Gear Review: Sony RX100 Mark 3
PRICE: (as of July 2014) : £699
I must get asked 2 or 3 times a week about which camera to buy - and it usually always ends up with the same conclusion. A camera is only as good as the days you have it with you, so it’s really up to you to decide if you want a camera that you keep with you all the time or only pull out on special occasions.
I thought I’d write this one as a user, and possibly for those users who doesn’t necessarily want to take up photography professionally but is looking with interest to buy this camera. For the record I’m not connected with Sony in any way. They never send me stuff to review.
I own several cameras, and each have their own place but I’m an exception in that its my job to take photos so I need a tool that performs well depending on my brief. For this reason there’s not ‘one’ camera that can do everything. My big Canon 1DX is a superb camera but it’s not convenient for working on the street or taking on holiday. My Leica M is an amazing camera but not really suitable for when I shoot sports. You get the idea.
So when I’m asked ‘What camera should I get?’ it’s actually quite a personal decision. I am happy to advise the pros and cons of various systems but ultimately it’s what you’re going to do with it, and what you want to get out of it.
Most people end the conversion saying that they want something that they can carry with them. They begin with desires of DSLR cameras, but are soon put off by the idea they’d be carrying around a relatively large camera, which before too long would end up staying in the bag you got free with it, in the cupboard in the lounge, with a battery that you keep forgetting to charge.
There’s a LOT of choice on the market at the moment, lots of decisions to be made, prices to compare and the quality of most of these cameras is pretty damn good. But, if I HAD to suggest a camera. Which would it be?
Enter my current camera of choice for fun, the SONY RX100 Mark 3. I’ve had the Mark 1 and Mark 2 before it and I can honestly say they’ve absolutely nailed it with this one. They’ve made small improvements along the way, but this time it’s really worth it.
Now there’s a HUGE selection of options available on this camera for how you want to work it, but l want to keep this as ‘user friendly’ as possible. Let’s keep the hardcore technical data to the forums and communities who will debate things until dawn, but this is meant to be an accessible user report without breaking down every one of the menu functions.
As a camera - it’s amazing they’ve only added millimetres on to the camera from it’s older brothers. They were aways groundbreaking in the size and functionality.The size of the unit is astounding for what it can do. It is, however bloody expensive for a compact camera. It’s pushing into a DSLR and kit lens price point. Now you see where my opening gambit becomes relevant. This unit can fit into your pocket and produce images very similar and if not better than an entry level DSLR kit. Sure -it’s more expensive BUT you are 100% more likely to have it with you - so this is a trade off I’m prepared to make, plus it takes stunning video. It’s just up to you whether you can make that trade off.
Having a larger more ‘professional looking’ camera will not guarantee your photos are better.
Every home should have what I call a ‘waiter cam’. A camera you can pass to a waiter when you’re out for a meal and get a decent-ish, in focus photos. This is such a camera.
What I really love is that it can switch from being fully manual to automatic pretty seamlessly and this gives budding photographers scope to learn about how a camera works and the various settings needed to make a shot happen. Or it can be flicked to fully automatic and off you go.
I have to confess that sometimes I use the auto modes (I know THE SHAME) but sometimes It’s needed. I frequently use the ‘sport’ mode to capture relatives children running around. Sure I could set the camera up manually to perform in the same way but why not just flick a dial and it’s done?
The screen on the back of the camera is lovely - crisp and colourful, and in the age of the selfie it can flick up 180 degrees so it pokes out of the top of the camera. In this mode they even have a little countdown timer that appears on screen before the shot is taken. Pretty good.
Perhaps the absolutely best feature for me is the pop up viewfinder. This is an incredible feat of engineering and one that most compacts lack. No more squinting in sunlight to see the screen - you see a beautiful image presented in the tiny pop up finder. It also helps you steady the shot - which is especially useful for video. If you want to get serious about photography then this is a must. It’s a game-changer in the world of compact cameras. When you’re done shooting, pop the viewfinder back into the camera and it all switches off. Neat.
It has all the traditional ‘scene’ settings, sport, fireworks, snow and so on. For the main part you could quite happily shoot with these modes and still get some amazing shots.
Where this camera shines is the manual modes - for me I use aperture priority a lot.
I shoot in RAW - and the camera produces some lovely images I shoot in RAW, so I can tweak things without losing too much quality. There’s a lot of data in the highlights and shadow areas and I was pleasantly surprised how much I could pull back from an image. However- if this means nothing to you - then the JPEG images that come straight out from the camera will delight you.
I do think that to get the absolute best from this camera you need to shoot RAW and edit the images. Not massively - just a few tweaks and you’ll get some eye-popping imagery.
The new lens on this camera is lovely and wide, but zooms to a nice portrait length. It’s the equivalent of a 24-70mm lens, which is the main lens type I use when shooting professionally.
No it’s not a HUGE zoom,but then so what? Just move closer. The lens is fast too - and for the techies it only closes to f2.8 at its most zoomed end and f1.8 wide open. Not too shabby. From my initial testing it also looks like ISO3200 is pretty clean.
There’s a control ring around the front of the lens which you can customise on how you want it to operate - but the defaults are good for me. I like the idea of being able to change shutter speed or aperture with the control ring. It’s sort of like a normal lens (but can be a little fiddly). There’s also a dinky little pop-up flash, which is on a little springy platform and a few users like me tend to tilt it upwards with my finger to give a ‘bounce’ effect but as it is - it’s adequate for a camera that size.
I ditched my dedicated video camera years ago but I am still very picky about quality of the video I shoot. The RX100 series have always shot really good quality video files but this time they blew me away.
The image stabilisation is amazing, and the colours and clarity are superb. I won’t go into the various settings but at the highest quality I am pretty sure that I could use some of the footage from this camera within a professional production without too much trouble,
If you’re into your instant sharing there’s build in wifi, and you can even download apps to the camera which are available from the Sony website. I took a peek and there’s some for portraits, for night photography and a few other fun add-ons. I assume their intention is for this library of apps to grow and add features to the camera.
There is an Android and iOS app available to control the camera as well as send images to your devices so you can fire them off to Twitter or wherever.
There’s also NFC communications built in - Apple are rumoured to be including this in the next iPhone but many Android and Sony Experia phones already have this. Essentially you put the camera near your device and it connects without any faff, so you can control the camera remotely or send images and video files from the camera to your device.
I’d say you’d also need to get a spare battery - I found that it does tend to wane towards the end of the day but then again I’m also shooting video and I think the wifi was left on so that would have killed it a lot quicker.
To charge the battery all you need with you is a USB cable. There is no separate charger, but I have never found this an issue. I like that I can use a USB charging plug or a computer to juice up the camera. Much easier for travel too.
It’s a complete package - sure it’s pricey but the image quality is outstanding when all the size issues are taken into consideration. If you want a camera for home movies too - then this is a wise choice. The video quality is outstanding, so you’re immediately cutting down on the stuff you’d take on holiday or a day out.
I’m happy to answer any questions about this - so just pop your comments into this box below and I’ll get back to you with my answers!
Amazingly compact - totally pocketable
Superb quality for it's size
Innovative pop-up viewfinder
Fully manual/auto operation
Outstanding video quality
Front control ring a little fiddly
RICK’S RATING: 9/10