Sony RX10 III Review — Hands-on Preview – imaging resource
Sony RX10 III Review — Hands-on Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 03/29/2016
In July 2015, Sony released its RX10 II digital camera, a follow-up for the original RX10 model which first shipped at the very end of 2013. Now, just eight months after the RX10 II hit the market, the next-generation Sony RX10 III has arrived and will sell alongside that camera, offering a whole lot more zoom reach in a slightly bigger package!
The mighty ultrazoom lens is the really big news
The big story here is the Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*-branded lens. Where the Sony RX10 and RX10 II shared the same 24 to 200mm-equivalent optic, the RX10 III opts for a much more powerful 24-600mm zoom with f/2.4-4 maximum aperture across the zoom range. Actual focal lengths range from 8.8 to 220mm. This much greater reach suggests that rather than being a replacement for the RX10 II, the RX10 III is instead be intended to sell alongside the existing camera. (And indeed, we’ve just received confirmation from Sony that this is indeed the case.)
Despite its huge zoom range and wide aperture, Sony claims the lens will have ultra-low chromatic distortion. It does seem that Sony has really pulled out all the stops in lens design for this zoom-monster, and the lens not surprisingly has a very complex formula. Compared to the earlier 14-element, 11-group design with seven aspheric elements, the Sony RX10 III instead opts for a whopping 18-element design with a total of 13 groups and includes no less than eight ED glass elements, of which there’s one super ED glass element, five ED glass elements and two ED aspherical elements. A nine-bladed aperture seeks to provide attractive bokeh; Sony didn’t provide details on the aperture of earlier models, suggesting this figure is likely upgraded too.
As you’d expect in a lens this far-reaching, image stabilization is included. Sony rates the Optical SteadyShot system in the RX10 III as good for a 4.5-stop corrective strength. Focusing is possible to as close as three centimeters at wide-angle, or 72cm at telephoto. Maximum magnification at the telephoto position is 0.49x.
Aperture, zoom and focus rings are included on the lens barrel, providing an SLR-like shooting experience. There’s also a focus hold button on the left side of the lens barrel near its base, making it easy to stop autofocus operation if you want to reframe before image capture. There are also 72mm filter threads on the front of the lens, should you wish to mount creative or protective filters.
A bigger and heavier camera, but not as much as you might expect
Not surprisingly, given its impressive new lens, the Sony RX10 III is both larger and heavier than is the RX10 II, but the change in size is rather less significant than one might expect. With dimensions of 5.2 x 3.7 x 5.0 inches, the RX10 III has grown by about a tenth of an inch in width, two tenths in height, and an inch or so in depth compared to the earlier camera.
With a loaded-and-ready-to-shoot weight of 38.6 ounces, the RX10 III is significantly heavier than its 28.7-ounce sibling, doubtless due in large part to all the glass in its new lens. That makes the RX10 III about one-third heavier than the RX10 II.
Like the RX10 II before it, Sony describes the RX10 III’s body as being both dust and moisture-resistant, but provides no information on the number or location of seals. Nor does it provide any specific rating indicating the degree of sealing provided.
A new sensor, but with familiar specifications
The 1″-type, backside-illuminated image sensor itself also looks to be new, although sensor resolution is essentially unchanged from that of the earlier models. With an effective pixel count of 20.1 megapixels, the Sony RX10 III’s sensor does differ just fractionally from the 20.2-megapixel chips of its siblings, however. As in the RX10 II, the sensor uses a stacked design with DRAM chip, and its output is handled by a BIONZ X-branded image processor. This provides performance enough to allow for extreme high frame-rate or 4K video capture.
Sensitivity ranges from ISO 64 to 12,800-equivalents, also unchanged from the RX10 II. Continuous burst shooting is possible at a maximum of 14 frames per second with focus locked from the first frame, again unchanged from the RX10 II. Even with AF active between frames, the RX10 III is said to be capable of five frames-per-second burst capture.
Swift autofocus using contrast detection
Just as in the RX10 II, the Sony RX10 III focuses using a contrast-detection autofocus system, branded by Sony as Fast Intelligent AF. Subject-detection algorithms operate even before a half-press of the shutter button, and are claimed to be able to determine a focus lock in as little as 0.09 seconds.
The same viewfinder as the RX10 II…
Sony has retained the same excellent electronic viewfinder from the RX10 II for the new Sony RX10 III. Based around an Organic LED panel with a 0.39-inch diagonal and a total resolution of 2,359,296 dots, the finder has 0.7x magnification (35mm-equivalent), and a 21.5mm eyepoint from the eyepiece frame. Manufacturer-rated coverage is 100%, and a dioptric adjustment for eyeglass-wearers spans the range from -4 to +3 diopters. As well as automatic brightness control there is also a five-step manual brightness adjustment provided.
…and the same dual-LCD design
On the rear and top decks of the Sony RX10 III, there are separate LCD displays, just as in the RX10 II. The rear-panel 2.95-inch display has a resolution of 1,228,800 dots, and as well as those specifications being unchanged from the earlier RX10 II, so too is the articulation mechanism. This will allow tilting upwards by 107 degrees, or downwards by 42 degrees. The top-deck LCD, meanwhile, is a small monochrome status display providing basic exposure and operational information, again just as in the RX10 II.
Like the RX10 II before it, the Sony RX10 III was clearly made with movie capture in mind. For one thing, there is no Full HD limit here: The RX10 III can capture 4K video at rates of either 30, 25 or 24 frames per second, and with bitrates as high as 100Mbps using full-pixel readout with no binning. You can, of course, opt for Full HD or HD capture if you don’t need this resolution, and here capture rates top out at 120 fps.
And like the RX10 II before it, the Sony RX10 III also allows high frame-rate capture at rates up to 960 fps, although the rather frustrating requirement to have clips upsampled to Full HD resolution in-camera post-capture remains, meaning that you may potentially miss shooting a subsequent clip if the camera has yet to finish rendering the previous one. (We continue to hold out hope that Sony will eventually allow saving at the actual capture resolution, as there’s little advantage to upsampling in-camera.)
The Sony RX10 III includes both in-camera Wi-Fi wireless networking and NFC radios, just as did the RX10 II before it. This allows both for remote control and capture, and also for cable-free transfer of photos to your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. We’ve found Sony’s implementation to be one of the more impressively easy to use, with Android users in particular enjoying the ability to send a photo to their phone simply by viewing it in playback mode on the camera, and then bumping the two devices’ NFC antennas together.
Of course, there’s all the wired connectivity you’d expect, too. Just as in the RX10 II, the Sony RX10 III includes a USB 2.0 High-Speed data connection to get photos and movies onto your computer, and a Micro HDMI connector to let you see them on your TV. There’s also Sony’s proprietary Multi Interface Shoe, which doubles as a hot shoe for Sony strobes and an attachment point for various other accessories. And catering to video capture, there is both external microphone and headphone connectivity, too.
The Sony RX10 III draws power from the exact same 7.2-volt NP-FW50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack as did the earlier RX10 and RX10 II. Battery life is rated at 420 shots on a charge when using the LCD monitor, or 370 shots on a charge with the electronic viewfinder. That’s 20 frames more with the LCD, or 10 more with the viewfinder, than was possible on the RX10 II. That’s pretty impressive given that the RX10 III has triple the zoom range of the earlier cameras, and the CIPA test used requires that the camera rack across the entire zoom range once after every shot.
Pricing and availability
Available from May 2016 in the US market, the Sony RX10 III is priced at US$1,500. In Canada, list pricing will be in the region of CA$2,000.
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