How do you follow up a classic? Last year, we called Sony’s then-new RX10 II “the best bridge camera ever” - but less than a year on, it’s already got a successor.
Sony’s slapped an extra roman numeral on the end and on paper the camera looks a lot like its predecessor, but the RX10 III has one significant difference: it’s got a bloomin’ huge lens and offers 25x zoom over the RX10 II’s 8.3x.
So, has Sony managed to make an already cracking camera even more appealing? You bet your bum it has.
THE SAME, BUT BETTER
If I had to summarise what I liked most about the RX10 II (and I do, that’s kind of how this journalism lark works), it’d be the build quality: incredibly solid and impervious to dust and moisture.
Oh, and that glorious OLED viewfinder as well as the ability to shoot 4K and High Frame Rate (HFR) videos and the excellent image quality in pretty much any shooting situation.
Yep, that’s a long list, but it could be longer - last year’s model hit so many of the marks you’d expect from a bridge camera, it felt perfect. Looking back, it was only possible to have one real criticism: the shortish zoom range.
There are plenty of cheaper bridge cameras out there that have a much longer zoom, but the RX10 II made do with a lowly 8.3x. If there was one thing holding the RX10 II back from properly blowing my socks off, that was it.
The RX10 III fixes that with a 25x zoom, or 24mm to 600mm for camera nerds, and I’ve had to invest in something to keep my socks firmly wrapped around my feet.
That extended range lets you shoot wide-angle one moment, then push right in for a telephoto close-up of some far-off object or person. It adds an extra layer of versatility to what was already a great all-round performer.
Sony has had to make some sacrifices to pull off that huge zoom, though. Unlike the RX10 II, the camera doesn’t keep a constant f/2.8 aperture through the entire zoom range - it’ll shift from f/2.4 to f/4 as you move from wide to telephoto, lowering the amount of light hitting the sensor.
It’s hardly a deal-breaker, as f/4 doesn’t kick in until you hit 100mm, but does mean you’ll need to be a little more aware of how much light you’ve got when you’ve got that lens barrel extended.
Lens changes aside, the RX10 III is much the same as the II: it’s got the same sleek looks, the control layout is nearly identical and the specs have barely changed, barring a 0.1MP drop to the sensor, which is so small it won’t make a difference to image quality.
Don’t worry, Bridge cameras are good for more than just pointing at river-spanning architecture. They get their name from their place in the photographic hierarchy.
Sitting somewhere between compact point-and-shoot snappers, and more serious kit where you can pop off the lens for some new glass (DLRs, compact system cameras and the like), they “bridge the gap” - both in terms of physical size and performance. Generally, you’re getting better results than you would from a compact, but they won’t quite stack up to anything with an interchangeable lens.
The RX10 III is pretty unusual, as it’s a bridge camera that’ll cost you more than most entry-level and mid-range interchangeable lens cameras. On the other hand, it outperforms them too, and its huge zoom lens means you won’t miss the ability to swap lenses all that much.
O-O-LED, CAN YOU SEE
The RX10 III is quite hefty for a bridge camera. There’s a good deal of metal in the body, adding strength and sturdiness, but you’ll be feeling the weight after a day of having this camera slung around your neck.
Weather-proofing is still pretty unusual find in a bridge camera, so it’s great to see it here. It’ll shrug off rain showers as well as sandy beaches, which is particularly handy for outdoor shooting.
Sunshine won’t stop you from seeing what you’re shooting either, thanks to the gorgeous OLED viewfinder. It delivers a bright, sharply detailed and gloriously rich image, making it perfect for composing, previewing and reviewing your shots.
The 3in tilting LCD is a more than capable alternative, even if you can’t flip it out for taking selfies. It’s a strong, contrast-heavy display that deals better with direct sunlight than most camera screens.
LET’S TAKE IT SLOW
The RX10 III’s party trick is High Frame Rate video. You might have taken slo-mo videos on your smartphone, but those generally top out at 250fps. Here, you can shoot at 500 and even 1000fps, which give supremely smooth slow-motion videos when played back at normal speeds.
Video resolution might take a dip and noise increases as you bump up the frame rate, but the end results are some gloriously weird videos. You can film something totally mundane, like water coming out of a tap and it ends up looking otherworldly when played back in slow motion. If you can capture something like a bird in flight or a balloon popping, you’ve got yourself a mini masterpiece.
Using HFR is tricky, though, because the camera can only record at such high rates for very short periods – really just a second or two in 1000fps. It takes preparation and a bit of luck to capture good HFR videos, but it’s lots of fun to play with while you’re striving for perfection.
The RX10 III can also shoot stills at ludicrously fast 1/32000 sec electronic shutter speeds, which lets you leave the aperture wide open in bright sunlight or capture fast-moving subjects in pin-sharp detail.
But what about “normal” stills and video recording – the kind of stuff you’ll be using this camera for 90% of the time? Well, the RX10 III delivers on that front, too.
Its 20.1MP photos are gloriously detailed, with low flare and vivid colours, and as with most Sony cameras, it continues to perform when the light starts to fade. Pictures shot at a high ISO are a little noisier and grainier, but you can shoot indoors or at night without having to worry about all your photos becoming a giant blur-fest.
The large sensor size and wide aperture help when the sun goes down, of course, but also mean you can easily get those brilliant/overdone (depending on how you feel) bokeh effects, where backgrounds are pleasantly smooth and out of focus.
You can record 4K video at up to 30fps or 1080p at 60fps. Quality is ultra-sharp with crisp stereo sound, and you get a wide range of manual options to play with. The RX10 III is not up there with the stuff professionals generally look for, but it’s not all that far off – you could certainly shoot a very fetching short film using this camera.
Sony RX10 III verdict
There's really no point drawing this conclusion out: the RX10 II was a fantastic camera and the RX10 III does nothing but improve upon it.
This latest version is one of the best all-rounders I’ve ever seen and is capable of handling everything you could ask of it with aplomb. If you’re looking for a high-performance camera without the hassle of interchangeable lenses, this should be the one.