Short Ricoh GR Digital 3 impression

I will post a more lengthly impression of the new Ricoh GR Digital III soon, but I thought it wouldn’t harm to write down some first impressions of this camera. I always thought that my Ricoh GX200 felt like a quality camera, well to be honest it still is, but the GRD is certainly a step beyond that. The camera has a lovely, quality feel with a nice non-slippery finish as a result of the magnesium body. The camera has the typical Ricoh handgrip and all buttons are logically placed, almost logical in fact, but more about that later.
Ricoh GR Digital III
I have never had any other Ricoh GR Digital camera although I have certainly considered it. Eventually I chose the Ricoh GX100 in 2007, because of the stepped zoom lens. Making it slightly more versatile. I still think I should have followed my heart and should have picked up the GR Digital I though. So remember this! Even though many consider reviews by professional reviewers the bench mark for the scientific proof of the quality of a camera, I have learned to be completely in rational with regard to deciding cameras. In the end you are going to take the pictures with it and you will use and push the camera beyond the brick walls and color charts at different ISO’s. Real world is totally different in my opinion.

I still have the original GR camera though, the Ricoh GR1 which became a true cult camera, in particular in Japan. The most distinctive features of the GR series are the lightweight magnesium body, a high class 28mm lens and easy to use handling. And to me, the Ricoh GR Digital III forms no exception.
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From the outside the camera hardly differs from the other GR Digitals. It is only a bit larger to host the slightly larger sensor. And on the rear you will notice the larger 3″ LCD screen with 920,000 dots. Also this third generation GR Digital has no optical viewfinder. Now some say that we should live with that. A fact of life for small compact cameras, but I much rather prefer a smaller LCD screen and a little increase in camera body height to accommodate a nice bright viewfinder. But I guess I am old school. Therefore I requested Ricoh to supply the camera with an optical viewfinder. I asked for the GV-1 viewfinder which is quite large and not only has the frame lines for 28mm, but also for 21mm to match the view with the GW-2 21mm Wide Conversion Lens. Probably due to huge demand in Japan Ricoh doesn’t have the wide conversion lens in stock now, but I hope I will get before I finished testing this camera.

While mentioning the supply difficulties of the GW-2 I should mention too that Ricoh was completely surprised by the pre-sales in Japan. These were much larger than anticipated and was part too of the reason to offset the sale date basically everywhere else. The camera is now on sale pretty much anywhere, although I haven’t seen this camera available in the Netherlands, where I live, yet (mid September).
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Like Panasonic with the LX3 and Canon with the new G11 Ricoh was able to get a new sensor that has less pixels than the previous version. In combination with the better in-camera image engine and the fast lens, this will improve the low light capabilities and high ISO performance. This is an important change in the market of serious compacts and I hope it will be followed by others. But what makes this camera unlike any other compact camera is the new 28mm lens with a maximum opening of f/1.9.  It used to be f/2.4 (thank you Fabian)! An outstanding technical achievement in my opinion.

So, before this short impression ends up being a longer impression I will sum up some of my likes and dislikes with the new Ricoh GR Digital III.

Likes
Overall speaking I really like this camera. The feel and the handling makes it very special. In combination with the large and bright GV-1 viewfinder it is a joy to use. I can fully understand why the pre-sales where so high in Japan. Using this camera reminds me picking up the GR1 for the first time when I got it to replace my SLR. For me it still is a cult camera with all the subjective feelings that contribute for me to that status.

The best of all is the new lens. Such a fast lens is a bonus for low light and with the better high ISO performance I have had no problems using this camera at higher ISO’s, even up to ISO 1600. That is something I never did with the GX200, because of all the noise and banding.
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Dislikes
There is no perfection in my opinion and also the  GRDIII reminds me of that. Quality comes at a price and Amazon prices the GRDIII for $699. That sure is a lot of money in my opinion, but it is a cult camera with superb built quality, top materials, and a stellar lens. While some love the new 3″ LCD screen, because they only photograph with the LCD screen. It is just too large for me. To get such a large sensor in the body they had to move the buttons further to the right rear section of the camera. Although they glad fully didn’t change the button lay-out I regularly hit the display and macro button with my right thumb. Something that never happens to me with the GX200.

I leave it for here and will continue evaluating this camera for some time. I hope to post my final impressions of this camera by the end of this month. Interested to read more about this camera? You might want to check out the Ricoh site.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma