It’s small, isn’t it.
That’s one of the main reasons I got the camera. It’s a long story that couldn’t have happened much quicker than it did. Going back far enough and it was a Nikon D40 and the D40x with a 35mm f1.8 lens. That was about as small as you could go with a DX sensor and a good lens at the time. Put a strap on the camera and carry it over your shoulder, and you had a carry-around camera. But it wouldn’t fit in a pocket.
Still, it could take nice photos. This is one of the few photos I still have from that camera. The funny thing is I can remember more or less where I stood when I took this photo of a tree in Roundhay Park in Leeds fifteen years ago.
With hindsight, I would have got the Fuji X-E2 when it came out. Fuji were offering a deal with an 18-55mm kit lens and an extra lens – 23,mm or 27mm, I forget – and I turned it down because the body was so light I couldn’t believe the camera was any good.
And what a strange looking camera – when you looked at the camera from the front, where was the viewfinder? The X-E2 reminded me of the Carl Zeiss Jena Werra 35mm film cameras from the 1950s and ’60s – somehow blank and blind because they were just a plain sheet of metal at the front with a viewfinder at one end. The X-E2 went one further; looked at from the front it had no viewfinder box at all.
Of course, that was then. Now we have got used to a big change with mirrorless cameras. Now I hanker after an X-E2 ‘just because’. At the time, I was wedded to being able to see a viewfinder box. And I didn’t want to rely on a digital readout in the viewfinder.
The Fuji X100s offered a dual viewfinder, optical and digital at the flick of a lever. The fixed 23mm lens (35mm full-frame equivalent) was just right, not too wide and not too tight. So I bought one. And shot with it exclusively for seven or eight years.
Here’s a shot I took with the Fuji X100s, of Taiwanese dancers in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival a few years ago.
After about four years into shooting with it, I started to use the digital viewfinder a bit, and eventually all the time. A lovely camera but still not pocketable. The holy grail was something like the X100s but in a package that was so small I could walk out as though I didn’t have a camera with me at all.
I thought the Fuji X-E3 with 27mm pancake lens might be small enough to put in a jacket pocket, and it kind of is but it isn’t small enough to put in a trouser pocket. It’s slightly smaller than the X-E2 and it weighs even less. Not a lot, just 13g less – but when I pick up the X-E3 it doesn’t feel light. How time and different experiences affect how we perceive things.
The Sensor Size Question
And all the time in the back of my mind was the Ricoh. It has an APS-C size sensor, which puts it on equal footing with any of the cameras I have mentioned. And the lens is known to be sharp. Sounds good.
So what held me back? Was it reliable enough? Was 28mm really the focal length I wanted? And could I really adapt to a camera without a viewfinder?
I’ve become used to 28mm because it is the angle of view of the lens of the iPhone, And in truth that focal length is more versatile than the tight 40mm equivalent on the X-E3.
Do I hear you say, why don’t you get a little Canon point and shoot. Yes, it is definitely pocketable. But with a tiny sensor, would the quality of the image be worth having taken the photo in the first place?
A little point and shot would good for keeping memories, but then the iPhone can do that.
The way I look at it, the sensor on a point and shoot isn’t good enough for that really interesting scene that might presents itself once in a while.
I still like this shot that I took in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, with a Nikon D5100 with Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens. Had I shot it with a point and shoot, I know I would have regretted not having a decent camera with me.
The Ricoh GR III
The GR III weighs Ricoh GRIII 257g (9.07oz). That’s a lot less than 415g (14.64oz) of the X-E3 plus 27mm lens. And physically the Ricoh is much smaller, as you can see from this comparison on the Camera Size site.
The Ricoh is pocketable, but I don’t carry it in a pocket. I read that lint and fluff can easily get trapped in the camera where the lens pops out, and will stop the camera working. And I like to keep my cameras away from other things (keys, change) against which they might rub in a pocket.
So I waited until SRS Microsystems (the UK distributor) did a special deal with an extra battery and a dedicated Ricoh leather case with a belt loop.
The battery is tiny and good for about two hundred and something shots. If you went out for a full day expecting to shoot a lot, then it would pay to take a second battery. With the battery being so small it is not an issue to carry a second battery in a little plastic bag and put that in a pocket.
That said, I don’t take that many shots, and I have not gone anywhere near emptying the battery even on several days shooting.
And the GR III has in-body image stabilisation. And it works very well. I have taken shots at a slow shutter speed that would be all over the place and blurry without the image stabilisation. The previous model (the GR II) did not have image stabilisation, and I think that may have been the factor that tipped me towards getting the camera at all.
The bottom line is that I can walk out of the house and have a camera with me that can take photos worth keeping.
The downside to the GR III is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder. Instead, you compose with the LCD on the back of the camera. I could put a viewfinder in the hot-shoe, but then the camera wouldn’t be the little package it is.
If the LCD was as bright as the screen on an iPhone then I wouldn’t think twice about it. But it’s not, and I can’t see the screen in bright sunlight. And I definitely cannot see the readout at the bottom of the screen that tells me the shutter speed, the aperture, the ISO, and the exposure compensation.
So how to deal with that problem? I disabled the touch screen and set the focus point to remain fixed in the middle of the screen. That way I can hold the camera out in front of me and know that the viewpoint isn’t switching on me and only focusing where I want.
If it is sunny, I set the aperture and ISO beforehand or standing in the shade and then stick with those settings.
These downsides are the reason I have kept the X-E3. Sometimes I just want to be able to see what I am shooting at…
The camera has snap focus, which is a feature you don’t find on other cameras. Snap focus ‘snaps’ into action when you press the shutter without first giving the autofocus time to work – just one solid press on the shutter and it focuses at the ‘snap’ distance and takes the shot.
Let’s say the snap distance you have set in the camera is two metres. Then when you judge you are two metres from your subject – press the shutter without the half press. That overrides the autofocus and it is instant because it doesn’t need time to acquire focus.
You can set the snap distance quickly by pressing the macro button and spinning the front dial. The choices are 1, 1.5, 2, 2,5, 3.5, and 5 metres.
I see snap focus being useful if I was at a demonstration, or in a crowd where everyone was engrossed in looking at something. I would shoot in shutter priority and auto ISO.
That said, my preference is to shoot in Aperture Priority, and that’s what I was shooting in today, which was the first time I have used snap focus. I photographed the buildings down Trinity Lane in Cambridge, looking towards the river. Then I turned sideways to see this couple photographing the lane. As you can see from the crop of the full frame, the lens is sharp and snap focus works.
I like the colour rendition of the Ricoh. It’s cooler than the Fuji – kind of neutral and somehow accurate.
The close focus range is from 6cm to 12cm (2.36 to 4.72 inches) from the front of the lens. With no viewfinder, one way to judge that you are in the ballpark for a macro shot is to put the camera about a hand’s width from the subject and move in an out with the framing from there.
This is a macro photo from the GR III. I wrote about the flower – a Hypericum – a couple of weeks ago, when I photographed it and learned that the species shows in the fossil plant records 23 million years ago.
Useful tips using the GR III
These are tips for features you wouldn’t know about unless you were told or came across by accident. The Ricoh seems to be full of them, and I will add to these tips when I find them.
Hold the macro button and spin the front dial to change your snap distance.
A long press on the OK button and then you can move the focus point around when the touch screen is turned off.
With the camera off, a long press on the playback button with turn the camera on and you can see the photos in playback.
Shooting At Night
Teemu on his blog has a section on shooting at night. He recommends shooting in shutter priority. The camera will automatically choose the largest aperture (f2.8) because of the low light levels.
He also uses auto ISO with the maximum ISO set to 4000. He has some nice night photos and it’s worth taking a look at his shots.