As a photo enthusiast I’ve owned all sorts of cameras from full size Nikon and Canon film SLRs to digital Leicas and, most recently, a 24-megapixel Sony full-frame mirrorless (Alpha 7III). As I prepared for a recent trip to Paris and Bordeaux I considered taking no camera at all and just use my iPhone 12 Pro Max. While its capabilities can’t match my other cameras, it satisfies most needs and eliminates lugging around a couple of pounds of equipment. Also, their images are much easier to share with others directly from the phone.
But on this trip I felt I might miss out on not having a quality digital camera capable of taking high res photos in those instances where sharpness was important. Not having shopped for cameras in a few years, I wondered if there was a camera with the portability of an iPhone but with the performance of my Sony or Leica. My research led me to the Ricoh GR IIIx, the latest version of Ricoh’s high-end pocketable cameras. Ricoh has been making small-bodied GR cameras of increasing image quality for more than ten years, beginning with film versions. The GR IIIx and the GR III are their latest versions, each with 24-megapixel sensors. The IIIx has a 40 mm lens equivalent and the III has a 28 mm lens equivalent. I prefer the 40 mm because it’s closest to the view the eye sees and works better for people pictures.
The GR IIIx weighs just 9 ounces and measures 4.3″ x 2.4″ x 1.3″. It’s constructed of magnesium with a matte black finish with few visible markings except for an engraved GR. Its capabilities compare to the best digital cameras, including every conceivable automatic and manual setting needed for exposure, focus, aperture, shutter speed, and shake prevention. Like other pro cameras it has both fully automatic and manual settings. The single biggest limitation is that there’s no viewfinder, and you must use the rear 3-inch touch screen to compose your image. That generally works well except for a very bright day with the sun behind you.
The camera turns on quickly and is very responsive. It has a menuing system that’s intuitive – much better than the Sony. The camera’s dimiutive size slipped into it’s accessory leather case (GC-12) reminded my of a camera I once used, a Minox B. Both are easily carried in a pants pocket, were all metal construction, and felt like precision instruments.
I used the GR extensively for ten days, alternating it with my iPhone 12 Pro Max camera. I took many pictures of buildings and cityscapes throughout the day and evening. Both cameras did a fine job. Exposure with both were accurate and images were sharp. Sometimes the iPhone images looked more vibrant due to the in camera processing, especially with night scenes. But when compared on my computer screen with the image filling more than half of the display, the Ricoh was sharper and more detailed. The iPhone images (and those from most phone cameras) are heavily processed, making the details display artifacts when magnified. The Ricoh images looked much like what comes out of my more expensive digital cameras. I also had more control with the Ricoh when I wanted to adjust the exposure or shutter speed to enhance or blur the background. One neat feature on the Ricoh lets you press the shutter button quickly and it will go to a preset focus distance without taking the time to focus. I set it to 3.5 meters that kept everything sharp on a bright day. The Ricoh has built in WiFi and Bluetooth for wirelessly transferring images to your phone, built in memory for storing 150 images (if you forget your memory card), and a USB-C connection for charging or transferring to your computer.
The Ricoh GRIIIx is a very unique camera in that it offers the pocketability of a smartphone camera with the performance of a high end 24-megapixel digital pro camera. Retail is $999. More information can be found here.