Gear of the Year – Barney’s choice part 1: Ricoh GR III

05 Dec
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

I’m of the opinion that if you use a phrase like ‘shut up and take my money’ in the title of an article about a camera, you’d damned well better buy it. It’s not about gear acquisition (honest it isn’t) it’s about reader trust.

Yeah, right. But either way, I was serious. It wasn’t long after writing our review of the Ricoh GR III that I bought my own, right before a trip to Japan this summer. I’ve been to Japan a few times for work, but this was to be a proper vacation for once. Just me, a couple of guidebooks, some depressing podcasts and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. And the GR III.

In the end, it didn’t end up being all vacation (one of those “Hey, so we’re planning a video project in Japan, and since you’re going to be there anyway…” things) but I did get in a decent amount of hiking, and the GR III was with me every step of the way.

ISO 200 | 1/400 sec | F5.6

The GR III wasn’t the only personal camera I took to Japan (I also grabbed my Nikon Z7 with a 24-70mm F2.8 lens, just to be on the safe side) but it was the one I ended up using most. Partly that’s because it’s a great camera and I love the images that come out of it, but that’s equally true of the Z7. Mostly it’s because the GR III is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket.

In terms of image quality, the new sensor in the GR III offers a useful resolution boost over its predecessors, but more important to me is the addition of stabilization and a major increase in usable Raw dynamic range.

ISO 160 | 1/400 sec | F7.1

There’s no doubt that 28mm equiv. is a limiting focal length, but it also turns out to be perfect for trail landscapes and for quick grab shots walking around cities. Considering that the GR III is barely any bigger than my phone (albeit thicker) it’s hard to imagine a better traveling companion, provided of course that you don’t need to shoot video.

Downsides? Naturally there are a few. The aforementioned uninspiring video mode, for one, but aside from that, the GR III’s maximum aperture of F2.8 means there’s very little scope for creative depth of field control, and while built-in stabilization helps, low light shooting often ends up meaning high ISO shooting.

ISO 640 | 1/40 sec | F4

There’s no built-in flash, which I know some GR/II fans will sincerely miss, the battery is tiny (but offers more stamina than you might expect in normal use) and there’s no EVF. Outside on a sunny day it’s not always easy to get an accurate idea of composition on the shiny rear screen, and it’s hard even to make out the horizon level indicator when shooting in especially bright conditions.

It’s a pocketable and silent camera with a very sharp lens, which can get you pictures that larger, louder cameras simply cannot.

Of course you can boost the screen brightness, and you can also add an optical finder. Neither are a perfect solution though. Bumping up the brightness kills battery life, and with a finder, framing becomes approximate, there’s no shooting data in your eye-line (obviously) and the GR III suddenly gets less pocketable.

Being such a small camera, the GR III’s controls are also rather cramped in general, but that comes with the territory.

Like many cameras of its type, the GR III is arguably at its best when used as a point and shoot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) take full control. The GR III offers full manual exposure control and retains the top control dial from previous generations, which for an aperture-priority photographer such as myself is probably the most important single control point. A large, responsive touchscreen takes care of almost everything else.

ISO 1600 | 1/40 sec | F2.8

Although some GR/II fans will miss those cameras’ dedicated +/- rocker switch for exposure compensation, the rear jog switch on the GR III can be set up to do the exact same thing, and users of previous generations will be reassured to know that it’s just as easy to accidentally hit.

That was sarcasm. For the most part, the GR III does exactly what I want it to, when I want it to, and it’s exactly in line with what Ricoh has aimed to provide from the very beginning of the GR series way back in the 1990s. The GR III is a pocketable and silent camera with a very sharp lens, which precisely for those reasons can get me pictures that larger, louder cameras simply cannot.

Like all cameras, it has some limitations. Many of these are inherent to the design and form factor, but all are forgivable and in my opinion none devalue its main selling points.

For all of these reasons, my first choice for Gear of the Year is a camera that I’ve carried with me more than any other in 2019, not including my phone: the Ricoh GR III.

Watch out for Part 2 of my personal ‘Gear of the Year’ in a few days.

Ricoh GR III sample gallery

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