Sony RX100 III Field Test Part II

Time for a road trip!

By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 07/08/2014

With Knoxville wrapped in a blanket of clouds and rain, I headed out of town to coastal Virginia with the RX100 III and its siblings, pausing on the way for lunch in Marion, Virginia. See the same shot in the RX100 and RX100 II galleries.

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.

On the way to Norfolk, we stopped to grab lunch at a quirky little restaurant -- part of a chain, as it turns out -- called Macado's. The food was delicious, but it was the eclectic decor that really grabbed by attention. It struck me as ripe for a few photos, so I ran back out to the car to grab the RX100 and RX100 II for a few side-by-side low-light comparisons.

There wasn't a night-and-day difference between the three cameras, but I had to give the prize to the RX100 III. It returned the most detailed-looking shots out-of-camera, although that does appear to be down to sharpening at least in part. The downside to this is that there are slightly more noticeable haloes from the RX100 III than its siblings when viewed at 1:1 resolution. The RX100 III also had noticeably better noise performance than did my RX100, as did the RX100 II. (Between the two newer cameras, it was a much closer thing.)

The Sony RX100 III's lens is a rather shorter zoom than that of the earlier models, but it's also quite a bit brighter across most of the zoom range. Here, the top image is captured with the RX100 III, and the lower shot with the original RX100. Both photos were taken from exactly the same distance. You can also see a corresponding shot from the RX100 II in the gallery for that camera.

I found myself, once again, missing the added telephoto of the earlier models almost straight away, though. While dodging busy wait staff and trying to stay out of other customers' way, I was finding it difficult to get my framing anything like similar from camera to camera, so I wanted to shoot a quick series from my tabletop, to help keep framing consistent. Both the RX100 and RX100 II got me the composition I wanted just fine, but the RX100 III's weaker telephoto meant I couldn't frame as tightly -- at least, not without zooming with my feet. That meant a rather wider composition than I wanted, but its brighter lens at telephoto also meant noticeably less noise for its shot than the earlier models showed.

100% detail crops from the Sony RX100 III (top), RX100 (bottom left) and RX100 II (bottom right).

With my hunger (and briefly, my need for photos) sated, we hopped back in the car and continued on our way to the way to the sea. Despite leaving Knoxville reasonably early, we arrived in Norfolk quite a bit later than we'd hoped, and well after sunset. "Ah well," we tiold ourselves, "Let's save the beach for tomorrow." Eight-plus hours on the road meant that we were exhausted anyway, so we got a somewhat early night instead.

The next morning, having discovered that our hotel didn't provide a free breakfast, we ran out to a nearby restaurant, Yorgo's Bageldashery. I'm no bagel aficionado, but these struck me as the real deal, and with an admirably generous heaping of lox they were truly superb. Before we went inside for our food, though, my son spotted a fire engine, and being a five year old, immediately wanted a photo of this incredibly exciting vehicle. Who was I to say no?

The bagels were delicious, and while I'm no master of food photography, the Sony RX100 III captured them rather nicely, I think.

Unable to remember which settings I'd fiddled with the previous day, I decided to reset the camera. Still rather sleepy-headed and yet rushing to get the shot, I performed the reset using the RX100 III's Initialize option, rather than the Camera Settings Reset. Sony has reversed the order of the reset options since my RX100, though, and and simultaneously combined the Record and Custom Settings reset, so I actually reset everything right down to the camera's clock. I suppose that I'm too used to having to skip the first option on my own camera, but in fairness to Sony, I should've paid attention to the double-prompt.

By the time I'd reset the clock and calendar, the fire engine had started moving. I hurried to get a shot and promptly forgot to reenable raw+JPEG capture. Whoops! Still, I'm rather pleased with the image. There's lots of detail in the front of the truck, and while a little more motion blur elsewhere would've been nice -- it was moving fairly slowly as it pulled into the junction -- my son was still thrilled to see the truck on the RX100's LCD.

Lots of detail in the front of this fire truck. The contrast is a little low towards the top right corner of the frame, though; perhaps the sun was hitting the lens at just the wrong angle.

Breakfast done, we headed back to the hotel to take a walk along Norfolk's harbor, before grabbing a few things and heading to Virginia Beach. On the drive back to the hotel, I spotted a decommissioned World War II battleship at the end of the street -- definitely not something you see every day. There was no question that it was worth a photo, but I didn't want to block the road and couldn't park, so I got a quick snap out the driver's side window while I waited for the traffic light.

The Sony RX100 III's bright WhiteMagic LCD helped me get that shot at arm's length, despite bright, direct sunshine right behind my shoulder. Admittedly, looking at the sunlit screen from an awkward angle out the window, I couldn't see perfectly, and so I got the framing a little higher and further left than I'd wanted. Still, I was close and managed a reasonably level horizon, too. With many cameras, I'd have been unable to see anything at all under direct sunlight like this.

The framing might not be perfect -- I wanted it a little further right and downwards -- but for a spur-of-the-moment shot at arm's length (and an awkward angle) out of a car window, this really isn't too far off. With a lesser LCD monitor than that on the RX100 III, I'd never have gotten even close.

And once we were back at our waterfront hotel, I scored a few more nice shots around the docks, as well. That was fortunate indeed, because once we got to Virginia Beach, we found it to be absolutely packed. Since landlocked Tennessee is so far from the ocean, we all wanted to swim without worrying about somebody stealing our gear. The RX100 III's relatively high pricetag for a compact, fixed-lens camera meant that I left it safe in the trunk of our car, along with almost everything else, quite some trek away from the beach in a crowded, multi-storey car park.

Only our smartphone came along for the beach trip, and that only in case we got an emergency phone call. But that, of course, meant it took over the photo duties as well. After a few hours in Virginia Beach (and hoping for better luck, not to mention some space to ourselves), we tried the nearby Sandbridge Beach. Online reviews suggested this was much less busy a spot, but here too was packed, and with another long walk for parking, the camera once again stayed in the car.

The RX100 III didn't make it to the crowded beach for fear of theft, but it got me plenty more nice shots around downtown Norfolk and its harbor. You can see some above, and more in the gallery.

That's the difficulty camera manufacturers face these days. We daren't leave our phones behind, and since they mostly sport at least usable cameras these days, it's far too easy to talk yourself out of taking a real camera.

And this being a whirlwind weekend trip, after those two beach visits, it was over all too soon. We had to hit the road by lunchtime the following day, looking forward to an eight-plus hour drive once more. Although as it turned out, simply didn't have the energy for all that driving, so we stopped midway and spent another night in Roanoke, Virginia. When we woke up the following morning, we were glad we'd stopped: Our unintentional layover turned out to be an interesting and quite photogenic town, and one we hope to get back to soon.

The Texas Tavern is apparently a Roanoke institution, and it's signage reflects its long history. See this photo from the RX100 and RX100 II, also.

Before hitting the hay, though, we grabbed a late dinner at the historic Texas Tavern. I loved their retro signage so much that I set up another three-way comparison between each of the RX100 siblings. This time, I aimed not only for roughly the same framing, but also set all three cameras to ISO 3200, and shot in aperture priority at maximum aperture.

That gave the RX100 III a slight advantage, since it's brighter in the middle of its zoom range. My original RX100 definitely lagged its siblings at higher sensitivities. The RX100 II and III were closer, but the III's greater sharpening seemed to emphasize its noise a little more, giving it a less film-like appearance. This was particularly noticeable in the partially-illuminated area behind the neon sign.

Liking what we saw of Roanoke when we awoke, we decided to make another day of it the following morning, and spent some time strolling around town before heading back in the afternoon. I snapped a couple more side-by-side comparisons, which you'll see in the galleries for the RX100 III, RX100 II, and RX100. In daylight, there really wasn't much in it between the three. The RX100 III had slightly sharper out-of-camera results, but otherwise images from the trio seemed very similar.

That's good news as far as I'm concerned, because I'm very happy with the results I get from my RX100. Compared to anything else I can slip in a pocket and forget, and which sports a bright zoom lens, image quality is absolutely superb. Sure, it doesn't match your interchangeable-lens camera, but chances are that the RX100 III will be the camera that's with you when you need it.

And while initially I was put off somewhat by the RX100 III's increased size and weight compared toits predecessors -- and especially to my own RX100 -- I've come to realize that it's actually not a big deal at all. As I said in my previous Field Test, I don't tend to put my RX100 in my pocket too often because I have a nice, leather case for it. (And also, because it cost a fair bit, so I like to treat it gently.) Still, during my RX100 III review I've consciously forced myself to put it in my pants pocket several times, and once it's in there I'd be hard-pressed to tell which camera I was carrying.

Lots of color on the streets of downtown Roanoke. See this photo from the RX100 and RX100 II, also.

All of which goes to prove the old saw that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, because side-by-side with my RX100 I really thought the RX100 III would simply be too uncomfortable in my pocket. It's most definitely not. The difference is much more subtle than at first it seems.

And for that extra size, you get a viewfinder which -- while I skip it most of the time in favor of arm's length shooting -- I've found useful a fair few times already in very bright sunlight. (Did I mention it was sunny in Virginia? I came back with the worst sunburn I've had in decades, despite liberal application of suntan lotion!)

Sure, you can see the RX100 III's display quite well even under direct, fairly bright sunlight, but you can see the viewfinder better. And for bonus points, it even powers the camera on automatically when opened. Its exit pupil is perhaps a little narrow, and the viewfinder magnification a bit on the low side, but when it comes down to it, that's not really very important if it's a choice between that or not being able to see well enough to frame the image in difficult conditions. And even with a WhiteMagic LCD, that can happen under very direct sunlight, as I found a few times on this trip.

I still have a few more things I want to test on the RX100 III before I complete my review, but I think I'm pretty much persuaded now. If you can live without the extra telephoto reach, this is quite a bit more camera for only a little more size and cost. Were I in the market to buy an RX100-series camera today, I think the RX100 III would be the one I'd pick -- and you probably should as well.


Editor's Picks