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Sony looks to up its game again

Sony found itself with something of a hit on its hands with the original RX100. Launched back in 2012 it brought never before seen levels of detail to the truly compact camera sector. Last year saw its first revision, in the shape of the RX100 II, and now it's time again for Sony to tweak the formula with the RX100 III.

Watch the Sony RX100 III hands-on video:

Sony RX100 III: Features

What set the original RX100 apart from the masses was its use of a large 1.0 inch sensor, which was some four times larger than conventional 1/2.3-type sensors found in traditional point-and-shoot compacts. Combined with a high-quality, fast lens and impressively small body it really did set a new benchmark.

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With the RX100 II Sony added a tiltable 3-inch WhiteMagic LCD screen that improved on the fixed variety found on its predecessor. It also saw the addition of a multi interface shoe, which opened up the opportunity to attach an external flash, electronic viewfinder or stereo microphone. Plus Wi-fi/NFC connectivity and the option to shoot HD video at 24p for cinematically styled movies were added. All this and the sensor was now a back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS that Sony claimed was 40% more sensitive to light than its predecessor.

At the time it was hard to see what else Sony could add to improve this camera but, low and behold, the company has done just that. In fact, there are some fairly radical changes under the hood of the Rx100 III.



The most obvious of these is the new popup viewfinder. On the RX100 II the only option for a viewfinder was via the very expensive (£309), EV1MK electronic viewfinder that was designed to clip onto the camera via its hotshoe and connect via the accessory port. The accessory port and hotshoe have both been removed from the RX100 III and in their place is a pop-up flash that’s raised using a small switch above the screen.

As for the viewfinder Sony has replaced this with the first ever pop-up EVF on a premium compact. This rises ingeniously from the corner of the body and helps to keep the body as streamlined as possible. It features a 1,440k-dot resolution and uses a Zeiss T coating to help reduce reflections and deliver excellent edge-to-edge clarity. What’s also impressive is the way Sony’s engineers have designed it so that it can be used to power up the camera as an alternative to using the On/Off button.



The second key change is to the lens. It now has a range equivalent to 24-70mm, and has an aperture of f/2.8 across the whole lot. Focusing distance has also improved with it now able to focus within 30cm of a subject at the long end of the zoom. The lens’s improved light-gathering capabilities also allows faster shutter speeds to be used to freeze fast-moving subjects, while the addition of a built-in ND filter gives users the option to use slower shutter speeds in bright lighting conditions – a feature also recently introduced into one of its key rivals – the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II.

On the inside, there are changes too. While the 1.0inch 20.1MP Exmor sensor is essentially the same as found in the Cyber-Shot RX100 II, it’s now partnered with Sony’s latest and most powerful Bionz X image processor that’s already in use within other recent cameras such as the Sony A77 Mark II. Claimed to operate three times faster than the previous Bionz engine, the RX100 III maintains a maximum ISO sensitivity of ISO 25,600 and is capable of shooting at up to 10fps in its Speed Priority Continuous Shooting mode.



The RX100 III's other improvements of note include the option to record Full HD video footage at up to 50Mbps, or up to 100fps in the XAVC S format. Dual video recording will also be appreciated by those who’d like to record high quality AVCHD/XAVC S footage alongside a smaller MP4 format file that’s easier to share.

Another first for the RX100 series is a 5-axis stabilisation system, which should help to ensure steadier movies are created. Even with this new camera weighing just 9 grams more than the RX100 II, the RX100 III also features a 3inch Xtra Fine LCD that flips by 180 degrees and down by 45 degrees. This manoeuvrability is an improvement on the RX100 II that could only be tilted up by 84 degrees. Finally, there's support for Sony’s Play Memories app, which provides the option to enhance the cameras functionality by using a selection of free or paid-for creative effects and filters.

The overall look and feel of the Sony RX100 III is very similar to its predecessors with the removal of the hotshoe of the RX100 II making this model feel a little more like the original. Certainly for those that weren't tempted to upgrade to the RX100 II, the RX100 III will offer complete familiarity yet really ramps up the specification.

As for the viewfinder, the way Sony has engineered the 1,440k-dot OLED contraption into the body is a great technological achievement, considering how small the camera is. The overall feel is much akin to a popup flash though here the EVF requires you pull the EVF towards you slightly before it can be used. We didn’t find this to be a problem, though, and the eye sensor performed responsively – just as we’ve come to expect from Sony’s electronic viewfinders.



It offers a clear, bright view with good clarity, despite the resolution not matching that of the clip-on viewfinder offered for the RX100 II. Fundamentally, it’ll be more than good enough for most users.

One area where we didn't immediately notice much difference was in overall performance. That new BIONZ X processor didn't obviously improve the speed of operation during the time we used the RX100 III, though those extra dual-video modes will certainly be one area where that extra power is needed.

Auto-focus performance was as good as we'd expect with the RX100 II locking onto subjects with minimal fuss, even in relatively low-light conditions.



First Impressions

Overall, our first impressions of the Sony RX100 III are that Sony has once again upped the ante, creating the standout premium compact camera. The new inbuilt EVF is excellent and a very useful addition, while the revised lens range should make this model even more versatile than its predecessors. The powerful stabilisation and new video modes also make this a serious videographers tool too.

The only question we’d like to know the answer to is how much consumers will have to pay to get their hands on this latest model. Pricing and information was unavailable at the time of writing, but based on the launch price of the RX100 II and the benefit of having a new electronic viewfinder built in on the latest model, we wouldn't be surprised to see a price approaching four-figures. The good news for anyone that hasn't yet taken the plunge on the RX100 or RX100 II is that the price of both can be expected to fall in the coming months.

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