Tuesday, 12 January 2010

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.

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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