“Nature Travel Photography” at Lifetime Learning Center (LLC), Seattle
From January 11–March 1 in 2023, Tom Dempsey will teach two classes in 8 sessions once per week on Wednesday mornings:
NEW: “Walking the World” (11:00–12:30): Let’s talk about walking worldwide, led by savvy trekkers Tom Dempsey (professional photographer) and Gretchen Shively (avid storyteller). Longer routes—often multi-day treks—immerse us in beautiful places, both scenically and culturally. Adventurous hikers can find both joy in the journey and delight in the photogenic destinations, such as the Alps, pilgrimage routes, the UK, New Zealand and Australia, Patagonia, Peru, and Western North America—name your favorites. Join us in sharing your own foot journeys, planning your next walking vacation, or simply enjoying the presentations of outstanding photography and engaging stories.
“Nature Travel Photography” (9:00–10:30am): In this class, learn how to plan and photograph your next nature travel adventure in the style of PhotoSeek.com. Bring your charged smartphone, pocketsize, or midsize camera to class, all welcome (preferably optical zoom magnification of 8x up to 25x, plus good electronic viewfinder). We’ll cover how to better pre-visualize, expose, focus, compose, make panoramas, edit color tones, share images, and tell your story visually, via feedback from assignments.
Masks will not be required, in accordance with current state guidelines.
Anyone entering the LLC building must be fully vaccinated (defined as having received the full initial vaccine dose and authorized booster shot, at least 2 weeks prior to coming to LLC). You must attest to your vaccine status on the registration page.
Location: Lake City Presbyterian Church, Room B2
3841 NE 123rd Street
Seattle, WA 98125
Tom Dempsey (standing left) teaches photography students at Lifetime Learning Center, Seattle.
“Nature Travel Photography” 2022 October 31–November 16 for 6 sessions Mondays & Wednesdays.
“Nature Travel Photography” 2022 April 4–May 23 for 8 Mondays: In this class, learn how to plan and photograph your next nature travel adventure in the style of PhotoSeek.com. Bring your charged smartphone, pocketsize, or midsize camera to class, all welcome (preferably optical zoom magnification of 8x up to 25x, plus good electronic viewfinder). We’ll address how to better pre-visualize, expose, focus, compose, make panoramas, edit color tones, share images, and tell your story visually, via feedback from assignments.
(The pandemic caused a 2-year break from in-person classes, 2020-21.)
“Smartphone Photography” 2019 Apr 1–May 24 for 8 days Mondays+Wednesdays: The latest smartphones make photography easier than ever. Bring your fully-charged phone to class, and we’ll learn how to better previsualize, expose, focus, compose, make panoramas, edit color tones, and share to impress your friends. Upgrading your phone will really help your photography. The best now have dual cameras on the back (such as Samsung Galaxy Note9 and iPhone 7 Plus or later). Their 2x telephoto lens greatly improves portraits and brings distant subjects closer. The latest “HDR Auto” smartly captures better shadows while preserving highlights. Other good cameras include Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel.
“Editing Digital Photography” 2018 Apr 30–May 16 for 6 sessions Mondays+Wednesdays: Learn how to edit digital images with emotional impact, true to the subject. Because cameras don’t record like our eyes see, we must compensate with smart tonal adjustments in Apple Photos, in my favorite Adobe Lightroom, or in your preferred editor. We’ll cover cropping, tonal editing (exposure, contrast, & Adjustment Brush), histograms, and color theory. We’ll review before and after edits of students’ emailed photo homework.
“Smartphone Photography” 2018 Jan 8–Jan 31 for 8 sessions Mondays+Wednesdays
“Digital Photography on the Go” 2017 Oct 31–Nov 16 for 6 sessions
“Editing Digital Photography” 2017 April 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20
“Digital Photography on the Go” 2016 November 1–17
“Digital Photography on the Go” 2016 March 28–April 18:
“Tom, I really appreciate your patience in explaining the color wheel, techniques of editing, and how to access various settings on our digital cameras.” – Nora MacDonald
“Thank you for all your help in making me more comfortable with my camera. A great class!” – Rochelle Goldberg
“I’ve really been enjoying this, Tom, and I think what I’ve been learning here is improving my eye for painting as well as photography. Thank you!” – Kay.
“After taking two classes with Tom Dempsey, my skill at composing photographs has improved greatly. Tom is a skilled photographer, and a knowledgable and patient teacher. He does his homework, presents well, listens respectfully to the comments and questions of his students and follows up. Tom gets back to us with emails to answer additional questions as well. He presents information at the correct level for his audience, whether individually or in the group. I really appreciate Tom as an instructor and plan to sign up for his photo editing class.” – Deb West, who has attended three class series plus private tutorials
Images from my book,“Light Travel: Photography on the Go”
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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.
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.
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)
The following photo highlights are gleaned from the animated gallery show at top. Colorado River Mile 0 starts at Lees Ferry embarkation…
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.
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.
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.
Above: Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (at River Mile 5.9).
Above: Rowing through a rapid on Day 1 of 16 days boating through the Grand Canyon.
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.”
Above: Desert spiny lizard, seen at South Canyon lunch spot at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.
Above: Jed spins a river tale in Marble Canyon on Day 2.
Above: Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.
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 (River Mile 37.9) in the late afternoon of Day 2.
Above and below: View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4 on Day 3.
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin on the Nankoweap Granaries Trail.
Above: Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4.
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.
Above: Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66 on Day 4.
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.
Above: AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6.
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
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.
Above: Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5. Day 6.
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.
Above: Glenn gets splashed rafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7.
Above: Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7.
Above: Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 on Day 8.
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.
Above: Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 on Day 8.
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.
Above: Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp on Day 9.
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).
Above: Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek. Day 10.
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).
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.
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon at River Mile 136.9.
Above: Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon at River Mile 134.5 on Day 10.
Above: Scalloped rock pattern on Day 11.
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.
Above: Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6 on Day 12.
Above: Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13.
Above: Canyon walls tower over AZRA boats on Day 13.
Above: A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9 on Day 13.
Above: A motorized raft runs notorious Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.
Above: We raft through the anxiously-awaited Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.
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.
Above: Hexagonal cross-sections of basalt columns on Whitmore Trail at Mile 187.9 on Day 14.
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.
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.
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-resistantOlympus 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).
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.
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.
How well can telephoto zoom lenses magnify distant wildlife given their weight and price? For serious photography of wildlifeandgeneral travel subjects, my top pick is Sony RX10 IV:
Tom’s review: versatile Sony RX10 IV camera zooms sharply 25x with a 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 lens.
$1700: 37 oz for 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 zoom lens on 1″-Type sensor:Sony RX10 IV / RX10M4 (price at Amazon) (2018, 20 megapixels) is now my ultimate travel camera. This versatile wonder weighs just 37 ounces including battery and card (or 42 oz including the 5 ounces for strap, lens filter, cap & hood). This relatively compact camera includes a dust-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens with incredible 25x zoom, sharp across the frame from 24mm wide angle to 600mm wildlife telephoto. Its 1-inch-size sensor with stacked Exmor RS CMOS backside illumination BSI technology plus a big 72mm-diameter lens capture images that rival a flagship APS-C system, even in dim-light test comparisons. Read my RX10 IV review. [Capturing great depth of field, its lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/6.5 at 24mm wide angle to f/10.8 at 100-600mm equivalent.]
Below, compare Sony RX10M4 and earlier RX10M3 with larger-sensor multiple-lens systems and cheaper fixed-lens megazoom cameras.
Larger-sensor, multiple-lens telephoto systems (APS-C, Micro Four Thirds)
Compared to Sony RX10M4, the following rival camera systems can potentially capture higher-quality images using a larger sensor and larger-diameter glass to collect more light; but they are much heavier, mostly pricier, and require swapping out the bulkier telephoto to reach normal angles of view with yet another lens:
$2020: 49+ oz for 200-800mm equivalent zoom lens 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, 14.4 oz body, 20mp, 260 shots per battery charge CIPA) both weather-sealed. Or save $200 on earlier GX8 bought used. This Micro 4/3 sensor has twice the light-gathering area compared to 1-inch type (but RX10 III somewhat compensates for its 1″ sensor with superior stacked Exmor RS CMOS backside illumination BSI technology, not found in GX9’s sensor; and their lenses have equal 72mm diameter). This “slower” Panasonic 200-800mm equivalent lens opens as bright as f/4 down to about f/5.6 within the 200-600mm equivalent range which overlaps with Sony RX10M4 or RX10M3. Within that 200-600mm range, the Sony has a faster f/4 constant real aperture, up to a full stop brighter at 600mm, possibly equalizing image quality. [This Panasonic lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/8 at 200mm equivalent and f/12.6 at 800mm, meaning that within 200-400mm equivalent it can achieve shallower depth of field than RX10M4 or RX10M3, but the reverse is true higher than 400mm.]
Professional lenses like this are a heavy, bulky, and costly commitment for travelers and hikers like me.
Legacy DSLR cameras use a bulky mirror box to bounce light from the lens into an optical viewfinder. The latest mirrorless cameras are more compact for travel and use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to better realize the goal of “what you see is what you get.” The autofocusing speed of mirrorless now rivals DSLR cameras. The few remaining advantages of DSLRs include more legacy lenses, longer battery life and body durability. Further below, read more about wildlife telephoto lenses for legacy DSLR cameras, including acronyms explained (for image stabilization, ultrasonic focusing motors, and APS-C-only optimization) for major brands (Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Sony).
Sony RX10 III is sharp across the frame throughout its breathtaking 25x zoom range, including at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent) shown above. Sections of the Chilean Flamingo are shown at 100% pixel view. Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA.
Cheaper, fixed-lens wildlife telephoto cameras
The following good-value wildlife telephoto cameras are cheaper than Sony RX10 IV or III and likewise don’t interchange lenses:
$850: 50 oz for 24–3000mm equivalent 125x zoom lens f/2.8–8.0 on 1/2.3″ sensor:Nikon COOLPIX P1000 (2018, 16mp) attracts dedicated birders and wildlife specialists. In comparison, no practical DSLR or mirrorless lens can reach 3000mm! The P1000 has 5-stop image stabilization and fully articulated LCD, but only gets 250 shots per charge. As in COOLPIX P950, its tiny 1/2.3″ sensor won’t beat the superior processing power of cellphone cameras unless shooting at telephoto greater than 50mm equivalent, in bright outdoor light. At this tiny sensor size, extra diffraction through the camera’s minuscule aperture degrades image quality. Based upon Nikon P1000 moon photos, compared to my own moon shots on Sony RX10M4, shooting the P1000 at 1500-3000mm equivalent may be sharper than digitally cropping Sony RX10M4’s 600mm-equivalent images to achieve the same angle of view. (Note that Nikon’s “Moon Shot Mode” is JPEG only, no raw.) This assumes bright light, as with the sunlit lunar surface. In dim light, RX10M4 will gain ground in the comparison.
$800: 35 oz for 24–2000mm equivalent 83x zoom lens f/2.8–6.5 on 1/2.3″ sensor:Nikon COOLPIX P950 (2020, 16mp). Fully articulated LCD. 290 shots per charge. P950 adds a flash hot shoe and can record RAW files (whereas older P900 only captured JPEGs). Compare with P1000 above.
$600-800: 29 oz for 25-400mm equivalent 16x zoom lens f/2.8-4 on 1″-Type sensor:Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ1000 camera (2014, 20mp) with fast autofocus, fully articulated LCD. For $200 more, FZ1000 II (2019, 28.5 oz) is worth the upgrade premium (for new lower-noise sensor and sharper LCD screen & EVF). The FZ1000 II or I is a great-value travel camera and practically antiquates DSLRs for the needs of travel photographers! These excellent 1″-type sensors let you crop down from 20mp to digitally extend telephoto reach.
$1000: 33 oz for 24-480mm equivalent 20x zoom lens f/2.8–4.5 on 1″-Type sensor:Panasonic FZ2500 (2016, 20mp) with fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, great viewfinder magnification, best video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K). 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 Sony RX10M3’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)
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No longer is a DSLR camera with a mirror required for excellent birding and wildlife photography with quick autofocus. The following compact camera with excellent 20-megapixel 1″-Type sensor has a high-quality 25x zoom lens which reaches 600mm equivalent birding territory:
Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens for Nikon (2014, 19 oz) flexibly covers 19x zoom range while matching the quality of name-brand kit lenses. 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.]
For sharper handheld shots, get optical image stabilization built into the lens (Nikon VR, Canon IS) or body (Sony SteadyShot INSIDE). Superior lenses having fast f4 or f/2.8 brightest aperture excel for indoor action but are a heavy burden when traveling.
Newer DSLR lenses optimized for digital
Today, many lenses sold for DSLR cameras are still the older, heavier ones designed for full frame (35mm film size) cameras. By upgrading to newer lenses that are “Optimized For Digital APS-C”, you can save bulk and weight and enjoy comparable image quality with less vignetting.
A few newer lenses are “designed for APS-C only” and 250mm or longer, useful for a wide range of subjects including wildlife shots:
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS (Image Stabilization): 2.8 x 4.3 in (70 x 108mm), 13.8 oz (390g). Canon Rebel APS-C crop factor of 1.6 gives it a field of view equivalent to a 88-400mm lens on 135 film.
Di-II is Tamron’s lighter weight design exclusively for APS-C sensors.
Minimum focus distance 19.3 inches throughout. Magnification ratio 1:3.5 at 270mm (74 x 49 mm coverage).
Tamron claims image sharpness similar to competitors (18-200mm Canon IS, Nikon VR, Sigma OS lenses) at same light weight, while zooming more, 15x versus 11x. Canon 18-200mm IS stabilizes images best of the bunch. Canon’s crop factor 1.6 makes 18-270mm equivalent to 29-432mm. Nikon’s 1.5 crop factor makes a 27-405mm equivalent.
I didn’t like the Tamron 18-270mm VC lens (returned) and instead upgraded to Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens. The Nikon 18-200 “VR I” focused more reliably in low indoors light on a tripod and cropping its 200mm images beat Tamron’s 270mm. The Tamron autofocuses slower and lens creeps badly when pointed up or down.
Avoid older version which lacks VC: TamronDi-II AF 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical (IF) Macro. 430g (15.2oz).
Brand terminology for image stabilization, APS-C-optimization, and fast ultrasonic focusing motors
Lighten your load by shopping for the new, smaller lens formats DX, EF-S, DCand Di II “designed for digitalfor APS-C size sensor cameras only“:
Nikon/NikkorDX format lenses for APS-C only (with “VR, Vibration Reduction” desired)
Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens (new in 2006 with VR I) is great for travel because its size and weight are optimized for Nikon cameras with DX sensors (APS-C size, as in Nikon D3300, D3200, D3100, D5100, D60, & D40X cameras). The DX lens design eliminates the extra glass which would have been required to cover a full 35mm size frame. Nikon DX format cameras have a “field of view crop factor” of 1.5, so this lens labeled 18-200mm can be thought of as a 27-300mm in 135 film terms.
Canon EF-S lenses for APS-C only (with “IS, Image Stabilization” desired)
Sigma DC lenses for APS-C only (with “OS, Optical Stabilization” desired)
Tamron Di II lenses for APS-C only (with “VC, Vibration Compensation” desired).
Note: Because the above DX, EF-S, DC and Di II lenses are designed for cameras with APS-C size sensor only, they will cause vignetting (darkened corners) at the wide angle end of their zoom if used on “full frame sensor” SLR cameras, such as on the expensive Nikon D3 (FX format), Nikon D700, Canon EOS 5D, or pricier Canon EOS 1D camera.
For sharper handheld shooting in significantly dimmer lighting situations without a tripod, insist on lenses designed with image stabilization (VR, IS, OS or VC above). By eliminating much time formerly spent setting up a tripod, I can better keep pace with non-photographers on group treks.
Note that the Sony Alpha (A-series) builds the image stabilization into the camera body with sensor-shift technology, which is a fine idea, except that comparable Nikon D60 and Canon Rebel cameras of 2009 gain back Sony’s handheld advantage through lower noise at a higher ISO settings. Then using a Nikon VR or Canon IS lens beats Sony’s handheld low light performance.
Also look for the fastest focusing lenses with ultrasonic motors to capture flighty animals, a feature branded as follows:
Canon – USM, UltraSonic Motor
Nikon – SWM, Silent Wave Motor
Sigma – HSM, Hyper Sonic Motor
Tamron – PZD, Piezo Drive autofocus system powered by a fast and quiet standing-wave ultrasonic motor
Olympus – SWD, Supersonic Wave Drive
Panasonic – XSM, Extra Silent Motor
Pentax – SDM, Supersonic Drive Motor
Sony & Minolta – SSM, SuperSonic Motor
The quality of new lenses usually equals or exceeds comparable past models.
Wildlife and birding lenses for APS-C cameras
For serious photography of wildlife or birds using an an APS-C size sensor camera, use telephoto lens labeled at least 300mm (angle of view equivalent to 450mm lens on 135 film or 35mm sensor). If your telephoto lens falls short of this, then you can crop to enlarge, at the cost of fuzzier images due to lowered resolution. A maximum aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 saves money and weight, yet can take decent images in good daylight (usually sharpest if stopped down one or two stops from wide open). Professional wildlife and bird photographers can sharpen image quality with heavier, more expensive lenses with brightest aperture f/4 in a 500mm or longer conventional lens (equivalent in terms of 135 film or 35mm sensor), possibly using a full frame 35mm-sensor camera.
CROP FACTOR: Cameras with APS-C size sensors have an “angle of view crop factor” that extends the telephoto by 1.5x for Nikon (or 1.6x for Canon) cameras, when compared to using the same lens on 135 film or 35mm sensor. For example, a favorite travel lens labeled “18-200mm” focal length has the angle of view of a “27-300mm” in terms of 135 film or 35mm sensor, on a Nikon DX format camera such as the Nikon D5100, D5000, D3300, or D60. A Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens makes a great all-around travel lens, with a big 11x zoom that minimizes lens changes so that you don’t miss a shot. However, this 200mm telephoto is too short for serious wildlife photo enlargements, unless you are satisfied with web display or small 4×6 prints of animals. A Nikon DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens would better reach distant birds.
Photo: In Sagarmatha National Park near Mount Everest, that flash of iridescent blue, orange and green is a Danfe or Danphe Pheasant, the national bird of Nepal. Telephoto tips:
On APS-C size sensor cameras (such as Nikon DX format), for bigger prints of wildlife or birds, use a lens focal length of at least 300mm (which has an angle of view equivalent to a 450mm lens on 135 film or a 35mm-size sensor, a diagonally field of view of 8 degrees & 15 minutes).
An editor can act as a digital zoom: In Adobe Lightroom editor, I cropped to 10% of the original image to make an acceptable 4×6-inch bird print (but any larger print would look fuzzy at reading distance). The pheasant, 70 feet away in fog, would have been sharper if I had used a telephoto longer than 200mm on my APS-C sensor camera.
[2007 photo: Nikon D40X DSLR, 10mp 3872 x 2592, cropped to 858 x 1002 pixels; published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. ]
Full-frame conventional lenses are bigger and heavier
The expensive “full frame” DSLR cameras (such as Nikon D600 camera, Nikon D700, or Nikon D3 with FX format; Canon EOS 6D, 5D or pricier Canon EOS 1D) require the conventional lens size which focuses sharply to the area of 35mm film, about 36 x 24 mm. Many new lenses are “optimized for digital” to work with both conventional and APS-C size sensors, to reduce vignetting (darkening at corners). For example, Sigma brand lenses labelled DG and Tamron Di lenses are the conventional size, optimized for both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras (though sometimes working better for one particular format).
Using these large, conventional lenses on APS-C size cameras can have some plus and minuses:
Advantages of conventional size lenses: The small APS-C size sensor (measuring about 22 x 15 mm) uses just the central area of the conventional 35mm lens, or the “sweet spot”, where images are usually sharpest, with lowest distortion (by not using the outside edges). Also, older lenses may be cheaper, easier to obtain, or already owned in your kit. And if you upgrade from an APS-C camera to a full frame DSLR, the conventional lens may stay compatible.
Disadvantages: Conventional size lenses are bigger and heavier (versus the newer Nikon DX, Canon EF-S, Sigma DC, and Tamron Di II lenses “for APS-C size sensor cameras only”), and most people won’t eke an advantage from conventional lenses versus the APS-C-only lenses.
In the lens brand list below, Popular Photography magazine October 2008 rates the following excellent travel lenses as roughly equal in image quality: Nikon 70-300mm 4.5-5.6G VR (which I’ve enjoyed using); Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM; and Sigma 120-400mm 4.5-5.6DG APO OS HSM AF:
Canon full-frame (EF-mount) conventional lenses with IS (Image Stabilization) for wildlife & travel images:
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM. 3.2 x 3.9 in., 25.4 oz (82.4 x 99.9 mm, 720g), makes a great extension to the IS kit lens sold with the Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (new December 2014, 55.3 oz) 3.7 x 7.6″, 77mm filter, 4 stops image stabilization, L-series weather resistance, reduced ghosting and flaring, 3.2-foot closest focus, new Rotation-Type Zoom Ring prevents dust sucking.
1998 version: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens. 48.0 oz (1380g), 3.6 x 7.4″ (92 x 189mm), 77mm filter, 1.5 stops image stabilization, 6.5 feet closest focus, push-pull zoom (sucks dust)
plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture
Nikon/Nikkor full frame (F Mount) conventional lenses with VR (highly desirable Vibration Reduction) for wildlife & travel photography, in order of increasing price:
Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G ED-IF lens (equivalent to 105-450mm angle of view in terms of 135 film). 26 ounces; 5.6″ length; 4.9 foot minimum focus. Compatible with full frame Nikon D3 DSLR. Lens size and price point attract sports and wildlife/birder photographers. Nikkor 70-300mm is sharper than Nikkor 18-200mm VR.
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED Autofocus VR Zoom Nikkor Lens: (120-600mm equivalent angle of view when used on a Nikon DX mount/APS-C camera) 3.6 x 6.7 inches; 48.0 oz (1360 g). Ken Rockwell says “This lens is a miracle…to shoot still subjects with long exposures without needing a tripod…but for sports you may want the 70-300 AF-S VR.” One reader complained that this lens “does not have AF-S, so I found the focusing too slow for moving birds…and it didn’t bring birds in close enough”.
Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED lens: 4.9 x 14.4 inches; 115.5 oz (3275 g). One of my readers was “impressed with the speed of its AF and the quality of the pictures, but the lens is awfully large and heavy”. About $5500.
plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture
Sony Alpha DSLR full frame conventional lenses:
Sony SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization (the sensor-shift built into Sony Alpha DSLR camera bodies) is a half or full stop of shutter speed worse than Nikon or Canon lens-based image stabilization, but Sony lenses may cost less for similar quality.
Sony A-mount 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II lens (53 oz/3.3 lb/1500g, 3.7 x 7.7 inches, SAL-70400G2, 2013) (or SAL-70400G lens, both for Alpha DSLRs) can be adapted onto a NEX camera using Sony LA-EA2 mount adaptor (7 oz, with translucent mirror for fast phase detection autofocus) but lacks OSS, thereby limiting hand-held photography and increasing tripod usage. Minimum focus distance 1.5m, filter size 77mm. This SAL-70400G2 SSM II lens is very sharp wide open at 400mm, has 4x faster autofocus, less flare/ghosting, and higher contrast images than previous version. As with comparable rival lenses, they have poor bokeh >250mm compared to prime lenses.
By the way, I don’t recommend using Sony A-mount lenses (such as 70-300mm or -400mm) on E-mount bodies (such as A6400, A6300, A6000). Designed for in-body stabilization for Sony Alpha DSLRs, A-mount lenses all lack OSS (thereby requiring more tripod use on E-mount bodies). A-mount lenses also require a hefty A-mount adapter on E-mount bodies:
Sony LA-EA1 adapter (with Manual focus only, NO AUTOFOCUS).
You’d be better off using E-mount lenses on Sony A6400, A6300, or A6000.
Tamron and Sigma make good value full-frame conventional zoom lenses suitable for shooting birds and wildlife plus a wide range of other subjects, fitting many different brand camera bodies:
Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD Zoom Lens (2014, 19 oz) for Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Sony Alpha mounts: attractive for wildlife/travel photography with ultrasonic PZD motor. Tamron “Di” lens designed for both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras. 42-450mm equivalent lens on Nikon DX format cameras (APS-C with 1.5x field of view multiplier), where the angle of view zooms from 75°23′ to 8°15′. Close focus 19 inches. Internal Focus (IF).
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD (2014, 69 oz/4.30 lb/1951 g, 4.2 x 10.2″) for Canon EF mount, Nikon F mount, and Sony Alpha A-mount: 225-900mm equivalent on APS-C. UltraSonic Drive autofocus motor. Shoot at around f/8 for sharpest results (given sufficient tripod use and/or shutter speed). Excellent dollar value. Comparisons:
The 2008 Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM is no sharper at 500mm than the Tamron is at 600mm.
This Tamron 150-600mm matches image quality at half the price of Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR.
The Tamron’s modern optics easily beat the 1999 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM.
Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro lens. 3.0 x 4.6 in. 435g (15.3 oz). Not image stabilized.
Tamron SP AF200-500mm F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) lens. 3.7 x 8.9 in. 1237g (43.6 oz). Not image stabilized.
The following full-frame conventional zoom lenses by Sigma are a good price-value, fitting several different brand camera bodies:
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2 in). Note: Sigma’s heavier, professional 150-600mm Sports version (2015, 101 ounces, 11.5-inches long) is splash and dust-resistant, focuses as close as 102-inches, and has 24 elements in 16 groups.
Sigma APO 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG OS lens: Optical Stabilization helps by about 2 stops or so. Does not have HSM and may be slow to focus. 1750g/61.9 oz, 3.7 x 7.6 in.
Sigma APO 50-500mm F4-6.3 EX DG HSM lens: 1,840g/64.9 oz; 3.7 in. x 8.6 in. It has no optical stabilization; but good DSLR cameras can compensate by a few stops using high ISO settings.
plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture.
Sigma glossary of terms: DG = Sigma’s conventional full-size lens. In the future, look for newer, smaller 300mm and longer Sigma “DC” lenses for APS-C only. OS = Optical Stabilization, very desireable. HSM = Hyper Sonic Motor for quiet and high-speed AF (Auto Focus), very desirable.
Tokina full-frame conventional lens for wildlife:
Tokina 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 ATX 840 AF D: Angle of view 29° 50’ to 6°13’ on APS-C camera; Minimum focus distance 2.5m (8.2 ft.); dimensions 3.1 in. (79mm) X 136.5 mm (5.4in.); 1020 g (35.9 oz); introduced June 2006, for Canon EOS and Nikon D. Unfortunately no image stabilization.
Check prices at Amazon.com. — buying at the links on this page supports Tom Dempsey’s work.
TELEPHOTO TIPS: How to avoid out-of-focus shots on any camera
Make sure image stabilization (IS, VR, OS, VC, or OIS) is turned on for all hand held shots (especially when using telephoto), to counteract blurring due to hand shake at slower shutter speeds.
Focus will be most difficult towards longest telephoto end of the zoom, due to hand shake and lens limitations, especially in low light. At 400mm using Canon IS or Nikon VR on an APS-C sensor, shoot at about 1/125th second or faster for sharper shots. For APS-C cameras in general, divide the lens mm by two, and the inverse is near the slowest possible sharp shutter speed when image stabilization is turned on. Raising ISO will help achieve faster shutter speeds.
Most DSLR lenses are sharpest stopped down by one or two stops from wide open: f/8 is easiest to remember as a good optimum that reduces the chromatic aberrations of wide open and prevents the light diffraction of small openings at high aperture numbers such as f/22.
Automatic multi-point focus usually hunts for the closest, brightest object, and is often not what you wanted to focus on, but can react faster than your fingers for capturing wildlife, sports, and action.
For shooting non-moving subjects on most cameras, a single AF point in the center (not multi point automatic) is more accurate. Lock focus, recompose, then release the shutter. On many cameras, when using single AF point, it’s easy to accidently press the “AF point selection” off center or forget that it’s off center, focusing on a location different than you thought. Some of the heavier, pricier DSLR models can lock AF point selection to avoid the common problem.
Terminology and metric conversions
oz =ounces. Above camera weights in ounces (oz) include battery and memory card.
g = grams. Multiple ounces by 28.35 to get grams.
sec = second.
mm= millimeters. A centimeter (cm) equals 10 millimeters. Multiplycentimeters (cm) by 0.3937 to get inches.
ILC = Interchangeable Lens Compact = “midsize mirrorless camera” term used above
DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex = a traditional camera where an optical viewfinder uses a mirror to see through the interchangeable lens.
EVF = Electronic Viewfinder.
LCD = Liquid Crystal Display.
OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) beats an LCD in dynamic range from darkest to brightest and consumes less power.
“equivalent“ lens = To compare lenses on cameras having different sensor sizes, equivor equivalent lens refers to what would be the lens focal length (measured in mm or millimeters) that would give the same angle of view on a “full frame” 35mm-size sensor (or 35mm film camera, using 135 film cartridge).
Compared lenses are “equivalent” only in terms of angle of view. (To determine sharpness or quality, read lens reviews which analyze at 100% pixel views.)
“Crop factor” = how many times smaller is the diagonal measurement of a small sensor than a “full frame” 35-mm size sensor. For example, the 1.5x crop factor for Nikon DX format (APS-C size sensor) makes a lens labeled 18-200mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 27-300mm focal length lens used on a 35mm film camera. The 2x crop factor for Micro Four Thirds sensors makes a lens labeled 14-140mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 28-280mm lens used on a 35mm film camera.
In 2013, superzoom often refers to lenses of about 15xzoom range or larger. Steady quality improvements in the resolving power of sensors has made possible superzoom cameras in ever smaller sizes. As superzoom range increases, laws of physics require lenses to focus upon smaller sensors (light detectors) or else to increase lens size. For a given level (most recent year) of technological advancement, a camera with physically larger sensor (bigger light detecting area) should capture better quality for a given zoom lens range.
“10x zoom” = zoom lens telephoto divided by wide angle focal length. For example, a 14-140mm focal length zoom has a 10x zoom range (140 divided by 14). An 18-200mm zoom has an 11x zoom range (200 divided by 18).
“equivalent” F-stop = refers to the F-stop (F-number) on a full-frame-sensor camera which has the same hole diameter as the F-stop of the camera lens being compared. The concept of “equivalent” F-stop lets you compare capabilities for creating shallow depth of field on cameras with different-size sensors. Smaller-sensor cameras use shorter focal lengths for the same field of view, so at a given F-stop they have a smaller physical aperture size, meaning more depth of field (with less blur in front of and behind the focused subject). Formula: F Number (or Relative Aperture) = actual focal length of lens divided by diameter of the entrance pupil.
Buying anything at the above Amazon.com links supports my work.
Regarding smartphones — with great power comes great responsibility (as says the Greek “Sword of Damocles” anecdote, and more recently, Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man). Sadly, monetized social media has enabled extreme memes to shout-down both civility and reality itself. To my relief, Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker restores our faith in the triumph of public good in his important books:
My favorite jagged rock image from Glacier National Park is now enlarged twice onto a Calgary skyscraper! The image glows on two lightboxes wrapping 64 feet and 54 feet around the base of a tower completed by Axiom Builders in June 2019:
SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10th Ave SW, in Calgary, Alberta, CANADA (Corner of 5th St and 10 Ave SW; Google Maps).
Two glass lightboxes display a jagged rock image by Tom Dempsey on the SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, completed in June 2019. Tom photographed the rock in 2002. Made of 30 glass tiles, the lightbox at left wraps the southwest corner 16.3 by 3.5 meters (53.6 feet wide by 11.6 ft high). The larger lightbox at right wraps the southeast corner 19.6 by 8.4 meters (64 feet wide x 27.5 feet high).
Tom Dempsey's rock photo is installed on two large lightboxes at the base of the SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Billion-year-old rock breaks into a jagged pattern in Glacier National Park, Montana. Tom’s image is permanently displayed on the glass of two large lightboxes of a skyscraper completed by Axiom Builders in June 2019: SODO & Residence Inn by Marriott, 610 10th Ave SW, in Calgary, Alberta, CANADA.
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.
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 ZS100costs 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).
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.
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 5Seconds.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
Results: Best image quality at 50mm equivalent in dim light is captured in the following order:
The 4x zoom SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 does best.
The 25x zoom Sony RX10M4 looks almost as good.
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!
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.
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. 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.
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
Three extracts from this Chilean Flamingo image show the crisp 600mm-equivalent telephoto reach of Sony RX10M3 (same lens as RX10M4):
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:
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.)
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:
100% pixel magnification test from five top travel cameras.
Three top travel cameras with excellent macro
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.
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).
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
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.
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:
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 underexposureoccurs 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.
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]
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.
Results: Best image quality at 50mm equivalent in dim light is captured in the following order:
The 4x zoom SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 does best.
The 25x zoom Sony RX10M4 looks almost as good.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Then half press and hold to lock focus on a high-contrast edge grabbed from the subject.
Keep holding the half press and recompose to your desired framing. Then fully click the shutter release to capture the image.
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 Continuousaccording 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:
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).
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 portraits, action & 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 = 
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 DMFsetting 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).
DMFis 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 ONthe 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 Mexposure 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 JPEGand 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.
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):
$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 .
$1000, 33 oz: Panasonic FZ2500 (December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom24-480mmequivalent 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.)
$600, 29 oz: Panasonic 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.
$550, 11 oz: Pocketable: Panasonic 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).
$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 zoom24-450mm 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.]
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.
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 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:
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 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.
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).
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
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:
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:
A Great Blue Heron spears a fish. Photographed along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop in Seattle, Washington, USA.