For years, so-called “pocket cameras” have gotten a bad rap from so-called “serious photographers”. Admittedly useful in a pinch, their image quality has been impugned relative to larger-sensored devices, such as DSLRs and “mirrorless” cameras. In fact, they have been largely replaced, for better or worse, by camera phones, which as a class; have seen considerable improvement in their imaging capabilities.
I however, tend to keep a pocket camera as part of my arsenal. An actual camera of any size is generally far more versatile than a fixed, wide-angle lens smartphone camera. My current pocket device is the Sony RX 100 Mark III. I tend to use it for casual situations where I want snapshots, or circumstances where I am not anticipating much in the way of photographic opportunities, but feel naked without having something with me.
I have written about this device in past articles, and praised its image qualities, many of which can be attributed to it fine Zeiss branded lens, and its larger-than-average Sony 1″Exmor imager. I took it on a recent trip to London with a Fujifilm X 100s and obtained some interesting images. Still it’s at best a third string player in my camera collection.
I think back to 2001, the year I acquired my first serious digital camera the Olympus E-10, a large built- like-a-rock fixed lens DSLR with a 2/3” sensor and almost 4 mp of resolution good out to maybe ISO 160. I shot a lot of landscape images with it and was generally very satisfied with the quality of the files. Move ahead 14 years and we now have a pocket camera that is a fraction of that camera’s size and weight, but with a bright Zeiss zoom, and a 1” 20mp sensor good out to iso 1600-3200. Why not mainstream it into the first team? I decided to use it exclusively over the course of 2 weeks of photography to further understand its capabilities and limitations.
Spring is well on its way to summer here in the Moosic Mountains of Pennsylvania. Photography during the warm months tends to happen for me while engaging in several activities namely: hiking, kayaking (flat water) and mountain biking. Then sometimes in the morning and evening, I will just drive around exploring with a camera and tripod at the ready. Then there’s also street/ event photography to consider.
My RX 100 has the accessory grip, and a Lens Mate Quick change adapter which allows me to quickly mount and dismount filters. I keep a Hoya circular polarizer mounted to this, with a 52mm pinch cap to protect it.
There is definitely something to be said for smaller cameras.The lens is a 24-70mm equivalent f1.8-2.8. Even though the 1” sensor is big for a compact camera, it’s still small enough that the depth of field tends to be fairly expansive. This can be used to an advantage. Still the F1.8 aperture at 24mm equivalent can be useful to blur backgrounds.
Because of the danger of a dunking, while kayaking, I have always tended to use my lowest value camera that has image stabilization which in my case currently would be my Panasonic GH1 and its kit lens. I did however take the Sony out on the water. Several issues popped up. to prepare the camera for use, I would have to turn it on, pop up the viewfinder and pull the rear objective out, and then take of the lens cap (filter was in place). This made a little fussy compared to other cameras where you just turn it on and take off the cap. All that moving around in a skinny touring kayak is a recipe for a wetting.
Also, I got the impression that the cameras built-in stabilization did not cope well with the motions of a kayak on the water as images tended to be blurred in situations where I’m pretty sure I have operated more successfully with other equipment. Still, with patience, I was able to obtain some pleasing images. Plus, the cameras diminutive sized body slipped much more easily in and out of the waterproof deck bag on my cowl than the bigger Panasonic would have.
I attended the first of our regions summer “bazaars” at a local parish. I arrived right at dusk. Much like the Fuji X100 series cameras I utilize for this work, the little Sony is very discrete and quiet: with its fast lens, and good sensor, it handled this assignment quite well.
Walking and hiking with the Rx 100 series has not been something I have generally done. In that situation is a minimal hardship to bring a larger camera bag with more capable equipment. Nonetheless I have taken to using the camera in situations where do not anticipate major photographic wonders. An example might be an evening walk around my neighborhood, where I feel like I have photographed pretty much every square inch already. However, the right combination of light and atmospherics can transform a familiar place into something much more interesting. It is thus a no-brainer to stuff the little camera into a jacket pocket just in case.
I did carry the camera with me however on more photographically focused rambles. I tried to use the camera much as I would, for instance my Nikon bodies, I felt kind of self- conscious mounting the little Sony on one of my large Gitzo tripods (the tripod head probably weighs more than the camera). Actually though in this setting the Sony has some noteworthy features.
I was initially excited about the WiFi connectivity of the Sony, in part for operating remotely on a tripod. Unfortunately, in my hands, connecting to my Galaxy S4 has been at best, unreliable. In my Fujifilm cameras with this feature, connecting and operating the camera through my cell phone has been fairly easy. Despite watching videos on YouTube and reading the instructions for the Sony, this function still eludes me. Too bad.
Fortunately the camera has convenient access to a 2 second timer for the shutter. This allows me to avoid camera shake, when taking long exposures. Using the timer along with the built-in neutral density filter and a polarizer, it is fairly easy to get nicely blurred water flow, even in fairly good light.
The view screen is reasonably visible in outdoor light, and the tilting feature is extremely convenient for low angle shots like this one of a lovelorn snapping turtle I encountered while out and about.
The third issue in the summer for me is mountain biking. Here I am generally limited to the space within my modest size Camelback, so a small camera has been a must. The RX100 is extremely well suited for this. I even purchased a tiny inexpensive tripod that fits alongside in the Camelback to handle any contingency. Carrying larger and more valuable gear on a mountain bike, is neither convenient nor particularly safe (I do occasionally fall… hard). In this situation, a high quality pocket camera is exactly the solution I have been searching for.
There is not much question my mind, that I own any number of body/lens combinations that can give higher quality results than the small Sony. However as is often observed, good photography favors the prepared; and the ability to keep a high quality lens/imager combination close at hand is extraordinarily valuable to the dedicated photographer. Have no doubt, the images I obtain from this camera, particularly when exposed and shot properly, are sharp, with very acceptable noise levels.
I would have been ecstatic with them in 2001. Hell, I’m pretty happy in 2015.
If you own one, do not sell it short
As always these images can be viewed at:henrysmithscottage.smugmug.com