A Year with a Sony RX10 Mk3

Hello again after a long break from blogging. I’ve a few articles planned for the next few months as there are a few new Zuiko lenses waiting for a test. This though, is about a Sony RX10 Mk3, which is a much more interesting camera than you might think. No really.

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To the left the RX100 Mk3, to the right an A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f3.5 (for no particular reason).

Many years ago I had a Sony R1 which was an unusually designed camera but produced excellent (for the time) images. My nephew still uses it. Fast forward to 2017 and I bought it’s descendant, the RX10, as a general purpose stills and video stock camera. The headline attraction is that 24-600(!)mm f2.8 to f4 lens and a one inch 20Mp sensor which I like so much in my RX100. So after a year, here are my impressions for stills photography – the excellent video abilities would take another article.

All shots processed in DXO Photolab which does a very good job, especially with Prime noise reduction (see later).

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At the 24mm setting.

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And a more obtrusive 600mm setting.

Knowing where to start with such a fully featured camera is difficult. Let’s start with the lens. Actually that wasn’t a difficult decision at all. There is a de-clickable aperture ring, manual focus by wire is available (though not recommended) and a focus lock button to the rear left hand side of the lens. It takes 72mm filters. There are various focus options selected on a front-of-body switch, but I’ve really only used single AF using a central area point.

It uses standard Sony NP-FW50 batteries and two are more than enough for a whole day’s demanding shooting.

I’ve only shot RAW with this camera so I’ve no comments on the JPEG performance.

Strangely there is a cable release thread on the shutter button which is a nice touch. The camera weighs in at about 1kg (2.2 lb) which feels about the same as my old Canon 60D with a good standard zoom on it. The LCD panes flips up and down a bit, but doesn’t flip out which would have been very useful.

So, let’s get on with it, what does a 24-600mm lens range look like?

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24mm….. Kingston Lacy House on an overcast day.

 

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600mm. This is just the top bit of the building!

Quite (!) a wide to tele lens then, and it’s a good performer throughout the full range – unbelievably so. There’s a lot of processing going on under the hood of course, and I wouldn’t like to see uncorrected RAWs, but the end result is very good. It seems best at f4 throughout the zoom range, but I suspect Sony didn’t build this camera for people who worry about such things.

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The Channel Island ferry with Bournemouth on the horizon at 600mm. Haze and heat distortion start to be more visible at longer focal lengths – something which should be borne in mind when taking the shot.

Minimum focus at 24mm to 50mm is quite good (3cm) but this extends out to about four feet by 200 mm then strangely back to three feet from 300mm to 600mm. A 600mm lens focussing to three feet opens up some interesting possibilities, though auto-focus can be a bit hit and miss so it’s best to take a few shots each time.

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A wary Damsel Fly.

 

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And another. I became a bit obsessed taking insect pictures over the summer with this camera.

The image stabilisation works pretty well – it needs to at the longer focal lengths. Longer focal lengths need faster shutter speeds and therefore higher ISO’s, which is where DXO Prime noise reduction comes in. With noise starting to appear at around ISO 1000, you’d better be prepared to use something good to get rid of it for best results.

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It has a 24mm setting too!

Colors are fine to my eye though I’m used to Sony colours. Blue sky can appear a little cyan sometimes, but it’s easily corrected in post.

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Autumn produce in a dimly lit shed. Not too bad!

Although only having a small sensor, you can get some nice bokeh at longer focal lengths and close focus distances.

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This is as good as my Helios 85mm f2 on an A7R for out of focus blur – and that’s pretty good.

So technically all very good, apart from high ISO performance which can be corrected – within reason.

With such a wide zoom range at your fingertips, walking around a large event presents a sometimes overwhelming set of possibilities. I found concentrating on just wide angle for 1/3 of the time, just tele for another 1/3 and normal mid focal lengths worked for me. The following are a few from the 2017 Great Dorset Steam Fair which is always a good photo day out.

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All in all quite an impressive performance and an excellent ‘reportage’ type camera. You could get technically better shots with a DSLR and a range of lenses, but to cover this focal length range you might need an assistant to carry them all or be a weightlifter.

In conclusion then, I’ll sum up by firstly listing the ‘not so good’.

  • In terms of image quality it’s not up to a micro 4/3 or APSC sensor camera (but not far off at low ISOs), and it won’t focus as fast (or at all) in low light.
  • It’s a bit clunky to operate until you get used to it.
  • It’s not a camera for ‘pixel peepers’.
  • You’d best have some good noise reduction software available for post-processing as well.
  • It’s not particularly charming either – I think Sony just let their engineers loose to design it without hindrance from the aesthetics department.  It’s possibly the best example I’ve come across of a camera designed to be ‘just a tool’. An Olympus Pen F or Sony A7R it isn’t.

However, if you can see past, and work within these limitations, what it does, it does very well – provide an excellent, versatile zoom lens with good image stabilisation and macro capabilities which offer an almost boundless set of photographic possibilities. And a lot of fun!

A 600mm f4 equivalent lens in a package this small would be remarkable enough, but a 24-600mm which performs well across it’s whole range is amazing.

I haven’t touched on it’s video capabilities, but the 4k is very nice. With the timelapse app I can speed time up, and with the high frame rate video (250 fps 1080p) I can slow it down, using focal lengths from 24mm to 600mm. If you’d told me twenty years ago that such a camera would exist I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m not sure I do now.

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I bought this thinking I probably wouldn’t like it but couldn’t resist the technical specs. I can’t say I love using it like the A7R with old lenses, but I do have a huge respect for it’s abilities and can’t think of any camera I’ve used which is as versatile, while producing  results which are good enough (after PP) to submit to some picky stock photography sites.

‘Everything in life is a compromise’ is a phrase I’ve heard often – does it apply to the RX10 Mk3? Well not as much as you’d think.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

Rob

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40 Years of Imaging Technology Development – how much difference has it made?

An earlier post saw me going on about how good the Olympus Trip was.  So in the interests of  ‘putting my money where my mouth is’  I got to thinking – how does it compare to a relatively recent digital equivalent – an Olympus PEN? Both are aimed at roughly the same group of  photographers, even if they are separated by a generation or two. How much has technology really improved photography at the ‘consumer end’ of the market?

Olympus PEN and EPL3

So, armed with an Olympus Trip (loaded with Agfaphoto APX100) and an Olympus EPL3 on a fine winter’s day I took the same pics with both and did a comparison – it turned out to be more of a challenge  than I anticipated.

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Trip on the left, EPL3 on the right. Not bad for the Trip but the EPL3 has a bit more dynamic range.

The EPL3 has a smallish micro 4/3 12 Mp sensor, the Trip uses full frame 35mm film so can be scanned to 20 MP, it’s only advantage. The Trip has no autofocus, no image stabilisation and only has simple metering. It’s also only equipped with ‘P’ program mode, the EPL3 has all the bells and whistles – aperture priority, ISO 200 (the lowest setting) and mid aperture were used for this comparison.

The film pics are nearly all crops – it’s surprisingly difficult to compare the field of view between a LCD and a basic viewfinder when taking comparison shots. Good fun though… This is a monochrome test because – well, I like black and white. No other reason!

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EPL3 Top, Trip bottom. More even this time – the Trip has a slightly better look but it’s only a personal preference.

To do a fair comparison, the EPL3 pics were taken in RAW and converted using default settings to JPG and desaturated in Photoshop, the Trip shots scanned, then noise reduction, ‘dust and scratches’ and unsharp mask applied which seemed fair for comparison purposes.

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Trip left, EPL3 right. The EPL3 has managed to capture more DR in the water but only marginally.

The EPL3 has a nice 14-42mm (28-84mm equiv) zoom lens, the Trip a faster fixed focus 40mm lens. this meant the ‘defining’ shot had to be taken with the Trip, then an approximation with the EPL3.

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Trip left, EPL3 right – these were framed as the same shot the same to me on the day. This was more difficult than I’d initially imagined!

As much reduced images size can only give a basic impression – so here are some crops:-

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Detail crops from the above shots – Trip left, EPL3 right. Not much in it but the EPL3 has just won this one on sharpness (and no scratches).

The APX100 film was developed in Rodinal 1+50 for 12 minutes.

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Trip left, EPL3 right. The Trip is better based on personal choice here – more subtle midtones.

It’s significant that these shots were taken in good light – the EPL3 would have such an advantage in low light that the test wouldn’t be worthwhile.

There are so many film/developer/post-processing variables that any number of answers could result from this test – I like film and digital so I’m not trying to force any conclusion – just come to a general one.

The surprising thing is that for these two ‘consumer grade’ cameras the differences aren’t that great. The Trip needs slightly more experience to get the most out of it – especially estimating focus distance, and it’s results aren’t immediately available like its modern digital equivalent. However within the restrictions imposed by its age the Trip can put up a decent performance against its modern digital descendent which surprised me.

Maybe it shouldn’t though – film technology had many decades of development before it was widely dropped in favour of digital 10 to 15 years ago. The EPL3 is a very capable camera for all everyday uses, as was the Trip in its day. I’m really surprised that the Trip can still – just – hold its own against a much younger rival.

Is the inconvenience (some might say fun) of using film worth it versus the convenience and sharp clarity of digital? B/W film + home processing is £3 for 36 (more carefully) taken shots so you’ve got around 3000 shots before the cost equation is equal (the Trip was £50 refubished, the EPL3 £300). I’d personally say yes – on aesthetic as well as cost grounds, but many would say no!

Hope you find this interesting and thanks for looking – I had loads of fun doing this!

In Praise Of The Olympus Trip

I like simplicity and elegance, and a small 35mm camera has this in abundance – the Olympus Trip.

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The front showing the photo cells arranged around the lens – very pretty – and not much else but the viewfinder.

It was designed as a small, completely self-sufficient travel camera – no batteries are needed – only film (think about that for a second). Exposure is determined by the selenium photo cells around the lens which, in conjunction with the ‘power of your finger’ depressing the shutter, opens the square aperture to the required value. The reading is an averaged across the frame reading but in conjunction with print film’s exposure latitude usually gets the job done. The only exposure mode is program mode (‘P’ in modern parlance), with a shutter speed of 1/40th or 1/200th of a second and an aperture range of  f/2.8-f22.

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Top Plate – film counter, film rewind crank and flash connection. The aperture markings are for flash photography or somewhat random manual exposure. The focus zones can be seen on the top of the lens.

It was a barnstorming success – 10 million produced during the production run!

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The back – don’t get too excited! The viewfinder and the film advance wheel to the right top.

Light, easily fitting into a coat pocket and all metal bodied with a sharp and contrasty 40mm Zuiko lens it has only a zone focus control, a circular film winder at the back and the shutter release as controls. It looks like a rangefinder but isn’t.

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The film speed setting can be seen on the top left of the lens. It runs from 25 to 400 ISO on this later example. Not bad – Kodachrome 25 to Tri X/HP5 at ISO 400!

Just in case you forget the focus distances, they’re engraved on the bottom of the lens.

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Results – very good indeed! This was taken yesterday, dust spots removed and given some slight post processing in DXO filmpack.

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I always seem to use way more film with this camera – it’s a really simple camera which just encourages you to shoot more. Several places in the UK offer customised and refurbished models, the customisations usually being some bright fashion leatherette covering if you’re into that sort of thing.

It’s also a full frame 35mm camera – so the output images can be scanned to 20 Mp or even more with an appropriate scanner and film.

Disadvantages

If you’re a filter user, the size is 43.5mm – what on earth made Olympus choose this as they always were difficult to come by?

Best by far to buy a refurbished one as I did as these are old cameras – 1967 to 1984!

For long term care try and keep the lens cap on, preserving the exposure meter cells.

The shutter sounds a bit ‘clunky’ by modern standards and even by the standards of 30 years ago.

Strongly backlit scenes are a problem – the metering is very basic. To avoid underexposure against bright skies it’s possible to point the camera downwards and depress the shutter until it almost fires, then recompose the shot. Either that or mess around with the film speed setting.

Summary

All in all a brilliant piece of electro-mechanical technology. Self sufficient (apart from needing film), producing some excellent results. A much better buy than most old 35mm compacts or some of the cheap plastic cameras which seem popular at the moment. Costs are £10 for the cheapest to £50 for a refurbushed/customised example.

A great camera for a street shooter, someone who likes simplicity or just someone who likes to travel light. As it needs no batteries it’s also a very handy backup camera.

Hope you find this useful – for a bit of fun, I’ll do a comparison between a Trip and a modern compact soon.