Ricoh GR III First Impressions Review
The 24-megapixel pocketable APS-C camera
By bdery in Hands-On Tests on May 8, 2019
The Ricoh GR III is an interesting release from Ricoh. Surprisingly popular for a niche product (some stores in Japan listed it as their best-selling camera in March 2019), it has a lot going for it. The GR line has gathered quite a following over the years, and this new addition follows in the tracks of its predecessors.
While we work on an in-depth review of the GR III, today we take a first look at the camera to see whether or not it is worthy of the hype surrounding it.
The GR III boasts several attention-grabbing features. Some are unique, some nearly so, and some are simply rarely found in a compact camera. Here are a few of those worth mentioning:
- Pocketable, lightweight form factor
- 24 MP, APS-C sensor in a compact camera body
- Built-in sensor-shift shake reduction
- Dynamic anti-aliasing system, can be turned on or off
- Dust removal system on sensor (common on ILCs, rare on compacts)
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
- Hotshoe with full P-TTL capabilities
- Built-in ND filter with auto activation
- RAW files, with built-in development
This list of features make the GR III a truly interesting product, especially considering its amazing pocketability. For instance, it is a smaller camera than a Pentax Q or any kind of superzoom, while boasting a larger sensor and all the aforementioned features, many of which are inherited from top-of-the-line Pentax DSLRs.
Building on the original GR's history (see our Ricoh GR review), Ricoh has developed an enviable reputation for this product line. It has out-lasted competitors such as the Nikon Coolpix A, which was even more expensive and arguably missed the mark because it lacked the extensive customizability offered in GR cameras.
The GR III will feel familiar to anyone who has handled previous generations of the GR line, but will be positively surprising to newcomers expecting a compact camera to look and feel like a toy.
The camera’s appearance cannot be said to be minimalist, considering the large number of external controls available. Rather, we call it understated, with a uniform black coloring. The pale gray lettering gives a more subdued and elegant feel, without compromising visibility.
Despite its small size, the GR III handles well. The weight is nicely balanced. The grip is slim when compared to even the smallest DSLR, but its rubberized texture makes it easy to hold. The thumb rest uses the same material as the grip. Buttons positioning means one-handed use is actually possible, even easy, in most cases.
It's worth noting that the GR III has been made physically smaller than the GR or GR II thanks for the removal of an onboard flash. Some users might understandably miss this feature, but given the high sensitivity of the sensor, the flash is far from critical for many types of low-light photography.
The logic behind the positioning of the various controls takes a while to get used to. Many things, like the four-way controller, are immediately obvious. Others, like the location of the playback button or the operation of the ADJ shortcut lever, take more time. Still, after a few days, things become more natural, and the layout becomes logical and enjoyable. A lot of thought went into how the camera operates, and it shows. Some ideas would be useful if they ever made their way on Pentax DSLRs.
There are usually several ways to achieve a desired result. For instance, scrolling in menus can be done via the touchscreen, by using the up/down arrows, or by rotating the rear e-dial. Each photographer can pick a preferred method and use it without any second thoughts.
The 3-inch LCD takes up most of the area on the back of the camera. It is crisp and sharp. Text is easy to read and Ricoh selected a pleasing, utilitarian font. Menus are clear and easy to read, with good contrast.
The touchscreen is without a doubt the major differentiating element of this screen. It works intuitively and can be used for many tasks:
- Scroll in menus
- Select items
- Pinch to zoom
- Move around on a zoomed image
- Touch focus
Some users have commented negatively on the apparent looseness of the four-way controller. This is something that we also observed. When rotating the e-dial surrounding the controller, the inner section can move a bit. This is unexpected, and we can understand that some users could be bothered by this. The inner section of the controller appears to be mounted on the same support as the e-dial, explaining the behavior. While it is not one of the camera’s stronger suits, we feel that this matter has been overblown. The small movement has no impact on the buttons’ operation. It will likely go unnoticed by most users.
On a positive note, Ricoh is willing to fix the dial for users who desire it, and is extending the warranty for markets where the default coverage period is only one year. The corresponding service announcement also implies that this issue will be fixed in future production runs.
In summary, despite a short learning curve, handling the GR III is a rewarding experience.
Image quality will be thoroughly tested in our upcoming in-depth review. For the moment, we will look at things in a more subjective manner.
F5.6, 0.8s, ISO 100. Click for a full resolution crop
There is no doubt that the GR III is a capable camera. Its APS-C sensor (which builds on the sensor in the Pentax KP and K-70) leaves nothing to be desired, with class-leading resolution and good noise handling. The lens is well paired to the sensor, and offers a comfortable wide angle. It is nicely suited for so-called “street photography”. The 24 MP resolution gives some headroom for cropping if needed, and the camera even offers two automated crop modes, which deliver effective fields of views of 35mm and 50mm lenses.
We find that the level of detail is impressive coming from such a small body. Colors are accurate, and not far from what a Pentax DSLR would offer.
The lens also performs up to expectations. Center sharpness, in particular, is high. Corners don’t appear quite as sharp, but are not too far from the center results. More involved testing will let us evaluate sharpness in detail.
Flare is hard to notice; the camera does a great job of keeping it under control.
Vignetting is well controlled when the built-in correction is activated. De-activating this option shows strong vignetting, however. It’s obvious that the designers assumed auto correction would be turned on at all times, and decided not to spend too much time on this. The same goes for chromatic aberration, which cannot be controlled by the user. Only dynamic range and noise are accessible.
Below is a small gallery of sample images showcasing how the Ricoh GR III performs.
F2.8, 1/30s, ISO 100
F2.8, 1/20s, ISO 320
F10, 1/100s, ISO 100
F4.5, 1/80s, ISO 200
F2.8, 1/20s, ISO 200
F2.8, 1/20s, ISO 800
The Ricoh GR III boasts both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. In theory, Bluetooth offers a low power connection, which can even work when the camera is turned off, to transfer images from the camera to a phone. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is meant to allow both image transfer and remote control of the camera.
That’s in theory… as of the beginning of May, 2019, the Image Sync app from Ricoh does not support all those features, whether it's on Android or iOS. The camera can connect to a phone via Bluetooth (tested with a Pixel 2 and Galaxy S10e) but the app does not recognize the connection. In other words, Bluetooth is, for the moment, useless.
As for Wi-Fi, the current version of the app (2.0.4) does allow image transfer, but nothing else.
Trying to activate remote control returns an error message.
Ricoh states the following:
This version can conduct Viewing images via Wireless LAN and Image Transfer only.
The release timing of the version corresponding to other functions for GRIII will be announced in RICOH IMAGING website when it is fixed.
There are a number of third-party apps that can communicate with Ricoh/Pentax cameras. We have tested two of them, and they work just as well as the official Ricoh app. None supports remote camera control for the moment.
The firmware version included with the camera at launch was fully functional, however many users had been underwhelmed by the AF performance of the camera. AF speed had been reported as somewhat slow, and low-light reliability sub-par. Ricoh quickly released a firmware update, version 1.10, in order to improve AF performance (future updates are cumulative and will thus also include this fix).
We are happy to confirm that the firmware update does improve AF speed, especially in low light. The camera doesn’t feel like a speed demon, but things have improved. Stay tuned for detailed testing in our in-depth review.
AF reliability has also improved tremendously. Prior to the firmware update, the camera could, at times, hunt for no particular reason, in conditions where we wouldn’t expect a modern camera to struggle (and in contrast to what we experienced with the original GR).
In this regard, firmware 1.10 is a godsend. Even in light levels as low as -0.32 EV, the camera’s AF is not only fast enough, but more importantly reliable. Even with low-contrast subjects, such as the fake wood on the following image, the AF locked properly under one second.
The only occurrences of incorrect AF operation seem to happen close to the toggle point between the macro and regular ranges.
Also note that the macro toggle can be easy to switch on without intending to, which can lead to frustrating moments trying to figure out what the problem is. This is especially true since many GR III users are also DSLR users, for whom there is no such thing as “macro mode”.
In short, we urge GR III users to upgrade to the newer firmware, and hope that Ricoh continues to improve the camera’s performance.
The Ricoh GR III is a camera that oozes quality. Its elegant design, numerous features and APS-C image quality, all contribute to make it an impressive product. With the updated firmware, it becomes a competent shooter.
Current GR III pricing (US):
One important aspect is that of value. At $899 USD, the GR III is far from cheap. In fact, it’s possible to purchase a modern level DSLR like the K-70 with a kit lens for less. It is not possible, however, to obtain a fast, wide angle lens for a comparable price. Factor in the true pocketability of the GR III and it becomes a more compelling offering. It certainly remains a luxury product, but even in an age of cell phones, a compact camera with an APS-C-sized sensor and high quality lens does make sense. We feel that a lower price point would make it appealing for a larger audience, but the current success of the GR III shows that there are many users willing to pay a premium for this camera (as was also the case with the original GR and GR II). After being introduced in late March, the GR III has been selling very well and is currently out of stock at major US retailers.
Ricoh was able to improve the AF issues in a timely manner. Once they sort out the connectivity problems, the GR III will be even more interesting. Stay tuned for our in-depth review!