The Ricoh GRIII is Ricoh's newest (as of March 2019) compact fixed-lens camera featuring a discreet and stealthy profile with an APS-C sensor and a very sharp 28mm lens. Building upon the strong GR lineage, the GR series of Ricoh compacts is typically a cult favourite among street shooters for its low-profile design. Thanks to Ricoh Professional and travel photographer Michael Lee together with Photosphere, I got the opportunity to loan the Ricoh and put it through its paces in both streets and urban landscapes.
Disclaimer: I was only loaned the camera for review, and am in no way paid by Ricoh or Photosphere for the marketing of this camera. That said, I'll do my best to be as objective as I can for this review.
TL;DR: It's small. This camera really puts the 'compact' in the compact camera form factor. Although I did not compare it with its predecessor, the GRIII shaves a few millimetres off the overall length of the body for a shorter profile more akin to the GR Digital IV camera. Despite the shorter length, the grip is still...well, grippy and comfortable to hold for long periods of time and the shutter button is nice and big as well. Both front and back dials are positioned within easy reach of your fingers, as well as the mode dial and power button. The well thought-out layout certainly makes single-handed use a straightforward affair. Ricoh definitely has the advantage of experience in its iteration of the many generations of GR compacts through the years.
GRIII in hand
The telescoping lens design that retracts into the camera body makes the Ricoh GRIII a pocketable camera. Unlike a Fujifilm x100-style of camera or a Leica Q whose fixed lenses do not retract, you do not need a strap to sling this camera around your body for immediate access when the situation calls for it. Simply slip it into your pocket and pull it out whenever you need it. The almost-instant startup time of the camera definitely helps in this process, as the lens is retracted only when power is off or in power-saving mode. That said, one can also opt to use a wrist-strap for the camera, and the GRIII generously provides you with three strap loops around the body for your preference. As a street camera, I certainly appreciate Ricoh's commitment to making the GRIII as discreet as possible, which definitely puts it above its competition in this regard.
GRIII top view
The startup camera settings is a tad consumer-centric in nature, as the camera by default turns on the autofocus confirmation beep, shutter sound and autofocus-assist light. All these can be switched off, thankfully. You can even turn off the power indication LED light around the power button for a more stealthy profile. I guess it's understandable that Ricoh included the cheesy shutter sound by default because the leaf shutter of the GRIII is incredibly silent. Apart from a soft click and an LCD-screen blackout when the shutter button is pressed, there's no other indication to note when a picture is being taken.
Three user-defined preset modes (U1, U2 and U3) are available on the mode dial for users to program and quickly switch between different settings and modes for various shooting scenarios. For example, one preset could be a highlight-weighted metering mode with auto-ISO enabled for quick-action streets, and another could be set to base ISO to maximise dynamic range for landscapes and architecture shots.
GRIII wide-angle lens attachment mount
The touchscreen is always a much-welcomed feature (at least for me) in modern cameras, and the GRIII sports a sufficiently-sized 3-in touchscreen that recognises standard smartphone gestures like swipes to scrub through photos and double-taps to zoom in on an image. The touchscreen is snappy and responsive, and so is the refresh rate. By default, tapping on the touchscreen in single-point autofocus mode will activate the selected focus point and autofocus only, but users can also opt to fire the shutter through the screen as well by setting that option in the menu. That said, if you are not a fan of touchscreens on cameras, you can turn it off in the settings as well.
Like its predecessors, the GRIII comes with a bayonet-like mount for an optional ultrawide-angle lens adapter, which increases the camera field-of-view to about 21mm. It also includes metal contact pins for the adapter so that EXIF information can be recorded for the lens as well. However, since the 28mm lens of the GRIII is newly-design and thus optically different from its predecessors, the 21mm lens adapter has to be re-engineered as well. At the time of writing, it has yet to be released but should arrive later in the year.
The GRIII is the current culmination of Ricoh's efforts to design the ultimate unassuming compact street camera, and it definitely shows. Especially when used in Snap Focus mode, where focus is predefined to a pre-set distance (the camera also displays a handy depth-of-field scale on the screen as well), the shutter lag is almost non-existent and pictures can be made spontaneously and quickly - perfect for street photography.
Mouse over to view street photos from the GRIII - images were processed from Ricoh's DNG raw format in Capture One, where only basic colour, contrast, cropping and some noise reduction were applied
Autofocus is decent in good midday light, but if you are looking for Sony a7 series of autofocus performance, the GRIII is definitely not up to par. Despite the on-sensor phase-detect autofocus points, the GRIII is susceptible to focus hunting, especially at lower light levels, or when the selected autofocus point is unable to detect a subject with contrast, and thus losing the autofocus lock. Although the camera has continuous autofocus and face-detection, the hit-and-miss nature of the autofocus meant that I was using the Snap Focus feature or single-point autofocus a lot more to mitigate focus hunting and losing my shot.
Distortion characteristics of the GRIII's 28mm wide-angle lens
The 28mm lens is quite a sweet-spot for street photographer - wider than a 35mm and not so wide as to introduce too much rectilinear distortion in your subjects. This means you can get up-close to your subjects without too much stretching in the perspective. The lens does exhibit a bit of barrel distortion, but unless you are shooting architecture or brick walls like the photo above, it's usually indiscernible.
100% crop from the GRIII at f/2.8
Avid fans of the Ricoh GR series and pixel-peepers alike would also be delighted to know that the redesigned 28mm fixed-focal-length lens of the GRIII is sharp, even wide open at f/2.8. Coupled with the new 24-megapixel sensor without anti-aliasing filter (AA-filter simulation available in the settings if moire is of concern), the GRIII produces incredibly sharp outputs worthy of its new, higher-res sensor (vs 16mp of the GRII). Another new feature would be the in-camera sensor cleaning function that is now available on the new camera. Due to the fixed-lens design, cleaning the sensor due to dust being pulled into the system through the retracting lens design is an expensive hassle, and the sensor cleaning function is a much-welcomed feature that should both limit the impact of dust and trips to the service centre.
Despite the GR's design as a compact street-focused camera, it can also double up as a capable landscape-oriented camera, especially with the 21mm ultrawide-angle adapter lens attachment. Even with the standard 28mm wide-angle lens, it is quite sufficient for quickly shooting urban landscapes, much like a smartphone. Especially with the camera's small profile, security guards would be less inclined to stop you as would they if they spot someone with a tripod and DSLR set-up. But this is not a reason to trespass into private property so please don't do that! The small profile just means that the camera is not attention-grabbing, much like photographing with a smartphone, which makes grabbing even landscapes on the fly a very seamless affair.
Mouse over to view urban landscape and architecture from the GRIII
With the built-in ND filters and sensor-shift stabilisation, it's easy to capture sharp landscapes at the camera's base ISO of 100 even in lower lighting conditions. Dynamic range at base ISO is also rather decent for an APS-C sensor, and it is possible to maximise the dynamic range by underexposing an image, pulling the highlights and pushing the shadows. That said, the shadows may take on a bit of a blue tint when pushed too much, so try not to overdo your processing. Of course, to make full use of the dynamic range, one needs to first be shooting in raw mode.
Dynamic Range Example #1: Before Processing
Dynamic Range Example #1: Recovery of Highlights and Shadows
Dynamic Range Example #2: Before Processing
Dynamic Range Example #2: Recovery of Highlights and Shadows
High-ISO performance of the camera is rather decent as well, and the camera definitely holds its own in low-light scenarios. The GRIII can go up to an ISO of 102400, but at such a high ISO, the output is unusable, except for maybe thumbnail images on Instagram with heavy noise reduction. ISO 6400 and perhaps even ISO 12800 with noise reduction is very useful, especially when published to the web. I suspect it should also hold up pretty well for printing too, given the grain-like noise characteristics and low colour noise artefacts even at higher ISOs.
Mouse over to view night street photography with the GRIII
As I'm still holding on to the GRIII, I'll definitely be updating my review to include any new thoughts I have about the camera and its features, but for now I can safely say that the camera does excel in its original intent as a discreet street shooter, despite the iffy autofocus and lower battery life compared to its predecessor. Hopefully, the autofocus can be further tweaked and improved upon through a firmware upgrade, but that said, I still do think that the GRIII is a worthy upgrade from the GRII, especially with the higher resolution, touch interface and especially the in-camera sensor cleaning feature, which will definitely combat the dust issue.
Although I'm not really a street shooter, the small and unassuming profile of the Ricoh GRIII is a breath of fresh air when compared to my heavy landscape rigs that I'm used to lugging around. The greatest asset of the Ricoh GR series of cameras is their discreet nature, which makes street photography a lot more fun for me by allowing me to concentrate on the scene rather than be self-conscious as I would with a big camera rig. It's a camera that certainly does not draw attention to itself, and I'll definitely miss it when I have to return the unit.
The Ricoh GRIII will be available at the end of this month in Singapore at the launch price of S$1,299.