Ricoh GRD III Review – Part 8

After looking at the features and the image comparisons it is time to move on to the final part of this review, the image quality and the conclusion.

Image Quality

If you have looked at the previous pages you have probably already reached a conclusion regarding the image quality.
Below, I will try to summarize the findings and give my opinion on how the image quality compares.


The first thing I can say is that Ricoh’s decision to use a 10 MP sensor instead of moving to even more MP was indeed a very good choice. The new sensor offers a higher dynamic range and less noise than the previous sensors Ricoh has used. Especially when compared with the GRD II, the GRD III delivers a much improved image quality. The image quality is probably as good as it gets from a small sensor at the moment, especially when using low ISO the GRD III produces great images, full of detail, with great colors and a high dynamic range. The excellent Multi-Pattern AWB does a fantastic job when it comes to accurate but also pleasing looking colors under most light sources.
Overall, the GRD III produces images which at ISO 100-400 are some of the best you can currently get from small sensors.

This brings it’s own problems however and the images from the GRD III, while pleasing for most who expect a technical perfect image, have lost the character which makes the images from the GRD I so special. Yes, they have noise but as you can see from the comparison pictures the noise on the GRD I is quite pleasing looking and resembles film grain as has been mentioned by many. So while the GRD III produces very good images, they are also a bit digital looking and lack a certain depth especially the b&w images. This will however not be a problem for most people and should not detract from the overall very good image quality.


What will be a problem however is that although the GRD III sports the currently fastest wide-angle lens on any compact camera, it is by far not a low light camera due to the excessive banding that occurs at ISO 1600 and even at ISO 800 in underexposed areas. The banding is simply unacceptable and means you really can’t use ISO 1600 at all so lose the advantage of the fast lens. Here Ricoh needs to provide a firmware update and try to fix this problem, in a camera of this class (and price) this is simply unacceptable.

Conclusion

When Ricoh released the first GRD I over 4 years ago there was not much competition with regards to serious compact cameras offering wide-angle lenses, only the LX2 was a serious competition. Now the situation has changed and there is some string competition out there, the biggest being Panasonic again with the much praised and indeed excellent LX3 camera.


One thing that nobody has managed so far it to create a camera which comes even remotely close to the GRD III in terms of build, handling and controls. Here Ricoh has created the perfect and most customizable interface you can find on a compact camera. After using the previous GRD cameras and other Ricoh cameras in the last 4 years I can say that this sentence is absolutely true:
“Additionally, we also wanted to make a camera that brought a smile to one’s face, just by holding it.”

It is indeed a camera that feels good in your hand and that inspires you to go out and take pictures.

The fully customizable controls mean the camera will never get in your way when taking pictures and become like an extension of yourself, you never have to worry about missing a picture because you had to fiddle with flimsy controls and finding settings in cryptic menus.

The LCD screen is another highlight and probably the best LCD screen you can find in any digital camera to date. The screen is so good indeed that it can fool you thinking your pictures are better than they actually are.

It is a shame though that the camera is let down by banding issues at high ISO making it not quite as usable for low light photography as the lens specifications might suggest.


So how does it compare to the other GRDs?
Well, it is the camera that the GRD II should have been and easily beats the GRD II in every single aspect.
With the GRD I it is not so clear cut though and while it is technologically far advanced and provides better controls (aside from the missing Adj./Ok wheel), it does not manage to beat the GRD I when it comes to the image quality. The GRD I images just have more character and stand out from the rest.


What the GRD III is, is one of the best serious compact cameras available and the perfect camera for street photography. While it does not quite match the unique GRD I image characteristics, it produces excellent results which are some of the best in it’s class. If Ricoh can iron out the banding issue in a future firmware update, it will get my full recommendation. For now I can only recommend it if you stick to ISO 800 or lower.

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17 responses to “Ricoh GRD III Review – Part 8

  1. Cristian,
    Your review is one of the finest and clearest longitudinal reviews of a camera series I have ever read. As a user of the GRD l I appreciate your candor. Your research demonstrates that technical change does not always bring a better tool. Thank you for your honesty and diligence in pursuit of our shared enjoyment of digital photography.
    I hope Ricoh considers the import of your research in their further development and refinement of product.
    Bob Troiano

  2. As a potential GRD III buyer, thanks for putting in all the hard work to produce this review, Cristian.

    I, along with others, value your thoroughness and candour. You tell it how it is and that is exactly how it should be.

    At the moment, for me, it comes down to either the GRD III or the GXR with the S10 module.

    I prefer the GRD III in terms of its price and 90 percent of my shots with my D-Lux 3 are taken at 28mm but the issue of the banding at high ISO, and the zoom capability offered by the more expensive GXR/S10, makes it a tough call.

    I suppose I could wait until you produce an in-depth review of the GXR/S10.

  3. Thank you very much for your comments Bob and Calvin!

    I am very glad you enjoyed the review and found it interesting and helpful.

    Bob, I am in touch with Ricoh and do forward my findings and feedback to them. And I am glad the full-press Snap AF mode in recent Ricoh cameras is based on one of my suggestions. They have been great and do value honest feedback from users.

    Calvin, I can’t say much of the GXR/S10 module as I only tried it briefly for a few minutes. I only have the A12 module here and this is completely different from the small sensor GRD III and S10 module.
    As for which camera to buy, both the GRD III and GXR/S10 are great cameras. Due to my limited experience I can’t say how they compare but from the size andcost of each I would probably go for the GRD III and maybe get a cheap GX100 to complement it in the zoom department.

    I will however try to get a review done for the GXR body and one for the A12 module and will try to add to it as I go along. Hopefully will also get the chance to try the S10 module and compare it with the GRD and GX cameras I have.

  4. Great review, it brought me to by the GRDs.
    Thanks.

  5. same for me here. Bought myself a GRD III.
    I am so happy of this “investment”.
    THanks a lot for the great review.

  6. Thanks for your comments, I am glad you liked the review!

  7. I’ve just swapped my gx100 for the new grd3 and have to say it’s a fantastic improvement. Yes it’s lacking the zoom, but as previously mentioned by another poster, most of my shots were at the wide angle setting albeit 24mm. The lens is stunning, even wide open, and the files really do tolerate a lot of pp’in…

    I’ve sold fine art images from the gx100 and have been bowled over by there quality in print.

    I am currently waiting for the 21mm attachment I’ve ordered, Ricoh deserve heaps of praise for producing such an exquisite jewell…

  8. Hi there! First off, thanks for the wonderful review! I have been pandering for a GRD-III for awhile now, and am so glad to have found your review of it.

    One quick question; do you know if the banding issue at high ISOs you spoke of have been rectified in the latest firmware update? Also, do you know if the noise-reduction algorithm (I’m assuming it’s an algorithm) can or willbe changed/tweaked by Ricoh? I read that you’re in contact with Ricoh USA, and was just hoping for any updates. Thanks again!

  9. Hi Edward,

    Thanks for your comment, glad you liked the review and I hope it was helpful.

    Unfortunately the banding issue at high ISO is still there even in the latest firmware update.

    I have been in contact with them and so far they have not fixed the banding and they usually don’t fix the NR much through firmware updates.

    Having said that, you can work partly around the banding issue by raising the blacks when developing the RAW files and also making sure you always underexpose in low light.

    I will keep on this and will post should I get any official update by Ricoh, unfortunately so far they don’t consider the banding a priority to fix.

  10. Thanks for your review, it’s very accurate, with appropriate shots and wise conclusions.
    I hope this will inspire Ricoh designers & engineers some day!

    I’m personnaly very happy with the GRD1. Althought the warranty period has ended and I fear it to stop working someday… so I bought a GRDII under warranty.
    But I was totally disappointed by it’s unnatural and over-noise-reduced JPEG and soft RAW, that’s why I immediately returned it, and kept my GRDI forever :-)

  11. Thanks for your comment!
    Glad you found the review accurate and interesting.

    Like you, I think the GRD I is pretty unique and have bought a 2nd GRD I just to have as a spare in case the first stops working. No other camera gives the same kind of pictures with the same character.

  12. Yeah, me too, I am always a bit upset with the GR3 and its Noise reduction on the JPEG although I put NR Off in the menu. This is really too bad because it is the only thing that bothers me on what I think is an excellent camera.
    Do you think Ricoh will one day change their firmware so it will not smudge my pics when I boost ISO?
    I am thinking about taking pictures in Raw only because of this problem.

  13. I and others have been asking Ricoh to turn off the NR in JPGs since the GRD II came out but I think they see the GRD series more as RAW cameras and are affraid of bad reviews because of too much noise as happened with the GRD I and GX100.
    The JPGs in the GRD III are fine until ISO 400 but even below you always get better quality using RAW.

  14. Lars Latchkey

    Wow! Finally a direct comparison between all the three GRDs!! I’m still cross with dpreview for never testing the GRD III despite praising the first model’s manual control so highly… Thank you so much, reading this has been hugely informative! Conclusion: GRD II is out of the game despite its currently low prize. Noise reduction and noise character is really scary in the newer models. I’d heard about the difference, but I’m shocked at how obvious it is. That’s a ‘splinter‘-like noise instead of an organic grain! A real shame…
    I used a GRD I for over 3 years, but a months ago the sensor just broke down for no obvious reasons and it only takes useless banded pictures (red/green/yellow). If Ricoh doesn’t replace the sensor for free I want to get a new camera and I want a 28mm fixed lense and the handling of the GRDs (a shame they made one wheel a rocker switch). I was hoping for an improvement of the colour noise in the GRD II, so I could still use the old 21mm lense, which I use quite a bit.
    Cheers, Lars

    • Thanks for your comment Lars!

      I am very glad you found the comparisons usefull. I was also quite surprised at how the GRD II compared to the other models.

      In your situation I would look to maybe get another GRD I, you can still find some in prety good condition (at http://www.ffordes.com for example).

  15. Thanks very much for your great review.
    I’m looking for a compact as a supplement to my reflex to carry always with me. I was first looking at the Sigma DP1s (with the actual bargain price) but is not well suited to my needs, then since I became a father my main shooting motive is my son and therefore y need a fast focusing camera.
    From the examples I saw I like far more the image quality of the GRD I over the GRD III. Does the GRD I has the same dreaded LCD screen freeze as the GRD II and the GX200?
    Width your experience which one would you recommend me?

    Again, thank you for your great review.

    Saludos,

    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel.
      Thanks for your comment, glad you found the review usefull.

      Regarding the fast focusing camera, the GRd I is very fast thanks to the phase detection sensors but to make full use of it you need to fullpress and not wait till the green confirmation box appears. You might get some misfocussed shots but this will not happen too often as long as the subject is over 1.5m away.
      Strange enough the fastest focusing Ricoh camera is the CX1 but this is in a different category.

      The GRD I does not have problems with the screen freeze and although the screen is poor by today’s standards (but no worse than the Sigma screens) it works well in bright light and when you shoot b&w.

      Now regarding the image quality, this is more complicated. If you shoot mostly in JPG at high ISO or in b&w the GRD I will be hard to beat. If you shoot a lot of color at low ISO and use RAW the GRD III would be my choice or maybe a GX100.

      As for which camera I would recommend, this is not so easy but if you can find a good condition GRD I and a GX100 they would be a great set for both low ISO color and high ISO b&w shooting. Both cameras can be had pretty cheap at the moment so getting both should no set you back much.

      Otherwise I would recommend getting the GRD III if you want something small or maybe the Panasonic GF1 if you can do with a slightly larger camera but also want a much faster focusing one.

      I hope this helps, let me know if you have more questions.

      Cheers,

      Cristian

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