Camera review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III

Camera review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II ($899) won many awards. It was named Editor's Choice for Best Compact Prosumer category in the Digital Life Awards 2014, for its superb image quality, fast operation and excellent handling.

So how do you make such a good camera better? Apparently, you can.

The design of the RX100 III does not look much different from earlier versions at first glance. But there are major changes and enhancements in its similarly sturdy aluminium body.

The RX100 III uses the same 1-inch back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor but at 20.1 megapixels, just 0.1 megapixel less than its predecessor. But it has an updated Bionz X image processor that is three times faster than its antecedents, according to Sony.

The RX100 III is 9g heavier and 3mm thicker than its predecessor. But this weight gain is nothing compared to what it gives in return.

Unlike the 28-100mm f/1.8-f/4.9 zoom lens of the earlier two versions, the latest model uses a 24-70mm f/1.8-f/2.8 zoom lens. Though its zoom range is shortened, the lens has a large f/2.8 maximum aperture at the 70mm focal length.

This lets in more light, making it possible to use a faster shutter speed to minimise camera shake. Such a fast lens addresses one disadvantage of the earlier RX100s - its much smaller maximum aperture of f/4.9 at 100mm focal length.

The multi-interface shoe, or hot shoe, that sat atop the RX100 II has been replaced by a pop-up flash that distributes light more evenly than when it was placed on the left.

In its place is a built-in pop-up electronic viewfinder (EVF), so there is no need to buy an external EVF and you cannot lose it.

As I very much prefer composing pictures with an EVF rather than a display, the built-in EVF is the most exciting new feature to me.

There is a small switch on the left side of the camera. Push it down and the EVF pops up. This also powers up the camera, which is really neat.

You need to pull the EVF towards you to use it. This also reveals a dioptre correction lever you can use to calibrate to your eyesight. Though tiny, this EVF is quite impressive. It is bright, sharp and gives you a clear view to compose your picture.

Without the hot shoe to block the view, the 3-inch display can now be tilted upwards by 180 degrees, which is perfect for selfie lovers. By default, the camera automatically switches on the 3sec timer shutter release with the display in this position.

In previous iterations, the display could tilt upwards by no more than 84 degrees. The new display, which can also be tilted downwards by 45 degrees, is still not touchscreen.

The camera's smooth aluminium frame feels great to hold and handle but it lacks a contoured grip for a comfortable grasp. Plus, its small size makes it difficult to grip securely, especially for those with big hands.

Button layout is immaculate. A Mode dial on top lets you change shooting modes easily and quickly. Unlike those in some mirrorless and DSLR cameras, this dial is somewhat stiffer and unlikely to swivel around by accident.

A rear clickable dial allows for quick access to Flash, Drive and other setting changes, while a control ring around the lens barrel can be configured for lens zooming or changing picture effects.

In Manual mode, you use the control ring to adjust aperture size and the rear dial to change shutter speeds quickly. Overall, the handling of the camera is superb and instinctive.

It starts up and shuts down in 1.9sec or so. Zooming from 24mm to 70mm takes 2sec. But shutter lag is almost zero.

Using the RX100 III for street photography, I was able to frame a passer-by where I wanted him without having to anticipate his walking. Its inconspicuous size and light weight make the camera ideal for street and travel photography.

Autofocusing (AF) is fast and accurate in bright sunlight, with almost instant focus lock-on. In dim conditions, it takes about 1.2sec, with the aid of the AF assist light.

Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 45MB per second, the camera captured 25 RAW images in 3.7sec before the buffer ran out. It captured 68 JPEG images in 6.8sec before it stopped.

Image quality is top-notch and leaves competitors in the dust. Images look sharp, even at the edges, with crisp details and nice saturation across its entire focal range. Auto white balance is accurate in most lighting conditions.

Noise performance is outstanding, with no noise artefacts until ISO 800. Even at ISO 1,600 where noise artefacts are visible, there is not much loss of details. In fact, pictures shot at ISO 3,200 are good for small prints or Web usage. But avoid anything above ISO 6,400. Video quality is equally splendid, but it picks up a fair amount of wind and ambient audio, and it may take 2sec to get a sharp focus when you pan to a new scene. Battery life is average - about 320 stills on a full charge, or some 30 frames fewer than its predecessor.

Simply put, the best digital prosumer compact camera just got better. With its compact sturdy body, fast lens, convenient built-in EVF, great handling and superb image quality, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III is well worth its price.

TECH SPECS

Price: $1,199

Image sensor: 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor R CMOS

Lens: 24-70mm f/1.8-f/2.8

Display: Tiltable 3-inch LCD with 1,228,800 dots; Built-in electronic viewfinder with 1,440,000 dots

Shooting speed: Up to 10 frames per second

Sensitivity: ISO 80-12,800

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Near Field Communication

Weight: 290g (with battery and memory card)

Features: 4

Design: 5

Performance: 5

Value for money: 4

Battery life: 3

Overall: 4

trevtan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 09, 2014.
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