Pocket Sized Punch Up – Ricoh GRD III vs iPhone 5C

Out in the woods on a family walk recently, I hadn’t taken a camera (intentionally), but came across a scene I had to photograph. So of course I whipped out my trusty iPhone, and using Hipstamatic preset to 3:2 aspect ratio and a b/w setting, took a few shots.

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The final images were not radically different to the shots I’ve been enjoying making with my Ricoh GX100 or Ricoh GR Digital III in recent months.

A week or so later, I went out on a longer walk alone, with the GRD III. After taking a few photographs close up, I wondered how the iPhone might capture the same composition. So I tried it.

How they compare

The iPhone 5C has I believe a 31mm lens (equivalent to 35mm film), and the GRD III is 28mm, so little practical difference.

The lens itself looks much smaller with the iPhone, and has a max aperture of f/2.4 compared with the Ricoh’s f/1.9. The sensor resolution is less – 8MP of the iPhone compared with 10MP on the Ricoh. Oh and the iPhone focuses close, but the Ricoh even closer, down to 1cm.

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But enough tech talk. What about the major factors that influence how much I like a camera?

The final image

On this front the iPhone performs very well, especially for its size.

I use Hipstamatic with a “Favourite” set up for shooting b/w with the iPhone, which also sets the aspect ratio to my favoured 3:2.

I can’t say I’ve taken many iPhone shots where, as long as I’ve been a little patient and thoughtful, the results have been disappointing, or in some way technically inadequate.

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iPhone 5C

The Ricoh is of course superior, and put side by side the images look sharper and more detailed, and the bokeh smoother.

But for my general needs, the iPhone is not so far behind the Ricoh that I would dismiss it as an option when I need to capture an unexpected opportunity.

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Ricoh GRD III

Enjoyment of use

The iPhone, with the Hipstamatic app, is actually pretty fun to use. Hipstamatic, aside from saving your favourites combinations of setting and being able to have them as the default shooting mode, allows for considerable manual control too.

For example, I fairly often use the manual focus for close work. Rather than trying to hold the phone still and slide the controller on screen until I’m in focus, I usually set the focus at its minimum, then physically move the iPhone forward and back with two hands until I have the desired focus.

The handling is not amazing compared with a dedicated camera, but with the knurled case I have, I can’t remember dropping the phone or finding it too fiddly to use.

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The Ricoh GRD III is quite possibly the best handling compact camera I’ve ever used. Except maybe its GX100 older sibling. Both are excellent.

I’ve spoke before about the beautiful and intuitive design of the Ricohs, and what a delight they are to use. A different class to the poor iPhone, but then its primary use is not a camera.

How close to zero processing?

Here the iPhone does actually trump the Ricoh. I can use the favourite I want in Hipstamatic and shoot the iPhone immediately. It still saves the original shot, in case I want to do something different with it, but mostly I just import the Hipstamatic version straight to my MacBook and I’m done.

A fine example of irreversible photography.

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iPhone 5C

The Ricoh isn’t far off, but I can’t get quite get it set up in camera to give me images I then leave untouched.

A little tweak (again with a Hipstamatic favourite) just gives the images a little more life and punch. But still, it’s very little processing.

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Ricoh GRD III

In conclusion

The iPhone, which of course is also my music collection, sat nav, e-reader, communication device, notepad, torch, watch, alarm, calculator, fitness tracker and a bunch of other things, is not a single task device. As such it can’t be optimised to be amazing at everything, including being a camera.

That said, it makes a valiant effort at it all (including making pictures). In a pinch I can (and have!) used it to make very satisfying photographs, that in their own way have been enjoyable to make too.

The Ricoh remains probably my favourite camera I’ve had, at least on the digital front. There’s nothing I don’t like about it, the design and interface is masterful, and it makes wonderful pictures.

For the iPhone to come as close as it does in the above criteria is further testament to just how incredible it is as a camera, let alone those 20 other devices too.

The final word?

I’m very glad I have both!

When I want to go out and intentionally make photographs, the Ricoh is currently my first choice. When I don’t have a camera, but an opportunity arises, the iPhone is ready, willing and more than able.

Do you use a camera phone for photography? Could (or do) you see it as your only camera?

Please let us know in the comments below (remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

27 thoughts on “Pocket Sized Punch Up – Ricoh GRD III vs iPhone 5C”

  1. Aaah the iPhone 5c! In my opinion the best looking of the bunch. But then the camera of my current iPhone 5SE is so much better, really unbelievably better. Makes a big difference.

    It’s hard to tell the Ricoh and phone photos apart here. So apart from the handling issue (no, I won’t go into that again 😉 ), it’s understandable that the compact digital camera market is flopping completely.

    The iPhone is best defined by this: “Jack of all trades, master of none”…. at least photographically speaking. Far from perfect but a great tool. And who wants perfection? I want the photos I want to make and the iPhone can deliver them, at least the digital ones.

    Great shots as ever, Dan! I got to try out Hipstamatic again….

    1. Also, the 5C was also one of the last iPhones I’d consider still pocketable. They’ve got much bigger now, and you see people with tight jeans and a big phone bulging the seams of a back pocket. It takes them to a different size of device, for me, more tablet than phone. And how many people must sit down and forget it’s in their pocket and destroy their phones!

      That’s a good point about perfection. I think if we read the media, digital camera mags, the manufacturers etc, they constantly try to sell us their latest version/vision of perfection. Truth is very very few of us need it. If I was shooting RAW images at native ISO with the Ricoh, kept them as full colour, and blew them up to full size prints, there would be far more noticeable differences between them and the best the iPhone can do.

      But the point is I don’t do this, I don’t need the best images the Ricoh can make. I no longer shoot RAW, and I use an app on an iPad to process. For my level of requirements, the iPhone kicks our a pretty decent image.

      The major argument is always back to the handling. I’m quite surprised there hasn’t been a phone that’s been physically more optimised to handle like a camera, with more curves, a dedicated shutter button etc. I can’t really understand why no-one has done this and all phones are so slim and flat and slippery! If you put a camera from an iPhone, Samsung, Google Pixel, OnePlus etc into a compact camera body it’d perform brilliantly, the technology and glass is there. So why don’t the big brands do a model in their line up that is physically more camera shaped but still does everything else a smartphone does?

      1. Well, the slimness of phones is Apple’s fault – everything must get always thinner….. and people want it that way!

        As for size, that’s why I opted for the iPhone SE. Same size as the 5 and 4 before and the great 12MP sensor of the iPhone 6.

        I think Samsung had a phone with a big zoom lens on the back and a small grip… but it flopped.

        I’m still searching for a camera grip for iPhone but they all either are crap or failed and are no longer available.

        About perfection… I don’t print giant stuff, I don’t want perfection. I like grain, rough looks and imperfection. Bad customer for the digital photo industry…

        1. Yeh I was looking a few months back at a potential new iPhone, and the SE made most sense. But then I decided to get an iPad instead and strip loads of stuff from my iPhone, so it runs faster now anyway.

          The next phone I do get, I’ll be looking closely at the camera spec and physical handling. And I’m not convinced it needs to be Apple now I do so much on iPad I used to use the phone for. Phone calls, messages, music, camera, sat nav, they’re the major requirements.

          Re perfection, I think this is why there’s now quite an uprising in people using “vintage” digital cameras from 7-10+ years ago (including me!), like the K10D and its siblings with the CCD sensors, the old Ricoh GR Digitals and so on. They have grain and noise and charm that’s absent from today’s super clean models.

  2. My old iPhone 5 did nice work. My 6S is, for some strange reason, not as satisfying as a camera. It’s not a bad camera, it’s just not as satisfying somehow as my old 5.

    Here’s the thing though: the images don’t always enlarge well, from either camera. I guess the best way to frame it is that these are brilliant snapshot cameras.

    1. Jim, do you mean it’s not as satisfying to use as a camera, or the final image isn’t as satisfying?

      Yeh, they are like a modern Polaroid, especially with the filters, whether you use the standard ones in the Camera app or go via something like Hipstamatic, Instagram etc.

      I want to have a few prints made of iPhone photos at some point, not huge, maybe 12″x8″, just to see how they look.

      1. Well, I meant that the final image is not as satisfying. But as a camera, I find the wafer-thin form factor to be a hindrance — hard to press the shutter button, hard to hold flat.

        I’ll bet you could blow up an iPhone photo to 8×12 credibly. But I’d bet that beyond that you’d start to see negative artifacts of the camera’s limitations.

        1. Yes I was saying to Frank earlier, I don’t know why one of the major players hasn’t designed a smartphone with a fantastic camera AND a body that’s more physically optimised to handle well.

          It just needs a couple of curves/grips and maybe a dedicated shutter button…

          Oh and a little hole somewhere to slip a hand strap through in case you drop it, just like pretty much every compact camera ever made has had!

  3. It is incredible how the Iphones are coming closer in quality to the digital cameras. As a photo retoucher some of the images submitted to me by later model Iphones are starting to look great! Nice blog to stumble upon during my coffee break, thanks!

  4. Hi Da In, I enjoy your pictures and blog a lot. I was just thinking about this as I looked through a bunch of last years pictures. I am not a serious photographer at all, but I have fun using old film cameras and have a modest collection, a lot of them have had service to bring them up to spec. It looks like all the best pictures I took last year were taken with my cheap android LG phone and a very few with a Minolta X-500 and a 55mm lens that someone else was throwing away.

    1. Hi Jon, thanks for your kind comments, glad you’re enjoying!

      I think your review of your photographs speaks volumes. But I would say that if you enjoy using the old cameras, then of course carry on. There’s more to photography than the final image.

      I wonder why you class the phone images as better though, what it is about them? And how can you take those qualities and lessons to your film photography?

  5. This post is my next step towards me getting an iPhone. at the moment I use a cheap phone and cheap camera as don’t do lots of photography but would love to get back into it and into my walking and doing photography on the way again. thanks to Dan and the rest of you for the nudge xoxo susanJOY

    1. Hi Susan, good to see one of my longest standing online friends! We must go back at least ten years now?

      Re the iPhone I would say you don’t need a relatively expensive iPhone, there are lots of cameras around these days capable of excellent pictures and a lot cheaper!

  6. My iPhone 6 Plus died dramatically just before Christmas. I’d been using it as a camera, but only for record shots of things I might want to look at in more detail later, like signs, restaurant menus, possible subjects for future film photos, etc. It had also pretty much replaced my flatbed scanner for documents – the image stabilization was that good. But I never got on with it as a proper camera. I just didn’t like the pictures.

    Then Christmas came and a shiny new iPhone X appeared under the tree. The first thing I discovered was that with the absence of the Home button I had to relearn a lot of the man-machine interface, not a lot of fun at my age. The second thing I discovered was the 2X optical “telephoto” mode of the camera. It’s actually pretty close to a 50mm equivalent. Within a minute of finding it I was snapping photographs of everything and everyone in the room. What a revelation!

    I have been shooting 35mm B&W film for 65+ years and 90% or more of the shots have been taken with a 50mm lens. My 50mm shots just look right to me. Most of my other shots have been taken with 85, 90 or 105mm lenses and I like quite a few of them too. I have only used a shorter lens, always 35mm, when forced to by the subject or my ability to move around. And I can’t remember a single 35mm shot that I really like. So it’s no surprise that I was never particularly enamored of the iPhone 6+ photos with it’s fixed 30mm or so equivalent focal length.

    So here I am today, thinking about what photo gear to take on a visit to our son and his family in Florida, and assuming I’m going to be taking a lot of the photos, particularly indoors, with the iPhone. We’re going to at least one soccer tournament so I’ll take the 105mm if I decide to take the Nikon F, or the 85mm, or maybe even the 135mm, if I decide to take one of the LTM Leicas, along with a fast 50mm for whichever film camera I take. It will be interesting to see how many digital vs. film Images I come home with.

  7. My iPhone 6 Plus died dramatically just before Christmas. I’d been using it as a camera, but only for record shots of things I might want to look at in more detail later, like signs, restaurant menus, possible subjects for future film photos, etc. It had also pretty much replaced my flatbed scanner for documents – the image stabilization was that good. But I never got on with it as a proper camera. I just didn’t like the pictures.

    Then Christmas came and a shiny new iPhone X appeared under the tree. The first thing I discovered was that with the absence of the Home button I had to relearn a lot of the man-machine interface, not a lot of fun at my age. The second thing I discovered was the 2X optical “telephoto” mode of the camera. It’s actually pretty close to a 50mm equivalent. Within a minute of finding it I was snapping photographs of everything and everyone in the room. What a revelation!

    I have been shooting 35mm B&W film for 65+ years and 90% or more of the shots have been taken with a 50mm lens. My 50mm shots just look right to me. Most of my other shots have been taken with 85, 90 or 105mm lenses and I like quite a few of them too. I have only used a shorter lens, always 35mm, when forced to by the subject or my ability to move around. And I can’t remember a single 35mm shot that I really like. So it’s no surprise that I was never particularly enamored of the iPhone 6+ photos with it’s fixed 30mm or so equivalent focal length.

    So here I am today, thinking about what photo gear to take on a visit to our son and his family in Florida, and assuming I’m going to be taking a lot of the photos, particularly indoors, with the iPhone. We’re going to at least one soccer tournament so I’ll take the 105mm if I decide to take the Nikon F, or the 85mm, or maybe even the 135mm, if I decide to take one of the LTM Leicas, along with a fast 50mm for whichever film camera I take. It will be interesting to see how many digital vs. film Images I come home with.

    1. Hi Doug, thanks for your thoughts. Wow, you had a good Christmas! I haven’t got around to selling internal organs yet to be able to afford an iPhone X!

      With my film cameras for a long time I shot only with 50/55mm lenses. Then something happened and I subconsciously must have decided that I needed to have every focal length from about 24mm to 150mm covered by at least one lens.

      Inevitably I never really got used to most of them because I was constantly switching and changing.

      I think this is one reason the Ricoh GRD III has been so refreshing, it has a fixed 28mm lens so I’ve had no option but to get used to just that one focal length, that one outlook on the world.

      On more than one occasion I’ve been out with my DSLR and just got frustrated with it, the complexity, the bulk, everything. So I put it away and carried on with my iPhone.

      It will be interesting to see if you have any similar experiences on your Florida trip.

  8. That is an excellent post with some interesting pictures! I have only recently gotten into photography myself and unfortunately am not very good at it. To be honest I didn’t know if phones were any good for serious photography. Do you think that iphone’s in general is better than a Samsung (my current phone) ? I was bought a Canon 650D and series of online elessons ( https://tinyurl.com/yb9frlw4 )my my 30th bday which have helped tremendously, but I’m not sure I have the eye for it. Still trying though!

    1. Jack, thanks for your thoughts. Which Samsung do you have? I would think that any decent phone from the last three years, even five years is capable of very good images. I started out with deliberate photography (ie going on a walk with a camera with the specific intention of making photographs) with 5MP Sony Cybershot camera phones over a decade ago.

      These days too there are plenty of simple yet very powerful processing apps – check out the comments section in my recent LightRoom post – https://35hunter.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/lightrooms-last-hurrah-why-adobe-has-lost-my-trust-and-business/

      Snapseed gets a lot of recommendations and is on Android.

      It comes down to what type of photos you like to make, and which camera(s) suit that best.

      I would suggest experimenting with the Samsung and the Canon DSLR and seeing what you enjoy about each. Then make a decision about whether you need only one. Or what you can’t do with either that another camera might allow you to.

      Let us know how your adventure unfolds!

  9. I have an iPhone SE and, as you’ve found with your 5C, it is a very capable camera. I tend to use mine mainly for the “family snapshot” type of photography, whereas I do like to take an actually camera out when going to “do” photography. Sometimes that’s digital (one of my two Nikons) and also occasionally with 35mm film.

    I like the feeling of using a camera and so the tool to me is an important part of the process. There is something that appeals to the engineer in me about using a finely designed piece of machinery/equipment. However, I do agree with you about needing to do as little processing as possible and the camera not getting in the way of the shot. To that end I’m still searching for the perfect camera (if such a thing exists) and am eager to try a Ricoh GR at some future point.

    However I don’t think, from a tactile point of view if nothing else, that I could use an iPhone as my only camera. But you can’t deny what a capable and convenient multi-function device they are! Mine’s in my pocket, even when a camera isn’t.

    1. Richard, thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think there is one single perfect camera, but maybe a handful that between them offers that ideal balance between familiarity and variety.

      Yeh I agree about the iPhone handling, the Ricohs or the Pentax Q are just in a whole other league as they’re a pleasure to hold and use, with proper buttons and dials…

  10. Hi Dan great post! As a former user of both I can attest to your findings. Both are great shooters! I actually preferred the iPhone 5c to the 6s plus

    1. Thanks Sam. I have a bit of a dilemma I feel with the next phone I get, because they’re all bigger than the 5C/SE kind of size now. I don’t want what’s essentially a baby iPad in my pocket – if it would fit in my pocket! My iPhone 5C I can just about using one handed for all operations still. But either way a flat slim slab of metal and glass is not at all optimised for using as a camera!

      1. I hear what you’re saying and I think you’re better off sticking to what you have or getting something new of similar size. Even with my 6s Plus I sometimes find it too large to shoot comfortably with one hand as I can do with the 5/5c and you’re right it’s not optimized to be used as a true camera anyway! Besides the 5/5c already takes great pics!

  11. Sorry the reply was cut short! I was going to say I preferred the camera on the 5/5c to the 6s Plus. It was faster and images looked similar. But somehow the GRD in any version still felt more like a camera but that might jus be in the head! Anyway in today’s world we’re lucky to be able to have such great choices!

    1. Yeh absolutely about the choices. I’m delighted to have discovered cameras like the GRD III and Pentax Q that can now be had for £100-150, and in their day cost £600+…

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