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Sony RX100 III

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Camera: Sony RX100 III
Exposure: 1/250
Aperture: f/1.8
Focal Length: 24mm
ISO: 125

This Sony RX100 III is an amazing little camera.  If this camera had been in my possession 4yrs ago, it would have been almost the highest performance camera of the time able to compete with even the then high end DSLRs.

It is interesting that while the RX100 III has been out for a few months, not many people seem to be coming to the realization of how useful and powerful this little camera can be.  Part of this lies in the global loss of interest in point and shoot cameras in the face of smartphone cameras that have gotten quite good.  However, despite the world-wide drop off in demand for point and shoot cameras, I believe there is still a place for a small camera in the point and shoot category as they still deliver better images than cell phone cameras and in this case, waaay better images than even the iPhone 6 camera which is pretty darned good if you have enough photons.  Tim Bray has some interesting thoughts on why he does not feel the need for a point and shoot camera anymore here.  Some of his criticisms are spot on, other criticisms arise more from a personal workflow perspective, but it is clear that what cell phone cameras can’t do is optical zoom (yet) and  physics does define some of the limitations of sensor capture efficiency.  Specifically, larger sensors do by default make for more pleasing images from a number of perspectives including sensitivity, color aberration, optical bokeh, etc…  In addition to the benefits of a larger sensor with larger pixel imaging sites (5.8 µm² for the RX100 III vs. 1.5 µm² for the iPhone 6), making the optical elements of a camera bigger and made of glass elements with coatings enable better image quality.  Its not all about the sensor, but the optical elements as some of the best images of flowers I’ve ever made were made with an old 8MP sensor and some excellent Zeiss lenses.  I suspect that even the excellent iPhone 6 camera has plastic lens elements if it is using the Sony Exmore imaging module, but I’m not sure about that.  Regardless, the imaging resolution of the RX100 III that I’m using is far better than what I can get with the iPhone 6.

I had been looking for a replacement for my Canon Powershot S100 that had served me well for years and wanted something that was pocketable with better low light performance than the S100.  I had watched as Sony came out with the RX100 I, II and III, all with the newer, relatively large 1 inch sensor size, but was nervous about the Sony, given that I’ve hated their interfaces for years.  They seemed to be really awful, horrible interfaces compared with other camera manufacturers, and I’ve never warmed to their software ecosystem and model for distributing software add ons for their cameras as its outdated and clunky.  That said, Sony seems to have improved things dramatically with their interfaces in recent models.  In comparison, Canon always did have a winning formula in their Powershot line of cameras with good design with refined interfaces and sturdy construction, so when Canon announced the G7X which turns out used the Sony sensor in the RX100 III, I put in an order as it would have the Canon sensibility that I really did love in the Powershot models, yet with a “pro” build and a dedicated exposure compensation dial.

While I waited for the Canon G7X to come to market after the announcement, Trent and I got to talking about small cameras and the discussion turned to the RX100 series.  Trent and Grayson had been eyeballing them as Grayson was looking for something small to take on safari in Africa (I can’t wait to see what he comes back with).  I told him about the Canon G7X on order, but after talking about some of the initial reviews and seeing Canon’s implementation of some features, I decided to switch the order to the Sony.  This decision was pretty easy after seeing how Canon implemented the control dial on the front with too many turns required to change focus when in manual focus mode (more on that later).  And despite Canon’s seeming disregard for still photographers in favor of putting video on all of their SLR lines, the Sony RX100 has better video features than the Canon G7X.  The other thing that really irritated me about the Canon was the screen only flipped up for the seemingly inescapable “selfie” features that are sweeping the industry and not down to take advantage of shooting over the head like you can with the Sony or on a spotting scope for a digiscoping solution.  I really liked the idea of a quickly accessible exposure compensation dial on the Canon, but the other features, or lack thereof made the decision to go with the Sony pretty easy.  After having shot with Canon cameras for almost 30 years, I worry that Canon increasingly is losing their way in photography, particularly still photography and are not innovating in the way that Fuji does.  From the looks of it, Canon is starting to lose focus in the point and shoot market as well which is disturbing given that the Canon Powershot line really has been a world leader for many years now.  I don’t see the laser focus on still photography ecosystems from Sony in the same way Fuji has, but Sony does make *fine* imaging sensors and for a point and shoot, the RX100 is really hard to beat.

 

Lichen

Camera: Sony RX100 III
Exposure: 1/320
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 70mm
ISO: 125

I thought that trying out the camera in challenging lighting conditions would be a good indicator of its performance for all around applications.  It turns out that I had a really fast trip up to Portland, Oregon to take care of some business which I figured would be a good trial for the camera given the late fall season and overcast, sunless atmosphere that weekend.

I was really pleased with the ability to shoot with the aperture at f/2.8 or wider, out to f/1.8.  The combination of a relatively large 1 inch sensor for a point and shoot with the bright lens really enhances the ability to shoot in aperture mode and clearly define the plane of focus.

 

Cupcake

Camera: Sony RX100 III
Exposure: 1/320
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 70mm
ISO: 125

“Macro” mode works well and just look at the detail in that flower head.  The lens and sensor combination in this camera makes for a shockingly sharp combination for a point and shoot.

 

Spider web

Camera: Sony RX100 III
Exposure: 1/400
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 25mm
ISO: 125

The camera is co-branded with Zeiss optics which is unclear to me if Sony is sourcing glass from Zeiss or deriving the optical design from Zeiss.  Regardless, the solution of Zeiss optics with this Sony sensor makes for phenomenal sharpness in adverse lighting conditions.

 

Great Salt Lake with air traffic

Camera: Sony RX100 III
Exposure: 1/160
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 28mm
ISO: 125

Landscapes, even in failing light are also rather pleasing with this little camera.  This image was shot at around 10,000 feet up from the plane window which leads me to one minor irritation with this camera.  Specifically, when in autofocus mode, the camera will tend to near-focus on objects that are close to it.  This really revealed itself trying to shoot through the aircraft window which was less than clean as the RX100 III kept trying to focus on the dirty window rather than on what was behind it.  The Canon S100 never had this problem, so it would be interesting to compare focusing algorithms to see what is different about the two approaches.  The solution was to put it in manual focus mode and shoot that way which in the RX100 III is not quite as easy as it could be (switching focus modes), but reasonably efficient.  And the focus does respond quickly as opposed to what I was seeing in some of the reviews of the Canon G7X.

 

Trent with Sony RX100 III

Camera: Sony RX100 III
Exposure: 1/30
Aperture: f/1.8
Focal Length: 24mm
ISO: 500

There are other features that I really like about the RX100 that surprised me.  One is that popup viewfinder that initially, I figured would be a gimmick of sorts.  However, for composition it turns out to be tremendously useful particularly in challenging lighting environments like very bright sunlight or very dark environments.  This is particularly true for compositions which seem more intimate when using a viewfinder vs. using the screen on the back of the camera like portraits, particularly when shooting in black and white mode.

The other question for this camera that most folks have is how does it perform for action or sports…  Can it make better captures of your kids running around?  Asking this camera to compete with say, the auto-focus performance of the Canon 1D X (the best current auto-focus camera in my opinion) for fast moving objects seen in sports or your kids running around is a bit much.  But there is a workflow that seems to work well with this camera.  The camera can shoot 10fps in burst mode and delivers good throughput provided the focal plane is not changing much.  If you work within this constraint, you can actually deliver pretty good “action” results.  This shot of Trent’s for instance, was made with the RX100 III.  It is a pretty amazing image that might actually have been more difficult if made with the Nikon D4 that was also with him.

 

Sony RX100 III

Do I have any complaints?  Yeah, there are a few including protective lens shutters that don’t always open all the way by themselves when you turn the camera on which can lead to some odd vignetting as seen in the introductory image of this post.  I’m hoping it works itself out with a little use, but if not It’ll be going back for some service which would be disappointing.

Also, not having an external battery charger that ships with the camera really is inexcusable, particularly with a premium priced camera like this.  The camera battery is good for around 300 shots or so, before recharging, so if traveling you’ll likely need to get an extra battery or two.  However, it also can be charged from any USB port provided you have the specialized USB charging cable with you.

Remote triggering is another complaint with the RX100 III.  There is no wired USB remote available for the camera that I’ve been able to find.  Though there is supposedly a remote application you can download for your smartphone available through Sony’s online store, but it is an awkward implementation.  It would be nice if it were available through the Apple App store, but its not.  Given that one of my desired applications was digiscoping like this shot, a remote would be a desirable feature.

Finally, if you are pixel peeping, there is a little color noise that creeps in, but it is like the color noise I used to get with my Canon 1D Mk III, which was not bad all things considered given that was a professional DSLR on the cutting edge just a few years ago.

 

 

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8 Responses

  1. Hi, I’ve been reading up extensively on this camera and in Alexander White’s Kindle guide to the RX100 III, he mentions that the Sony Remote RM-VPR1 works with this camera. Hope this helps!

  2. Interesting article. Although your usage of the word penultimate is wrong. It doesn’t mean ultimate, it means second to last.

    MartsharmDecember 7, 2014 @ 5:15 amReply
    • I meant “penultimate” in that sense being that it would come second only to the top of the line DLSRs at the time. However, you are correct in the order which it comes, “second to last vs. 2nd in ordering. Latin was a long time ago, I’ll change it.

  3. Dear Bryan,
    I have a RX100 II myself. Also at my camera the lens shutters don not open completely now and then. Is this problem solvld with your camera? I love the quality of the pictures, but this bothers me.

    Hielkje ZijlstraDecember 9, 2014 @ 2:22 amReply
    • Hey Hielkje,
      The shutters still stick on occasion, but it seems to be happening less frequently. I agree with you, it is troublesome for an otherwise brilliant camera.

      • Thanks for your answer. I do not return the camera. I want to use it. It delivers better pictures then my NEX6 with 15-60 SEL ever did. It is more like my former Olympus E620 + ED 12-60 lens but so much lighter and smaller.

        Hielkje ZijlstraDecember 10, 2014 @ 7:54 amReply



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