(Pocket-lint) - The Ricoh GR line has a long heritage, a bastion of fixed-lens compact cameras. In the GR III - which was first announced as in development at Photokina 2018 - the Japanese brand shuns the modern smartphone world and ever-increasing zoom lenses to deliver a new, small-scale camera with a large sensor that's still every bit GR in its delivery.
But the GR III isn't a camera that's 100 per cent stuck in its ways. Yes, it's got a 28mm f/2.8 (equivalent) lens, which means no zoom for the sake of optical quality. But this new model introduces touchscreen control, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, an all-new sensor that's higher-resolution than ever before for the series, along with improved macro functionality without the need for add-ons.
Sure, the GR III won't be for everybody. But if you've long been looking for a pocketable camera with an APS-C sensor then, well, there's not much else out there. The Fujifilm X100F will need very large pockets indeed, while the Panasonic Lumix LX100 II (ok, we know, that's got a Micro Four Thirds sensor) has a zoom lens for a different target audience. Overall, then, does the GR III hit its niche with all the right notes?
- Fixed lens at 28mm, f/2.8 (equivalent)
- 3-inch, 1040k-dot LCD touchscreen
- Customisable ADJ and Fn buttons
- Hotshoe for viewfinder accessory
- Dimensions: 109 x 59 x 26mm
- Wi-Fi & Bluetooth connectivity
- USB-C charging
If you're familiar with the GR II then you'll be pleased with how the III has downscaled into a smaller and truly pocketable compact camera. It's not quite Sony RX100 VI in its scale, but the Ricoh has a far larger sensor, thus its palm-sized frame is impressive all considered.
That small size can feel a little finicky in use, however, with the front thumbwheel tucked into the body somewhat and not always natural in its position. If you're already a GR user then you'll feel immediately at home, though, as this has long been part of the design format.
In true compact camera style, the GR III doesn't have a viewfinder. It's a screen-based camera through and through, owing in part to its small design. You can add an optical finder accessory via the hotshoe if you buy one - or if you already own one from a previous purchase (the 28mm lens is the same focal length, thus it'll match).
The lens is the biggest take-away for a camera of this type. As it is fixed, you get a single view onto the world. The optic equates to 28mm and has a fast f/2.8 aperture available (adjusted using the thumbwheel, as there's no aperture control ring here, sadly). There are 35mm and 50mm equivalent crop modes, where the camera produces a lower resolution output with the appearance of a longer focal length - but that's your lot, there's no zoom toggle or getting around the way this camera is built.
Which is the whole point, really. A fixed lens, for the right user, is 'wonderfully restrictive'. You'll know what's going to fit into the frame and start looking with that foresight. You'll get sharper corners and edges in images than an equivalent competitor. You'll have to take a few steps forward or back from time to time to really consider accurate in-camera framing.
It's not all old skool in its ways, though, with a USB-C port for faster charging, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if you do want to share to another device, and touchscreen controls for making lighter work of focus selection.
- Hybrid autofocus system combines phase-detect and contrast-detect
- AF modes: Auto, Area, Pinpoint, Tracking, Face Detection
- Continuous autofocus available
- Dust Removal (DRII) system
- 0.8s camera startup time
- Macro mode to 6cm
It's with this touchscreen that, for us, the GR III feels so much more up-to-date than its predecessor. Having the ability to tap on screen where the focus point should be is a godsend that speeds up the way of working so much. If it's not for you then simply deactivate it through the menu settings.
There's no vari-angle LCD screen here, though, which we find disappointing. Being able to successfully frame shots at waist-level or overhead would be a massive advantage from a small camera such as this. That said, adding such a feature would indeed grow the camera's width and undermine its very ability to be as small in the first instance.
As such, you'll need to keep a close eye on that screen - which offers a +/-2 brightness boost for outdoor use. Certainly handy for us when out in sunny London town on a whistlestop shooting tour. However, the screen gets surprisingly hot during use - something we've not seen from any camera for some time, and which suggests poor heat management (plus that heat doesn't feel the best against the hands!).
Autofocus is one of those features that manufacturers are forever claiming is the fastest you'll have ever seen. Not so with Ricoh. There's no quoted timings - excluding the camera's 0.8s startup time from cold - to show-off how fast the AF system is. Perhaps because, well, this hybrid system (which combines on-sensor phase-detection pixels with contrast-detection) is simply not the very fastest going. And because of the way that lens is designed, if you're shooting macro shots then it'll need to physically move to obtain focus which can slow things down and make the system hunt for focus.
Macro is rather impressive, though, with focus possible up to 6cm away. Because the lens moves, the visible ratio can change during composition, which is a bit of a struggle, but it's easy enough to compensate by adjusting distance and refocusing. The touchscreen focus comes in particular handy here. And there's no attachment needed to make close-up shooting possible - it's a case of hitting the 'flower' symbol to kick things into action.
Autofocus comes in a variety of flavours, from auto area, to single point AF, even pinpoint for specific accuracy. But if you're a true street snapper than you might not use the system at all: Snap AF is also available, where it's possible to fix the focus distance and aperture. It's what the classic shooters of the early 20th Century were known for - so you might want to set the filters to black and white for added emulation of that era!
- All new 24-megapixel CMOS Sensor
- Three-axis image stabilisation
- GR Engine 6 processing
- ISO 100 - 102,400
- 14-bit raw files
- Image filters
Where the GR III really shines is with its image quality. A mixture of high-quality glass, fast f/2.2 maximum aperture, large sensor size and three-axis image stabilisation combine to wonderful effect.
It's these things that no smartphone can offer - and when you take images away from the GR camera's small 3-inch screen and look at them at larger scale it's possible to feel the magic happening. Much of it is down to depth of field; how an otherwise mundane snap of cans of Coke in a fridge suddenly presents more depth and filmic quality than is possible to see by eye in the moment.
Ricoh is keen to point out that everything is new for this camera: new sensor, new image processor, new lens.
When we used the original GR many years ago we rather enjoyed it, but did find some aberrations in images (purple fringe shadows to the slightest) that are absent in the JPEGs we've seen from the GR III. Although the wide-angle nature of the lens does cause some distortion, sharpness remains strong across the majority of the frame. That's a tick in the 'new lens' box, then.
The new sensor and processor combine to do a generally good job too. The auto white balance is exceptional. Detail is great without over-sharpening. Image noise is held back a little better than earlier iterations - but it's certainly not absent - with daylight and medium light shots offering crisp, deep results.
Why, oh why, there's an ISO 102,400 sensitivity option, however, we don't know - even in the JPEG file it's a smattering of colour noise that's like a cloud of colourful locusts. Stick with the lower sensitivities through to four-figures and the results are excellent though. The GR III will be a great low-light camera for handheld use on account of its fast aperture, not the ultra-high ISO sensitivities.
There's also three-axis stabilisation for the first time in a Ricoh GR camera. It's been pulled in from Pentax, no doubt, which means its altogether capable - but not as advanced as some competitors' five-axis systems that have been out for a number of years now. Still, having the option of stabilisation is better than not, so we're glad it now features pride of place.
The Ricoh GR III is a compact camera that tugs on those high-end heartstrings. For users familiar with the line-up, this camera will evoke the same feelings of old: it's very particular in use, very focused with its fixed-lens, very capable of delivering mighty impressive images.
It's also a little more up with the times thanks to touchscreen controls transforming the speed and ease of use, while Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sharing, and USB-C connectivity and charging add a lick of modern greatness.
As ever, though, it comes with a word of warning: the GR III is a niche camera on account of its fixed lens (yep, there's no zoom here). And in a world of smartphones the overall audience for such a camera is more than likely dwindling. But as a niche product with a niche audience we think Ricoh, by and large, has this product down, proving there's life in the classic yet.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 Mark II
A different proposition: if you want a little bit of zoom (24-75mm) and a little more control (lens ring and aperture ring) then the LX100 II, with its Micro Four Thirds sensor (a little smaller than APS-C, but not by loads) and built-in viewfinder, is an interesting proposition. The second-gen model didn't overhaul the first-gen model, however, and this camera isn't as pocketable as the Ricoh.
Another very different proposition: the X100F delivers on a fixed lens and APS-C sensor size, but in a body that's dominated by its dual format viewfinder (it's wider than the scene, but can overlay digital components to assist with framing), which makes for a very different way of working. We love it, but it won't be for everyone. Oh, and macro shooting is out the window here too.