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Occasionally Ricoh has delivered cameras to the market that are innovative, ingenious and unique. Like the Ricoh GR Digital III.
But who ever heard of a camera with a fixed lens and no zoom?
To answer, you have only to look at the major companies with their DSLRs. Fine cameras you say. But what makes them even finer is the availability of a fixed focus ‘pancake lens’.
The advantages are a small form factor along with high optical quality, a lack of aberrations in a no-zoom lens and reduced internal flare.
So, the Digital III stands alone. Powered up, the lens extends about 22mm from the body but it is still a relatively low profile camera. And did I tell you it has a totally black, die-cast alloy body?
The lens is a fast f1.9 with a focal length equating to a 28mm lens on a 35 SLR. You can access a 4x digital enlargement — but at the expense of picture quality. Picture capture is 10.0 megapixels, leading to a maximum image size of 3648×2736 pixels. Movie specs are quite poor, with a maximum of only 640×480 pixels at 30fps.
However, the shutter speeds are a revelation: all the way from a long, long 180 seconds to an industry equaling 1/2000 second.
Exposure modes include auto, Program AE, aperture and shutter priority plus manual. You can choose from multi segment, centre-weighted and spot metering modes.
ISO settings: choose from the lowest at 100 or rack up to ISO 1600, if you need it. I commend the absence of absurd levels like 6400 and higher, sensitivities virtually unachievable in a compact digicam with a small 15cm CCD. Coupled with this is its ability to apply noise reduction at selectable ISO settings … over ISO 201, 401, etc.
Auto focus: there’s multi-zone and spot, plus manual and a mode called ‘snap’, where you can preset the focus point — to 1 metre, 2.5m, 5m or infinity — then ‘snap’ to it when you want it.
Like the earlier Ricoh CX, the new camera has dynamic range ‘double shot’ mode that takes a pair of exposures, then combines the correctly exposed areas from each to make a single picture with a ‘natural’ contrast range; an ideal helper with subjects showing an excessive brightness range.
But double shot is just one of the camera’s scene modes; others include skew correction, to straighten ‘leaning buildings’; B&W shots of text; and here’s where you find — oddly — movie mode.
A welcome feature is a dial lock, preventing the mode dial from slipping in use and helping you make secure choices of exposure modes. Auto bracketing is in the package: the camera can take three shots, varying in exposure or colour balance.
Some of these attractive tricks are not available when RAW capture is selected. The Ricoh can capture in two quality levels of JPEG or RAW (Adobe’s DNG format) as well as JPEG+RAW.
There’s no optical finder but the 7.6cm LCD screen is to die for! It boasts a resolution of 920,000 pixels with a picture so sharp you could shave by it! I also found it bright enough to frame shots, even with sunlight directly onto its surface. One of the best.
A novel add-on is the ADJ button to rapidly tweak metering settings or those of colour saturation (standard, vivid etc) and AF. It also adjusts aperture at the front and/or shutter speed at the back of the camera.
And a few notes:
Two to three seconds after power-up I could begin shooting, then catch subsequent shots about a second apart.
You would expect a single focal length lens to be a top performer — and it is. No sign of any distortion.
Picture quality was extremely sharp and accurately coloured.
I found the camera subject to flare in bright conditions; that front element is very exposed!
There’s a bunch of accessories with which you can bedeck the camera — like an external flash, a 21mm converter lens plus an optical finder. For me, I would embrace all of these and make the Ricoh a very, very superior digicam — without peers.
All of this means that the Digital III is a powerhouse of a camera and, while it is ostensibly a ‘point and shooter’, it could, in some situations, result in the enthusiastic but uneducated photographer not bringing home the bacon!