This is not meant to be a full review but only my reactions, stated briefly, to using the GRD3, after having used the GRD and and GRD2 cameras. Indeed, the GRD was my first digital camera, which I bought a little over three years ago after reading Sean Reid's review on his excellent pay site:
I believe Sean, whose camera and lens reviews I consider to be the best available either in the printed media or on the web, will soon be reviewing the GRD3. In the meantime, you may wish to read Wouter Brandsma's interesting review on his blog, which also gives the background on the GR (film camera), a cult classic in Japan, whose heritage has been passed on by Ricoh to the GRD cameras.
First, I must state that I really like the GRD3. The user interface of the GRD series has been thought out and designed for the use of photographers and I know that Ricoh has consulted photographers in developing it. I particularly like the "up-down dial" on the front of the camera and the ADJ jever on the back. These controls are much better than the "joystick" control on the Panasonic LX3 and Leica D-Lux-4. Also, the GRD3 is very flexible as to how it can be set up: various functions can be assigned to two function buttons and to some of the other controls. Moreover, there are three "my settings" (MY1, MY2 and MY3) on the Mode Dial on top of the camera to which, basically, all the settings you use can be recorded and recalled. For example, one of these sets of settings, which are applied when you turn in the camera, could be for B&W photography, another one could be for colour photography, etc.
For focusing, the GRD3 has various autofocus options but it also has a SNAP focus setting which is a fixed focus setting that can be preset at 1m, 2.5m, 5m and infinity. The SNAP focus distance can easily be changed by pressing the "up" button on the back with the thumb and rotating the "up-down dial" on the front with the forefinger. The only thing that would be better would be a focusing wheel like the Sigma D1/D2 cameras have.
With the great depth of field of the GRD3 lens the SNAP focus facility is excellent and makes the camera much faster to use in terms of shutter delay than autofocus. Also, one of the two function buttons can be used to change back and forth between autofocus and manual and SNAP focus.
Since I bought the GRD3 about a week ago I've changed how I use the exposure meter. On the GRD and GRD2 I used the multi-autofocus setting and the A (aperture priority) setting combined, usually with an EV setting of –0.3 With this new camera I discovered that using the spot focus setting, together with the M (manual exposure) setting, gives me better exposure and faster exposure metering.
In the manual exposure mode, when you press the "rocker" button, the one used for enlarged view in playback, the exposure meter centers immediately on the recommended exposure, depending where you have pointed the spot meter, and by moving the ADJ lever you can increase or decrease the exposure slightly (pp 44-45 of the User Guide). All this is very fast and allows you to get, and see on the LCD, the exact exposure that you want.
Using this method and shooting at f/1.9 I find that in dark light I can use ISO 400 much more often than I thought I could and need to use ISO 800 much less and to use ISO 1600 only when the light is really dark. Here are two pictures taken at ISO 400 and f/1.9, for which I would previously have used ISO 800:
The lens and the files
The GRD3 lens quality is much better than of the zoom lenses on P&S cameras, including that of the GX100/200. Indeed, you cannot really call the GRD3 a point and shoot camera. I find that the GRD3 files — I use only DNG (RAW) files — see the postscript on processing below — are substantially more robust than GRD2 files. In particular, I find that I can apply "heavier" contrast changes than I could with the GRD2 to achieve the strong contrast that I often like for my pictures while retaining a longer mid-tone range than I could with the GRD2. In effect, this means that I can get the look that I want for a higher proportion of my pictures than I could with the GRD2.
In general, my impression is that the GRD3 produces DNG files that are about a stop better in terms of image quality than the GRD2, which, as Sean Reid, has noted in his review based on detailed tests, was, if I recall correctly, about a stop better than the GRD. In my mind, this is a great achievement in a camera with such a small sensor. Incidentally, Wouter Brandsma in his blog review found the GRD3 files "a bit soft" — that is really the opposite of what I found.
Here are a few GRD3 pictures, which are processed the way I like them to be, including the grain:
At ISO 1600 the GRD3 is substantially better than the GRD2, but the image quality still leaves something to be desired: for colour this speed is difficult to use and for B&W my experience is that unless the light is dark enough to require ISO 1600 the results may not be that good, for example in flat fluorescent lighting. Here are a couple of ISO 1600 pictures at f/1.9:
A 21mm EFOV wide-converter is available for the GRD3, like that for the GRD2, makes for an excellent super-wide lens. And the maximum aperture remains at f/1.9, which is remarkable in that there are few f/2 21mm lenses around and they are generally expensive. The 21mm wide-converter, costing around US$130 is an excellent, inexpensive solution. To my surprise I find it difficult to see that the GRD3 21mm wide-converter would of lesser quality than the Leica Elmarit-21mm/f2.8 APSH lens, which is a really excellent suoer-wide lens. Indeed, Leica has only recently produced a new Summilux-21/f1.4 lens, and that costs US$6,000 and is almost as heavy as the Leica Noctlux-50/f1.0 lens.
ISO 200 | 21mm wide-converter
Ricoh has not produced a 40mm EFOV tele-converter for the GRD3 as they did for the GRD2. I don't know the reason, but looking at the relative size of the 21mm and 40mm converters for the GRD2, it is clear that, considering the f/1.9 aperture of the GRD3 lens, a 40mm tele-converter would be a fairly large chunk of glass. Also, I suppose it is possible that Ricoh found it difficult to control flare on such a large tele-convetrer, considering that flare was already an issue on the smaller 40mm tele-converter for the GRD2. However, if it's possible I would hope that Ricoh would produce a 40mm tele-converter for the GRD3 because I found it convenient to use both the 21mm and 40mm converters for the GRD2.
Some people have objected to the idea of these converters because it makes the camera no longer pocketable. That is not my view because I feel that I have to be in a "shooting mode" in order to photograph, which means that the camera has to be in my hand and not in its case on my belt. Once the camera is in my hand the larger size of with a converter does not bother me; and the adapter tube and the wide-converter can be carried conveniently in a trouser or jacket pocket when they are not being used. In terms of using converters, once you put the adapter tube on the camera you can screw on and unscrew either the 21mm and 40mm converters, in the case of the GRD2, or leave them off to have 28mm EFOV.
Since writing this review I've started a thread on using the 21mm wide-converter.
LCD versus viewfinder
I understand that many people, including Sean Reid, like using an optical viewfinder, but my preference with the GRD3 is to use its excellent 900,000 pixel LCD, with which I haven't had a problem in terms of visibility in the bright light of Thailand. Indeed, I have Zeiss 28mm and 21mm optical finders that probably are the best ones around and don't use them with the GRD3 because, for street photography, I prefer the "looser" and more fluid style that using the LCD encourages: what I do is to establish the edges of the frame by looking at the LCD and then look directly at the subject when pressing the shutter. This also has the advantage that on the LCD you see the line and "arrow" for manual exposure and the SNAP focus distance. For more deliberate photography , I also prefer the LCD because the framing is exact, not like that of an optical viewfinder.
For me, an optical viewfinder for the GRD3 is, indeed, superfluous in that I find using the LCD superior. The few times I put an external viewfinder on my original GRD I found that I simply did not use it. Another reason for which I like using the LCD for street photography is because it's more discreet: when you are sighting through a viewfinder people who see you know, or are apprehensive, that you're about to take a picture; but if you simply hold a camera a in front of you they don't know whether you're looking at pictures that you've taking earlier — which is what they usually assume — or whether you're taking new pictures. But of course a lot depends on your body language as well: if you try to make believe that you're not really there, people always look at you as being sneaky.
Whither the small-sensor cameras?
Overall, I consider the GRD3 to be a great camera and excellent for street photography because of its handling and also because of the huge depth of field made possible by such a small sensor. Even at f/1.9 the GRD3 lens has great depth of field: for street photography I'm usually not interested in blurring the background. The classic street camera has been the Leica-M; but I found that when I moved on from my M6 to the GRD my street photography got looser and more fluid and, consequently, in my view, better. So, in my mind, it's the GRD3 that is the street camera par excellence: that was then (Leica-M); this is now (GRD3).
Last January I bought a Leica M8.2 and people have generally commented that my street photography with the latter has not been as good as that with my earlier GRD2 — and I tend to agree. I have always felt that the GRDx series is the camera that Leica should have made in the first place in the light of the Leica street photography tradition.
But Leica is now coming out with the X1, which will have an APS-C sensor (1.5 time "crop factor"), which is many times larger than that of the GRD3. Without speculating uselessly what will be the image quality of the X1, I wonder, if the X1 is successful, and if this type of small camera is produced by other manufacturers, will it still be desirable to shoot with a camera like the GRD3?
While the X1 will have an f/2.8 lens, its sensor apparently will have much better image quality at high ISO, say 1600 and 3200, than is possible with the GRD3. This means, with an X1-type of camera, one would be able to shoot street photography at high ISO stopping down to f/8 or even f/11 to get a huge depth of field if one wanted — against shooting at f/1.9 and, say, ISO 400 with the GRD3 — but still have a camera that could blur backgrounds at large apertures when one wanted that as well as having generally better image quality overall that one could "rough up" in processing if one didn't want an "exquisite" look for street photography.
I don't know what is the answer to the question of where the small-sensor camera will be going.
Postscript: Processing GRD3 files
I use the DNG (RAW) files and haven't looked extensively at the JPGs, although they appear to be quite good; but I like to do fairly heavy contrast changes and dodging and burning for which the DNG files are much more flexible.
These days I use Aperture together with Silver Efex for B&W. Silver Efex is a plugin that is also available for Photoshop and Lightroom. However, Aperture, as a raw developer does not have a profile for the GRD3, and the generic profile that APerture uses tends to brighten GRD3 files too much. Therefore, in the RAW Fine Tuning section of the Adjustment tab, I pull back on Boost to 75%.
I've also tried Raw Developer (Mac only), which has a profile for the GRD3 and produces substantially better colors than raw development in Aperture. Raw Developer compresses shadows a bit and has a color film look that is good. If I were doing color I would use Raw Developer and export TIFF files to be then further processed in Aperture/Silver Efex; but for B&W it is more convenient just to use Aperture/Silver Efex and not get into the extra step and extra file that is involved in using Raw Developer.
Here are the steps I general use in Aperture:
1. Pull back on Boost to 75%.
2. Apply moderate Sharpen and Edge Sharpen.
3. If necessary adjust the Exposure.
4. Use Highlight Hot & Cold Areas to identify where highlights are blown out (shown in red) and shadows go to black (shown in blue).
5. Use the Recovery slider until the red showing blown out highlight disappears.
6. Use the Black Point slider until the blue showing shadows that go to blackj disappears.
7. Occasionally, if the focus is a bit soft, apply the Definition slider, but most of the time I just use the Structure slider in Silver Efex, which increases mid-tone contrast.
8. Start Silver Efex, which converts the image to B&W. In Silver Efex I adjust the overall contrast and brightness and also do selective burning and dodging. Often, I use of the presets that reduces exposure and then do strong a Structure move that brightens the image and then select on of the film presets, often Tri-X, which increase contrast by compressing the shadows and highlights somewhat and adds grain.
Silver Efex has various film presets but these should not really be thought of that particular film, Tmax 400, for example, but shield be looked at as different tonal and contrast, as well as color sensitivity components. That means that I select the film presets that looks best for a particular picture, and don't use batch approach.
I then do burning in and dodging of parts of the picture using the Silver Efex Control Points. I like these Control Points a lot better than using Photoshop selections because the way of doing is more like dodging and burning in the darkroom. One thing one finds when starting to use Control Points is that a particular CP may affect some tones or areas that one didn't want to change. While the size of the CP circles can be reduced, sometimes they still affect other areas. The way to avoid this is to put down a new CP in that area, without adjusting any of the sliders: this will keep the tone or area under the new CP from changing, from being affected by the other CP on which one has moved the Brightness or Contrast sliders.
9. Finally, for some pictures I apply some vignetting or some burning in of some on or more of the sides of the rectangle of the image.
10. Once I finish with Silver Efex and the processed image shows up in Aperture I usually increase contrast a bit by pulling in Levels the black and white points.