In this article I want to talk about the main reasons why I think you should buy the new Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III camera. Indeed, there are numerous large-sensor compacts on the market, but comparing them all side by side might confuse many of you. Instead, I’ve decided to write a more conclusive introduction/comparison article that emphasize on the RX100 III key feature and how it stands against what’s available on the market.
If you are still not sure whether to buy the RX100 III, or go with a competitive model, ILC or DSLR camera, this article is for you.
Before we dive deep into the RX100 III features, I want to talk about the RX100 III category in general. All Sony’s RX100 cameras, and there are three of them, all feature a 1-inch (13.2×8.8 mm) size sensor. This is a relatively very big sensor if you compare it to the popular 1/2.3″ (6.17×4.55 mm) whcih can be found on many compact point-and-shoot cameras.
This puts the RX100 cameras in its own category, referred to by many as “large-sensor compacts”. A range of premium point-and-shoot cameras that give photographers the option to have a pocketable camera, but one that can deliver superior image quality (close to that of a DSLR camera with APS-C size sensor), advanced manual controls and a wide range of advanced functionality and performance.
This in fact what made the RX100 cameras so popular among beginners and enthusiast, and even pros carries this camera in their pocket.
In my opinion, the portability is one of the key reasons why this camera became so popular. There are other large-sensor compacts, but many of those cameras are bulkier and heavier, and you just can’t put it in your pocket. They are by all means not huge, but still not small enough to be easy to carry everywhere you go.
There is a reason why I am saying this. I personally prefer having a camera with me so I can take gorgeous photos at spontaneous occasions than not having to take those pictures at all and come home empty. As an enthusiast photographer, I always prefer having a camera with me.
Now you are probably going to say: “Yes, but I already have my smartphone camera” — and I couldn’t agree more. This is why smartphone cameras became so popular, and this is the reason why the web is full of amazing photos taken by novice photographers who just were at the right moment and at the right time. Some might have a professional equipment, but if you cannot take it with you to all places or you feel uncomfortable shooting with it on a daily basis, you won’t have those great images, end of discussion.
The problem with phone cameras is that most of them still lack some of the features that today’s point-and-shoot cameras offer. This include a high magnification lens (optical zoom lens) great than 1x zoom (also referred to as prime lens). Most smartphone cameras use a relatively small sensor. For example, the iPhone 5 features a 1/3.2″ (4.54×3.42 mm) sensor, the iPhone 5S features a 1/3″ (4.80x.3.50 mm) sensor. Even the Nokia 808 PureView that has one of the largest sensor in a smartphone yet (1/1.2″ 10.67x.8 mm) is still smaller than the 1″ (13.20×8.80 mm) sensor of the RX100 cameras.
The thing that is most important here is the pixel size. The larger the pixel, the more light that can be recorded and analyzed and the better the image quality and low-light performance will be, generally speaking.
Let’s take at the Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView camera. It feature a 41MP 2/3″ (8.80×6.60 mm) sensor. It’s quite large in point-and-shoot terms, but because it features so many pixels, the size of each pixel is very small. However, Nokia solved this in a very smart way. When you take an image in bright daylight, you can take advantage of the whole sensor resolution and still get a high image quality image. The problem rises in low-light situations. Nokia implements a technology called ‘Pixel oversampling’, which outputs a smaller resolution image, but binds adjustment pixels together (8 of them) to collect the data that will represent a single pixel in the final image. By doing so, You enjoy the benefits of a large sensor with large pixels, but at the same time you can get a very high resolution image as well, and you have the option to shoot both. Furthermore, Nokia also uses a lossless digital zoom technology that utilizes a partial part of the sensor and output a magnified image at lower resolutions.
The Nokia PureView is unique among other smartphones. All, if not most of the other smartphones use a prime lens (fixed zoom/focal length). This lens might be fast and perform great due to being a prime lens, but it’s very limiting. I always wonder what amazing images we would be able to see at present times if smartphone cameras had an optical zoom.
The thing I personally like the most on large-sensor compacts is the ability to shoot images with very blurred background, something that it’s almost impossible to get, at least not at that high degree, with smartphone cameras — at most in macro shots, and you need to be very very close to your subject to get that beautiful shallow depth of field effect.
Smartphone cameras also lacks some of the advanced manual controls and shooting modes that available in premium compacts, including the ability to control the aperture opening, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and use bracketing mode to shoot with various settings in a sequence.
So in general, large-sensor compacts still have something to offer that phone cameras still can’t offer. I agree that it’s better to have a single device instead of two, this is much more portable, but until phone camera can offer what large-sensor compacts can offer, I will still have the RX100 in my pocket with me.
So Why the RX100 III, What So Special About it?
There are many things that make the Sony RX100 III unique among other cameras. In this section I want to talk about those features in-depth.
The performance of the camera means a lot to photographers. You want the camera to deliver high image quality, and at the same time to be very responsive and fast. Fast, because you might lose a shot if the camera ‘thinks’ too much prior to shooting. High image quality, because you want to come home with high quality images that will look great on a large screen, one that you can further edit on your home computer and also a camera that doesn’t finished its job when the sun goes down, so you want great low-light capabilities as well.
The RX100 II features a 1″ 20.1MP Exmor R back-illuminated (BSI) sensor. This sensor it very large compared to other compact P&S cameras. It also built using BSI sensor technology, that improves the sensor sensitivity by up to 2x times compared to front-illuminated sensors. All in all, the RX100 III and all the RX100 cameras have already proven to offer excellent low-light performance. APS-c cameras still outperform the RX100 III, but most of them are much larger than the RX100.
Alongside the excellent sensor, the RX100 III features Sony’s BIONZ X image processor, the first RX camera to use this advanced processor. This processor promises superior processing power, more advanced algorithms to improve the camera’s low-light performance, AF performance that result in better looking image.
You can find more information about this processor on sony.com website here. It’s main advantage include area-specific noise reduction, detail reproduction technology, and advanced 16-bit RAW processing. At the end of the day, Sony want you to come home with gorgeous images that need no further editing to look great. All the optical aberrations should be automatically taken care in the camera. You always have the option to apply special effects and filters, whether on camera, on your mobile device or home computer, but the base image should look at its best nevertheless.
Talking about performance, the Cyber-shot digital camera RX100 III can shoot at 10 frames per second and has 25 AF points for accurate subject tracking performance. Some people have complained about Sony not improving the AF sensor and burst speed of the RX100 II, and I tend to agree, better performance in next-gen cameras is always better. Having said that, I think that for the casual photographer and for a walkaround camera, this performance is very adequate and I never felt the need to have ‘better’ performance, but I don’t mind having more obviously, some people might find a need for it.
The camera is also very responsive, and not sluggish compared to some premium compacts I tried. It really feels like a pro-cam, but a very small one. It’s aluminum chassis adds to the professional look and feel, and it really feels good and sturdy in the hands, not like a camera that’s going to break easily.
The Lens, Oh the Lens!
One of the most important aspects of any digital camera, the Lens. The RX100 III lens was, in my opinion, vastly improved. Sony did shorten the focal length of the lens from 28-100mm to 24-70mm, but this new lens has new advantages. The lens uses Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilization alongside an Intelligent Active Mode and 5-axis IS including anti-rolling in movie recording.
First of all, the new lens is built using a new small-lens construction technology including 9 aspherical glass elements and two advanced asphetical elements that cemented together. This is the first time Sony used this technology for its lenses. It allows it to achieve an even smaller lens proportions, but still keep the excellent optical quality performance of the lens.
The Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 is also features 24mm wide-angle field of view. This gives you a noticeably broader field of view compared to the 28mm, although it doesn’t look much, it’s very noticeable for wide-angle shooting. This means that the lens capture more of the scene, great for group shots, interiors, architectural shots and landscape shots.
The lens is also much faster at the telephoto range. It start from f/1.8 aperture which is very fast, allowing superb low-light shooting performance at the widest angle, and allows f/2.8 at the tele-end, a very impressive aperture range for a compact camera. This means much better low-light performance, and a very fast aperture for a camera in this category.
Just to name a few, the Canon PowerShot S120 features a 24-120mm F1.8-5.6 (5x optical zoom) lens, the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II features a 24-120mm F2.0-3.9 (5x optical zoom) lens and the Panasonic Lumix Lx7 features a 24-90mm F1.4-2.3 lens (3.8x optical zoom). So in terms of lens focal length and aperture, the LX7 offers the better specs, but falls short if you take its 1/1.7″ (7.44×5.58 mm) sensor size into consideration.
The Panasonic Lumix LX7 features 2 micron pixels, the RX100 III has 2.4 micron pixels. Although the pixel size doesn’t always tells the whole story, although the RX100 III has much higher pixel density, its pixel due to its sensor size are even larger than those of the LX7 that has a 10MP sensor.
The RX100 III enjoys the superb Zeiss optics, it also uses a 5-axis image stabilization system and frame analysis system to ensure steadier shooting when shooting videos. The RX100 III lens also feature a 7 diaphragm blades for smooth Bokeh and a 3-steps ND filter which you can turn on or off or put on auto mode and let the camera decide when to use it.
Overall, a great lens that should support the very high resolution sensor, and should result in brilliant image rendering, one that will please the eye of the viewer. I’m pretty sure that many of you will find the 24mm wide-angle very useful for interiors and creative shots, and a great addition to a camera that also can serve as a travel camera by many.
Built-in Viewfinder – Oh Yeah!
This feature is a BIG ONE! – The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III features a built-in 1440K-dots 0.59x magnification 0.39″ electronic OLED viewfinder. This viewfinder doesn’t add to the camera size, as it is built inside the camera with a pop-up mechanism. This helps to ensure that the camera’s dimension will be the same when carried in the pocket, and will only extend when you decide to use it out of your pocket.
Unlike some many other compact cameras that have a crappy small and dark EVF (electronic viewfinder), this EVF is relatively large and bright. It helps you compose your photo at bright daylight when it’s hard to get a clear view of the scene using the rear LCD display. It also helps you to get more intimate with the subject you are shooting. I really love the discreet packaging of that EVF, Sony really packed the RX100 III with some stellar features, and this EVF is among those.
Here’s a demo of the pop-up EVF of the Sony RX100 III by ‘dcfever hk’ YouTube user:
Even if you don’t shoot with a viewfinder, it’s won’t bother you that it’s there, because it doesn’t add to the actual size of the camera when not extended. Sony did drop the Multi-Interface shoe to make room for the new EVF mechanism, and that means that you won’t be able to mount and external flash or connect an external mic. I think that this negligible for most people. This camera should be used as-is, and be portable. The idea of connecting an external flash or mic to this camera ruin the all idea of it being compact and portable. Therefore I wouldn’t bother myself with this at all, and nether do you. There are many other cameras to choose from if you you don’t mind carrying extra accessories or /and carry a larger camera, the RX100 III just wasn’t designed for that from the get-go.
On the RX100 II (the previous model), you do have a Multi-interface shoe, and you can attach an external EVF, flash or mic, but those accessories adds to the size, are quite bulky and expensive.
Just one last thing about the EVF. The EVF also utilizes Zeiss T coating that minimizes internal reflections and adds to the overall viewing experience.
Selfie Shooting Made Easy!
Everyone loves shooting selfies (self-portrait), and although most of us do it using our smartphone front-facing camera, Sony made it also easy to do it with the RX100 III.
The RX100 III features a 3.0″ 1228.8K-dots tilting LCD display that can flip up 180 degrees for easy self-portraits (aka selfie shot). It can also be rotated down 45 degrees for low-angle shots.
The tilting LCD make it easier to continuously compose your scene when shooting videos as well.
Advanced Shooting Functions
The Sony RX100 III was designed from the ground up to satisfy the advanced photographer that needs lots of manual controls and control over the final image / video output. The RX100 III has plenty of those!
Starting with a P/A/S/M shooting modes that give you full control over the exposure. You can choose from aperture or shutter priority and go up to full manual control (‘M’) where you get the option to manually choose the settings for shutter speed, ISO and aperture. This allows photographers to achieve unique exposure and optical effects that are not applicable when shooting in full auto or semi-auto modes.
The camera offers various shooting modes, including ‘Scene Selection Movie’, Sweep Panorama shooting, Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto alongside the regular semi-auto / auto modes that I’ve mentioned above.
There are also lots of pictures effects to play with, including toy camera, pop colour, retro photo, soft focus, HDR painting, miniature and many others. You can look at it like a built-in Instagram-like effects that are available in-camera.
The RX100 III features many shooting functions that helps to get that perfect photo right, including: Eye AF, Face Detection, Face Registration, Smile Shutter, Quick Navi, Grid Line, Digital Level Gauge (pitch and roll), MR (memory recall), Exposure Bracketing, White Balance Bracketing, Peaking, MF Assist, Auto Object Framing, Photo Creativity, Shooting Tips; Peaking, Zebra, Self-portrait timer.
You might find the selection it a bit overwhelming at start, but once you experiment with the various functions in the first week, you’ll get it pretty quickly. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there if you want to have more fine tune control over how you compose the image and how the camera analyses the scene and applies the exposure and AF settings. In some situations that’s the difference between a success and failure, but the RX100 III can work perfectly and deliver excellent results in full Auto mode too.
If you love shooting videos, you’ll love the new XAVC S video format. The RX100 III can capture full HD vieos at 60p (progressive scan frames), 60i (interlaced scan frames) or 24p (progressive scan frames). It can also record 720p videos at 120 fps (slow-motion). However, the new XAVC S video format allows you to shoot higher quality videos at 50 Mbps compared to the AVCHD video format.
The video file will be much larger, but you’ll get an improved image quality, which is better for post image processing. Keep in mind that you’ll need a SDXC Class 10 card or faster in order to record videos in XAVC S video format.
The RX100 III also make it easier to transfer your videos and image to a mobile device (e.g. smartphone, tablet) using Wi-Fi and NFC. You can then further apply image or video effects and edit your creations on your own mobile device or home computer.
The Sony RX100 III brings many of the highly-demanded features that many photographers craves for, all in one very compact camera. In my opinion, the Sony RX100 III is the best compact camera on the market right now. Sony improved upon in areas that should have been improved. I do agree that it would be nice to have a new sensor and having the same focal length range as its predecessor. Having said that, I think that most of you will have more unique and creative shots with the wide angle lens and faster aperture at the tele-end.
So although Sony didn’t improve the sensor and used the same sensor as the RX100 III, the low-light performance is improved due to the newer image processor, faster lens and improved image stabilization for video recording (5-axis stabilization).
The RX100 III is the best compact alternative to a HDSLR camera, as it offers 1080p60 video recording as well as XAVC S video format for excellent video quality. It’s not as sophisticated as other cameras that offer headphone jack, external mic input and clear HDMI output to an external device (only available for preview, correct me if I am wrong), but for the hobbyist photographer, this is more than one could ask for.
I think that the main reasons why you should buy the RX100 III is the combination of manual controls, excellent low-light performance, great image quality and video quality and built-in EVF. There are alternative out there, some are even cheaper than the RX100 III. Sony certainly improved upon the RX100 II and made a camera that will appeal to a wide audience.
Whether you are looking for a travel camera, second camera to your DSLR camera or an advanced P&S to replace your current compact camera — I would certainly recommend putting the RX100 III at the top of your list, you won’t be disappointed.
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