Hands on: Ricoh GR III Review

Ricoh's cult compact is back – is it still the ultimate street photography camera, or has it been left behind by smartphones?

First Impressions

Like a vintage Mazda MX5, the GR III is one for the purists – it's small, fun and still a great camera for street photography. But it's not without its limitations and, despite a long list of new features, it does feel a little dated in this fast-moving world of smartphone computational photography.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £799
  • 24.23-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • New f/2.8 lens with fixed 28mm equivalent focal length
  • Hybrid autofocus system (phase and contrast detection)
  • Three-axis image stabilisation
  • 3-inch touchscreen LCD
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

What is the Ricoh GR III?

The GR III is the latest premium compact camera in Ricoh’s classic GR series, which dates back to 1996.

It’s fair to say the world has changed a bit since then, but the GR range has always been a unique, timeless breed. While the likes of Sony and Panasonic battle it out with snazzy software features, it’s stuck to the photographic fundamentals – a big, APS-C sensor, high-quality optics and a pocketable form factor.

Ricoh GR III

This has made the GR III’s predecessors a huge hit with street photographers. There’s been strong competition from the likes of the Fujifilm X100 and Leica Q, but unlike those cameras the GR III ditches the viewfinder for truly pocketable dimensions.

As always, it’s all about the joy of what Ricoh calls “snap shooting”. But recognising that this is precisely the strength of smartphones and computational photography, the GR III has been given some big upgrades, including a new sensor, lens and three-axis image stabilisation.

So is there still a place for a camera like the Ricoh GR III in 2019? I took one out on the streets of London’s Shoreditch for a couple of hours to find out.

Ricoh GR III – Design

Look familiar? The GR series has looked essentially the same for the last 15 years, but that’s no bad thing. One major weakness of smartphones is their ergonomics (or lack of them), and the GR III is a very comfortable camera to hold and use.

It’s actually a fair bit smaller than the GR II and so light at 257g that it’s easy to forget you have it with you.

Ricoh GR III

On the top is a mode dial (with a handy lock mechanism to prevent accidental turns), plus the shutter button and one of two wheels that lets you easily change shutter speed in manual mode.

But what’s that missing from the top left corner? Yes, Ricoh has removed the built-in flash seen on the GR II. This has upset some GR fans (there were even online petitions to get it reinstated), but it is possible to add one via the hotshoe on top. Not quite as convenient, certainly, but it has helped Ricoh shrink the GR III’s size even more.

Whether that, and the lack of a viewfinder, are a trade-off that’s worth paying for a tiny form factor is really a personal choice based on how you like to shoot.

Ricoh GR III

What’s arguably more important is the camera’s overall feel, and I had great fun using the GR III in my two-hour session. If you want to go into full manual mode then its two wheels let you quickly tweak your aperture and shutter speed.

Its menus and touchscreen are also both pretty snappy, while its size makes it perfect for one-handed street shooting (particularly with the added security of that wrist strap).

It’s just a shame that its LCD is fixed and doesn’t tilt at all – this is a very useful and now commonplace feature that makes it much easier to compose from low and high angles.

Ricoh GR III – Features and autofocus

So what’s changed in the GR III? For a camera range as conservative as the GR family, quite a bit.

Beyond that new 24.23-megapixel sensor and f/2.8 lens are a long list of tweaks that, while not exactly blazing new photographic trails, bring the GR III up to speed with today’s premium compacts.

There’s three-axis shake reduction (which I didn’t really have time to test), a new maximum ISO of 102,400, a host new image filters including one for HDR, and a built-in ND filter. This lets you reduce the amount of light coming into the sensor in case you want to, for example, use a slower shutter speed during daylight to give the impression of motion.

Ricoh GR III

Perhaps the most important new addition, though, is the new Hybrid autofocus, which adds phase detection to the traditional contrast-based AF.

Despite this, I did find the GR III’s autofocus did try to hunt a bit on occasions, in a similar way to a contrast-only autofocus system. I also had some difficulties getting it to focus in Macro mode, which now has a lower minimum focusing distance of 6cm.

That said, in good light it mostly focused quickly and accurately, and it’s good to see continuous tracking autofocus has also now been added as an option. That’s handy for nailing shots of fast-moving subjects like cyclists.

Another useful feature are its filters – there are now ten of these, including variations on black-and-white, and the results mean you can easily get great JPEGs straight out of camera.

Ricoh GR III – Performance and image quality

The GR III starts up very quickly (in 0.8 seconds) and, with no need to faff around with a lens cap, it’s easy to quickly shoot an impromptu moment.

That said, battery life is not its greatest strength – after only a couple of hours of shooting in Raw + JPEG, my battery was finished. Although you can top it up via the USB-C port, it’d definitely be worth considering buying a couple of Ricoh DB-110 spares with the GR III.

It’s a little early to judge photo quality, but so far the GR III looks to have all the traditional strengths of its predecessors – great sharpness, strong low light performance thanks to that f/2.8 lens, and some excellent filter options.

Ricoh GR III

That 28mm focal length (which Ricoh calls the “director’s eye”) also forces you to step closer into scenes than you otherwise might with a zoom lens, which is a good thing to practice.

If you do want to get a little closer to the action, though, there are 35mm and 50mm crop views, which naturally reduce your image size. Still, this is a little easier to stomach when you’re starting off with a 24.23-megapixel sensor, rather than the 16-megapixel resolution of its predecessor.

Ricoh GR III

Ricoh GR III

Ricoh GR III

  • Price: £799
  • Release date: March 2019
  • Further info: Ricoh
A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

Features

Camera type Digital Compact