Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Review

5.0
June 16, 2014 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

Big sensor - check. Fast lens - check. Built-in viewfinder - check. Tilting LCD screen - check. Wi-fi and NFC - check. Advanced video options - check. Is the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III the ultimate compact camera? Read our expert Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II review to find out...

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III is a premium compact camera that features a 24-70mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom lens with a fast aperture of f/1.8 at the wide-angle setting and f/2.8 at full telephoto, a 20.1 megapixel 1.0-type Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS image sensor, a retractable OLED electronic viewfinder, and 50Mbps high bit-rate Full HD video recording with XAVC S support and 5-axis stabilisation and a clean HDMI output. The RX100 MK3 also boasts the latest-generation BIONZ X processing engine, wi-fi and NFC connectivity, donwloadable PlayMemories Camera Apps, a 180-degree tilting 3-inch LCD screen, Multi Terminal accessory connection, continuous shooting at up to 10fps at full resolution, high-speed autofocus that locks onto your target in 0.13 seconds, built-in pop-up flash, support for the Raw format, a built-in 3-stop (1/8) Neutral Density filter and full manual controls. The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III is available now for around $799 /£699.

Ease of Use

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III builds on last year's second-generation RX100 II model by adding several advanced features that make it even better suited to the experienced photographer looking for a capable pocket camera, most notably a cleverly integrated eye-level viewfinder, built-in Neutral Density filter, and XAVC S support. It offers a relatively large 13.2 x 8.8mm CMOS sensor, which is the same size as that used in the Nikon 1 series compact system cameras and 4x as big as a typical compact sensor, a fast lens at both ends of the 24-70mm zoom range, a large and high-resolution screen that can now be flipped forwards through 180 degrees, speedy auto-focusing system plus manual focusing too (complete with focus peaking), full control over exposure and Raw file format support.

The Sony DSC-RX100 III has fast maximum apertures of f/1.8 at the 28mm wide-angle setting and f/2.8 at the 70mm full telephoto setting. The combination of this fast lens with a seven-bladed circular aperture and the big sensor is a real joy to use, allowing you to easily create defocused depth-of-field effects that you simply can't achieve with most other pocket cameras. If you've been searching for a small camera that will give you DSLR-like bokeh, then look no further than the RX100 III - check out our Sample Images page to see just want you can achieve. The combination of the fast maximum apertures, effective built-in image stabilizer and maximum ISO speed of 25600 also makes this camera well suited to hand-held low-light photography, while the new ND filter makes it possible to shoot in bright sunlight and still use f/1.8 or f/2.8 to effectively blur the background.

Surrounding the lens is an innovative control ring, much like the one first seen on the Canon PowerShot S-series cameras. Depending on which shooting mode is currently selected, this allows you to change key settings including aperture, shutter speed, the digital zoom and picture effects. The rear control ring also achieves the same things, but we found it more intuitive and quicker to use the large, smooth front ring. It's not original, but is very effective.

Despite its large image sensor and correspondingly physically big zoom lens that dominates the front of the camera, plus the inclusion of a tilting screen, and built-in viewfinder and flash, the Sony RX100 III is still quite small and slender, measuring just 4.1cms in depth, 5.8cms in height and 10cms in width, and weighing 263g with the battery and memory card fitted, just a little thicker and slightly heavier than the RX100 II . On the back there's a large 3-inch, 1228k-dot resolution LCD screen which can now be tilted up to 45° downwards to shoot over crowds or up to 180° upwards foreasier selfies.

Remarkably, the RX100 III also has an electronic viewfinder to fall back on in brighter lighting conditions, which has been cleverly integrated into the camera that it's hidden away when not is use. Activated by a new switch on the side of the camera, the EVF popu-up out of the camera body, then needs to be pulled backwards to function properly. The EVF is an 0.39-type OLED panel with 1,440,000 dots and magnification of 0.59x, which in practice proved more than good enough to use for long periods of time in preference to the LCD screen. There's even an eye-sensor onboard for automatic switching beteween the LCD screen and EVF. For us, the new viewfinder is one of the star attractions of the new RX100 III.

There's still no means of gripping the camera on the front, with just a small thumb-shaped lozenge on the rear, making the DSC-RX100 III a little difficult to get to grips with, especially since its aluminum body is very smooth. Sony have recognised this, though, by also announcing the AG-R1 grip accessory. Also located on the front of the RX100 III is the lens and a porthole on the left for the self-timer/AF illuminator. There's a clever fold-out pop-up flash unit on top of the camera directly above the lens which is automatically raised when you select a flash mode - it can also be manually raised and lowered if desired via a button on the rear.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Front Rear

Press the small On/Off button on the top plate and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III quickly readies itself for action in a just over a second. The adequately sized shutter-release button has a definite halfway point, very quickly determining focus and exposure with a bleep of affirmation even in low-light, focus points highlighted as green rectangles on the LCD. When you manually focus, MF Assist automatically magnifies the image to help you get sharp result, and there's also the same convenient Peaking function from Sony's DSLRs that highlights sharply-focused areas of the image on the LCD screen. Go on to take the shot and JPEG or Raw images are quickly committed to memory in a single second, the screen momentarily blanking out and then displaying the captured image before the user can go on to take a second shot.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III is wi-fi capable and the functions can be adjusted in the Settings main menu. You can use WPS Push to force locate a hot spot, access settings, edit the device name, display the MAC address or format all settings if you wish. More “on the spot” wi-fi functionality is done in the quick menu. Choosing where to transmit the images to (either smartphone or computer) is done in the Playback menu when you're looking at the pictures you've taken. One cool feature of the wi-fi is being able to link the camera to your smart phone using the PlayMemories Mobile app. You can then use the phone as a remote so those outstretched arm 'selfies' will be a thing of the past. The RX100 III is also the first ever Sony camera to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect it to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC-enabled camera by simply tapping them together.

The shutter release button is encircled by a responsive forefinger-operated push/pull rocker zoom lever, with the camera taking around four seconds to zoom from wide-angle to full telephoto. Sony have added a clever step zoom function which lets you instantly choose from five popular focal lengths using the control ring - 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm or 70mm . The RX100 III's twin built-in stereo microphones are also located on top of the camera, plus a round shooting mode dial with a knurled edge and positive action. This lets you quickly switch between the various shooting modes that are on offer.

Sony has included Intelligent Auto scene recognition, which works in virtually identical fashion to the intelligent auto modes of Panasonic's and Canon's compact ranges. Simply point the RX100 III at a scene or subject and the camera analyses it and automatically chooses one of 11 pre-optimised settings to best suit. There's also the Superior Auto mode, which places greater emphasis on reducing blur and noise and increasing the dynamic range.

Adding to the RX100 III's snapshot simplicity, these features accompany face recognition and smile shutter functionality on board, the former mode biasing human faces in the frame and the latter mode firing the shutter when it detects a smiling subject. The Face Detection system automatically adjusts the focus, exposure and white balance for people in the frame, and can even be set to distinguish between children and adults. Smile Detection offers three self-explanatory options, Big, Normal and Slight. Used in conjunction, the Face and Smile Detection systems do result in more hits than misses, especially in contrasty lighting conditions, although all those smiling faces could ultimately freak you out a little! The self-portrait options in the self-timer menu work by automatically taking the shot with a two second delay after either one or two people have entered the frame.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Pop-up Flash / Viewfinder Raised Tilting LCD Screen

In addition to the regular Program mode, which provides the full range of camera options and additionally allows you to change settings like the ISO speed and metering, is the welcome inclusion of Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual modes which let you independently set the aperture and shutter speed, making the RX100 III instantly appeal to the more experienced photographer. The range of apertures on offer is extensive for a compact camera, ranging from F1.8-F11, and the ability to choose from 30 - 1/12000th second shutter speeds opens up a lot of creative potential. There's also very welcome support for the RAW file format, which is really the icing on the cake for serious photographers looking for a backup-pocket camera to their DSLR.

The proven Sweep Panorama mode lets you capture a panoramic image very easily without the use of a tripod. All you need to decide is whether you would like to start from left or right, top or bottom. Then press and hold down the shutter release while doing a "sweep" with the camera in hand. Exposure compensation is available before you start the sweep, but the exposure is fixed once you depress the shutter button. After you are done with the sweeping, the camera does all the processing required, and presents you with a finished panoramic image. There are two modes, Standard and Wide. Note that if you do the sweeping too slowly, or you let go of the shutter release button too early, the panorama will be truncated.

In the Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur shooting modes, the DSC-RX100 III takes six shots in a rapid sequence, typically at a high sensitivity setting and a (relatively) fast shutter speed, and then combines them into a single image that has somewhat less noise than a single shot taken at the same ISO and exposure settings. In our experience, the difference between the two modes is that in Anti Motion Blur mode, the camera is more willing to pick a really high ISO setting like ISO 1600 to maintain a fast shutter speed, whereas in Hand-held Twilight mode, it will only go as high as absolutely necessary to avoid camera shake at the chosen focal length. If light levels are truly low, however, the RX100 III will pick a high ISO speed even in this mode.

The Clear Zoom function effectively digitally doubles the zoom range, using Sony's Pixel Super Resolution Technology to increase the magnification. The Auto Portrait Framing mode uses face detection and the rule of thirds to automatically crop and create tightly framed portrait shots. The same Pixel Super Resolution Technology ensures that the resulting image is still a full 20 megapixels in size, and the original uncropped image is also saved for easy comparison.

Sony's long-standing D-Range Optimizer and HDR functions are present to help even out tricky exposures, for example where a bright background would normally throw the foreground into deep shadow. You can see from the examples on the Image Quality page that these features produce a photo with noticeably more dynamic range than one taken using one of the standard shooting modes, but at the same time without replicating the often "false" look of many HDR programs, and both offer a wide degree of customisation that's previously only been seen on Sony's DSLR/SLT range.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Top Tilting LCD Screen

Present and correct is the increasingly ubiquitous ability to shoot High Definition video clips, but unlike its main competitors the RX100 III does so at full 1080p HD rather than 1080i or 720p, and also with stereo sound rather than mono. The various options are 1920x1080 or 1440x1280 pixels at 50p or 50i in the AVCHD format, and 1440x1280 or 640x480 pixels at 30fps in the MPEG4 format. Sony have also included 24p/25p shooting for smoother, more cinematic movies. The new XAVC S format is based on the professional XAVC codec and records full-pixel readout Full HD video footage at up to 50Mbps. In addition HD footage can be recorded at 100 fps in XAVC S mode for slow motion replays. During video recording you can take a 17 megapixel still image by pressing the shutter button, or alternatively grab a still from your video footage during playback, while dual video recording simultaneously records both small MP4 files as well as AVCHD /XAVC S files. The RX100 III also features a 5-axis stabilisation system that is a great help in making your handheld video footage shake-free, even when walking.

There is full use of the optical zoom during recording plus the ability to change the EV level, white balance, and metering options and turn on either standard SteadyShot or the Active Mode mode, which provides up to 10x more anti-shake effectiveness with no side-effects. If you set the shooting mode dial to Movie, you can also choose from Program, Aperture or Shutter priority and Manual modes, giving you full control over exposure for both stills and movies.

There's also a direct clean HDMI output from the camera, useful for playing back your footage on a HDTV set, although sadly there's no HDMI cable supplied in the box. The dedicated Movie button on the rear of the DSC-RX100 III allows you to start recording a movie with a single push of a button, and then stop recording by pressing the same button - a lot more intuitive than having to select the movie mode then press the shutter button, as on most compacts. You can also activate the movie mode via the Shooting Mode dial.

The rear of the DSC-RX100 III is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen, with the resolution a pleasingly high 1228k dots. As already mentioned, the screen can now be usefully tilted up and down. To the right of the screen is the one-touch movie record button next to the rubberised thumb-rest. Underneath is the Function button, which accesses up to 12 customisable options that appear on the LCD screen as two rows of icons that can be selected using either the lens or rear control rings. The Function menu proves to be a very handy way to quickly change the RX100 III's key settings and one of the main ways of setting the camera to suit your shooting style. Alongside the Function control is the Menu button - press this and a number of shooting and set up folders appear on screen, with white text on a black background aiding visibility.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The traditional round navigation pad can be used to navigate through menus and options, in conjunction with the small button in the middle which activates whatever it is you've chosen. The four directions on the navigation pad also provide a quick way of setting the Display, Flash, the Exposure Compensation / Photo Creativity interface (dependant upon the current shooting mode) and Continuous Shooting/Timer options. The Photo Creativity options make it easier for beginners to change the colour, brightness, vividness and Picture effect modes, with changes previewed in real time on the LCD screen. The navigation pad also doubles up as a control ring that's used to set the aperture and shutter speed in the creative shooting modes, amongst other things. The ring is a little small, but it's not too over-sensitive and the ability to take full control of the RX100 III is very welcome.

The Sony RX100 III can shoot full-resolution 20 megapixel pictures at up to 10fps, a very fast rate for a compact camera. To achieve the full 10fps you need to set the exposure mode dial to the Speed Priority Continuous option, which locks the focus and the exposure at the first frame. The RX100 III can shoot up to 13 Fine JPEGs or 10 Raw files at 10fps, with the regular continuous burst shooting changing the focus and exposure between frames but providing a much slower rate of 2.5fps.

There's a small button for playing back your images underneath the navigation pad. Users have the ability to dip in and out of created folders of images or the calendar view, view thumbnails, select slideshows and choose transitional effects and accompanying music, or delete shots. Press the shutter button halfway and you're helpfully catapulted back into capture mode. And that's basically it. With a press of the Menu button in playback, users have access to a few in-camera retouching effects, including the ability to crop and sharpen an image and apply red-eye correction.

Completing the rear of the RX100 III is the new Custom button, which as the name suggests can be customised to quickly access one of 20 key settings. By default it opens a list of shooting tips that Sony no doubt hopes will provide a crutch for new users trading up from a more bog-standard point and shoot compact. Examples of textual advice, complete with small pictorial thumbnail alongside, include 'increase the ISO sensitivity to make the shutter speed faster', and then, the thoughtful addition: 'higher ISO sensitivity may make noise stand out.' Hand holding for those who want it then. Sadly the button can't be reconfigured by more experienced users to something more useful.

The bottom of the Sony RX100 III features a standard metal screw thread for attaching it to a tripod. A lockable plastic cover protects the lithium-ion battery, good for 320 shots or 160 mins AVCHD video, and the removable memory card, with the RX100 III supporting the SD / SDHC / SDXC format in addition to Sony's own proprietary Pro Duo Memory Stick format. The right side of the RX100 III has a tiny metal eyelet for the supplied wrist strap and also the Multi Terminal and HDMI ports underneath sturdy plastic covers, with another wrist strap eyelet on the left side. Note that the camera battery is charged via the USB port, rather than a more convenient separate charger, so it's a good idea to invest in an extra battery or two for a full day's shooting.

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