The best thing about the Ricoh GR IIIx is that it’s basically just a GR III with a slightly longer lens.
The worst thing about the Ricoh GR IIIx is that it’s basically just a GR III with a slightly longer lens.
If you’re familiar with the original GR III, that might be as far into this article as you need to read, to be completely honest. The GR IIIx offers exactly the same ergonomics and pretty much exactly the same performance and image quality as its forebear, but with a 40mm equivalent lens instead of a 28mm. I say ‘pretty much’ because that new lens obviously does impact upon the images you’ll be able to capture with the GR IIIx, and the decreased depth of field makes focus at wide apertures slightly more critical. But to all intents and purposes, the two cameras are practically indistinguishable from one another in use.
|As a hiking companion, the GR IIIx (like the original GR III) is a near perfect thanks to its pocketable form factor. On a 3-day walk down the Yorkshire coast, I kept the GR IIIx tucked comfortably into my shirt pocket.|
ISO 100 | F5 | 1/800sec
Why might that be considered a good thing? Simply because the GR III, like its predecessors, is a very nicely designed camera, which does what it was designed to do extremely well. It’s arguably not as versatile as some ostensibly-competitive models (specifically the Fujifilm X100-series, with their 35mm equivalent lenses) because it lacks a built-in electronic finder or tilting rear LCD, but in my opinion it makes up for these limitations by being genuinely pocketable. And, let’s not forget, many photographers simply prefer 28mm to 35mm. The GR IIIx incorporates all the characteristics which make the GR III so appealing, but features a longer lens, for those photographers who don’t prefer 28mm.
|The (optional) viewfinder helps with framing in bright conditions, but it’s accuracy isn’t great, and gets worse at close focusing distances. Being entirely optical, it can’t provide any indication of AF placement or acquisition, either.|
By happy coincidence, the GR IIIx arrived in DPReview’s offices just before I left on a trip to the UK in September, to visit my family after a Covid-imposed absence of 18 months (I wrote about my last trip, among other things, in this article). So into my camera bag went the new GR IIIx, neatly replacing the GR III which I was originally planning on taking.
Everyone is different, but I would describe 28mm as being a good general proxy for my field of view. What I mean by that is that if I’m looking at a scene, most of what I can reasonably register at a glance is contained within the frame of a 28mm equivalent lens. On the other hand, 40mm equivalent is a decent proxy for my field of attention. I.e., what I’m actually focusing on, within a wider scene. The extra reach provided by 40mm made the GR IIIx enormously appealing to me when it was announced, remembering all the times when the GR III’s lens seemed just a little too wide.
40mm equivalent is a decent proxy for my field of attention. I.e., what I’m actually focusing on, in a wider scene
The GR III and the new GR IIIx are almost indistinguishable physically, but they’re not exactly the same. The GR IIIx is fractionally thicker than the GR III, although the difference is unnoticeable. Similarly, while the new lens looks, externally, almost exactly the same (and retracts into the barrel as before, when the camera is turned off), the GW-4 wideangle lens+adapter for the GR III won’t fit the ‘x’, and the new GT-2 tele converter won’t fit on the original GR III. Of course, even if you could cross-mount them, there wouldn’t be any point – they’re designed for the specific lenses of the two respective cameras.
Excepting these minor differences, with the GR IIIx Ricoh hasn’t messed with any of the qualities which made the GR III so appealing. I spent a week rambling around North Yorkshire with the GR IIIx tucked in my shirt pocket, in exactly the same manner that I’ve carried the original GR III on countless hikes and city walks all over the world. It was right there when I needed it, and when I didn’t, I hardly even knew I was carrying it.
I still appreciate the front control dial for quick adjustment of exposure parameters, I still like having the assistance of the in-body stabilization system, the touchscreen, and all the rest of it. I wish the screen tilted out, and I still find myself wanting even a small EVF for accurate framing in bright light, but neither omission felt serious enough when I was out and about that my enjoyment of using the camera was reduced. Oh, and battery life is still nothing much to shout about, but I’ve long ago reconciled myself to the need for a fully-charged spare in my camera bag at all times. In short, the actual GR IIIx shooting experience (hey – that’s the headline of this article!) is pretty much exactly the same as the original GR III.
There is a downside to Ricoh’s ‘soft touch’ approach to making changes though, which became obvious when I started to download images for critical review. While on paper the difference between 28mm and 40mm might not seem like much, it’s actually fairly substantial, and this has some unexpected effects on the GR IIIx’s handling.
In some conditions (very bright ambient lighting, for instance) the rear LCDs of both the GR III and GR IIIx are hard to use unless you manually boost the brightness all the way up (which reduces the already not-great battery life even further). This isn’t news. As a long-time GR III shooter, I’m used to this limitation, but luckily, 28mm is wide enough to allow for some framing ‘slop’ when shooting quickly. Furthermore, the GR III’s resolution of 24MP is enough that I’ve never minded cropping a couple of MP off the total if it means a straighter horizon or the deletion of some dead space that I’d accidentally included in the frame. As such, one of the reasons why I like shooting with the original GR III so much is that I don’t need to worry too much about precise framing.
|The National Covid Memorial Wall, opposite the Houses of Parliament, in London. A lot has happened since I was last home in February 2020 – none of it good. The (unfinished) wall memorializes those in the UK who have lost their lives to Covid with hand-painted hearts. It currently stretches for more than a third of a mile.|
ISO 100 | F4 | 1/125sec
When shooting with the GR IIIx’s 40mm lens, however, there’s less latitude. Add to this the difficulty of accurate framing in bright conditions (there’s a myth that it rains all the time in England, but for most of my time back home temperatures were in the unseasonably high 60s and low 70s*, with long periods of very bright sunshine) and the end result was that I found myself running into frequent and unexpected issues during my trip with accurate composition.
Taking a new camera on a vacation is always something of a risk, but so much of the GR IIIx proved so familiar that it felt like a member of the family
My eyesight isn’t terrible, but my close-focusing isn’t what it used to be (a problem exacerbated noticeably by pandemic-imposed inactivity). As such, I find myself wearing my reading glasses more and more when just doing general… stuff. I can comfortably focus on the image on the GR IIIx’s LCD when I hold the camera out at arm’s reach (i.e., in the manner that most people shoot photos with their cellphone) but when shooting portraits, I prefer my eye to be as close to the camera lens as possible, so that my subject’s eye-line isn’t off-axis. With the GR IIIx, that means holding it within a few inches of my face – i.e., too close for me to comfortably focus on the image on the screen.
The pricey (optional) 40mm optical finder works well for what it is, but as with all such finders, its critical accuracy is poor, especially when shooting relatively close-up. And, of course, there’s no indication of autofocus point positioning or AF lock.
|One of my favorite spots, near High Barn overlooking the Vale of York. As you can see, there’s very little fringing from the GR IIIx’s 40mm equivalent lens, even when shooting directly into the sun.|
ISO 100 | F4 | 1/200sec
To be fair though, while many (but no means most) of the images I shot using the GR IIIx aren’t quite as well-framed as I’d like, user error definitely played a role. Or maybe I should say ‘bad user habits’. I’ve become so used to shooting with the GR III’s 28mm lens over the past couple of years that it took me a while with the GR IIIx to deprogram myself. Once I’d spent more time with the camera, my hit-rate did go up.
Taking a new camera on a vacation is always something of a risk, but so much of the GR IIIx proved so familiar that it felt like a member of the family. My only regret is that I didn’t bring my original GR III along for the trip too. After a couple of weeks shooting only with the GR IIIx, I think I know what my ideal travel camera kit would be. It would consist of two cameras: the GR III for landscapes and general street-style shooting and the GR IIIx for portraits and details. Why else do shirts have two pockets?
* That’s the low twenties in Celsius, for those of you that reside in the Old World.
Ricoh GR IIIx sample gallery
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