GRDIII and pixel peeping/DP2 review

Started Sep 22, 2009 | Discussions thread
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brandauerklaus New Member • Posts: 14
GRDIII and pixel peeping/DP2 review

disclaimer: I am intending to buy the GRDIII and of course I feel best if I am convinced that I am going to buy the best camera around:-), so I might be a bit biased when writing this.

Seriously: When the DP2 review came out and I had a look the "Compared to..." pages, I was a bit intrigued by the apparent lack of detail/sharpness of the GRDIII. On the Ricoh forum, there were some posts claiming that the G10 clearly beats the GRDIII regarding detail etc.

I was a bit worried, since I had this experience before. Initially, about 1 year ago, I was considering to get an SLR, and I liked the Four Thirds concept/Olympus SLRs. I liked the idea that you have a smaller sensor with a bit more noise at similar resolution but the same smaller sensor allows you to build much better optics than APS at a reasonable size and weight. It seemed, however, from all the reviews, that the sensor/electronics not only gave worse results than similar Canon/Nikon APS cameras because of the smaller sensor size but also because of the electronics/software algorithms. The lenses were very good, as you can learn from a lot of reviews. So I somehow got the feeling: OK, the idea is nice, but they do not have enough resources to do everything right, and buying an Olympus would be a bit like buying a Sigma DP1/2: supporting a company you would like to succeed although you know that what you get could be much better if executed with the resources of a big company. And the size advantage of Four Thirds also did not seem very convincing to me.

Then Micro Four Thirds appeared, and I really wanted to like these again. Especially since I really want a small camera with wide angle lens. The image quality on the EP-1 seems to be much improved compared to the Four Thirds cameras but the camera just feels a bit too gimmicky (and ugly), and too big, no good lenses around yet, good lenses might again not be pancakes but more bulky. So again: right direction, but the execution lacking.

And then the GRDIII came out. I really liked that it seems to be an object made with love and dedication, as most owners in the forums say. OK, it has a small sensor, but it is at least best among small sensor and everything else is as good as it gets given the size (which is REALLY small as opposed to Micro Four Thirds). This is why I also like Apple Computers: there might be a lot of faster, cheaper, lighter computers around. But hardly any get the balance between features, weight, battery lifetime, speed and design right. They are built for ONE purpose (as opposed SOME purpose very vaguely defined) and attention is paid to even the smallest detail to meet this goal. This will cost you more than an average computer of course, first because design and quality cost something, second because they will most probably sell less than the cheaper models, which makes production more expensive again. But I am willing to pay more for such products.

(I posted this second half also on this thread:"Why does GRD3 underperform G10?")

Until the DP2 review, all opinions were unanimously: GRDIII has great lens, great build, image quality as good as you can get from a small sensor, so it's expensive, but if you want a small quality camera, it's a safe bet. It could be matched by the new Canon S90 but who knows and still, the S90 is more consumer oriented.

Having some doubts after the DP2 review, where the samples did not look that good in comparsion, I downloaded about 20 full size images dpreview images of the Martini/Bailey bottle/Leica scene from different cameras and compared them at 100%. And now I think I understood what is really going on: yes, the output of the GRDIII looks softer than most other cameras, eg check the letters on the globe or the vertical letters on the left edge of the black bottle. But I think this is just due to how much sharpening/noise reduction the different cameras apply. My personal proof for this is that the Nikon D90 pictures look almost as soft as the GRDIII, and I think nobody would claim that the G10 is outperforming the D90. The drawbacks of artificial image improvement become apparent when contrast is low: you lose textures. The best example in the dpreview studio scenes is the texture of the black leather of the Leica in the left part of the image as well as the dust on the white table in front of the Leica. There is hardly any camera which preserves as much detail there as the GRDIII or the D90. A good example is also the gold colour gradient on the Martini bottle where it says Fondata a Torino. On the GRDIII iso64 image you can see that there is a gradient, while on the G10 picture(and many others) it is just homogeneous gold. Most other cameras tend to have a "cleaner" output, which is however equivalent to increasing contrast at clear edges. So big dust particles are very prominent and small ones are lost for example. You might say you prefer this approach but I think it is important to note that it was a clear decision of Ricoh engineers to go in the opposite direction: preserving detail in low contrast textures instead of artificially sharpening high contrast structures like letters. And please check out the images from the D90 or the D5000. They are very similar to GRDIII.

Sorry if the article got too long but I felt the need to make the case for what I feel/and hope:-) is a special product which deserves more credit for trying to go for quality instead of good results in artificial challenges.

PS: Since people were asking before: Yes, this sensor IS compromising on low ISO resolution for better high ISO noise values. This is the whole point why the G11 now has 10MP instead of 14. It is clear that under optimal conditions the G10 will have a higher resolution than the GRDIII. However, even at low ISO, the black grip of the Leica looks much better on GRDIII images.

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