New Sony RX10 III field-tested: The ultimate all-in-one Superzoom is now even better

New Sony RX10 III field-tested: The ultimate all-in-one Superzoom is now even better

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III Digital CameraNo one like carrying a lot of camera gear, or changing lenses. But for many of us it is a necessary evil to get the shots we want. But the question I get asked most is "I want a camera that does it all, but I don't want to carry several lenses or a big backpack or tripod, what should I buy?" The new is an excellent answer. With a 1-inch-format 20MP sensor, and a 24-600mm super-zoom lens from Zeiss, it takes remarkably good images for an all-in-one camera, and it does it across a massive focal length range. The big upgrade from the Mark II is an increase in zoom range from 200mm to 600mm at the long end (resulting in a slightly larger, and more-expensive, camera).

Do you need a Super-zoom?

There is always a tradeoff for having a massive zoom range on a camera. It means a combination of larger size and usually lesser optics compared to a non-super zoom that has similar features. The Sony RX10 III is no exception. If you "only" want a standard zoom range, you can spend less and get the smaller Sony RX100 IV, or the new Canon G7 X. Both have essentially the same sensor, most of the same features, and are about 1/2 the size and about 2/3 the price.

A superzoom can be surprisingly helpful even for street photography.
You can capture scenes from much larger distances,
like this one taken at 350mm (full-frame equivalent)

But if you are planning to go on an African safari, photograph birds, try to get closeups of your favorite players at sporting events, or even like to do street photography from a safe distance, the 24-600mm zoom range will come in handy. You can control the zoom either pseudo-manually (you turn the ring, and the motor zooms the lens) or with a conveniently-located control lever near the shutter release (which is the way I wound up using the camera most of the time). Part of the reason for the relatively-large size of the RX10 is the speed of the lens. Its maximum aperture ranges from f/2.4-f/4, which is remarkably good for a nearly 30x zoom.

Image Quality

At low to moderate ISOs, the delivers high-quality images suitable for almost any use. At higher ISOs (especially over 1600) the physical limits of its 1-inch-format sensor start to show through with increased noise. The camera’s own noise reduction software does a good job of trying to minimize it in the JPEG versions, but those used to larger APS-C or especially full-frame sensors, will notice that they can’t push the ISO nearly as high. Conversely, those moving up from a smartphone camera or low-end point-and-shoot will enjoy being able to use higher ISOs than they are used to.

Being able to shoot at over 200mm in a dark bar is an achievement for an all-in one,
but you can also see the noise in this (unedited except for resizing) 6400 ISO JPEG.

The 1-inch-format sensor puts the camera’s raw images in basically the same quality category as the , Sony’s own , or the iPhone add-on. DxOMark hasn’t tested the Mark III version, but the Mark II weighs in at 70, the same as the newest RX100 model and the DxO ONE, and a few points above the G9 X. In any case, if you need the superzoom range of the , those cameras aren’t going to meet your needs. However, if you don’t need the large zoom range, any of them will be smaller and less expensive, while providing similar image quality.

A relatively-high-speed frame rate (5 fps even without 14 fps burst mode) lets you capture unfolding events,
like this altercation between a Manhattan taxi driver and cyclist. I only wish I’d been recording video,
as the dialog was priceless. 1/500s @ f/4, ISO 5000

Camera Control & User Interface

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III Digital CameraThe shutter button and lens zoom control are easy to reach & find without looking. The Record button is a little trickier, but not too hard to get used to. The controls on the back are laid out similarly to many high-end point-and-shoots and all-in-ones, although not all of them are in the same place as you may be used to. There is no front command dial, which means that for a second command dial you use the little control wheel on the back of the camera. Exposure compensation is conveniently-located on a large, dedicated wheel next to the shutter. This is mostly great, although the wheel doesn't lock, so you can accidentally move it when handling the camera.

One really-strange quirk (with a verified with a Sony tech support person at #OPTIC2016) is that in Aperture mode the only way to change the aperture is with the not-that-convenient manual aperture ring at the base of the lens. It is too close to the camera body for me to feel comfortable finding and using it without accidently moving the zoom ring. There is no command dial alternative (which is especially odd since in Shutter priority, the command wheel does what you'd expect and changes the shutter speed). I can only hope Sony is listening and fixes this in a firmware update.

Other than that the Sony interface is pretty typical for its mid-range cameras. I've complained about it before, but it is getting better over time (and I guess I'm getting more used to it, since I review so many Sony cameras). Key to making it work is to program the custom buttons for your favorite functions like ISO (hunting through the menus to change ISO is a serious waste of time). Sony offers a good set of possible programming alternatives (except for programming one of the dials to control Aperture:-)).

The is certainly an excellent all-around camera.
I used it at nearly every focal length on the .
1/500s @ f/9, ISO 1250, 80mm full-frame effective

One thing Sony did really well on the RX10 III is the focus point control. I like to control where my camera is focusing, but still take advantage of the camera's ability to track subjects and focus in difficult situations. The RX10 allows me to move the primary focus point around using the thumbpad on the back, while still supporting object-tracking. Most of the time, the AF is quite fast, and features intelligent subject detection to help accelerate it, but the system is based entirely on contrast detection AF points (there are no phase detection sensors). That means that in some cases the camera can have trouble locking on low-contrast subjects, and sometimes "racks" in and out searching for focus in cases where a DSLR or a mirrorless camera with phase-detect AF would have less trouble.

Telephoto performance

Wildlife photographers, especially those who focus on birds, are always looking for more zoom range. For those who want the range, but not the hassle of changes lenses. The is certainly appealing. So I took it to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware and put it through its paces. It was no substitute for a full-frame DSLR & massive lens, but it was sure a lot easier to haul around (which I thought about every time I could simply step out of the car and shoot while my buddy had to retrieve his tripod and rig from the trunk). Here is an example image – one of a sequence I took of an Osprey flying by with nesting material. Almost all the images were sharp (within the limits of the camera and optics), so picking one was mostly about composition. You can see from the original image (top) that even at 600mm, the bird was small in the frame. The second image shows that there is room for some cropping and processing images from this camera.

Original (resized) JPEG shot at 520mm equivalent.
1/1250s @ f/4, ISO 100
Osprey at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge

Here is a version that is cropped, tweaked a little in ACR, and white-balance corrected

This Tree Swallow was captured at maximum zoom of 600mm
, 1/500s @ f/7.1, ISO 160
Slaughter Beach, Delaware

Good-looking 4K Video

Videographers will love the camera's ability to capture 4K video at up to 30fps, coupled with the capability to record 1080p HD video at up to 120fps. Lower resolutions support even higher frame rates, for special effects shooting. I captured this busy street scene in 4K, hand-held, although I did run Google’s stabilization filter on the result. Other than that it is straight out of the camera:

Size & Weight

The Sony RX10 III is way beyond pocket-sized. The new superzoom lens increases the weight about 10 ounces from the previous model -- to 38 ounces. It is also an inch longer (front to back) and a little wider than the Mark II. So you'll need to have some type of small bag for it when not in use. It has a 72mm filter thread on the front, so you can throw a skylight filter on for protection, or use polarizers or other creative filters with it.

This Eastern Shore harbor scene illustrates both a weakness and a strength of the :
I shot it at –1.7 e.v. because the dial moved without my noticing (no lock and it is over the edge), but
I was able to correct it in Camera Raw (or Lightroom) and still came up with a very-usable result.
, 1/1000s @ f/5.3, ISO 100, 24mm full-frame equivalent

The gorgeous evening light in this scene made me wish for a full-frame camera, as it needed ISO 6400
The got the color right, but you can see the noise, especially in the sky
1/250s @ f/6.3, ISO 6400

Full Specs:

Actual: 21.0 Megapixel
Effective: 20.1 Megapixel

1" (13.2 x 8.8 mm) CMOS

File Formats
Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MP4, XAVC S
Audio: AAC LC, AC3, Dolby Digital 2ch, Linear PCM (Stereo)

Max Resolution
5472 x 3648

Aspect Ratio
1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9

Image Stabilization
Optical & Digital

Color Spaces
sRGB, Adobe RGB

Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar, 18 elements in 13 groups
6 Aspherical, 8 ED
EFL: 8.8-220mm (35 mm equivalent: 24-600mm)
Aperture: f/2.4 (W) - 4 (T) to f/16

Filter Thread

Optical: 25x
Clear Image Zoom: 2x
Digital: 4x

Focus Range
Wide: 1.18" (3 cm) - Infinity
Telephoto: 2.36' (72 cm) - Infinity

ISO Sensitivity
Auto, 100-12800 (Extended Mode: 64-12800)

Type: Mechanical
Speed: 30 - 1/2000 second in  Bulb Mode
Type: Mechanical
Speed: 30 - 1/2000 second in  Program Mode
Type: Electronic
Speed: 30 - 1/32000 second in  Aperture Priority Mode
Type: Electronic
Speed: 4 - 1/32000 second in  Auto Mode

Exposure Metering
Center-weighted, Multi, Spot

Exposure Modes
Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Manual, Memory Recall, Movie, Panorama Shot, Program, Scene Selection, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)

White Balance Modes
Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Custom, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent (Cool White), Fluorescent (Day White), Fluorescent (Daylight), Fluorescent (Warm White), Incandescent, Shade

Continuous Shooting
Up to 14 fps at 20.1 MP
Up to 5 fps at 20.1 MP

Self Timer
10 Sec, 5 Sec, 2 Sec

Flash Modes
Flash On
Rear Sync
Slow Sync

Built-in Flash

Maximum Effective Flash Range
Wide: 3.28 - 35.43' (1 - 10.8 m)
Telephoto: 3.28 - 21.33' (1 - 6.5 m)

External Flash Connection
Hot Shoe, Wireless

Memory Card Type
Memory Stick Duo
Memory Stick Pro Duo
Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed)
Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo
Memory Stick Micro
Memory Stick Micro (M2)

Video Recording

3840 x 2160p: 30 fps, 24 fps
1920 x 1080p: 120 fps, 60 fps, 30 fps, 24 fps
1920 x 1080i: 60 fps
3840 x 2160p: 25 fps
1920 x 1080p: 100 fps, 50 fps, 25 fps
1920 x 1080i: 50 fps
1920 x 1080p: 960 fps, 480 fps, 240 fps
1920 x 1080p: 1000 fps, 500 fps, 250 fps

Video Clip Length
Up to 4 GB or 29 Minutes

Audio Recording
Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo
Optional External Mic: With Video

Viewfinder Type

Diopter Adjustment
- 4 to +3 m

Viewfinder Coverage

3.0" LCD Rear Screen Tilt (1,228,800 pixels)

Screen Coverage

1/8" Headphone, 1/8" Microphone, HDMI D (Micro), Micro-USB, USB 2.0

Yes, 802.11b/g/n built-in

Operating/Storage Temperature
32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C)

1x NP-FW50 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.2 VDC, 1020 mAh

Dimensions (WxHxD)
5.2 x 3.7 x 5.0" / 132.5 x 94.0 x 127.4 mm

2.41 lb / 1095 g with battery and memory card

Package Weight
3.75 lb

Box Dimensions (LxWxH)
8.4 x 6.3 x 6.1"