Friday 14 August 2009

Ricoh GRD III: First Impressions

As I said in my post on cameras for backpacking (July 28) the original Ricoh GRD is the best designed digital camera I’ve used. In fact using the camera is a joy. Controls are easy to use and there’s no delving into menus or pressing buttons multiple times to change settings. However the camera is very slow at writing to the memory card (over 10 seconds for raw files) and images are noisy above ISO 100. The GRD II reduced the write times but did nothing much for the noise according to reviews (I haven’t tried one myself). Now there is the GRD III with a new 10mp sensor, a larger, brighter screen, a fast F1.9 lens and a dynamic range double shot mode as in the Ricoh CX1. I have a GRD III on test and my initial impressions are that it is a very good camera indeed.

Firstly the design is even better than the original GRD. The larger screen means the live histogram is bigger too and there’s room for a tilt indicator, useful for ensuring level horizons. All the settings you might use regularly can be changed on screen. Just playing with the camera was a delight – and really showed up the deficiencies of the Sigma DP-1 design. Indeed, the reason for these first impressions is that I’m quite excited by the GRD III and really enjoying using a superbly designed camera. I feel like I am working with the camera and not despite it.

What about image quality though? Well, at ISO 64 results are excellent, as they are with the GRD I. In the run of very wet weather there has been since the camera arrived there has only been one day when the weather was dry. The mountains were still shrouded in cloud so I went to Findhorn for a walk on the beach. The light was bright so I could use a low ISO. The shots I took are sharp and clear with no noise and the colours in the JPEGs are natural and quite well saturated. Raw files are duller but this is easily rectified during conversion to JPEGs or TIFFs. The dynamic range was well within that of the camera so I didn’t need the DR mode. I did try it and found that it over-exposed bright areas of the image (mostly sunlit clouds). This isn’t a fair test though and I need to try this in the right conditions.

Write times for raw files are 2-3 seconds, which feels instant after the GRD 1 and the DP-1 (8 seconds). The screen is brighter than that on the GRD 1 or the DP-1 but is still hard to see clearly in bright sunlight and there is no built-in viewfinder. To counter this I used the Ricoh GV-1 viewfinder, which came with the GRD 1. This clips onto the hotshoe, and is very clear and bright. Of course no information can be seen in the viewfinder so I checked the histogram and adjusted the exposure on the screen then brought the camera to my eye.

There is still much to find out about the GRD III, particularly with regard to image quality. I need to take pictures throughout the ISO range (64-1600) and check the noise in high ISO images. I want to see how the lens performs wide open. And see how the DR mode works when the sky is bright and the land dark. I shall also compare the images with those from the GRD 1, DP-1 and Canon 450D too. But the camera is so good to use that the results will have to be pretty poor to turn me against it.

Photo info: Findhorn beach. Ricoh GRD III, 1/800@F5.6, ISO 64, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.4


  1. I have a real soft spot for Ricoh GRD's. I had one of the first GRD1 kits to arrive in the UK and immediately upgraded when the GRD2 was released, I will have no worries about upgrading again. My opinion is that Ricoh GRD's are the best compact cameras for backpacking (I have no need of zoom lenses), despite the criticism they get because of the noisy file quality. With a bit of work, the noise issues are easily dealt with in post processing anyway, so I've never really understood the 'problem' . I have a rationale behind all this, the GRD2 in 3:2 format captures the same fov and aspect ratio as my Fuji GSW690111, has good manual control and it fits in my pocket. I can use both cameras in tandem and the GRD2 makes a great notebook camera which is capable of producing publishable images The wide angle converter is a must-have option and is my 'standard' set-up when I'm out with the camera on it's own. Despite testing a pre-production sample, I never saw the Sigma DP-1 as a worthwhile reason to move away from Ricoh as my ideal compact digicam and I'm sure the GRD3 will reinforce my opinion.

  2. Chris,

    I have just purchased a Ricoh gx100, pleased so far. Can you recomend a tripod for a compact - to use in the hills?


  3. Hi Nath,

    With a compact I use the Gorillapod, which is very light and compact. It's only short but can be wrapped around a trekking pole, branch or similar object.

  4. Nath, Re. Tripod. I've just bought a Velbon V-Pod thanks to hearing about it from Dave Hanlon (The Armchair Adventurer) It just about takes the weight of a 700g DSLR but would more than cope with a compact. It cost about £17 on ebay from Crooked Imaging, weight 288g inc pouch, max height without center column - 800mm, with column extended - 1000mm.

    I also use a Gorillapod.