Sony’s RX100 III ratchets the features on our favorite compact cam even higher

Read our full Sony RX100 III review.

Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 and RX100 II are pocket rockets. These compact cameras pack larger sensors and chockfull of advanced shooting features, making them a gold standard in this category and one of our top favorites. But when a camera is this small, how much further can you advance? Well, quite a bit, it turns out. The new Cyber-shot RX100 III has an even better lens, upgraded image processor, improved video capture, and – the coolest feature – an electronic viewfinder.

The RX100 III uses the same 1-inch, 20.1-megapixel Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor as the RX100 II, but the image processor has been upgraded to the latest version, the Bionz X, which is used in Sony’s latest high-end cameras. The 1-inch sensor may not be as big as the APS-C sensors in compact system cameras and DSLRs, but in the land of compacts, it’s large, and that means better resolution and low-light performance – results we’ve seen from the RX100 II. ISO has expanded from 125-12,800.

What’s really impressive is that Sony managed to squeeze in a 1.4-million-dot-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) that pops up from the body. Somehow Sony’s engineers managed to find some extra space without having to increase the body size or eliminate features. Once the EVF pops up, you do have to manually pull out the eyepiece, but it’s a minor inconvenience for a highly convenient feature that many users have been asking for. It’s great for framing your shots, and a better option than detachable EVFs. According to Sony, the EVF has a “specially-designed eyepiece lens with ZEISS T* coating, dramatically reducing reflections that can interfere with clear viewing…achieves exceptional corner-to-corner clarity.” A sensor automatically switches between the EVF and a high-resolution 3-inch LCD (rated 1.2-million dots). The display has also improved: It can be articulated and tilted up to 180 degrees for self-portraits and group shots.

Another highlight is the improved lens. The RX100 III uses a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens, giving it a wider angle than before. And, at full telephoto, the aperture is a max f/2.8, an improvement over the f/4.9 of the RX100 II. It allows you to achieve a defocusing effect even when you’re zoomed out. The lens can also get as close as 12 inches at full zoom. This is all possible thanks to a new small-lens construction technology with nine total aspherical glass elements including two advanced aspherical elements that have been cemented together – a world’s first in lens manufacturing, Sony says.

If you enjoy shooting movies with compact cameras, then the RX100 III should impress. This is the first Cyber-shot to record Full HD at 60p in the XAVC S format, “which allows for Full HD recording at a data rate of 50 mbps with lower compression for improved video quality,” Sony says. More interesting is that, thanks to the Bionz X processor, “the camera is able to read, process, and output data from all of the sensor’s pixels during video recording, ensuring that it produces the highest quality video possible by eliminating aliasing, moiré and false color artifacts.” The RX100 III can also record slow-motion video at 120 frames per second in 720p, and record in two formats (one high quality, and another in MP4 for sharing). Another new feature is Intelligent Active Mode, “which utilizes Sony’s frame analysis technology and 5-axis compensation to dramatically reduce the effects of camera shake while shooting movies.”

Like its predecessor, the RX100 III has Wi-Fi with near-field communication (NFC) for quick pairing. Sony offers one of the better Wi-Fi implementations, based on our experience with Sony cameras.

Sony RX100 III

We had a moment to play with a pre-production unit during a pre-briefing. We weren’t able to check image quality, so we can’t comment on that. But if it’s as good as the RX100 II, then we can assume image quality will be top-notch; with the new Bionz X processor, we think photos and videos will look even better, as we’ve seen from other Sony cameras with similar specs (such as the RX10). Like the RX100 II, this new model is very compact and easy to pocket. It’s pretty amazing that Sony managed to put in a very responsive, bright, and high-res EVF into a small body – a component that’s super handy. It’s a speedy camera, and the contrast detection autofocusing is fairly quick. There are plenty of buttons and customization for advanced users. The 180-degree display is also a nice feature. Like its predecessor, it’s not a touchscreen (although we didn’t miss it when we tested the RX100 II). Overall, it’s a potent little camera that we admire, and can’t wait to take it for a full spin.

Here’s the bad news: the RX100 III is a premium camera, which means it’ll cost you $800. Realize that you can get a starter DSLR or CSC for that price. But if you don’t care for large cameras, and would rather have a small camera that can deliver on image quality (and you don’t care about price), this is one camera to covet. (The RX100 II, which is still a great camera, drops down to $700.) Click here for more info and specs.

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