(Pocket-lint) - As its name suggests, the RX10 III is the third iteration of Sony's RX10 bridge camera, building on the appeal of the RX10 II (which Sony continues to market and sell) by boosting the optical zoom's reach.
Given that the limited 24-200mm equivalent zoom was one of the few criticisms one could land against the RX10 II, does that make the RX10 III the perfect bridge camera? After spending a few weeks in its company, here's what we make of it.
Sony RX10 III review: Design and build quality
The RX10 III is certainly pricey by bridge camera standards – in fact it's more expensive than many mid-range DSLRs – but there's much about it that transcends the expectations of a camera in this class.
One of these factors is the build quality, which is among the best you'll find in a camera of this type. We're talking almost pro-level in terms of construction: the body is weather-sealed, which means you can use it in the rain or snow (or even in a dust storm) without worrying about the conditions forcing you into a costly trip to the repair shop.
It's not fully waterproof – don't go dropping it in any fishponds – but it'll withstand anything the remnants of Britain's summertime can throw at it with nary a shrug.
It's a heavy, bulky camera, though. Much of that is down to the large lens barrel (there's plenty of glass in there) and a good proportion of metal in the body. There's a reassuring feel of sturdiness in the build, but the weight and DSLR-like dimensions mean it's not the easiest thing to have hanging around your neck all day; a decent protective bag might well prove a worthwhile companion purchase.
In terms of the design, things in the RX10 III are very similar to the RX10 II: the control layout is near identical, which a good thing, as the buttons are all well positioned for easy access, and the lens rings for zoom, focus and aperture control are large, with enough resistance that they give you a pleasing measure of control); the tilting 3-inch screen is sharp and vibrant, even on bright days (although there's no touch sensitivity, which is annoying); and the wonderfully detailed, bright, natural-looking 2.36-million dot OLED viewfinder makes for a fantastic way to compose photos and videos.
There's a hotshoe for adding flashguns, microphones and other accessories; and ports at the side for plugging in headphones and mics; and a micro HDMI output. This is a camera designed for enthusiast filmmaking rather than just a bit of home video messing about. It also features USB recharging, which is a useful feature if you're going to be doing a lot of shooting away from mains power.
Sony RX10 III review: Performance
Like its predecessor, the RX10 III comes packed with a dizzying variety of shooting modes. There's the usual collection of automatic, scene, manual, program, aperture and shutter priority modes, as well as an auto-stitched panoramic shooting mode and a manual movie mode.
There's even an HFR (high frame-rate) mode for shooting video at frame rates of up to 1,000fps. Capture a second or two (the camera limits you to very short clips) of something at this speed and, when played back at regular frame rates, it runs in gloriously smooth slo-mo. If you've been impressed by similar stuff on smartphones, the RX10 III's performance will blow you away – not only can it capture at a much faster rate (giving you slower, smoother playback) but the image quality is just all-round better. Is it a feature you'll use all the time? Probably not – but if you're willing to dedicate a bit of patience and time to capturing the right stuff, you can create some incredible clips.
You could do the same on the RX10 II, but now you get that big zoom range to play with as well: the RX10 III's 24-600mm equivalent optical zoom (as opposed to 24-200mm on the RX10 II), plus a pretty digital zoom on top of that. That zoom – in conjunction with the camera's superb SteadyShot optical image stabilisation – allowed us to capture, handheld, this photo of the moon:
There is a downside to the new, longer lens, though: its maximum aperture range begins at f/2.4 and dips to f/4.0 at full extension. Still pretty good, but it's not the f/2.8 throughout the range that the RX10 II offered, making the two cameras quite different propositions.
The RX10 III's fast shooting comes paired with a stacked 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor, which uses attached memory to capture images at a much faster speed than most consumer cameras can manage. It allows not only that HFR shooting, but shutter speeds as fast as 1/32000 of a second, 14fps continuous stills shooting, and XAVC 4K video capture at 30fps with no pixel binning (meaning a less compression-heavy 4K output than many 4K-capturing cameras).
Another feather in the RX10 III's cap is its fast, accurate autofocus, which will rarely let you down when you're trying to capture a moving subject. The only time that might become a problem is at maximum extension in dim conditions, but even then it's proven itself time and again.
Sony RX10 III review: Image quality
A camera can boast all the features in the world, but if the quality of its videos and photos sucks, it's worthless. Thankfully, the RX10 III doesn't falter at this vital hurdle, delivering images with gorgeous depth, detail, colour reproduction and, where possible, buttery smooth bokeh.
Thanks to the large sensor, wide aperture and image processing tech, low-light performance is a surprisingly strong point. Bridge cameras aren't known for producing the goods once the sun dips below the horizon, but the RX10 III can hold its own. You'll definitely notice noise start to creep into shots as the ISO gets higher, mind you – but it's not going to ruin otherwise great images.
That lens is big, and adds a lot to the camera's bulk, but it's that way for a reason because of the optics within. And in terms of sharpness and distortion it performs excellently throughout its range. It also deals well with flare, so you can shoot on a bright sunny day without having to fret too much about your photos being spoiled by errant rays of light.
Whether you want to shoot close-up or far-away subjects, the quality and sharpness of the RX10 III's images will make you think they've been shot by a DSLR or similar. It's a strong performance indeed.
The RX10 II was by no means a disappointing camera, but the RX10 III takes its only real flaw – its lack of zoom reach – and tosses it out the window. The result is a bridge camera that equals and in many ways beats many DSLRs when it comes to image quality and offers, with its single lens, a stunning level of flexibility and versatility. If you're ok with the big scale, anyway.
Many bridge cameras feel like jacks of all trades, masters of none, but Sony has produced one that truly masters most areas of stills and video photography. It’s certainly the best bridge camera on the market right now – although the high price tag will prove a sticking point for many consumers. If you can ever get hold of one at a marked down price, we suggest you snap it up.