Sony RX100 III review

20 Aug 2014
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Page 1 of 2Sony RX100 III review

Small but perfectly formed, the Sony RX100 III makes a modern classic even better

Specifications

Sensor resolution: 20 megapixels, Sensor size: 1in (13.2x8.8mm), Viewfinder: Electronic (1,440,000 dots), LCD screen: 3in (1,228,800 dots), Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths): 2.9x (24-70mm), 35mm-equivalent aperture: f/4.9-7.6, Weight: 288g, Size (HxWxD): 59x102x41mm

The original RX100 was a bolt from the blue when it arrived in 2012. It was the first compact camera to use a 1in sensor – smaller than the sensors in most CSCs but much bigger in than most other compacts cameras. Paired with a wide-aperture lens, its image quality was incredibly high for such as petite, pocketable camera, especially when shooting in low light.

This third-generation model follows the same formula, but there are some big upgrades underneath its diminutive metal shell. The most surprising one is the addition of a pop-up electronic viewfinder (EVF). It's a high-quality unit, too, with a 1.4-million dot (800x600-pixel) resolution and a large viewing size. It pops up and is pulled back, but even then it doesn't extend beyond the back of the camera. That's not much of a problem for people whose right eye is dominant, but we found it a bit uncomfortable using the left eye, resulting in nose-shaped smudges on the screen. There's also something slightly comical about holding such a tiny camera up to your face. Even so, this EVF is a superb addition, and it's great to see that it hasn't pushed up the price significantly.

Sony RX100 III top rear

The EVF comes at the expense of a hotshoe, which was included on the Sony RX100 II. It's unlikely many users will miss it – after all, a large flashgun is pretty unwieldy when mounted on such a small camera.

Another big change is to the lens. The original and Mk II models had a 28-100mm (3.6x) zoom, with a bright f/1.8 maximum aperture for wide-angle shots, but an unremarkable f/4.9 at the telephoto end. The RX100 III reduces the zoom range to 24-70mm (2.9x), keeps the f/1.8 aperture for wide angle but provides a much-improved f/2.8 aperture at the long end of the zoom. f/2.8 equates to three times more light than f/4.9. That means slashing the ISO speed to a third, which greatly reduces noise levels. Whereas the previous models were best left at their wide-angle zoom positions in low light, the RX100 III is much more flexible.

Sony RX100 III top

Cosmetically, very little has changed. The camera is 3mm thicker and 9g heavier, but at 41mm thick it's still just small enough for trouser pockets. The controls remain unchanged since the first version, but despite having relatively few buttons, it's reasonably quick to access key settings. The mode dial, rear wheel and lens ring all conspire to keep things moving along quickly.

The tilting screen can now flip up and over for self-portraits. Once again it's not a touchscreen, and adjusting the autofocus area is the one feature that feels frustratingly longwinded. However, we're happy to see that the Flexible Spot autofocus mode now includes the ability to adjust the size of the active area – a feature we felt was notably lacking in the RX100 II. An Eye AF function can focus on a subject's eye, but it's a shame that this requires a dedicated button to invoke. It would be better applied automatically, as on the Panasonic FZ1000.

Sony RX100 III screen flip

We're delighted to see that the Auto mode handles shutter and ISO speeds more intelligently than before. The RX100 II's Auto ISO setting limited itself to ISO 800, which meant slow shutter speeds and frequent blurry shots in low light. The RX100 III was quite happy to use ISO speeds up to 6400 when the conditions demanded it. Meanwhile, it kept the shutter speed down to around 1/30s when shooting static subjects in low light, but raised it to 1/250s for moving subjects to avoid motion blur. It's a sophisticated system that makes shooting on fully automatic settings much more reliable than on the previous model.

The RX100 II was a solid performer, but the Mk III makes some welcome improvements. We measured 0.6 seconds from shot to shot in both JPEG and RAW modes. Continuous JPEG shooting rattled along at 9.6fps for 48 frames before slowing to 1.6fps. For RAW, it managed 6.7fps for 26 frames. The only area that remains poor is continuous shooting with updating autofocus, which trundled along at 1.7fps. Then again, this isn't a telephoto lens, so fixed focus for the duration of a burst will probably do just fine.

Sony RX100 III Video Quality

Video capture has been upgraded with the introduction of XAVC S encoding at 50Mbit/s. The XAVC S format isn't particularly significant in itself but the jump from 24Mbit/s (for 1080/25p AVCHD recording) to 50Mbit/s minimises the chances of compression artefacts. Annoyingly, XAVC S recording is only allowed on SDXC cards, so we had to buy a new card even though it was slower than our existing SDHC cards (costing around £20 for a 64GB card).

A more significant change for videographers is that the RX100 III uses a much higher quality resizing algorithm for converting the sensor's 20-megapixel output into 2-megapixel 1080p frames. The previous model just picks out the pixels it needs to create the video picture, but the new model combines all the available pixels to create its resized image. The result is far finer fidelity to video details.

^ Comparing crops of the Mark II and Mark III's 1080p output shows a significant boost to fine details in this new model. (click to enlarge)

Priority and manual exposure controls are available for videos, and there's a neutral density (ND) filter for controlling motion blur in videos. It's a welcome addition for photography, too. Autofocus behaved well while recording, but there's no option to specify which part of the frame the camera should focus on during video capture.

Page 1 of 2Sony RX100 III review