Over the years I’ve experimented with various “small format” camera systems, ranging from smartphones and GoPros to high end point-and-shoots and micro-four-thirds systems. My objective has always been similar: incredible image quality in a small, compact, and easily portable format.
Technology has improved a ton over the years, and last year I decided I once again wanted to try finding a pocket friendly camera that could take high quality images that met my (very high) standards. After a bunch of research and a glowing review from a trusted friend, I picked up a Ricoh GR III.
I’ve now had this camera for a year and it almost perfectly fits into the niche I was looking to fill. I wanted a camera that could take DSLR quality photos but fit in my pocket – something lightweight, portable, and packable but that packed a punch. The Ricoh GR III is just that.
What I love about the Ricoh GR III:
Image quality: This camera produces the sharpest, most detailed images on it’s APS-C sized sensor, consistently far better than any lens combo on any of the DSLR’s I have owned.
Low-light shooting: The built in image stabilization combined with impressive performance at high ISOs means this camera is a great low light companion. The Ricoh GR series cameras have been hailed as perfect for street shooters, and for me the GR III is ideal for walking around a city or town at night when I’m on vacation. I probably wouldn’t want to lug a DSLR around an unfamiliar city for the off chance that I could capture some interesting images of shops and iconic landmarks, but it is nice to have the option to get really high quality photos while out and about doing touristy things, like grabbing drinks or dinner or going to a show.
Size and Design: The fact that this camera produces among the sharpest and most detailed images I have ever seen and it quite literally can fit in a (large) pocket is incredible. While not the prettiest thing to look at, the camera’s small size, sleek shape, and simple ergonomics make it super portable and packable. The lens retracts entirely into the body, so there are no sharp corners, harsh edges, or protruding angles to snag when you try to slip in into or out of a case. The Ricoh GR III is easy to hold and shoot with one handed, although selfies with it are a bit awkward.
Adjusting Exposure: It is extremely easy to apply exposure compensation (with just the flick of a finger) or adjust individual f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO settings on the Ricoh, making it among the fastest to adjust small format cameras I have tried.
Fixed focal length: While the lack of a zoom lens would be detracting to many, I actually love it. For me, the 28mm equivalent fixed focal length lens is just right for much of the grab-and-go type of shooting I wanted to do with this camera. My entire motivation to find a small format powerhouse was so that I could quickly create great images when an opportunity presents itself but not end up distracted with too many options and settings. I kind of wanted something I could shoot with as easily as a iPhone but with the image quality to rival a DSLR, and that’s exactly what the GR III is.
Snap-mode: One of the GR series unique features, and the one most praised features among street shooters, is the ability to use snap-focus. You basically preset a focus distance and with a push of a button the camera will automatically jump to focus at that distance, waisting virtually no time on acquiring focus. Street shooters LOVE this because its super fast. As primarily a nature, wildlife, and sports photographer, I’ll admit I have not used the feature much, but it certainly as the potential to come in handy, especially for sports or action shooting where you “pre-focus” on an object or zone, which is a pretty common technique.
Macro mode: You can change to macro mode with the push of a single button, and the macro mode is pretty good, allowing close focus on smaller subjects. The 28mm equivalent focal length is not common in macro photography – it is too wide for very small subjects and tends to include a lot of background, but having the option to take a close up photo without adding an accessory lens is a great thing.
Where the Ricoh GR III could be improved:
Color rendition: I use Adobe Lightroom for editing and post processing, and find that the native colors produced by the GR III’s DNG files are a bit wonky. Images tend to cast blue and in editing it can be difficult to correct for this and get natural colors and skin tones depending on the scene. To be completely fair, I do tend to use this camera in less optimal lighting conditions. Still, the colors leave a bit to be desired if you are used to working with Canon profiles. I’ve heard that Capture One does a much better job of producing accurate and pleasing colors with the GR’s DNG files, but I’m not about to invest in entirely new software and change my entire workflow for one camera.
Exposure metering: In my experience I find the GR tends to underexpose images by up to a full stop fairly regularly. This could be because of the camera’s preference to preserve highlight detail, but I find I often get better results when I dial in +0.3-1.0 full stop of compensation, at least when shooting RAW/DNG where there is adequate information stored in the highlights and shadows to be recovered later.
Auto ISO setting: In auto ISO mode, I find the Ricoh tends to default to lower ISOs that require some really steady handholding and still subjects. Granted this isn’t completely unique to the Ricoh, but in fully auto mode I’d trade a stop of ISO for a stop of shutter speed any day, and for a camera that’s niche lies among street photographers, you’d think a halfway decent shutter speed would be a priority. Whenever I put this in auto ISO mode I typically change it back to a manual ISO setting within a shot or two if I’m shooting in less than full sun.
Price: $900 for a point-and-shoot is a bit steep, regardless of features and quality. The fact that you can buy a current model entry level DSLR or mirrorless kit with a lens for half the price is something to think about, but a mirrorless or DSLR with lens attached won’t fit in my pocket, so there’s that. Also, the Ricoh includes very few extras at this price point.
Charger not included: One of the accessories Ricoh failed to include with the camera is a seemingly necessary one – a battery charger. Instead you must charge the battery in camera using a USB accessory cord, or buy the charger for an additional $45. While I don’t mind that Ricoh chose not to pack the GR III full of accessories most user are unlikely to ever take out of the packaging, a battery charger would be a worthwhile inclusion, especially considering the GR III’s poor battery life, which almost necessitates the need for a spare battery and frequent charging.
Battery life: The battery is good for about 200 shots. Since I tend to use the camera infrequently and rarely as my main camera, this is manageable, but where this camera has the potential to truly shine is for multi-day trips where lugging around a full DSLR setup would be impractical. However, this would require charging the camera on a daily basis and possibly carrying around multiple extra batteries if this was being used as a primary camera. Add to the fact that the battery needs to be charged in camera or with a $45 accessory, and this is an area where I think Ricoh needs to do better. Note: On a recent 3 day/2 night summer backpacking trip a single freshly charged battery lasted me the whole trip, but I was shooting conservatively. I also have yet to take more than a few shots in sub-freezing temps, so cannot comment on how cold affects battery life at this time.
Aesthetics: This camera is ugly. This isn’t 100% bad, as its unexciting uniform black body means this is a very discreet camera and less likely to be targeted by thieves than say, the retro cool design of the Fujifilm X100 series, which falls into the same high-end point-and-shoot niche. Still I wouldn’t mind it if the camera itself was a little more pleasing to look at. Note: You can switch the front ring on the camera for a pop of color if you like, which does improve the looks slightly. But again, that costs extra.
No weather sealing: This is a very small, lightweight, and portable camera, so some compromise in the environmental durability category is understandable. However I’m used to shooting with professional Canon DSLRs and lenses, all of which resist rain and dust, and my GoPro, which I can throw in a puddle or drop off a cliff. Even my iPhone is splash resistant. Because I rely on the Ricoh as my “go anywhere” camera, it would be really nice if I didn’t worry so much about the weather forecast every time I have it on me. I’d love to see a future version have some level of weather sealing, especially at the current price point.
LCD screen has poor dynamic range: I tend to shoot the Ricoh side-by-side with my iPhone, and for high dynamic range scenes I have to very consciously remind myself that the post-processed Ricoh image will look just as good or better than the optimized iPhone jpeg straight out of camera. Because the iPhone will automatically take a HDR images when the scene requires it, photos on my iPhone always look MUCH better straight out of the camera. High dynamic range images on the Ricoh by comparison look flat and lifeless when previewed on the LCD screen.
Ricoh profiles are ONLY available in-camera: Ricoh has a handful of processing presets available in camera, some of which tend to be pretty popular among street and lifestyle shooters (the B&W presets and “Positive Film” profile are most popular). Unlike Fujifilm, you cannot get these presets as Profiles for Lightroom, so if you want to get the same look out of a RAW file you are kind of out of luck, or you’ll need to spend time trying to dupe them. What IS cool though is that, as long as you still have the native DNG file on your SD card, you can convert any of your DNG files IN CAMERA to output a JPEG with any of the built-in profiles.
Better support for worldwide audiences: Ricoh is a Japanese company, and as such things like customer support, the user manual, and instructions for firmware updates can be difficult to understand and implement because the Japanese to English translations are not particularly good. Also, for features like snap-focus measurements are only listed in meters, which isn’t as intuitive to me as having the option to select focus distances by feet. Even just adding in a feet equivalent next to the metric setting (for example 3m/10ft) would make the device a little more user friendly.
Delayed release of necessary features: For whatever reason, when the Ricoh GR III was released it lacked some of the features supported by its predecessor, the GR II, and did not integrate very well with the Image Sync app designed for it (nor did it work particularly well with preferred third party apps like GR Viewer). One such feature was the ability to remotely shoot using a synced smartphone. I’ve come to really love using my iPhone as a camera remote when I want to be in the shot, and the fact that I was only able to get this feature to finally work just recently when the camera released nearly a year-and-a-half ago is pretty frustrating.
Previously, the cameras I had tried had all had a bit of what I wanted but still felt limited, and I tended to use them little and hold onto them for a short amount of time before realizing they didn’t quite fit what I was after. Despite the Ricoh GRIII not being perfect (clearly my list of improvements is nearly 50% longer than the list of things I really like about the camera), it very much fits the bill of what I was looking for, and I find myself using it quite regularly. The quality of the Ricoh GRIII is hard to beat and no other camera comes even close in such a small package.
PS: I got my Ricoh from Hunt’s Photo and Video. I met the owner at a trade show many years ago and pretty much buy all of my new photo gear from them now. If you are based in New England and want the best prices, great service, a wide selection of products, and to support a local photo business that gives back to the community, I highly recommend shopping at Hunt’s!