2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona

In April 2021, we boated 226 gorgeous miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek over 16 eventful days. My peak experience was hiking 8 miles up sparkling Tapeats Creek to impressive Thunder River, across the remote desert of Surprise Valley, then down to delightful Deer Creek Slot Canyon and Falls. Carol’s favorite was swimming beautiful bright-turquoise water down travertine terraces of the Little Colorado River. See camera and clothing tips at bottom.

All images from rafting the Grand Canyon April 3-18, 2021


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “2021 Apr 3-18: rafting Grand Canyon, AZ.” Highlights from this show are conveniently laid out further below.

The following video by fellow rafter Amanda Byrd and friends encapsulates the fun and joy of our trip. Please turn on Captions (CC/Subtitles) to read the words by Rebecca Douglass, sung by clients to their guides, to the tune of “The Sound of Silence” written by Paul Simon.

Above: YouTube video Hello Water My Old Friend – Grand Canyon April, 2021

Among the 15 Grand Canyon river concessioners, I chose:

Our skillful guides formed a truly exceptional team, as they enthusiastically served tasty food and spun river lore. This 16-day hikers’ special (offered only in April and late September) provides more onshore time than other trips to explore the wonderful side canyons, and lets you experience three kinds of craft (1 paddle raft, 1 dory boat, and 4 oar rafts). Plunging through whitewater and unplugging into sandy wildland camping for more than two weeks stretched our minds in new ways, away from clamorous news and social media. Grand Canyon’s colorful rock layers took us to awesome depths revealing 40% of Earth’s geologic history.

Having already paddled through the Grand Canyon in 1990 May 1-14 on a paddle boat run by Canyon Explorations, in 2021, I relaxed on AZRA’s dory and oar boats, each rowed by a guide, which left my hands free to take pictures—except when clinging to the boat during rapids! The many exciting rapids consumed only 10% of float time, leaving 90% placid time for contemplating canyon splendor, in the company of 24 nature-loving passengers and 7 guides. Minor discomforts included chilly wetness alternating with withering heat and living over two weeks in a sandy tent without hot showers. When wind subsided, many enjoyed sleeping without a tent under the brilliant starry night in the clear desert air with no rain.

Selfie view from Nankoweap Granaries Trail in Marble Canyon at Colorado River Mile 53.4. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Selfie view from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4.

I recommend this great book: While a dangerous Colorado River deluge threatened Glen Canyon Dam in 1983, three legendary river runners set an incredible speed record, rowing through the entire Grand Canyon (277 miles) in just a day-and-a-half using a dory boat. Their thrilling adventure is poetically interwoven with natural and historical context, including struggles between conservationists and dam engineers, in the following classic:
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon [at Amazon]” by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

Photo highlights

The following photo highlights are gleaned from the animated gallery show at top. Colorado River Mile 0 starts at Lees Ferry embarkation…

Initially masked per pandemic rafting regulations, our Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) group embarks from Lees Ferry to boat the Colorado River for 226 miles through Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, USA. Masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for embarkation at Lees Ferry, while being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings, April 3-18, 2021. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Initially masked per pandemic rafting regulations, our Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) group embarks from Lees Ferry (Mile 0) to boat down the Colorado River for 226 miles through Grand Canyon National Park. For pandemic safety, masks were required during the initial AZRA meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for embarkation at Lees Ferry, while being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings.

Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The new bridge was completed in 1995. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The adjacent new bridge was completed in 1995.

A rare California condor takes flight from Historic 1929 Navajo Bridge, US Highway 89A, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The adjacent new bridge was completed in 1995. Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: One of the world’s rarest birds, a California condor (tagged for research) takes flight from the Historic 1929 Navajo Bridge. As of 2021, the world total of California condors is around 500, more than half of which are in the wild. Although still endangered and facing ongoing challenges such as lead poisoning, they’ve come a long way since numbering just 22 in 1982.

Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (River Mile 5.9) on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for initial embarkation at Lees Ferry, when being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings, April 3-18, 2021. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (at River Mile 5.9).

Day 1 of 16 rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rowing through a rapid on Day 1 of 16 days boating through the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on Day 2, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, “The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints.”

Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Desert spiny lizard. We had lunch at South Canyon at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Desert spiny lizard, seen at South Canyon lunch spot at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jed spins a river tale in Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Crinoid fossil at Redwall Cavern in Marble Canyon at River Mile 33.3, seen on day 2 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Crinoid fossil at Redwall Cavern in Marble Canyon at River Mile 33.3, seen on Day 2.

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) dory boat at Tatahatso Wash Camp (Mile 37.9) on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) dory boat at Tatahatso Wash Camp (River Mile 37.9) in the late afternoon of Day 2.

View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4 on Day 3.

We hiked to the prehistoric Nankoweap Granaries (1 mile round trip with 700-foot gain) from Main Nankoweap Camp at Colorado River Mile 53.4 for this view of Marble Canyon. In 1960, archaeologist Douglas W. Schwartz found corncobs, a pumpkin shell, and pumpkin seeds inside the granaries, evidently harvested from Nankoweap Creek Delta by Ancestral Puebloans between AD 1050 and 1150. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin. Hike to the prehistoric Nankoweap Granaries (1 mile round trip with 700-foot gain) from Main Nankoweap Camp at Colorado River Mile 53.4 in Marble Canyon. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin on the Nankoweap Granaries Trail.

Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4.

Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days.

A swimmer in Little Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66. Day 4 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66 on Day 4.

Furnace Flats seen from the Tabernacle Trail. Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 ft gain from Colorado River Mile 74.6 to the Tabernacle butte (4830 ft elevation). The trail starts from Upper Rattlesnake Camp by ascending a steep hogsback spine of Dox Sandstone. Atop the Tabernacle, admire views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Furnace Flats and the Palisades of the Desert. Day 5 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Furnace Flats seen from the Tabernacle Trail. Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 feet gain from Colorado River Mile 74.6 to the Tabernacle butte (4830 ft elevation). The trail starts from Upper Rattlesnake Camp by ascending a steep hogsback spine of Dox Sandstone. Atop the Tabernacle, admire views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Furnace Flats and the Palisades of the Desert. Day 5.

AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6.

Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (River Mile 84.8) in the Inner Gorge. Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. "The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge." - geologistwriter.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (River Mile 84.8) in the Inner Gorge. Day 6.

“The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge.” —GeologistWriter.com

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson rows under Bright Angel Bridge (aka Silver Bridge). Built in the late 1960s, the Silver Bridge supports hikers and the transcanyon water pipeline across the Colorado River, connecting the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim. Hikers only (no mules) may cross this narrow suspension bridge. Five-hundred-thousand gallons of water a day are piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim down Bright Angel Canyon through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and then pumped up to provide almost all of the water to the South Rim tourist area. Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson rows under Bright Angel Bridge (aka Silver Bridge). Built in the late 1960s, the Silver Bridge supports hikers and the transcanyon water pipeline across the Colorado River, connecting the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim. Hikers only (no mules) may cross this narrow suspension bridge. Five-hundred-thousand gallons of water a day are piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim down Bright Angel Canyon through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and then pumped up to provide almost all of the water to the South Rim tourist area. Day 6.

Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. "The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge." - geologistwriter.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5. Day 6.

Tents glow at night under the stars in Schist Camp in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at Colorado River Mile 96.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tents glow at night under the stars in Schist Camp in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at Colorado River Mile 96.5 on Day 6.

Glenn gets splashed fafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Glenn gets splashed rafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7.

Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7.

Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 on Day 8.

Basement rocks of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite in Garnet Canyon. Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). The Vishnu Basement Rocks average about 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consists of mica schist. These were originally sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as todays Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period then topped by new sediments deposited by advancing and retreating seas. The crystalline Vishnu Basement Rocks underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks consist of metamorphic rocks collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, sections of which contain granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded into fractures as dikes. Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Basement rocks of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite in Garnet Canyon; trailhead is near Colorado River Mile 115.5. Day 8.

The Vishnu Basement Rocks average about 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consist of mica schist. These were originally sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as todays Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period then topped by new sediments deposited by advancing and retreating seas. The crystalline Vishnu Basement Rocks underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks consist of metamorphic rocks collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, sections of which contain granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded into fractures as dikes.

Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 on Day 8.

Tent & laundry line at Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp at Colorado River Mile 120.3 (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tent & laundry line at Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here) at Colorado River Mile 120.3 on Day 8.

Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Day 9 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp on Day 9.

Tom showers in Stone Creek waterfall at Colorado River Mile 132.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 9 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tom showers in Stone Creek waterfall at Colorado River Mile 132.5 on Day 9.

Below: Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app).
Hike up Tapeats Creek from River Mile 134.5 in Grand Canyon NP, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek, in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek. Day 10.

Echinocereus triglochidiatus is a species of hedgehog cactus commonly known as claret cup cactus, Mojave mound cactus, or kingcup cactus. (It is the official state cactus of Colorado.) Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: along the trail up Thunder River, Echinocereus triglochidiatus is a species of hedgehog cactus commonly known as claret cup cactus, Mojave mound cactus, or kingcup cactus (the official state cactus of Colorado).

The astounding volume of water in Thunder River emerges year-round from a deep cave system of Muav Limestone. The half-mile-long Thunder River drops 1200 feet over a series of waterfalls, making it the steepest river in the USA, and one of the shortest. It's a rare instance where a river is a tributary of a creek. While Tapeats Creek was named by the second Powell Expedition in the winter of 1871–1872, the expedition did not discover its main tributary, Thunder River (which wasn't found by European-Americans until 1904). Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The astounding volume of water in Thunder River emerges year-round from a deep cave system of Muav Limestone. The half-mile-long Thunder River drops 1200 feet over a series of waterfalls, making it the steepest river in the USA, and one of the shortest. It’s a rare instance where a river is a tributary of a creek. While Tapeats Creek was named by the second Powell Expedition in the winter of 1871–1872, the expedition did not discover its main tributary, Thunder River (which wasn’t found by European-Americans until 1904). Day 10.

Deer Creek slot canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon on Day 10. (Photo © Carol Dempsey)

Deer Creek slot canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon at River Mile 136.9.

Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon at River Mile 134.5 on Day 10.

Scalloped rock pattern. Day 11 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Scalloped rock pattern on Day 11.

A healthy male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) seen on Day 12 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. 31 years after I last rafted the Grand Canyon in 1990, I noticed lots more (dozens of) native bighorn sheep in 2021, a healthy sign for this fascinating ecosystem, which is gradually recovering since nonnative wild burros were removed in the 1960s. Since Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, floods no longer scour the vegetation or deposit as much sand on the diminishing beaches (which affects rafters). Aggressive nonnative species such as tamarisk trees continue to threaten native riparian biodiversity. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A healthy male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). Day 12.

31 years after I last rafted the Grand Canyon in 1990, I noticed lots more (dozens of) native bighorn sheep in 2021, a healthy sign for this fascinating ecosystem, which is gradually recovering since nonnative wild burros were removed in the 1960s. Since Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, floods no longer scour the vegetation or deposit as much sand on the diminishing beaches (which affects rafters). Aggressive nonnative species such as tamarisk trees continue to threaten native riparian biodiversity.

Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6. Day 12 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6 on Day 12.

Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13.

Canyon walls tower over our boats on Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Canyon walls tower over AZRA boats on Day 13.

A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9 on Day 13.

A motorized raft runs Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A motorized raft runs notorious Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.

Rafting through Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We raft through the anxiously-awaited Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.

Starting from River Mile 187.9 in Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail goes 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain, heading south into Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument, on Day 14 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Starting from River Mile 187.9 in Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail heads north into Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument (covering 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain). Day 14 of 16 days rafting.

Hexagonal basalt columns. Hike Whitmore Trail (about 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain) from Colorado River Mile 187.9. Day 14 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hexagonal cross-sections of basalt columns on Whitmore Trail at Mile 187.9 on Day 14.

A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon at Colorado River Mile 220.1. Day 15 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon at Colorado River Mile 220.1 on Day 15.

At Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, we stayed at the Middle Camp at Colorado River Mile 220.1. This photo is on the morning of Day 16 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: At Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, we stayed at the Middle Camp at Colorado River Mile 220.1. Photographed on our last morning, on Day 16.

On the last of 16 days boating together for 226 miles, our group lay down on the job of raft deflation, at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, Arizona, USA. During this pandemic trip (April 3-18, 2021), masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for initial embarkation at Lees Ferry, for serving lines at all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, our healthy outdoor raft trip was unencumbered by facial coverings. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On the last of 16 days boating together for 226 miles, our group lay down on the job of raft deflation, at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.

Camera recommendations for rafting

  • Smartphones cameras: should be waterproof and well protected, such as in a Temdan smartphone case which gives easy access to all buttons, including the power button. Your smartphone case or holder should have a lanyard attachable to your life vest with a small locking carabiner. Our waterproof Samsung Note 9 smartphones were useful as my wife’s main camera and my backup. (Our Willbox Professional case was too bulky and wasted precious phone power by not allowing power button access.)
  • Recommended: waterproof, shockproof, dust-resistant Olympus Tough TG-6 waterproof camera (2019, 9 oz, 25-100mm, f/2.0-4.9 lens), which can potentially beat contemporary smartphone image quality if you shoot and edit raw file format, as I did using the earlier TG-4.
  • For photography on dry land, I recommend the best POCKETABLE CAMERA , the 8x zoom Sony RX100 VII (price at Amazon) or RX100 VI with 1-inch Type sensor. Read my Sony RX100M6 review. This pocket camera, backup batteries, and soft carrying case fit well inside the Pelican 1060 Micro Case. When your guide on a motor rig, oar boat, or dory says that you have enough placid time before the next rapid, it’s possible to risk the camera out of the hard case for quick shots (which isn’t practical if you are an active paddler on a paddle boat).
  • Portable charger battery pack: is essential for recharging smartphones and cameras for the extended time away from electrical outlets.
  • Beware that bringing a larger or pricier camera risks damage from sand, water, and impacts.
  • A hard waterproof case (such as Pelican case) is required to protect your camera or anything fragile. (On the boat, your gear is stored in flexible dry bags which are tossed about, compressed by straps, and may be stepped upon as people clamber around.)

Clothing recommendations for rafting

Brrrr, my inadequate raincoat failed to defray the frequent splashes from the bone-chilling 50- to 55-degree-Fahrenheit water, released from the frigid bottom of Lake Powell! As rapids doused us randomly and intense sun alternated with canyon shade, we frequently vacillated between being too cold or too hot! Dressing in layers was helpful to a point, but when soaked, any extra layers added for warm tend to retain frigid water and delay drying out. That’s why you see the guides counter-intuitively wearing few layers (helped by frequent rowing to raise body temperature). Keep dry clothes, a warm knit hat, and hiking shoes available in your waterproof day bag.

  • Waterproof paddling jacket: Invest in a long paddling jacket with a fitted waterproof neck (I say with hindsight).
  • In early April 2021, record-warm air temperatures helped us warm up and dry out in the sun, but then overheating became a risk. When afternoon hiking became uncomfortably hot (85 to 90+ degrees), presoaking our shirts felt great. For handling intense sun while boating on a hot day, we liked shading ourselves with a multi-use cotton sarong wetted in river water. When you wear shorts on a hot afternoon then get cold as evening falls, a warm dry sarong stylishly wraps legs, for both women and men.
  • Footwear: While boating, on some days I wore lightweight waterproof breathable socks with Crocs sandals with heal straps and enclosed toe box; but cleaning and drying the socks took more time and effort than using wetsuit booties. Beware, those who wore bare feet in sandals were exposed to intense sunburn through the open slats. My wetsuit booties worked well in the rafts, but had painfully-thin soles for the frequent walks on rocks. Instead, I recommend wetsuit boots that have a stiff waffle tread, to accommodate shorter hikes of up to a mile or so. For longer hikes, change into dry trail-running shoes (like Altra’s “Olympus” or Hoka) with good hiking socks. To prevent skin cracking in the dry desert air, frequently moisturize your hands and feet (especially the heal), because repeated river splashes suck away your natural oils.
  • Sun gloves: “Coolibar UPF 50+ Gannett UV Gloves – Sun Protective” are worn by me throughout the day in dry climates and on any hike. If you paddle a lot, instead pick a good paddle glove. To prevent skin cancer, get gloves that fully cover your finger tips.
  • Hats: For rafting and desert hiking: Sunday Afternoons Sun Guide Cap. For any hiking: Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat. I brought both.
  • Dry bags: For protection from water and sand, bring extra lightweight dry bags and waterproof resealable plastic bags for clothing and gear. Expect that the company-provided dry bags may leak, so everything should be double or triple bagged. Bring carabiners to lock your day bag and water bottles to the boat.

Itinerary: our rafting, hiking, and camping locations April 3-18, 2021

Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterized our RV before leaving it for 16 days at the departure hotel. On the evening of April 2, trip participants masked up and met Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) at Little America Flagstaff to prepare for the float trip.

  • Day 1: April 3: Ride AZRA bus from Flagstaff to Lees Ferry (Colorado River Mile 0) to meet the guides and board the meticulously prepared boats—4 rafts, 1 dory, and 1 paddle boat. Lunch at Six Mile Wash (5.9) (Georgie White’s favorite camp). Camp at Twentymile Camp (20.2). Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon.
  • Day 2: April 4: Lunch at South Canyon (Mile 31.8). Stop at Redwall Cavern (Mile 33.3). Camp at Tatahatso Wash (Mile 37.9)
  • Day 3: April 5: See Anasazi Foot Bridge (Ancestral Puebloan Foot Bridge) at 43.5. Lunch, then hike to the Nankoweap Granaries. Some hike further to Little Nankoweap to spot the snow-capped North Rim. Two boats doing fish research swing by and gave us a talk about their project. Camp at Main Nankoweap Camp (53.4).
  • Day 4: April 6: Stopped for a float on Little Colorado River (61.7), beautiful turquoise blue. Lunch. Boat to Lava Canyon Camp (65.9). Hike a short distance in Lava Canyon.
  • Day 5: April 7: Boat to Upper Rattlesnake Camp (74.6). Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 ft gain to the Tabernacle (4830 ft elevation). See burrow trace fossils.
  • Day 6: April 8: Float the Inner Gorge, a big rapid day. Stop to scout then run Hance Rapid. Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (84.8). Schist Camp (96.5).
  • Day 7: April 9: Early arrival at Parkins Inscription Camp at Mile 108.6. Little-known “Geo. W. Parkins” neatly carved his name and “Washington D.C. 1903” into this hard Vishnu Schist rock. Lunch. From Parkins Inscription Camp, we hiked North Bass Trail to Shinumo Creek, to Bass’s old camp (featuring old rusting kitchenware). A dip in the rushing waters of Shinumo Creek refreshed us on an unusually hot April day.
  • Day 8: April 10: Stop downstream of Garnet Canyon at (115.5). Clamber up steep rocks with the help of guides, then hike upstream to Garnet Canyon for lunch. Boat to Elves Chasm (117.2). Boat to Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp (120.3) (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here.)
  • Day 9: April 11: Stop at Stone Creek Camp (132.5) for short hike to first waterfall of Stone Creek. Boat to Talking Heads Camp (133.7) for lunch and relaxing afternoon.
  • Day 10: April 12: Quick float just 0.7 miles down to Below Tapeats Camp (134.5), where Tom traverse hikes (8 miles with 2600 feet gain) with Rebecca and several others up Tapeats Creek Trail to Thunder River and Spring, across Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail (wilted by 90+ degrees Fahrenheit conditions until reaching the cool creek) to The Patio, Deer Creek Slot Canyon, and Deer Creek Falls, where the boats are moored at River Mile 136.9. Others rafted down to Deer Creek, where some stayed at Deer Creek Waterfall while a larger group hiked up to The Patio area or beyond. Guides John and Bekah ran a reverse hike to pick up remaining rafts at Tapeats Creek and ferry down to Deer Creek. We then briefly float across the river to OC’s Camp (137.1).
  • Day 11: April 13: Lunch at Upper Ledges (151.9). Boat to 158.7 Mile Camp (Bloody Ledges Camp).
  • Day 12: April 14: Early arrival at Fern Glen Camp (168.6). Lunch then hike up Fern Glen Canyon.
  • Day 13: April 15: Stop at Mohawk Canyon (171.9) for hike. Boat to 172.6 Camp for lunch. Stop to scout, then run the anxiously awaited Lava Falls Rapid (179.7) and Son of Lava Falls Rapid! No problems. Boat to Below Lower Lava Camp (aka Tequila Beach, at 180.1)
  • Day 14: April 16: Hike Whitmore Trail up to Whitmore Overlook (3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain) from Colorado River Mile 187.9, followed by lunch on a sand bar island surrounded by a river eddy. Boat to Below Parashant Camp (198.9).
  • Day 15: April 17: Lunch at Two Hundred and Fourteen Mile Camp (214.5). Mike and Jen chose to swim Three Springs Rapid (216). Boat to Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, Middle Camp (220.1).
  • Day 16: April 18. Boat to the take-out at Diamond Creek (Colorado River Mile 225.9) on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Ride the AZRA bus back to Flagstaff.

The rafting trip was part of the following longer trip March 21-April 22, 2021:
Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

Sony RX100 VI pocketsize 8x zoom beats 10x Panasonic ZS100

In 2018, the best and brightest pocketable 8x-zoom camera is Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI / RX100M6 (11 oz, 24–200mm f/2.8-4.5).

2019 UPDATE: the Sony RX100 VII upgrades version VI to focus even faster. See my BUY CAMERAS menu for latest updates.

But for less than half the price, image quality is nearly as good with Panasonic Lumix DSC-ZS100 (2016, 11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent lens f/2.8-5.9). Read my ZS100 review. Even cheaper is the smartphone-beating ZS70.

At a premium price, Sony RX100M6 buys us the following (versus Panasonic ZS100):

  • Sharper images. While both camera lenses tend to be sharp in the center, RX100M6 is notably sharper towards the edges of every frame, especially at 200mm equivalent. In dim light, ZS100 shots examined at 100% pixel magnification look smudgier and lower in contrast.
  • Superior viewfinder: 2.36 million dots (vs 1.66M), larger magnification 0.59x (vs 0.46x), with better OLED (vs LCD) blows away ZS100’s sketchy EVF. This one-touch viewfinder elegantly beats the inconvenient pop-and-pull action in previous RX100 versions.
  • Tilting TFT LCD display screen: 1.23M dots (vs fixed 1.04M dots).
  • Superior autofocus: Eye AF, new phase detection with 315 focus points (vs 49 points contrast-detection-only).
  • Smaller body, with lighter-weight batteries.

In its favor, Panasonic ZS100 costs 55% less, captures superior edge-to-edge macro (5 cm close focus magnification best at 45mm equivalent, versus 8 cm on RX100M6), has longer battery life (CIPA-rated 300 shots vs 240 shots), and has stronger flash (8.0 meters vs 5.9 m at Auto ISO). In historical perspective, this 2016 feat of miniaturization allows image quality from the 20-megapixel ZS100 to rival all of my cameras used over 34 years until 2012 (beating my cameras up to 4 times heavier, up to 11x zoom range, up to 12 megapixels, at base ISO 100). Yearly advances have now optimized zoom quality in portable travel cameras having a 1-inch Type sensor size (explained here).

The 11-ounce Sony RX100M6 clearly beats Panasonic ZS100 as my new multi-night backpacking camera, for when my 37-ounce main camera Sony RX10M4 seems too heavy. My photos from the Rees-Dart Track in New Zealand 2019 show that at wider angles of view, the pocketable 8x zoom RX100M6 captures publishable image quality nearly as good as the bulkier 25x zoom RX10M4 (whose three-times-heavier system weighs 64 oz, versus 21 oz, for camera + chest-mounted-bag + 4 batteries + accessories). When backpacking, 2.7 pounds is a significant savings when I replace the RX10M4 outfit with RX100M6 (which has the same sensor but collects less light due to smaller lens diameter, and shortens sharp optical zoom range by a factor of three).

Review of Sony RX100M6 / RX100 VI camera versus Panasonic ZS100.

Sony RX100M6 / RX100 VI is noticeably smaller than Panasonic ZS100, yet captures sharper images with a brighter lens as it zooms to telephoto (f/2.8-4.5 versus f/2.8-5.9). Enlarging RX100M6 at 200mm telephoto can equal the quality of 250mm on ZS100.

Essential accessories for Sony RX100 VI / RX100M6

Best rivals: cheaper pocketsize travel cameras

If Sony RX100M6 seems too pricey, consider the following cheaper options which beat rivals at their given price points:

  1. Panasonic Lumix DSC-ZS100 (2016, 11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent lens f/2.8-5.9) far exceeds smartphone resolution. Read my ZS100 review.
  2. Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200 (2018, 12 oz, 24-360mm equivalent lens f/3.3-6.4) outguns all pocketable 1″-sensor rivals with a versatile 15x zoom, but sibling ZS100 is sharper and brighter through 10x.
  3. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 versions IV, III, II, or I, within its limited 3x zoom, is sharper and brighter than that sub-range of Panasonic’s 10x-zoom ZS100. Save money with used or earlier III, II or I versions — read Tom’s Sony RX100 III review.
  4. Best value pocketable superzoom: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS70 (2017, 11.4 oz, 24–720mm equiv 30x zoom, 20mp, EVF) beats smartphone image quality. Or save on older ZS60.

Sony’s “Eye AF” feature: superb autofocus tracks human eyes

For reliably sharper people photography, automatically focusing on human eyes for action and portraits, use Sony’s Eye AF to override your chosen AF area, by holding down the CENTER key on RX100M6. Eye AF works great for sports photography, even at telephoto. This new autofocus paradigm beats most other camera brands. To optimize button placement, I reassigned Eye AF to the C key (garbage can icon), and reassigned CENTER key to AEL toggle (Autoexposure Lock):

  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#9 > Custom Key for still photos > C Button > Eye AF
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#9 > Custom Key for still photos > Center Button > AEL toggle.

RX100M6 improves focus acquisition speed to 0.3s versus 0.5s on the previous RX100 version 5. Eye AF is twice as fast. It is the first RX100 camera to include Sony’s High-density Tracking AF technology, where more points are concentrated around the subject to improve AF accuracy for moving subjects.

Recommended settings for Sony RX100 VI / RX100M6

  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#1 > File Format > RAW: is for advanced photographers using a raw file editor workflow system, such as Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. In my workflow, I don’t like “RAW+JPEG“, which creates unneeded extra files. “JPEG‘ has insufficient editing leeway for me; but if you choose to keep it as the default, select JPEG Quality = Extra Fine.
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#4 > Focus Mode > [AF-S or AF-A or AF-C or DMF or MF]  but I usually prefer DMF:
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#4 > Focus Mode > DMF (Direct Manual Focus): is like AF-S except after shutter button half-presses to lock AF, turning the lens ring then magnifies the subject to confirm what’s in focus. On List#11, set Focus magnif. Time = 2 or 5 Seconds.
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#6 > Face Prty in Mlti Mtr = ON: measures brightness based on detected faces when [Metering Mode] is set to [Multi].
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#11 > MF Assist > On: in MF (Manual Focus) mode, turning lens ring magnifies subject to confirm what’s in focus (as in DMF). Set Focus magnif. Time = 2 or 5 Seconds.
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#11 > Peaking Setting > Peaking Display On [with defaults Mid & White]: flashes edges where focus is sharpest in the frame.
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#5 > Release w/o Card > Disable: because we don’t want shooting effort wasted; we want to be prompted to put in a recordable memory card if not present.
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#7 > Zebra Setting > On, Level 100+ for RAW; 70 for JPEG: indicates overexposed areas with zebra stripes.
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#7 > Grid Line > Rule of 3rds Grid
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#9 > Function Menu Set:  Lets you set the two rows of quick-access settings assigned to the Fn (Function) button. I like Fn = Drive Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, Touch Operation, ISO, Metering Mode, Flash Mode, Flash Comp, White Balance, Peaking Display, Zebra Display, ISO AUTO Min. SS
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#10 > Audio signals = Off: to quiet the annoying beeps, better for non-intimidating people photos.
  • MENU > Tab 5 > List#5 > Date/Time Setup: always check if camera is set to the local time of day, especially if in your editing process you mix shots from two or more cameras.
  • MENU > Tab 5 > List#5 > Area Setting: if the minutes are set correctly in Date/Time, change the Area Setting each time you shoot in a new time zone, as a quicker way to set the hour.
  • MENU > Tab 5 > List#5 > Format: erases memory card; only format card after several backups have been made.

Sony RX100M6 at 200mm beats Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm & 200mm

The following test shows that a Sony RX100M6 image shot at 200mm equivalent telephoto beats Panasonic ZS100’s quality at 250mm or 200mm. RX100M6’s sharper 200mm shots can simply be digitally enlarged to beat ZS100’s 250mm equivalent zoom.

Telephoto comparison test of two cameras: Sony RX100M6/VI and Panasonic ZS100

Telephoto comparison test of Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm versus Panasonic ZS100 at 200mm and 250mm.

Compared to a 37-ounce Sony RX10M4 camera, the pocketable 11-ounce Sony RX100M6 has the same sensor and nearly equal image quality up to 200mm equivalent. Or a pocketable Panasonic ZS100 costs half as much as RX100M6 and is nearly as sharp at center (but not at edges). In this duck example, compare 200mm and 250mm from two pocket cameras versus 600mm from RX10M4:

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm.

Panasonic ZS100 captures macro shots superior to RX100M6

Although Sony RX100M6/VI can focus sharply beyond 12-24+ inches from the lens, it captures poor macro quality around the edges of the frame at 3.15-inch (8 cm) closest focus. It enlarges biggest at 50mm equivalent zoom. Closely-focused subjects will be sharp at the center of the frame, but can be very blurred around the edges, which can actually help to isolate the center subject, popping it away from the background. But copy work of small flat subjects such as printed text will have unacceptably fuzzy edges. See magnification test images below.

As a workaround for better macro, try:

  • A good smartphone with 2x tele second back camera, as in Samsung Galaxy S9+ or my Note9 (Amazon).
  • Earlier Sony sibling cameras RX100M5, RX100M4 or RX100M3.
  • Larger Sony RX10M4 or RX10M3 cameras with superior macro at 400-600mm f/5.6 and also fun results at 24-90mm. Read my RX10M4 review.
  • Excellent Panasonic ZS100 macro at 45mm equivalent. Fitting handily into a shirt pocket, Panasonic ZS100 enlarges best at 45mm equivalent. This optimum setting is very sharp and rectilinear from edge-to-edge, although the subject must be very close to the front of the lens, sometimes overshadowed. At 25mm, f/5.9 is sharper than f/3.5, but edges are still much too soft. For optimal close focus, zoom to 45mm equivalent and don’t forget to press the Flower Button (Macro, Left Arrow).
Macro magnification test of 5 cameras: Sony RX10M4, Panasonic ZS100, Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone, Sony A6300 + SEL1670Z lens, Sony RX100M6

100% pixel magnification test from five cameras: Sony RX10M4 is best at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Panasonic ZS100 best at 45mm; Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone best at 2x tele 52mm. Significantly poorer quality comes from the macro for SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 at its best 105mm enlargement. Inferior quality is captured by Sony RX100M6/VI at its best macro enlargement at 50mm equivalent.

50mm lens test in dim indoor light

Below, five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lenses in dim indoor light are compared at 100% pixel magnification. All were shot in raw format and optimized similarly in Lightroom.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Results: Best image quality at 50mm equivalent in dim light is captured in the following order:

  1. The 4x zoom SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 does best.
  2. The 25x zoom Sony RX10M4 looks almost as good.
  3. The 8x zoom Sony RX100M6/VI has only slightly more noise than RX10M4, which could be fixed by shooting at ISO 800 instead of 2000. Impressive results from a camera weighing one third as much!
  4. The 10x zoom Panasonic ZS100, cheapest of the four, places last. Despite its noisier, lower-contrast results, ZS100 still captures decent quality, for less than half the price of any of the other three cameras.

Evocative images can be created with any camera. For travel, I recommend any of these good-quality zooms having at least 8x range for greater compositional flexibility.

Review: Sony RX10 IV / RX10M4 upgrades the ultimate travel camera

In 2018, Sony RX10 version IV (RX10M4) reigns as the world’s best midsize travel camera, with bright 25x zoom f/2.4-4 lens, remarkably sharp from edge-to-edge from 24-600mm equivalent. This all-in-one marvel is also my top pick for portable wildlife telephoto. Unprecedented versatility with publishable image quality have made Sony RX10M4 & RX10M3 my main travel cameras since 2016.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 version IV (Amazon) happily upgrades my version III camera with improved autofocus, menu reorganization, and touchscreen autofocus. This article reviews the RX10M4, reveals hidden settings, suggests accessories and compares with rivals. CIPA battery life is a respectable 400 shots per charge. See our recent trips to southwest USA and Canada shot on RX10M4.

Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV (RX10M4) with 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 stabilized zoom lens.

Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV / RX10M4 with 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 stabilized zoom lens. 20MP 1″-type stacked CMOS sensor. Phase detection 315-point autofocus. Touchscreen AF.

Detailed Review of Sony RX10M4

RX10M4 firmware update 2.00 adds Real-Time Animal Eye AF and improves camera stability

Check your firmware version number using the MENU button > SETUP6 > Version. If you have version 1.00 like I did, be sure to Download the latest Sony RX10 IV Firmware Update 2.00 (released by Sony Support on 14 November 2019). The 2.00 update adds Real-Time Animal Eye AF; enables the possibility to operate the real-time EYE AF by half-pressing the shutter button; and improves the overall stability of the camera. But to make the new Animal Eye AF feature work with Half Press of the shutter button, you must toggle: MENU1 > Page 6 > Face/Eye AF Set > Subject Detection > set to [Animal] or set to [Human] (default). To find it easier in the future, use Add Item to put “Face/Eye AF Set” onto Tab 6 > STAR menu (My Menu1). Read more at helpguide.sony.net.

Telephoto quality

Let’s talk tele first — the main reason to have this substantial 37-ounce camera. The duck and flamingo examples below show how wonderfully sharp is RX10M4’s 600mm telephoto for wildlife, hand-held with SteadyShot ON, sharpest at f/5.6. If a 37-ounce RX10M4 seems too big, consider the pocketable 11-ounce Sony RX100M6 which has the same sensor and nearly equal image quality up to 200mm equivalent. Or a pocketable Panasonic ZS100 costs half as much as RX100M6, is nearly as sharp, and reaches to 250mm. In this duck example, compare 200mm and 250mm from two pocket cameras versus 600mm from RX10M4 to see how much detail is sacrificed:

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm

Three extracts from this Chilean Flamingo image show the crisp 600mm-equivalent telephoto reach of Sony RX10M3 (same lens as RX10M4):

Chilean Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo

Even at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent), extracts from edges and center are crisp (enlarged at 100% pixel view in the above photo, shot at optimally sharp aperture f/5.6, for 1/1600th second to freeze movement, at ISO 100 to minimize noise). Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Washington. (In Adobe Lightroom, raw file exposure was adjusted +1.86 EV, Highlights -84, plus Sharpening.)

Telephoto tips for RX10M4
  • Sony RX10 IV and III are sharpest across the frame at all zoom settings when using the optimally crisp apertures of f/4 from 24-400mm equivalent and f/5.6 from 500-600mm. If you need more light to maintain sufficiently fast shutter speed while keeping ISO low, the zoom’s variable aperture is brightest at f/2.4 at 24mm and falls to f/4 at 100-600mm equivalent. Although you can get an interesting starburst effect from the sun or pinpoints of light when shot at f/16 on RX10 IV and III, apertures f/8—f/16 should generally be avoided on 1-inch-sensor cameras due to fuzzy diffraction across the entire image frame, worst at f/16, cutting resolution in half.
  • For sharper hand-held shots at 600mm maximum telephoto, use 1/100th second shutter speed or faster, with Image Stabilization ON (or much faster for moving subjects such as sports or birds).
  • Zoom Assist: The big button on the base of the lens is Focus Hold by default. In order 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 (or another button) to Zoom Assist as follows: press MENU > Camera Settings Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > page 2 > Focus Hold Button > [Zoom Assist]. While held down, Zoom Assist quickly widens the angle of view to allow re-centering upon a bird, so you can pan to follow the bird’s motion, then release Zoom Assist to restore your original narrow angle of view.
  • You can increase zoom racking speed from 24 to 600mm in just 2 seconds, by setting Zoom Speed = “Fast in MENU > Settings Tab 2 > List #6. I mostly use the default 4-second “Normal” for finer framing control, except where fleeting wildlife or sports require Fast. 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. RX10’s power zoom being locked on track at all settings avoids the annoying zoom creep (slippage when pointed up or down) behavior of most 11x-19x manual (non-power) zooms made by Sony, Nikon, Tamron and others for APS-C cameras. The short 2 or 4 seconds to rack through RX10M4’s incredible 25x zoom beats the longer inconvenience of changing lenses on interchangeable lens systems such as APS-C or full frame, which I formerly used 1978-2015.

Close-focus enlargement / macro

is another compelling reason to own the Sony RX10M4. Examine how the flower looks at 24mm and lizard at 600mm equivalent:

Desert rock nettle flower, Death Valley National Park, California.

At 24mm equivalent, Sony RX10M4 can focus very closely to the lens, sharpest near the center. The flower’s stamens are captured crisply, as shown enlarged in the inset at 100% pixel magnification. A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens / desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Fall Canyon, a wilderness area in Death Valley National Park, California. (Shot at f/5.6, 1/500th second, ISO 100.)

A juvenile chuckwalla (or chuckawalla), Sauromalus ater. Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California, USA.

This small reptile was photographed several feet away by my Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 camera at 600mm equivalent cropped by 2x, shot at f/5.6, 1/1000th second, ISO 100. The inset lizard head shows impressively sharp details at 100% pixel magnification. This juvenile chuckwalla (or chuckawalla), Sauromalus ater, is a species of lizard in the family Iguanidae. Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California, USA.

Below, I test the close focus (macro) capability of five top travel cameras, to report their biggest magnification of a letter “e” printed on paper:

Macro magnification test of 5 cameras: Sony RX10M4, Panasonic ZS100, Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone, Sony A6300 + SEL1670Z lens, Sony RX100M6

100% pixel magnification test from five top travel cameras.

Three top travel cameras with excellent macro
  1. Best of the bunch, Sony RX10M4 / RX10M3 captures superb insect and flower macro at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6, with sharp rectilinear results, zero distortion, and tightest magnification of subjects down to 2.7 inches wide. At 600mm, RX10M4’s 28-inch closest working distance from the front of the lens avoids shadowing the focused subject and helpfully leaves undisturbed such flighty subjects as butterflies or lizards.
    • RX10M4 can capture excellent macro at 400-600mm f/5.6, though subject magnification declines to 3.2″ wide at 550mm, 3.8″ wide at 450mm, and 4.2″ wide at 400mm.
    • RX10M4’s macro can be fun and useful at 24mm, sharp in center but may be heavily shadowed at closest focus 1.2″ from the front of the lens, heavily warped with barrel distortion, and fuzzy at edges. Despite technical lens imperfections at 24mm, my intimate close focus shot of the desert rock nettle photo above looks fine, no problem. Emotional impact is more important than perfection.
    • Much more rectilinear than 24mm is 65-90mm macro of subjects as tight as 3 to 4+ inches wide, at f/4 — sharp at center but with soft edges and some barrel distortion. But Panasonic ZS100 at 45mm equivalent enlarges much more sharply and rectilinearly than RX10M4 at 70mm or 24mm.
    • Surprise: at middle focal lengths 110-380mm equivalent, minimum working distance from the front of RX10M4’s lens jumps — to 55″ at 250mm, which drastically widens the tightest magnification of subjects to 10+ inches wide.
  2. Fitting handily into a shirt pocket, Panasonic ZS100 enlarges best at 45mm equivalent. This optimum setting is very sharp and rectilinear from edge-to-edge, although the subject must be very close to the front of the lens, sometimes overshadowed. At 25mm, f/5.9 is sharper than f/3.5, but edges are still much too soft. For optimal close focus, zoom to 45mm equivalent and don’t forget to press the Flower Button (Macro, Left Arrow).
  3.  Samsung Galaxy Note9 or S9+ smartphone enlarges surprisingly well at “2x tele” f/2.4 with deep depth of focus, using a second dedicated back camera with 52mm equivalent lens.
Two cameras with poor macro
  1. Significantly worse quality comes at close focus using a pricey SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300, even at its best 105mm enlargement at f/5.6. As with most APS-C camera lenses, it focuses better on subjects from 2+ feet to infinity. Due to the physics of their larger sensors, APS-C cameras require specialty lenses for decent macro. But that macro lens money would be better spent on a good Panasonic ZS100 pocket camera, or paid towards the superb Sony RX10M4.
  2. Although it can focus quite sharply at subject distances further than 12 inches from the lens (sharper than ZS100), Sony RX100M6/VI captures very poor quality at macro, such as its tightest enlargement at 50mm equivalent zoom. As a workaround to achieve superior macro, try earlier Sony sibling cameras RX100M5, RX100M4 or RX100M3; or Panasonic ZS100 at 45mm close focus; or Sony RX10M4 or RX10M3; or a good smartphone with 2x tele second back camera, as in Samsung Galaxy Note9.

Editing raw profoundly beats JPEG

High dynamic range is retrievable from well-exposed raw-format image files, with plenty of leeway to brighten shadows in the following Grand Canyon image shot at wide angle:

Sunset seen through gnarly pine trees at Mather Point Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sony RX10M4 is my do-everything camera, capturing this dynamic sunset view from Mather Point in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Shot in raw format with 24mm equivalent lens at f/4, 1/160th sec, ISO 100 and optimized in Adobe Lightroom. © Tom Dempsey

I strongly prefer shooting raw format, because JPEG format severely limits tonal editing. The foreground branches in the above image would have been irrecoverably dull if shot JPEG-only. Raw images can be best rendered back to my original perception using Adobe Lightroom CC Classic software on a PC.

Tip: To optimize signal-to-noise ratio at shooting time, I shoot near base ISO 100 or 200 and expose highlights of the Histogram curve to the far right (to the bright side), while avoiding truncation or Highlight Warning (or Zebra). If underexposure occurs unintentionally, thankfully  RX10M4’s base ISO (100 or 200) raw images can be brightened in Lightroom to have almost the same amount of noise as if shot at higher ISO 1600. This advantage is called ISO invariance, found in raw files of RX10M4, RX10M3, RX100M6 and RX100M5.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) software can now combine multiple raw shots, for Night Photos

HDR techniques combine multiple shots to increase detail, improve dynamic range, and lower noise levels, as done in the latest top smartphones (to compensate for their tiny cameras).

New in 2018, we can now combine multiple raw files with the free Kandao Raw+ tool, as described in dpreview.com. This is a great leap forward for night photography! No tripod is necessary. Simply stand in one place and capture a fast burst of 8 to 16 overlapped raw frames. Expose the Histogram curve to the right as usual. Don’t worry about exposure bracketing or subjects in motion. As a master reference, pick one frame, then import up to 16 overlapped frames into the program to create a single DNG file, which can be further edited in Lightroom. The software magically recreates the scene with improved dynamic range like your eyes see. The technique can theoretically recovery brightness detail of up to four Exposure Values greater than would be contained in a single raw file.

TIP: Bright Monitoring is a welcome new feature for night photographers, when subjects are otherwise too dark to see in the viewfinder/monitor. In PASM modes only, a Bright Monitoring toggle brightens the viewfinder/monitor to better see the composition, without affecting exposure compensation. I assigned it to Custom Button 2 (C2 on top of the camera):

  • MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > Custom Button 2 > [Bright Monitoring]
  • It only works with Manual Focus (MF on focus mode dial), and not with MF Assist or Focus Magnifier. It may slow shutter speed response.
  • Bright Monitoring continues after shooting, until you toggle its button or turn off the camera.

JPEG-only option: multi-shot HDR (High Dynamic Range)

Instead of shooting raw, most people like to shoot the default JPEG file format, which conveniently requires no editing step. Out-of-camera JPEGs are looking better than ever, especially from top smartphones, which have greater processing power than larger cameras. But JPEGs can still benefit from artistic editing to appear more like your eyes see. To brighten shadows with less noise, try shooting HDR:

If you shoot JPEG-only (Quality Extra fine, Fine or Standard), for high-contrast subjects, try the High Dynamic Range (HDR) “Exposure Diff. Auto” feature, where the camera makes three exposures which are merged in-camera into a single JPEG file:

  • MENU > Tab 1 > List #10 >DRO/Auto HDR > [Auto HDR: Exposure Diff. Auto]  or else [1.0EV – 6.0EV] lets you pick HDR strength as a fixed Exposure Value difference.
  • Choosing Auto is more practical than picking a fixed EV difference 1.0EV – 6.0EV.
  • Use only when the subject is motionless and lighting is constant.
  • It just works for picture Quality=JPEG-only. (“HDR AUTO” menu is grayed-out and unavailable if Quality=”RAW+JPG” or “RAW”).

Shooting JPEG automatically uses DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer)

If you shoot JPEG files, Sony thankfully invokes automatic Dynamic Range Optimization (DRO) by default. This brightens shadow details while preserving highlights, somewhat like your eyes see. More details:

  • MENU > Tab 1 > List #10 >DRO/Auto HDR > [D-Range Optimizer Auto] is a great default, or else manually pick [Lev1 to strongest Lev5].
  • These DRO settings create tags which affect raw file appearance in Sony raw conversion software, but are ignored in Adobe Lightroom (which is fine, as I prefer my own raw shadow-editing choices).
  • D-Range Optimizer Auto works if picture Quality is set to RAW+JPEG or JPEG-only (Extra fine, Fine or Standard).
  • If shadows still appear overly dark, try editing the JPEG, shooting HDR (several shots combined), or editing raw.

Dim light photography using SteadyShot and Hand-held Twilight mode

Impressively, Sony claims SteadyShot image stabilization of up to 4.5 stops of benefit for slower shutter speed hand-held, especially at telephoto angles of view. Sony SteadyShot sharpens my hand-held shots so well that I rarely use a tripod anymore. Unleashing your camera from a tripod releases inner creativity.

For dim light, Hand-held Twilight mode works great in caves, indoors, or night scenes. Introduced in 2010 Cyber-shot cameras, this innovative JPEG-only Scene/SCN mode combines a burst of shots to reduce subject blur, camera-shake, and noise. Hand-held Twilight mode has served well in my Sony NEX-7, RX100M3, RX10M3, and current RX100M6 and RX10M4 cameras.

Also melding a burst of shots, Anti Motion Blur uses a higher shutter speed (via noisier higher ISO) to help freeze subject motion indoors. Set with: MODE DIAL > SCN > Control Dial (adjacent to MOVIE button) > [Anti Motion Blur] or [Hand-held Twilight mode]

In Munot Castle's lower chamber, explore a spectacular, cool vaulted casemate built in the Renaissance, in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Shot with Sony’s Hand-held Twilight mode (combining several shots of 1/8th second, f/2.4, ISO 1000, 24mm equivalent, combined into one JPEG file, on Sony RX10M3). In Munot Castle’s lower chamber, explore a cool vaulted casemate built in the Renaissance, in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. This iconic circular fortress was built by forced labor in 1564-1589 after the religious wars of the Reformation. (© Tom Dempsey)

50mm lens test in dim indoor light

Below, five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lenses in dim indoor light are compared at 100% pixel magnification. All were shot in raw format and optimized similarly in Lightroom.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Results: Best image quality at 50mm equivalent in dim light is captured in the following order:

  1. The 4x zoom SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 does best.
  2. The 25x zoom Sony RX10M4 looks almost as good.
  3. The 8x zoom Sony RX100M6/VI has only slightly more noise than RX10M4, which could be fixed by shooting at ISO 800 instead of 2000.
  4. The 10x zoom Panasonic ZS100, cheapest of the four, places last. Despite its noisier, lower-contrast results, ZS100 still captures decent quality, for less than half the price of the other three cameras.

Evocative images can be created with any camera. For travel, I recommend any of these good-quality zooms having at least 8x range for greater compositional flexibility.

Recommended accessories for Sony RX10 IV or III

Focus and exposure tips for RX10M4 / RX10 IV

  • Sony’s RX10M4 online Help Guide helps explain every feature.
  • I prefer half-pressing the shutter button to lock the exposure, except when the AEL button toggle locks exposure first, in which case the shutter button is freed to half-press-lock just the autofocus:
    • MENU > Camera Settings Tab 1 > List #8 > AEL w/ shutter > [On]
  • Set the AEL button (Auto Exposure Lock) to behave as AEL Toggle. Otherwise locking the exposure will require our thumb to be awkwardly stuck holding down the AEL button until the shutter button is fully pressed. An asterisk * on the LCD or EVF indicates when AE is locked.
    • MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > page 2 > AEL Button > [AEL toggle]
  • For static landscapes, I prefer Focus Mode dial = DMF or S. My typical shooting habit is:
    1. First press AEL button as Toggle to grab a test exposure of the subject’s midtone, or on an edge halfway between dark and bright.
    2. Then half press and hold to lock focus on a high-contrast edge grabbed from the subject.
    3. Keep holding the half press and recompose to your desired framing. Then fully click the shutter release to capture the image.
    4. Correct the exposure with AEL on a brighter or darker area on subsequent shots as needed. Delete unneeded extras in the field.
  • For subjects in motion, you can dial the Focus Mode (online guide) to A (Automatic AF, new in RX10M4) or C (Continuous AF).
    • Setting A invokes Single or Continuous according to the movement of the subject: when the shutter button is pressed halfway down, focus locks if the subject is motionless, or continues to focus if the subject is moving.
    • If Drive Mode is set to Continuous Shooting, then Continuous AF is used from the second shot onward.
    • The constant hunting of C (Continuous Auto Focus) can be problematic on any camera, so I almost always use DMF or S.
  • Know that the default Focus Area = Wide, using automatic AF points over the maximum area.
  • For landscapes and non-action subjects, I prefer the reliable accuracy of Focus Area =Expand Flexible Spot. If focus is locked onto a moving subject, take the shot as soon as possible, or half press again to refocus (or use Focus Mode C or A).
  • Sony names their touchscreen usage as “Touch Panel” when you view the LCD screen and “Touch Pad” when your eye is looking into the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). (By default, when you look into the Electronic Viewfinder, the eye sensor automatically toggles the screen off and turns on the EVF.)
    • You can override the default Focus Area = Wide with a specific AF point pressed with your right thumb on the “Touch Pad” (when eye is to viewfinder) or “Touch Panel“. To cancel a touched AF point, press the CENTER button, to return to automatic Wide. Only when you half press and hold down the shutter button will focus be attempted and locked. Adjust touch settings as follows:
    • MENU > Tab 5 > List#2 > Touch Operation > [Touch Panel+Pad].
    • If inadvertent touches get annoying, you can a) disable all touch operations with [Off] (preferred by Tom!), or b) restrict touches to [Touch Panel Only], or c) restrict touches to [Touch Pad Only]. Whenever Touch Panel or Pad is active, my inadvertent nose or finger press inevitably redirects the focus point to the wrong part of the frame without my knowledge! Therefore, I prefer to disable ALL touch operations and simply grab focus from a center spot using a half-press of the shutter button, then reframe to capture the image.
    • Photographers who primarily shoot active subjects may find the touchscreen useful. I suggest the following options: MENU > Tab 5 > List#3 > Touch Pad Settings > [Operation in V Orientation=ON, Touch Pos. Mode=Relative Position, Operation Area = Right 1/2]
  • In Playback mode, to examine picture sharpness (magnified by 5.3 times), flip the zoom tele lever once, then back out slowly with wide zoom lever, or fully back with CENTER button. Or double tap on Touch Panel to zoom in or out.

Secret settings for Sony RX10M4 / RX10 IV

  • Yay, the MENUs are reorganized in RX10 IV, still deep but easier to use than version III.
  • Sharpest apertures: RX10 IV and III are sharpest when shot at f/4 aperture through the first two thirds of their 25x zoom range from 24-400mm; then f/5.6 is sharpest at 500-600mm equivalent. 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 and IV due to automatic in-camera corrections before writing JPEG and raw files to the memory card).

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 RX10M4 & M3 can create a special soft-focus starburst effect at aperture f/16. Photo: Eagle Cap Wilderness (read Tom’s article), Oregon.

  • Starburst: Stopping down to f/16 aperture, RX10III creates a wonderful starburst effect emanating from intense pinpoints of light such as the sun or light bulbs. But as on most cameras, f/16 SERIOUSLY SOFTENS FOCUS (seen at 100% pixel view). Diffraction through the tiny f/16 hole cuts resolution in half compared to f/5.6 or brighter apertures. At all apertures brighter than f/16, down to f/2.4-4, rounded blades smooth the opening for more attractive bokeh (the appearance of the out-of-focus areas), and the starburst is NOT created. Using Adobe Lightroom CC, I like to stitch multi-image panoramas where the sun shot(s) have an f/16 starburst, and the remaining shots use sharper f/4 to f/5.6 settings. Alternative: For sharper starburst images at f/4 to f/5.6, use a starburst filter (screw-on or hand-held square glass) instead of suffering the detrimental effects of f/16, unless your artistic intent is soft-focus.
  • Fill flash synchronization down to 1/2000th of a second works exceptionally well for back-lit portraits in harsh sunshine. Most other cameras only synchronize as fast as 1/200th second.
  • Transferring files from camera to computer is fastest using a memory card reader. Next fastest is connection by wire. I don’t recommend transfer via Wi-Fi, which may be clumsier, slower, and less reliable. To transfer image files from RX10 camera to your smartphone, install the Sony Imaging Edge Mobile app on your phone: https://imagingedge.sony.net/en-us/ie-mobile.html. The same app can use Bluetooth to send your smartphone’s geographic GPS coordinates to the camera in order to Geo tag images as they are shot. This camera app automatically connects within three seconds of turning the camera on and seems to work well.
  • 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. I like the SLOW setting to hand-hold shots which can blur moving water in relatively dim light.
  • Turn on Face Detection and assign Eye AF to a button, for instant focus on human faces and eyes throughout the zoom range, great for portraitsaction & sports.
    • MENU > Tab 1 > List #14 > Smile/Face Detec. = [ON]
    • MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > Custom Button 3 (Trash Can icon) > [Eye AF].
    • Hold down the assigned Eye AF button, and a detection frame displays over the eyes when they’re focused. If the focus mode is set to Single-shot AF, the frame will disappear after a second. Continue holding down the Eye AF button while fully pressing the shutter release button. Not supported for focus mode = Manual.
  • Turn OFF the Pre-AF option, for more reliable half-press focus-locking and quicker autofocus in the telephoto range, especially 400-600mm equivalent.
  • Instead of hunting through menus, put favorite settings on the Fn button as follows: MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > [Function Menu Set].
    • I inserted: Drive Mode, Flash Mode, Flash Compensation, Focus Area, ISO, Metering Mode, Smile/Face Detection, SteadyShot for video, HFR Frame Rate, Peaking Level, ISO AUTO minimum Shutter Speed, Zebra.
    • In shooting mode, set PEAK = MID (handily indicates area of sharpest focus).
    • Set Zebra = [100+] for raw files (highlight overexposure alert). For shooting JPEG files, for Caucasian skin tones, consider Zebra = [70]
  • But some important features buried in Menus are sadly not allowed on the Fn button. Workaround: use the MENU > Tab 6 > STAR menu (My Menu1) List #2/2 > [Add Item] for quick access! I recommend adding the following, to be more easily remembered on the STAR menu (My Menu1) List #1/2:
    • Face/Eye AF Set: in Firmware upgrade version 2.00 (described further above), to make Animal Eye AF work with Half Press of the shutter button, you must toggle: MENU1 > Page 6 > Face/Eye AF Set > Subject Detection > set to [Animal], or set to [Human] (default).
    • Panorama: Size (only active when Mode Dial is set to Panorama)
    • Panorama: Direction (only active when Mode Dial is set to Panorama; for setting vertical or horizontal sweeps to make the panorama)
    • [Movie symbol] Exposure Mode (only active when Mode Dial is set to Movie): allows setting Manual exposure mode for movies (see important Video Tips below).
  • Use the quick Memory Recall (MR on mode dial, initially set within a confusing menu) to quickly set a whole palette of settings.
  • Affix painters’ tape to the following set-and-forget switches or dials, per personal preference. Otherwise, if you frequently take the camera in and out of a carrying bag (such as my Lowe chest-mounted for hiking), dials frequently get bumped to unexpected settings, causing confusion. Painters’ tape removes cleanly with no residue and protects the camera’s finish.
    • Exposure Compensation dial taped at zero. I prefer AEL Toggle button, which handily resets when camera is turned off; whereas the Compensation dial stays set, easily forgotten yet biasing every future exposure.
    • Viewfinder diopter-adjustment dial taped for your vision.
    • Focus Mode dial taped at DMF setting lets the front lens ring make fine manual focus adjustments with a magnified view after locking AF with half press of shutter release button (crucial for macro and telephoto).
      • DMF is like S (Single-shot AF) plus magnification.
      • If half-press AF lock is difficult to achieve (such as for a low-contrast telephoto subject), painters’ tape can be lifted and Focus Mode dial reset to MF (Manual Focus).
      • For subjects in motion, use C (Continuous AF).
      • Or more handily, A (Automatic AF, new in RX10M4) invokes S or C according to the movement of the subject: when the shutter button is pressed halfway down, focus locks if the subject is motionless, or Continues to focus if the subject is in motion.
      • If Drive Mode = Continuous Shooting, then Continuous AF is used from the second shot onward.
    • Focus Range Limiter switch taped at “FULL” allows shooting macro close focus at telephoto. (The other setting “∞-3m” is for reducing “focus hunting” time if shooting action subjects further than 3 meters away when zoomed between 150-600mm.)
    • The much-used and inadvertently-bump-able MODE DIAL should not be taped. Instead, turning ON the Mode Dial Guide helpfully reminds me of the current setting (AUTO, PASM, MR, MOVIE, HFR, PANORAMA or SCN).
      • MENU > Settings Tab 5 > List #2 / Setup2 > [Mode Dial Guide=ON].
  • Be sure to [Disable] the Release w/o Card setting in MENU > Tab 2 > List #5 of 10. The “Release Without Card” default is ON for most cameras, in order to allow customers to freely test cameras on sales floors without a memory card inserted; but forgetting to replace a removed card sadly allows you to shoot without recording any images! Luckily, RX10M4 continuously flashes a bright orange warning message, “NO CARD”.
  • Know that every time you half-press the shutter button, a harmless “FULL” message in a white box briefly displays on LCD or viewfinder, to indicate Focus Range Limiter status (or if set at “∞-3m”, then“LIMIT” displays if zoomed between 150-600mm, or “FULL” displays between 24-149mm equivalent).

Video tips for Sony RX10M4 / RX10 IV:

  • The MOVIE button marked with a red dot can record with the current video settings no matter where the Mode Dial is set.
  • Some video Settings can only be changed when the top Mode Dial is set to Movie mode (icon shaped like a film frame with spindle perforations).
  • Some videos can be less distracting with a constant manual exposure as you pan across subjects of varying brightness. You can set the following secret P, A, S and M exposure modes, when Top Mode Dial = Movie mode:
    • use MENU > Tab 2 > List #1 > “Exposure Mode” > press Center button, then scroll through PASM video options. To find it quicker, add movie “Exposure Mode” to My Menu1 (the sixth menu tab, marked with * asterisk symbol).
    • 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 makes video look “normal”.
    • 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 4 seconds BEFORE you pressed the Record Button! Limitations: only 4 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. (Previous RX10M3 records only 2 seconds of real time.)
  • 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, set Picture Profile (in MENU > Tab 1 > List #10).
    • PP3 standard for HD television, not intended for tonal editing. Its natural color tone uses the [ITU709] gamma.
    • 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 even more editing than PP6 to compensate for the flat, dull appearance).
    • PP8 for S-Log3 gamma and the S-Gamut3.Cine under Color Mode. New in RX10M4.
    • PP9 for S-Log3 gamma and the S-Gamut3 under Color Mode. New in RX10M4.
    • 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.)” and/or to the quick Fn button (using MENU > Tab 2 > item 9 > “Function Menu Set“).
  • Tip: only buy a Sony camera in a country having your native NTSC or PAL video format, or else every time you turn on the camera, you’ll forever be dismissing an annoying video notification message: Running on NTSC (on my PAL-native RX10M3 camera bought in the UK when set to nonnative NTSC).
  • RX10M4 lacks an electronic ND filter (Neutral Density), which is especially important for video in bright light, at bright apertures for shallower depth of field. Workaround: simply attach a glass ND filter to the 72mm threads on the front of the lens when needed, the old-fashioned way. Or try Panasonic FZ2500 with built-in ND filter.

RX10M4 negatives:

  • Touch Panel/Pad doesn’t support menus, Playback, or Text.
  • Cannot zoom while shooting a burst of frames in Drive Mode=Continuous.
  • 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. It forces Manual mode’s ISO to that of the other PAS settings, and vice versa.
  • Avoid rain splatters: Despite Sony’s claim of “dust and moisture-resistant” body, DON’T EXPOSE YOUR RX10M4 or RX10M3 CAMERA TO RAIN (even if immediately wiped off), as wind-driven droplets killed my RX10 III. Yes, its weather sealing successfully kept dust and condensation out of the lens throughout my 16 months of use. But then one fateful rainstorm disabled the camera by shorting-out the focus and LCD, sadly outside of its 1-year Sony Warranty. Still, the lens interior remained pristinely clean and moisture-free. But rather than risking an estimated $656 repair, whose 90-day guarantee is voided by “liquid damage”, I recycled the camera. Buying a new RX10 III allowed completion of my UK photo shoot. Back in the USA, I sold the UK camera and I upgraded to a US-model RX10 IV.

World’s top travel cameras ranked by Tom

RX10M4 is first in my ranking of top travel cameras (shown with Amazon pricing snapshot from September 14, 2018):

  1. $1700, 37 oz: $1700, 37 oz: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV / RX10M4 camera (Nov 2017, 25x zoom 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4) is the best of the bunch. This all-in-one tool overpowers all rival superzoom cameras with 1″-Type sensors. The 20-megapixel RX10M4 and previous RX10M3 both beat 10x to 19x lenses on rival 24-megapixel APS-C DSLR cameras. 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 field 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. Both versions IV and III weigh 37 ounces (including battery & card), plus adding 5 oz for strap, lens filter, cap & hood makes 42 oz.
    • $1400, 37 oz: Sony RX10 III (May 2016, 37 oz, 25x zoom 24-600mm f/2.4-4, no touchscreen): autofocus of version III significantly lags compared to IV, especially at 400-600mm .
  2. $1000, 33 ozPanasonic FZ2500 (December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom 24-480mm equivalent 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. $1200, 11 oz: PocketableSony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI (2018, 11 oz, 8x zoom 24–200mm equivalent f/2.8-4.5, RX100M6): rivals the image quality of RX10M4 through 200mm equivalent, and at 30% of the weight. Avoid dropping its slippery body by adding Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Fit into Tamrac Digital 1 Photo Bag with extra Wasabi Power NPBX1 batteries. Avoid LCD scratches with QIBOX Premium GLASS Protector to preserve resale. Exceptionally high quality from a miniature body ranks it above my former DSLR cameras and cameras below.
  4. $600, 29 ozPanasonic FZ1000 (2014, 29 oz, 16x zoom 25-400mm f/2.8-4.0): best price-value for a midsize camera. Adds fully-articulated LCD, and autofocus for action & sports is a bit faster than RX10 III.
  5. $550, 11 ozPocketablePanasonic ZS100 (price at Amazon) (2016, 11 oz, 10x zoom 25-250mm equivalent f/2.8-5.9): Read my ZS100 review. ZS100 introduced 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).
  6. $1130, 32 oz with 19x zoom: Good value DSLR with optical viewfinder (if you like that kind of thing) using a legacy mirror box:
    • Nikon D3500 (2018, 13 oz body, ~$500, 24mp APS-C sensor/DX format, CIPA battery life 1550 shots) with travel lens:
    • Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens (2014, 19 oz, ~$630, 19x zoom 24-450mm equivalent, 3 x 3.9″) equals Nikon’s kit-lens quality. But Sony RX10 IV and III are significantly sharper, especially at ≥90mm equivalent. [Avoid the Tamron 18-400 25-oz lens, which is too soft beyond 50-100mm; and its Vibration Control (VC) only helps by up to 2.5 stops slower shutter speed.]
    • Upgrade: Nikon D5600 (2016, 16.4 oz body, 24mp) adds fully articulated (flip out) LCD touchscreen.
  7. $400, 11.4 oz: Pocketable and inexpensive: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS70 (2017, 11.4 oz, 30x zoom 24–720mm equivalent f/3.3–6.4, 20mp, EVF).
    • or ~$260 for older ZS60. These nice little cameras have a rare viewfinder and small 1/2.3″ sensor that still beats smartphone quality.

See my latest camera ratings on PhotoSeek BUY CAMERAS page.

Sony RX10M4 and RX10M3 beat the following midsize rivals for versatile lightweight travel:

  • APS-C flagship Sony A6500 (2016, 16 oz body, $1200) or earlier Sony Alpha A6300 (2016, 14 oz body, $900), plus mounting a SEL18200 11x zoom lens (27-300mm equivalent f/3.5-6.3, 19 oz, $900), totals 35 oz or 33 oz respectively.
    • A6500/A6300’s interchangeable-lens capability is made redundant by RX10’s sharp and bright 25x zoom (which more than doubles my former zoom range while improving image quality).
    • You must inconveniently interchange a much heavier, pricier set of lenses on APS-C cameras to rival the quality of RX10 III’s sharp 25x F4 zoom.
    • This APS-C flagship is at best 5% sharper than RX10M4 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.
    • 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.
    • 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. 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.
  • Canon PowerShot G3 X camera (2015, 26 oz, $850, 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+ in terms of noise compared to FZ1000 or RX10. Panasonic FZ1000 is a better value than G3X.

Sony RX10M4’s 1″-type EXMOR RS sensor has 20 million photosites, for creating 20-megapixel images. The sensor’s pixel pitch = 2.4 µm (micrometers). “Pixel pitch” for sensors (actually “photosite pitch”) is defined as the distance from center to center between two of the photosites. The actual size of each light-sensing photosite is slightly smaller than the pixel pitch. The pitch may only be useful for comparison if you also know the physical sensor size and number of megapixels. However, a better measure of actual photo quality is to compare cameras in the field side by side using comparable settings. [In comparison, Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max has 1.9 µm pitch on its standard 26mm equivalent f/1.5 12MP camera with 1/1.65″ sensor, up from 1.4 & 1.7 µm on iPhone 12 Pro & Pro Max respectively.]

How do RX10M4 and RX10M3 compare to full-frame cameras?

In historical perspective, the Sony RX10M4 makes prints far bigger and sharper than my full-frame 35mm film cameras used 1978-2004. Compared to modern full-frame digital sensors, RX10M4’s 1-inch-Type sensor has a “crop factor” measuring 2.727 times smaller diagonally.

Multiply the f-stops of RX10M4 and RX10M3 by 2.727 to get the full-frame equivalent f-stops (in terms of physical hole diameter of the relative aperture):
f/2.4 * 2.73 = f/6.5 equivalent
f/4 * 2.73 = f/11 equivalent
f/5.6 * 2.73 = f/15.3 equivalent
f/16 * 2.73 = f/43.7 equivalent

Although you can get an interesting starburst effect from the sun or pinpoints of light when shot at f/16 on RX10 IV and III, apertures f/8—f/16 should generally be avoided on 1-inch-sensor cameras due to fuzzy diffraction across the entire image frame, worst at f/16, cutting resolution in half.

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 superior quality at wide angles, beating RX10M4’s smaller 20mp sensor (37 oz). But RX10M4’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, RX10M4 is much more portable (37 oz versus 50+ oz), and its 20 megapixels are plenty for my professional publishing needs.

Tom Dempsey

Sony A6300/A6000, best APS-C dim-light sports/action camera; rivalled by RX10 III

Are you looking for a great camera having an APS-C-size sensor? The best, most-portable APS-C camera can capture quick sports action and subjects in dim light with fast autofocus: Sony Alpha A6300 camera (buy at Amazon with 16-50mm lens) (2016, 14 oz body + 4 oz 24-75mm equiv zoom). Or save hundreds of dollars on earlier Sony A6000 (2014, 12 oz body), nearly as capable.

However, a smaller 1-inch-Type BSI sensor can now equal or beat virtually every advantage of APS-C cameras (which at best have no more than 5% advantage in real resolution or maximum print size). Compared to Sony’s RX10 III camera (read my review) which has an amazingly bright 25x zoom lens and more advanced stacked backside illumination (BSI) sensor, both Sony’s A6300 and A6000 now demand only the sharpest zoom or prime lenses to justify their APS-C sensor, such as:

Sony A6300 camera

Sony A6300 mirrorless digital camera

  • Sony 10-18mm f4 OSS E-mount lens (8 oz, SEL1018, 2012) captures exceptionally crisp wide angles for architecture & landscapes at 15-27mm equivalent (mostly wider than the 24mm equivalent of RX10 III, though you can easily stitch images to compensate).
  • Sony E-mount 16-70mm F4 Vario-Tessar T ZA OSS SEL1670Z lens (2013, 11 oz) clearly beats Sony’s 16-50mm kit lens, but costs $600 more! SEL1670Z lens is sharpest around f/5.6 across its range. However, my June 2016 field tests surprisingly revealed that a SEL1670Z mounted on A6300 is only slightly better than the new Sony RX10 III camera in bright light at wider angles up to 3x zoom, but is equally sharp in dim light and at 4x in any light. RX10 III’s remarkable performance in dim light is probably explained by its efficient BSI sensor design, plus its larger diameter lens of 72mm (versus just 55mm filter size on SEL1670Z), gathering more light.
    • Details: In side-by-side tests at optimal apertures (one stop down from brightest), from about 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) in direct sunlight, and for closest focus in dim light around 45mm equivalent, SEL1670Z on A6300 can resolve enough extra detail to make about 5% wider/taller prints than Sony RX10 III, but otherwise not. From 75-105mm equivalent in most lighting situations, or in dim indoor light across its range, SEL1670Z is equaled or beaten by RX10 III in half of my hand-held shots at optimally-sharp apertures.

While Sony’s E-mount 16-50mm kit lens is exceptionally compact, it isn’t as sharp as SEL18200 or E 18-55mm lenses. And since the May 2016 introduction of Sony’s RX10 III camera with superior optics, I no longer recommend using the following 10x or 11x zoom lenses on Sony A6300 or A6000 or NEX:

In order to equal or beat RX10 III, owners of a Sony A6300 or A6000 may need one of the following hefty, pricey Sony FE Series (full-frame) lenses:

  • Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM SEL2470GM lens (2016, 31 oz) is brighter than the F3.2-4 of RX10 III at this 36-105mm equivalent zoom range on A6300.
  • Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS SEL70300G lens (2016, 30 oz) reportedly grabs good sports & wildlife shots on A6300. But within this range from 105-450mm equivalent, I suspect that the significantly faster F4 of RX10 III rivals the image quality of SEL70300G lens when tested side by side. RX10 is a better value and more portable for travel.
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS SEL70200GM (2016, 52 oz) has bright, premium glass, advantageous for dim light photography, a full stop faster than RX10 III (which is F4 within this 105-300mm equivalent range). Has anyone compared this side-by-side with RX10 III in the field? — please “Leave a Reply” at bottom.
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS SEL70200G lens (2014, 30 oz) has premium glass, but is no brighter than the F4 of RX10 III within this 105-300mm equivalent range.
  • Sony FE series lenses support Sony A7 series full-frame cameras, and also APS-C-sensor E-mount cameras (A6300, A6000 and earlier NEX-6 & NEX-7).

Clearly, Sony’s A6300 & A6000 are now outgunned for outdoor travel photographers, as Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III camera (buy at Amazon) packs the ultimate all-in-one travel tool into just 37 ounces. The RX10’s weather-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens (72mm filter diameter) with remarkable 25x zoom is sharp across the frame from 24-600mm equivalent, well into birding territory (read my Telephoto article). With the latest 1”-Type stacked BSI sensor, RX10 captures great depth-of-field details, everywhere from close flower shots to distant bird feathers. In my testing, RX10 III clearly beats the 11x SEL18200 lens (62mm filter diameter) on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 anywhere above 90mm+ equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400, due to the faster lens and BSI technology compensating for sensor size difference. At wider angles, 27-80mm equivalent, they capture similar quality in bright outdoor light — but in dim or indoor light, A6300’s larger sensor can sometimes resolve more detail on SEL18200. The sharper zoom SEL1670Z is only about 5% better than RX10 in bright light, and no better in dim light.

Conclusion: Among APS-C sensor cameras, Sony A6300 is my pick for top quality and best value; but now the Sony RX10 III with a smaller 1-inch-Type BSI sensor, combined with superb 25x lens, is a much better value than APS-C for travel, sports or wildlife photography. To gain up to about 5% in real resolution over RX10 III, the Sony A6000/A6300/A6500 cameras require interchanging only the brightest, highest-quality lenses (such as pricey f/2.8 lenses, Sony FE 24-70mm or FE 70-200mm). Lesser-quality lenses on APS-C are now antiquated by the all-in-one Sony RX10 III camera.

Sony A6300 camera improves upon earlier A6000 as follows:

  • 425 phase-detection autofocus (AF) points across the sensor (versus 179 in A6000). These cameras use a hybrid of on-sensor phase detection (for depth awareness) and contrast detection autofocus (for high precision).
  • Big viewfinder OLED 2.36 million dots with optional 120 fps refresh (versus 1.44 million in A6000).
  • Battery life increased to 400 shots, or 350 with EVF (versus 360 shots, or 310 with EVF in A6000).
  • A6300 is one of the top APS-C cameras at high ISO: A6300 improves ISO 1600 clarity by about a half stop, ISO 3200 by a full stop less noise compared to A6000.
  • A6300 introduces UHD 4K video (3840 x 2160 pixels at 30p). With Samsung apparently orphaning its NX1, the A6300’s video abilities are only rivaled by Panasonic GX and GH models.
  • Horizontal level gauge added.
  • Body is now magnesium alloy, environmentally sealed.
  • 14-bit raw format introduced (when using mechanical shutter) versus 12-bit raw in A6000.
  • improved Auto ISO settings

All these improvements in the A6300 come in a slightly heavier 14.3-ounce body weight (with battery & card; versus A6000’s 12.1 oz), still significantly lighter-weight than most DSLR-style cameras.

Suggested accessories for Sony A6300 and A6000:

If you don’t need a viewfinder, a cheaper Sony A5100 adds touchscreen and includes A6000’s hybrid autofocus system.

Read about A6300’s predecessors and more lens analyses: Sony A6000 & NEX top Nikon for travel, 11x lens.

Panasonic ZS100 pocket 10x zoom bests Sony RX100 I,II,III,IV for travel

In 2016, the most portable 10x zoom on a 1-inch-Type sensor is Panasonic LUMIX ZS100 camera (Amazon) (11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent). ZS100 is now my favorite camera which can fit a large shirt pocket. In this impressive 2016 feat of miniaturization, daylight image quality from the 20-megapixel ZS100 can rival all of my cameras used over 34 years until 2012 (beating my cameras up to 4 times heavier, up to 11x zoom range, up to 12 megapixels, at base ISO 100).

UPDATE: As of August 2018, Sony introduced the superior RX100 version VI (RX100M6, Amazon) (24-200mm equivalent 8x zoom with relatively fast f/2.8-4.5 lens), which is pricey but clearly beats the lens sharpness and brightness of Panasonic ZS100. If price is no object, RX100 version VI is now the world’s best pocketable travel camera, and Panasonic ZS100 is second best. In April 2018, Panasonic extended its ZS100 with the new 15x zoom Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200 (buy at Amazon) (12 oz, 24-360mm equivalent lens f/3.3-6.4). The ZS200 viewfinder increases magnification by 15% and resolution by 35% (2.3M dots vs 1.7M for ZS100). CIPA battery life lengthens to 370 minutes (formerly 300). ZS200’s 50% longer zoom reach for wildlife costs a half-stop loss in lens brightness and compromises sharpness. Personally, I’m upgrading to the sharper Sony RX100M6, where I’ll simply crop to extend telephoto beyond 200mm equivalent.

Although rival Sony RX100 (of 2015, read my review) is admittedly sharper throughout 3x zoom, Panasonic ZS100 focuses closer at more zoom settings and enormously extends optical telephoto reach. Anywhere from 3x to 10x zoom (70-250mm equivalent), the ZS100 easily beats digital cropping of Sony RX100’s furthest reach of 70mm in versions III & IV. ZS100’s good telephoto remarkably expands your capture of wildlife and distant small subjects, more sharply than pocketable rivals or smartphones (see heron photo further below). Portrait photographers should note that ZS100’s lens is a bit dimmer, f/2.8-5.9 at widest aperture as you zoom (versus f/1.8-2.8 for RX100 III).

Panasonic ZS100 vs Sony RX100 III size

Compare lens and size of Sony DSC-RX100 III with Panasonic ZS100 digital camera. The ZS100 is fatter but can still squeak into a large shirt pocket.

Compare body sizes:

  • 102 x 58 x 41 mm (4.02 x 2.28 x 1.61) Sony RX100 versions III and IV
  • 111 x 65 x 44 mm (4.37 x 2.56 x 1.73″) Panasonic ZS100

Related reading: why larger sensors can improve image quality.

Panasonic ZS100 beats macro focus of Sony RX100

ZS100 captures best macro (close focus) when zoomed by 2x, near 44mm equivalent, to minimize excessive corner softness seen at wider angles of view. You must first press the Macro (Flower symbol/left toggle) button to focus closest. In contrast, Sony RX100 III focuses closest only at 24mm equivalent (widest angle of view), lacks a dedicated macro mode, and cannot enlarge subjects as much. Panasonic ZS100 can enlarge small subjects more sharply than Sony RX100.

Because macro was one of my main reasons for carrying an RX100 (to supplement a larger-sensor APS-C system with 11x zoom which captured poor macro), a ZS100 now serves better as our backup travel camera for my wife to carry.

Surprisingly good telephoto sharpness

Carrying a pocket camera with 10x zoom around town lets me capture unexpected moments like this at a distance:

Panasonic ZS100 shot at 250mm

Above: A Great Blue Heron on a boat spears a fish along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop in Seattle, Washington. At 250mm equivalent zoom in sunny conditions, the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 camera captures surprisingly good detail in the heron’s head and feathers (portions shown at 100% pixel view). Even the shadowy “Yamaha” letters look reasonably sharp at the edge of the frame. Photographed at ISO 125, f/5.9, 1/1000th sec.

The above overall image (originally 20 megapixels, 5472 x 3648) can be cropped to isolate the heron at 1764 x 1348 pixels, which is enough to print sharply about 7″ high (at 250dpi). Much better than a smartphone camera, Panasonic ZS100 gives you lots of leeway to share digitally cropped telephoto shots on the internet, as in the example below shrunk to 600 pixels high:

Great Blue Heron spears fish

A Great Blue Heron spears a fish. Photographed along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop in Seattle, Washington, USA.

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) has been my ultimate travel camera 2016-17 (upgraded to RX10 IV in 2018). 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 field 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, fixed 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 is voided by “liquid damage”), I bought a new RX10 III (to complete my UK photo shoot) then upgraded 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.}

Recommended accessories for Sony RX10 III & IV:

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+ in terms of noise 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).

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 (SOFT-FOCUS) 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, RX10 III excels at 24-27mm wide angle, at stunning telephoto from 80-600mm equivalent (well into the range of wildlife/bird photography), and at close focus (best macro enlargement at 50mm equivalent albeit an inch from the lens, and with nice 29″ working distance at 600mm using f/5.6). 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 field (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 MUCH 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 starburst images at f/4 to f/5.6, you may want to use a starburst filter (screw-on or handheld square glass) instead of suffering the detrimental effects of f/16, unless your artistic intent is soft-focus.
  • 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 (but much improved in RX10iv upgrade). 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 field. 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).

Compare digital camera sensor sizes: 1″-Type, 4/3, APS-C, full frame 35mm

Since 2016, a “1-inch Typesensor size has optimized the portability of serious travel cameras (recommended here). In comparison, cameras using larger APS-C sensors require heftier 11x to 19x travel zoom lenses which struggle to sharpen the edges of the frame. Cameras using even bigger full-frame sensors restrict zoom range and overburden travelers. Sensors smaller than “1-inch” size can support super zoom ranges, but at the cost of poor image quality, especially in dim light. Smartphones compensate for tiny cameras via computational power and instantly-shareable images, but zoom poorly and fumble in dim light.

The archaic inch-sizing of camera light sensors is clarified in the illustration and table below, with relative sizes and millimeters. Legacy sizing labels such as 1/2.5″ Type harken back to antiquated 1950s-1980s Vidicon video camera tubes!

For a given year of technological advance, a camera with physically bigger sensor area tends to capture better image quality by gathering more light, but at the cost of larger-diameter, bulkier lenses. Recent digital sensor advances have shrunk cameras and increased optical zoom ranges while preserving image quality. An evocative image can clearly be created with any decent camera in the hands of a skilled or lucky photographer. Top smartphone cameras can potentially make good 18-inch prints and share publishable pictures. But I recommend a bigger camera for superior optical zoom, better performance in dim light, and sharper prints.

Below, compare sensor sizes for digital cameras:

Sensor size comparisons for digital cameras - PhotoSeek.com

This illustration compares digital camera sensor sizes: full frame 35mm (which is actually 36mm wide), APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, 1-inch, 1/1.7″ and 1/2.5” Type. For new digital cameras, a bigger sensor area captures better quality, but requires larger-diameter, bulkier lenses. As of 2018, 1-inch Type sensors optimize the size of a serious travel camera. “Full-frame 35mm” sensor (36 x 24 mm) is a standard for comparison, with a diagonal field-of-view crop factor = 1.0; in comparison, a pocket camera’s 1/2.5” Type sensor crops the light gathering by 6.0x smaller diagonally (with a surface area 35 times smaller than full frame).

Click here for Tom’s latest camera recommendations.

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1″-Type sensor size is now optimal for travel camera portability

I upgrade my digital camera every 2-4 years because the latest devices keep beating older models. Since 2016, 1″-Type sensors optimize the bulk of serious travel cameras, as in the following which capture excellent dynamic range (bright to dark) with exceptionally fast autofocus:

  • The best & brightest pocketable zoom camera is Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI (at Amazon) (2018, 11 oz, 8x zoom 24–200mm f/2.8-4.5) — my favorite backpacking camera. Upgrading to Sony RX100 VII focuses even faster. Read my RX100M6 review.
  • Cheaper alternative: Panasonic LUMIX ZS100 camera (Amazon) (2016, 11oz, 10x zoom, 25-250mm equivalent, 20mp). The pocketable ZS100 (read my review) is not as sharp as the 3x-zoom Sony RX100 V, IV or III cameras, but captures close macro at more zoom settings and enormously extends optical telephoto reach 70-250mm, which clearly beats digitally cropping those 3x-zoom rivals.
  • Capturing 20 high-quality megapixels, both the Panasonic ZS100 and superior Sony RX100 version VI rival the daylight image quality of all my camera systems used over 34 years until 2012 (beating my cameras up to 4 times heavier, up to 11x zoom range, up to 12 megapixels, shot at base ISO 100). Since the release of Panasonic ZS100 in 2016 and Sony RX100 VI in 2018, publishable image quality can now come from pocketsize cameras having versatile 10x or 8x zooms!
  • My main camera: Sony RX10 IV (price at Amazon) (2018, 37 oz, 25x zoom) is the world’s most versatile midsize camera for on-the-go photographers (read my RX10 IV review).

APS-C size sensor 

Although I prefer the above portable all-in-one solutions for travel convenience, a top APS-C-sensor camera (such as Sony A6300) lets you interchange lenses and capture less noise in dim light at ISO 3200+.

Traditionalists wanting an optical viewfinder, more lens choices, and night photography may pick a bulkier DSLR-style camera with APS-C sensor:

Micro Four Thirds Cameras

Over the years, I have seriously considered the excellent Panasonic and Olympus systems with Micro Four Thirds sensor, but so far, the timing hasn’t work out, as of 2022.

I’ve oft admired the solid quality of recent Micro Four Thirds cameras such as Olympus, who made my beloved OM-1N film camera back in the 1980s. But Olympus upgrades have come too late for me, such as their sensor improvement from 16 to 20 megapixels (in Olympus M1 Mark II & III in 2016 & 2020, and in M10 Mark IV in 2020). In comparison, the Sony A6xxx camera series is nearly as compact, yet collects more light onto a physically larger 24mp APS-C sensor. Pricing can also be similar comparing APS-C vs 4/3 when shopping for slightly older versions or used gear. And for zoom ranges larger than 8x, the 1″-sensor Sony RX10M4 & RX10M3 cameras beat all comers anywhere near their weight class (37 oz), with a surprisingly sharp 25x zoom system.

During the past decade, the 16-megapixel sensor and performance of the early models of Olympus M1 (Mark I, introduced in 2013) and M10 (I-III) paled in comparison to the 24-megapixel sensor APS-C systems that I used from 2012-2016 (on Sony A6300 and predecessor NEX-7, using Sony 18-200mm lens, 11x). When I examine Micro Four Thirds systems with interchangeable lenses like the Panasonic GX80 (2016), for that weight and expense class, you get more for your money and a much larger sensor (APS-C) if you go with a Sony A6400 or A6300 camera, which have similar system weight, generally better quality images (24 MP vs 16 MP), better viewfinder, excellent hybrid focus system, and longer battery life (400 versus 290 shots per charge).

After test trials in 2016, I switched from APS-C to the 20mp 1-inch-sensor Sony RX10M3, which more than doubled my optical zoom to 25x, while equaling or improving overall image quality from edge-to-edge. Upgrading to Sony RX10M4 in 2018 strengthened the deal by speeding autofocus. This sharp 24-600mm f/2.4-4 zoom camera system weighing just 37 ounces has been a game-changer for hiking & general travel photography.

Caveat: although it’s one of the most versatile cameras ever invented, Sony RX10M4 isn’t necessarily the most optimal for night photography, wedding photography, or certain other professional specialties that don’t need a large zoom range.

To emulate a 25x zoom with Micro 4/3 lenses is a heavier and pricier proposition (debatably without a commensurate gain in image quality) compared with Sony’s 1″ sensor on RX10M4. For example, consider this high-quality 69+ ounce system with two lenses covering 24-800mm equivalent zoom range mounted on Micro Four Thirds sensor:

  • Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Power OIS lens (2016, 35 oz, 72mm filter size, 3.3 x 6.8″), mounted on Panasonic DMC-GX9 mirrorless camera (2018, 14 oz body, 20mp, 260 shots per battery charge CIPA), both weather-sealed.
  • Add 20+ ounces for one or more zoom lenses to cover 24-200mm equivalent.
  • That makes 69 ounces total for a 24-800mm equivalent zoom system (14 oz body + 35 oz + 20 oz), using two lenses spanning an impressive 33x. Although I wouldn’t want to carry it around my neck very long while hiking, this system might be attractive for a vehicle-based professional photographer who might consider incremental image quality gains to be more important than the extra system cost, bulk, weight, or inconvenience of swapping lenses.

Full-frame-sensor Cameras

Compared to APS-C, the step up to full-frame-sensor cameras costs extra, adds bulk, and is only needed if you regularly shoot in dim light higher than ISO 6400 (such as for indoor action), or specialize in night photography, or often print images larger than 2 or 3 feet in size (to be viewed closer than their longest dimension by critically sharp eyes).

But there’s no need to go overboard. Let’s put this in perspective: huge effective billboards can be printed from small 3-megapixel cameras (read my article).

How to compare cameras

  • My CAMERAS article updates Light Travel camera recommendations several times per year.
  • If possible, compare cameras shot side-by-side under a variety of actual field conditions (which I do just before selling a former camera to confirm the quality of the new replacement camera). I like to “pixel-peep” a side-by-side comparison of two different cameras capturing the same subject under same lighting conditions in the field. Be sure to mentally or digitally normalize any two given shots to compare their fine detail as if printed with equal overall image size.
  • Judge image quality and resolution at 100% pixel enlargement at the authoritative dpreview.com (owned by Amazon since 2007) and handy Comparometer at imaging-resource.com, using standardized studio test views for many cameras.
  • Check other review sites comparing telephoto capabilities of different cameras side-by-side. This comparison is often overlooked, despite being crucial for zoom cameras.

Yearly advances of 2014-16 put the sweet spot for serious travel cameras between 1”-Type and APS-C size sensors. Then from 2016-2021, camera designs using 1”-Type sensors surpassed the portability of APS-C models for capturing publishable images within a wider zoom range.

Most cheaper compact cameras have smaller but noisier sensors such as 1/2.3″ Type (6.17 x 4.56 mm) — tiny enough to miniaturize a superzoom lens, but poor for capturing dim light or for enlarging prints much beyond 12-18 inches.

Smartphones can have even tinier sensors, such as 1/3.0″ Type (4.8 mm x 3.6 mm) in Apple iPhone versions 5S through 8. Remarkably, top smartphone cameras have improved miniature sensors to the point where citizen journalists can capture newsworthy photos with image quality good enough for fast sharing and quick international publication. The best cameras are in the latest Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, and Apple iPhones. My former Samsung Note5 smartphone (same camera as in S6 & S7 with 1/2.6″ sensor) captures sunny 16-megapixel images sufficient to make a sharp 18-inch print, virtually indistinguishable from that taken by a larger camera.

Smartphone tips: To isolate subjects, avoid the digital zoom on smartphones, which records extra pixels without adding quality. Instead move closer before shooting, or crop at editing time. Use your phone’s 2x telephoto camera (~50mm equivalent lens), if any. Tiny subjects can be enlarged best at close focus using the 2x tele lens, as on Samsung Galaxy S9+ or my Note9.

Read this pointed perspective on how far image quality has progressed from early DSLR to 2014 smartphone cameras. Historically, evocative images can clearly be captured regardless of camera size or modernity. But for a given year of technological advance, tiny-sensor cameras can have severe limitations compared to physically larger cameras in terms of print enlargement, autofocus speed, blurred performance in dim/indoor light, and so forth. The “best” travel camera is the one that you are willing to carry.

More details:

The non-standardized fractional-inch sensor sizing labels such as 1/2.5-inch Type and 1/1.7″ Type confusingly refer to antiquated 1950s-1980s Vidicon video camera tubes. When you see those archaic “inch” size labels, instead look up the actual length and width in millimeters reported in the specifications for each camera:

Table of camera sensor size, area, and diagonal crop factor relative to 35mm full-frame

Sensor Type Diagonal (mm) Width (mm) Height (mm) Sensor Area (in square millimeters) Full frame sensor area is x times bigger Diagonal crop factor* versus full frame
1/3.2″ (Apple iPhone 5 smartphone 2012) 5.68 4.54 3.42 15.50 55 7.6
1/3.0″ (Apple iPhone 8, 7, 6, 5S smartphone) 6.00 4.80 3.60 17.30 50 7.2
1/2.6″ Type (Samsung Galaxy S9, Note9, S8, S7, S6, Note5) 6.86 5.5 4.1 22.55 38 6.3
1/2.5″ Type 7.18 5.76 4.29 24.70 35 6.0
1/2.3″ Type (Canon PowerShot SX280HS, Olympus Tough TG-2) 7.66 6.17 4.56 28.07 31 5.6
1/1.7″ (Canon PowerShot S95, S100, S110, S120) 9.30 7.44 5.58 41.51 21 4.7
1/1.7″ (Pentax Q7) 9.50 7.60 5.70 43.30 20 4.6
2/3″ (Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone with 41 MP camera; Fujifilm X-S1, X20, XF1) 11.00 8.80 6.60 58.10 15 3.9
Standard 16mm Film Frame 12.7 10.26 7.49 76.85 11 3.4
1” Type (Sony RX100 & RX10, Nikon CX, Panasonic ZS100, ZS200, FZ1000) 15.86 13.20 8.80 116 7.4 2.7
Micro Four Thirds, 4/3 21.60 17.30 13 225 3.8 2.0
APS-C: Canon EF-S 26.70 22.20 14.80 329 2.6 1.6
APS-C: Nikon DX, Sony NEX/Alpha DT, Pentax K 28.2 – 28.4 23.6 – 23.7 15.60 368 – 370 2.3 1.52 – 1.54
35mm full-frame (Nikon FX, Sony Alpha/Alpha FE, Canon EF) 43.2 – 43.3 36 23.9 – 24.3 860 – 864 1.0 1.0
Kodak KAF 39000 CCD Medium Format 61.30 49 36.80 1803 0.48 0.71
Hasselblad H5D-60 Medium Format 67.08 53.7 40.2 2159 0.40 0.65
Phase One P 65+, IQ160, IQ180 67.40 53.90 40.40 2178 0.39 0.64
IMAX Film Frame 87.91 70.41 52.63 3706 0.23 0.49

* Crop Factor: Note that a “full frame 35mm” sensor/film size (about 36 x 24 mm) is a common standard for comparison, having a diagonal field of view crop factor of 1.0. The debatable term crop factor comes from an attempt by 35mm-film users to understand how much the angle of view of their existing full-frame lenses would narrow (increase in telephoto power) when mounted on digital SLR (DSLR) cameras which had sensor sizes (such as APS-C) which are smaller than 35mm.

With early DSLR cameras, many photographers were concerned about the loss of image quality or resolution by using a digital sensor with a light-gathering area smaller than 35mm film. However, for my publishing needs, APS-C-size sensor improvements easily surpassed my scanning of 35mm film by 2009.

An interesting number for comparing cameras is “Full frame sensor area is x times bigger” in the above table.

  • In comparison to full a frame sensor, a pocket camera’s 1/2.5-inch Type sensor crops the light gathering surface 6.0 times smaller diagonally, or 35 times smaller in area.
  • An APS-C size sensor gathers about 15 times more light (area) than a 1/2.5” Type sensor and 2.4 times less than full frame.
    • APS-C sensors in Nikon DX, Pentax, and Sony E have 1.5x diagonal field of view crop factor.
    • APS-C sensors in Canon EF-S DSLRs have 1.6x diagonal field of view crop factor.
  • 1 stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of gathered light. Doubling a sensor’s area theoretically gathers one stop more light, but depends upon lens design.

Lens quality & diameter also affect image quality

For improving image quality, the quality and diameter of the lens can rival the importance of having a physically larger sensor area. Prime (non-zoom) lenses usually are sharpest for larger prints, but zoom lenses are more versatile and recommended for travelers.

A small sensor can beat larger with newer design (BSI) plus faster optics:

In my side-by-side field tests, the sharp, bright 25x zoom of Sony RX10 III (read my version IV review) resoundingly beats the resolution of 11x SEL18200 lens on APS-C Sony A6300 at 90+ mm equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400. (Wider angle zoom settings show little quality difference.) Apparently RX10’s faster f/2.4-4 lens plus backside illumination (BSI) technology magically compensate for the sensor size difference, 1″-Type versus APS-C. Like most APS-C-sensor cameras in 2016, A6300 lacks BSI. Surprisingly little noise affects RX10’s image quality at high ISO 6400 in dim light. Its larger lens diameter gathering more light also helps in this comparison (72mm filter size of RX10 III versus 67mm SEL18200 on A6300).

Larger lens diameter can help dim light photography:

In my field tests, the sharpness of Sony’s high-quality SEL1670Z 3x zoom f/4 lens on A6300 is only about 5% better than Sony RX10 III f/2.4-4 in bright light in the wider half of its 24-105mm equivalent range, but no better in dim light. I expect that RX10’s catch-up in quality under dim light is due to superior light sensitivity of BSI sensor plus larger lens diameter gathering more light, 72mm versus 55mm.

Using sweet spot of full-frame lenses on APS-C may not improve quality:

In principle, you might expect a slightly sharper image on an APS-C sensor when using the sweet spot of a lens designed for a full frame (which has a larger imaging circle), but results actually vary, especially when using older film-optimized lenses. In fact, a lens which is designed and optimized specially “for digital, for APS-C” can equal or exceed the quality of an equivalent full-frame lens on the same sensor, while also reducing bulk and weight (as in the Sony E-mount example further below).

Theoretically, new full-frame lenses “designed for digital” (using image-space telecentric design) may perform better on a digital sensor than would older lenses designed for film:

  • Unlike film, digital sensors receive light best when struck squarely rather than at a grazing angle.
  • Digital cameras perform best with lenses optimized specially “for digital”, using image-space telecentric designs, in which all the rays land squarely on the sensor (as opposed to having incoming rays emerge at the same angle as they entered, as in a pinhole camera). The light buckets (sensels) on digital sensors require light rays to be more parallel than with film (to enter at close to a 90 degree angle to the sensor).
  • Film can record light at more grazing angles than a digital sensor. Because older film-optimized lenses bend light to hit the sensor at more of a glancing angle, they reduce light-gathering efficiency and cause more vignetting around the edges (which is somewhat mitigated by the image circle being cropped by the APS-C sensor, which uses just the center part of the full-frame lens).
Side-by-side testing works better than theory to distinguish lenses:

Compare the following two Sony E-mount zoom lenses, full-frame versus APS-C:

  1. 2015 full-frame “Sony E-mount FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS” lens (27.5 oz, 36-360mm equivalent).
  2. 2010 APS-C “Sony E-mount 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS (silver SEL-18200)” lens (18.5 oz, 27-300mm equiv).

Both lenses are optimized for digital, yet the APS-C lens is much lighter weight and performs equal to or better than the full-frame lens. Side-by-side comparisons and also DxOMark tests on a Sony A6000 camera show that while they are about equally sharp, the Sony 24-240 has more distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration than the 18-200mm.

Raw format and advantages of large sensors over small

For a given angle of view, cameras with larger sensors can achieve a shallower depth of field than smaller sensors, a feature which movie makers and portrait photographers like to use for blurring the background (at brightest aperture setting, smallest F number value) to draw more attention to the focused subject. Conversely, smaller-sensor cameras like the Sony RX10 III and RX100 III tend to be much better at capturing close-focus (macro) shots with great depth of field (especially at wide angle), at ISO up to 800. But the macro advantages of small-sensor cameras can diminish in dim light or when shooting at ISO higher than 800.

Landscape photographers often prefer to capture a deep depth of field, which can be achieved with both small and large sensor cameras. Optimal edge-to-edge sharpness usually occurs when stopping down the aperture once or twice from brightest opening, such as between f/4 to f/5.6 on 1-inch Type sensor, or between f/5.6 to f/8 on APS-C (which also helps diminish chromatic aberrations). Stopping down further with f/numbers larger than this increases depth of field, but worsens diffraction through the smaller pupil opening (such as at f/11-f/16 on 1″ sensor or f/22 on APS-C), noticeably softening detail.

To maximize raw dynamic range of brightness values from bright to dark, use base ISO (around ISO 100 or 200 in most digital still cameras), rather than higher ISO settings which amplify noise (blotchiness at the pixel level, most-visibly in shadows). However, using the latest full-frame sensors at high ISO values 6400+ can capture unprecedentedly low noise and open new possibilities for dim-light action photography at hand-held shutter speeds, indoors or at night.

Without the help of a flash, night and dim indoor photography is best with a full-frame sensor to gather more light with less noise. Low-noise night photography is usually best shot on a tripod at slow shutter speeds in raw format between ISO 100 and 800 (or as high as 1600-3200 on the latest large sensors).

For a given year of technological advance, cameras with larger sensors typically capture a wider dynamic range of brightness values from bright to dark per image than smaller sensors, with less noise. In 2016, Sony’s 1″-Type backside illumination (BSI) sensors capture sufficient dynamic range for my needs.

Camera raw format allows editing recovery of several stops of highlight and shadow detail which would be lost (truncated) in JPEG file format (if overexposed or underexposed). Alternatively, PC software or camera firmware using HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging lets any size of sensor greatly increase an image’s dynamic range by combining multiple exposures. But for me, the great dynamic range of a single raw file (from 1″-Type BSI or APS-C sensor) usually makes shooting extra images for HDR unnecessary.

Despite advanced circuitry, cameras are not smart enough to know which subjects are supposed to be white, black, or midtone in brightness. By default, all cameras underexpose scenes where white tones (such as snow) predominate, and overexpose highlights in scenes where black tones predominate. IMPORTANT TIP: To correctly expose for all tones, you need to lock exposure upon a perceived midtone (such as a gray card; or on a line halfway between light and shadow) in the same light as your framed subject.

For greatest editing flexibility, rather than shooting JPEG format, serious photographers should record and edit images in raw format, which is supported in advanced cameras (but often not in small-sensor devices). Editing raw format fully recovers badly-exposed images − allowing you to “point and shoot” more freely than with JPEG. Even so, I carefully shoot to expose each histogram to the far right while avoiding truncation of highlights, in order to capture the highest signal-to-noise ratio in each scene. Try to stay close to base ISO 100 or 200. I typically first shoot a test shot on automatic Aperture-preferred priority, inspect the histogram, check any blinking highlight warnings, then compensate subsequent shots using Manual Exposure (or temporary Exposure Lock grabbed from the scene). Tonal editing of JPEGs can quickly truncate color channels or accumulate round-off errors, often making the image appear pasty, pixelated, or posterized. White Balance (Color Balance) is easily adjustable after shooting raw files, but tonal editing often skews colors oddly in JPEG. 12-bit Raw format has 16 times the tonal editing headroom and color accuracy compared to JPEG (which has only 8 bits per pixel per red, green, or blue color channel). In their favor, automatic point-and-shoot JPEG camera exposure modes get smarter every year, making advanced larger cameras less necessary for many people.

Detailed full-frame comparison of low-light Sony A7S 12 MP versus A7R 36 MP

How can we distinguish the image quality captured by different cameras? Images are best compared at a normalized pixel level (with fine detail examined on a monitor as if printed with equal overall image size) after shooting side-by-side in the field with comparable lens and shutter speed settings. Consider two sibling full-frame-sensor cameras:

  1. Sony Alpha A7S (12 MP of large-bucket photosites optimized for high ISO, low light, and videography plus stills, new in 2015) versus
  2. Sony Alpha A7R (36 megapixels of smaller-bucket photosites optimized for high resolution, new in 2014)

Despite its tinier but denser photosite buckets (also called sensels or pixel wells for catching light photons), the 36 MP Sony Alpha A7R beats the dynamic range of 12 MP Sony Alpha A7S in a normalized comparison of raw files (see dpreview article). While both cameras spread their photosites across the same surface area of a full-frame sensor, the 36 MP A7R trumps the 12 MP A7S for exposure latitude flexibility in raw post-processing at ISO 100 through 6400. Overall image quality of the 12 MP A7S doesn’t beat the A7R until ISO 12,800 and higher (but only in the shadows through midtones under low-light conditions). Sony A7S is better for low-light videographers, whereas A7R is better for low-light landscape photographers who value high resolution and dynamic range.

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Sony RX100 I & III review: best pocket camera 2012-15

The world’s best pocket-sized travel camera improved in 2015:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version IV (best-ever pocket camera 2015, 10.5 oz) bests earlier version III with:

  • a new Exmor RS stacked CMOS sensor, with faster operation but same image quality
  • 15 fps electronic shutter
  • viewfinder dots 2.36mp (formerly 1.44mp)
  • new 4K (UHD) video
  • improved dynamic range in video and JPEG (using S-Log2 gamma setting under Picture Profiles)
  • greatly-improved Auto ISO
  • fast eye-tracking AF
  • instant magnification of AF point in playback

The 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens remains the same, but battery life has decreased to 280 shots (down from 320 shots in version III).

The earlier Sony RX100 camera version III (best-ever pocket camera 2014, 10 oz) beat previous version II with the following new features:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version III Digital Camera

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version III Digital Camera

  • Widens its angle of view to 24mm (with brightest aperture f/1.8).
  • Significantly sharpens its 70mm telephoto, which is now brightened to f/2.8. (Zoom reach was shortened from 3.6x to 2.9x, but generous 20 megapixels allow much cropping for a good digital zoom.)
  • Adds a pop-up SVGA OLED electronic viewfinder with 1.44M dots!
  • Tilts its 3″ LCD further to a full 180 degrees.
  • Adds a Nuetral Density (ND) filter, great for allowing slow shutter speeds (such as to blur moving water) in bright sunlight.
  • Compared to Sony RX100 III, the rival Canon PowerShot G7X camera has no viewfinder, poor battery life, unreliable focus and poor manual focus magnification. In its favor, Canon G7X has brighter lens from 24-50mm equiv (up to 2/3 stop better), longer zoom 24-100mm equiv (versus 24-70mm), touchscreen and LCD that flips 180-degrees for selfies, in a body having the same weight, size and sensor, capturing similar image quality in studio comparisons.

Earlier versions:

Look for a great value on a used Sony RX100 version 1 (model DSCRX100/B) at Amazon (worth the price premium over a used Canon S110, both introduced in 2012).

Sony RX100 beats rival brands of pocket-sized cameras with unusually fast 0.15 sec autofocus, an unprecedented 20 mp 1″ sensor (capturing 2.6 times the light area of a Canon S110), and sharp LCD (1,228,800 dots). To better grasp its slippery body, add Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Below, read my full review of version I:

Tom’s review of Sony RX100 version I

The world’s best pocket-sized camera of 2012, Sony RX100 camera version 1 (8.5 oz, model DSCRX100/B), packs the largest sensor (1-inch Type) ever designed into such a small body. Its high image quality and autofocus speed beat any other zoom camera under 16 ounces! Both RX100 versions I and II have 3.6x optical zoom (28–100mm equiv), with brightest aperture f/1.8 at wide angle zoom and f/4.9 at telephoto. But as expected, images will be sharpest when shot at a few stops down, around f/4 to f/5.6. A trip to Italy in summer 2013 reconfirmed my excitement about the RX100: its 20-megapixel sensor can resolve more detail than my former 12mp Nikon D5000 DSLR camera using kit lens at ISO 200 to 400. 

Compared to the competing Canon PowerShot S110 camera (7 oz, 2012) or Canon S95 (7 oz, 2010, pictured below), Sony RX100’s high-resolution 20mp sensor can actually double the area of sharp prints. Also, cropping a 20-megapixel image from its shorter telephoto easily beats the quality from an 120mm-equivalent image from the S110. The RX100’s sensor pixels dedicated to phase-detection AF impressively accelerate hybrid autofocus to as fast as 0.15 second at wide angle (0.26 sec at tele). In its favor, a Canon PowerShot S110 (2012) is 25% smaller by volume, starts its zoom wider at 24mm equivalent, adds touch screen, has friendlier menus, and costs around 40% less when new (but costs about the same when used: see Sony RX100/B version I at Amazon). Compare features in the Table at bottom. [These compact designs have a good 3-inch LCD but no viewfinder, unless you upgrade to RX100 version III, which also widens its angle of view to 24mm equivalent.]

Pocket-sized wonders: Compare camera lens and size of Sony DSC-RX100 (left) versus Canon PowerShot S95.

Pocket-sized wonders: Compare camera lens and size of Sony DSC-RX100 version I (left) versus Canon PowerShot S95.

To better grasp the slippery body of a Sony RX100 (and other compact cameras), order a Custom Grip from Richard Franiec (shown above) or Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Protect your RX100 in a Tamrac Digital 1 Photo Bag, with room for extra Wasabi Power NPBX1 batteries.

The unusually large 1-inch Type sensor inside a Sony RX100 is 2.8 times bigger in surface area than a 1/1.7-inch Type sensor in a Canon S110, S95, or G series camera. (Compare sensor sizes in separate article.) The larger-diameter RX100 lens gathers more light onto its sensor than any other pocketable zoom camera, capturing superior quality.

To beat the image resolution recorded by an 8.5-oz Sony RX100, competitors require increasing camera weight to 16 ounces or more! For example: a 16-oz Sony Alpha NEX-6 (16mp) with 16-50mm Retractable Zoom lens beats RX100’s quality above ISO 800 (and adds a fantastic viewfinder with 2,359,296 dots). Surprisingly, studio tests show that a little 8.5-ounce Sony RX100 can beat or equal image quality from a 29-ounce Nikon D5000 DSLR with kit lens (12mp APS-C sensor, 2009) from ISO 200 up to 1600. Image quality and resolution is judged not by megapixel (mp) count but instead by comparing standardized studio test views at 100% pixel enlargement and checking resolvable lines per picture height (LPH).

1895 Heritage House (Kanab, Utah) illustrates the high resolution of a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 compact camera (18mm, f/5.6, 1/400th sec, ISO 125) - PhotoSeek.com

100% pixel enlargements from the 1895 Heritage House (Kanab, Utah) illustrate the sharp resolution of a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 compact camera (f/5.6, 1/400th sec, ISO 125, zoomed to 18mm, which is “48mm equivalent”).

More details:

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version I digital camera has a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T Lens with

  • 3.6x optical zoom: 10.4 – 37.1mm (28–100mm equivalent)
  • good “Optical SteadyShot” Image Stabilization
  • fast f/1.8 brightest aperture at 10.4mm wide angle
  • f/4.9 brightest aperture at 37.1mm tele
  • As expected, images will be sharpest when shot at a few stops down from brightest aperture, best around f/4 to f/5.6. Beyond that, due to physics, higher f-stops will soften images with diffraction, especially at f/11, the RX100’s smallest lens opening.
  • For telephoto subjects, an RX100’s moderate 3.6x zoom easily beats the quality of cropping images from a fixed-lens (non-zoom) camera in this size class.

The RX100 captures full HD 1080/60p video with stereo sound. Its aluminum body pops up an effective flash. Record stills using raw, JPEG, or both. Its unusually fast autofocus and 10 frames per second burst mode capture action much easier than previous pocket cameras.

My test shots on a Sony RX100 (20mp) were more than 50% sharper than a Canon S95 (10mp) throughout the zoom range, from close focus to infinity. Note that in studio comparisons, Canon S110 (12 mp) is less than 10% sharper than Canon S95. Cropping images from my RX100 beats the real resolution of a bulkier Canon PowerShot G9 from wide angle through 150mm equivalent.

Purple flower close-up, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada, USA.

The Sony RX100’s 20-megapixel sensor has plenty of room to crop from native 5472 x 3648 down to 1500 x 1000 pixels to frame the above close-focus image. Purple desert flower, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. (Zoomed to 10.4mm widest angle, f/7.1, 1/400 second, ISO 125, manual focus)

Table: Compare Sony RX100 version I with Canon PowerShot S110 and S95

For travel portability with top image quality, a Sony RX100 version I camera clearly beats my former Canon PowerShot S95 (2010) and rivals my DSLR camera quality of  just 3 years ago. Get a great value on a used Sony RX100 version 1 (model DSCRX100/B) at Amazon (around $200 as of May 2015, same price as a used Canon S110, both introduced in 2012).

Green boxes or green text indicate features beating the other camera(s) in that row:

CAMERA FEATURES Sony RX100 camera version I Digital Camera (2012) model #DSCRX100/B

 

Canon PowerShot S110 camera (2012) Canon PowerShot S95 (2010)
Total weight with battery and memory card: 240 g (0.53 lb / 8.5 oz). Sony RX100 is only 23% heavier than Canon S110 or S95

 

198 g (0.44 lb / 7 oz). 195 g (0.43 lb / 7 oz)
Camera body size: 4.00 x 2.29 x 1.41″ / 10.16 x 5.81 x 3.59 cm (only 22% larger volume than S95)

 

3.9 x 2.32 x 1.06″ (9.9 x 5.9 x 2.7 cm) 3.94 x 2.28 x 1.18″ ( 10.0 x 5.8 x 3.0 cm)
Megapixels (mp) resolution: 20 mp, 5472 x 3648

 

12 mp, 4000 x 3000 10 mp, 3648 x 2736
Sensor type: 1-inch Exmor CMOS Low-Light Sensor (13.2 x 8.8 mm): 2.8-times-larger sensor area than Canon S110 or S95

 

1/1.7″ CMOS (7.44 x 5.58 mm) 1/1.7″ CCD (7.44 x 5.58 mm)
Lens (“equivalent” in terms of 35mm full frame): 3.6x optical zoom, 28–100mm equiv, f/1.8
– f/4.9. Cropping down from the RX100’s 20mp resolution at telephoto
easily beats image quality from the extra telephoto reach of the Canon
S110.
5x optical, 24–120mm
equiv, f/2 – f/5.9. Canon S110 has a widest angle of view of 74 degrees
horizontally (versus 66 degrees for Sony RX100 and Canon S95)
3.8x optical zoom, 28–105mm equiv, f/2.0 – f/4.9
Autofocus (AF): Hybrid autofocus as fast as 0.15 seconds at wide angle (0.26 sec at tele)

 

Contrast-detection autofocus Contrast-detection autofocus
Drive speed: frames per second (fps): 2.5 and 10 fps

 

2.1 fps 0.9 fps
Close focus distance: 5 cm (1.97″): Cropping RX100 beats the macro enlargement resolution of S110 or S95

 

3 cm 5 cm (1.97″)
Battery life (CIPA): 330 shots

 

200 shots 200 shots
LCD (no viewfinder): 3-inch Xtra Fine TFT LCD Display with WhiteMagic: 1,228,800 dots

 

3-inch LCD: 461,000 dots TFT PureColor II G Touch screen LCD 3-inch LCD: 461,000 dots
Movies/video: Records stereo sound, 1920 x 1080 (60 fps) progressive or interlaced, 1440 x 1080 (30 fps), 1280 x 720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

 

Records stereo sound, 1920 x 1080 (24 fps), 1280 x 720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps) Records stereo sound, 1280 x 720 (24 fps) 640 x 480 (30 fps), 320 x 240 (30 fps)

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