One thing that hasn’t improved much however is the price. The GR Digital III is currently on sale for an eye-watering £530, making it by far the most expensive pocket compact on the market, and one of the most expensive non-SLR cameras of any type. By comparison the Panasonic LX3 will cost you about £340, and you can get a Canon G10 for around £400. You can pre-order the new Canon S90 for about £450, and needless to say there are plenty of digital SLRs that cost less than the GR Digital III. That price will probably fall over time, but maybe not by as much as you’d hope. The GR Digital II is still available and costs about £300.
This is pretty much the GR Digital III’s only real problem. There’s no question that it’s a very good camera and offers a lot of creative control for experienced photographers in a highly portable pocket-sized form, but it’s no longer the only camera that does so. The Panasonic LX3 offers much the same, but with an even larger sensor and a high quality zoom lens with an even wider wide-angle setting, while the new Canon S90 has an f/2.0 lens equivalent to 28-105mm. Both cameras are a lot cheaper than the Ricoh, and it has to be said that they’re a lot prettier to look at as well. There are now also several other compact alternatives to the bulky traditional SLR, such as the new Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. Given Ricoh’s traditionally low-key approach to marketing its range of digital cameras, one wonders if the GR Digital III can survive against such competition.
It’ll be a pity if it can’t, because it really is a superb little camera. The build quality is exemplary, and the unassuming plain black body, with its scratch-resistant high-friction coating and comfortable rubberised grip, is slim, light and easy to hold. The control layout is simple but effective, and provides quick but versatile access to the camera’s many options. The main mode dial has a locking button to prevent it being turned accidentally, something which many other manufacturers would do well to imitate. Like an SLR the GR Digital has two adjustment controls, a rotating wheel on the front of the grip for adjusting exposure values, and a control on the back for quick menu selections. The controls, including all the buttons around the D-pad, can all be customised, so you can set the camera up just the way you like it. Particular set-ups can be saved for quick access via the three custom settings on the mode dial.
The degree of control is excellent for a compact camera. Apertures from f/1.9 to f/9, shutter speeds from three minutes to 1/2000th of a second and sensitivity settings from 64 ISO to 1600 ISO are available at the touch of a button. The pop-up flash is surprisingly powerful, its output can be adjusted, and both first and second-curtain sync are available.
Other features are similarly capable. Exposure metering is excellent, and the multi-point AF system is extremely fast and accurate. Macro focusing range is an impressive 1cm, and the well-implemented manual focus option, as well as the ability to connect to an external lighting system via the hot-shoe, makes the GR Digital III and excellent camera for close-up photography. The white balance system is also much improved, with an advanced pixel-by-pixel multi-pattern WB system that seems to be exceptionally accurate.