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Ricoh GR Digital III review




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In the thin air of the highest summit of the digital compact camera market you'll find a small and frostbitten handful of very expensive cameras to which the clichéd photography journalist's ultimate accolade can be applied; the Real Photographer's Camera. We've reviewed or reported on most of them, models like the fantastic Panasonic LX3, the stalwart Canon G10 and its newly announced replacement the G11, Canon's other newcomer the S90, the Nikon P6000 and the technically impressive if somewhat flawed Sigma DP2. Often overlooked among such exclusive company is one of the best "photographer's cameras" of the lot, the superb Ricoh GR Digital II. Today I'm taking a look at the successor to this camera, unexpectedly named the GR Digital III.

When Ricoh launched the original GR Digital in 2005 it was a bold and ambitious concept: a pocket-sized compact camera aimed at enthusiast photographers, offering SLR-like manual exposure controls, a large sensor, a fast hybrid AF system and a very high quality non-zoom wide-angle lens, in that case an f/2.4 equivalent to 28mm. Like an SLR it had a range of optional accessories, including a clip-on optical viewfinder and a 0.75x extension lens. At the time it was unlike anything else on the market, and didn't have much competition apart from Canon's aging flagship the PowerShot G6 and the ugly but awesome Olympus C-7070, both of which were big heavy cameras and far from pocket-sized.

The new GR Digital III follows exactly the same design concept, in fact it's so similar that at first glance it's hard to tell the two cameras apart, and harder still to distinguish it from its immediate predecessor the GR Digital II. However a closer inspection reveals that there are a number of improvements for the new model, and not insignificant ones either. The main upgrade is a completely new lens. It's still a fixed-length lens equivalent to 28mm, but it now has a maximum aperture of an impressive f/1.9, which if I'm not mistaken makes it the fastest lens on any current digital compact camera.

Also improved is the LCD monitor which is larger at three inches, but also much sharper with a resolution of 920,000 dots, the same as the monitors used on top-end professional DSLRs. The new model also gets a new image processor, the GR Engine III, and new more powerful 1250mAh Li-ion battery. More importantly it also gets a new sensor, a larger 1/1.7-inch type CCD with bigger photocells for improved light sensitivity.

Dark of Day

September 15, 2009, 11:22 pm

Nice looking camera, but yes, way to expensive.

On which note; any likelihood of Leica sending you an M9 to play with and tell us about?


September 16, 2009, 12:23 am

It's the daddy ;)

My GRDigital is back from being repaired soon. Cost £120. It's my first camera. I broke it after using it about 3 times. I've now spent the money (including buying it) that I could of afforded the LX3 yet I'm still happy I went with it. Cliff is right, the lack of zoom I think improves your photography (Although I never get a photo showed on the comp each month lol).


September 16, 2009, 2:08 am

Wonderful camera.

Been a fan of the GR series since film days and continue to be so with the GR Digital. They've always had a fantastic lens and a combination of quality & features with its simplicity works fantastically.

The fixed lens does discipline you into thinking more about your composures and the improvement in results offsets the loss of some photo oportunities due to the lack of zoom.

Brilliant little camera (if a little expensive compared to it's peers).

Get over the price and you'll fall in love with it (irrationally? given the existence of the LX3 and promise of the G11 and S90.)

Note for ed - Page 2 and Page 3 of the review are identical.


September 16, 2009, 3:38 am

I don't understand how this gets 10/10 for image quality, 1600 looks terrible, the corners aren't sharp. Can you explain please Cliff? And 2.4 seconds per RAW shot is terrible.

Cliff Smith

September 16, 2009, 7:00 am

jopey - This is going to sound odd, but 10/10 does not in fact mean perfect; within a scale of only 1-10 it only means its better overall than 90 percent of comparable cameras, in this case high-end compacts. As always I urge you not to get hung up on scores, and to read the text of the review instead.

Stewart - Yes, I spotted that. Not sure what happened, it's never happened before. I'll get it fixed tomorrow.


September 16, 2009, 7:30 am

I have to agree with the odd 10/10 for image quality, particularly in respect of noise. ISO800 is not good and ISO1600 is crap. I have had issues with the point rating system before and I think a far more objective method of assessment is required or the point scores should be dropped all together. Such insonsistent scores makes comparative assessments impossible. Based on recent reviews, this camera is at best an 8/10 on IQ.


September 16, 2009, 12:46 pm

@PeterB666: As well as Cliff's points, it's also important to consider how this camera will be used. Yes, the ISO 800/1600 results are poor but with an f1.9 lens the need for such high ISO settings is going to be minimal. I seldom shoot above ISO 400 on either my compact or SLR and neither has lenses anywhere near as fast.


September 16, 2009, 1:15 pm

Both landscapes that can be opened in original size suffer terrible focus problems with only the closest few cabins or pebbles being sharp. Other areas lose on sharpness and detail with distance a great deal and are really blotchy and two-dimensional, tho there isn't any visible sensor noise. Is this due to poor metering, any other camera problems, or were those two shots taken so intentionally? I'm really interested in this cam (would mainly find its use in portrait photography in poor lighting conditions where such fast fixed lens should prove its worth) and would appreciate your reply. Thanks!


September 16, 2009, 2:38 pm

I find it funny how people think that ISO performance is the ultimate factor in judging image quality (it's not), particularly as I'm in the same boat as Ed in not using anything above ISO 400 (though it's hard to say whether I would if the ISO performance was better, most D90 users will tell you that's the case).

If you're solely comparing cameras using the scores on this site then you're doing them an injustice and aren't likely to make the right decision (i.e. an informed one). Read the review and look at the test shots yourself to compare, then make a decision. I always take the x/10 ratings with a pinch of salt and use it as a general guide as to whether the product in question was any good or not, compared to what else is available.


September 16, 2009, 5:14 pm

wise words smc8788 - I always ignore the iso performance on sites like this when assessing a camera. It's like not buying a 50" plasma TV because when you stand 2" it looks pixelated and fuzzy.

This camera will give you great photos if it's anything like it's predecessor, and as joose suggested - it may well make you a better photographer.


September 16, 2009, 5:20 pm

@purephase: Not wishing to contradict myself but ISO performance tests are still very significant and shouldn't be dismissed its just that they're one part of the assessment and should only ever be taken as such.

Also, no camera will make you a better photographer (per se), but this one may open your eyes to more ways to shoot creatively.


September 16, 2009, 7:14 pm

@miha: The blurriness is probably a function of focus distance. Had Landscape mode or infinity focus been chosen (and maybe stopping down further to f/8 or smaller), the picture would be much sharper.

Having said that, I am very impressed with the dynamic range of the GRDIII in the first beach shot. To preserve detail in the sky without clipping highlights as well as shadow detail is pretty impressive, and way beyond the average compact camera. I know that my Ricoh GX100 would have failed in that scenario.

It's a shame that the GRDIII came out at this time, what with Micro 4/3 cameras like the Olympus EP-1 and Panasonic GF-1 around. Although they're still bulkier than the GRDIII, they provide features and quality that the GRDIII can't match. And for those wanting a smaller camera than the EP-1 and GF-1, the Lumix LX3 occupies a much nicer price/performance ratio than the GRDIII. I know that my next camera purchase is probably going to be a GF-1...(waiting for next body/firmware revision).


September 16, 2009, 8:47 pm

Sorry to be picky, it is after all a compact and all that, , , but in some shots the colour of the pebbles seems a bit off, a pinkish hue or very very slight tint seems present, I don't think it's my monitor.

Another good review Cliff, well explained, succint etc, also enjoyed reading all the comments, good exchanges of info,thanks TR and all who sail in her.


September 16, 2009, 9:09 pm

And another thing while I remember ;

Since I always bitch/complain/deride/point out/bring to the attention of. No Viewfinder on most compacts these days, even expensive ones, the additional accessory is at least available for this camera, budget £97:00 though.


September 16, 2009, 9:50 pm

I see what you're saying Ed - I just think that when potential buyers look at pages like yours where the ISO is tested to failing point, they may draw the conclusion that there is some deficiency in the camera (as above), where as in fact it is a pretty much par for the course.

I'd certainly say that using a fixed focus camera, or even an old manual style SLR forces you to really think about what you are capturing and how you are going to do it, which sets good habits which you can then transfer to more complicated equipment.

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