With a fast wideangle lens and a high-resolution LCD, is this the ultimate luxury compact?
Though the Micro Four Thirds range has caught the attention of many, a number of manufacturers are proving there’s still life left in the high-end compact market. Ricoh is perhaps the most active of these, and in its revered GR line it introduces its third digital model – which on paper sounds like a mightily exciting proposition.
Ricoh GRD III Features
Although there are only a handful of changes from the previous GR II model, these will probably be of great appeal to the target market. The fixed lens, for example, retains its 28mm equivalent focal length, but now has a wider aperture of f/1.9. Similarly, while the 10MP resolution has remained from its predecessor, the GR III sports a new slightly larger CCD sensor, while the camera’s LCD screen has also been boosted from a 2.7in LCD with 230,000 dots on the GR II to a 3in one with 920,000 dots here.
Ricoh has also promised better image processing and less noise courtesy of a new processing engine, which also enables the camera to shoot up to five Raw images in a continuous burst. Shot-to-shot times and focusing speed in low light are both said to have been improved, while a shutter priority exposure mode also now features, joining aperture, manual and auto modes, scene presets and three customisable settings on the mode dial.
Ricoh has adhered to much the same design ethos since the original GR film cameras, and the GR III is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. The larger LCD screen has left a little less room on the back for the controls, and the lens’s inscription gives the game away too, but otherwise you have to look at the label on the camera’s base to know exactly what model it is. This similarity is no bad thing – no doubt the target market appreciates the understated design of the camera, which mirrors its intentions as a ‘serious’ compact.
With a magnesium alloy construction, the camera is undeniably rugged when pit against virtually any other compact. There’s little creaking when the body is subjected to any sort of pressure, and the generously sized grip has been lined with rubber for security and comfort. The mode dial also features a catch which needs to be depressed in order for the dial to rotate, which saves it from turning accidentally. If I do have any criticism it’s that some of the buttons on the rear feel a little too recessed into the body, but otherwise it’s hard to fault the tried and tested design Ricoh maintains.
Ricoh GRD III Performance
One criticism previously levelled at Ricoh’s GR and GX series is the somewhat slow processing times when shooting Raw files, though Ricoh has kept its promise by making this relatively speedy with the GR III. An image recorded to both Raw and JPEG formats takes around two and a half seconds to record, when using a relatively fast SDHC card. Curiously, it is not possible to record a Raw image on its own, though you can vary the size of the JPEG to one of three sizes, should you not need them at their full resolution.
The electronic level is a function which becomes more useful than is perhaps anticipated. It only takes up a small area on the LCD screen, and once you get used to it being there you find yourself putting more effort into making sure your images are level. Helpfully, this automatically lines the shorter length of the LCD screen when shooting in a portrait orientation, though it can be disabled completely if you wish.
The Dynamic Range Double Shot mode, which first featured on the CX1, is included, and once again I have found its use and results to be a mixed bag. In this mode the camera takes two separate exposures of the same scene, before combining them to create one image with both highlight and shadow detail maintained; by doing so it claims to increase the dynamic range captured in an image, which in theory makes perfect sense, but its usefulness is compromised by two factors. Firstly, given how the image is created, it cannot be captured in a Raw format – which is perfectly understandable, but given the target market, Raw manipulation in post processing is perhaps what most people would prefer to do. Secondly, the manual instructs that the feature be used with a tripod, as the camera needs to be kept still for the duration of two exposures. Therefore, the feature can only be used without a tripod if you happen to be shooting in the brightest conditions, which doesn’t particularly help as it is designed for scenes with a mixture of both shadows and highlights.
Ricoh GRD III Image Quality
n good light, on lower sensitivities, the camera captures a high level of detail, and JPEGs appear sharper than expected. The camera’s metering system generally gets exposure spot on, and white balance is also generally fine, but on occasion the camera combines a slight underexposure with a slight warmth to give images a certain ‘heaviness’. Images captured in both Raw and JPEG formats show the JPEGs to have had some of the CA processed out, but with a rough and slightly jagged texture in their place, and, in some instances, slight haloing where the camera has oversharpened. Noise performance is generally good too, with high ISO images showing a very even distribution of noise, though with detail remaining. The lens is superb, with just a touch of barrelling visible, but once again it’s a case of needing to process your Raw files for the camera to show what it’s really made of.
Ricoh GRD III Value
A camera’s value can only be measured against whatever else the market offers at the time, and though the GR III is an excellent compact the Micro Four Thirds line is heavily cutting into its territory – both in terms of performance and value for money.
For many reasons, the GR Digital III is an exceptional camera. There really is so much to like about it: from its solid build and high-resolution LCD screen, to its excellent lens and reliable image quality. Ricoh has made a camera that is in every way a dream for the enthusiast – but with its £530 price tag, for many it will perhaps remain just that. Manufacturing such a camera can’t be cheap, but £530 is still a lot of money for a compact, and the niche market Ricoh has long targeted now has more options than ever. Against other enthusiast compacts and Micro Four Thirds offerings it becomes increasingly harder to justify its expense – but for the well-heeled photographer swayed by the GR III’s charms, there’s admittedly little chance of them being disappointed.