Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III compact digital camera
Even though this camera is easy to put in your pocket, it still packs features that are more commonly found in larger models
- Good sensor captures plenty of detail
- Built-in EVF and flash
- Hinged screen
- NFC is cumbersome
- Focus wasn't always on point
Even though the RX100 III packs a viewfinder, flash, and hinged screen, it's still small enough to fit in a pants pocket. Best of all, its image quality is excellent.
Price$ 1,099.00 (AUD)
At the heart of Sony's small Cyber-shot RX100 III is a 20-megapixel sensor that can capture images at a quality level that's usually reserved for bulky digital SLRs. That's the major distinction between this compact camera and competing models; it's designed for those of you who want a truly pocketable camera that can produce crisp results.
It's important to note that the camera we are reviewing here isn't one of the full-frame (35.8x23.9mm CMOS sensor) versions of Sony's RX series, but instead one with a smaller 13.2x8.8mm CMOS sensor. It's designed to be more compact than the full-frame camera, and, of course, more cost effective. But even without the full-frame sensor, the RX100 III is a compelling camera because it includes so much along its limited surface area.
There are many interesting physical elements to this camera, which aim to make it a total package despite its small size. Just by glancing at it, you would hardly know that it contains both a built-in flash and an electronic viewfinder (EVF), as well as hinges for its screen, but they are there, and they pop up out of the tiny camera body whenever you need to use them.
A sliding release on the left side of the camera body labelled 'finder' is what you need to move in order to bring up the viewfinder. Once it's up, there is a second part that needs to be slid out towards the back of the camera so that it can be properly enabled. If you don't do this, then the viewfinder will provide a blurry and unusable view. It's worth nothing that you can switch the camera on just by popping up the viewfinder, which we think is a great convenience. The camera switches off again when you put the viewfinder back in its place.
Like the electronic viewfinders on most good digital SLRs these days, there is a sensor that detects when you've put your eye to it and switches off the screen. It's not the biggest viewfinder, though, which makes sense since it's not sitting in a big camera, but it makes a world of difference if you're trying to frame a photo and check settings outdoors on a bright day and the LCD screen just isn't cutting it for you.
Next along the RX100 III's body is the pop-up flash. Another sliding release allows you to bring it up, and it's a minimalist-looking thing with two thin legs supporting a slim light. It has been designed in such a way so that you can easily tilt it upwards with your finger, which can come in useful if you want to bounce the light off the ceiling rather than allow it to hit your subject directly. When you don't need the flash anymore, a little push sees it fold back and disappear back into the camera's body.
On the rear is the 3in LCD screen, which isn't fixed flat to the back. Instead, a hinge allows it to flip up 180 degrees (just in case you want to take a selfie), and there is a second hinge that allows the screen to extend out a little from the body so that the screen can then be angled downwards (just in case you want to take a photo of a crowd from a high angle). For such a small camera, the hinged screen is a wonderful convenience that you end up using a whole lot more than you thought you would in order to give your photos a different perspective.
It's these little mechanical pop-up and flip-out surprises that make the Sony RX100 III more useful than a typical compact camera. That said, for the price Sony is asking, you would definitely expect it to be special, and the mechanics and design are just one part of the package. The other part is the camera's ability to capture images with a clarity that is superb.
Performance and ease of use
Sitting at the front of the RX100 III is a 2.9x optical zoom lens that has a wide angle of 24mm and a zoom up to 70mm. This lens is effective for landscape photography, portraits, and anything else that doesn't require very close macro or long zoom to be captured. It has a wide aperture of f/1.8, which drops down to f/2.8 when the lens is zoomed all the way, so it can be used to give a noticeable shallow depth-of-field effect, and it also allows the camera to be used more effectively in low-light conditions. That said, a relatively high ISO can be used without worry. Even up to ISO 1600, images still look clear when scruitinised at the pixel level.
The f-stop can be changed by moving the ring that sits around the lens (unless you are in manual focus mode), while the shutter speed can be changed by rotating the ring that forms the directional pad on the rear. The shutter has a maximum speed of 1/2000 of a second, which isn't as fast as what other cameras in the same price category can do, but the lens aperture does go up to f/11, which can compensate for that in overly bright conditions.
If you don't want to use the manual settings, you can set the mode dial to Superior Auto and let the camera do the work for you. It works by selecting the best scene mode for your picture, from macro to HDR. When it uses the latter, it takes three shots in a quick burst and puts them together. It's usually reserved for dark scenes or backlit scenes (though there is also a backlit scene mode that's sometimes picked), and you should make sure you are holding the camera as still as possible during those types of shots. Colour was captured with plenty of richness in JPEG mode, but RAW mode is also available if you plan on extensively editing your shots on a computer.
Changing the exposure is made easy due to the live changes that are shown on the screen every time you move the shutter and aperture values or change the ISO. There is also an exposure meter on the screen. The ISO doesn't have a dedicated shortcut on the back of the camera by default, but if you press the 'Fn' button, it brings up a quick menu that includes ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, and focus modes among other things.
We found auto-focusing to be a bit hit and miss during our tests, with the camera sometimes missing our intended target. To counter this, we were able to set the focus point manually, or focus on another close by area on the same focal plane and then back on our intended subject. Macros can be shot effectively once you set the scene mode, but, again, the focus point didn't always land on the feature we intended, and we found manual focusing to be too awkward for those types of shots on such a small camera.
It's an easy camera to get the hang of, for the most part, and the quick menu is a big part of this as it puts many of the most-needed features of the camera right in front of you at the press of a button. The main menu is also simple to navigate, and this is because all menu items are displayed on the screen without the need for scrolling. You simply navigate to different pages to get to further settings. Consultation of the user manual might be required for some settings.
If you really need to share photos from the camera while you're on the go, then the camera will facilitate that, and you can use either NFC or Wi-Fi Direct to make it happen. (There is also the ability to connect to a router.) NFC is quite fiddly to use with this camera, in particular because it requires too many steps to enable; you need to download an NFC connection app for your phone, in addition to the app that can let you manage photos. We found that a direct Wi-Fi connection was the best way to marry the two devices, with the most tedious part being the entering of the camera's password. This worked reasonably well to allow us to transfer files off the camera and onto our smartphone.
All of the photos below are JPEGs that are straight out of the camera. They are unedited except for re-sizing to fit this page.
Price is a barrier for most cutting edge technology, and many will see the four-digit tag on this camera and dismiss it. That's perfectly understandable, and there are other compact models for well under $1000 that can offer similar photo quality, such as one of the bigger Canon G1X models. In this context, the appeal of the Sony RX100 III is that it's so small and yet so capable, especially if you just want something for landscapes and portraits. We like the built-in viewfinder, the built-in flash, the hinged screen, in addition to a very good image capturing ability and some easy to use menus.
• Need a camera with more zoom, 4K video shooting, and don't mind a bigger size? If so, check out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000.
• Want an interchangeable lens camera instead? Sony's a5000 is a small camera that allows you to attach the lens of your choice.
• If you're after a more professional, yet well-sized camera, the Fujifilm X-T1 is a fine choice.
• Thinking of upgrading to a full-frame camera? Nikon's Df is a great place to start.
Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.
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