For February, I’ve chosen a camera that’s quite possibly my favourite I’ve ever used, but one that’s spent a disproportionately little amount of time in my hands making pictures.
The Ricoh GR Digital III.
I don’t plan to delve into the history of the, some would say legendary, Ricoh GR series, as Ricoh tell the story of the GR on their own website and Wikipedia has plenty of further info.
The short version is the original 35mm film GR, the GR1, arrived in 1996, the first GR Digital was released in 2005, and my GR Digital III is the third digital version, from 2009.
The latest incarnation of the digital series, the GR III, came out in 2019.
Back to my GR Digital III (often abbreviated to GRD III, but crucially not GR III, the latest model, which doesn’t have “Digital” in its name), and the essentials are a 10MP 1/1.7″ CCD sensor and a fixed 28mm f/1.9 lens, a stunning combination.
Even better is the handling of the GRD III, which hasn’t changed much since the original GR1 in 1996, and fits my hand better than any other compact I’ve used.
Also as good is the user interface, which offers great depth, but is customisable to make it very simple and intuitive, once you commit a little time to learning its ways.
You won’t instantly pick up the GRD III and master every aspect, but give it a chance and it will become as easy and instinctive as any point and shoot – but deliver even better photographs.
Previously with the GRD III I had mostly used it on its b/w setting, where there is further scope for adjusting contrast and sharpness, but I still found I was post processing to give more drama and contrast.
In the spirit of one of my experiments this year – trying to achieve photographs I love with zero processing – this month I’ve decided to try using the GRD III on its High Contrast B&W scene mode.
Here again there’s extra user control, with the option to set contrast to MAX, -1 or -2 and vignetting to Off, Weak or Strong.
I’m going with -1 and Weak respectively, as MAX and Strong is just a bit too extreme and Moriyama, even for my tastes.
Because this is strictly a “Scene mode” (another is Cross Processed Colour) you can’t control the aperture or shutter speed, like in Aperture (Av) or Shutter Priority modes. It’s shooting in Program mode, essentially.
But in practice, because the GRD III loves shooting wide open, it replicates how I would shoot with it on Av mode anyway, ie at maximum aperture.
The ISO can be set at one specific value between ISO64 and 1600, completely Auto, or Auto-Hi.
The latter option means you can choose the maximum ISO the camera will use, plus the shutter speed at which the camera shifts down to the next fastest ISO.
I’ve gone with ISO400 and 1/15s. So if for example the camera tries to capture a scene at f/1.9, and ISO64 but the shutter speed required is less than 1/15s, it will drop the ISO until the exposure is correct.
Note that although the preset ISO steps are ISO64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600, in this Auto-Hi mode the GRD III will choose ISO74, 219 or 308 if that’s what’s required.
Similarly, the camera will select the precise shutter speed it feels is the optimum, such as 1/143s or 1/410s, it doesn’t necessarily go with conventional stops like 1/125s, 1/60s and so on.
The other main setting I’ve selected is exposure compensation, at -0.7, as with this high contrast mode, bright areas easily blow out.
I don’t mind a little of this, and it adds to the look, but not too much, so I’m keeping it reigned in via the exposure compensation. I’d much rather have more of the scene in darkness than overly bright.
All of this I’ve saved under one of the three available MY custom modes on the main dial, so I don’t have to remember settings each time, just power up on MY1, and shoot.
As I said above, the Ricoh GRD III has great depth in all kinds of other settings, but I don’t want to rattle on about specs and settings any longer.
Oh aside from finally mentioning that the 28mm lens on the Ricoh is slightly wider than the 35mm I usually favour with digital compacts, but I’ve found in the past that I soon adjust to having more in the frame.
This review by Steve Huff goes into great depth if you’re keen to know more.
My first outing this month with the GRD III was very promising, and yielded the photographs in this post.
I’m more than happy with them, especially on the zero processing front, as I don’t need to alter the pictures in any way from what the Ricoh produced straight out of camera with that high contrast b/w mode.
Every time I use the GRD III it feels like some kind of homecoming, not least of all because of that amazing body shape and front grip, which is like slipping on a favourite old pair of slippers.
Performance wise, the camera is more than I really ever need, and using the High Contrast B&W mode is an attempt to kind of dirty up and dumb down that lens and sensor combo from being too good.
A very exciting return for the GRD III, all in all.
More updates to come as the February unfolds.
Have you used any of the Ricoh GR series, film or digital?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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