Sony RX10 III Conclusion
Sony RX10 III Conclusion
by Mike Tomkins
Over the last couple of years, we've reviewed both the groundbreaking Sony RX10 and its followup, the RX10 II. And in both cases, we've found them to offer a whole heck of a lot of camera. In many ways, the RX10 II -- which went on sale a year ago this month -- has continued to lead the field in the segment which its predecessor created.
In one respect, though, both cameras trailed their nearest rivals. The original RX10 and its successor both shared the same zoom lens, and while its constant-aperture design was really bright, it had much more limited telephoto reach than cameras like the Panasonic FZ1000 and Canon G3X. The Sony RX10 III aims to resolve that. It doesn't replace the RX10 II, but rather complements it, with the two selling side-by-side in a new, broader RX10-series lineup.
Between both cameras, Sony gives potential owners a choice which its rivals don't offer: Do you want a bright, constant aperture while still retaining a very useful 8.3x zoom range, or would you favor even more telephoto reach at the expense of that constant aperture?
The Sony RX10 III's body exudes quality, and handles much like an SLR
You do get a lot more telephoto reach with the Sony RX10 III, as well. About three times as much, in fact, and yet it's not really that much larger a camera. It weighs a fair bit more than did the RX10 II, and you'll certainly notice that difference if you've shot with both cameras, but it's not unreasonably heavy, especially when compared to a similarly-versatile interchangeable-lens kit.
And handling is superb. The Sony RX10 III is comfortable and well-balanced in-hand, and boasts three rings around the lens for zoom, focus and aperture control. (The latter even offers the choice of an optional click-detent or a smooth, clickless rotation, useful when shooting video.) The result is a shooting experience that's extremely intuitive, and very reminiscent of what you'd get when shooting with an SLR camera -- just with an electronic viewfinder, and a fixed lens.
The RX10 III's powerful, far-reaching zoom lens is incredibly versatile
Clearly, the story of the Sony RX10 III revolves around its lens. It's an extremely far-reaching optic, and for many photographers the added zoom range will make for a much more versatile camera overall. Of course, it's not for everyone, but as we've noted throughout this review, the earlier, constant-aperture Sony RX10 II remains available if you favor a bright, fast lens over one that can bring your subject closer to you.
If you're not really sure which to go for, though, and if you can justify the greater cost of the Sony RX10 III versus its sibling, we'd strongly recommend that you opt for this model. With the backside-illuminated, 1"-type image sensor used in the RX10-series cameras, noise levels are lower than you might expect at higher sensitivities. In many situations, you'll be able to dial up the sensitivity some to account for the less-bright lens of the RX10 III at the expense of just a bit more noise, and attain the same shutter speed.
And if you're shooting at wide angle (around 34mm-equivalent or wider), the Sony RX10 III is actually going to offer an aperture that's as bright (or possibly even brighter than) its much-loved, constant-aperture sibling. Yet you'll be able to bring distant subjects right up close and personal in a way that RX10 II shooters simply can't do.
This camera also sports a great viewfinder and tilting LCD monitor
As we mentioned a moment ago, perhaps the biggest difference between the experience of shooting with a DSLR and the Sony RX10 III -- other than its fixed zoom lens -- is to be found in its viewfinder. Sure, you won't get quite the immediacy and razor-sharp image you'd get from the pentaprism-based optical viewfinder you'd likely find on a DSLR at this pricepoint, but in its place is a very capable electronic viewfinder.
The RX10 III's EVF is generously sized, sharp, bright and has very accurate coverage. It also allows capabilities that you won't get from the optical viewfinder on a DSLR, such as the ability to preview exposure levels or to browse the menu system without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Really, our only complaint about the RX10 III's finder is that it could use a slightly more generous (and softer) eyecup, as you do occasionally have to shield it with your hand when the sun is in just the wrong position.
The articulated LCD on the rear of the Sony RX10 III is identical to that in the RX10 II, just as is the viewfinder. The articulation mechanism is a welcome feature, making it easy to see the display when you're shooting from the hip, low to the ground, or over your head, so long as you're shooting in lanDSC0ape orientaton. We still don't think it's as versatile as a side-mounted tilt/swivel, but that's only really a problem when shooting in portrait orientation, where the RX10 III's articulation won't help you out at all.
The RX10 III boasts superb performance, except when it comes to buffer clearing
Compared to most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, the Sony RX10 III offers some pretty spectacular burst capture performance. In JPEG mode, you can expect to shoot images at up to a whopping 14 frames per second, and with generous buffer depths to boot. Raw shooters will find a rather slower 8 fps capture rate, but even this is right up there with what you'd expect in a DSLR at this price point. That's all with focus locked from the first frame, but even with AF active you can expect up to 5-6 frames per second.
And the swift burst capture rate comes accompanied by extremely low shutter lag, fast autofocus, and a swift electronic shutter function. Really, the only area where we'd like to see performance improved is in terms of card clearing times, which are rather pedestrian -- potentially as long as 30 seconds or so even with a fast SD card. This is doubtless not helped by the absence of support for the higher-speed UHS-II card standard. It's only really an issue if you're going to be shooting lots of lengthy image bursts of 40-50 JPEGs or 25-30 raws at a time. If you can be a bit more measured with your bursts, the write performance becomes less of a problem.
You can expect excellent image quality, especially at lower sensitivities
Just as we found with the RX10 II, the Sony RX10 III offers really great image quality for its class. Yes, if you look at uncorrected raws you're going to notice significant distortion, especially at wide-angle. That's part and parcel of how such a relatively compact and yet bright superzoom lens has been achieved at this sensor size, though, and you'll find the same thing with rival cameras. It's going to be corrected for you automatically in most raw converters anyway, and so other than yielding somewhat soft corners towards the ends of the zoom range, it's not a big deal.
At base sensitivity, you can expect sharp images with very good detail -- plenty to manage a 24 x 36-inch print, or perhaps even 30 x 40-inch with the right subject. And while noise levels won't compete with an APS-C camera towards the higher end of the sensitivity range, the Sony RX10 III also provides very competitive high ISO performance for its class. Couple that with accurate metering and fairly true-to-life color, and you have a recipe for a lot of great photos.
Not just for stills: The Sony RX10 III is a very capable video capture device
Nor is this a camera aimed just at stills shooting. Ultra high-def 4K, high-def video at up to 120 fps capture rates, and some impressively slow-motion video are all possible in-camera. Helping maximize image quality, there's also high bit-rate XAVC S compression, and video is recorded using full pixel readout with no quality-degrading binning as in many cameras. The RX10 III also offers up both external microphone and headphone connectivity
Really, our only complaint in the video department carries over from our RX10 II review. While the slow-motion video capabilities of the Sony RX10 III are incredibly fun -- arguably even more so in this model, thanks to its wider zoom range that lets you bring subjects even closer for detail shots of the action -- the user interface for slow-motion video is rather obtuse. That's coupled with the fact that nothing (not even the zoom control) can be used while video is buffering, and that time-and-storage-wasting upscaling of your content to Full HD resolution post-capture is mandatory. We'd really like to see a more polished user interface and less restrictions on operation, especially in allowing you to record slow-motion video at its actual capture resolution.
We're quibbling, though, as competitors don't even offer the slow-motion capabilities of the Sony RX10 III in the first place.
Quick, easy sharing frees your photos from the flash card
Image sharing is a very important consideration in the age of smartphones, and we're happy to say that the Sony RX10 III shares its Wi-Fi capabilities with its sibling, the RX10 II. Especially for Android users with NFC hardware in their phones -- and that's most, these days -- the process of sharing photos simply couldn't be any easier or more intuitive. A quick bump of phone to camera while viewing an image, and it's on its way to your phone. Once received, a few taps has it on its way to friends and family on social networks.
For iOS users, things aren't quite as simple, but that's Apple's fault, since it has opted not to allow third-parties access to the NFC hardware in your phones. Still, even here sharing is pretty straightforward, while Wi-Fi transfer performance is good. And there's also pretty comprehensive remote control available from your Android or iOS phone or tablet, as well!
The sole Achilles heel is a pricetag that's steep to say the least
Our biggest concern with the Sony RX10 III is one of pricing. The Sony RX10 II was already a fairly expensive camera, at least by the standards of fixed-lens models. We'd hoped, once we first heard of the RX10 III, that it might mean a price cut was on the way for the earlier camera, with the new one slotting in at the original price. That's not the case, though: The RX10 II remains much where it was, with the RX10 III landing at a premium of some US$200 above the earlier model.
What this means is that you could now pick up a larger-sensored DSLR kit -- complete with lenses that at least approximate the range offered by that built into Sony's camera -- for much the same price. Yes, you're getting a very powerful camera for your money with the RX10 II, and one which will outperform that DSLR kit in many ways. But you're also going to be paying a lot more than you would for competing cameras.
The nearest large-sensor, long-zoom models from Canon and Panasonic might not offer quite the same feature set and capabilities as the Sony RX10 III, nor have lenses that are quite so impressive, but they're at least in the same ballpark in terms of their capabilities. And yet you can expect to pay nearly twice as much for Sony's camera, and as we noted in our field test, that's a very big ask.
If you're not on a tight budget, the RX10 III should be at the top of your shortlist
At the end of the day, though, Sony clearly isn't having too much difficulty selling these cameras, price premium notwithstanding. And there's a reason for that: The camera offers an excellent combination of features, performance, build quality and versatility, and that allows the company to ask more than do its rivals. It seems the relatively high cost is simply a fact of life until a competitor brings a stronger challenge to the RX10-series cameras, whenever that might be.
In the meantime, if you can justify the cost -- and many can -- then the Sony RX10 III deserves a wholehearted recommendation. It's a truly spectacular camera which will handle most typical shooting situations with aplomb, and it will let you leave a whole kit's worth of interchangeable-lens gear at home, just so long as low-light noise levels aren't your primary concern. If you can't stretch as high as its asking price, though, then we'd recommend considering either the Sony RX10 II or Panasonic FZ1000 instead.
Like the RX10 II before it, the Sony RX10 III is one seriously impressive photographic tool, and a clear Dave's Pick!
Pros & Cons
- Excellent image quality at low to moderate ISOs, very similar to the RX10 II
- Very good detail levels for a fixed-lens, long-zoom camera
- Prints to an impressive 24 x 36 inches, or perhaps even 30 x 40 inches in a pinch
- Excellent dynamic range for 1"-type sensor
- Very good high ISO performance for its class
- Even at maximum ISO can yield a usable 4 x 6-inch print
- Good long-exposure image quality, too
- Accurate exposure metering
- Pleasing colors are for the most part true-to-life
- Even better results can be had from raw files
- Noise reduction becomes obtrusive at higher sensitivities
- Default color somewhat muted compared to most cameras
- Yellows are undersaturated and shifted toward green
- Occasional aliasing artifacts with some subjects
- Uncorrected raw files show high distortion and high chromatic aberration at wide angle (that's not unusual in this class of camera, though)
- Fast autofocus
- Extremely low prefocused shutter lag
- Really fast electronic shutter
- Very good cycle times
- Very fast 14 fps JPEG burst mode
- Fast 8 fps burst mode for raw files
- Generous buffer depths
- Slow buffer clearing (no UHS-II support)
- Burst performance degrades when you shoot raw (but it's still quite good)
- 4K video capture has excellent image quality
- 4K is useful even if you plan to output at lower resolution (potential for cropping, stabilizing or just increasing image quality by downsampling post-capture)
- High-quality XAVC S recording for 4K
- XAVC S is also available for Full HD capture
- Superb, relatively high-res and very fun high frame rate / slow motion video capture from 4x to 40x
- High frame-rate video allows shutter to either start capture, or pre-buffer and then stop capture at the decisive moment
- Can shoot high-res 17-megapixel stills during HD capture at 60p or slower
- External microphone jack for better audio; can also use proprietary Sony mics on the Multi-Interface Shoe
- External headset jack for audio levels monitoring
- High frame-rate video is limited to two or four-second capture (but honestly, this should really be a positive; longer clips are likely to prove very boring in slow-motion)
- Upsamples high frame-rate video to 1080p instead of recording at actual resolution, wasting time and battery and potentially missing shots
- High frame-rate mode locks down all camera functions, even the zoom lens, once the mode is activated and ready to record
- User interface for high frame-rate mode could use some work to simplify and improve ease-of-use
- Comfortable grip and SLR-like handling
- Superb build quality
- More compact than most interchangeable-lens cameras with similarly versatile optics
- Separate zoom, focus and aperture dials, including optional aperture click detent
- Excellent electronic viewfinder with high resolution and accurate coverage
- Dust and moisture resistant (but no specific ratings provided)
- Really intuitive Wi-Fi wireless transfer for Android (but not for iOS, since Apple won't allow similar functionality)
- Wi-Fi transfers are impressively swift
- Feature-rich wireless live view and remote control
- Face detection with eye autofocus function
- DRO and HDR functions help balance difficult exposures
- Good battery life (actually slightly improved from the RX10 II, despite CIPA testing regularly racking through the entire, now much-longer zoom range)
- Camera functionality can be extended with downloadable PlayMemories Camera Apps
- Extremely expensive compared to its nearest rivals
- Fairly heavy for a fixed-lens camera (but not unreasonably so considering its sensor size, zoom reach and aperture)
- No built-in ND filter
- No tilt/swivel for LCD monitor, only tilting (so no good for selfies or portrait-orientation shots over your head)
- No touch-screen control, either
- Raw files still use lossy compression
- Menus aren't always logically grouped
- Movie transfer via Wi-Fi is limited
- PlayMemories Camera Apps have their own siloed menu systems which often mirror settings from other modes, but ignore their most recent values
- Many apps are payware, and often surprisingly expensive compared to much more complex smartphone apps
- Very versatile 24-600mm equivalent zoom offers everything from a very generous wide angle to an extremely powerful telephoto
- Fast f/2.4-4 maximum aperture is brighter than closest competitor (Canon G3X's lens is f/2.8-5.6)
- Excellent optical performance for its zoom ratio and maximum aperture
- Good macro performance for its class, noticeably better than the G3X
- Lens is not tack sharp at full telephoto like it is at wide angle (but it's still remarkably sharp for the focal length)
- Corners are a bit soft at both ends, even stopped-down
- Good flash performance for its class
- Hot shoe for external strobes
- Somewhat narrow and uneven coverage from built in strobe at wide-angle
- Hot shoe is proprietary to Sony