A few days back I purchased Sony RX10 III. Both Sony RX10 III and Panasonic Lumix FZ2500 (which I had a chance to try out for a few days earlier) are 1-inch sensors based long zoom consumer cameras. Both share quite a many features in common. Here is my brief hands-on use of Sony RX10 III. I only had the camera for over a week. So the review is not comprehensive. I will also compare both these camera and will try to highlight the differences between them in this brief review.
The Sony RX10 III was announced in March 2016, with a variable aperture (f/2.4-4) mega zoom lens, with a reach from 24mm to 600mm (25x optical and 100x digital zoom). The RX10 III caters to the serious enthusiast end of the market; a photographer who is looking for ultimate image quality and telephoto reach in a bridge-style package.
The RX10 III has the same 20.1 million pixel 1-inch stacked Exmor CMOS sensor and offers the same excellent 4K video functionality. The main talking point of RX10 III is the large and impressive Zeiss 24-600mm lens. If we compare other bridge cameras with 1-inch sensors, with the much older Panasonic FZ1000 only going to 400mm and the newer Panasonic FZ2500 which I tested earlier goes up to 480mm.
The variable aperture of f/2.4-4 still makes this a pretty fast lens, certainly compared to the competition, and it boasts hugely impressive minimum focusing distances of 3cm at the wide end and 72cm at the long end. Most bridge cameras are good for close-up only at the wide end. This camera has 0.42x magnification at the wide end but a very impressive 0.49x at the tele end. The advantage of this is that you get considerable closeup at a far greater subject distance. This capture distnce is very useful for a closeup of shy insects like dragonfly and butterfly captures.
As with other Sony compact and bridge cameras, an extensive range of shooting options and photo modes are included, with 3:2, 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 formats for both raw and JPEG images. Maximum resolution is 5472 x 3648 pixels in its native 3:2 format. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-12,800, expandable to ISO64-25,600.
Single shot autofocus (AFS), continuous (AFC), direct manual focus (DMF) and full manual focus (MF) are available, with Sony’s very practical focus magnification and focus peaking options making the latter easy to use.
The EVF and tilting rear LCD are both high quality; the latter isn’t a touchscreen, but unless you’re using the camera on a tripod a touchscreen wouldn’t be particularly practical given the size and weight of the camera.
There’s no getting around the bulk of the Sony RX10 III. It’s very well made and comfortable in hand. For a more casual user, its size and price is a significant deterrent factor. If they want such long telephoto reach, may opt for the Panasonic FZ300 (which is the new version of Panasonic Lumix FZ200 I reviewed a few years back) which has a smaller sensor but also offers 4K shooting. FZ300 does benefit from a constant f/2.8 aperture, albeit with a much smaller sensor.
However, if you want the ultimate image quality in a bridge camera, it’s hard to look beyond the class-leading performance of the RX10 III’s Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens, and I’m sure enthusiasts looking for more reach and a highly specified camera will be attracted to this. Whether you are prepared to pay the hefty price tag is another matter.
At a little over a kilo in weight (1050g with battery and SD card), it feels more DSLR-like in-hand. It measures 132.5 x 94.0 x 127.4mm and feels substantially larger and heavier. Much of this is down to the sizeable glass of the 24-600mm equivalent, 72mm diameter lens.
Although plastic-feeling, the build is reassuringly solid, and its generous, protruding front grip and rounded body style mean, you’re able to grip the camera securely and comfortably. Those with small hands may find the grip a little too large, but it feels in proportion to the size of the camera. I found the ergonomics splendid, with buttons and dials falling in the right place for my finger positions.
The on/off switch is toggle-style. It is part of the shutter button on top of the front grip. It’s easy to access and clicks reassuringly. A lever to the front of this allows you to zoom the lens. The shutter button is also threaded, meaning you can use an old-style cable release. The RX10 III powers up pretty quickly, although there’s inevitably a short delay while the lens extends to its start-up position of 24mm.
The mode dial (left) and exposure compensation dial (right) both have a textured side and just the right amount of resistance, making them easy to adjust precisely. Two customizable function buttons, an LCD light and the pop-up flash button, are also included on the right, and behind these is a small LCD panel that displays key settings. The small but solidly built pop-up flash and hot shoe complete the to plate layout.
An aperture ring is included to the rear of the lens and can be de-clicked for video use. There are also two textured rings for zoom and focusing. I found it easier to zoom in small increments using the lens ring rather than the lever on the front grip. I found the focusing ring responsive and easy to use, with a conveniently located focus hold button to the left of the lens. A focus mode switch is on the bottom left of the camera body; I found it slightly fiddly, but quick access to this feature is welcome.
Much of the rear of the RX10 III is taken up by the impressive 1,228,800 dot, tilting 3-inch LCD screen. The XGA OLED electronic viewfinder is excellent and boasts a 2,359,296 dot resolution. It’s responsive, clear and bright, and works well with glasses. It has 0.7x magnification, an eye sensor to allow automatic switching between EVF and LCD, and a generous dioptre adjustment. A lens hood, as well as a pinch style lens cap, are included in the box.
Menu and movie buttons sit either side of the EVF. The rear control dial and control wheel operate smoothly and are easily accessed, enabling you to select and adjust various menu items and settings. The control wheel and centre button also allow you to change the placement and size of the focus area when using flexible spot AF. AE lock, quick function, playback and delete buttons complete the line-up; the latter can also work as a third custom function button.
The new 24-600mm lens on the Sony RX10 III performs extremely well throughout its zoom range. At most focal lengths the lens is remarkably sharp wide open. At its wider end, I did notice tiny softness at the far outer edge of the frame. However, at telephoto focal lengths, the image is impressively detailed across the frame, right up to 600mm.
Sharpness increases marginally when stopping down slightly. Diffraction becomes more noticeable by f/11, although with a little more sharpening applied details are still very usable. I would avoid going much above this if possible – by f/16 there’s a noticeable fall-off in quality, as you’d expect. So effectively working aperture here is from f/4 to f/11. F/5.6 seems the sharpest aperture in most circumstances.
Out of focus areas are rendered pleasingly, although f/2.4 is only available up until 35mm, with f/4 the widest aperture available above 100mm. Isolating subjects from their background can be a challenge at times, but the RX10 III still beats most of the competition in this respect. Distortion and chromatic aberration are both very well controlled throughout the range; I struggled to notice any examples of either, after photographing a range of subjects in varied conditions.
The lens can resolve both close and distant details, and its impressively close focusing distances of 3cm at the wide end and 72cm at the long end make it extremely versatile. Most potential purchasers of this camera are likely to shoot primarily in raw, but I was also impressed by the quality of the RX10 III’s JPEGs. Colours are punchy and pleasing, with plenty of options for customization, and resolution and dynamic range are both excellent.
Even at higher sensitivities, I was impressed with the quality of the JPEG files. I found that using noise reduction at its lowest setting gave a good compromise between detail and noise, with files very clean and detailed up to ISO1600; the raw files do have more detail, but the difference is surprisingly small. Above ISO1600, JPEG quality is still remarkably good, with very manageable noise levels, and up to ISO6400.
Metering is accurate, and I was impressed with the dynamic range of the sensor, for both raw files and JPEGs, even without utilising any of the HDR options. Auto white balance (AWB) is very accurate in sunny conditions, but tends to be a little on the cool side in the shade, with a slight magenta bias; in such conditions selecting Shady gives a pleasing image, if very slightly on the warm side.
Autofocus is a bit of a mixed bag with the RX10 III. At wider focal lengths the AF is pretty snappy, working well for both still and moving subjects. At the longer end of its range, however, AF is pretty slow, even with still subjects; it’s accurate, once it’s found its target, but the lens is prone to hunting. This is exacerbated if you’re trying to track a fast-moving subject at longer distances. For closer and slower-moving subjects I found I could get good results using centre lock tracking and the slow burst rate. The lack of blackout during continuous shooting is a definite bonus and makes it far easier to follow your subject.
Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation is very useful and, with Auto ISO enabling you to set a minimum shutter speed, you can customise the settings to ensure camera shake shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a big camera, though, and a long lens, particularly when extended, so I found a minimum setting of 1/125 sec was a safe option at longer focal lengths; at the wider end, 1/25 sec was readily achievable.
Although the RX10 III is suited more to enthusiasts, Sony has included a wide range of scene modes, creative styles and picture effects, which are fun to use and will no doubt be welcomed by some users. At the opposite end of the scale, it’s good to see options such the ability to use the self-timer in conjunction with bracketing, as well as many other features found on Sony’s higher-end system cameras.
Sony RX10 III High Frame Rate Test shot at 500 Fps
Video enthusiasts won’t be disappointed with an excellent range of filming options, with 4K and HD modes and the ability to extract 8MP stills from 4K movies. The High Frame Rate (HFR) feature is a great choice, enabling you to create slow-motion videos; we can shoot at 250x, 500x as well as 1000x speeds. All these HFR modes are not continuous captures. They allow you to shoot clips between 2 to 4 seconds depending on the mode you use. Since you are not able to shoot before or after the clip even at slower speed, HFR actually can be used to capture some critical moments only. I was also very impressed with the camera’s ability to handle mixed and contrasty light when shooting movies.
In conclusion, Sony RX10 III is a highly capable camera, offering an enormous focal range and excellent image quality, and I found it intuitive and great fun to use. Let us see how it compares with its only competition in the market Panasonic FZ 2500.
Here are the advantages of Sony RX10 III over Panasonic FZ2500. RX10 III has larger lens aperture – f/2.4 vs. f/2.8 of FZ2500. It has a reach of 600 mm vs. 480 mm. Its battery lasts 420 vs. 350 shots. Burst rate while shooting JPEG is 14.2 fps vs. 11.4 fps. RX10 III has slow motion video capability in the form of HFR, which FZ2500 lacks. Fastest shutter speed of RX10 III is 1/32000 vs. 1/16000 of the FZ2500.
Here are the advantages of Panasonic FZ2500 over Sony RX10 III. FZ2500 has Tilt-swivel vs. tilt-only screen of RX10 III giving better shooting flexibility. The screen is also touch enabled, while RX10 III lacks touch. Panasonic has built in Neutral Density filters so that you can take slow shutter speed photos without adding the screw on filters which are must for a shoot on Sony. FZ2500 allows a long shutter speed of 60 seconds vs. 30 seconds by RX10 III. FZ2500 has bigger JPEG buffer so it can take 100 shots before waiting to write. Sony has only buffer for 44 shots. FZ2500 also allows 10.6 fps Raw bust shoot vs. RX10 III ‘s 8.0 fps. FZ2500 is also considerably cheaper than Sony.
It’s a tough call between these two cameras. On the surface, Sony appears to just about take the lead with the extra zoom, and slightly better battery life. But the Panasonic is very closely matched, offering a better screen and other appealing features such as 4K Photo – not to mention a price which is markedly cheaper.
So what is my verdict on Sony RX 10 III ?
While producing superb still images, video quality is truly impressive. The camera is packed with useful functions and features and offers fun creative modes for those who like to experiment. As we’ve come to expect from Sony, dynamic range is impressive, particularly when you consider this is only a 1-inch sensor. JPEG quality is excellent straight from the camera, while the raw files are great to work with for those who prefer to fine-tune images in post-processing.
The slow autofocus at its longer end is frustrating, and this isn’t a camera I’d want to use for fast action photography. But with a slower subject and static scenes as in general shooting and travel camera, though, the RX10 III is hard to beat, as long as you don’t mind its bulk.
For wanting a one-camera solution, with great functionality, versatility and image quality, the RX10 III should be high on their list.The price is high, though, and this may deter some potential buyers. If you are more into a video rather than still photography, then FZ2500 is a better camera even though it lacks the High frame rate which RX10 III can magically perform. It is the kind of camera that you will like to carry when you are on a safari in Africa or when you are travelling on a multi-city cruise holiday because it does everything, and does it well.
Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post by Sony or anyone else. I purchased camera from my own money for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience. Photo of the Sony RX10 III camera are from Sony website.