Initially released in the spring of 2016, Sony’s RX10 III is the official successor to the previously released RX10 II. And at the time of release, it was their flagship Cyber-shot Digital Stills Camera (DSC). It’s a compact superzoom bridge camera aimed at beginner photographers looking for a step up image quality or existing shooters looking for a capable all-in-one. And it’s a camera they design as a stepping stone to transition to their Alpha mirrorless lineup. On paper, the camera promises improvements primarily to optics but obtains much of its predecessor’s tried and true features.
Yet, in 2016, it officially became the most expensive bridge camera ever manufactured. But, considering the competition in this segment of the market, are these subtle upgrades enough to justify its hefty price? It competes with Panasonic’s FZ2500, Canon’s SX70, and Nikon’s P900, all of which are cheaper. In today’s post, we assess its strengths and weaknesses and answer whether this camera is a worthwhile purchase.
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- What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony RX10 III?
- Image Quality
- Video Quality
- Low Light Performance
- Focusing Performance
- Battery Performance
- Display & Viewfinder
- User Interface
- Physical Layout & Ergonomics
- Niche Features/Extras
- Image Performance
- Autofocus Performance
- Lacking Features
- Is this a good beginner camera?
- Is this a good camera for you?
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony RX10 III?
It inherits the same 1-inch 20.1MP stacked BSI CMOS sensor and the BIONZ X image processor as the predecessor. While unchanged, this 1-inch sensor remains the current backbone of the entire RX and Cyber-Shot lineup. The back-side illumination arrangement of the sensor increases its processing speed and light collection efficiency, which helps improve image quality. And compared to rivals that employ a smaller 1/2.3-inch sensor without back-side illumination, this camera’s sensor arrangement far outcompetes the competition. Despite only 1-inches in size, the image quality, even in low light, is excellent for the class. The images are sharp, correctly exposed with good color rendition and accuracy.
However, new for this model is an updated Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens. This lens now offers the 35mm equivalent zoom of 24-600mm with a variable aperture from f2.4-4.0. Comparatively, the predecessor offered a 24-200mm fixed f/2.8 lens. While the change from fixed to variable aperture particularly has its benefits, the increased focal length affords the camera a 25x superzoom lens, up from only 8x on the predecessor. And this added reach places the camera in an entirely new segment of the superzoom category. It also provides better background separation and depth of field, plus a better close focusing distance, which produces a 0.49x magnification, perfect for macro photography. The lens itself is also incredibly sharp and maintains so across its entire range, which is quite surprising. Like the predecessor, the lens has built-in stabilization, which Sony calls SteadyShot. And the lens’ stabilization offers three degrees of intensity and aggressiveness, ranging from Standard to Intelligent Active. Though enabling SteadyShot does cause a crop into the frame, reducing the field of view. Otherwise, the lens has a new Focus Hold button, which locks the focus in place and doubles as a customizable button.
It offers continuous shooting speeds of 14 fps without AF or 5 fps with continuous AF. And the buffer depth is excellent for this class at 30 RAW or 44 JPEGs. Though, the buffer does take some time to clear when filled.
It shoots 4K Ultra HD video up to 30 fps and 1080p Full HD video up to 120 fps. And both shoot to the XAVC S, AVCHD or MP4 formats with maximum data rates of 100 Mbps. Overall, the quality of the footage the camera produces is excellent. It shoots 4K with a full pixel readout without pixel binning. And, despite its smaller sensor size, the footage remains sharp. And a nice bonus is the camera records audio when shooting at 120 fps, a rare addition for the class. Plus it doesn’t suffer from overheating issues whatsoever.
It obtains a good selection of advanced picture profiles, including Cine, Rec709, and Sony’s S-Log2.
You can capture 8MP stills during video recording by pressing the shutter without compromising the video quality or adding disruptions. However, this doesn’t work with recording 120 fps or Intelligent Active Stabilization.
The camera obtains Sony’s Dual Video Proxy recording, which simultaneously records a lower quality MP4 movie alongside XAVC S for quick sharing online.
The camera also features the Auto Dual Record function, which sets the shutter to release when highlights occur during movie recording. This is a rare addition that captures interesting moments automatically during videos.
Like most cameras in this class, video recordings limit at 29 minutes per clip.
It has zebras for highlight clipping indication.
It supplies a clean 4K UHD signal via HDMI output for use with external recorders or live streaming.
The camera obtains the High Frame Rate (HFR) Mode from the predecessor, which produces super-slow-motion videos. In this case, it can shoot 240, 480, or 960 fps, which is up to 40x slower than normal motion. The mode also offers excellent customization and has settings to determine if Quality or Shoot Time is most important. Though, this mode is limited only to HD and quality degrades as the frame rate increases. And at 960 fps, the videos have a lot of moiré and artifacts. Thankfully, 120 and 240 fps produces excellent in-camera slow-motion videos, and it’s helpful.
Low Light Performance
It has a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 12,800. And low light performance is good for the class. Users can expect usable images up to ISO 3,200.
It uses a contrast-detection based AF system with Eye AF and Face Detection. Overall, the autofocusing performance delivers excellent single shot point to point focusing. And in most cases, the focusing is good, despite it only using contrast-detection. Granted, focusing on this camera is most accurate and fast when the lens is wide. And it does slow as it approaches the telephoto end.
It has Focus magnification, Manual Focus Assist, and Focus Peaking for those who prefer manually focusing.
It uses the NP-FW50 battery, a standard on Sony’s camera for quite some time now. However, battery life is excellent for the class. And Sony rates the camera to deliver 420 shots per charge and 210 minutes of video recording.
Display & Viewfinder
It has a 2.95-inch tilting TFT LCD with a resolution of 1.23M dots. The screen articulates up by about 107 degrees, down by about 42 degrees, added versatility to high or low angle shooting. Sony also equipped the display with the Xtra Fine coating and the Sunny Weather Mode, both of which help increase visibility. And overall, the screen is reasonably sharp with good viewing angles and accurate colors.
It has a 2.36M dot XGA OLED electronic viewfinder with a 0.7x magnification, a similar setup as the a6300. The viewfinder also has a built-in proximity sensor that automatically disengages the rear LCD as the eye approaches. And, overall, the viewfinder is excellent. It’s clear, bright and detailed.
The lens includes three dedicated rings, one controlling zoom, the other focus, and the last aperture. The aperture ring, in particular, has a switch that disables the click detents for smooth or stepped changes. It’s a nice touch that adds versatility for both stills and videos.
It obtains standard Sony menus and user interfaces. With that, existing users will be immediately familiar with navigating this camera. And for new users, it’s relatively straightforward and easy to navigate. However, some settings may require a trip to the owner’s manual.
It obtains the customizable Function Menu (FN), which allows you to register 12 functions and recall those functions when shooting.
It obtains Sony’s Memory Recall function on the Mode Dial, which allows you to recall full shooting setups.
The camera offers three dedicated custom buttons, C1, C2, and C3. And, in total, ten physical buttons are customizable, giving users extraordinary customization over its physical layout.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Considering the camera’s enormous zoom range, it remains surprisingly compact and easy to store for travel. Though at 1051g, it’s not the lightest camera in this class. But, if you factor the number of lenses required to achieve its focal length on an interchangeable lens camera, it’s quite the bargain. Nevertheless, it’s large body affords the camera more room for physical buttons, which there are plenty. Manual shooters will rejoice, knowing the camera provides excellent one-handed control over exposure. And its layout is strategic and well-executed.
The build quality and ergonomics of this camera are both excellent as well. Sony’s equipped it with a dust and moisture resistant construction, which makes it robust and rugged to withstand tough conditions. And it also features a deep and comfortable grip.
It features a top-deck status LCD. And it’s the only series outside of Sony’s A-mount DSLR cameras to obtain this feature. This display shows critical shooting parameters at a glance, such as shots remaining, battery, camera settings, and more.
Sony’s placed the video recording button on the center of the body, making it easily accessible, unlike where it is historically on their cameras.
It has a dedicated Zoom lever, which surrounds the shutter release for smooth zooms when filming.
It has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, to remotely transfer images and remotely control the camera.
It has a built-in flash.
It has built-in Panorama.
Sony’s included their Zoom Assist feature, which helps frame and composes shots while fully zoomed in. This feature momentarily zooms back to 24mm, widening the field of view so you can see the surroundings. At this point, the zoom ring adjusts the display of the composition at any given focal length, making it easier to keep moving subjects in the frame.
It supports USB charging.
It obtains Sony’s PlayMemories app store, where you can download and install additional functionality. Some of the functions include time-lapse, Sound Photo, Photo Retouch, Sky HDR, and more. For this class of camera, the features included here are unmatched by rivals.
It has a microphone input.
It has a headphone input.
It obtains Sony’s Multi-Interface Shoe, which supports their microphones without using a 3.5mm cable.
It has a fully silent shutter.
The zoom on the lens does so by a wire connection, which means it’s not particularly smooth through any of the various means available to zoom the lens.
Since the camera only uses contrast-detection, it has limited, subject tracking abilities. Sadly, both the subject tracking and face detection modes are somewhat inconsistent and random, making them not ideal for professional applications. Also, as the camera approaches the telephoto end of the zoom, the focusing performance degrades. And the amount of hunting experienced increases quite substantially.
The rear screen isn’t a touchscreen. Thus, navigation and focus occur strictly with the d-pad.
While consistent, Sony’s menu remains overloaded with settings and somewhat unorganized. Mastering this camera’s user interface and menus will require reading the owner’s manual.
The camera lacks the three-staged neutral density (ND) filter on the lens, a feature found on the predecessor. Without a built-in ND filter, shooting video in bright conditions is challenging. Even more so if you plan on shooting video using the S-Log profile, as its minimum ISO is 800. Thus, if you plan on shooting video with this camera, external ND filters are a necessity.
Like most Sony cameras, this camera offers minimal playback and in-camera editing functionality. No RAW conversion, resizing, cropping, or add effects, very limited.
Is this a good beginner camera?
This is an excellent beginner’s camera. And Sony’s designed this camera with both beginners and enthusiasts in mind. It provides a superb selection of fully automatic and scene selection modes. But also an enormous wealth of customization and an advanced feature-set that outcompetes rivals in this category. And for that reason, it’s also a reliable choice for continued growth and long-term development.
Is this a good camera for you?
With its extensive zoom range, it’s an excellent companion for travel photographers looking for maximum versatility. And for this purpose, it’s arguably one of the most capable options around. As a single package, it can shoot virtually any medium imaginable, which makes it quite a confident all-rounder indeed. And it allows you to travel relatively light and capture very similar results to a fully featured SLR.
It’s an excellent alternative for those looking at interchangeable lens cameras, be it mirrorless or DSLR. It offers similar capabilities, all without having to change or stockpile a barrage of lenses.
For those looking for a capable tool for video, this is a reasonable choice as an all-rounder or an excellent choice as a B camera for existing Sony shooters. The 4K video is very sharp and coupled with its versatile lens and S-log profile, it’s quite a powerful system. The only drawback is the competency of the camera’s autofocusing system. So, manual focusing is the best with this camera for professional use. Nevertheless, with its headphone, microphone inputs, and professional picture profiles, it’s a capable option for budding filmmakers that provides a feature set foreign to most devices in this category. And it’s a good choice for those wanting to shoot documentary style in a run and gun fashion.
Current RX10 users should consider an upgrade if they want the improvements to the lens and added customization.
In the end, Sony’s RX10 III is a camera geared towards convenience and practicality. And Sony’s created a package that delivers arguably the best bridge camera to date, where nothing else achieves this level of versatility in a single package. And while it provides an easy to use platform for beginners, it’s also doubly capable for manual shooters, be it stills or video. Sony’s known for great sensors and feature-packed cameras, and this camera inevitably follows suit. With its excellent Zeiss lens and updated capabilities, it’s quite a compelling camera in this class. Even more so, considering a lens with its range on a DSLR would easily cost the camera’s price. Thus, given its features, versatility, and price point, it provides exceptional value for money and remains a strong contender today.