The Sony DS-RX100

Sony RX100 Mark III – Is it worth upgrading?

UPDATED 23 July 2014

Once again Sony has updated their RX100 camera with a stunning new release that will surely be a market leader at least until the release of the new promised Panasonic large compact sensor with 4K video recording.

So the question is again is it worth throwing our hard-earned money to this new model and housing or should we stay with what we have got? The Mark I and II are still available at reduced price though it is becoming harder to find Mark I housing as new.

The answer to the question is: it depends on what you are planning to do with your RX100, for some users an upgrade may not be required or even not advised let’s see why. no don’t waste any time with the Mark III.

Every time a new camera is released and reviewed I get a bunch of emails with subject: New Camera XYZ what do you think?

The best reviews you find online are made by sites that specialize in land photography and no consideration is given to underwater use. So not necessarily a camera that is a top performer on land will remain such underwater as this depends on specific characteristics that may be different or even opposite to land requirements.

So those reviews cannot be taken as they are they need interpretation. Personally I use two sites for camera reviews imaging resource and dxo mark I use the first to understand ergonomics, performance and to compare images with other cameras side to side, and the second to check sensor quality and lenses. Imaging resource has made a good article to compare the various RX100 on land read it here

http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2014/06/16/battle-of-the-rx100s-sonys-rx100-vs-rx100-ii-vs-rx100-iii

If you look at a sensor comparison on DXOMark you would conclude that there is no need to upgrade at all if you use your camera primarily for still pictures as the sensor are practically identical in performance as this table demonstrates:

RX100 Sensor Ratings
RX100 Sensor Ratings

As you can see the differences in dynamic range, color depth or ISO are pretty much intangible.

However there are other metrics that are also important let’s see which ones and why.

Flash Recycling

We want our camera on board flash to recycle quickly after a full dump as the RX100 has only TTL flash and the flash can’t set to a minimum manual setting without consequences. Those are the flash recycling times at full output (a full dump will always occur when you don’t aim strobes directly at the subject for example wide angle)

Mark I: 7.2 seconds

Mark II” 4.4 seconds

Mark III: 3.3 seconds

The Mark III is pretty quick and the Mark II is acceptable the first release is definitely too slow.

Minimum Capture Area & Zoom

What is the smallest area that can be captured at wide end at the closest focus distance? This gives you an idea of out of the box close up performance

I do not have precise metrics yet but looking at comparable images on imaging-resource seems like the Mark III is worse than the Mark I and II of at least 20% with a capture width around 90mm versus the already not very good 76mm of the Mark I and II.

To fix this issue we use close up lenses in water that fix to a great extent the focal length and then zoom in to achieve magnification which means longer camera lens more magnification I roughly estimate that the Mark III will be worse of a factor of 0.7x so things will look 1.4x bigger with the Mark III this is terrible news for macro shooters as it means you need to be on top of the subject to fill the frame, this is in some cases not possible.

I have estimated that you need 11 diopters to achieve 1:1 macro so the Subsee 10 and Inon UCL100 that gave real macro on the Mark I and II won’t be sufficient. With two UCL-165 or Dyron 7 you are looking at 2.58″ or 6.5 cm from the back of the first close up lens that means you will be right on top of the subject which is not really an option.

Update July 18th: Nauticam has confirmed that even with their SMC lens the most powerful diopter on the market the capture area is 38mm wide so does NOT achieve 1:1 macro as I suggested…

 

Lens Focal Range

The new mark III has a 24-70mm lens compared to the 28-100mm of the Mark I and II what does this mean?

  • Less magnification with close up lenses and no real 1:1 macro
  • Vignetting or even not possible to use fisheye lenses designed for 28mm lenses

This means that with the Mark III your scene selection will be restricted  compared to the 150 to 24 of the mark I and II.

Update 23 July I have done some tests that confirm my suspicions please look at the following frames. The Mark III once zoom to 28mm actually works fine with the Mark II housing except the power button.

RX100 Mark III with Inon UCL-165 Close up lens
RX100 Mark III with Inon UCL-165 Close up lens

With a single Inon UCL-165 (+6.06 in water) the minimum capture area width is 5.4 cm which is bigger than the Mark II 4.8 cm. Not only that the distance from the top of the lens is only 9cm.

With stacked UCL-165+UCL330 total power 9.09 diopter we get this

Stacked UCL-165+UCL330
Stacked UCL-165+UCL330

4.4 cm width however we start running into problems as the minimum distance from the lens is only 4cm.

We finally achieve 1:1 with two stacked UCL-165 however the distance from the top of the lens is 3cm definitely too little

two UCL-165 stacked
two UCL-165 stacked

I have also tried the Mark III at 28mm and it still vignettes with the Inon UWL-H100 in air until around 30mm. Instead the old UWL-100 28AD is fine at 28mm either way image looks narrower than with the Mark II but this may be an issue with the old housing.

So basically no macro with the Mark III and no decent fisheye as expected.

Underwater Photography Conclusion

Due to the reasons above the best camera for the job is the RX100 Mark II, with the Mark I coming close but being penalized by the strobe recycle time, the Mark III really is not an option for the serious shooter due to limitations of the lens.

Let’s have a look at some other features of the Mark III that are not relevant for stills as much as they are for video.

ND filter

Shooting at the surface with plenty of ambient light or on land can create problems if you want to follow the 180 shutter rule, the ND filter of the Mark III ensures your footage will be smooth on land and in water. Take into account that on land you can apply optical ND filters (I have it for the Mark II) so this is really for underwater use when you are shooting at 1/50 or 1/60 shutter speed and the scene is too bright when you hit f/11 and the lowest possible ISO. Having now tested this feature I confirm it is really valid on land on a bright day to keep the aperture wide.

Clear Image Zoom

This is a special digital zoom with edge enhancement that only worked on JPEG stills on Mark I and II but is now available on video on the mark III. This means an additional 2x zoom is available bringing the focal length to 140mm that is more than adequate for macro. This is not an option on RAW images so irrelevant for still users.

23 July update Having done some tests for macro video (as stacking two diopters is not an option) the image quality suffers but anyway this is all you are left with lacking any other options.

Clear image zoom 1.5x on single UCL-165
Clear image zoom 1.5x on single UCL-165

Image stabilizer

The Mark III adds a further stabilizer mode with additional crop that takes the lens to 96mm equivalent in video mode. This is well worth for super macro hand-held footage and effectively provides an option where you can either use the super steady shot and no clear image zoom when hand-held or leave on only the optical stabilizer and use clear image zoom. If you shoot macro on walls and not on flat sand this is a well worth feature.

Update 23 July 2014

Following a side by side comparison you can find on this link

It follows that there is really no 5 axis stabilisation and only an additional mode with more crop with correction for rolling shutter that anyway does not really work!

Full Sensor Readout Video

The mark III reads the whole sensor not just alternate lines when capturing video this increases should increase the resolution to a great degree and increases the perceived resolution and clarity of your videos. However this does not seem to correspond to real life tests. See this sample with a side by side comparison the Mark III looks visibly worse than its predecessor even on the higher bitrate XAVC!!!

Video Formats

The Mark II introduced a well welcomes 24 Mbps 24/25 fps mode now the Mark III introduces a 50 Mbps mode in XAVC (that can be rewrapped into normal MP4) that produces even better footage although it will be quite demanding on your workstation and most likely some of your home devices will struggle playing the files (my Apple Tv 3rd generation only plays up to 25 Mbps) when uploading files online this will downgrade to 8 Mbps so won’t matter unless you have a good player at home. improves nothing and requires manipulation as the files are actually not MP4 compliant as they have WAV audio (!) they are also inside the AVCHD folder which is painful. As seen above seems like the encoding has got worse on the AVCHD files and only the higher bitrate compares but still does not match the mark II at the lower 24 Mbps!!!

HDMI connection

You can now connect the Mark III to an external HDMI recorder if you are into that kind of semi pro usage. For the normal user this is not relevant: if you are into spending that money probably you have already a DSLR or a Panasonic GH4.

Video Auto Focus

The auto focus in video has got worse you can see an example in the stabiliser test, and actually plenty of frames are blurred on the mark III. Awful!

Underwater Video Conclusion

The Mark I with only a 28 Mbps 50/60p mode is definitely a poor choice, the Mark II is acceptable to most users. and the mark III promises even better performance if you are a serious video user and have another camera to take pictures the Mark III may be well worth it.

The Mark III despite some useful feature is actually a let down and perform worse in practical terms than the mark II that remains my camera of choice.

Summary

If you have a Mark I camera and are frustrated with flash recycling you should be looking at a cheaper upgrade to the Mark II.

If you have a Mark II and your priority is photography upgrading is NOT recommended.

If you don’t have any RX100 get yourself a Mark II or wait for the new Panasonic as the Mark III is pretty much a pile of crap.

Is it the first time I am actually sending back a camera and invoking consumer rights but when I spoke to the camera shop they told me they had other returns and this is not really an upgrade!!!

Look Right inThe above image was shot at 100mm equivalent with one diopter with the RX100 Mark II. You won’t be able to fill the frame with the same close up lens and the Mark III camera

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5 thoughts on “Sony RX100 Mark III – Is it worth upgrading?”

    1. I think you need to read the post again. From a photography point of view the new camera has got nothing better and some of the lens work but not better. At video level instead is likely to be an improvement. Read the nauticam news properly and you see that even with the SMC you don’t have real macro, with the previous versions you would have that with a subsee or inon ucl100

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