Point-and-shoot cameras, it should be uncontroversial to say, are an endangered gadget species. Coming to a camera exhibition like Photokina, I still see a few scattered examples of them, but most companies are now focused on making beefier, vastly more powerful full-frame shooters. Except for Ricoh. One of the smaller contenders in the photography market, Ricoh’s most iconic product is the GR series of decidedly high-end point-and-shoot cameras — and at Photokina 2018, the company showed off its next generation in the form of the Ricoh GRIII, slated for release early next year.
The GR series stretches all the way back to 1996, I found out upon visiting Ricoh’s Photokina booth, when the Ricoh GR 1 film camera was introduced. There have been 10 iterations on the design since then, with the new GRIII being the eleventh. What sets the modern digital GRs apart from most of the competition is their combination of a serious APS-C-sized sensor with the dimensions of a casual point-and-shoot. The current Ricoh GRII is one of the most beloved street photography cameras because, like the Google Pixel 2 that I keep praising, it consistently outperforms its size.
I compared the new GRIII against the GRII it’s about to replace, and the differences between them are subtle yet noticeable. The new camera is narrower and thinner than its predecessor while adhering to broadly the same design and aesthetic. Ricoh’s most polarizing choice will be the removal of the built-in flash in order to achieve the more compact size. I’d argue the GRIII is eminently more pocketable than the GRII and is thus worth it, but many others would bemoan the loss of versatility.
Ricoh has overhauled the physical interface on the GRIII, adding a control wheel around the shortcuts on the back, which is a helpful little tweak. Also different are the lens, the image sensor — which jumps from 16 to 24 megapixels — and the image processing engine. The company says that it’ll compensate for the lack of a built-in flash with much-improved high-ISO performance. So it’s a fundamentally different camera that still looks and handles like a GR.
I’ve been a fan of Ricoh’s GR cameras since I tried one back in 2013, however I’ve never acquired one for myself for a specific reason. No zoom. The f/2.8 lens on the GRIII will surely be awesome, but it’s fixed in place and offers no zooming flexibility. Considering Ricoh charges hundreds of dollars/euros/pounds for a GR shooter, you really have to be sure it fits your needs before investing in one. Then again, my increasing use of a smartphone camera with Google’s Pixel phones has made me much more comfortable with life without a zoom lens. And, as a result, much more interested in this upcoming Ricoh GRIII.
The model I saw at Photokina was still too early to boot up and test out in practice, but its reduced dimensions are just right — when paired with a large and powerful sensor inside — to keep this point-and-shoot line going deep into the smartphone age.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge