This preference for a smaller camera is made even more important for me because I spend much of my photography time on a motorcycle.
For the last few years, I've been using a Canon G11 for my compact camera. This is a great little camera, and I have produced some of my best work with it. I was, however, aware that the image quality was not quite up to that possible with the DSLR. Given the advantages of size, and the ever-present knowledge that it's not about the camera, I was quite happy with the little Canon though.
That was until I saw the Sony DSC-RX100M III.
I had seen the previous version—still a very capable camera—before, but had rejected it because it didn't have a viewfinder. Even in a small camera like this, a viewfinder is a must for me.
When the version 3 was announced, I knew that I was in trouble. Reading the online reviews didn't help. They were generally all stellar. Oh dear. Time to start looking at the finances. I decided to buy it, and return within the 15 days return period if it didn't match up to expectations. It never went back.
So, after that preamble, let's get into details. Although this isn't a review of the camera, per-se, let's start out with some specs:
- Sensor: Exmor® R 1.0” CMOS sensor (13.2 X 8.8mm) (3:2 aspect ratio)
- Resolution: 20M Pixes (approximately)
- Lens: Fixed. 24-70mm (35mm equivalent). Carl Zeiss® Vario-Sonnar T*. F1.8 - 11 (W), F2.8 - 11 (T)
- Processor: BIONZ® X image processor
- Viewfinder: 0.39" SVGA electronic viewfinder(OLED), 1,440,000dots
- LCD: 3.0” (7.5cm) (4:3) / 1,229,000 dots / Xtra Fine / TFT LCD / Tiltable (Up by approx. 180degrees, down by approx. 45degrees.)
- Size: 4 " × 2 3/8 " × 1 5/8 " (101.6x58.1x41.0 mm) excluding protrusions
- Weight: 9.3 oz. (263 g)
If you'd like to see the full specifications, you can find them here.
So, what do I like about this camera? That's easy. The image quality. For the first time, I feel that I'm not sacrificing image quality for the advantages of a smaller camera. Every single time I shoot with this little gem, I'm astounded by just how good it is.
On my first outing with this camera, I messed up the settings, and shot in JPG. I usually shoot in RAW to help me get the best out of the shots. Despite me messing up the settings, this was the JPG out of the camera on the first outing:
I was very pleased with the quality of an out-of-camera JPG, and really couldn't see that my DSLR would have returned any better results.
Of course, there is a learning curve with any new camera, and you are inevitably giving up some ergonomics with such a tiny camera. Settings that have a dedicated button on a larger camera may be hidden away inside menus. However, the menu system holds a hidden gem. You can assign up to twelve often-used functions into a menu that appears along the bottom of the screen (or viewfinder). This makes settings quite easy to change. You can also customise many of the buttons, the rear wheel, and the front ring to make things easier.
Given how impressed I was with the out-of-camera JPG on my first outing, I determined to visit a location and shoot both my DSLR, and the Sony side-by-side. I chose for this outing, the lovely Starr's Mill in Fayeteville, Georgia.
All usual modes of operation are available (shutter priority, aperture priority, programmed auto and full manual) along with some very smart modes should you wish to allow the camera to take part. There are three memory locations where you are able to store usual settings for quick recall. From what I can tell, every aspect of the camera is stored inside these memory locations, so it is very quick to swap from, say, shooting landscape with your preferred settings to shooting portraits with all your usual settings.
Aside from the usual scene modes, there are two intelligent modes for when you just need to grab that shot quickly. Intelligent auto will analyse the scene and make the usual selections of the mode required (macro, portrait, sports, etc.). There is also a very smart enhanced mode called "superior auto", which will take multiple shots and merge them in-camera to produce HDR images, or to shoot in extremely low-light situations.
As I mentioned before, the feature that really sold me on this camera was the included electronic viewfinder. In a very innovative move by Sony, the viewfinder hides inside the camera body—rather like a pop-up flash. Indeed it is found exactly where you would expect the flash to be. You press a switch on the side of the camera, and the EVF pops up. It has a dipotre adjustment, and a proximity sensor that will keep the viewfinder off until it detects your eye up against it. This generally works well, although I have found that in very bright conditions (or when you have the sun to your side), this can fool the sensor and it will refuse to turn the viewfinder on until you find some way to block the light. Of course, there is a setting to keep the viewfinder permanently on, should this become a problem.
The quality of the view finder is very good. It has 100% coverage and is very crisp and bright. All the settings and menu items that are visible on the LCD screen are also available on the viewfinder, and you can even set different options for each.
Talking of the LCD screen, another feature that I learned to love when using the Canon G11 was the articulating screen. This is great for landscape photography and allows many unusual shooting positions without crawling around on the floor! Unlike the Canon, the Sony's viewfinder only adjusts on the vertical plane, so will raise up 180° and about 45° down, but I am very glad that I have it.
If, like me, you wear glasses, you may find this interesting: Since having to start wearing glasses, I found that I was forever in a quandary when shooting with the DSLR. Do I adjust the dioptre for clarity without my glasses? If I do that, I will then find that I can't see the camera settings when reviewing shorts or making adjustments. This then entails an endless cycle of removing glasses for the shot, trying to find somewhere safe to put them, then replacing them to see the camera, endless rinse-and-repeat. The other option is to adjust the dioptre to see clearly while wearing the glasses. The problem with this is that then it is more difficult to see the full scene in the viewfinder, and light leaks into the viewfinder, so interfering with your view because your glasses won't allow you to get close enough to the viewfinder. I'm sure eyeglass-wearing photographers out there can relate.
Well, it turns out that the little Sony solved that problem for me! Because the information in the viewfinder can be as comprehensive as the LCD screen, there is no need for the glasses swap. I simply don't wear the glasses. I have the dioptre set for clear vision without glasses, and I simply review photos and make adjustments while looking into the viewfinder. Great! I can't do this with the DSLR.
So, after so much extolling the virtues of this little gem, are there any issues? Of course. There is no facility for a remote release. I find this strange in such a highly functional camera. It's not the end of the world for me because I simply use the self-timer when taking my landscape shots. There is a slight problem with that though: you can't auto bracket while using the self-timer! Really, Sony? What is the use of bracketing if you have to press the shutter release for every shot? The induced camera shake will make any hope of merging shots together impossible.
There is a way round the remote release issue though, and it comes in the form of the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app. Using this, you can not only remote shutter release, but you can even see what the camera is seeing on your phone or tablet while you are doing it! Very impressive, and possible thanks to the built-in wifi in the camera.
So, to sum up this long, and very unscientific "review". I am very happy with this little camera. It continues to astound me with the quality of the shots, and its diminutive size means that it's the best camera. It's the one I always have with me.
If you're on the fence about going for this, I can highly recommend it. If you have any questions that I may be able to answer, feel free to ask away in the comments!