Autofocus and video performance

Out-of-camera JPEG | ISO 125 | F2.8 | 1/125 sec
Photo by Barney Britton

Let's start out by saying that the GR III obviously isn't aimed at sports shooters or pro videographers. Still, it comes with a host of enhancements we can dig into that look to really elevate its performance relative to its predecessor.

Key Takeaways:

  • New AF system is much faster and more reliable in good to moderate light
  • Low light AF is still prone to hunting
  • The 'tracking' mode is more usable than before
  • Video quality is not good

Autofocus

The GR III features a hybrid contrast and phase detection autofocus system, which delivers noticeably improved AF performance in all conditions. Whereas the GR and GR II could struggle to focus on low-contrast targets even in decent light, the GR III is much faster and generally more reliable. Low light autofocus performance is less impressive, specifically when the camera is directed towards a low-contrast subject, like a human face.

Face detection is available,
but cannot be used in AF-C

Compared to the GR / GR II, AF-C is now more usable, but that's a low bar to clear. This isn't a camera that is suitable for continuous capture of moving subjects. That said, the improvements to AF speed have made the GR III's 'tracking' AF mode more usable than it was in the GR II, by reducing the tracking lag. In this mode you select a starting point for tracking, and the GR III will retain focus on your subject if it moves, or if you recompose the scene. You can use this mode in a similar way to Nikon's 3D focus tracking, Sony's Real-time AF tracking, and the various other versions now featured by several manufacturers.

Subject retention is mostly pretty sticky, and tracking in depth is laggardly, but usually accurate. This makes the system more suitable for 'focus lock and recompose' shooting than for actual tracking of a moving subject. But hey - this is a 28mm F4 equivalent fixed lens camera, not a Nikon D5.

Face detection works well most of the time when someone is looking directly at the camera, but can fail when your subject turns slightly to the side (or is wearing sunglasses). In a situation like this, shooting with the GR III's tracking mode is actually easier.
Processed in Adobe Camera Raw | ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8
Photo by Barney Britton

Shortly after its introduction, Ricoh released firmware 1.10 which promised improvements to low light AF. Our impression is that performance has definitely improved a little, but even after the upgrade, autofocus acquisition in dull lighting conditions remains a weak point of the GR III.

Face detection is also available, but cannot be used in combination with AF-C. It works pretty well. Faces are detected quickly, even when very small in the frame, and the system only falls down when a face is turned to profile, or your subject moves their head to look up or down (disrupting the pattern that the system is tuned to recognize).

Video

It's pretty clear from the GR III's feature set that Ricoh doesn't really expect this camera to be used for serious video. While the headline resolution of 1080/60p (there is no provision for 4K capture of any kind) might look reasonably useful, the lack of any serious video tools, and the fact that the camera is locked to 'P' mode during video shooting means that the GR III is only really good for casual, occasional video shooting. Fortunately, if you don't intend to shoot video with the GR III, the video / Wi-Fi button on the side of the camera can be repurposed to provide access to various other settings.

In terms of focus, your options are AF-C, manual focus, snap focus or infinity focus. The camera retains separate values for several key parameters in video mode, including white balance, image control (color mode), peripheral illumination correction, D-Range Correction and ND filter settings. The ND filter doesn't have an 'Auto' option in movie mode.

It won't come as a surprise, then, to find there are no headphone or mic sockets on the camera.

The rather limited magnification in manual focus mode, even when combined with focus peaking, doesn't really help you achieve critical focus, but there was no great difference between these manually-focused shots and the best results from autofocus mode. As you can see, the quality isn't very impressive, with clear evidence of line skipping (and all the aliasing that stems from it). It's a performance best described as 'no good at all,' even when lined up against one of the the weakest of its peers.