure compensation while most cameras require about +0.3 EV for this scene, so the RX100 Mark III performed better than average in terms of exposure here. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

See thumbnails of all test images

Resolution
Very high resolution, ~2,500 to ~2,600 lines of strong detail.

In-camera JPEG:
Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
In-camera JPEG:
Strong detail to
~2,500 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW:
Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW:
Strong detail to
~2,500 lines vertical

In camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,600 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 2,500 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. Some may argue for more, but aliasing artifacts start to interfere at that point. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until about 3,200 to 3,400 lines. Adobe Camera Raw produced similar results though complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur before the limits of our chart and color moiré was more visible. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See thumbnails of all test images

Sharpness & Detail
Crisp images with good detail, but area-specific noise reduction and sharpening can produce an overprocessed look, especially at higher ISOs.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements here with only minor
sharpening haloes.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The RX100 III produces very crisp, sharp looking images without obvious sharpening haloes, but Sony's revised area-specific noise reduction and sharpening algorithms can lead to some unnatural or slightly crude looking results (see RAW conversion example below). Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows good detail for the class of camera, with moderate levels noise suppression in the darkest areas of the mannequins's hair, and almost no chroma noise. Quite a few individual strands are smudged together in areas of low contrast at base ISO, but performance here is actually quite good considering the size and resolution of the sensor. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above the Sony RX100 III produces sharp, crisp and clean images, but fine detail can suffer as a result of aggressive default processing. Compare a base ISO in-camera JPEG to an Adobe Camera Raw conversion below to see what we mean.

Base ISO (125)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to a matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.6 using default noise reduction with strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (in this case 400% USM with a radius of 0.3 pixels and a threshold of 0).

As you can see, ACR produced quite a bit of additional detail that isn't present in the JPEG from the camera. Fine detail in the mosaic crop for example is more realistic and refined-looking from the ACR conversion, while the in-camera JPEG is much cleaner and more contrasty, but isn't as detailed or accurate. This is also true of the fabric crop, where ACR was able to resolve much of the thread pattern in the red-leaf swatch which the camera's JPEG engine presumably treats as noise, and also does a much better job reproducing fine detail in the pink fabric. But as is usually the case, more noise can be seen in the RAW conversion particularly in flat areas as shown in the bottle crop, thanks to ACR's light default noise reduction. You can of course apply stronger noise reduction (default ACR NR used here) to arrive at your ideal noise versus detail tradeoff. Color is improved as well, with ACR producing slightly warmer and more accurate colors while removing much of the yellow-to-green shift seen in the JPEG bottle crop. Bottom line: You can do noticeably better than the camera with a good RAW converter, provided you're willing to apply your own noise reduction and sharpening to taste.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance for a camera its size, though perhaps not quite a good as its predecessor (at least in JPEGs)

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 80 ISO 125 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600
ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12,800

ISO 80 and 125 produce very similar results, with very clean, crisp images containing almost no chroma noise. ISO 200 shows a very minor drop in image quality as noise reduction ramps, but fine detail is still quite good. ISO 400 shows an additional small step down in detail with very good overall image quality, but stronger sharpening attempts to compensate, making luminance noise more visible in some flatter areas. At ISO 800, luminance noise is more noticeable, accentuated by fairly aggressive sharpening, but chroma noise is still welll-controlled. ISO 1600 is noticeably softer thanks to stronger noise reduction and more visible luma noise, but chroma noise is still very low. At ISO 3200, fine detail takes a larger hit, and the camera's aggressive processing produces images with a somewhat crystalline look. Image quality drops off very quickly from here, with ISOs 6400 and 12,800 looking more like impressionistic paintings than photos, with an almost hammered looked to flatter areas. Chroma noise in the form of diffuse purple and/or yellow blotches is also visible in darker midtones and shadows.

Overall, though, high ISO performance is much better than average for a pocket camera, though perhaps not quite a good as expected due to somewhat clumsy default JPEG processing. We're of course pixel-peeping to an extraordinary extent here, since 1:1 images on an LCD screen have little to do with how those same images will appear when printed. See the Print Quality section below for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Since the RX100 Mark III's dynamic range is essentially the same as both of its predecessors, we decided to compare the Mark III to another 1"-type camera, the Nikon 1 J4, as well as to a more typical premium compact with a much smaller 1/1.7"-type sensor, the Canon S120. You can always compare other models on DxOMark.com.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the Sony RX100 Mark III's dynamic range is quite good, ranging from 12.27 EV at the lowest ISO, to a 6.55 EV at the highest. And it's significantly better than the Nikon at low to moderate ISOs, with up to a ~1.7 EV advantage at the ISO 200 setting. At the intermediate ISO of about 800, the two cameras perform essentially the same in terms of dynamic range, but the Sony starts pulling away from the Nikon again at higher ISOs.

Interestingly, the advantage compared to the Canon S120 isn't that great at low ISOs, with the S120 managing 11.86 EV of dynamic range versus the RX100 M3's 12.27 EV, but the Sony slowly pulls ahead with more than a full EV advantage at the highest ISOs.

Overall, excellent performance from the RX100M3. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony RX100 III for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

Output Quality

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 JPEG 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's very likely that conversions from RAW files will yield larger sizes and restore parity with the mk II, though. Also keep in mind the Mk III's faster lens above approximately 35mm equivalent, giving it improved light-gathering capability and therefore better low-light performance potential when shooting wide open.

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 JPEG 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 JPEG image quality, and RAW shooters will still enjoy arguably the best image quality the form factor has to offer to date.

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.)

 


Sony RX100 III Flash


Flash Test Results

Coverage, Exposure and Range
A weak flash with narrow coverage, but range is helped by the fast lens.

Click to see RXC3FLFCW.JPG
Coverage, Wide Angle
Click to see RXC3INBFP3.JPG Click to see RXC3INBFSP0.JPG
Normal Flash, ISO 200
+1.0 EV
Slow-sync, ISO 200
0 EV
Click to see RXC3INB_AUTOFL.JPG
Full Auto (ISO 400)

Coverage. Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide angle, leaving very dark corners and edges in our flash coverage test image. Narrow coverage at wide angle isn't unusual, though, and some of the corner darkening is likely from the lens itself. We no longer test flash coverage at telephoto, as it is invariably better, making wide angle the worst case scenario.

Exposure. Our Indoor Portrait test scene came out quite dim in our normal flash test at f/4 and ISO 200, even with +1.0 EV flash compensation and a relatively slow 1/30s shutter speed. Slow-sync mode was brighter as you'd expect, with its slow shutter speed of 1/5s capturing more of the warm, ambient light. Results in full auto mode were however very bright and almost washed out, though the Sony RX100 III raised ISO to 400 to achieve that. Note that the RX100 III tends to use a slightly slow shutter speed of 1/30 or 1/40s with the flash in dim situations even at full telephoto, which could lead to some subject motion blur.

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Telephoto
Click to see RXC3FL_MFR188TA2000.JPG
18.7 feet
ISO 2000

Manufacturer Specified Flash Range Test. The Sony RX100 III's flash range is rated 15m or 49'2" at wide angle, and 5.7m or 18'8" at telephoto, with ISO sensitivity set to Auto. 49'2" is too long for our lab but at the range specified at full telephoto above, the Sony RX100 Mark III produced a well-exposed flash target, though it boosted ISO to 2000 to achieve that result. We shoot this test shot using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!



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