Compacts have their work cut out in today’s smartphone era, but premium models like the new Ricoh GR III still have their advantages. Michael Topham reviews the latest member in the GR-series
Ricoh GR III: Features
Like its predecessor, the GR II, the Ricoh GR III features a fixed 18.3mm lens that is equivalent to 28mm in the 35mm format. While the focal length and f/2.8 maximum aperture are unchanged, the lens is slimmer than before and has a different optical construction that’s claimed to deliver the clearest, sharpest images in GR-series history. Ricoh puts this down to the positioning of a high-refraction, low-dispersion glass element and a glass-moulded element, which are also intended to keep distortion and chromatic aberration in check.
The optical construction of the GR III’s lens is made up of six elements in four groups and there’s a nine-blade diaphragm to ensure natural, rounded bokeh is created at wide apertures. Being a fixed lens zooming is out of the question, however it does benefit from two crop modes, which I’ll touch on in more detail soon.
Behind the lens the GR III is equipped with a 24.2-million-pixel APS-C size CMOS sensor that excludes an anti-aliasing filter. With the 16-million-pixel sensor as used inside the GR and GR II starting to show its age, it’s good to see the GR III being brought up to date here. As well as employing a new lens and sensor, the Ricoh GR III features the company’s newly developed GR ENGINE 6 image engine to improve performance and response. Not only has this helped speed up its start-up time (rated at 0.8secs), it enables 14-bit Raw output from the sensor.
Keeping on the subject of sensor and processor, the GR III has a sensitivity range spanning ISO 100-102,400. There’s also the option, should users wish, to develop raw files in camera.
Other improvements include a new hybrid AF system that combines the accuracy of contrast detection with the speed of phase detection. This combination should see it deliver a faster, more responsive autofocus operation in its selection of eight different focus modes.
Given its petite size, Ricoh has done well to install a three-axis in-body image stabilisation system into the camera to compensate for shake. It minimizes shake on three axes, including pitch, yaw and roll and is claimed to allow users shoot handheld shots four stops slower than otherwise possible. As we’ve seen on Pentax cameras in the past, the GR III also inherits an AA filter simulator, which shifts the sensor ever so slightly during an exposure to suppress false colours and moiré.
The GR III isn’t a speed demon when it comes to shooting continuously and with a rather measly 4fps burst offering it has no advantage over the GR II. It does have some other niceties though, including an intervalometer that lets you shoot in up to 10 minute increments for as long as 24 hours, it has an effective macro mode that lets you shoot subjects as close as 6cm, plus there’s a in-built ND filter that can be used to cut out 2EV of light when you’d like to extend the shutter speed or use wide apertures when shooting stills in sunlight or recording video.
On the subject of video, the GR III isn’t capable of recording in 4K so you’re restricted to Full HD resolution, which it offers at 60p/30p/24p. The lack of microphone and headphone ports reiterates that the GR III isn’t the best equipped camera for serious movie makers, though you do get 2GB of internal memory space, which could get you out of difficulty should you forget to leave the house without loading the camera with an SD card.
A worry with all fixed lens compacts is the issue of dust getting inside the camera and landing on the sensor. Thankfully, the GR III’s shake reduction system can be asked to vibrate the sensor at high frequency to free dust particles – a feature that’s been requested from GR users for quite some time.
Some of the newly added features such as the sensor-shift stabilisation and touchscreen at the rear have had a detrimental affect on battery stamina. A battery life of just 200 shots is quite a drop from the 320 shots per charge that you get on the Ricoh GR II, although you do get the convenience of a USB-C port for charging on the go in the car or via a power bank. Another battery thirsty feature is the camera’s Wi-fi connectivity, which enables wireless transfer of images to mobile devices installed with Ricoh’s ImageSync app.