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.