When the first Sony RX100 hit the market nearly two years ago, for many it completely changed the perception of compact cameras. Cell phone cameras replaced point and shoots for most people, and this new ‘mirrorless camera thing’ seemed to be catching on, basically out-dating high end point and shoots. However, there was a huge gap waiting to be filled. A lot of photographers wanted something genuinely pocket sized, yet designed for enthusiasts and pros from the ground up. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the old guard of photography like Canon, Nikon or Leica who filled this niche, but Sony. A company who from the launch of the NEX-7 in 2011 has been consistently proving that they know photography, and can cater to those under-served by the giants of the camera industry. The RX100 was an enormous success.
The RX100 MK II was a refinement on the RX100. Reviews would often cite the lack of a hot shoe and swivel screen as the only downsides of the RX100. So, Sony answered that with a camera solving the only common criticisms with their camera. They also threw in Wifi support, as it was pretty hip at the time.
I was curious what Sony would do to follow up the RX100 MK II. It still stands essentially unchallenged as the most full featured, truly pocket-sized camera on the market. They could go the usual route, adding a few more pixels, updating the image processor and adding some new Wifi functionality. Also, they could wait a year or two for that upgrade.
Instead, Sony gave us what we didn’t think to ask for, as no one thought it was possible on a compact camera. The pop-up viewfinder is the single biggest engineering feat this year. With next to no increase in the camera’s size, Sony added not just an adequate, but a beautiful high resolution, fast refreshing display.
As if that wasn’t enough, the new lens is brighter and wider. It is a bit shorter than the previous lens, though, so if zoom is important to you, the RX100 MK II is staying in the lineup. The 24mm wide angle is a big deal to me though, as 24mm and 35mm are my favourite focal lengths. If I need a bit more reach, 20 megapixels is more than enough to crop in a bit.
I’m a videographer. Photography for me is a hobby, and occasional job opportunity, but moving images are my passion. I love the idea of a discreet, fully featured video camera. The previous RX100 and RX100 MK II came close, but the need to strap a jury-rigged ND filter (see our first video) and the quickly aging AVCHD codec held them back. The new RX100 MK III features the fantastic XAVC-S codec, which allows for much more movement in the frame with less degradation of the image, as well as a more easily editable image. There is also a built-in three stop ND filter (the same type we struggled to attach to the RX100). With these add-ons, I actually find the RX100 MK III to be a much more flexible portable filmmaking device than the celebrated Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Sure it doesn’t shoot RAW, but the fantastic, versatile lens (with stabilization!), awesome viewfinder, larger sensor and built in NDs make it much more practical for fly-on-the-wall documentary work.
As far as image quality, I can’t post any images as the version I used was early pre-production. No one said anything about giving my impressions though, and the image looked very similar to the earlier RX100s, which means nice low light performance and excellent dynamic range. At worst the image is as good as the RX100 MK II (fantastic), and we may yet see some improvements before the production models hit.
Honestly, I can’t think of any other pocket-sized camera that can slightly give the latest RX100 a run for it’s money. This sounds like a paid endorsement, but in my opinion, the RX100 MK III is the best compact camera ever produced. My major issue is that between now, and when we shoot our Field Test review, I’ll have to find something to constructively criticize…