updated 01:00 am EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Sony RX 100 Mk III improvements make the best compact camera even better
Electronista has had the opportunity to go hands-on with the third incarnation of Sony superb RX100 compact point-and-shoot camera. The hotly anticipated RX100 Mk III model has added some additional refinements to Sony's already-winning formula, including a new Zeiss lens and a built-in TruView OLED viewfinder. Sony continues to sell the original RX100, and its improved sequel, the RX 100 Mk II. The RX100 Mk III now sits atop the range, and while slightly more expensive, offers new features normally found on A-Mount or E-Mount cameras at a very reasonable price point for what you're getting. Most importantly, it produces very high quality photos with a special emphasis on low-light performance.
When the RX100 launched in 2012, it was very well received by critics, with some calling it the best point-and-shoot camera in the world. Its 1-inch 20.1MP EXMOR CMOS sensor, Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens, its ability to simultaneously capture both JPEG and RAW files and fast auto-focus performance were all singled out as highlights. For a very compact point-and-shoot camera, its photos hold up remarkably well when compared with much more expensive DSLR cameras. In fact Sony have marketed the RX100 as a compact camera with DSLR-like performance, producing effects like bokeh not normally seen from a device in this class. It was priced at the high-end for compact cameras, but the quality of its photos in a wide range of conditions more than justifies the price of admission. Now on sale for $500 with the arrival of the Mk III model, it represents excellent buying.
The RX100 Mk II improved on this formula with several enhancements including the addition of a multi-function hot shoe and multi-terminal, backside illumination to the 1-inch 20.1MP EXMOR CMOS sensor, improved tiltable LCD, along with Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. It continued with the F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens, but added 3.6x optical zoom, making it the go to camera for users who wanted to sneak in a high-quality compact point-and-shoot into concerts. Like the original RX 100, Sony has lopped off $100 from its price and it is now sale for $650. For just $150 over the RX100, the additional features make it a tempting proposition.
However, all eyes are currently on the brand new Sony RX100 Mk III. With selfies all the rage these days, Sony has increased the tilt adjustment on the LCD viewer to 180 degrees. The real highlights are the new F1.8-2.8 ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T1 (24-70mm) lens for brighter images and wider angle coverage, a further refinement to the EXMOR sensor, now an R-type, as well as the OLED viewfinder. It also now uses the BIONZ X image processor from the A77. The only trade-offs over the RX100 Mk II are the loss of the multi-device hot shoe and reduced optical zoom, down to 2.9x from 3.6x. The most popular accessory for the hot shoe on the RX100 Mk II was the add-on OLED viewfinder; with this now built-in, Sony has seen fit to drop the hot shoe. As a stand-alone option, the OLED viewfinder retails for $350; even with the all other upgrades the RX100 Mk III is retailing for $800 making it a very solid upgrade for the money.
Although we only had limited hands-on time with the Mk III, we were able to test it in an environment where its newly improved low-light performance was best demonstrated. The hands-on session was part of a Sony-organized function in a very low-lit restaurant and a few sample shots that we took are in the embedded gallery. Also on hand was the brilliant new Sony A7S, which has low-light performance that has to be seen to be believed. While the Sony RX100 Mk III could be expected to perform less-well under the circumstances, its photos held up extremely well and much better than we expected. The photos we took have not been edited, but only cropped slightly. As you can see, not only is the bokeh effect lovely, but the photos remain highly detailed with very low noise that were noticeably better than a RX100 Mk II that was also on hand. That said, the RX100 Mk II was still impressive under the conditions.
If you are in the market for a compact point-and-shoot camera, or indeed a low-end DSLR, you can't go wrong with the RX100 Mk III. Indeed, you can't go wrong with either of the earlier models either - they are all that good. The Mk III ramps up low-light performance, which given the fact that many social outings take place in the evening, makes it the best of the three options available. The feature additions are also welcome, adding to the overall value proposition. They make the RX100 Mk III, not only the best RX100 model yet, but help it raise the bar further as the compact camera segment performance leader.
By Sanjiv Sathiah