Sony RX10 III superb 25x travel zoom outshines 11x on APS-C

New in May 2016, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III (buy at Amazon) is now my ultimate travel camera. It features a bright f/2.4-4 lens with incredible 25x zoom, sharp across the frame throughout its remarkable 24-600mm equivalent range, well into birding territory. I no longer need to carry a pocket camera for improving close-focus shots, as RX10 already has a 1”-Type sensor. With deeper depth of focus than APS-C or larger-sensor cameras for a given f-stop, it enhances details from close flower shots to distant bird feathers at 600mm equivalent telephoto. This all-in-one marvel is also my top pick for portable wildlife telephoto. The chunky RX10 III weighs just 37 ounces (including battery & card; plus adding 5 oz for strap, lens filter, cap & hood makes 42 oz). RX10 III is the world’s most versatile camera for on-the-go outdoor photographers. Further below, compare with rivals and learn about important hidden settings and accessories.

Sony RX10 III camera

The versatile Sony RX10 III camera has a 25x zoom range, 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 lens.

In a breakthrough for travel photographers, Sony has more than doubled my former zoom range while improving image quality. The professionally-sharp, bright 25x zoom of RX10 III resoundingly beats the resolution of my previous favorite Sony 11x zoom lens SEL18200 on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 anywhere above 90mm+ equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400. To my delight, RX10’s faster, larger-diameter lens (72mm filter size) plus backside illumination (BSI) sensor technology together magically compensate for the sensor size difference. At wider angles, 27-80mm equivalent, both capture similar quality in bright outdoor light. Advantageously, RX10 stretches to a wide view of 24mm equivalent. In dim/indoor light, A6300’s larger sensor can sometimes resolve more detail than RX10III, but not consistently in my real world comparisons using SEL18200 and SEL1670Z lenses. Impressively, Sony claims SteadyShot stabilization of up to 4.5 stops of benefit (in terms of slower shutter speed handheld) for this model DSC-RX10M3.

For me, RX10 III’s only weakness is frequent failure to lock focus on the far telephoto end 400-600mm equivalent in dim light or on low-contrast subjects, which can be worked around by upgrading to Sony RX10 IV (price at Amazon) (or by using Manual Focus, or by using rival Panasonic FZ2500 compared below).

TIP: Despite Sony’s claim of “dust and moisture-resistant” body, DON’T EXPOSE YOUR CAMERA TO RAIN (even if immediately wiped off), as wind-driven droplets killed my RX10 III. Despite its weather sealing keeping dust and condensation out of the lens throughout 16 months, one fateful rainstorm shorted-out its focus and LCD (sadly outside of its 1-year Sony Warranty). Rather than risking an estimated $656 repair (whose 90-day guarantee was voided by “liquid damage”), I bought a new RX10 III (to complete my UK photo shoot), soon to be sold, as I upgrade to RX10 IV.

Unprecedented versatility with publishable image quality have made Sony RX10 III my main travel camera for 2016-2017. 

Three extracts from the edges and center of this Chilean Flamingo image show the crisp 600mm-equivalent telephoto reach of Sony RX10 III:

Chilean Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo

Field tests confirm that Sony RX10 III is sharp across the frame at all zoom settings (optimally sharpest around f/4 from 24-400mm equivalent and at f/5.6 from 500-600mm). Even at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent), extracts from both the edges and center are notably crisp (enlarged at 100% pixel view in the above photo). {Shot at optimal aperture f/5.6, for 1/1600th second at ISO 100. In Adobe Lightroom, raw file exposure was adjusted +1.86 EV, Highlights -84, plus Sharpening. The photo is from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington.}

More details:

As of 2016, I rank the world’s top travel cameras as follows, shown best first and smallest last:

  1. Sony RX10 III (May 2016, 37 oz, 25x zoom 24-600mm f/2.4-4): the best travel camera of 2016 handily beats its closest rivals having 1” BSI sensor. It has a nice tilting LCD, but no touchscreen.
  2. Panasonic FZ2500 (December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom 24-480mm f/2.8–4.5): costs 25% less, adds a fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, increases viewfinder magnification (EVF 0.74x versus 0.7x), autofocuses faster, has better menus and improves video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K), in comparison to Sony RX10 III. But FZ2500’s lens collects a half stop less light, slightly lowering image quality; its telephoto doesn’t reach long enough for birders; and its CIPA battery life of 350 shots is shorter than RX10III’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)
  3. Panasonic FZ1000 (2014, 29 oz, 16x zoom 25-400mm f/2.8-4.0): best price value (costs half of RX10 III). Adds fully-articulated LCD and autofocus for action & sports is a bit faster than RX10 III.
  4. Pocketable: Panasonic ZS100 (price at Amazon) (2016, 11 oz, 10x zoom 25-250mm equivalent f/2.8-5.9): Read my ZS100 review. ZS100 introduces the first pocketable 10x zoom on a 1-inch-Type sensor, capturing close macro at more zoom settings and enormously extending optical telephoto reach beyond my 3x-zoom Sony RX100 (read my 2012-15 review). Anywhere from 3x-10x on Panasonic ZS100 beats digital cropping of rival Sony RX100 (which stops at 70mm equivalent in versions III and IV).
  5. Half-price pocketable: Panasonic ZS50 (2015, 9 oz, 30x zoom 24–720mm f/3.3–6.4, 12 mp) is a nice little camera with a rare viewfinder and a small 1/2.3″ sensor that still beats smartphone quality. (TZ70 outside of North America.)

Sony RX10 III beats the following midsize rivals for versatile lightweight travel:

  • APS-C flagship Sony Alpha A6300 (2016, 33 oz = 14 oz body + 11x zoom 27-300mm equivalent f/3.5-6.3 lens): its interchangeable-lens capability is made redundant by RX10’s sharp and bright 25x zoom. See my side-by-side test images further below.
  • Canon PowerShot G3 X camera (2015, 26 oz, 25x zoom, 20mp) has 24-600mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens (which is neither as bright nor as sharp as Sony RX10 III). The G3 X buys you lighter travel weight, but you must separately add a pricey $240 viewfinder. Also its older, poorer 1″ sensor is a stop or two worse at ISO 800+ compared to FZ1000 or RX10.
  • The following 44-ounce Nikon 1 interchangeable lens system of 2014 is now outdated:
    • Nikon 1 V3 camera (2014, 14-oz body, 18mp) mounted with Nikkor VR 70-300mm CX format lens (19 oz) has a sharp 189-810mm equivalent zoom but relatively slow f/4.5-5.6 aperture. Capturing normal angles of view requires inconvenient swapping of the 70-300mm lens, such as to 10-100mm CX-format lens (27-270mm equiv, 10.5 oz) for Nikon 1.
    • With fewer megapixels (18mp versus 20mp) shot on a poorer, noisier sensor (at least 2 stops noisier at ISO 400+) using a slower lens, Nikon 1 V3 cannot beat Sony RX10 III.
  • In February 2017, Nikon cancelled its proposed DL camera line of premium compact cameras (DL 18-50, DL 24-85 and DL 24-500 announced in 2016). Nikon DL24-500 would have had a relatively slow f/2.8-5.6 lens (28 oz, 21x zoom, 21mp).

Recommended accessories for Sony RX10 III:

What do I know?

For lightweight travel gear capturing publishable images, I’m not tied to any one system or brand. Instead, I prefer upgrading to the latest, best tool for the job (then selling the old gear locally via Craigslist, in-person for cash). I’ve enjoyed the 24mp APS-C sensor in Sony NEX-7 from 2012-2016 and successor A6300 using Sony’s 18-200mm SteadyShot lens (27-300mm equivalent). Before that, Nikon gear served me well over 11 years (see Tom’s gear history), such as Nikon D5000 APS-C with 18-200mm VR II lens. I began photography in 1978−97 with the classic Olympus OM-1N 35mm-film camera. But switching to digital Canon PowerShot cameras from 2003-07 gave me instant feedback and more freedom from the tripod. Now as of 2016, the 1-inch-sensor Sony RX10 III preserves publishable image quality while radically extending zoom range to 25x. The proof is in the pudding: check out my portfolio.

What do others say? Reviewer Ken Rockwell says the RX10 III is “superb for sports; it really does lock-on to faces and track them as they run down the field, and its non-rolling electronic shutter lets it run silently at 5 real frames per second as it tracks everything…and the RX10 III is astonishing in how much it does so well.” Be sure to turn on Eye AF for instant focus on humans.

Sun starburst (at f/16 using Sony RX10 III camera) shines on lichen growing on twisted old tree wood at Glacier Pass. Backback to Mirror Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, Wallowa Mountains, Columbia Plateau, northeastern Oregon, USA. Hike 7.3 miles from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). Day hike to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain). Backpack out 8.7 miles via Carper Pass, Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. From September 11-13, 2016 Carol and I walked 22 miles in 3 days. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sony RX10 III can create a special sun starburst effect, only at aperture f/16: see Recommended settings: secrets of the Sony RX10 III” further below. The photo is from Eagle Cap Wilderness (read Tom’s article), Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, northeastern Oregon, USA.

RX10 III rivals a sharp 4x zoom F4 lens on APS-C sensor

According to my side-by-side testing, Sony’s RX10 III camera has a remarkable equality to the flagship APS-C Sony A6300 in dim light, due to RX10 III’s more-efficient BSI sensor design plus its large diameter lens of 72mm gathering more light (versus the much smaller 55mm filter size on the pricey SEL1670Z comparison lens).

Details: In my June 2016 side-by-side tests in bright sunlight, Sony’s sharp F4 16-70mm 4x zoom lens (SEL1670Z, 24-105mm equivalent) mounted on A6300 can resolve linear details only up to 5% better than my Sony RX10 III camera at wide angles of view. SEL1670Z is also sharper for macro in dim or bright light (using closest focus at around 45mm equivalent). But in dim light or at 75-105mm equivalent telephoto, the two systems on average capture equally sharp images, despite the sensor size difference (APS-C versus 1-inch-type).

These field tests demote the APS-C flagship A6300, making it no longer my top travel camera. The gain is nearly insignificant for A6300 to make at most 5% wider or taller prints compared to Sony RX10 III; and A6300’s advantage requires direct sunlight at wide angles of view, or macro. From 75-105mm equivalent in most lighting situations or in dim indoor light across its range (except 45mm macro), SEL1670Z is equaled or beaten by RX10 III in half of my hand-held shots at optimally-sharp apertures, with image stabilization turned on.

You must inconveniently interchange a much heavier, pricier set of lenses on A6300 to rival the quality of RX10 III’s sharp 25x F4 zoom.

My Sony A6300 (read Tom’s review) can still be useful as a lightweight camera for action and indoor event photography (such as weddings) at wider angles of view, such as at 24-105mm equivalent using Sony’s 16-70mm F4 SEL1670Z lens. (The SEL1670Z lens has good macro when set at 30mm, which is 45mm-equivalent in terms of full-frame’s angle of view.) The A6300 has a bit quicker autofocus such as for tracking of moving subjects, which I rarely use. But future upgrades to Sony’s A6300 will require new advances, such as more megapixels and the creation of backside illumination (BSI) sensors at APS-C size, in order to gain a clearer advantage over the groundbreaking Sony RX10 III.

How does Sony RX10 III compare to full-frame?

For a significant jump up in quality, night photographers and big-print professionals can consider using fast lenses on Sony a7R II (price at Amazon) (2015, 22 oz body), a big 42-megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera, featuring the world’s first 35mm-size BSI CMOS sensor, plus a 5-axis image stabilization built into the body, hybrid autofocus, and 4K video, good for capturing the northern lights or indoor action.

But for me, full-frame systems are too bulky and expensive for travel, especially in terms of zoom range. If money is no object, using Sony’s 10x zoom FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (28 oz) on A7 IIR’s 42mp sensor (50 oz total camera+lens) should buy quality at wide angles better than RX10III’s smaller 20mp sensor (37 oz). But RX10III’s f/4 quality should beat cropping down the 42mp to reach the 500-600mm equivalent necessary for wildlife and bird photos. Realistically, A7 IIR’s incredible sensor so greatly exceeds the quality of the FE 24-240mm lens that only sharper, faster lenses should be considered. In comparison, RX10 III is much more portable (37 oz versus 50+ oz) and its 20 megapixels are plenty for my professional publishing needs.

In historical perspective, the Sony RX10III makes prints far bigger than my full-frame 35mm film cameras used 1978-2004.

Compact 25x zoom RX10 III beats APS-C travel systems using 11x to 19x

In 90% of my test shots (see examples below), the RX10 III beat image quality from the much bigger sensor (APS-C) in Sony’s flagship A6300 mounted with 11x Sony SEL18200 silver lens (27-300mm equivalent). Similarly, I expect RX10 III should also beat the 10x zoom Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS E-mount SEL24240 lens (see at Amazon) on A6300. RX10 III should likewise outperform Tamron’s 19x zoom 16-300mm equivalent lens and best all current 11x-17x zoom lenses by Nikon, Canon and Sigma (when mounted on APS-C systems of up to 24 megapixels), based upon how similarly SEL18200 compares to them in reviews at SLRgear.com, DxOMark.com, and others.

According to my practical field tests, the 20-megapixel RX10 III excels at close focus (best macro enlargement around 40-50mm equivalent), at 24-27mm wide angle, and at stunning telephoto from 80-600mm equivalent, well into the range of wildlife/bird photography. No rival comes close in its weight class.

In comparison, Sony’s flagship APS-C camera, the A6300 mounted with my trusty 11x travel zoom (silver model SEL18200 with relatively slow aperture f/3.5-6.3) resolved slightly more image details only within a sweet spot from 30-60mm equivalent (where 24 megapixels could beat RX10’s 20mp), especially at ISO 640+. But to my delight throughout 90-600mm equivalent, the RX10 III consistently beat the SEL18200 lens through ISO 6400, due to brighter lens, superior optics and BSI technology, a stellar performance from a sensor 3 times smaller!

Note: Sony’s 11x SEL18200 lens suffers substantial bloating from barrel distortion at its widest angles of view (27-42mm equivalent) and is squeezed by pincushion distortion at 50-150mm equivalent (which I corrected using Adobe Lightroom’s Enable Lens Profile Corrections in the examples below). In contrast, the RX10 III captures crisp rectilinear lines, great for architecture photography — thankfully recorded with distortions and chromatic aberrations all auto-corrected by default using a “Built-in Lens Profile” in both JPEG and raw, straight out of the camera!

Despite superior autofocus performance by Sony Alpha a6300 (price at Amazon), especially in dim indoor light, its success rate capturing detailed images suffers when using Sony SEL18200 lens, which is sharp at center but rapidly fuzzier towards the edges, especially at 100-300mm equiv.

To rival the crisp 25x zoom of 37-ounce RX10 III, an APS-C-sensor camera would need to interchange lenses on a pricier system weighing more than 55-66 ounces − inconvenient for travel. For example, Sony’s 14-ounce A6300 body now begs for the following bulkier, pricier system to replace the Sony 11x SEL18200 lens:

  1. Sony E-mount 16-70mm F4 Vario-Tessar T ZA OSS SEL1670Z lens (Amazon) (2013, 11 oz).
  2. Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS SEL70300G lens (2016, 30 oz).
  3. Sony DSC-RX100 (IV, III, II, or I) pocket camera for decent macro.
Critical photo comparisons of Sony RX10 III versus A6300 with SEL18200

For realistic comparison, test images on this page have been shot as raw files, corrected, and optimized. Sony RX10 III images shown at 100% pixel view have been upscaled from 20 to 24 megapixels to line up against the Sony A6300 images shot on SEL18200 lens (for normalization as in a same-size print comparison). Active animals were shot at 1/500 second in Shutter Priority mode to freeze motion blur. Static subjects were shot near camera-equivalent apertures to equalize depth of focus (for example, f/4 on 1” sensor has same pupil diameter as f/7.1 on APS-C, as calculated from their relative diagonal crop factor of 1.77). ISO was shot on Auto then reported for each shot.

In the following comparison at 340mm equivalent, the RX10 III captures superior sharpness in the bird’s feather details:

Compare Sony at 340mm, ISO 2500

Above: Shooting in challenging shady lighting at 340mm equivalent at ISO 2500 using Sony RX10 III camera clearly beats the sharpness of Sony’s 11x SEL18200 lens at its maximum 300mm equivalent on A6300.

In the following dim indoor image shot at high ISO 6400 without flash, the superior optics of Sony RX10 III clearly beat a Sony A6300 with SEL18200 lens, both zoomed to 195mm equivalent:

Test 195mm ISO6400 Sony RX10III vs A6300 SEL18200

Above: Two test shots are compared at 195mm equivalent at ISO 6400 using Sony RX10 III versus A6300 using 11x silver SEL18200 lens. RX10 is slightly sharper at center and clearly superior at upper left and lower right edges. Tests confirm that Sony’s SEL18200 lens is notably soft around the edges anywhere from 100-300mm equivalent, causing it to lose against Sony’s brighter RX10 III lens despite the sensor size difference.

In the following image at 27mm equivalent at base ISO 100, the RX10 III wins by a hair over A6300 with SEL18200:

Sony RX10III vs A6300 at 27mm

Above: Compare at 27mm equivalent, ISO 100, Sony RX10 III versus A6300 with 11x SEL18200 lens.

Other testing shows that after correcting for distortion, the Sony A6300 with 11x SEL18200 lens can only beat RX10 III in dim lighting within a sweet spot from 30-60mm equivalent (assisted by its 3-times-larger sensor). But in bright outdoors, you see little difference at wide angles of view. In effect, the A6300 begs for a sharper lens, such as Sony 16-70mm F4 or a set of prime lenses which require interchanging (too inconvenient for my travel photography). Comparatively speaking, A6300 with 11x zoom now lacks sufficient quality and versatility for a given travel weight. For my typical outdoor nature photography on the go, RX10 III captures superior edge-to-edge details at more zoom settings.

Recommended settings: secrets of the Sony RX10 III

  • Through most of its 25x zoom range, RX10 III is sharpest when shot about f/4 aperture; but f/5.6 is sharpest at 500-600mm equivalent. In effect, these optimal f-stops give you the best balance between diffraction (through smallest apertures) versus chromatic aberrations (possible in all cameras at brightest openings; luckily hardly noticeable in RX10 III due to automatic in-camera corrections before writing JPEG and raw files to the memory card).
  • Stopping down to f/16 aperture, RX10III creates a wonderful starburst effect emanating from intense pinpoints of light such as the sun, lightbulbs, etc (see starburst photo further above). Warning: as on most cameras, f/16 looks notably softer in focus when analyzed at 100% pixel view, nearly halving the resolution compared to f/5.6 or brighter apertures, due to diffraction through the tiny f/16 hole. (At all apertures brighter than f/16, the starburst is NOT created, such as at f/2.4 to f/4, where rounded blades smooth the opening for more attractive bokeh, the appearance of the out-of-focus areas.) Using Adobe Lightroom CC, I like to stitch panoramas where the shot with the sun has an f/16 starburst, but the remaining combined shots without the starburst use the much sharper f/4 or f/5.6.
  • For sharper hand-held shots at 600mm maximum telephoto, leave Image Stabilization ON and use 1/100th second shutter speed or faster.
  • Zoom Assist: To more easily locate birds or small subjects at 500-600mm telephoto (to see outside of that narrow angle of view), reassign the Focus Hold button (on the base of the lens, or use another button of your choice) to Zoom Assist. When pressed, the Zoom Assist button quickly widens the angle of view to allow re-centering upon a bird; then you can pan to follow the bird’s motion, then release Zoom Assist to restore your original narrow angle of view. Once focus is locked onto a moving subject, take the shot as soon as possible, or half press again to refocus. For isolated subjects, I prefer Expand Flexible Spot, using Single Autofocus, because Continuous Auto Focus can be problematic on any camera (unless fast-paced action requires Continuous AF, which may risk unwanted slow AF racking or hunting). Half press to lock focus on a high contrast edge of the subject, recompose, then fully click the shutter release.
  • Increase zoom racking speed: from 24 to 600mm in just 2 seconds, by setting Zoom Speed = “Fast” in Menu > Settings Tab 2 > Set #3. That’s twice as fast as the 4-second Normal default. I mostly prefer Normal, for finer framing control, except for fleeting wildlife or sports. The Zoom Speeds of Fast and Normal apply to still shots; but Movie recording mode thankfully automatically invokes a slower, virtually silent zoom to avoid jarring video viewers. RX10III’s power zoom being locked on track at all settings avoids the annoying zoom creep (slippage when pointed upwards or downwards) behavior of most 11x manual (non-power) zooms made by Sony, Nikon and others for APS-C cameras. The short 2 or 4 seconds to rack through RX10III’s incredible 25x zoom beats the longer inconvenience of changing lenses required on interchangeable lens systems such as APS-C or full frame, which I formerly used 1978-2015.
  • Assign the following to the Fn button for quick access: ISO Auto Min SS = minimum shutter speed at a given ISO = STD (standard), SLOW, SLOWER, FAST, FASTER
  • Turn on Eye AF for instant focus on human eyes throughout the zoom range, especially for action/sports.
  • Turn OFF the Pre-AF option, for more reliable half-press focus-locking and quicker autofocus in the telephoto range, especially 400-600mm equivalent.
  • Use the quick Memory Recall (MR on mode dial, initially set within a hard-to-understand menu) to quickly set a whole palette of settings, which otherwise would be frustrating to find and set separately in the disorganized menus.
  • Instead of hunting through MENUs, put favorite settings on the Fn button as follows: MENU Tab 2 > item 5 > “Function Menu Set“. For example, I set these: Drive Mode, Flash Mode, Flash Compensation, Focus Area, ISO, Metering Mode, Smile/Face Detection, SteadyShot for video, HFR Frame Rate, Center Lock-on AF, ISO AUTO minimum Shutter Speed.

Video tips:

  • Video settings are scattered across Tab 1 (items 2, 5, 8, 9), Tab 2 (items 1, 2, 5, 6) and Tab 6 (item 3). Some of these settings can only be changed when the top Mode Dial is set to Movie mode (icon shaped like a film frame with spindle perforations). But luckily the MOVIE button can record with the current video settings no matter where the Mode Dial is set.
  • For videos, you can set hidden P, A, S and M exposure modes using MENU Tab 1 > item 8 > “Movie” (when Top Mode Dial = Movie mode): press Center button then scroll through PASM video options. To get a constant exposure during a video, use video M (Manual) mode: set ISO 100 (or as desired to a constant ISO number, but not AUTO ISO), set Aperture with ring on lens, and set Shutter Speed with either of the back two dials. To control subject-motion blur, set slow S (Shutter Speed) for more blur (as slow as the inverse of the frame rate in frames per second, fps). A Shutter Speed about twice as fast as the frame rate gives the most “normal” look. Set a faster Shutter Speed (more than twice the frame rate) for a choppier, more jittery video, like in the film “Gladiator”.
  • Play with the amazing High Frame Rate (HFR) video mode, shot in XAVC S 1080p HD format. For example, slow down action by 8 times at 480p (shooting frame rate) at 60p50M (frame rate of movie playback). I like setting Shoot Time Priority; and REC Timing=End Trigger, which records the 2 seconds BEFORE you pressed the Record Button! Limitations: only 2 seconds of real time are recorded (with 10-20 second delay writing to card); minimum ISO is 800; you must lock focus and exposure before recording; and HFR requires fast SD Memory Card Speed Class 10 or UHS Speed Class 1.
  • Assign a dedicated button to Focus Magnifier for use in Videos (else none is available). Tips: Focus is faster at brightest apertures (lowest f-number).
  • For high contrast scenes, to better preserve details in shadows and highlights simultaneously, as for later tonal editing of wildlife videos, you can set Picture Profile (in Shooting Tab 1, item 5):
    • PP3 standard for HD television, not intended for tonal editing.
    • PP5 for Cine1 gamma for later tonal editing, or
    • PP6 for Cine2 gamma to preserve even more highlights for later tonal editing, or
    • PP7 for S-Log2 gamma (which requires the most editing to compensate for the flat, dull appearance).
    • Warning: the above Picture Profile that you set for video is remembered when the camera is turned off, and will also affect both JPEG and raw still images (but any custom settings for black level, black gamma, knee and color depth won’t affect raw).
    • Picture Profile, Gamma Display Assistant, Peaking Level, and other items buried in the menus can be assigned to “Custom  Key (Shoot)” or to the quick Fn button in “Function Menu set” (in Tab 2, item 5).

RX10 III negatives, problems for Sony to fix

  • Sony RX10 III frequently fails to lock focus on the far telephoto end 400-600mm equivalent in dim light or on low-contrast subjects, which can be worked around by upgrading to Sony RX10 IV (price at Amazon) (or by using Manual Focus, or by using rival Panasonic FZ2500 ; or use Sony A6000, A6300 or A6500).
  • Sony menus are extremely disorganized, slowing access to important features. For example, video settings are scattered across Tab 1 (items 2, 8, 9), Tab 2 (items 1, 2, 5, 6), and Tab 6 (item 3). These badly need consolidating. AF settings are also scattered across different menu tabs. The workaround, as with past Sony cameras, is to memorize or write down where things are randomly hidden. Also, please allow MENU Tab 1 > item 8 > “Movie” (setting PASM modes for video) to be assigned to the Fn button.
  • RX10III lacks an electronic ND filter (Neutral Density), which is especially important for video in bright light, at bright apertures for shallower depth of focus. Workaround: simply attach a glass ND filter to the threads on the front of the lens when needed, the old-fashioned way. This could be almost as quick as trying to find settings in the notoriously disorganized Sony menus. Otherwise, RX10III is reputedly great for video. However, Panasonic FZ2500 has an ND filter and is probably superior for videographers.
  • In M/Manual mode, you must turn off Auto ISO every time, set ISO manually, then set back to Auto ISO when switching back to P, A or S mode. I prefer Manual mode to always default to manual ISO. Sony, please don’t force Manual mode’s ISO to that of the other PAS settings, and vice versa! Manual means manual.

Conclusion

For travel in 2016, the all-in-one Sony RX10 III overpowers its rival superzoom cameras with 1″-Type sensors. More significantly, the above field tests show that RX10 III resoundingly beats my previous favorite travel system, the Sony 11x zoom SEL18200 lens mounted on the larger-sensor APS-C Sony A6300 camera. Moreover, this APS-C flagship is at best 5% sharper than RX10III when using the wider end of a premium 4x zoom lens, but no better in dim light! I would rather have an all-in-one 25x zoom which astoundingly extends sharp f/4 telephoto reach to 600mm equivalent. For portable outdoor photography in 2016, nothing beats the superb, fast optics of the 25x-zoom Sony RX10 III (price at Amazon).

30 thoughts on “Sony RX10 III superb 25x travel zoom outshines 11x on APS-C

  1. Question from Dan & Shirley K. on Sept 17, 2017
    I just read your review on the Sony RX 10 III camera then saw your photoseek site (for the first time). Wow, great photos! Can you tell me what camera you used for your 2016 Switzerland photos?

    Tom Dempsey replied:
    – I photographed Switzerland in 2016 with that Sony RX10 III.
    – By the way, a great new RX10 IV model will be released in October 2017 with much faster focus, touchscreen for autofocus, and better-organized menus. I’m going to buy one.

    Dan & Shirley K. replied:
    Well I bought used, like new, RX10 III from an Amazon vendor! And it is great. But I am curious about the zoom. I had read some calculations about the zoom and focal length — calculations that I don’t really understand. The conclusion is that it is not a real 600mm zoom, that it is less than 600mm. Is that true?

    Tom Dempsey replied:
    – On the front of the RX10iii lens you will see written 8.8-220mm as its actual focal length range. Maybe you have heard that its 1-inch type sensor has a “crop factor” of 2.73 times smaller diagonally than a full frame sensor.
    – In terms of full frame cameras (an arbitrary standard of comparison used by the photo industry), RX10iii has the “equivalent” angle of view as a 24-600mm focal length lens would have on a full frame sensor. (That is calculated as 8.8-220mm times crop factor of 2.73.) This “equivalence” is totally real but only in terms of angle of view. Especially amazing is its bright f/2.4-4 maximum aperture combined with impressive 25x zoom range.
    – The key word here is “equivalent” focal length. A “real” lens labelled with 600mm actual focal length and designed for a full frame sensor is very much larger and heavier than RX10iii. Note that an “actual” 600mm focal length lens designed for a 1-inch sensor would be “1638mm equivalent” in terms of angle of view (calculated with 2.73 crop factor).
    – For further comparison, consider the “equivalent aperture” concept: Capturing great depth of focus, the RX10iii lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” (in terms of the actual hole size) brightest aperture of f/6.5 at wide angle to f/10.8 starting at 100mm equiv. (That is calculated as the range of f/2.4 to f/4 times crop factor of 2.73.) Great for my macro and landscape photos! However, portrait photographers and movie makers wanting shallower depth of focus may prefer a larger sensor.
    – Full frame is not necessarily “better” for all needs. Larger sensors capture more light for potentially higher quality, but require significantly larger, heavier lenses, a hindrance for travelers.
    – Currently 1-inch type sensors more than cover the image quality needs of most people, for most practical and publishable print sizes.

  2. Question from William H. on October 2, 2017:
    My wife and I do bird photography – plus general stuff. She is currently using a Sony DSC-HX400V and says she will not get a heavier camera. She loves the 1200 equivalent focal length but (no surprise) she is still unhappy with most of her pix. Would the RX-10 III give her better pix when blown up? Any other suggestion for something better than her current camera without too much more weight? Thanks!!!

    Tom Dempsey replied:
    – RX-10 III should capture significantly sharper images than Sony DSC-HX400V, especially in dimmer light, due to the significant sensor size difference and top quality lens. Digitally cropping RX-10 III’s 600mm by half to achieve 1200mm angle of view should still beat HX400V at 1200mm.
    – I am very happy with how amazingly sharp my RX10III captures birds at 600mm, as I confirmed today on a blue bird in Colorado. And the upgrade to RX-10 version IV will radically improve focus response time, especially at telephoto, great for birding and action.
    – But RX-10 III and IV weigh 37 oz, about 50% more than HX400V. You might instead consider 29-oz Panasonic FZ1000, or 33-oz FZ2500, to upgrade to the large 1-inch type sensor. Although these two cameras sacrifice telephoto reach, it may be worth having a larger sensor for generally sharper enlargements and greater ability to crop digitally.
    – Many stores like BH or Costco give you a grace period to try a camera and return if not satisfied.

  3. Thanks Tom, for your great website and information.
    I want a new camera for photographing seabirds in flight (BIF birds in flight) with CAF (continuous auto focus). Canon DSLRs with their 400mm+ lenses are usually the preferred tools by many seabirders. How would the RX10 iii be for that, especially regarding auto-focus acquiring and locking onto the target birds in flight at a distance? Might there be a better megazoom camera for that? Thanks, Tom R.

    • [Update October 18, 2017: the new Sony RX10 version IV now radically improves autofocus speed for capturing birds in flight and other action, by adding large arrays of dedicated phase-detection autofocus pixels.]

      Sony RX10 III will not focus quickly enough to consistently capture distant birds in flight — the Canon or Nikon DSLRs may be more satisfying for the BIF specialty, at the cost of much heavier weight.
      Yesterday with RX10 III, I could follow and Spot focus on a fast airplane flying nearby, but its motion is more predictable than a bird, and its focus tracking will not be on par with DSLRs.
      At the tele end 500 to 600mm equiv, RX10 III is superb at focusing crisply on non-moving subjects or predictable-motion subjects, which have contrasty edges; sharpest one stop down, at f/5.6. But fast-moving or low-contrast subjects require more care and extra seconds to focus. Today I successfully photographed distant grouse and pheasants moving on the ground.
      Other megazooms I expect will have similar focusing limitations using their Contrast Detection. DSLRs have superior Phase Detection AF for capturing action.
      But RX10 III is fantasticly versatile for my travel photography, I find. I am on my second RX10 III, after wind driven rain damaged the first one in England this month.

      • Thank you Tom! I have found those 400-600mm lenses, on Canon (or Nikon) DSLRs, are great for rapid CAF on BIF (birds in flight), BUT they are too big and heavy for me to want to carry them everywhere I go. I tried a Lumix FZ200 and loved this small light megazoom, but the tiny-sensor quality was lacking, plus making CAF work on birds-in-flight required one eye thru the viewfinder while the other one watched the bird fly and anticipated with the lens where it would go, so I could have the camera and lens there when the CAF finally locked on the bird, after which it stayed locked on. Sooo, I would be open to the RX10 iii (or other mirrorless cameras) if it was any kind of improvement over my FZ200! Am still expecting to have to struggle with Continuous Auto Focus. I am also ready to try 4k video on BIF.
        Thank you, Tom R

      • You will likely be pleased how well RX10iii’s autofocus does for birding compared to Panasonic FZ200. RX10iii’s lens and sensor gather much more light for higher quality images and better focusing. For the weight and size, you can’t beat RX10iii’s quality and capabilities, and it’s very good for my occasional wildlife and birding photography.

        RX10iii has a very useful feature for finding birds or other small subjects at 400-600mm: assign a button to “Zoom Assist”: reassign the Focus Hold button at the base of the lens to Zoom Assist. When pressed, the Zoom Assist button quickly widens the angle of view to allow re-centering upon a bird; then you can pan to follow the bird’s motion, then release Zoom Assist to restore your original narrow angle of view. Once focus is locked onto a moving subject, take the shot as soon as possible, or half press again to refocus. For isolated subjects, I prefer Expand Flexible Spot, using Single Autofocus, because Continuous Auto Focus can be problematic on any camera (unless fast-paced action requires Continuous AF, which may risk unwanted slow AF racking or hunting). Half press to lock focus on a high contrast edge of the subject, recompose, then fully click the shutter release.

        Also, turn OFF the Pre-AF option, for more reliable half-press focus-locking and quicker autofocus in the telephoto range, especially 400-600mm equivalent.

      • Thanks Tom! Your August 30th good information convinced me to give it a try. I am not expecting it to be perfect, but will get an RX10-iii and try it on birds-in-flight, and let you know how it goes. AND, having now decided to get a Sony RX10 i have also decided to wait a few weeks or months, to see if Sony releases a new mark 4 version of the RX10, incorporating the PDAF-based 1-inch sensor of their amazing RX100 mark v. Thanks. Tom R.

      • Sony RX10 IV was just announced to be available in October 2017! The updated version adds vastly-improved phase-detection autofocus (315 AF points covering 65% of the frame), the world’s fastest AF acquisition time (for 1-inch type sensors) of 0.03 seconds, touchscreen, plus Menus will be color coded and better organized, such as video menu consolidated.

  4. This is a fantastic review. I like the super long focal length in one camera and I am impressed by its quality however I am still hesitating. When it comes to 4k recording, what is the crop factor? I have heard somewhere that 24mm becomes something like 35mm. Could you confirm that? Thanks

    • When shooting video with standard 16:9 proportion, the width of the image is not cropped, just the height is cropped (compared to 3:2 stills), in order to achieve 16:9 proportion. For a given zoom setting on RX10 III, the angle of view in terms of width does not change when shooting 4K video when compared to stills (which I just now confirmed this using file format XAVC S 4K at 30p 60M, with SteadyShot=Standard). If by “crop factor” you mean this 1-inch sensor’s angle-of-view equivalence of 2.7x compared to a full frame sensor, that won’t change when shooting video versus stills. [More details: Standard “crop factor” in terms of angle of view is usually measured diagonally in comparisons to full-frame cameras, which are an arbitrary/historical frame of reference. Although the height decreases to achieve 16:9 videos (versus 3:2 stills) and changes the diagonal measurement, this effect is proportionately the same for videos shot on both full-frame and 1-inch sensors; so no change occurs in relative “crop factor”.]

      • That is the answer I was looking for. I was hesitant whether to buy it or not but now that you clarified that crop factor won’t change when shooting video versus stills I’m gonna get one for myself. I do a lot of hikes and I don’t really want to carry too many lenses with me. This camera is just perfect for my needs. I want to thank you for taking your time and testing this for me. Thanks a lot and save travels.

  5. Hello Tom, I’m looking to upgrade from a Canon SX50 and being unable to get my hands on a RX10iii in the flesh (where I am)… I’m very happy shooting full manual with my SX, and love being able to see the changes I make – by varying shutter speed and aperture – reflected in the viewfinder before I take the picture. This allows me to finetune light values and shadows on the fly when chasing flying insects (apologies for the pun); typically I use aperture for exposure compensation as I shoot handheld on the run, for example, and have my shutter speed quite high and my ISO locked as low as possible. I know that live-view qualities vary from camera manufacturer to manufacturer but don’t know how Sony implements theirs’ as I have never been in a position to hold one of their cameras. Can you tell me if I’ll be able to use an RX10iii in the same way as the SX or is live-view restricted as it is on some Panasonics, for example? …then any changes I make to aperture or shutter speed are therefore instantly seen on the viewfinder before taking the picture? I only ask as my wife’s Panny G6 does not do this in manual except via a workaround with a designated function button for previewing changes – which is a major pain to be honest! If you’re right, then this may be the next camera for me…… it will tick many boxes.

    • Yes, on RX10 III the actual depth of field (depth of focus) is automatically shown in Live View (without needing to press any special DOF preview button). I just now check on my RX10 III by changing the Aperture ring from f/2.4 or f/16 when looking at a sheet of text at an angle, and yes, the Live View in both the viewfinder and LCD reflect the deeper depth of field change as you reach f/16. Looking deep into the lens while changing the Aperture ring, you can see the pupil size physically change. If using Manual exposure, then the current combination of shutter speed and ISO choices will be reflected in how dark the image appears in Live View. Of course any subject blurring (such as a flowing stream or hand-held blur at say 10 seconds) due to your shutter speed choice won’t be seen until you actually capture the shot. The RX10 has the usual set of Manual abilities found on advanced cameras.

      The live view is excellent on the Sony RX10 III, both through the viewfinder and on the LCD. I like to set the LCD for Daylight brightness rather than energy conserving mode. Also, the RX10 III live view is much superior to that of most DSLR cameras which have very slow autofocus (due to poorer Contrast Detection algorithms) when using Live View. (The fast phase-detection autofocus in most DSLR designs requires looking through the optical viewfinder to achieve autofocus faster than mirrorless cameras such as the RX10, which uses a fast version of Contrast Detection AF but no phase detection.)

  6. …This “bright” f2.4-4 lens is actually a not so bright FF equivalent f/6.5-10.8 lens. If you are going to equate the focal length to FF by the crop factor, the least you can do is be is honest about the aperture AND ISO equivalence as well. The ISO equivalence of a 1 inch sensor compared to FF is 7.3 times the ISO reading, so a “low” ISO 100 would actually be ISO 730 on FF…

    • Your example of theoretical “ISO equivalence” is misleading. It’s true that full frame is 7.3x bigger in area than the 1″-Type sensor on RX10III, but the real-world image quality of the small sensor at base ISO 100 is better than you imagined: the difference is unnoticeable on screens or in small prints, which covers the photo needs of most people.

      At base ISO 100 captured in bright light, few people can tell the difference between a modern 1″-Type sensor versus full frame (except maybe in the largest prints, more than 2 or 3 feet wide, when viewed closer than 3 feet). In large prints, the advantage of a full frame sensor over a contemporary 1″-Type BSI sensor doesn’t become noticeably in terms of low noise until shot around ISO 400+ (a few stops above base ISO). Small prints wouldn’t show the difference unless both sensors are shot around ISO 3200+. Also, sensor designs of different sizes and generations differ too much to talk about theoretical “ISO equivalence”; for example, a BSI sensor is much more efficient than non-BSI in terms of low noise at a given ISO setting.

      Interestingly, an f/2.4 lens on a 1″-Type sensor has physically the same brightness as f/2.4 lens on a full frame sensor. “Brightness” is defined as light intensity (lumens per square mm of the sensor). “Brightness” at a given F stop is the same for all sensor sizes. On any sensor size, F2.4-4 would be incredibly bright for a zoom which goes from 24 to 600mm “equivalent” (referring solely to angle of view in terms of full frame). Such a 25x zoom lens doesn’t even exist on any sensor larger than 1″-Type. To cover this same range on a larger sensor requires a system (camera + multiple lenses) more than 2 to 3 times heavier.

      I see a big advantage for bird and macro photography in having greater depth of focus (FF equivalent f/6.5-10.8 in terms of pupil diameter) for such a bright f/4 lens (which is its brightest aperture from 100mm to 600mm equivalent in terms of angle of view). In contrast, larger sensor camera (such as full frame) captures a shallower depth of focus for a given F stop, which can be helpful for portraits (by isolating subjects by throwing the background more out of focus). Different size tools are suitable for different jobs.

      Of course a bigger sensor has a larger total light-gathering surface area (capturing more light per sensel, and per effective pixel), for better low-light performance at high ISO, and potentially larger sharper prints. For a 3-foot wide print, a full frame sensor isn’t noticeably cleaner than APS-C until about ISO 3200 or higher. As sensor sizes now commonly range from smartphone to medium format, “full frame” has become a useful reference for comparison in terms of “mm equivalent” angle of view (arbitrarily inherited from the popular 35mm-film era). But for capturing subjective image quality, your artistic skills are vastly more important than camera choice.

      Directly related: “Compare Sensor Sizes” and “Telephoto Lens Reviews“.

  7. Tom, Thanks for an excellent review. I have just used the RX-10III (1k shots) on a trip and in general am quite pleased. I went in as both a full frame DSLR owner and having used the original RX-100 for 4 years. I agree with most of your comments on the advantages of having an all-in one camera with an incredible zoom.

    However my one big disappointment is the lack of phase detection auto focus that Sony implemented on the RX-100V. The Rx-10IIIs contrast detection AF leaves a lot to be desired especially zoomed in at 400-600mm. Also, not having a touchscreen LCD with focus point control is another miss. Agree the Sony menu are a mess and hopefully they can improve that with software update. Maybe all this will be implemented in [a future RX-10 IV]!

  8. It is only a pity the zoom control ring is dreadfully slow, I measured 4 sec. from 24 to 600mm, but I think a truly manual, mechanical control would have been very cumbersome. Quite all compact or bridge cameras have a “zoom-fly-by-wire” (?), only separate zoom lenses have mechanical rings, which are at least ten times quicker.
    Marc
    PS regarding the size of the EVF: 0.70x brings a wider EVF with 2/3 as 0.74x with a 3/4 EVF. Just take two camera and you see the differnce immediately.
    Of course a 0.77x EVF on a 2/3 is incredibly huge, as seen on the Fuji XT!

    • RX10 III’s zoom takes just 2 seconds from 24 to 600mm when you change the default Zoom Speed to “Fast” in Menu > Settings Tab 2 > Set #3. That is so overly fast that I usually turn it back to Normal to achieve finer framing control, taking 4 seconds from 24 to 600mm. The Fast and Normal speeds apply to still shots, but during Movie mode it thankfully automatically invokes a slower, smoother zoom so as not to jar video viewers. After 5 weeks shooting in Switzerland, I have no complaints about the zoom speed from 24 to 600mm in Normal mode. The power zoom being locked on track at all settings is much superior to the annoying zoom creep (slippage when pointed upwards or downwards unless held still with your hand) of most manual 11x zooms made by Sony, Nikon and others for APS-C cameras. The short 2 or 4 seconds to rack through its incredible 25x zoom is far superior to the longer inconvenience of changing lenses required on interchangeable lens systems such as APS-C or full frame, which I formerly used 1978-2015. The RX10 has a great EVF.

  9. I am looking to upgrade my travel camera. I currently use a Sony DSC HX50V which is a small sensor camera but with which I am very pleased with the quality, versatility and 30x zoom. It also fits in my shirt pocket.

    I was looking to buy the RX10 III but now Panasonic has released the FZ2000/2500. It only has 20x zoom but similar specs to the Sony RX10 III. It is newer and has some additional features. My primary role for the camera is Still photos.

    Do you still recommend the Sony? If so why?
    Thanks

    • Suddenly this year we have some great new choices for extremely versatile travel cameras, capturing higher quality than ever in this size range. For your upgrade from shirt-pocket-size to midsize camera, the Panasonic FZ2500 (or FZ2000 in some markets) should be great (new in December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom 24-480mm F2.8–4.5) — one of my top picks for travel camera, adding useful flip out LCD with touchscreen, larger viewfinder magnification (EVF 0.74x versus 0.7x) and video specs beating Sony RX10 III. Also Panasonic’s menus are better organized than Sony’s.

      However, if you enjoy wildlife or bird photography or want a slightly higher quality lens (half stop faster) with incredible telephoto reach using the same sensor, Sony RX10 III (37 oz, 25x zoom 24-600mm F2.4-4) is worth the extra dollars, weighing just 4 more ounces, offering longer CIPA battery life of 420 shots (versus 350 shots for FZ2500).

      Or, to save money and weight, while still jumping the image quality significantly above your current Sony DSC HX50V, consider the excellent Panasonic FZ1000 (2014, 29 oz, 16x zoom 25-400mm) with the same excellent Sony 1-inch BSI sensor.

  10. Excellent review, especially comparing many competitors in details.
    However, I’m interested if RX10 III competes with Nikon D3300 + 18-300mm (eq. 27 to 450 mm)
    In Canada, D3300 (C$430, 340g/15oz) + 18-300mm (C$880, 550g/20oz) is much cheaper & slightly lighter than RX10 III (C$2000)

    • If you need a bright F4 wildlife lens reaching 600mm equivalent, Sony RX10 III should clearly beat the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens (27-450mm equivalent), which only reaches 450mm equivalent, and is a full aperture stop slower throughout the range. Sony RX10 III has a remarkably bright f/2.4-4 lens and captures a wider 25x range (versus 17x on Nikon), starting wider at 24mm and ending longer at 600mm equivalent. For collecting light onto the sensor, 18-300’s 67mm filter diameter is smaller than the 72mm diameter of the RX10 III. The RX10III’s faster, larger-diameter lens plus stacked Backside Illumination (BSI) sensor technology together compensate for the sensor size difference of APS-C versus 1″. Also RX10 gives you a nicely weather-sealed body and lens, not found on the Nikon gear. This helps control dust on the sensor and controls moisture fogging.

      The sensor megapixel count difference of RX10’s 20mp versus D3300’s 24 mp is not very significant. Theoretically, cropping could extend the Nikon reach to around 500mm equivalent in comparison. But I think you’ll find RX10 III has sharper glass throughout, especially at furthest telephoto. In 90% of my test shots, the RX10 III beat image quality from the much bigger sensor (APS-C) in Sony’s flagship A6300 mounted with 11x Sony SEL18200 silver lens (27-300mm equivalent). Similarly, RX10 III should outperform Tamron’s 19x zoom 16-300mm equivalent lens and best all current 11x-17x zoom lenses by Nikon, Canon and Sigma (when mounted on APS-C systems of up to 24 megapixels, such as the D3300), based upon how similarly SEL18200 lens compares to them in reviews at SLRgear.com, DxOMark.com, and others.

      RX10 also has a superior viewfinder. For me, the worst problem of DSLRs such as Nikon D3300 is the horribly slow autofocus (1-3 seconds) in Live View mode seen on the LCD. You are forced to use the optical viewfinder, which fails to show instant feedback on the final digital rendering of the subject. In contrast, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) gives superior instant feedback — a continuous live view of the final digital version. In an optical viewfinder, what you see is NOT what you get. On a digital viewfinder, the digital level (to make subjects level with gravity & horizon line), histogram, flashing highlight warning, feedback on focus, and other shot information are all truly helpful in real time as you shoot.

      The price difference versus Nikon D3300 is well worth the gains. Check the prices at B&H of NY. Check out my Switzerland photos from this summer using RX10 III, including ibex. I’ve enjoyed Nikon gear in the past (Nikon N70, D40X, D60, D5000 with 18-200 VR II), but now I’ve upgraded to a superior, more versatile travel tool in the Sony RX10 III.

  11. Tom received this question from: Samuel October 31, 2016 at 1:52 am:
    Mr. Dempsey, I’ve enjoyed reading over several sections on your website here, but am still having difficulty deciding on a camera purchase. I live and work in south asia, most of my time in India as a sustainable development worker. It’s a seasonal monsoon climate where I’m at – half the year in dust, half the year in heavy rain – so weatherproofing is a must. Last year we were in Meghalaya, allegedly the wettest place on earth. I was using my iPhone with a lifeproof case, and while i was able to shoot in the monsoon downpours, I just was not getting the photo’s I wanted.

    I also visit the Himalayas of Nepal several times a year, as we work in a few remote villages there, so lighter weight, unobtrusive / compact size, and overall toughness is also important. I would like to visit several base camps in the coming years. I’d prefer not to have to carry lenses, though if it was worth it I would consider it. I am an enthusiast, not a professional. I love shooting landscapes, but find the incredible variety of human countenances and dress in this part of the world just as captivating. I havent shot a lot of video, but as our organization is non-profit I’ve been asked more and more to provide video from the field for various fundraising events for our work.

    In addition, my family is celebrating Christmas in Iceland this year, and I’d like to have the camera on hand to shoot the northern lights. My wife and I will also be taking two short side trips to the fjords of Norway followed by Paris afterwards, so there’s a lot of variety going on.

    I can tell you are a big fan of the Sony RX10 III, which has been a really enticing option, as I am drawn in by the all-in-one character, and it sounds like a great deal in general. Given the above parameters of weatherproofing/toughness, portability/unobtrusiveness (we often work closely with impoverished communities, and I’d be self conscious with a huge expensive camera…), and variety of conditions and subjects, would this camera still be a top recommendation? Thank you sincerely for your advice!

    Tom Dempsey answers:
    I suggest going to a camera store to try holding the Sony RX10 III in your hand, to judge its portability/unobtrusiveness. It is chunky, about the size of a typical DSLR with top lens; yet it covers an incredible range 24-600mm equivalent, from close macro to distant wildlife. You’ll never need another lens; which greatly simplifies your gear. It’s the smallest possible system at this level of very high quality, weighing just 37 ounces (including battery & card; plus adding 5 oz for strap, lens filter, cap & hood makes 42 oz), with more than enough quality for professional publishing. Also it is excellent for video, such as 4K.

    RX10 III really is ideal for travel, covering all possible subjects, better than any previous camera I’ve ever owned.
    In daylight, it has surprisingly low noise as high as ISO 3200. Using a tripod at ISO 1600 or slower (preferably 400 or slower for least noise) should be an okay compromise for capturing Northern Lights (where larger sensor cameras are better optimized for very low light). Most of your shots will be in daylight, though, where RX10 III excels with fast & sharp lens, virtually equaling the quality of the best APS-C-sensor cameras (within 5% plus or minus, depending upon the lens you use for APS-C).

    If you want something smaller, you’ll sacrifice a lot of quality and lens range if you want to keep the weatherproof feature. One of the best inexpensive weatherproof pocket cameras is:
    Olympus Tough TG-4 (2015, 8.7 oz, 25-100mm equiv 4x zoom).

    As alternatives to Sony RX10 version III, below is a list of more weather-sealed, “compact” cameras (non-interchangeable-lens) with a large zoom, the first three having 1” sensor size, and last three having a tiny 1/2.3″ sensor (which gathers light in a surface area 4 times smaller):

    1. Sony RX10 II (2015), 20 MP, 1″ BSI-CMOS Sensor, 24–200 mm f/2.8 Lens, 29 oz/813 g
    2. Sony RX10 (2014 version), 20 MP, 1″ BSI-CMOS Sensor, 24–200 mm f/2.8 Lens, 29 oz/813 g
    3. Canon G3X (2015), 20 MP, 1″ BSI-CMOS Sensor, 24–600 mm f/2.8-5.6 Lens, 733 g
    4. Panasonic FZ300 (2015), 12 MP, 1/2.3” sensor, 25 – 600mm f2.8 lens, 24.4 oz/691 g — best bang-for-the-buck in this list.
    5. Fujifilm S1 (2011), 16 MP, 1/2.3″ CMOS Sensor, 24–1200 mm f/2.8-5.6 Lens, 680 g
    6. Olympus Tough TG-4, 16 MP, 1/2.3″ BSI-CMOS Sensor, 25–100 mm Lens, 247 g — the only pocket-sized camera of these six.

  12. You picked literally one of the worst lenses (18-200) Sony makes for this comparison, so I dont really think its very fair. The 16-70 Zeiss is a good lens but not great, Sony’s own 18-105mm F4 G OSS is at least as sharp, has more reach and costs $400 less.

    But its hard to deny the value of this camera even at $1500, its very difficult to find a combination that offers the same flexibility and quality. The a6300 can produce much higher image quality but only with primes or a lens like the $1200 Sony FE 70-300mm, and you still dont get the same range or convenience. Hard to deny this camera is amazing, but if you’re purely chasing IQ, a 1″ sensor with an F4 zoom lens isnt the direction to go in.

    • I appreciate your feedback. As a practical matter for fellow travelers, what camera gear do you personally carry on say an 8-mile hike on an international trip? That’s my target audience. Our past 5 weeks in Switzerland covered about 170 miles in 24 hikes, where I carried the Sony RX10 III, which covered all my needs from wildlife (ibex), to wildflowers, to landscapes, to people portraiture, to video (often switching from one to the other within seconds, too fast for a lens change). The image quality is very impressive, more than sufficient for my publishing needs for print and web. – Tom

      Chris replied: I carry a full camera bag, but I realize thats just not realistic for most travelers. My 2nd camera is an RX100IV and in many cases I prefer it for street photography which is my primary focus where having very deep depth of field at f/4+ is ideal. I don’t think you can make a mistake buying almost any modern camera, but if you can afford Sony they have some of the best features around, especially if you do video!

  13. I presently have the original RX100 which I find very nice for most family events but lacking in zoom (3.6x optical) when out on the lake and wanting to photograph water birds and other wildlife. How does the RX10 iii compare to the original RX100 for typical room shots of family events with fluorescent lighting? My RX100 frequently distorts on the edges at widest angle. Is this an issue for the RX10 iii? Thanks.

    • As with most wide angle lenses around this range, the 24mm equivalent of RX10 iii will also distort people at the edges, making them tall and thin. A workaround is to correct the Distortion somewhat with software; or zoom slightly to 35mm equivalent and stitch a panorama (manually or automatically).

  14. Great review, will most likely buy the RX10III for my next trip to Japan. My only doubt left regards the absence of a built in nd filter. I do a lot of video as well. I trust your hands on approach on that. Thanks in advance.

    • While it’s true that RX10III lacks electronic ND filter (Neutral Density), you can simply attach a glass ND filter to the threads on the front of the lens when needed, the old-fashioned way. This could be almost as quick as trying to find settings in the notoriously disorganized Sony menus ;) [For video, an ND filter is important in bright light, when using smallest f-numbers (wide open, brightest apertures) to achieve shallower depth of focus, especially effective for portraiture or isolating subjects.] Otherwise, RX10III is reputedly one of the best-ever cameras for video.
      By the way, I don’t shoot much video, so lack of ND filter doesn’t much affect my nature travel photography, where I often seek extra depth of focus by stopping down the aperture. And at f/16, RX10III creates a wonderful star effect emanating from the sun and from lightbulb points. (The star is not found at smaller apertures where rounded blades kick in for more attractive bokeh, the appearance of the out-of-focus areas.)

  15. Thanks for a great review and a very useful approach – comparing all the factors (including price, performance and versatility) that go into making a decision among competing cameras and systems. If there were a good 18-300mm lens (with full IS) for the a6000/a6300, that might be the best solution, but until that day it looks like the RX10 III (which although expensive is still cheaper that a6000/a6300 + long zoom) is the best kit.

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