If you’re going to get serious about shooting all the time, the best camera you can buy yourself is a quality compact. High-end DSLRs and interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras can be intimidating to shoot with for the everyday photos, not to mention an unnecessarily heavy load to carry. A compact is a camera you can take everywhere that will distinguish you from other “phonetographers” in both improved control and image quality.
There are two premium compacts that I was stuck between to take on my Trans-Siberian train trip: the Fuji X100F and Ricoh’s GR III.
Ricoh GR III: The Plastic Fantastic Featherweight
GR cameras have a long history, with the initial design dating back to the GR1 released in 1996. Not much has changed much in its design, despite the digital update and tweaking to its sensor and software. Ricoh just got so much right into the prototype that there was little need to reinvent the wheel. They simply made a camera as small as possible while maintaining a top tier standard for the lens and not sacrificing ergonomics. The GR design was and still is, considered to be one of the great achievements of camera design in the 20th century, by many photographers
Fuji X100F: The Mini Leica
The X100F’s design, by contrast is relatively more recent, originating from the X100 of 2010. But it’s inspiration is drawn from some of the best classic cameras. From the body you can see the Leica M3, the Nikon F cameras and the Olympus Trip have all made their mark on it’s incredibly beautiful and neat design. From this, and its amazing image quality owing to the fantastic Fujinon EBC lens and X-Trans sensor, has earned a reputation for being one of the world’s best compact cameras.
I took both cameras out to trial, and found deciding between them extremely difficult. They are both fantastic but very different cameras made for the similar purpose of street and travel photography. It came down to the wire for me, so let’s get to what sets these apart, and how I reached my decision by going through the scorecard:
So just like the X-Pro, of which to I’m accustomed, focusing with the X100F is made easy with an incredible AF system. The single and wide tracking focus points work great, but for me the hybrid manual setting was what I kept it in most of the time. By hybrid, I mean that you can keep manual control, but when you want to focus just press the AF button on the back (positioned perfectly for your thumb) and bang, your in focus for your selected focus point! This back button focus is exactly what I use for my DSLR shooting and it’s incredibly versatile, especially for street shooting.
Zone focus is made incredibly easy with the focus peaking. You can prejudge your distance, get a representation of it and your ready to start shooting from the hip. Can’t be easier than that, right? Wrong — the GR III blows it out of the water.
For fast paced street shooting, the GR uses snap focus settings. You can fix it to automatically focus on objects within a set ranges. This is incredibly fast and intuitive if you know how to use it correctly, and was the only way I shot while using the camera. I just click it into 2m focus zone and keep the camera at f/8 (super deep DOF especially with an APS-C) and basically I never miss a shot, even from the hip. With no manual focus ring that may slip out zone while its resting in my pocket or in a bag, you know you’re always ready to shoot at your preset distance — no peaking at the screen or EVF required.
2 point to Ricoh
Fuji: 0, Ricoh: 2
As with all Fuji X series the image quality is fantastic. The 23mm f/2 Fujinon stands shoulder to shoulder with my much more expensive Summicron 35mm — I have even taken to reducing the sharpness on my JPEG settings to get a softer, more filmic look. That X-Trans Sensor APS-C sensor is phenomenal, as I already knew from my experience with X-T10 and the X-Pro, so no surprises here. Skin tones in particular, always look amazing with Fuji.
As far as pixel peeping goes, the GR III’s toe-to-toe with the X100F. It seems that a fantastic lens paired with a 24M sensor makes for some seriously eye popping pictures, no matter who the manufacturer is.
While technically as good as each other, the Fuji and the Ricoh render JPEGs in a very different way. While both can be customized, just as a matter of personal taste, I prefer the factory setting of the GR III. One of the big differences for me is the green spectrum. In the default modes, Fuji JPEGs can do some strange things to foliage.
I also prefer the GR III’s Image Controls to most of the Fuji Film Simulations; particularly the the high contrast black and white and a very tasteful vivid setting (punchy but not grotesque). These considerations put the GR III ahead, but not enough to give it sizable advantage over the X100F. Photos can easily be manipulated so this is a point stalemate for both cameras.
0 points to both
Fuji: 0, Ricoh: 2
Ergonomics and Size
The GR III, despite being smaller is still far more comfortable in my clumsy big hands. The menus, and control I do find to be easier to use in most operation. I love how customisable the camera is, and this comparison really showed me how great the touch screen is as a camera control. I, to this day, still tap on the screen of the X100F and forget the fact I can’t navigate menus and focus by touch.
The GR III is also the most compact ‘professional’ camera I have ever used, especially with its retracting lens. I’m far from the first to state that it shoots and carries more like a smartphone than a camera, which is fantastic. Phones are far easier and stealthier than any camera you can buy and the GR III handles like one, but with better image quality.
In terms of size, Fuji kind of occupies the reverse Goldilocks zone — too big to be a compact that fits in your pocket, and too small that it lacks the perfect ergonomics of something like the X-Pro or X-T3.
1 point to Ricoh
Fuji: 0, Ricoh: 3
While the GR III’s handling and size is better than the X100F, it must be mentioned that over time I gained some perspective on my initial gripes with the X100F’s handling.
The most important thing being that the tactile controls of the Fuji offer the advantage of being able to set and forget. Whether the camera’s on or off the settings can be dialed in, checked and changed quickly to meet the conditions. Contrast this to the GR III, where all controls are only visible while the back screen is activated. A fairly minor consideration to be made, but I felt it deserved mentioning.
Additionally, Fuji’s larger size gives it longer battery life, and that’s a huge plus over the GR III. In the short time I was shooting with the GR III, I realised very quickly the 300 shot maximum of the battery meant that I would have to carry an additional set of batteries with the camera. Not so much extra weight and size, but more fiddling around and having to remember to charge. I am able to squeeze 400 shots out of the X100, which is usually more than enough for me for an afternoon of shooting.
1 point to Fuji
Fuji: 1, Ricoh: 3
Low Light and Flash
The GR III does have in-body stabilization, while the Fuji handles far better at higher ISOs, which for me makes the cameras equal in terms of low light performance. I generally fix my aperture and let the program take care of the ISO and limit my shutter speed to 60th of a second. If I had the Ricoh, I would be limiting my shutter speed lower, but the fact that the camera can only produce usable images at around ISO 1600 means that I would have the same limitation.
The major drawback for the GR III is the lack of the pop up flash, originally bundled with the GR I and GR II, which was a major selling point for me. The flash on the X100F is serviceable for fill-in flash, and is surprisingly powerful for its size. Still not as powerful as what the GR II offered, but it does the job when you need it to.
1 point to Fuji
Fuji: 2, Ricoh: 3
I personally, am not accustomed to the 28mm focal length of the GR III. It’s focal length is almost identical to the camera I carry everywhere with me on my iPhone, albeit with far lesser image quality compared to the GR III.
Irregardless, for my style of shooting this focal length is both too wide and too narrow, me being accustomed to shooting with my two favorite lenses — either a 35mm Summicron or a 18mm Zeiss Distagon.
I like to alternate between low distortion of the 35mm for my travel and lifestyle shots and the hyper distorted 18mm for an enhanced perspective to shrink people into the greater landscape. I did consider the optional wide lens attachment for the Ricoh (opens it up to 21mm focal length), but this meant carrying an additional piece of equipment and an extra cost. With a fixed lens camera it’s best to go with the focal length that better suits your style, and for me this is the X100F.
1 point to Fuji
Fuji: 3, Ricoh: 3
So We Have a Tie
But the X100F has a hidden ace up its sleeve in regard to focal length: if your in S focus mode, just turn the focus dial and your camera will digitally zoom to fixed 50mm and 75mm equivalent focal lengths. I love this feature, as this can still render very usable pictures using the 24MB sensor, making the camera incredibly versatile. It’s like carrying all the major primes, without the fuss of having to both carry and change between them.
That’s easily worth a bonus point to Fuji, bringing the score to:
Fuji: 4, Ricoh: 3
Admittedly, because this is a heavily bias comparison since I did indeed purchase the X100F and have spent far more time with it. I don’t have any images worth sharing from my time with the GR III, since I mostly used it in and around the camera shop that generously trial their demo model. All of these images here were taken on the X100F.
That being said, I am certain that, had I had more time with the GR, I would have come to terms with a lot of the things I gripe about in this comparison. More than anything, my primary rationale for buying the Fuji was that I am far more accustomed to the 35mm focal length. A camera is a camera, and you can’t go wrong with either of these two kingly compacts. Both take fantastic photos, and in that being the whole aspiration of photography, they are completely equal in that most important regard.
About the author: James Cater is a digital and analog photographer, film lab operator, and model. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Cater’s work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.