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I'm trying to figure out whether I should get a camera with an interchangeable lens or a point and shoot that seems (based on the specs) very similar and the same price.

The two in particular I am looking at are the Sony RX100 III and the Sony A6000 (or the Samsung NX300).

The RX100 III has a 1" 20.1MP sensor and a 24-70mm zoom lens. The a6000 also has a similar sensor (I think) and 16-50mm lens (interchangeable though, but let's say I only want one lens).

How much better would the a6000 pictures actually be? Is the size trade off worth it?

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Corrections on your assumptions: the A6000 and NX300 have a larger APS-C sensor. The crop factor for 1" (aka CX format) is roughly 2.7x, while APS-C is 1.5x. 4/3" (or four-thirds) is 2x. And the lens on the RX-100 is actually 8.8-25.7mm f/1.8-2.8 lens, but the 2.7x "crop factor" gives it the "film equivalence" of a 24-70 lens--which only means the angle of view would match that of a 24-70 on a full-frame camera. The 16-50mm lens on an APS-C NEX or NX sensor has 24-75 film equivalence.

APS-C compact fixed-lens cameras do exist, though (e.g., Nikon Coolpix A; Fuji X100S, Ricoh GR, etc.), and there's even a full-frame compact (Sony RX-1).

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As for how much better the image quality would be, that's a hard thing to answer, depending on how one judges image quality. It can be worth it, depending on what and how you're shooting. We expect larger sensors to be better at rendering a thin depth of field, a larger dynamic range, and better high-ISO noise performance, with the possibility of higher resolution. If you're shooting landscapes at low iso and deep DoF, without an extended dynamic range, maybe you won't be able to tell any difference between formats. How much the difference between the formats matters depends on what you're looking for, and how much that difference is worth to you in dollars; and that's a personal judgement call. I think most of us here would say yes, it's worth it. But then most of us have already slapped down thousands of dollars on system camera gear and use it on a regular basis.

But there are reasons dSLR shooters buy an RX100III: for size, portability, and convenience. A system camera, even a mirrorless one, still requires that you cart pieces of that system around. Probably multiple lenses. This gives you added versatility, but adds to inconvenience.

  • When you figure in all of the various equivalencies, the RX100 M3 is approximately a DX-format (1.5X crop) with a kit lens, but just a little wider (16-47mm rather than 18-55, same approximate aperture range) - with a decent viewfinder, current-generation noise levels and resolution, but sans hot shoe - that fits in an ordinary pocket. A fellow/gal could do a lot worse. – user28116 Jun 23 '14 at 22:02
  • That Luminous Landscape link is pretty enlightening, thanks for sharing inkista. – Travis Reeder Jun 23 '14 at 22:13
  • I added that the price on the cameras is the same too. – Travis Reeder Jun 23 '14 at 22:14
  • @TravisR, yeah, that article was an eye-opener on how expectations of "bigger is better" can be confounded. Granted, if you print bigger than 13"x19" than the nearly-an-order-of-magnitude in crop-factor (0.5x vs. 4.5x) will show. But it's still kinda jaw-dropping. – inkista Jun 23 '14 at 23:12
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Those sensors are not nearly the same size:

  • RX100 sensor measures 13.2 X 8.8mm.
  • A6000 sensor measures 23.5 X 15.6mm

That's 116.16 mm^2 versus 366.6 mm^2. Just over three RX100 sensors can fit on the A6000 sensor! The difference is very substantial depending upon your use and shooting environment.

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