Ricoh GR Digital III Compact: Review

Ricoh GR Digital III FrontLike most (I imagine) readers of TDM I am generally very interested in SLRs and bigger formats, but less interested in compacts. The top end compacts can be interesting from the point of view of what to carry around when you don’t want the whole shooting match. And, as a bit of a geek, I also quite like looking at some of the innovations that appear in mid-range compacts, such as when face recognition first came on the scene.

So when I was offered the Ricoh GR Digital III to review, I confess I wasn’t particularly bothered. I mean, Ricoh only makes cheap photocopiers, right? (Oops!)

Still, at the time the camera was being offered, we had been running this post about whether there is such a thing as a “professional” compact and it had gained a bit of interest, so I thought “well, why not?”. A few days pass and I’m unpacking the review model, along with a wide angle attachment (which confused me at first, but I’ll come back to that).

First Impressions

I have to admit to being a little surprised. The first thing you notice is that it has some weight to it; not uncomfortable heavy, more substantial and well made kind of heavy. The camera body has that same SLR look and feel to it. So, now I’m interested.

Second surprise was when I switched it on and it was all fired up and ready to go before I even had time to say “SD Card?” or even think it, for that matter! The viewing screen is big, bright, clear and sharp. Incidentally, the screen has this “digital spirit level” which is something I haven’t seen before. It’s a pretty simple thing which just shows you whether you are holding the camera level or on a slant, but it proved very useful.

Third surprise (if you are picking up on the “full of surprises” theme, then great – that’s the point!) – I pressed the shutter release and captured an image. No, I think you might be missing the point – I pressed the shutter release and captured an image in one indistinguishable moment; not the usual two part affair, separated by that hideous, uncomfortable, annoying pause that I have come to expect from a compact.

Now there is kind of a fourth surprise, which was a little less positive (at first) than the previous surprises. The GR Digital III has a fixed length lens (6mm = 28mm equivalent) – that’s right, there is no zoom! Of course, this does mean there is little or no compromise in the quality of the lens, plus it helps keep the camera beautifully slim.

In Use – The Practicalities

Right, so we have a well made camera, it’s a good size for carrying around, it starts up rapidly, has lovely and accurate viewing screen and it takes pictures when you press the button instead of a week-next-Tuesday-fortnight!

Ricoh GR Digital III TopBut what about the lack of zoom? Surely that’s a problem?! You know what, for some people it might be. For me (and I find I am not alone in this), it brought me a freedom that I was not expecting. Once you get used to not being able to zoom in and out, you start to feel free. Instead of that almost constant flicking switches and waiting for the lens to respond and re-focus, you frame the shot by moving until you like what you see. In the old days (here we go again…) I would not have dreamt of putting a zoom lens on my Mamiya RB67; why reduce the quality of the light by removing a prime lens and replacing it with an inferior zoom! Need to frame a little tighter? Then get a little closer!

Okay, so it’s not always going to work like that. A wide angle lens close enough to someone’s face to fill the frame is not going to be flattering. It’s probably going to be interesting, mind you, but unlikely to be flattering. In most (almost all) cases during the three months I was carrying the Ricoh around with me, the lack of zoom was never once lamented.

The controls are all fairly obvious and self-explanatory and quite basic (which is a good thing – no fussing). If there was one gripe, it would be the silly little button you need to hold down to turn the mode dial on the top plate, which was fiddly.

Streetwise

I got into a bit of a conversation with a street photographer who was, for want of a better expression, a “GRD III evangelist”. His opening line was “Have you tried it with full-press snap yet? Combine that with pre-AF and it will blow you away, man!” (okay, I added the “man!” bit on the end for effect, but it doesn’t sound right without it). I told him “not yet” and went straight into the menu options to see if I could find out what the heck he was talking about.

Ricoh GR Digital III BackEssentially, pre-AF is a constantly adjusting focus function, so when you release the shutter there is practically no lag as the camera does not have to scrabble about trying to find focus. Full-press snap is a simple idea, but quite effective once you work out the best setting for your use. You set the focussing distance that you want the camera to use (1.0m for instance) if you press the shutter release fully in one quick motion (so you don’t do a half-press to find focus). My street shooter buddy told me once you got the right settings for your technique, it was possible to grab instant shots with little effort – and he was right, although in my case it was a family gathering rather than a bustling street, which I’m sure made it a little easier.

What About the Actual Photos?

The GRD III takes excellent photos. It shoots RAW, which is important (to me, at least). I got sharp, focussed, well exposed, clean shots repeatedly. Good colour, good contrast. The wide angle adaptor also produced excellent results, although I would not be keen to carry the adaptor round with me unless I had a specific need. Personally, the standard lens is about as wide angle as I want to go (of course, that might just be me).

Conclusion – Is It Any Good?

I have a new found respect for Ricoh. The GR Digital III is a fine camera. A surprisingly excellent camera in fact. I feel bad that I am surprised by the quality (sorry Ricoh – I really didn’t know) but I’m spreading the word now.

There is always one defining moment when people give us things to review; what is the reaction when they ask for it back? In this case, I was gutted! After three-and-a-bit months I was really hoping they had forgotten who had it and that I would be able to keep it.

I don’t know a higher recommendation than that.


GR DIGITAL III – Major Specifications:

No. of Effective Pixels (Camera):

Approximately 10.00 million pixels

Image Sensor:

1/1.7-inch CCD (total pixels: approx. 10.40 million pixels)

Lens:

Focal length: f=6.0 mm (equivalent to 28 mm for 35 mm film cameras)

F-aperture: F1.9 – F9 (exposure control with both aperture and ND filter when F8.0-F11 displays in auto shooting mode)

Shooting Distance (from the front of the lens): Approx. 30 cm – infinity; Macro (from the front of the lens): Approx. 1 cm – infinity

Lens Construction: 8 elements in 6 groups (aspheric lens: 2 elements and 2 surfaces)

Digital Zoom Magnification:

Digital Zoom: Approx. 4.0x; Auto Resize Zoom: Approx. 5.7x (VGA images)

Focus Mode:

Multi AF (CCD method) / Spot AF (CCD method) / Manual Focus / Snap / Infinity (Focus lock and AF auxiliary light available. For Multi AF and Spot AF, full-press snap and pre-AF are possible.)

Shutter Speed: *1

Still image: 180, 120, 60, 30, 15, 13, 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3.2, 2.5, 2, 1.6, 1.3, 1 – 1/2000 sec. (maximum and minimum shutter speeds vary depending on shooting mode and flash mode)

Movie: 1/30 – 1/2000 sec.

Exposure Control:

Exposure Metering Mode: Multi (256 segments), Centre Weighted Light Metering, Spot Metering (TTL-CCD metering method, AE lock possible)

Exposure Modes: Program shift AE/Aperture priority AE/Shutter priority AE/Manual exposure

Exposure Compensation: Manual Exposure Compensation +/-2.0EV (1/3EV Steps), Auto Bracket Function (-0.5EV, ±0, +0.5EV / -0.3EV, ±0, +0.3EV)

ISO Sensitivity (Standard Output Sensitivity):

AUTO, AUTO-HI, ISO64 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600

White Balance Mode:

AUTO / Multi-Pattern AUTO / Outdoors / Cloudy / Incandescent / Fluorescent / Manual / Detail, White Balance Bracket Function

Flash:

Built-in flash mode: Auto (during low light and when the subject is backlit), Red-eye-Reduction, Flash On, Slow Synchro, Manual Flash, Flash Off

Built-in flash range: Approx. 20 cm – 3.0 m (ISO Auto)

Flash compensation: +/-2.0EV (1/3EV Steps)

Monitor:

3.0-inch Transparent LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)

Shooting Mode:

Auto Shooting Mode / Program Shift Mode / Aperture Priority Mode / Shutter Speed Priority Mode / Manual Exposure Mode / Scene Modes (Text / Movie / Skew Correction / Dynamic Range Double Shot) / My Settings Mode

Picture Quality Mode: *2

F (Fine) / N (Normal) / RAW (DNG file format) *3

No. of Pixels Recorded:

Still image: [4:3]3648—2736, 3264—2448, 2592—1944, 2048—1536, 1280—960, 640—480

[3:2] 3648—2432 [1:1] 2736—2736

Movie: 640×480, 320×240

Text: 3648×2736, 2048×1536

Recording Media:

SD memory card, SDHC memory card, Internal memory (approx. 88MB)

Storage Capacity (Pictures/Time):*4 (internal memory 88MB)

Still image: 3648—2736 (RAW: 4, F: 22, N: 38) / 3648—2432 (RAW: 5, F: 25, N: 43) / 2736—2736 (RAW: 6, F: 29, N: 50) / 3264—2448 (N: 47) / 2592—1944 (N: 72) / 2048—1536 (N: 109) / 1280—960 (N:175) / 640—480 (N: 705) / Text: 3648—2736 (38), 2048—1536 (109)

Movie*5: 640—480: 30 frames/sec. (51 sec.), 640—480: 15 frames/sec. (1 min. 42 sec.), 320—240: 30 frames/sec. (2 min. 12 sec.), 320—240: 15 frames/sec. (4 min. 19 sec.)

Recording File Format:

Still Image: JPEG (Exif ver. 2.21) *6 , RAW (DNG)

Movie: AVI (Open DML Motion JPEG Format compliant)

Other Major Shooting Functions:

Continuous / S-Cont / M-Cont, Self-Timer (operation time: approx. 10 sec. / approx. 2 sec.), Interval Timer (shooting interval: 5 sec. – 1 hour (5 sec. steps) *7, Color Bracket function, B&W (TE), Color Space Setting, Noise Reduction, Histogram, Grid Guide, Depth of Field, Electronic Level, Hot Shoe

Other Major Playback Functions:

Auto Rotate, Grid View, Enlarged Display (maximum 16x), Resize

Interface:

USB 2.0 (High-Speed USB) Mini-B, Mass storage*8 / Audio Out 1.0Vp-p (75)

Video Signal Format:

NTSC, PAL switchable

Power Supply:

Rechargeable Battery: DB-65 (3.7V) x1, AAA Dry Alkaline Battery x2, AAA Nickel-Metal Hydride Battery x 2, AC adapter (AC-4c option) 3.8V

Battery Consumption: *9

Based on CIPA Standard: Using the DB-65, approx. 370 pictures / Using AAA Dry Alkaline Battery x2, approx. 25 pictures*10

External Dimensions:

108.6 mm (W) x 59.8 mm (H) x 25.5 mm (D) (excluding projecting parts)

Weight:

Approx. 188 g (excluding battery, SD memory card, strap), Accessories approx. 30 g (battery, strap)

Operating Temperature Range:

0ºC-40ºC


*1. Shutter speed upper and lower limits vary depending on Shooting Mode and Flash Mode.*2. The picture quality modes which can be set vary depending on the image size.

*3. A JPEG file in Normal 640 or Fine/Normal mode with the same size as the RAW file is recorded at the same time. The DNG file format is a RAW image file format and is the standard format of Adobe Systems.

*4. Estimated number of still images it is possible to record and estimated amount of movie recording time.

*5. The maximum length for one instance of movie recording is 90 minutes or the file size upper limit of 4GB.

*6. Compatible with DCF and DPOF. DCF is the abbreviation of the JEITA standard “Design rule for Camera File system.” (Full compatibility with other devices is not guaranteed.)

*7. With flash off.

*8. Mass storage driver is compatible with Windows (R) 2000, XP, and Vista; Mac OS9.0-9.2.2 and Mac OSX10.1.2-10.5.6.

*9. Shooting capacity was measured using CIPA-standard parameters. This is only an estimate, and performance may vary according to usage conditions.

*10. Using Panasonic AAA alkaline batteries.

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