Why Ricoh’s GR IIIx Is the Perfect Camera for Smartphone Photographers

Smaller, faster, better

Key Takeaways

  • The GR IIIx is just like previous GRs, but with a more useful lens.
  • It’s as practical as a phone, but with the quality of a proper camera.
  • The GR series has an almost cult following with street photographers.
The Ricoh GR IIIx camera.

Ricoh

Ricoh’s new GR IIIx is a pocket marvel that will put your phone cam to shame. 

The GR IIIx is an update to Ricoh’s popular—almost cult—GR line. It’s a small, genuinely pocket-sized fixed-lens camera with a large APS-C sensor, a touch screen, no viewfinder, and—in this version—a longer 40mm lens.

This makes it perfect for portraits, as well as for general snapshotting. But why would you buy a camera—even a tiny one like this—if you already have a great camera in your phone?

"The capabilities of smartphone cameras and computational photography are astounding," UX designer and photography enthusiast Adam Fard told Lifewire via email. "They can capture stunning shots of night skies and portrait-style images with hazy backgrounds using software and artificial intelligence. Digital tricks and software manipulations, on the other hand, are no match for a command of light and physics, and specialist cameras still have an advantage in this area."

Hardware, Not Software

A phone camera suffers two impossible-to-change setbacks when it comes to cameras. Because phones are so slim, there’s not enough space for a camera. A bigger sensor would require that the lens be set further away, making the turret-like camera bumps protrude too far.

Rear view of the Ricoh GR IIIx camera.

Ricoh

Phone cams make up for this with software. The computer inside the iPhone, for example, has dedicated hardware that can apply trillions of calculations to a photo almost instantly. But even then, the photos aren’t as good as a camera with a big sensor and a good-sized lens. 

That’s not the only advantage. A phone is essentially a computer screen, which offers flexibility. But a camera can be designed to have all its buttons and dials ready to roll, placed conveniently under your fingers. You never have to launch the camera app and never have to look away from your subject to find the shutter button. 

The GR IIIx

The GR IIIx has a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor, ISO up to 102,400, shake reduction, raw capture, and that new 40mm equivalent ƒ2.8 lens. Using it is easy. Touch the screen to focus, press the shutter button to capture a photo, and turn the dial to adjust settings like aperture and shutter speed.

You can use the camera in several auto modes or go fully manual. There are a few other neat tricks that are new to this model, including face-detection autofocus.

But the real draw here is the user experience. Pretty much any decent compact camera will take better photos than your iPhone or Pixel, but few do it in a package that is as compact and fast to use as the GR. Grab it from your pocket and you’re shooting in under a second.

The longer lens gives a more natural-looking, less-stretched perspective, and more background blur. It’s a fantastic all-rounder, good for environmental portraits, street photography, and anything that doesn’t require extremes. And it’s the reason I am tempted by the GR for the first time.

The GR series is popular with street photographers, who like to grab fleeting photo opportunities on the move, and over the years the series has evolved to suit them.

"For street photographers," says photo vlogger Kaiman Wong in a YouTube video, "You can't get a much better tool than the GR IIIx."

One neat street feature is Snap Focus, which lets you preset the focus distance, kind of like manual focus so that you can just snap pictures without waiting for the camera to find the subject and focus on it.

The clever part is that the camera acts normal—with the usual autofocus modes—when you half-press on the shutter button to activate it. It’s just like any other camera. But when you press the button all the way down with a single finger-stab, it snaps to your pre-set distance. It’s great for quick portraits at set distances, for example. 

Features like Snap Focus show how a camera can beat a camera app. The combination of hardware and software allows for features not possible in an app, or too specialized for a general audience.

The GR IIIx is a compromise, but the result is something almost perfectly crafted for its purpose—small, fast, and offering way, way better photos than a phone. If that’s worth $1,000 to you, then you’re probably very happy right now.

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