The GR Digital III’s overall performance is excellent. The initial start-up is about average at approximately 2.5 seconds, but shot-to-shot time in single shot mode is about 1.6 seconds, which is nice and quick, and in continuous mode is can shoot at just under two frames a second, which is fast for a 10MP compact. It’s a little slower in Raw mode, shooting at approximately 2.4 seconds per shot in single-shot, with a buffer limit of six shots in continuous mode.
The autofocus system is exceptionally good. It focuses quickly and accurately in pretty much any lighting conditions, and has among the best low light performance I’ve ever seen. The bright green AF assist lamp has a range of several meters and the camera will focus very quickly even in total darkness. The pop-up flash is surprisingly powerful, with a useful range considerably better than the stated three metres. Its output can be adjusted, and both first and second-curtain sync are available. Considering its enthusiast credentials, in auto mode the GR Digital III is actually a great little camera for social snapshots.
The new f/1.9 GR lens is superb, providing bright pin-sharp detail almost right across the frame. There is a little bit of blurring in the far corners, but no trace of chromatic aberration and virtually zero barrel distortion. The optional 0.75x extension lens is also very good, although it does introduce a little chromatic aberration at the far edges of the frame. I’ve certainly seen worse from some DSLR kit lenses.
The GR Digital III uses a larger-format 1/1.7-inch 10.4-megapixel CCD sensor, with larger pixel pitch than most compacts, and correspondingly the dynamic range and colour depth are excellent by comparison to the majority of comparably-sized cameras. It’s certainly on a par with the Panasonic LX3 and Canon G10.
As for high-ISO noise control, the results are very good for a compact. There is image noise plainly visible at 400 ISO, but comparing the results to the G10 and the LX3, I’d say that the GR Digital III beats the former but is not as good as the latter. At 800 ISO the blotchy colour gradients and loss of fine detail rather let it down. At lower ISO settings the GR Digital III has significantly better detail, colour depth and shadow detail than the Canon G10, and compares well with the LX3’s benchmark image quality.
The Ricoh GR Digital III remains a unique camera. It offers a range of user control normally associated with fairly advanced DSLRs in a well-designed, slim and pocket-friendly camera that is a genuine pleasure to use. Image quality is comparable with the very best that compact cameras can offer, with build quality and finish to match. The only downside is the price, and the fact that its competitors offer more features for less money.
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