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: Performance
The first job upon arrival of our review sample was to update it. As soon as the latest firmware (v1.11) had been installed I began customising the GR II to my liking. Users can setup the GR III’s Fn button, ISO button and drive button to one of 31 settings, with the possibility of assigning one of 27 settings to the Movie/Wi-fi button at the side. Holding the latter activates wireless connectivity or reveals a depth of field preview, which again the user can set from the GR III’s customize control options.
Just as you want from a compact and a camera that’s going to be used to capture spontaneous moments with, the GR III fires up quickly and can take a shot within a second of the on/off button being pressed. There is a faint hum from the stabilisation system, however you can’t hear this in outdoor environments.
General operation of the camera is spritely. It responds instantly to button presses and light taps of the touchscreen. As for the response of the autofocus system, it is an improvement on the GR II, but can’t be described as lightening quick or instantaneous. In bright, high contrast conditions users can expect the GR III to acquire focus on static subjects fairly briskly, however when light levels drop hunting of the lens does become more noticeable.
The GR III relies heavily on its bright-green AF assist beam to illuminate close subjects in low light situations, and at night where subjects are too far away for the AF assist beam to be effective, it becomes very hit and miss as to whether it’ll find focus or not. The camera’s face detection works effectively in good light and showed no difficultly identifying faces in full-length shots or when the crop modes were used.
For street photography I often found myself shooting from the hip. The effective face detection combined with the discreet size of the camera makes it easy to shoot under the radar of those around you.
A worry on a camera as small as the GR III is battery life – something that isn’t helped by its rather vague three-bar status icon, with no option to view the remaining capacity as a percentage. I discovered the first bar of battery power is used quickly. In an effort to conserve power I reduced the Auto Power Off and Sleep mode settings to their 1-minute minimum.
Using the GR III around the streets of Hastings, turning it off between spells of shooting and being cautious of not reviewing shots for too long, resulted in 145 shots being taken before it ran out of power. Turning the touchscreen off and waiting until you get home to transfer images can yield a higher number of shots per charge, but I never exceeded 200 shots in real-world use before the battery icon started to blink red. The GR III is definitely a camera you’ll want a second or third battery for.
Rather than fork out £49 for a spare DB-110 battery, I’d recommend Hähnel’s HL-90B battery (£19), which is a cheaper alternative. Some users may wish to carry a small USB power bank with them for longer spells of shooting, or where mains power isn’t easily accessed. It’s worth noting though that it’s not possible to charge and shoot simultaneously.
Putting the camera through its paces revealed that with a steady hand and shake reduction switched on it’s possible to shoot as slow as 1/8sec and achieve sharp results. In playback mode it’s possible to rotate the camera by 90-degrees to display portrait orientated images larger for clearer viewing. The option to set the focus distance from six predefined snap focus distances is great to have too if you know how close you’re working to your subject and fancy directly overriding autofocus. With the rear screen being quite tricky to view in harsh sunlight, it’s also handy being able to increase the brightness directly from the jog dial.
Compared to some other manufacturers apps, Ricoh’s Image Sync app is very basic. Despite not having any issues transferring images to my smartphone via Wi-fi (4secs for JPEGs and 7secs for Raw files) and setting it up so the GR III would ping the latest images across to my phone automatically once a wireless connection had been established, the app refused to let me take control of the camera remotely. The Bluetooth setting for an always-on connection wasn’t particularly intuitive to setup either. There’s certainly room for improvement with regard to the GR III’s wireless setup options.
I was very impressed by the sharpness of of the lens, even wide-open at f/2.8, and the GR III’s metering system behaved very well, rarely judging a scene incorrectly or requiring exposure compensation to be applied. Users who keep the camera powered for long periods are likely to notice that the handgrip and rear screen do have a tendency to get quite warm. One other thing to point out is the tripod screw on the underside of the body. This is positioned very close to the battery compartment, forcing you to remove the baseplate each time you’d like to gain access to the battery or SD card.