Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tokyo Photographer: Sony RX100M3 Review & Video Test

For the past year, I have always been relying on my beloved full-frame Canon 5D Mark III for both work as well as personal photography and videos, and I have never been let down. In a somewhat surprising move, I recently acquired a Sony RX100M3 compact digital camera - not as a replacement, of course, but for the purpose of video-making and snapshots of surprising clear and high quality. Today, I'd just like to give a quick review of the basic video function of the Sony RX100M3, my opinion of the camera in comparison to my Canon 5D Mark III, and a test video taken in Tokyo for you to view and decide yourself whether it's a worthwhile addition to your camera family.

*Warning: Geeky camera/tech talk ahead :)

So ever since delving more deeply into photography work, my output over at my Youtube channel has dramatically decreased...and this is something I've always felt a bit sad about. Part of the reason was because I got so busy focusing on work, but I realized that another reason may be that it's difficult to take videos of myself, as well as short casual videos of my outings, using my large Canon. It's still the perfect solution to me for high quality photography, and the video quality of the Canon 5D Mark II and III are simply amazing. But it can sometimes feel tough to carry the Canon around absolutely everywhere and suddenly whip it out when I see some great scenes or have a sudden idea. Furthermore, there's no flip screen on my Canon (the Kiss series have some great ones, but I use only full frame now), so I can't reliable take self-videos without wondering how I look in the frame... and it's just too frustrating to take and retake videos over and over (I'm an impatient one :). I wanted a small, light camera with a wide angle for scenery (and that can put myself in the scene), can auto-focus reasonably well, is good at macro for capturing video of small details, and has overall reasonably good quality (better than my iPhone or my old Canon point and shoot).

Lately, I've heard so many good things about the Sony mirrorless cameras, and I spent quite a while at Yodobashi Camera trying out the NEX series and the RX100M3 back and forth for comparison... and at one point, I actually thought, "OK, NEX is more than enough for me. It's only video, after all. And I can change lenses later if I want. Looks great!"

SO. I actually had the Sony NEX-5R in my hand, ready to take the train home. And all of a sudden, I went right back and went for the Sony RX100M3 instead (despite my wallet crying nooo, you're a freelancer, you ought to save). Why?

I have to admit. One of the biggest reasons is: the look and feel of the camera. NEX really had no problems about it - small, light, great flip screen, quality looked excellent. But as soon as I picked up the RX100M3, I found myself marveling at the smooth feel, the small size and extreme lightness. Coming from my Canon full-frame, it's a huge difference. The lens isn't exchangeable, and but the quality of the Zeiss 24-70 f1.8-2.8 lens really wowed me right in the store. The screen looked brighter, the macro sharper than the NEX. And I loved how flat and sleek the camera became during off mode, making it so easy to slip into my bag and whip out at a moment's notice. The pop-up viewfinder is a handy feature. The RX100M3 is very user-friendly, and its overall look just happens to fit me better than the other Sony mirrorless cameras.

So those were some of the reasons I selected the camera, and now on to the actual video function! The images below are all screen caps of the video footage I took; I haven't a had chance to properly test the photo-taking capabilities of this camera yet, but that will come in a later post. For the test video taken over my first two days with this camera, please see the bottom of this post.

First of all: the all-important selfie capabilities via the flip screen! The screen is extremely light and flexible, flipping out and all the way up so that you can see yourself clearly when turning the camera to your face. A big factor for me was being able to capture some of the background along with the face; it felt like a breath of fresh air, being able to do this so effortlessly. On my Canon, it would be an impossible task - first because I'd have to set the camera much further away from myself (beyond arms reach), and second because I cannot see what the heck is being filmed if I turn the camera on myself. The auto focus of the RX100M3 wasn't reliable 100% of the time, but it does track the face and focus on it surprisingly well. One thing I was worried about was the sound of zooming in between 24-70mm manually; using the focus ring on the lens itself, if I turned it rather quickly, there was a slightly buzzy, mechanical sound that I didn't like. (Used to the silent manual focus of my Canon lenses.) But I found that if I manual focused more slowly, the sound wasn't as noticeable. Anyway, it seems manual focus for video is a little difficult to manage so far, definitely not as smooth and buttery as my Canon, so I shot the test video solely on auto focus and decide to learn more about the manual focus later.

Some macro examples. Here, the camera had a bit of difficulty auto-focusing on the wildflowers, especially since they were moving in the wind. But I do have to say that the video image quality, even on lowest MP4, is surprisingly good and comparable to my Canon 5D Mark III. Check out this food macro:

Auto-focusing here was quite good, as the subject was stationary. So far, I would say that the main areas in which the Sony RX100M3 can't keep up with Canon 5D Mark III for video are manual focusing, bokeh, and very low-light situations. Other than that, the video quality is really similar to me. When I tried shooting with the RX100M3 at night, the graining was quite atrocious, but I think I need to sort out the settings and ISO a bit more. Overall, I'm quite pleased with the portability, flexibility, and solid video performance of this camera. Can't wait to explore more with it and see what happens!

 Here is the first test video I made using the Sony RX100M3, during my first two days with the camera. (The video was shot in MP4 format at 1440 x 1080 12 M, but I'm also looking forward to trying out the higher quality AVCHD and XAVCS modes.)