The Co-editor thought that the GRD III review is a hefty serving. Well, it is for a camera the size of a palm. For five days running last week, we had gone through the major improvements as I see in the GRD III. A faster lens, the smarter imaging sensor and engine, and the improved ergonomics are they.
We stopped at the discussion of the decidedly better implementation of some novel and exisiting functions in the GRD III. Before passing my last verdicts in the next post, and you know there is no rose without a thorn, I would like to mention three nice, useful features of the GRD III.
If the pre-AF is turned on alongside Multi-AF or Spot AF, the camera focuses continuously without you pressing halfway the shutter-release button. I've tried it and the impression is that this, working with the Full Press Snap Mode, helps to reduce the chance of defocused subjects, especially in the case of street photography where the subjects present themselves suddenly and briefly. If you've used the SLR and DSLR of Minolta or Sony, this function works like a slower version of the eye-start focusing.
Yes, the Full Press Snap Mode is flexible enough in allowing users to choose one of the four pre-defined focusing distance. Fitting street photography really. But when the AF speed of a small-size camera is not the fastest and the subjects appear without any warning, a pre-AF capability to complement the pre-defined focusing distance is very welcomed and useful.
^ Shifting the lens to the right with the Auto-AF on and without touching the shutter release, the camera fixes the focus at McQueen the racing car. A half press on the shutter release confirms the focus faster. A full press takes the image at left.
There are caveats in using this function. The battery will be drained faster. But I haven't tested how much faster. No one would turn it on all the time I suppose. Second, it cannot be used in conjunction with MF, Snap or Infinity focusing. Third, the auto-AF lags for around 1 second after the lens is shifted towards other subjects.
Lastly, it works better when the focus is moved from a nearer subject to a farther one. In the case of the test shots where the toy truck is just less than half a metre from the lens, moving the focus from the farther subject (McQueen) to the nearer subject (Mack the truck) requires me to repeat the process again before the focus is automatically found.
It is noted that other serious compacts like the LX3 also feature this function. I shall see if I can try this same function with those cameras. Share with us if you've the experience.
Dynamic Range Double Shot
This function was first introduced in the CX1, and had been looked at in the CX1 review. It works better with the GRD III. We will tell why in a minute. First, for those less familiar with the function, how does it work?
When turned to ON and the shutter-release is fully pressed, the DR mode will make the camera take two shots at different exposures, one biased to the highlights and the other the shadows. Then, the camera engine combines the areas that are "correctly" exposed to create a single composite image with more natural contrast, reducing the loss of details in highlights and shadows. Unlike the surreal post-processed HDR images, the in-camera procession produces DR shots with natural results.
The reasons why this function works better in the GRD III are related to the use, or to be correct, no use of a tripod. As the DR shots are combined images, the photographers are supposed to use a tripod. The good news is that with the fast GR lens and the useable high ISO images, the shutter speed can be made fast enough to neutralise the effect of mild trembling of your hand. At least, in using the DR mode, it is more possible to handhold the camera with your body or elbow leaning on a flat surface to reduce the shake. This is much less possible in the case of CX1. The possibility of handholding the GRD III when using the DR mode is the second best invention to the Full Press Snap mode.
Note that you can turn on the DR plus Normal function in the menu whereby the camera will take produce a DR shot and a Normal shot at the same time with the DR mode ON.
White Balance Compensation
Apart from letting the users choose from the WB options (Multi-P Auto which works wonderfully, Outdoors, Cloudy, Incandescent Lamp, Fluorescent Lamp, Manual and Fine Adjustments), the GRD III inherits the great WB correction function of Ricoh cameras.
Unlike the scientific implementation in cameras of other brands, asking users to tune the WB value to a certain light level in K, Ricoh puts in the camera a matrix quadrisected into four sectors each representing an area peaked at amber, magenta, blue and green on the four axis ends respectively. By dialling the dot across the frame, the users can add different colour casts on the image.
The effect can be seen on the LCD screen instantly, making the function operate like tinted filters to the lens. An otherwise bland foliage shot under the wrong lighting can be brightened up with a green wash when the WB is compensated with a greenish cast. A midday streetscape will look better in the image with a yellow-bluish cast. A stormy sky will be more intimidating on the picture with a reddish cast. To give a few examples.
Surely all PP programmes lend themselves to similar tricks for the images. But the instantly visible effects has a bearing on your composition and exposure combos at the time you took the picture. And it is great fun too.
(to be continued)