Sony’s RX100M3: A Good Purchase in 2019?

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BrentSchumer
BrentSchumer Regular Member • Posts: 393
Sony’s RX100M3: A Good Purchase in 2019?
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Sony’s RX100M3: A Good Purchase in 2019?

Sony’s RX100 line of cameras have been a pocket stalwart since their inception in 2012. Through six and a half revisions they have steadily accrued handy features like an electronic viewfinder and neutral density filter, packing the punch of a DSLR into a device that fits into the palm of your hand. Yet despite these refinements, even the best compact cameras have seen their market segment eroded by the proliferation and evolution of smartphone cameras, which now come replete with multiple lenses and AI post-processing. With the RX100M3 back up to $750 USD, is this 2014 device relevant in 2019?

For this review, I will be sharing my impressions, thoughts, and like-for-like samples from my RX100M3 and Google Pixel 2. While this smartphone is over a year old (ancient tech), it was the flagship of its day and includes a fairly mature version of Google’s camera magic. To evaluate the device as both a “pocket DSLR” and point-and-shoot, I tried to capture scenes with manual mode in RAW files and as “out-of-camera” (OOC) JPGs using the camera’s automatic mode. The camera’s software zoom may have been used to create similar compositions, as that is how I use the device. I’m also going to review this camera from two primary perspectives: as a smartphone upgrade and as a smaller dedicated camera.

The RX100M3 introduced revolutionary features for its time that are still useful today. The pop-up EVF is invaluable for taking pictures in the sun and composing carefully. A built-in ND filter allows you to capture bright vistas without lugging around an adapter and ND filters - an uncompromised portable experience. The articulating rear LCD allows you to get high and low shots that are near-impossible with a fixed-screen compact or smartphone, such as shooting a performer above the heads of the crowd. Stabilization saves shots from hand tremors. A 24-70mm focal length lets you frame closer images without heavy cropping (which was the smartphone annoyance that triggered my RX100 purchase in the first place). All of this is offered in a well-built camera that fits tightly in a pants pocket or easily in a jacket pocket.

Yet my Pixel 2 is no slouch. Not only is it a much slimmer package than my RX100, but most of its surface is filled with a gorgeous touchscreen. This allows for lightning-fast, intuitive composition. I probably wouldn’t bother trying to capture a fleeting event on my RX100 (fish it out, wait for it to extend, adjust the manual controls, frame, shoot), but my Pixel 2 is always at the ready and quickly turns ideas into images. More importantly, Google has spent millions of dollars developing post-processing AI that transforms every casual snapshot into a hyper-advanced composite of images, all with zero time in front of a keyboard and mouse. Images from my Pixel 2 pop with HDR+ and expertly-tweaked filters that I don’t have the skill to apply in post-processing, all without a thought. It’s common these days for a smartphone user that picks up a DSLR to be disappointed with their initial images, because they are used to seeing hours of exact post-processing in every picture.

[b]Handling[/b]

For someone coming from another Sony camera, the RX100 is a fairly straight-forward proposition. The buttons can be tweaked to ensure all of your common exposure parameters a press away. With a center focus point or manual focus (assisted by focus peaking), I can rapidly set up an image and capture the exposure that I am looking for. On the other hand, Sony’s lack of touchscreen on a product sold in 2019 makes focus point movement an excruciating affair and major annoyance for anyone used to thumbing a joystick or stroking a finger across a rear LCD. This is offset by having an EVF and tilt LCD available for your composing needs, making this camera more versatile than peers with a single fixed screen. The Sony menus allow for tweaking nearly everything but are laid out seemingly at random and should be avoided. Luckily, most functions can be mapped to a rear button or the twelve-item function menu, meaning that I only access the main menus to change time zones or format my SD card. If you’re coming from a smartphone, you’re going to wonder if Sony is performing experiments to measure your patience. I myself bought a reasonably thick book to explain the RX100M3’s myriad options, which is probably some sort of red flag. You can leave all the decisions up to scene automatic mode, but the decisions that it makes often result in blurred photos, grainy photos, and other artifacts of poor trade-offs. To get the most out of your RX100M3, you need to climb a learning curve and take the helm.

The Pixel 2 is a polar opposite of the RX100. Focus point selection is instant with each tap, and the few options available are all a swipe or touch away. The camera decides how to set up each exposure, meaning that you’re free to focus on composition and your surroundings. I rarely find myself disagreeing with the choices of Google’s AI, with failed shots coming from the limitations of the phone sensor instead of some trade-off between ISO and shutter speed.

If you’re looking to define the parameters of each exposure, the RX100M3 gives you control that cannot be replicated with Google’s offering. If you want to point-and-shoot your way to captured memories, the Pixel 2 is a much more intuitive device. While it lacks some of the goodies that make for better edge-case composition (such as a tilt screen) the baseline camera experience is completely intuitive and instantly responsive. I prefer taking pictures with my RX100 but have to give the nod for handling to Google’s past flagship.

[b]Video[/b]

What’s video? Let’s talk still images!

[b]The Pictures[/b]

Because these two devices differ so much in how they take pictures I’m going to type less and show more.

RX100M3; full auto; OOC JPG

Pixel 2

These first two images of New York's iconic Upper West side are surprisingly close in detail without pixel peeping (no, that's not a pun). The RX100 OOC JPG appears more vibrant, likely due to the built-in ND filter.

When you zoom in, you see why I wasn't happy with the limited focal length of a smartphone:

RX100M3; full auto; OOC JPG

RX100M3; manual exposure; light post-processing of RAW file

Pixel 2

While the Pixel 2 struggles valiantly, a digital zoom will always be inferior to the optical variety. You can see that the Sony OOC JPG is rather subdued, a problem that I find very common with this camera.

Next up is a tree in Central Park:

RX100M3; manual exposure; light post-processing of RAW file

RX100M3; manual exposure; OOC JPG

RX100M3; full auto; OOC JPG

Pixel 2

Again, without pixel peeping I find the Pixel 2 image sufficiently detailed and pleasing to the eye. Zoom in to 100% to see how much more detail is in that RX100 image, if you choose to crop. Also note how lifeless the OOC of my manual exposure was. Without post-processing, I would prefer the Pixel 2 output.

One final outdoor shot, teasing the Temple of Dendur chamber at the Met:

RX100M3; manual exposure; light post-processing of RAW file

RX100M3; manual exposure; OOC JPG

RX100M3; full auto; OOC JPG

Pixel 2

The RX100M3 is a clear winner here. Note that the RAW file appears over-saturated but I did not adjust saturation or color at all.

Today the Met greeted me with a sumptuous bouquet!

RX100M3; manual exposure; light post-processing of RAW file

RX100M3; manual exposure; OOC JPG

 BrentSchumer's gear list:BrentSchumer's gear list
Sony RX100 III Sony a6400 Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS Sony E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
20 megapixels • 3 screen • 24 – 70 mm (2.9×)
Announced: May 16, 2014
BrentSchumer's score
3.5
Average community score
3.9
bad for good for
Kids / pets
weak
Action / sports
bad
Landscapes / scenery
great
Portraits
okay
Low light (without flash)
weak
Flash photography (social)
okay
Studio / still life
great
= community average
Google Pixel 2
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