Sony’s RX100 line just keeps getting better with every new iteration. In June 2012 Sony introduced the first RX100–a stunner of a compact camera with a f1.8 lens and great image quality. A year later Sony improved on the formula adding a hot shoe whilst improving autofocus and ISO performance. Now Sony is out with a Mark III version that’s added more apparent upgrades including a popup electronic viewfinder and a significantly faster f1.8-2.8 lens at the cost of some reach. These are admirable improvements that photo gear heads will love but do they make the Mark III Sony’s best premium point-and-shoot camera yet?
Pros and Cons
- Small and pocketable
- Excellent and hella cool pop-up EVF
- Jesus! The colors. The sharp details
- Poor highlight control
- Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t intuitive
- Don’t shoot past ISO 6400
For this review I used the Sony RX100 Mark III by itself and paired it with a HTC One M8
Taken from the B&H Photo listing of the camera.
- 20.1MP 1″ Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor
- BIONZ X Image Processor
- Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/1.8-2.8 Lens
- 24-70mm (35mm Equivalent)
- 1440k-Dot OLED Tru-Finder Pop-Up EVF
- 3.0″ 1229k-Dot Multi-Angle Xtra Fine LCD
- Full HD Video in XAVC S, Clean HDMI Out
- Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC
- ISO 12800 and 10 fps Continuous Shooting
- Manual Control Ring & Built-In ND Filter
The Sony RX100 Mark III is tiny, making it the perfect small, unassuming camera for street shooting around town. The front face of the Mark III is a completely plain metal plate devoid of any front grip or function buttons. The only things worth noting here are the AF assist lamp and the f1.8-2.8 24-70mm equivalent lens, which is also fitted with a programmable control ring.
Looking down at the camera’s top plate there’s much more going on with the camera’s popup flash, power button, mode dial, zoom rocker, and shutter button. Sadly, the hot shoe has been removed but here you’ll also find the Mark III’s new 1440k-Dot popup EVF.
On the back you’ll find even more menu buttons along with a rotating dial setup for four shortcuts including changing what’s on the display, drive modes, exposure compensation, and flash modes. Thankfully you can reprogram most of the default function buttons here for much more useful settings like exposure compensation and AF modes. The LCD tilts and with 1229k-Dots of resolution it serves up enough pixels to render very clear photo previews.
The left side houses the cameras NFC chip and a switch to unlock the EVF. Meanwhile, on the right there’s a Micro HDMI out and Micro-USB port for file transfers as well as charging the device.
A lid on the bottom of the camera hides the battery compartment and SD card compartment. Plus a hole to screw in tripod mounts.
There’s a lot of tech packed into the RX100 Mark III and as a result it is one very dense package. The Mark III feels as if it was carved from a single block of material like the Leica T—it wasn’t but you’ll be hard pressed to find a single gap in the camera’s construction.
At the same time the premium compact does not feel like a brick, it’s still very lightweight and small enough to fit in a pocket on a pair of shorts to jacket pockets. Just make sure to empty out your pocket beforehand, as even a headphone plug will scratch up the screen.
Ease of Use
Getting around the RX100 Mark III isn’t horrendously difficult but it needs a bit of fine-tuning when you first get your hands on it. Some of the default functions attached to the buttons are less than useful but nearly all users can reprogram almost every shortcut on the device. The two control rings also make it much more manageable to tweak the manual settings on the fly. However, there’s an annoying amount of lag between twisting the ring on the lens and actually seeing changes take hold.
The popup EVF is by far one of the coolest things about the RX100 Mark III. Photo gear nerd alert—It’s freaking cool! The EVF isn’t just a novelty either; it refreshes at a steady clip and resolves a very accurate live view picture. I love it so much that I want to see this viewfinder implemented on more of Sony’s smaller Alpha cameras. If there’s one I would change it’s the fact that closing the EVF turns off the camera no matter what. This happens even if you start the camera with it collapsed. Thankfully the camera restarts within a second.
Lastly Sony Wi-Fi connecting process seems to be eons behind Fujifilm or Samsung. Even with NFC it’s a pain to connect every time because Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app never remembers the camera. Worse yet, the NFC only works with one function at time. As a result every time I want to go from transferring images to seeing the remote live view I have to mess about menus before pairing my devices again.
Autofocus locks in swiftly and accurately on the Mark III. Even though it does not have an insanely beefed up AF system like the Sony A6000, the new RX100 had no problems capturing poppers spinning across the dance floor. In darker situations you can feel the AF system hesitate but it only takes an extra second to hone in.
Since the Sony RX100 Mark III only has a maximum aperture of f11 we had to retune our usual Sunny 16 model but the good news is it meters perfectly.
The Mark III soaks in tons of detail with its 20.1MP sensor whilst rendering lovely and realistic colors. It’s also perfect at nailing white balance all on its own. Most shooters looking for this camera to just work will also love the way this camera puts out JPEGs that are all almost perfectly processed. The Zeiss lens permanently affixed to the camera is no slouch either. Having a new f2.8 aperture at 70mm presents makes this camera truly unique compared to other compact cameras.
Raw File Versatility
Shadow detail! You can salvage absurd amounts of detail lost to darkness with the RX100 Mark III’s RAW files. However, as with small sensor cameras I’ve worked with in the past highlight control is sorely lacking. Be prepared to underexpose many of your images lest you enjoy your skies looking like overblown fields of blindingly bright light.
High ISO Output
This image was shot in nearly pitch-black darkness and it stands as a testament to the Mark III senor and RAW file versatility. At ISO 3200 noise becomes apparent but images are still usable. The Sony seems to rein in chromatic noise fairly well whilst keeping the digital noise to fine grain. Anything at ISO 6400 and above looks painfully stippled as sandpaper.
Extra Image Samples
- Almost always perfect in-camera white balance
- Solidly built body
- Small and pocketable
- The perfect unassuming camera for street photography
- Popup EVF is very satisfying on nerdy, cool, and technical level
- Sharp and smooth video recording
- Photos taken beyond ISO 6400 become speckled with noise
- Neck strap lovers won’t appreciate the lack of lug-mounts
- Don’t forget to personalize your controls
- Wi-Fi implementation is dated
Sony has seriously packed a lot into its diminutive premium point-and-shoot. It packs all the power of a compact system camera into an even smaller and unassuming package. Whether you’re a street shooter or in need of a travel camera, the RX100 Mark III won’t disappoint. At $800 it’s an expensive item to consider but for all the functionality—EVF, high-res LCD, popup flash, excellent image quality, and high ISO performance—this is a fully featured camera.
Those who already own the last generation RX100 Mark II might find the new camera tempting but you won’t really notice a remarkable deference with faster lens. Taking the crop factor into account the aperture at 70mm really resolves to f7.5. The older RX100 also has more reach with a maximum focal length of 100mm at its longest telephoto end. Users looking for a new premium compact camera to complement their bigger kit couldn’t ask for more (except maybe a hot shoe).
That all said, users should look to Sony’s Alpha series such as the A6000, which features amazing image quality as well as a boggling number of AF points, and interchangeable lenses all at the same price with a 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens.
The Sony RX100 Mark III receives four out of five stars; it’s not the perfect compact camera but there’s plenty to like. You can get yours for $798 at Amazon.
- Gordy’s camera wrist strap – without any lug-mounts you’ll want a solid hand strap to go with the Sony RX100 Mark III.