Sony RX-100 Mark III Review: The Best Compact Camera Gets A Lot Better

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Sony RX-100 Mark III Review: The Best Compact Camera Gets A Lot Better


Sony
built the best compact camera in the world with the original RX-100 – now it’s on the third-generation, and it isn’t resting on its laurels. The latest edition has a pop-up electronic viewfinder, a vastly improved lens, sensor improvements and more, and the result is a camera that, even at $800, delivers amazing value for the price.

Basics

  • 20.1 megapixel 1-inch image sensor
  • F1.8-F2.8 24-70mm Carl Zeiss lens
  • Pop-up EVF with 100% field of view
  • Tilt screen with 180 degrees up, 45 degrees down
  • Around 2 weeks use battery
  • 4″ x 2.38″ x 1.63″ and 290g
  • MSRP: $799.99
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Image quality is unparalleled in a compact
  • EVF is a great addition

Cons

  • Price
  • Slightly bigger than earlier versions

Design

The RX-100 was always an attractive camera, but the new design manages to take the now-classic design and cram even more features within the frame while keeping it pocketable (albeit with a pocket bulge). It still retains the sturdy feel thanks to the all-metal body, but it becomes even more dense thanks to the added weight over its predecessors. There’s good reason behind that weight: Sony has managed to fit a pop-up EVF within the RX-100 III, which is nothing short of amazing in a device that already had very tight tolerances.

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In practice, despite slightly increased proportions and heavier weight, the RX-100 III won’t really strike anyone who has used either of the previous versions as any different in terms of portability. And the trade-offs are well worth it. The snap-up EVF adds functionality, but because it can tuck away, it keeps the lines of the camera clean and disappears completely when not in use.

If pressed, I have to admit I still prefer the look and feel of the original RX-100 to this new version, but the preference is very slight, and in exchange for the new capabilities of the improved lens and EVF, I’m happy to make minor allowances for the change in design.

Performance

In terms of performance, the RX-100 Mark III is literally without peer when it comes to compact cameras. Sony leapt ahead of the closest competitor, Canon’s S-series pocket cameras, when it launched the original version, and it has improved things considerably since then. The sensor is still a 20-megapixel affair, and still has the category-leading 1-inch diagonal measurement, but it now offers improved capabilities in low light, which, when paired with a new lens that shoots at a generous F2.8 aperture even when zoomed all the way in, means this is a pocket shooter than can hold its own when taking photos indoors in less than ideal conditions.

The pivoting back display is a great addition for those who only have the first-generation version of the RX-100, and it makes it easy to take selfies with the compact camera. The downward tilt is a bit frustrating, however, in terms of not giving enough, and you can’t pivot the screen side-to-side at all. This is another area where Sony has made concessions to keep the camera small, however, and considering the original version lacked any kind of screen articulation, the complaints I do have are minor.

The real star on the new RX-100 III is that EVF, however, in terms of viewfinder tech, and for shooters like me who are more used to DSLRs, it’s a terrific addition. Viewfinders let you shut out the world and focus on your capture, and Sony is a leader in the field, offering up terrific exposure preview, 100 percent coverage (meaning what you see is exactly what you get) and focus assistance via techniques like digital peaking.

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On the imaging side, the new hero is the improved lens, which manages an amazingly wide-open aperture even when the zoom is extended to the full 70mm length. Shooting at F2.8 at that range means you can still produce excellent background defocus even when getting in tight with your subject for a distance, and that helps make this a much better all-around camera for those hoping to be able to leave their DSLR at home and keep their gear pack light on trips and excursions.

The manual control ring on the lens will really appeal to fans of classic cameras and DSLRs, but Sony’s intelligent auto and auto modes make the device easy to use for photographers of all stripes and experience levels. Battery life is impressive, and you can plug the camera in to a standard micro USB charging cable to power it back up. And while I tend not to shoot too much video with personal use cameras, the RX-100 more than delivers in that regard, too.

Bottom Line

Sony continues to dazzle with the RX-100 Mark III line, and if you’re looking for the best possible photos in the smallest possible camera, you should look no further. The combination of a flexible zoom range with a high aperture lens and big sensor mean this isn’t just a camera that’ll get the job done, but one that will allow you to truly explore your creative side and set up shots that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

That said, the camera is $800, which is a considerable chunk of change. The price alone mean that this will appeal to only a limited audience, but the RX-100 Mark III is also the perfect embodiment of the adage “You get what you pay for” when it comes to portable photographic power.