Thursday, 5 June 2014

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III reviewed

John Davidson

Up periscope!

I want to tell you the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Mark III has on it a periscope; the niftiest little periscope I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. But I can’t tell you that, because if the thing that pops up from the RX100 III is a periscope, then the RX100 III is a submarine, and it’s way too small to be a submarine. It’s too small, even, to be a mini-sub.

Indeed, the RX100 III is almost too small to be what it actually is: a 20-megapixel compact camera that takes really good photos. Looking at some photos I took last night in a very dimly lit pub, I find it hard to believe they were taken by a camera I pulled out of my pocket. They look like they came from something much bigger.

But, still, there is something very much like a periscope on the camera, which comes out this month. It’s the tiny electronic viewfinder that pops up where the flash would be on other compact cameras. Together with the faster, slightly shorter zoom lens, the viewfinder is the main thing that differentiates the RX100 Mark III from the Mark II, and it’s one of the main things that makes the RX100 Mark III a resoundingly good camera.

If you’re looking for a tiny travel camera or what you might call your “carry around” camera, one that fits (if only just) into your pants pocket or that you can keep in the bottom of your bag, the RX 100 Mark III could well be it, periscope and all.

Though before I get too carried away I should note this isn’t a full-blown review of the RX100 III so much as something halfway between a “hands on” preview and a review. We had the camera in our labs for less than 36 hours, and while we had time to run it through its paces in our little studio (where we take the exact same pictures with every camera we ever test), and while we had enough time to take enough pics in the wild to satisfy ourselves that it’s a great little shooter, we didn’t have the time to get a proper feel for what it would be like to own one.

A matter of size

I suspect the diminutive controls on the RX100 III could begin to feel a little claustrophobic after a while, though never so claustrophobic you’d think they weren’t a fair price to pay for the convenience of owning such a small device.

I suspect, too, the one real flaw we did find with the controls (other than the fact that they’re small, which isn’t a flaw so much as a necessity) might begin to grate on the nerves after a few months as well. The one control on the RX100 III that actually is quite large – the lens-mounted dial that you use for setting, say, the camera’s aperture when its in aperture priority mode or its shutter speed when it’s in speed priority mode – could have lent the camera a satisfying tactile feel, if only it clicked solidly when you turned it from setting to setting, the way any proper camera dial does. But it just slides around, meaning you can easily adjust your setting by more or less than you intended, and meaning you have to watch the screen the whole time to make sure you actually get the setting you intend.

But the very good rear screen that now articulates all the way around for “selfies”, the quality of the images, especially in low light where this camera crushes most other highly compact cameras (not to mention the mobile phone camera you might otherwise be forced to use) and the high-bit rate videos this tiny camera can shoot (which, alas, we couldn’t test because for lack of a fast enough memory card to cope with the prodigious output), are things you probably won’t tire of.

The pop-up viewfinder is the real treat. It’s missing from most cameras this size, including the previous RX100 models. But for a travel camera that you’re likely to use in the bright outdoors, it’s a fairly essential feature. It’s not the highest resolution viewfinder on the market by any means – it’s only got 1.44 million dots, a million less than we’re used to – but it’s bright and clear enough that you’ll find yourself using far more than the technical specs might suggest.

Torpedoes away!

Twitter: @DLLabs

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