Tech Review: Is the Sony RX10 III the Ultimate Travel Camera?

“Now, nothing is beyond reach.” That’s what the Sony website says on the RX10 III’s page — and it’s not a lie. With a 600mm zoom range, bright F2.4-4 glass and 4K video, Sony’s little bridge camera beast might just be the hobby photographer’s ideal travel camera.

Full disclosure: I am a full-frame camera and fast glass snob, and I demand a lot from my cameras. I’ve never owned a bridge camera (“bridge” is the term for a camera that looks and works like an SLR without actually being able to detach and switch lenses) and I probably never will. Having said that, I had a blast playing with the RX10 III and it does have some incredible features that make me want to upgrade my camera rig!

Let’s talk about the basic stuff first — this camera will get you VERY close to the action. Zooming in to 600mm could be handy for everything from snapping wildlife from afar while on safari (or travel shots out the window of a tour bus), close up animal shots while visiting zoos or hero shots at your kid’s sports game on the weekend.

Friendly magpie here was shot clear across our deputy editor’s front yard at 330mm, 1/320 sec, f4 and ISO 320.

The autofocus is FAST, the file sizes are LARGE (if you shoot raw — which you should — they’re a little over the 20MB mark, around 4MB for jpegs) and for the most part, the controls are fairly intuitive. I will admit, I searched through all the buttons and menus before I worked out the aperture control is on a ring on the lens — a throwback to the days of film cameras. It’s actually more convenient to adjust than another dial or having to simultaneously hold a button and turn something else, so this aperture adjustment placement isn’t at all difficult to get used to once you find it. The hotshoe mount opens up a world of external lighting possibilities unavailable to those who stick to point and shoot cameras, and though I didn’t test the popup flash I can attest to it looking adorably eager when it pops out from the body.

For those who’ve grown up in the digital age, the very clear pop-out screen is here to make your life easier – though aspiring Youtubers beware, it does not flip around to face the front, so it’s designed for shooting from the hip or above your head and not ideal for your chats-to-camera. Those who prefer the old school viewfinder are greeted with a digital viewfinder equipped with a sensor that shuts off the screen as it approaches your eye –a nifty feature, but it takes some getting used to. I found myself distracted by the screen going blank each time I lifted the camera to my eye!

Small cameras are improving so rapidly it’s hard to keep up, and the super-bright F2.4 aperture (when zoomed out to 24mm) would definitely come in handy for those who like to shoot in low light – though noise could prove a problem if you’re shooting handheld. The 1.0-type stacked CMOS sensor is fast and sensitive, but stops being useable around ISO 3200. It goes right up to 12800, if you don’t mind your pictures very grainy and speckled. I took the RX10 III out to shoot the Brisbane skyline at night and test out the ISO at all levels – see my results below.

ISO 200, F4, 1 second exposure
ISO 800, F4, 0.5 second exposure – starting to see a little noise
ISO 3200, F4, 1/5 second exposure
ISO 12800, F4, 1/10 second exposure because why not go crazy and turn it all the way up?
I like to test any camera out on full auto mode, since that’s how many users will shoot, before I test out any specifics with manual settings. I found many of my auto pictures came out grainier than I expected, even when shooting outside in full sun. I achieved far preferable results in full manual mode, when the camera made no decisions for me — so I wouldn’t recommend a novice photographer jump in with this camera unless they were fully intending to learn to use it on manual.

The image above was shot at 4pm in full sunlight on full automatic mode. The camera chose ISO 3200, f16 and 1/10000 shutter speed – the ISO way higher than necessary in broad daylight, and the small aperture and super fast shutter compromising for the high ISO.

I shot a LOT of video on the RX10 III, and had a blast playing with the HFR (high frame rate) option — my hair has never looked so luscious as in my slow motion hair flick clip. Slow motion has been a feature on phone cameras for a while, but the depth of field possible with the RX10 III makes it the obvious better choice — plus it’s much harder to stabilise a phone.

A post shared by Erin Smith (@erinandthelight) on

I did find that HFR clips are difficult to shoot solo if you also plan to star in them – the camera enters a pre-record state where it records everything before you even press the button – which is genius, since often we’re a fraction of a second too slow to catch the action — and records only for a short window. If you’re not quick enough, you’ll never make it into the frame in time to toss your hair – it took me a good few takes to get the timing down. Definitely better with friends!

I don’t have any experience shooting or editing 4K video before this, so when I did use my footage from the RX10 III it was still exported at 1080p for YouTube. That said, the freedom to crop in on the 4K footage without sacrificing quality came in handy several times – though the video in general seemed just a little softer than I’d like. The mic line in is great for those who need decent sound to match their footage – the RX10 III worked a treat with my Rode VideoMic.
If you’re not into spending $5000 and up on your camera gear like I am, but you’re interested in stepping up your photo game and taking control of your images, or creating cinematic videos on a budget then something like the RX10 III would be a great all-rounder and a very safe bet – although at $2290 RRP you’re still going to have to be VERY into cameras. Compact but robust, easy to carry without sacrificing on quality, this little beast is not for the just the everyday snapper.

Score: 7.5 out of 10
Manufacturer: Sony
Price: AU $2290 RRP
Available now.