Sony’s RX series of compact cameras have wowed us with their small size and excellent image quality since the introduction of the original RX100. But that type of quality doesn’t come cheap, especially in a pocketable form factor. The RX100 II upped the ante for cost of entry, and the latest modelÂ in the series, the Cyber-shot RX100 III ($799.99) is the priciest of the three. It sacrifices some zoom range, but includes a wider lens that doesn’t lose quite as much light gathering capability as it zooms, an integrated pop-up electronic viewfinder, and the same video capture enhancements that were first seen in the larger RX10. These changes justify the sticker price and make the RX100 III our Editors’ Choice for premium compact cameras. If you’re not quite willing to pay $800 for a pocket camera, the RX100 and RX100 II remain in the lineup and deliver similar image quality at a lower price.
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Design and Features
The RX100 IIIÂ looks a lot like the two cameras that came before it in the series. At just 2.3 by 4 by 1.6 inches (HWD) it’s small enough to slide into your pocket, and it only weighs 10.2 ounces. It’s just a little bit bigger than the Fujifilm XQ1 (2.3 by 3.9 by 1.3 inches, 7.3 ounces), a model with a 2/3-inch image sensor that’s larger than you’ll find in most compacts, but smaller than the 1-inch sensor used by the RX100 III.
The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens covers a 24-70mm (35mm equivalent) field of view at an f/1.8-2.8 variable aperture. It covers a little bit of a wider angle than the 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens shared by the RX100 and RX100 II, but doesn’t zoom quite as far. Where it has an advantage is in its ability to gather light. At 70mm, the RX100 and RX100 II have a maximum aperture of f/4, which can only capture half the light as the RX100 III is able to at 70mm. The minimum focus distance is 2 inches at the widest angle and 11.8 inches at 70mm. There’s a built-in neutral density filter, which cuts out three stops of light, so you can take advantage of the wide aperture in very bright conditions.
The top plate houses the pop-up EVF and flash, as well as the Power button, the zoom rocker and shutter release, and the mode dial. The remainder of the controls are on the rear, to the right of the LCD. There’s a Movie button for one-touch video recording, a flat command dial with four directional controls (Display, Flash, Exposure Compensation, Self-Timer/Drive) and a center select button, the Fn button, the programmable C button, and the standard menu and playback controls. There’s also a control ring around the lens.
Many of the controls can be remapped to suit your style. I set the control ring around the lens for direct control over EV compensation, but it can be set to adjust the aperture or shutter speed, change the ISO, set the focal length, or to control a few other functions. By default the C button engages the Center Lock-On AF mode, which tracks a subject as it moves through the frame, but there are dozens of functions available to assign to it. The functions of the center, left, and right directional buttons can also be remapped. The Fn button launches an on-screen overlay menu. From here you’ll be able to adjust a dozen functions. The menu is fully customizable, and almost any setting you can access via the menu can be added to it.
The camera’s flash hides inside the body when not in use, popping up at the half press of the shutter button once it’s been enabled. It sits on a hinged neck, which makes it possible to tilt it back with your left index finger and to bounce light off of a ceiling. It’s not powerful enough to act in this capacity in, say, a ballroom, but for snaps around the house, using this method will help to soften the light. Of course, there’s also Flash Compensation available, so you can reduce the power output to provide just a little bit of fill when you’re not using it as a bounce flash.
Also hidden in the top plate is the electronic viewfinder. It’s an OLED EVF with a 1,440k-dot resolution. There’s a catch on the left side that you’ll need to pull to raise it, and you have to pull the eyepiece straight back in order to make it ready for use. The finder is extremely sharp and lifelike. It’s a pleasure to use, especially when compared with the tiny EVFs in competing compacts like the Nikon Coolpix P7800 and Panasonic ZS40. Raising the finder will turn the camera on if it’s powered down, and likewise collapsing it will turn the RX100 off. There’s an eye sensor that automatically switches between the EVF and rear LCD. If you prefer an optical viewfinder, the Fujifilm X20 is a good alternative. It has a big, bright optical viewfinder that zooms along with its 28-112mm f/2-2.8 lens.
The rear display is a 3-inch LCD panel with a 1,228k-dot resolution. A quarter of those dots are there for luminosity only, which makes the screen very bright and easy to see outdoors. The LCD is mounted on a hinge; that means it can tilt down so you can use the RX above your head, and can face all the way forward for selfies. The display is one of the best you’ll find in a pocket camera, packing more pixels than the 922k-dot Canon PowerShot S120 or the 460k-dot Fujifilm XF1.
Wi-Fi is almost standard in modern cameras, and a necessary feature in one this expensive. The RX100 III can pair via NFC with compatible Android devices, or via a Wi-Fi password with other Android and iOS phones and tablets. The free Sony PlayMemories Mobile app allows you to transfer Raw and JPG images and MP4 movies. Remote control is possible via the included Smart Remote app, which is accessible via the camera menu. You can adjust the focal length, set exposure compensation, and fire the shutter, but that’s it. There’s no way to select the focus point, nor can you take full manual control of exposure.
Additional apps are available via the PlayMemories Camera Apps store. Some are free, while others are priced between $4.99 and $9.99. Additional functionality via app downloads includes direct upload of photos to popular Web sites (Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa), basic retouching tools, bracketing, and time-lapse photography. Sony continues to make more apps available, but my only complaint is that Sony has decided to charge a premium for these apps after asking you to shell out $800 for the RX100 III.