Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review - The Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III is the manufacturer's latest enthusiast compact, following on from a pair of award winning models and looking to improve with a new pop-up EVF and redesigned lens
The Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III is, as the numerical designation suggests, the third model in the series and it retains several core elements of the model’s specification which made it such an impressive model. These include the larger-than-average sensor for a compact and an impressive optical capabilities.
The lens itself has been improved – with the maximum aperture extended – while it also now features an innovative pop-up EVF. But have these new features done enough to improve on what was an already hugely impressive compact?
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review – Features
One of the main areas of improvement is the camera’s lens. On the face of it you could view the new optic as actually being somewhat of a regression for the RX100 series – where the previous model featured a zoom which covered a focal range from 28-100mmin equivalent terms, the RX100 III now covers a much shorter focal range of 24-70mm.
Closer inspection reveals that this is actually a positive move, as it results in an increase the maximum aperture at the tele end of the zoom. On the previous model the maximum aperture at the tele end decreased to f/4.9 from f/1.8, whereas on the new RX100 III this maximum aperture remains useful at f/2.8.
The real impressive new feature however is the camera’s new built-in EVF. Somewhat unsurprisingly a viewfinder is often the one feature that those looking for an enthusiast compact really long for, and this is something Sony appear aware of with its addition to the RX100 series.
An EVF is seen on both the Panasonic LF1 and TZ60, although that on the RX100 III features a much better resolution of 1.3-million dots. Furthermore, the EVF itself is innovative in it’s implementation, popping up from the camera’s body much like a flash unit.
This design has resulted in the loss of the camera’s Multi-Interface Shoe – previously used to attach the optional EVF, flashgun or external microphone adapter – and as such its loss won’t be entirely welcomed.
Elsewhere, there are some similarities between the RX100 III and its predecessor. Notably the model retains the same 20.2MP 1in CMOS sensor seen on the RX100 II, thus offering a larger sensor than those seen in some of its competitors.
The sensor is paired with a new Sony Bionz processor which, Sony claims, will not only deliver fast processing speeds but will also aid the general appearance of JPEG files through improved processing.
The processor also allows for a fairly impressive bust shooting rate of 10fps with a burst buffer of some 12 shots in JPEG or 10 frames when shooting JPEG and Raw.
In terms of the model’s LCD screen, the RX100 III is fairly impressive in that department. It measures in at 3in in size with a resolution of 1.229m-dots, while it also features vari-angle functionality to allow for tilting through 180-degrees to be viewed from in front of the lens for selfie-shooting and shooting from awkward angles.
Completing the specification is both Wi-fi and NFC connectivity, allowing the camera to be connected to either smartphone or tablet for remote control and wireless transfer of images.
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review – Design
In terms of the physical appearance of the RX100 III, it bears all of the hallmarks of previous models in the series.
The major differences in terms of design relate to the new 180-degree vari-angle LCD screen and the pop-up EVF. That being said, these two elements are relatively inconspicuous and as such the RX100 III is almost identical to the RX100 II.
As was the case with the RX100 II, the RX100 III is an enthusiast compact which handles well and has a host of key controls readily located for quick access.
There are a few intriguing changes with regards to the buttons designation, although on the whole they are all located in the same areas as before. Where previously a ‘?’ help button sat, there is now a custom button which can be set to a host of different key settings.
When you consider the enthusiast level of this camera, such a shift is hardly surprising.
In terms of the general handling, the RX100 III now benefits from the presence of a secondary control dial around the front lens of the camera. This dial, in conjunction with the control dial on the rear of the camera, give the RX100 III more the feel of a CSC or DSLR in operation than an enthusiast compact.
Although the RX100 III might not have quite the same level of external controls as some of its competitors, the absence of these means that the physical size of the body can be kept to a minimum and thus the RX100 III will readily slip in to a trouser pocket.
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review – Performance
In terms of the camera’s AF performance, while there is certainly a slight improvement of the general speed it’s not a great deal faster.
As with before, the AF performance is certainly fast enough, although it’s not quite as quick as some other systems found on competing models.
As you might expect for an enthusiast compact, the RX100 III features a host of advanced focusing modes including focus tracking and face detection, although unfortunately Sony doesn’t really make full use of the camera’s touch screen functionality when it comes to allowing for the touch selection of specific AF points.
The model’s LCD screen is as impressive as those found on previous models, delivering a good level of both colour and contrast that’s more than capable of coping with difficult and bright lighting conditions.
While the ability to now turn the screen through 180-degrees, and thus compose perfect selfies, will certainly appeal to some you can’t help but feel that for the market to which the RX100 III is targeted will not necessarily require such a feature.
One feature that will prove more welcome is the new pop-up EVF. With a resolution of 1.3-million dots, the EVF is well specified and delivers a good shooting option for when shooting in either particularly bright conditions or in low light situations.
A point of note is that as the EVF is located towards the left hand side of the camera, left eye shooters will find themselves pressing their face up against the RX100 III’s screen when shooting. Such a situation could be remedied with the option of a slide-on eye cup, and maybe this is something Sony might consider in the future.
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
In general the RX100 III delivers reliable white balance performance and, as a result, good colour rendition. There are times at which images are lacking a little with regards to contrast when it comes to the default colour settings, and thus it’s convenient that a range of different colour modes are on hand to tweak the results.
A particular favourite of these colour modes is the black and white setting, although there are plenty on hand to cater to most needs.
The RX100 III delivers even results in terms of exposures thanks to a solid evaluative metering system.
There are very few times at which exposure compensation was required, although when it is needed it’s simple enough to adjust thanks to the intelligently laid-out controls on the rear of the camera, while the spot and centre-weighted metering modes ably accommodate for more difficult shooting situations.
The larger-than-average sized sensor – for an enthusiast compact – also delivers well when it comes to dynamic range, achieving results more akin to APS-C DSLRs than enthusiast compacts.
There’s plenty of detail in the shadow areas of images, and while there is a slight tendency for highlights to clip this is easily managed in-camera.
The RX100 III manages some decent results in terms of resolution in comparison to its peers, managing around 30 lines per mm (lpmm) at ISO 80.
Even as the ISO setting is pushed higher the model is still capable of resolving a good level of detail, managing around 28lpmm at ISO 6400, only falling down to 22-24lpmm at the maximum ISO 12,800, which in itself is still impressive for a camera of this type.
Both luminance and colour noise are well managed right up to ISO 800, and even at the next setting of ISO 1600 luminance noise isn’t a huge issue, only causing a slight loss of fine detail in images.
Colour noise is well managed right up to the maximum ISO 12,800, and even then the slight blurring of detail and colour patches across the image don’t present massive issues should you ever need to utilise the setting.
Raw vs. JPEG
As is ever the case, if you want to get the best out of the RX100 III in terms of image quality, it is preferable to shoot Raw as opposed to JPEG.
The former offer far greater control on image noise at the higher ISO settings, while the dynamic range is also slightly more extensive on Raw files.
The same is true with regards to the camera’s resolution, as Raw files can be tweaked just that extra touch further in Raw editing software, and thus deliver more detail than their JPEG counterparts.
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review – Verdict
Although it could be argued that the improvements found on the RX100 III are incremental rather than revolutionary, both current RX100 series owners and those looking for an impressive enthusiast compact will certainly welcome them.
The larger maximum aperture, as well as the shorter minimum focal length, will represent a real improvement for most enthusiast shooters, while the addition of an integrated EVF is arguably the most noteworthy of the changes, representing quite a technological feat by Sony considering the size of the camera itself remains the same.
So, if you’re looking for a compact to compliment your DSLR, or simply a take-everywhere camera that delivers excellent results without weighing you down, it’s fair to say that Sony has made the best even better with the RX100 III.
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III Review – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a few images captured with the Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 III. For a full range of images, head on over to the Sony RX100 III review sample image gallery.