Like a lot of people, I buy a lot of items that for one reason or another, I don’t get around to using very much. In the case of camera equipment, I find that a clue as to my enthusiasm for a camera becomes evident every time I download images from the memory card. The further back in time, the earliest images were taken, the less I have used the camera.
Recently, I used my Sony Rx 100 to shoot some website photos. When I put the card into the reader, I discovered images from as far back as early last spring.
Now it seems to me that I am downloading and clearing cards from my Fuji bodies every couple of weeks. But the little Sony is really not getting very much use.
Certainly this is not because of its imager and lens. Though the optics are inferior to the Fuji XF primes I have been using, the Zeiss designed zoom lens is really quite nice, given the limitations of the small-sensored camera (but larger sensored than most comparable “pocket cameras”). The imaging chip despite the size disadvantage, still acquits, itself very well with DXO Mark scoring 66-67, comparable to several very nice 2008- 2009 digital SLRs in image quality. For instance the Nikon D300 SLR has an identical score, but much less resolution (DXO scores are independent of resolution) than the RX 100.
“So what’s the problem?” I ask myself. Then it hits me. No viewfinder.
As we have discussed before on these pages, camera stability is key to good imaging. Holding your camera, or worse yet your phone, out at arm’s length so to frame in the display, is a recipe for lots of motion artifact. If for some reason I am forced to work this way, I place the shutter on continuous release, hoping that at least one of the images will be clear.
Well, the original RX 100 forced me to work this way and I don’t like that. So I tend not to use it.
Less than a year ago, the 3rd edition of the RX 100 came out: the “Mark III” edition. When I originally read about this device, I realized that someone at Sony must use a camera the way that I do. To me those changes from the earlier versions were quite compelling. First there was a new Zeiss lens which was wider with less “reach” (which all things being equal generally suggests better optics) than the previous glass. It had a field-of-view equivalence to 35mm of 24-70mm which is a classic mid-range landscape and event zoom. The lens was also faster with f stops between f1.8-2.8(f1.8-4.9 with the two earlier versions).
Then there was the viewfinder, which was built-in, popping up from non-shutter side of the camera. This was an electronic viewfinder identical to those found in larger Sony cameras.
I definitely wanted one.
Because I’m cheap, I balked at the opening price of US$800. But recently I’d begun to see “refurbs” and open-box offerings, and grabbed one at a good price.
Now the newer camera is a little larger than the first version. Part of this is the flip-out rear LCD not offered in the earlier camera. The lens barrel is wider. Overall in terms of “pocket ability” though: not much difference.
Somehow Sony managed to package a small pop up flash in that tiny body. It’s one that you can hold in a bounce flash position with your finger, which can be useful with a low white ceiling. The Mark II version had a hot shoe which is gone in the newer camera. It’s not an issue to me.
The new lens seems excellent: Sharp in the center and pretty good in the corners when stopped down. I for one don’t miss the extra telephoto.
There’s a 3 stop built-in neutral density filter, just like my Fuji X100s (don’t these camera names get confusing?) This should make it great for shooting moving water. There are metal tripods threads which is also helpful in that regard.
The shutter, like those of its predecessors is very soft. Apparently the image stabilization has been improved. And now that I can hold the camera to my face and use the viewfinder, it is really easy to handhold, even at is lowish shutter speeds, and still get sharp results.
I made a couple of acquisitions to improve its usefulness. First I ordered the Sony adhesive rubber grip for it as I had done for my 1st version. This should really be standard equipment, as it provides a contoured non-slip surface for your right hand.
Come on Sony.
I have also ordered the Lensmate 52 mm filter adapter, so I can use polarizers in appropriate conditions. This consists of an adhesive-backed bayonet mount that goes on the front circle of the lens barrel. There is a clever gauge included for accurate placement. There is a threaded 52mm filter adapter that attaches to the mount, all of which is outside of the built in lens cover. It took 3 minutes to mount and seems pretty sturdy. Time will tell.
I’ve been shooting in a variety of situations. I tend to shoot in auto-iso with 3200 the max sensitivity allowed. In low light situations, the camera is pretty fair. Noise is pretty well controlled and at ISO 3200 the RAW files clean up fairly well in Photoshop. And with the viewfinder, IS, and shutter characteristics, there is low risk of operator-induced shake (just tell your subjects to stay still).
Out where the light is better, I remain very impressed with this series of cameras. At lower ISO’s the files are very nice, with low noise, nice color and good dynamic range. And the increased depth of field seen from small sensors definitely has its uses.
Let me put it this way: if I was hiking with only the RX100 mark III and I came upon a killer photographic opportunity, I would have much less regret over not having better equipment than with any compact camera I have ever owned. Don’t get me wrong, this is no full frame DSLR. But you can work around most of its limitations. That such a lens, viewfinder, and imager can fit in a pants pocket, is impressive indeed.
I am, as I am sure you are, bored with the monotonous early winter Pennsylvania landscapes I have been encountering. So I am planning a trip to somewhere completely different. I like this camera so much that along with the X100s (with the tele adapter) this will be the only camera that I bring along.
I think I’ll have a ball.
We’ll talk more when I return.