On this very fine and informative blog, I’ve written previously about the Ricoh GR Mk I, and raved about how great it was. Unfortunately, mine came to a (literal) sticky end, when some idiot bumped into me at a wedding and spilled an entire pint over it. I got it repaired, but it was never quite the same – so when my friend Al was selling his Mk III for a knock down price a couple of years ago, I took the plunge. My big plan was to take the wee beauty to Japan – a heaven for street photography – but alas, that all went up in smoke thanks to the global ‘event’ which shall not be named, lest we risk inviting it back.
I started writing this particular blog post a loong time ago in anticipation of sharing my thoughts on the Mk III, but since travel was off the cards for a while and my motivation for photography was all but dead, I didn’t get too far before abandoning it. Now that the world has opened up once again and I’ve found myself again kicking about far-flung shores, it’s probably time that I get my act together and share some thoughts on the camera that has accompanied me to so many different destinations.
If you aren’t familiar with the Ricoh series, they are tiny, pocketable cameras which look entirely unremarkable. That isn’t meant to be a criticism… and in fact, it’s one of their strengths, as people don’t expect much of them. They don’t draw attention. Despite this demure appearance, they pack a mighty punch, and in terms of specs, the Mk III combines a 24MP APS-C sensor with an effective 28mm f2.8 lens.
Street Photography Features
The GR series have a reputation for being excellent cameras for street photography, and for good reason.
Firstly, the GR series are about as discreet as they come, with a very simple black exterior which as I mentioned above, seems completely innocuous. Simply put: People don’t take it seriously, if they even notice it at all, and so are less likely to be irritated than if you point a larger or more elaborate camera their direction. The fact that you can turn off not only the display, but also pretty much all of the LEDs on the camera, means that you can effectively conceal that it is even turned on. Couple all of this with an incredibly quiet leaf shutter, and you have a really powerful street photography tool.
There are other features of the GR series which lend itself especially nicely to candid shots, including the ability to set a pre-focus distance, so that you can simply full press the shutter and have the camera automatically focus to that length, avoiding any auto focus hunting. This is excellent on sunny days: stick the camera on f11-f16, a shutter speed of 1/500, ISO auto, and bam. You can focus entirely on composition – or at least, capturing the world as it passes.
Finally, you have a significant amount of control over re-mapping the various dials and buttons on the GR – so you can set things up in a way which lets you work as quickly as possible with your own quirks and preferences. This should be standard on all cameras as far as I am concerned, and in fairness this philosophy has started to creep in with other manufacturers, but Ricoh were really the first to adopt it to such a significant degree.
Compared to GR Mk I?
The GR Mk III and GR MK I are very similar in many ways. The screen is the same size; both sensors are APS-C; each have a 28mm f2.8 fixed lens; neither are weather sealed; and they both weigh about the same.
However, there are a number of technical upgrades and improvements to the GR Mk III over the MK I, the most notable being a 24MP sensor (as opposed to a 16MP on the earlier model); built in image stabilisation; wifi connectivity (if you’re into that kind of thing); and a wider ISO range (topping out at 102,400 vs. 25,600). In practice, I found that the higher ISO performance on the GR III was notably better in low light than the original – and drastically expanded the capabilities and usefulness of the thing when dusk fell.
The newer camera has a bunch of added auto-focus features, including face tracking, and also the ability to touch and press a point on the screen to quickly take a shot. I didn’t think I would use this, but in actuality it comes in very handy when shooting one handed – particularly to make sure that a particular point is properly exposed in tricksy light.
All of these changes are generally welcome. However, there are some down sides. There is no built in flash on the Mk III, which – even though I rarely used it – could be handy in some scenarios. The biggest difference though is in the physical size of the camera – with the Mk III much narrower than its predecessor – more like a Sony RX100. I found this really awkward ergonomically, as it meant that the Ricoh might look a bit smaller, but was far less comfortable to hold. Over time I didn’t notice this any longer, but I do wistfully look back at the earlier model from time to time.
Without getting into some whole technical blah blah, I have to say that I really like the quality of the shots from the GR Mk III. As I mentioned already, the low light performance for such a small sensor really is pretty excellent, even in the most challenging of conditions.
The colours come out very nicely indeed – particularly with the ‘vibrant’ JPEG setting, and don’t have that cold clinical feel that is often associated with digital – something that is particularly noticable on sunny days.
The monochrome shots are also great, with a really beautiful contrast to them out of the camera at higher settings.
With that said, I am not a huge fan of the way that the RAWs come out. I get that they are meant to be flat, but even as somebody that is usually a big fan of retaining the latitude you get in RAWs, it takes so much more work to get the shots from the GR III to look as nice as the JPEGs that I often stick with the latter, or shoot a combination of RAW and JPEG, for those cases where I need to do a bit more post-processing. The shots below are an example of images I processed from RAW, which are significantly less pleasing than the JPEGs straight out of the camera.
There is a built in macro focus mode, which is brilliant for close up product style shots.
Even without macro mode, you can get pretty close.
Don’t expect to get wild bokeh on a camera like this, though sometimes when mine got confused and threw everything out of focus it accidentally bokehfied things, which was pretty cool.
Overall, I am very pleased with the picture quality from the Ricoh GR Mk III, and I can’t really complain about it at all.
28mm v. 40mm?
The 28mm lens on the Ricoh GR Mk III is excellent as an all-rounder. However, in certain situations, 28mm is just a bit too wide. This is especially the case if you aren’t fortunate enough to live in New York or Tokyo, and are shooting candid street shots in a less populated place. For those of you in this boat, Ricoh also have a GR Mk III X, which is the exact same camera, but with a 40mm f2.8 lens. That 12mm might not sound like much, but in practice it makes a real difference. I picked up the Mk III X recently, and have found it to be extremely useful in cities like Glasgow. I’ll be putting together a separate post about that soon, so keep an eye out if you’re interested. The important thing to know is that the III X exists.
Of course, 28mm is better for taking pictures across tables, in restaurants and pubs and what-not… which happens to be where I spend a fair chunk of my time.
I am a big fan of the Ricoh GR series. They are small enough that you never really need to think twice about taking them out, and the simple design belies their impressive capabilities. The GR III in particular has become one of my favourite, most heavily used camears.
I don’t really understand why other manufacturers don’t include some of the key features that make them so brilliant for candid photography, as they are so simple but effective. These alone have helped give me the confidence and tools to take far better street pictures, far more consistently, and it’s the first camera I now reach for if I’m travelling anywhere.
Unfortunately it isn’t all rosey. The battery life of every single Ricoh I’ve used is appalling, and the MK III is no different. The batteries are cheap enough, but having to carry a bunch of them on you at all times negates some of the benefit of having such a compact camera in the first place. They also don’t fit snugly into the holder, and so rattle about inside the body, which gives it a bit of a cheap, hacky feel.
I also had a bit of a strange issue crop up with my GR Mk III after a while of light use, where the rear dial became jittery. This is apparently a common problem, and is ‘fixed’ either by using compressed air, or by rotating the dial for a minute in each direction… but it comes back after a bit, and can be really irritating when you are trying to adjust things quickly on the fly.
In addition to this, I had problems with focussing. Auto focus always seemed to ‘back focus’, in the sense that it would default to the background rather than the actual subject. That was something that worked seamlessly on my older GR, so it was a bit frustrating to run into that issue with the latest and greatest. I dare say I’d give up the wireless connectivity for focus that worked flawlessly, but then again – this could well just be limited to my particular camera (though I doubt it).
Ultimately, I can’t really imagine not having a GR any more, which is a bit of a problem – because not only are they fairly pricey, but they aren’t exactly the most robust devices in the world. On our summer holidays last year I dropped mine from a very short distance and the front portion which comprises the outer shutter popped off, and it now no longer works properly. Rather than pay for a repair, I got one of those clip on lens caps which would automatically open when the camera lens extended, but it meant that it was far less subtle in the street, which defeated the purpose, so I ultimately ditched it.
After a second tumble, the front again popped off, and this time I couldn’t get it back on, no matter how hard I tried. In some ways this wasn’t a huge deal, as the important parts of the camera still functioned – and it gave a rather industrial look, but… it did mean that the physical movement of the lens was much more obvious, which meant it wasn’t as discreet as before for street photography. If the camera was a few hundred quid less expensive I wouldn’t think twice about getting another, but at £800 or thereabouts even four years after its release, ehhh… nah.
The solution I landed on was to get a lens adapter ring to attach on the front. This meant that the lens movement was obscured while focussing, and had the added benefit of allowing me to use protective filters with the 49mm thread. Unfortunately that wasn’t perfect, as it added a bit of bulk – and the filter attachment on the camera is notoriously loose, so I had to secure it with a bit of tape (yes, really). But… at least it made things a bit more secure.
With all of that said, the GR series’ unique functionality, flexibility, and picture quality means that I’ll be using them for some time to come. Outside of fixing the bugs and quality issues, I can’t really think what other features they could add to improve the camera, though it feels like there must be something. Perhaps finding a way to avoid the lens having to expand out the way to make it even more discrete. Maybe fixing the auto-focus… or weather sealing the body. I do know that some folks aren’t a huge fan of the 28mm lens, finding it too wide, but I actually like that – as it means you can get really close in tight street scenes, or get more of the context in. As I mentioned above, I did end up buying the GR Mk III X recently, which I’ve found to be really useful for street shots in less crowded places, though as a general purpose camera, I still prefer the original.
If you are after a powerful, lightweight, discreet camera – particularly for travel – or if you want to shoot street photography, the Ricoh GR Mk III is excellent. If they ever come out with a GR IV, it will probably be an insta-buy.