Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100 III braking even newer ground - a hands on review

If you've read my prior review of the  RX100 II, you know that I am a huge fan of the Sony RX100 series and have been recommending it to anyone requiring pro-quality results from a tiny, pocketable camera. Sony continues to improve this handy camera and this time has added and improved some features that go deeper than just the mechanical conveniences.

The Sony Bionz processor has been upgraded to a Bionz X, adding sharpening and noise improvements to jpg images, as well as better autofocus performance.

Although it feels the same in your hand and still fits easily into a pocket, the RX100 III is 3mm wider and 9 grams heavier than its predecessor, the RX100 II

The RX100 III with EVF and lens extended. Simply using a switch on the side that pops-up the EVF finder will also turn the camera on. Closing the EVF by pushing it down turns the camera off.  This is in addition to a normal on/off button on the top of the camera.

The RX100 is small enough to easily fit into a shirt or pants pocket.
There are two distinctive differences between the new model III and prior models, namely the pop-up EVF viewfinder -- a first on any camera -- and the new zoom lens, a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 8.8-25.7mm (24-70mm equivalent) with an impressively fast f/1.8-2.8 aperture range.

The effective zoom range of this lens, while shorter than the 100mm telephoto reach of its predecessors, should be familiar to professional photographers who are used to having a 24-70mm f/2.8 focal length as a main-stay zoom lens on their high powered DSLR cameras, and here it has the advantage of a starting variable wide angle aperture of f/1.8. At first 70mm might seem limiting for portraits, but the close focus range at this focal length is 11.81" allowing you to get close enough to fill the frame with just a head shot and eliminate the shoulders.

Having a fast aperture lens and being able to use it in bright daylight is not always possible with a base ISO of 125 coupled with a top shutter speed of 1/2000sec. The RX100 III has a built-in ND filter that can be turned on, off, or set to Auto. I have not found any documentation mentioning the amount of ND, my experiments show it to be equivalent to a very practical 3-stops. This should allow you to work at full aperture for maximum selective focus shooting even in bright light.

This shows the new pop-up EVF on the RX100 III compared to using the auxiliary finder on a RX100 II.
How does the EVF display compare to the Sony FDA-EVM1K viewfinder accessory adaptable to the RX100 II? As you might suspect from the huge price difference, the pop-up SVGA version has a smaller image and is not as sharp as the XVGA version in the accessory clip-on. That said, there is something to be said about the convenience of a pop-up that rests flat for storage as opposed to a rather large and cumbersome clip-on. In other words: Given the choice in this case, for me convenience trumps quality.

The RX100 III has a fully articulating screen that can even be flipped up 180 degrees and viewed from the front of the camera -- a boon to any "Selfie" photographers out there. 

The new features on the RX100 III add about $150 to the price over the older model II, however, if you had added a Sony FDA-EVM1K viewfinder to that model, the finder alone would cost $448. Looked at that way, the price increase of the model III is more reasonable.

One thing that has changed is the way the Fn button works. On the prior model it called up a rotating wheel of options on the screen. I found that to be quite convenient.  Now the Fn calls up a menu, like the one above, and you have to scroll through it to select your control. I found this much more time consuming than the older method.
The RX100 Model III comes with built-in WiFi connectivity for both Android and iPhone using its Playmemories phone APP. Once the camera and phone are connected through WiFi, you will be able to see through the camera as if you were operating it. From the phone, you can operate the zoom feature on the lens, turn the flash or shutter on and off,  and snap the shutter. A low res image is then transferred to the phone while the higher res version resides on the camera. Of course, you can then upload the image on your camera to social media or send it by text or email. You can also use the WiFi to simply transfer any image from the camera to the smart phone for further uploading to social media.

I received this camera for testing the day before I was about to leave on a two week trip. consequently, I did not have time to include many sample images. I will continue testing the camera on the trip and add to this blog post as I go along so check back in a few days for further updates to my review. I am really intrigued with the possibilities of the Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens and can't wait to run it through its paces.

The built-in ND filter allows the lens aperture to be opened to its full f/1.8 even in daylight. 
The fast apertures of the RX100 III come in handy for travel photography where you want to capture natural scenes without relying on a flash.. For this indoor market scene in Spain the fast aperture zoom feature allowed me to shoot comfortably at a very low ISO of 125 and a comfortable shutter speed of 1/200 second.

The zoom length may only extend to 70mm, but it can focus rather close at that focal length, as this photo shows.

A fast aperture zoom lens is a really attractive feature on such a small, portable camera.

The Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom adds very high level of image quality to the package.

This is the type of situation where having a fast aperture lens and the extra wide angle focal length comes in handy. it was taken at 24mm eqivalent and base ISO of 160.

In this scene the foreground fountain was in total darkness. To fill it in with detail I set the RX100 III built-in flash to slow sync and took the photo hand-held using an exposure of  f/2.5 at 1/30 second and ISO 800. The camera did this totally on automatic setting.

I have recommended the Sony RX100 cameras to my friends, mostly professional photographers looking for something easy to carry but capable of delivering a quality image when the need arises. With the model III Sony continues to embellish and improve this concept and raise it up several notches. The pop-up EVF finder in such a tiny camera is a minor miracle. Add to that the superb quality of Carl Zeiss optics in a comfortably familiar zoom length with fast apertures, and you have something that is hard to beat even with a larger camera.

Details, such as the inclusion of an ND filter to couple with the fast apertures, show that Sony is fully tuned into how serious photographers like to work.

The different focal length ranges of the Model II and Model III zooms is probably going to be a big deciding factor for many. It's going to come down to personal preferences based on shooting style. I like wider lenses and fast apertures so the new lens is fine for me, particularly because it can also focus much closer than the older one. Others will miss not being able to reach out with a bit more of a telephoto.

I think the bottom line on the new Model III is that we have reached a point in camera manufacturing where the new model does not necessarily replace the older one through its updates. In the case of the two RX100 models, I see no reason why the two should not continue to be available separately, and provide a choice for consumers based on features. The RX100 series of cameras is an amazing group of ultra-compact instruments with the capability of producing pro-quality image results from something that fits easily in your pocket.

If you are planning on buying this camera, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III camera can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon   

Of course, if you are  in New York and want to visit the Photo District where most of the pro photographers shop, drop by FotoCare at 41 West 22nd Street and ask for Jeff Hirsch.  Tell him Tom sent you, and he'll take good care of you.

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