Sony RX100 III Review
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
With the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III, Sony introduces the third version of the compact high-end camera with the large 1″ sensor. The biggest innovations are the F1.8-F2.8 lens, which is much faster than the F1.8-F2.8 lens and also offers more wide-angle with 24 millimetres (KB) and a slightly shorter telephoto focal length with 70 millimetres (KB), as well as the built-in electronic viewfinder. Officially, Sony will not introduce the RX100 III until tomorrow morning, but the specifications have already appeared in the Canadian Sony web store and pictures on the Internet in advance, without the editorial staff being bound to a secrecy agreement (NDA) with Sony.
- Fast autofocus
- Powerful lens
- Retractable electronic viewfinder
- Excellent image quality
- Rear setting wheel too smooth-running
- Camera turns off when EVF is inserted
- No flash shoe
- High price
Sony’s RX camera range is quite unrivalled, as the other manufacturers all rely on 1/1.7″ small sensors for their high-end compact cameras, while Sony uses the 1″ sensor size, which is also used in the Nikon 1 system. This sensor measures 13.2 x 8.8 millimeters and, with its 2.8-fold area, offers significantly better image quality than the 1/1.7″ sensors (7.4 x 5.6 mm). Until now, however, the cameras were either only powerful in wide-angle (RX100 and RX100 II) or no longer really compact (RX10). With the RX100 III, Sony now manages the balancing act between a high luminous intensity and a compact, 41 millimetre thick housing, which is only three millimetres thicker than the RX 100 II or five millimetres thicker than the RX100. The lens no longer offers a speed from F1.8 to F4.9, but from F1.8 to F2.8. The iris diaphragm, equipped with seven segments, can be dimmed down to F11, and a 3 EV-stage switchable ND filter is also integrated. As a compromise, with 70 millimetres (all focal lengths according to 35mm) instead of 100 millimetres there is a little less telephoto focal length, but with 24 millimetres instead of 28 millimetres there is visibly more wide-angle. The sensor remains at an opulent 20 megapixel resolution, the ISO sensitivity can be set between 125 and 12,800, an ISO extension down to ISO 80 can be switched on, ISO 25,600 is achieved via multiframe noise reduction.
With the Bionz X, an extremely powerful image processor is used; the continuous shooting speed should reach ten frames per second for 12 (JPEG) or 13 (raw) shots in a row. Despite the compact housing, Sony has not only equipped a pop-up flash, but even an electronic pop-up viewfinder, as well as a screen that can now be folded down 45 degrees and even up 180 degrees. Unfortunately, there was no room left on the top of the camera for a flash shoe that the RX100 II still offered (while the RX100 didn’t). The electronic viewfinder offers a resolution of 1.44 million pixels with a relatively modest magnification factor of 0.59 and is unlocked mechanically via a button on the side of the housing. The 7.5 centimetre screen has a resolution of 1.23 million pixels, with four subpixels forming one of 640 x 480 colour pixels. In addition to red, green and blue, a further subpixel is underneath to ensure better readability in bright ambient light. Because the monitor can be folded by 180 degrees, Selfies are now much easier to use.
In addition to the intelligent automatic function and the classic programs P, A, S and M, the recording functions also include panorama and HDR automatic. The adjustment rings on the lens and on the back and the mode dial allow a quick adjustment of the camera. The RX100 III records videos in maximum Full HD resolution, while the motor zoom can still be used, and an automatic winger noise filter is also available for stereo sound. In video mode, the optical image stabilizer is supported by an electronic one, which however shifts the focal length range to a total of up to 34-95 millimeters. In addition to a Micro-HDMI. and a Micro-USB interface, Sony has also installed WLAN and NFC. NFC is used to easily connect a smartphone or tablet to the camera’s WLAN. Not only can images be transmitted via the wireless network, but it is also possible to remotely control and trigger the camera, whereby the live image is transmitted to the smartphone/tablet.
From duo to trio: Sony extends its RX100 family and adds another variant to the elegant and sophisticated compact camera with the RX100 III. New in the latest addition to the family is the lens, which now zooms in from 24 to 70 millimetres at the initial illumination F1.8 to F2.8. In addition, the RX100 III is the first camera of its kind with a retractable electronic viewfinder, but the flash shoe had to be omitted. The RX100 III, for example, is equipped with the new Bionz-X processor, which adds a number of new features to the camera. In addition, the range of functions of the RX100 III can be extended via camera apps. Now that a series model of the camera has found its way into the test laboratory of digitalkamera.de, we have extended the preliminary hands-on report to the usual test report. This now also answers the question about the image quality of the RX100 III.
Ergonomics and workmanship
If you place the new RX100 III next to the RX100 and the RX100 II (which remain in the Sony program), the close family ties of the trio immediately stand out. The RX100 III also wears a softly rounded dress made of solid metal, which is almost three millimetres thicker than the RX100 II. But even though the youngest camera in the RX100 family is a bit more chubby, it still fits somewhat into your trouser pocket. Like almost every compact camera, the RX100 III cannot be held very securely – it lacks a handle for this, the front of the housing is too smooth. After all, Sony has been offering a self-adhesive rubber grip for quite some time, which also fits on the front of the RX100 III.
The fact that the RX100 III has increased minimally in size and weight can be seen in its use at the latest. Sony has managed to integrate a retractable electronic viewfinder into the elegant case. A small slider on the left side of the camera lets the EVF jump out of the housing. Then, however, a further movement is necessary to pull out the viewfinder optics horizontally. The whole construction looks a bit filigree, but the OLED viewfinder itself is fully convincing. Although its resolution of around 1.44 million is not record-breakingly high, the viewfinder image does not appear pixelated or coarse-grained. In addition, the EVF reproduces colours in a very natural way and it crumbles up contrasts finely. The fact that the viewfinder image is relatively small is something you simply have to live with in view of the camera’s compact dimensions. After all, Sony has provided the exit pupil with a dioptric correction so that you can look into the viewfinder without glasses.
When the camera is off, the RX100 III turns on as soon as the viewfinder is unlocked. That’s really smart. However, the fact that the camera switches off the other way round when the viewfinder is retracted has proven less effective in practice. Maybe you just don’t want to look into the viewfinder, but check the viewfinder image on the back display. By the way, this display can now be folded forward across the camera – this should make the currently so popular “Selfies” easier. Over-head shooting makes the display easier by tilting it 45 degrees downwards. It is also very nice that a lot of information can be shown on the display or in the viewfinder if desired. This includes, for example, an artificial horizon that helps to align the camera horizontally. Or the zebra pattern, which has so far been known mainly in the video sector. It hatches a pre-set brightness range, allowing precise control of exposure.
Like the original RX100, the RX100 III comes with a control ring at the lens root. By default, it is used for zooming, but the ring can also be assigned another function, such as exposure correction. As practical as this ring is, it is disturbing that it does not rest – so there is no tactile feedback. Apart from that, the RX100 III can be operated smoothly in practically any situation. Sony has completely revised the quick menu, it now offers space for twelve freely assignable positions. In addition, there are four function keys, which can also be configured as desired – for a camera of its size, the RX100 III can therefore be very precisely adapted to personal needs.
It was inevitable that the RX100 III’s controls would be quite tiny due to the compact dimensions of the camera. Maybe you can still live with that, but less with the fact that the adjustment ring on the back can be adjusted very easily. The USB and HDMI interfaces disappear as usual under a neatly struck flap. The battery and memory card share a common compartment which is accessible from the underside. A battery charge doesn’t last very long with around 320 shots, then the camera has to be connected to the charger. Sony does not include a separate charging cradle with the RX100 III, so the camera is blocked while the battery is being charged via the USB interface. The tripod thread on the RX100 III is not arranged in the optical axis and the fact that a quick-release plate is attached to the small camera blocks the battery and memory card compartment is probably unavoidable.
The RX100 III is far more than just a snapshot camera. But of course, it can also be used for carefree photography, as Sony has equipped it with a number of useful automatic functions. Just like its two older sisters, the RX100 III also offers two fully automatic systems. While one operates as a conventional automatic subject scanner, the other also selects programs with multiple shots if required. These “multi-shot” programs, for example, improve the noise behaviour at high ISO numbers or tame the hard contrasts of a backlight scene by combining differently exposed images to form an HDR image. It’s also nice that the fully automatic systems don’t completely incapacitate you: Exposure and white balance can be corrected, and the aperture value set by the program can also be changed.
The RX100 III offers experienced photographers control and configuration options that are second to none to those of a system camera. The exposure can be controlled in the usual modes P, A and S, in addition to manual exposure control. A new feature of the RX100 III is the possibility to combine the manual setting of exposure time and aperture (mode M) with the ISO automatic; the lower and upper limits can be set. Furthermore, the RX100 III offers a number of helpful assistants just like its older sisters. These include the automatic panorama function, in which the camera is simply panned over the scenery with the shutter-release button pressed down. Of course, the elegant compact camera also has face recognition on board. If required, this can even be combined with a smile trigger, a function that may even be useful for self-portraits. For creative photographers, the RX100 III offers 15 effects programs that allow interesting distortions from “miniature” to “retro photo”.
The RX100 III is in its element when it comes to video recording. Like the RX10, which was introduced about half a year ago, the RX100 III is also capable of “Full Sensor Readout”. Like a professional video camera, it does without line skipping, which minimizes the rolling shutter effect and generally benefits the image quality in the video. With the RX100 III, videographers now benefit even more from the sensor’s improved capabilities: the small compact camera records in the XAVC-S format, which allows the camera to record at data rates of up to 50 Mbps. If desired, the video signal can be output uncompressed via HDMI interface. Another new feature of the RX100 III is the ability to record 100 frames per second (fps) at HD resolution (1,280 x 720 pixels), which enables a very soft quad slow motion.
It’s particularly unfortunate that the RX100 III’s multi-interface accessory shoe has been omitted. This means that you can no longer connect an external microphone, a video light or a flashgun. And so with the RX100 III, as with the original RX100, you have to make do with the small on-board flash, a system flash shoe is reserved exclusively for the RX100 II. In view of the professional demands of the camera, the RX100 III could well have done without an on-board flash in favour of the multi-interface accessory shoe. The elegant compact camera is also economical when it comes to image processing options in playback mode. But it comes up with an innovation that was previously reserved for Sony system cameras: the functional range of the RX100 III can be expanded via camera apps. In this way, for example, the “Photo Retouching” app can be used to retrofit image processing options that the camera lacks from the outset. Also on board the RX100 III are WiFi including the possibility for fast pairing via NFC. Via the WiFi connection, the camera can be remotely controlled via smartphone or tablet, and recordings can be transferred directly to the mobile device.
When serial shooting is required, the RX100 III is much faster on the road than is usual in the compact class. When shooting in JPEG format, she spurts off with a good 9 photos/second (fps) and has a long breath – only after 53 shots does she fall into the slower endurance run with only 2.4 fps. If you record in raw format, the continuous shooting rate is 6.0 fps for 28 photos, then 1.8 fps. However, the RX100 III only manages this high speed with one trick: the focus is frozen on the first frame of the series; if the sharpness is to be adjusted, the speed of the series is significantly lower. In practice, it’s also a bit annoying that the RX100 III takes quite some time to transfer the contents of the internal buffer to the memory card. Meanwhile the camera is almost completely blocked, only more photos can be taken.
While Sony has left the lens of the two older sisters unchanged, the RX100 III offers a new, very special optic. Your zoom range now starts at 24 millimeters focal length (related to 35mm), but the long end is already reached at 70 millimeters. In practice, the extended wide-angle range has proved to be very welcome, the additional millimetres in the telephoto range can easily be dispensed with. Especially impressive is the light intensity of the RX100 III, which now ranges from F1.8 to F2.8. No other camera has such a fast zoom lens combined with a 1-inch sensor! In order to be able to use the high light intensity and the associated exposure potential even in bright ambient light, Sony has equipped the RX100 III with a swing-in neutral density filter that attenuates the light by -3 EV. Compared to the previous lens (28-100 mm/F1.8-4.8), Sony has also improved the close-up limit. At a focal length of 70 millimeters, it is now only 30 centimeters, which allows a respectable magnification of 1:5.
Given the performance data of the lens, it’s amazing that it almost completely retracts into the camera when the RX100 III is turned off. To make all this possible, Sony has for the first time ever directly cemented two aspherical lenses together. The RX100 III in the test laboratory of digitalkamera.de had to show to what extent this measure benefits image quality (see next section of this test report). The autofocus is in perfect harmony with the newly designed lens: the RX100 III only needs about a third of a second on a long telephoto lens to focus and release; at the shortest focal length, the release delay, including autofocus, drops to a very fast 0.2 seconds. A new addition to the RX100 III is the Eye AF, with which the camera focuses perfectly on the pupil. Even manual focusing becomes an easy exercise with the camera. The control ring on the lens takes over the function of the focus ring, focus magnifier and a peaking function assist the photographer.
The RX100 III takes over the image converter unchanged from its predecessor. So it remains with a 1-inch sensor in BSI technology that has a high resolution of around 20 megapixels. This sensor was already convincing on the RX100 II, and Sony has now added a completely new lens.
A glance at the resolution measurement already shows that Sony apparently didn’t save on the optics of the RX100 III. The small camera achieves up to 50 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm) at least in the image center – an excellent value. In the wide-angle position of the zoom, however, the resolution decreases too much towards the edges of the image with approx. 40 percent. For snapshots and reportage photos this may be okay, but high-quality landscape or architectural photos suffer visibly from this loss of resolution. Fortunately, at medium and longest focal lengths the loss of resolution is significantly lower and remains acceptable.
The RX100 III is exemplary when it comes to distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. The distortion at all focal lengths is a maximum of 0.75 percent and thus remains invisible. The RX100 III also has no problems with colour fringes on contrasting edges, the edge darkening remains within the green range with less than 0.5 percent. However, these excellent results are due to a massive correction of the recording data, which in the case of the RX100 III is even permanently stored in the raw files. This might also be the reason for the high edge drop of the resolution in the wide angle range, as the raw data are strongly equalized.
The laboratory report does not confirm fears that the relatively small image sensor of the RX100 III with 20 megapixels is too highly integrated. Starting from the basic sensitivity of ISO 125 up to ISO 6.400, the camera processes a dynamic range of at least ten f-stops – a good performance. ISO 6.400 is also the limit up to which brightness noise remains unobtrusive. Noise grain size and color noise remain unobtrusive even across the entire sensitivity range. However, the signal-to-noise ratio is only just good up to ISO 400 with 40 dB, but remains acceptable up to ISO 6,400. The measurement of the texture sharpness, however, brings to light that the RX100 III is processing the image data to a great extent. Up to ISO 400, the images are sharpened too much – this pretends a wealth of detail that is ultimately not present. On the other hand, image details remain nicely differentiated up to ISO 6,400; only at even higher ISO values does the richness of detail visibly suffer from the influence of noise reduction.
The tonal value curve of the RX100 III has been tuned rather cautiously by Sony, the output tonal range is very high up to ISO 400 and decreases only gently with further increasing ISO values. But the RX100 III doesn’t take the colour fidelity exactly as it should. Especially cyan and magenta tones are strongly saturated, overall the medium color deviation remains just about good. The bottom line is that the RX100 III offers impressive image quality, the new lens has a much higher resolution than its predecessor, and up to ISO 3,200, the small camera can handle almost any subject well.
It’s hardly considered possible, but Sony has improved the already excellent RX100 II once again. The most important new features of the RX100 III: The very useful electronic viewfinder, which disappears completely into the handy housing, as well as the extremely fast lens with extended wide-angle range. Both innovations have proven themselves in practice. Sony has once again improved the handling: the RX100 III now also benefits from the user guidance introduced with the A7/A7R and RX10 at the end of last year, including the new quick menu with twelve individually allocatable memory locations. The new, very bright zoom object of the RX100 III not only opens up new possibilities with its extended wide-angle range, but can also convince in the test laboratory. The resolution is high (but with some strong edge waste), imaging errors hardly occur or are digitally corrected. The RX100 III also doesn’t disappoint in terms of noise, dynamic range and tonal tuning. The image quality is absolutely good, compared to the very compact overall package even excellent. So much praise for the third incarnation of the RX100, but there is also a dark shadow on the RX100 III: Sony has dropped the flash shoe that was only introduced with the RX100 II. This would have made the RX100 III even more versatile instead of the small on-board flash. Fortunately, the RX100 II and the original RX100 remain in the program – so everyone can choose the classy compact with the groundbreaking 1-inch sensor according to their needs and wallet.
This test of the Sony DSC-RX100 III was created with DxO Analyzer from DxO Labs.
- Fast autofocus
- Powerful lens
- Retractable electronic viewfinder
- Excellent image quality
- Rear setting wheel too smooth-running
- Camera turns off when EVF is inserted
- No flash shoe
- High price
Sony DSC-RX100 III Datasheet