There is no doubt that the Ricoh GR is something of a cult camera. I have long been a fan of this little 28mm snapshooter, having owned the original APS-C version and enjoying it immensely. We are now on the GR’s third iteration and it has just been joined by the GR IIIx, equipped with a longer 40mm focal length lens.
At first, I thought that the IIIx was a replacement for the 28mm GR III but soon realised that it is an additional model. What’s more, some of the new features of the IIIx will be ported to the III by means of a firmware upgrade. This means that both cameras will be more or less identical other than in their focal length.
Encouragingly, also, the new camera settles one niggling worry, that of the future for the GR. It seems there is indeed life at Ricoh and that the GR will be around for a few more years at least. That’s a very good sign which will be welcomed by aficionados worldwide and all the more reason to now consider getting your own GR.
The GR, in any of its guises, is the quintessential compact travel camera, with its unassuming point-and-shoot image and size and its ability to offer a 24MP APS-C sensor and fripperies such as IBIS and ultrasonic sensor cleaning. In fact, there isn’t much that hasn’t been shoehorned into that eminently pocketable magnesium alloy chassis.
I really enjoyed travelling with my Mk I GR while it lasted. Here at Macfilos, we have published many articles featuring Ricoh GRs, including earlier small-sensor models. You will find links to these articles below, including those written by our colleague Jean Perenet in Normandy. He has travelled the world with just a GR in his pocket. He’s a long-time Ricoh fan and can do wonders even with the earlier small-sensor versions. As it stands, Jean is to the Ricoh GR as our other colleague, John Shingleton in Australia, is to the Leica X1.
The GR isn’t a mass-market camera and is well below the radar of most amateur photographers. Its appearance is so bland that many assume it must be an equally bland performer. It doesn’t look much for the money and, in the showroom, other models tend to look far more “professional”. Yet nothing could be further from the truth; this is a very capable camera. The GR is bought by a relatively small band of connoisseurs, photographers who have tried many cameras, many of whom, I am sure, also have the odd Leica or high-end Canon in their bags. Whenever I see a GR in the hands of a photographer, I can sense the experience.
If I may commit heresy, the Ricoh GR can even be compared with the Leica Q. The concept is very similar. Both have the same 28mm focal length, both produce impressive results. The Leica ultimately outperforms the Ricoh, not just because of its larger full-frame sensor, but because of the truly excellent and faster Summilux lens. But in many situations, the Ricoh can equal the Q and it wins hands down when it comes to size and weight. The Q2 will never fit in a trouser pocket, but the GR slips in happily. And you know what they say about the camera in your pocket.
Those who know and understand the GR swear by it.
As for me, I have had my reservations, as I hinted earlier. I bought the GR I when it first came out and had many happy outings with the little beast. You can see some of the results in this article. I did find the controls a little fiddly, but then that is a common feature of all really small cameras, the Sony X100 series being a case in point. But the GR I did have one egregious feature, the exposure control button perched right in the top corner of the camera back and right under the wandering thumb. It was a bad design and I am pleased to see that the layout has been changed on later models.
I admit that I am now tempted to give Ricoh another try. However, there is now an additional complication. Is the 40mm focal length a suitable alternative to 28mm? Does the new IIIx offer an attractive compromise between the old “standard” focal length of 50mm and the now popular 35mm? Or is 28mm the most versatile after all? While you can crop 28mm, you can’t UN-crop 40mm to get a wider view.
During the years I used my old GR, I grew used to 28mm as a versatile focal length. The Leica Q further added to my comfort and I grew to prefer a pocket camera with a wider angle of view for its ability to capture city scenes when it was impossible to move further away from the subject for whatever reason. I also love the huge depth of field provided by 28mm. It’s ideal for zone-focus photography—the fastest AF you can get—with almost everything in focus at a fixed f/8.
I love my Leica Q2 and it is the camera I use most, but there are many occasions when I don’t want to carry the weight unless I have a particular photographic project in mind. Up to now, I’ve been using the little Sony X100 VI or my trusty old Leica X2 in this supporting role, although I confess that during lockdown I have relied more on the iPhone. The Sony is compact and has the advantage of a built-in EVF, but it doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. It doesn’t have the cult status of the GR. Nor is it as easy to use as the super-simple Leica X2.
Surprisingly, the Leica X1/X2 body is just a few millimeters longer than that of the Ricoh, although it is a bit deeper (4.8mm compared with 3.5mm). The Leica is almost as pocketable and, if it were not for the sad fact that it is now a 12-year-old design, it would be capable of squaring up to the GR and acquitting itself remarkably well.
In many respects, the Leica is the easiest to live with of the lot. I just love its simple controls with traditional speed and aperture dials on constant display.
For anyone now considering the GR, perhaps encouraged by this latest vote of confidence in the future, there is now a choice, rather than just one simple model.
I know that I am perfectly happy with a fixed 28mm focal length, but would the new Pinocchio, the IIIx, prove as satisfying a companion. Would it become a little frustrating as a sole travel companion?
I can quite imagine owners of 28mm GRs deciding to invest in the GRIIIx to carry around as a second camera. I’d probably buy the GR IIIx without a qualm if my old 28mm model were still in the land of the living. Our old Ricoh author, Bill Palmer, plans to do just this. The size of both cameras is the same (small) and carrying two little cameras makes as much sense as, say, toting an APS-C mirrorless camera with a brace of lenses. But when the lens is fixed to the camera, choosing just one focal length is a leap of faith.
While it is tempting to think that the GR IIIx must be the better choice because it’s new, I have a sneaking suspicion that the popularity of the 28mm GR III will not diminish. And it just might still be the better choice for ultimate versatility.
It’s a real dilemma. I can see the logic of sticking with the original 28mm focal length, not just in saving a bit of money but also in having a tiny APS-C camera to complement the Q2 without needing to think about the different focal lengths.
What would you do? Assuming you were in the market for a Ricoh GR, loving it for its tiny dimensions, bullet-proof construction and pocketability, would you prefer the versatility of 28mm or the compromise of a longer lens?
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