Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review

The curse of the trilogy usually involves a decline in quality and imagination - Look at Robocop. Surely Ricoh should be worried with the GRD III?

| Ricoh GR Digital III in Compact Cameras
Review by Matt Grayson

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD IIIRicoh GR Digital III: Specifications
  • Zoom: None
  • Resolution: 10Mp
  • Sensor size: 1/1.7in
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Max. image size: 3648x2736
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO64-1600
  • Media type: SD, SDHC
  • Focus types: Multi AF, spot, manual, snap, infinity
  • Normal focusing: 30cm-infinity
  • Close focusing: 1cm-infinity
  • Metering types: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 3min-1/2000sec (depending on shooting and flash mode)
  • Flash: Built in, hotshoe
  • Monitor: 3in Transparent LCD 920,000dot (307,000px)
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 108.6x59.8x25.5mm
  • Weight: 188g (excl. battery and card)

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
The screen has been enlarged to 3in and has an expanded 920,000dot resolution.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
The command dial has a shutter-priority and extra custom mode.
Ricoh GR Digital III: Features
There's very few changes made in terms of the specifications of the GRD III and Ricoh GRD II. While the most notable upgrade is the wider f/1.9 aperture, we've been graced with a slightly different sized sensor, expanded sensitivity to ISO64 and a closer focusing of 1cm. Cosmetically, the screen has been made bigger to 3in and has a high 920,000dot resolution, usually reserved for DSLRs.

There's still no zoom, which I didn't like all that much on the GRD II and I still think even a small one would be nice. However, an ePHOTOzine member raised a valid point that it provides a decent prime. It's horses for courses and if you like to have some kind of zoom on a camera, like I do, then the camera will disappoint you.

A new sensor graces the new camera although the resolution remains the same at 10Mp. It's not important to have the resolution raised with every new camera and manufacturers are now forcing peoples perspectives to see that a high pixel count isn't the be all and end all. It's a slightly different size at 1.17in from the previous camera at 1/1.75in which is a fraction smaller so the noise test will be interesting to see.

Physically, the dimensions are different between the newer and older cameras but only be a fraction and can't be seen to the naked eye. The layout is the same with the command dial on the right side of the top plate and still has the locking button to prevent it slipping into the wrong setting mid shoot. I like this idea but it's personal choice because some people would prefer a tougher dial to turn. I prefer skin on my thumb. A most welcome addition to the command dial is shutter-priority and they've also added an extra custom setting which is good if it's the family camera or if you prefer three types of photography. Six settings can be stored in the settings box in the main menu. These settings can then be assigned to the My buttons on the command dial and accessed quicker.

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
Rear controls are similar to he GRD II and easy enough to get used to.
On the back, the larger screen dominates the left side of the camera and the familiar buttons and switches are present to access the many features of the Ricoh prosumer compacts. The Adjustment button at the top of the camera can be pressed to access a quick function menu usually reserved for function buttons on other compacts. It flags up white balance, ISO, quality, colour tone and selective focus, metering options which you can scroll through using the adjustment lever, selecting the different options with the zoom lever in the top right of the camera. Alternatively, you can use the navigation pad like any other person would do. Instead of one function (fn) button, the Ricoh GRD III has two and they're a dedicated button that you can select the feature that it accesses by going into the main menu. The aforementioned zoom button will zoom into an image while in playback or allow adjustments to exposure compensation in record mode.

I could list the many features in the main menu but we'd be here all day. However, there are one or two notable areas that need highlighting in the three tabs, such as snap focus distance which allows you to adjust the distance that the snap focus setting will work from. All the ADJ lever settings can be rearranged in the second tab while the third one has more core settings such as card format, RAW/JPEG and colour space settings. It's a clear menu, the lettering is small but would only serve to make the menu bigger if it was larger.

It's funny how things change over time because on the GRD II, I disliked the lack of scene modes, but now I see it as a refreshing change to the multiple one area I do like is the scene modes menu. It only had three options in the GRD II and I'm pleased to say they've added to it. Only with one extra feature and it's not portrait or museum or anything. It's a pretty darn useful dynamic range mode which takes two pictures simultaneously in the same way as the Pentax K-7 does although it doesn't align the pictures which is a shame. You'll also need a tripod to keep everything rock steady or you'll get camera shake to add to a moving subject. Adding to this is a Pixel Output Interpolation Algorithm which analyses each pixel and if whiteout is happening, can expand the dynamic range of that pixel by 1EV to prevent the burnt out highlights sometimes seen.

To help you with any tripod work is a built-in leveller which all Ricoh compacts have fitted to them. It's a similar version to the virtual horizon tool seen on the Nikon D3 DSLR but simply uses a bar along the bottom and right side of the screen to show if the camera is level.

Ricoh GR Digital III: Build and handling
Feeling the same as the previous models, the GRD III is solid and nicely sculpted to fit the hand. It's slim, which fits with the Ricoh ideology of a thin camera and this springs back to the days of 35mm when they released the R1 which was so thin it had to bulge out at one end to fit the film canister in.

The lens is a Ricoh GR type which, Ricoh say, won't suffer from field curvature in macro because it moves one of the lens groups into a certain position when macro mode is selected. The same lens group doesn't normally move when normal focusing is performed.

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD IIISurrounding the lens is a removable bezel which allows lens attachments to be fitted and along with being a really nice idea, it's also the easiest one to use. It has a small locking ridge which keeps it from falling off, but can easily be twisted round to release it. There are three small contacts for allowing autofocus in the lens attachments but unfortunately, the size that the lenses are, the built-in flash can't be operated.

On the bottom, you're welcomed by a metal tripod bush and a card/battery bay that has a locking switch on it which, surprisingly, isn't spring loaded. This caught me out as I'm used to them springing back when I open them.

While the buttons are a little bit small, they're not difficult to operate and my only real problem is with the power button. It has a long delay on it, especially when the battery is put in from charging, which causes me to get impatient and press the button again. It then springs into life but registers my second press and turns itself off.

One area I do like is the screen as the camera is switched off because it tells you how many pictures you've taken on that day. Sometimes it's the littlest things that can be quite appealing.

Ricoh GR Digital III: Performance
It's certainly no camera for sports or fast moving pictures. Constant tests of the shutter lag brought out results of between 0.15sec and 0.20sec which is double the standard response I get.

There are three continuous shooting modes called continuous, S-Cont and M-Cont. Standard continuous managed 8 images in a ten second burst which rates it at around 0.8fps (frames per second). Not the speediest of settings although after the eighth shot, the buffer had to download and at that stage it was running at around 1fps.

I remember S-Cont and M-Cont from previous models and I still can't get my head round a use for it. It takes 16 images in just over two seconds and pastes them all onto one image as a kind of collage. If you zoom in, it will scroll through the images as though they're individual, but downloading simply loads one image.

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD IIIIt was a pleasant day when I took the landscape test but at the last minute a huge rain cloud came over my spot and it started to rain a minute or so after the shot was taken. Metering has done what it can in a tricky situation as blue sky can be seen in the background while the ground was thrown into comparable darkness. There's no colour fringing on the white bars and a quick check at leaves overhanging the sky confirms that the camera handles chromatic aberration quite well. I like the exposure of the ground considering the scenario, although it's slightly cool. It's burnt the sky out but that's to be expected to retain detail on the ground. I also like the level of detail in the grassy area in the bottom right of the shot.

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
In another image of this subject, the DR feature failed and misaligned some petals by millimetres. Pixel Output Interpolation Algorithm hasn't worked either as the petals are blown out.
My first attempt of the DR system was of some daisies on a roasting hot day with no wind at all. I figured it would be fine to shoot and even used the self timer to ensure that the camera wasn't moved while pressing the button. However, even the slightest movement can cause a misalignment which in the image I took was only picked up on the monitor when I got home because it's such a small amount of misalignment. This prevented me from capturing the image again and also highlights how useful an alignment feature in the camera would be.

The bright day is also a good test of the Pixel Output Interpolation Algorithm to see if it controlled the highlights of the white petals. If it was working, it's not done a very good job on this occasion but as it's not a feature that can be turned off,  it can't be compared against the system not working.

In the portrait test, barrel distortion is showing as I move in closer to fill the frame. This is certainly not a camera for this type of photography which is probably why they haven't fitted a portrait mode. I wonder if moving the lenses in macro could work in normal focusing mode for portraits? The image is well exposed in the lighter areas but the sunlight that suddenly burst out sending the far side of the face into shadow. There's pots of detail in the hair and the outdoor white balance setting has worked well.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
Barrel distortion has occurred so I could fill the frame. Detail is good and I like the skin tone reproduced.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
Adding flash has severely over exposed the image but on a bright day like this it wouldn't be used anyway.
Adding flash has completely over exposed the image which may be due to my proximity to the subject but I've been this close before and not had this problem.

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
In the colour test chart image, blue has the highest priority, as is usually the case, with some warmth in the yellow and orange tile.

Oddly, red isn't as rich as the other two warm tones but I like the brown and green earth colours and the mono tones are balanced. Skin tone looks a little tepid but as we've seen in the portrait test, it doesn't transfer to real skin.

As the rain cloud got more threatening after the landscape test shot was taken, I decided to grab a quick shot of a flower in macro mode. Aperture-priority couldn't cope with giving the correct shutter speed as the darkness of the cloud took over. A hard wind was starting to pick up too and this is where shutter-priority showed its strength. 

A wide aperture has still had to be selected so there's only a thin focal plane  but it allowed me to choose a faster shutter speed of 1/200sec to freeze pats of the stamen.

I also wanted to see if the distortion correction in macro mode would work on normal shots as the focus capability goes to infinity. I rested the camera on the balance beam of the lock and used the converging lines of the beam to see if a difference was shown.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
The image out of macro mode so any distortion is being recorded.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
Changing to macro mode sorts slight bending out of the beams but not a great deal. 
I can see a very slight difference in bending on the lines so it does work to a degree but may show better results in other scenarios.

Ricoh GR Digital III: Noise test

With a range starting at ISO64 we should start with some lovely smooth images and we certainly do. Magnifying to 100% shows a slight addition of sharpening but it's nothing to worry about and this trend continues until ISO400 where it starts to get noticeable.

It appears that Ricoh are starting to sort out the noise issues that have plagued earlier models and for me it's a sigh of relief as I've been reporting on this problem for the past year. Maybe they finally listened to me and cleaned up their act?

There's still detail in the ISO800 image which I'm pretty astounded by comparing it to the GRD II and more recent cameras. It's really good to see that colour invasion isn't as harsh as the previous models.

Detail is hanging on by the skin of its teeth in the ISO1600 image with a minute amount showing through on the petals but noise has started to take over the image so it's a good job they decided to end it there.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
The ISO64 test.
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: Ricoh GRD III
The ISO1600 test.
Ricoh GR Digital III: Verdict
Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: In terms of noise control, this has to be the best Ricoh compact ever made which quells my thoughts that the third camera is generally the worst! It's very similar to the previous model in terms of build and layout but there are plenty of new additions to keep newcomers and upgraders happy.

The f/1.9 lens helps in low light situations and it can now rely on a decent sensor and noise control system to back it up if you should need a faster aperture.

I think it's a camera that is designed for a specific purpose and it isn't sports of portrait photography. If you're a macro or landscape photographer and you need a slim line compact either for reconnaissance of a location or if you're out and about with the family, then this is a perfect little camera.

At a first glance of the £529.99 price tag, it's a bit steep and in this climate could put quite a few people off. However, after talking to Ricoh, they've told me that advance sales are strong and they're happy with the amount of orders being placed. It just goes to show that the target market are the ones not affected by the recession which must be a good move by Ricoh.

Ricoh GR Digital III: Plus points
Good build
Nice bright lens
Better noise control
Dynamic Range feature

Ricoh GR Digital III: Minus points
Barrel distortion
Slow performance
Focus hunts too much

Ricoh GRD III Digital Camera Review: FEATURES




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Photographs taken using the Ricoh GR Digital III

Bruce Gilden Magnum Photosnorthbound bluesLily 3Vangeline - ColorsMirrorglass, water & woodshadow of self w/extinguisherGreen Light

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