Life in a Pocket - Why I bought the Ricoh GR3

I do like a good viewfinder. I took back a Fujifilm X-Pro2 because the viewfinder, while wearing glasses, for me was like peering down a long tube. Beautiful camera otherwise. It’s why I got on so well with the Fuji X-E1 and use the Fuji X-T series. Big, clear viewfinders.

Now I’ve bought a camera without a viewfinder at all. A point-and-shoot. An expensive point-and-shoot. What was I thinking? Except it isn’t really a point and shoot (ignore the categories on B&H and Adorama), it just happens to look like one. I gave some first impressions on the Ricoh GR3 a couple of weeks ago after borrowing one to try out.

To be honest I didn’t really need another camera. Not many photographers really do. We justify to ourselves that it’ll make a difference, that the newer specs are worth the extra money, that we need to keep up with the latest tech (and any other reasons we can think of at the time). I’ve seen a few well-known photographers explain why gear doesn’t matter, while they continue to get and use all the latest kit along with a duplicate as a backup. That’s in the digital realm, but I don’t think things are much better in the analog world judging by the prices of some of the most well-respected film cameras. The temptation there is just as strong.

I didn’t need a GR3. A cheaper GR2 or Fujifilm XF10 or X100T or X70 would have been fine. But it’s for street and documentary purposes, and right now I think the GR3 the just about the best camera for the job. I say ‘just about’ because the X100F is a better all-round camera but is due to be replaced in 2020 so I see the GR3 as the more interesting choice right now.

So I got a camera without a viewfinder, although adding a little optical finder to the hot shoe is an option.

One key reason for getting the GR is that of circumstance. I want to make more images, more often, and that's a challenge when I'm with my 2-year-old daughter for much of the day. I can't have a camera hanging around my neck, that just doesn't work if I want to engage with her without introducing her to a high risk of head injury. A small bag is ok. But a camera that can go in a pocket, or tucked in the corner of a larger bag already crammed with snacks and diapers. A camera that's easy to travel with or to leave lying around at home ready to be grabbed. A camera to take to the shop or the park or the dentist. The GR does it maybe better than any other at the moment. Good enough justification? I am selling another camera to fund it too. Does that count?

In the style of those click-baity tech channels, here’s some of the stuff I like about it so far:

Size. The obvious one. I find myself using it when I probably would use another camera (including a phone which is generally much more awkward to handle as a camera). Customizability. I can change a lot of how the camera operates but it's the three user-defined modes where I can store almost any setting that I find most useful.

One-handed operation. There are no controls on the lens so manual focus isn't quick, but it does mean that everything (except the video/wifi button) is easily controlled with your right hand. Grip. Very comfortable. Build Quality. Some have said it feels plastic, despite the metal build. I don't think so, with two exceptions: The 'adjustment' rocker/button and the little rubber door over the usb-c port both feel a bit cheap. Close focus. 10cm standard and 6cm in macro mode. I don't use it that often but it's great to have as an option (see last image below).

Snap-focus. Setting a distance and having the focus 'snap' to that distance if you don't half-press the shutter. It's carried over from the GR2 and a great feature.

Expose for the highlights. One of the exposure settings will automatically ensure that the highlights of an image aren't blown out. It's a great feature, although in practice I haven't used it as much as I thought I would.

'Positive Film'. I knew I liked the black & white JPEG files from the Ricoh but one of the built-in color 'simulations' in particular, Positive Film, looks great too. I'm now shooting RAW+JPEG just to get those files.

DNG. Speaking of which, Fujifilm users will know that Fuji RAW files are sometimes awkward to process. My iPad can't read them direct from my wireless storage for example. No such problems with the Ricoh, using the Adobe standard RAW format.

Small details. The subtle grey 'GR' lettering. The little locking mechanism on the mode dial. USB-C on the camera and charger. The 'GR Story' booklet that came with the camera. The strap attachments that don't need metal rings to attach a strap. Sometimes it's the little things...

There are a few things I haven't quite made my mind up on yet:

Viewfinder. Do I miss it? Sometimes. I like the experience of composing through a viewfinder. But no, I don't miss it very often.

18mm. Wider than I'd normally shoot, especially for street portraits. A good challenge to learn though.

Image Stabilization. I've started experimenting with slower shutter speeds but I haven't shot enough yet to know how much difference it can make.

Dust. The GR2 was known to be prone to dust on the sensor. The GR3 can apparently now vibrate the sensor to potentially remove any dust so hopefully it's no longer an issue.

So there's not much I don't like, but in an ideal world, to make it perfect, I'd add: Weather sealing Add-on electronic viewfinder. Leica produce an (expensive, obviously) electronic viewfinder to add to their cameras. I don't know if the hot shoe connectors on the Ricoh could support one but that would be a great accessory. I've heard people say that the camera then becomes less pocketable. Not really, just keep the viewfinder in a different pocket.

It's still early days, but the GR3 and I seem to be bonding pretty well. And here's my cat:


Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

  • Black Instagram Icon