There are times when even my mirrorless camera seems too big to carry around but I still want more versatility and better-quality images than my iPhone affords. It's for this niche that advanced compact cameras, like the Ricoh GR III, exist. And while there's much to admire, such as a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor in a very pocketable form, there are a few things to consider before dropping $900 on this camera.
What I Liked
The GR III is a compact camera, measuring 4.3 x x 2.4 x 1.3 inches. I was able to put it in a pants pocket without too much discomfort. Yet I found it easy to grip the camera in one hand and quickly get up and shooting; it took less than a second, in most cases.
Despite the GR III's small size, the controls were in easy reach of my fingers. In front of the shutter button is a small dial, and another dial on the back of the camera let me adjust the exposure and aperture without contorting my thumb or forefinger. A traditional d-pad/scroll wheel, also on the back, allows you to get through all of the menus without fuss. Considering the multitude of options, this is a big help.
The 24.3-MP APS-C sensor crammed into the GR III's body produces images that are great for the camera's size. I took photos in a variety of conditions and was pleased with the results all around.
The GR III has a number of presets (Standard, Vivid, Black & White, Soft B&W, Hard B&W, High-contrast B&W, Positive Film, Bleach Bypass, Retro, and HDR) that work to varying degrees of effectiveness.
Depending on the lighting, HDR mode can be a bit too aggressive, giving photos an almost rotoscoped quality, as you see with this couple posing for wedding photos.
However, it also gave other images a vivid, high-contrast look, as in this street scene, which really accentuated details on the woman on the right.
Other settings, such as Retro, offer some nice vignetting.
At ISO 6400 and up, grain starts to emerge, as in this photo of a cat.
In close-ups, the GR III also brought out the details in this clown figurine, as well as a cicada.
A three-axis optical image stabilization system (called Shake Reduction) let me capture better photos in low light while keeping the ISO at a reasonable setting. This photo of a sleeping cat was taken at 1/10 of a second, for example, and there was no blurring whatsoever.
Though on the dark side, this photo of a plate of octopus (f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/50 sec) also turned out sharp.
This photo of a baby with her stuffed animal, shot at 1/25 of a second, also came out wonderfully crisp.
What I Didn't Like
No viewfinder, no tilting display
Ricoh had to make compromises to achieve the GR III's compact size. The camera lacks an optical or digital viewfinder — something Sony's RX100 cameras do have. Instead, you have to use the GR III's 3-inch touch screen to frame your shot. I suspect many of you are just fine with this method. For the most part, I am too, but I wish Ricoh had designed the GR III's display to tilt, which would have made it much easier to frame shots at odd angles or see the display when the sun is shining too brightly.
Fixed focal length
Another sacrifice Ricoh made in the name of portability is the lack of an optical zoom. The GR III has a fixed 18.3mm lens (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera), which is wider than the lenses on competing cameras such as the Fujifilm X100F (35mm), but this means you have to get up close and personal to your subject or do some serious cropping.
A fixed-focus lens isn't necessarily a drawback, but if I'm carrying just one camera around, I'd like a little more versatility, like what the Sony RX100 VI and its 8.3x optical zoom offer. The trade-off with that camera, though, is that it has a 1-inch sensor, which is a little more than half the size of the APS-C sensor on the Ricoh.
This is more of a nitpick, considering the small built-in flash units found on most compact cameras aren't all that effective. Still, not having a flash at all limits when you can use the GR III. And although the camera has a hot shoe, lugging an external flash defeats the purpose of buying such a portable camera.
No 4K video
For a camera that costs as much as the GR III, it's more than a little surprising that its video recording capabilities top out at 1080p/60 fps.
The market for high-end compact cameras is a narrow one. It's aimed at those who want better-than-smartphone-quality photos in a pocketable device and are willing to spend smartphone money for it. In my few weeks of shooting with the GR III, I came to appreciate its small size, easy-to-use controls and great-looking images.
But there are a few things that will keep me from adding the GR III to my quiver of cameras. Individually, most of my critiques are minor, but taken together, they make me think a little harder before spending $900. Nonetheless, it's indisputable that the Ricoh GR III takes quality photos.