Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 III ! - 25 Jun 2014

While perusing the camera stores over the weekend I came upon the Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 III compact camera. With all of the talk of cameras being on backorder from Japan (Nikon 1 V3), and limited availability of units being shipped to the US, I was surprised to learn that B&H Photo had these cameras 'In Stock'. Like the Nikon V3 the RX100 III was expected to be a sellout w/ initial orders and face a huge backorder w/ subsequent orders, so I was not expecting this camera to be available anytime soon. But, true to their word, they shipped a copy of one to me on Saturday, and I received it yesterday. It came just as DPreview.com just posted their extensive review of the camera (it received their Gold rating).

What intrigued me most about this camera was the following:

  • Pop-up SVGA OLED electronic viewfinder with 1.44M dots - chatter from the forums indicated that people really liked the sharp, bright view from this viewfinder, which is built-in on this camera.  It was not included w/ the Mk II and had to be purchased separately, adding to the cost of the camera. 
  • 3-inch tilting WhiteMagic LCD with 1.23M dots - the new LCD screen tilts / rotates 180º so selfie-loving photographers will love this.
  • 20.1 megapixel 1"-type Exmor R BSI-CMOS sensor - large sensor means less noise and higher usable ISO settings.  Image quality is on par w/ the 4/3 cameras like the Nikon V3 and Panasonic GX7.
  • 24-70mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens - the predecessor Mk II had a 28-100mm equiv. F1.8-4.9 lens, which was a bit long for digiscoping.

  • Battery life is a bit shorter with the RX100 III (rated 320 shots w/ RAW), but I managed to shoot over 390 RAW images w/ ~75% battery charge in about 40 minutes times, so battery life is dependent on how long the LCD and EVF are on.  A second battery is highly recommended for a day's shoot.

    The first thing I did, as soon as I realized that I could operate the camera w/o having to charge the battery first, was mount it on my Digidapter digiscoping adapter to see how it would perform on the Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope w/ 20-75X Zoom Eyepiece.  The tripod mount for the camera is offset, so I had to move the mounting screw from the Digidapter from the center slot to the adjacent slot on the right. No problem! I had to loosen the height-adjustment on the Digidapter platform to center the lens over the eyepiece, and was happy to realize that Paul Sayegh had included slots for side-to-side adjustments. Perfect!



    Mounting the camera took a bit of adjustment, however.  With the camera turned on, the lens extends to its farthest point (24 mm), which gives about 50% vignette view.  As you zoom the camera to about 50mm the vignetting disappears, but the vignette circle is out of focus, so adjusting the camera at the zoom setting where the vignette circle is just visible requires moving the camera a bit closer to the eyepiece. This results in the camera lens crashing into the eyepiece if you zoom back out to 24 mm! I found that the Digidapter (with the set screw 'out') will slide easily outward as the lens contacts the eyepiece, so I don't have to worry about damaging the camera lens or get the 'lens error' message that is possible w/ other zoom lens cameras.  Still, I make sure to pull the Digidapter back a bit as I zoom out to 24 mm to avoid having the camera lens push against the eyepiece.  The position allows for sharp images across the entire 24 - 70 mm range.  For the 25 - 75X Zoom Eyepiece the Sony DSC-RX100 III will provide an effective focal length (EFL) of ~480 - 1400 mm reach at 20X, and up to 5250 mm with the eyepiece at 75X and camera at 70 mm!

    I took the scope and camera out to the back yard to look for something to digiscope before the battery ran out.  In the back alley I found a pair of Northern Cardinals in the neighbor's bush, so I turned the scope on them. Turning the RX100 III on using the pop-up EVF I adjusted the diopter so I had a sharp viewfinder and tried to focus on the brightly-colored male.  I quickly found that seeing feather detail was difficult using the viewfinder even though I had a bright, sharp view. The problem is that the view itself is very small, so critical focusing was very difficult - I took a lot of blurred images (it didn't help that I was getting 1/30 sec. at ISO 100 and f/1.8-2.8 using Aperture-Priority). I wouldn't discover the Focus-Peaking option until later, which changes everything.  Still, the image quality was quite good! Color balance required no adjusting in Photoshop, and exposures were spot-on. 

    After they flew off, I returned to the yard and found my Asia resting on the back deck under a chair, so I tried digiscoping her from about 25' away.  Without focus-peaking I quickly realized that the EVF was too small for me to get sharp images of her.  Again, it didn't help that I was shooting long exposures at low ISO's either, so I turned the camera to Auto-ISO (100 - 6400) to get faster shutter speeds. It was then that I discovered the DMF setting (focus-peaking).

    Pressing the Function (Fn) button on the back of the camera brings up the operating menu on the LCD.  Tabbing over to the Focus Mode I have the option of selecting AF-S, AF-C, DMF or MF.  DMF or Focus-Peaking causes the in-focus regions of the EVF to be highlighted (bright white in my case), so if I depress the shutter I can quickly tell if AF causes the highlights to be maximized on my subject (bird's face/eyes). If I rotate the focusing ring on the lens, the highlighted areas will appear/disappear w/ focus. If I rotate the focusing ring while depressing the shutter half-way, the image will magnify about 10X and allow me to perform critical focusing prior to taking the photo.  Much better!  Suddenly I can focus on my subject and verify that the part I want to emphasize is in focus. Make sure that Manual Focus Assist is Turned On in the menu.  A nice YouTube video shows how this works.

    Getting the files off the camera was only a small challenge.  Nikon Transfer does not recognize the RAW file format of Sony cameras (.Awr), so I used the Finder tool on my Mac to transfer the files from the SD card to desktop.  Photoshop CS6 could not read the files, either, so a quick trip to Adobe.Com allowed me to download the latest Camera Raw 8.5 so that I could open the files. I would also go to the Sony site to download their Playmemories Home(tm) software.

    The RAW images looked clean, but a touch soft (expected with RAW), when I opened them in Camera Raw.  I found that I did not need to do any adjustments to exposure, color, shadows, or saturation with this first batch of photos. I did have some issues w/ Chromatic Aberration (CA), but this was more due to issues with the Zeiss zoom eyepiece* and not the camera. The only processing I performed was to desaturate the Yellow and Blue Channels to remove the fringing along the edges of the images, apply some Noiseware reduction (35-40% Luminance noise reduction), downsize the images to 2048 x whatever, and apply a touch of Unsharpening in Photoshop before saving as Jpgs.

    I was impressed by the ISO capabilities of the RX100 III.  The above image of Asia was taken at ISO 2000 and appears after processing.  Below are images before and after processing images that show the noise at ISO's ranging from 100 to 5000. The Northern Cardinals were feeding a fledgeling in the yard, so I tried the RX 100 III using Shutter-Priority (1/500 sec, f/2.8, Auto-ISO).  Images below are at full frame (25%) and 100% zoom. Focus Peaking really improved my capture rate and the magnified focusing made critical focusing much more accurate.

    ISO 100 RAW / No Processing

    ISO 100 RAW / Noiseware / Sharpening

    ISO 1250 RAW / No Processing
    ISO 1250 RAW / Noiseware / Sharpening

    ISO 2000 RAW / No Processing

    ISO 2000 RAW / Noiseware / Sharpening

    ISO 2500 RAW / No Processing

    ISO 2500 RAW / Noiseware / Sharpening

    ISO 4000 RAW / No Processing

    ISO 4000 RAW / Noiseware / Sharpening

    ISO 5000 RAW / No Processing

    ISO 5000 RAW / Noiseware / Sharpening
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    *It is a known issue w/ the new 20-75X Zoom eyepieces that they suffer from a yellow cast. The optical coatings cause yellow/blue fringing along the outside edges of the eyepieces where image sharpness falls off.  This is especially problematic in high-contrast situations (overcast skies, backlit scenery or white backgrounds).  This is not a problem with the center of the view, and when using the scope under most conditions it is not noticeable.  It is a problem when digiscoping, however, when the problem is compounded by the small camera sensors that tend to have issues w/ CA (especially blue channels). The RX100 III handles CA very well (see the DPreview studio tests) so I know the issue is with the eyepiece.  Incidentally the older 20-60X Zoom Eyepiece and 40X W eyepiece I'm using now have NO issues w/ CA and are optically excellent (I just can't use the Digidapter with them, yet...).  

    1 comment:

    MedicineMan999 said...

    Maybe I can actually contribute to the digiscoping world, specifically to those thinking about using a Sony RX100iii.
    I do timelapse photography and like cameras that can accept external power. In accessing the RX100iii I discovered that it can be powered (even without its OEM battery in place) via an external power supply.
    I'm a backpacker and I chose this one due to size/weight:
    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=8898713&CatId=2577
    But there are larger models and other manufacturers.
    I think this might be helpful because I've read that digiscopers often have to remove the camera from the adapter plate to change batteries. The Fuel+ simply plugs into the camera's micro-usb port.
    I did run a short timelapse using only the Fuel+ with no battery in the battery bay and all went well.
    Hope this info helps :)