As soon as I started traveling full time, I realized that lugging a bulky DSLR camera + lenses wasn't going to cut it anymore. I'm so thankful that "DSLR quality" can now basically fit right into your pocket. In fact, though it has a few limitations, my Ricoh GR II has better image quality than any of my previous DSLRs...and at a fraction of the cost.
However, the Sony RX100 III is close behind, and is the clear winner in a few important areas. I thought I would share my extensive real-world experience with both of these technological wonders (it almost seems unfair to simply call them pocket cameras, right?). Each certainly has its pros and cons...
Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
You may be wondering why I chose to review the Sony RX100 III instead of the newest version, the RX100V. It's because I own the Mk3, and in my opinion it is the best option with ND filter for those looking to spend around the same amount as a Ricoh GR II. The Ricoh has come down in price, and can now be found for just around $599 on Amazon and on Lazada (Asia).
Of course, the RX100 III has a wider 24mm lens than the GR II's 28mm, but for me that was a benefit. I mostly shoot landscapes, and I suspect that *most* general consumers interested in the RX100 would also prefer the wider lens. Besides, you can always zoom to 28mm, the lens is still pretty fast @ f2.5 .
*I'm going to leave a "video" section out of this review, because If you're after a pocket camera with serious video capabilities, you're not going to find it in either of these...especially not the Ricoh. If you have the money, I say go for the RX100 V.
Build Quality - Look, Weight & Feel
Both cameras feel quite solid and well made, but I would say I like the build and feel of the Ricoh GR II better. The Sony RX100 doesn't feel cheap, though...and is actually quite heavy for its tiny size. It's solid as a brick.
With the Ricoh GR II's uncrowded ergonomics and useful handhold + rubber grip, it's much more DSLR-like. In fact, I'll say this right now: If you are a seasoned DSLR user (with a decent model) looking to replace or add a killer pocket camera to your lineup, there's no question. You need the Ricoh GR II. You'll just have to get used to some limitations that I'll touch on later.
One other thing to mention is the looks. In my opinion, the Sony has a more sleek and modern look. It's not exactly screaming for attention with its small, classy logo. By contrast, the Ricoh....well...how do I put this. It kind of looks like a toy camera from the 80s. It has no visible brand logo, and it doesn't look particularly valuable. For my tastes & lifestyle, these are all HUGE selling points. Haha.
"The Ricoh GR is not for the image conscious; it's for the image perfectionist." - Nathan Allen
Size & Pocketability
This is one of the most important factors for me, being highly mobile. I want a camera on me at all times....and yes, for me, a compact camera must be able to fit in a pants pocket. Even though the Ricoh GR II looks much larger at first glance, it is actually MUCH more comfortable in a pants pocket.
See how deceptive that is? The Sony looks much smaller, but where it counts, it's not.
This is because the Ricoh GR II is not thicker, but taller + skinnier (think smartphone shaped). For example, even though it's quite a bit wider & taller than those old Nokia flip phones, a skinny iphone feels much better in your pocket, right? Same concept (though of course the Ricoh is not as skinny as an iphone).
The Sony RX100 has a skinny (ish) body, but its lens protrudes a good 6mm more than the GR II, and it's enough to feel (and see) the difference.
Sensor Size & Resolution
Let's face it. The Ricoh GR II is just amazing in this respect. It has a full on DSLR-sized sensor packed into it. It's an APS-C (crop sensor), literally over 3 times the size of the one in the Sony RX100 III (which is already a 1-inch, and not too shabby).
However, considering the the Sony's sensor is 3 times smaller, I doubt anybody would say that the quality is 3 times less. The image quality and resolution produced by the RX100 is very impressive. Still, overall...the Ricoh GR II takes the prize.
As far as resolution, at first glance, you would think Sony's 20.2 megapixel resolution would be a huge benefit over Ricoh's 16.2MP, but the funny thing is...for me it's not. I guess this is because I shoot up to 10,000 RAW images a month, and I literally keep running out of room on my storage. Haha. It's nice to fit that many more photos on my SD cards and hard drives, and I rarely seem to need more space for cropping.
Note* the RAW file sizes are smaller on the Ricoh, but the JPEGs are actually a tiny bit larger...
(Something I love is the built in horizon level on the GR II, I trained myself to use this for every shot, so that I don't have to sacrifice some of my image by cropping and straightening. I believe the RX100 III has one too, but I can't get it to display on the live screen.)
JPEG & RAW File Quality
As mentioned above, I shoot RAW, not JPEG. The Ricoh is awesome because it creates universal DNG files that are super malleable. However, Sony's ARW files also handle editing very well, and seem to import into editing programs easily. Both cameras have nice JPEG effect presets built-in, and from what I've seen and heard, the Sony produces more pleasing out-of-camera JPEGS.
Sony's 24-70mm Zoom vs Ricoh's 28mm Fixed Lens
I'm one of those photographers who looked through my work and realized that 90+ percent of my photos were shot as wide as possible. I have to say, the Sony RX100 lens quality and sharpness at (all focal lengths) is quite impressive, but that comes with extra thickness in the pockets...and it's still not as sharp as the Ricoh GR II - at any focal length.
For me, the tack-sharp Ricoh lens, edge to edge, in a truly pocketable body...is worth losing the zoom.
Overall Image Quality
Both of these cameras have exceptional image quality (in good lighting). I probably don't need to say it, but the Ricoh, with its lack of an anti-aliasing filter, pulls ahead with crisp, well-contrasted detail across the whole frame. The RX100 III shows some softening near the edges, but much less than any comparable compact zoom that I know of. It's still quite impressive.
I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that in some ways, the image quality of the RX100 Mk3 surpasses even the Mk4 & Mk5!
Low Light & High ISO Performance
So far the Ricoh GR II is killin' it. However, it's time for the Sony RX100 to come back swinging. Low light and high (er) ISO is where this little camera shines. With a super fast f1.8 lens @ 24mm, a full stop faster than the Ricoh, these two cameras are not even comparable in low light....especially handheld.
Pretty impressive, right? Just imagine how fun this camera is take out at night. Coupled with another feature I'll get to below, shots like this in low light (without a tripod) are a breeze.
The RX100 can find and lock focus in surprisingly dim lighting, and it does pretty well with higher ISO (It's no Fuji, though). Conversely, the Ricoh was terrible to focus in low light initially, and only slightly better after upgrading the firmware.
Let's just put it this way: I don't like to shoot above 400 ISO with the Ricoh, unless strictly for web use. I also might go above 1600 ISO if I'm looking for some "artsy grain" in my street photography. Bottom line: Low light is a big win for the Sony RX100.
Image Stabilization + Long Exposure
There's no way around this - Sony also has unbelievable image stabilization. I have taken long exposure shots handheld with this camera...up to 1.6 seconds!
Sure, they may not be stellar when fully zoomed, but the images look sharp enough for web use for sure. To be able to do this handheld, it's just incredible to me. I regularly take handheld shots at night, and only shoot with 800 ISO, thanks to the superb image stabilization (and a steady hand). This keeps my images as clean as possible...without needing to lug a tripod with me everywhere.
The RX100 III was the first in the series to include a built in 3-stop ND filter as well. This means I can take long exposure waterfall shots - even at noon on a sunny day! The shot below was taken handheld as well...a .8 second exposure with no tripod.
The Ricoh GR II also has an ND filter, but NO image stabilization. I keep telling myself that including image stabilization would increase the bulk of the camera, and make it less wonderfully pocketable. This is how I sleep at night. Haha. However, if you're using a tripod, the Ricoh GR II has more long exposure options, and is definitely superior when it comes to image quality @ 100 or 200 ISO.
Minimum Focusing Distance - Macro + Bokeh
The minimum focus distance for macro is 10cm on the Ricoh GR II - twice the 5cm of the RX100. Generally, the closer you can get to the subject, the more bokeh, or blurred background you can achieve. A higher aperture (lower number) also increases the bokeh...so you'd think Sony has it in the bag.
However, the larger APS-C sensor on the GR II also allows for shallow depth of field...so an f2.8 with a larger sensor kind of works out equal to a smaller sensor with an f1.8. I call a tie, and that's why I didn't include any macro sample images. They both produce pleasing bokeh in close-up (macro) situations.
(If you're interested in buying a camera, browse the options on Amazon...or if you're in Asia, on Lazada. Using these links will find you a great deal, but also helps me out...doesn't cost you anything extra at all. This is how I continue creating content like
this - Thanks so much, Nathan)
These two cameras are said to have the same battery life - 320 shots each on a full charge. In my experience, though, The Sony seems to have the advantage. I just ordered 2 more batteries for my Ricoh, so soon I'll see if this specific battery is somehow to blame.
"Snap Focus" + Overall Customizability
These are areas where the Ricoh GR II simply trounces the competition. Snap focus is the ability to choose a focus distance between 1-5 meters (or infinity), and then leave it ready for action. Once you get used to knowing where and when to shoot, you really see the benefit of it.
You can take candid street photos with lightning speed, and the best part is that you can set the shutter to autofocus if only pressed halfway. In other words, a quick full press gives you your set focus distance, but if something falls outside of that distance, you can always press halfway to autofocus - and without changing any settings. Brilliant.
The Sony wasn't designed so much with street shooters in mind, and it lacks "quick access" features like this.
*I have a TON of unpublished street photography using the RIcoh GR II. I hope to release it soon, but for now you can check my Manila Street Photography w/ the Sony RX100
As for being able to customize the camera, the Ricoh GR II truly is a photographer nerd's dream come true. I was simply amazed at both the level of customizability, and the ease of doing so. The quick "memory" settings are especially useful when out street shooting.
There is also a unique "TAv" mode, which the Sony lacks. It's great because it allows you to quickly change the aperture and shutter speed, while leaving the ISO as is. Perfect for quickly adjusting depth of field, or for contrasted lighting or sports situations when you need to "freeze" or capture motion.
The Ricoh controls are all perfectly within reach, and incredibility intuitive. This camera is simply a joy to shoot with. To me, here it makes the Sony RX100 III menu and controls seem a bit clunky. To be fair though, I was pretty happy with the Sony before I had the Ricoh to compare it to...
Final Pros & Cons
- The Sony RX100 III has a viewfinder and an articulating screen, but I would much rather it had neither, if it meant I could slip it into my pocket more comfortably. I know others are very happy to keep these features, though. Again, it is incredible how versatile and full-featured this tiny little camera is.
- The Ricoh GR series has a fatal flaw, especially for a pocket camera. It is very prone to dust on the sensor. I have probably taken 50,000 photos with my RX100, and I've always kept it in my pocket. Never a single issue with dust.
(continued below, but I do hope you'll consider following along with me...)
If you're more interested in photography than travel, you might want to follow me here:
- This is nitpicking, but the RX100 is a bit more prone to fingerprints on the lens if I let somebody borrow it, and it might be just me, but I swear it doesn't handle bright light bulbs at night very well, unless the lens is VERY clean. (It gets that annoying "fog" halo that iphones with smudged lenses get). The Ricoh has a deep set lens, which makes it harder to collect fingerprints (but also to clean).
- The Ricoh also has "Pinpoint AF", which I absolutely love, and would be quite useful on a camera like the RX100 – with its super fast 1.8 lens and shallow depth of field.
- The RX100 has underwater housings available, and again, its fast lens is great for snorkelers + divers wanting to shoot in deep, low light conditions.
The Winner For Me? Sorry...I Must Have Both
I believe it's true what I read somewhere..."The best camera is the one you always have with you...the one that inspires you to take photos." Since giving up my DSLR and buying the Sony and the Ricoh, I probably take 4 or 5 times as many photos - and I never miss an opportunity. That is priceless. I love having such inconspicuous , unassuming little cameras.
I have to be honest, though. For a second there I thought about selling my RX100 when I bought the Ricoh. I also thought about replacing it with the new Panasonic LX10 f1.4.
I'm so glad I didn't, though. I don't think the Panasonic lens sharpness and low light capabilities can compare, even though the RX100 III is already over 2 years old. Frankly, there's no way my Ricoh could compare to the RX100...for night shots around town, anyway.
So basically, if it's daytime, I bring my Ricoh GR II...and I make sure my hand is steady as hell. Haha. If I'm going out for drinks or exploring at night, the Sony RX100 III is my go to.
I believe in keeping things simple, but unfortunately there's no one-stop solution yet...I have to have both. I'm looking forward to the Ricoh GR III - with f1.8 and image stabilization...are you listening, Ricoh? Haha.
Is the 28mm on the Ricoh GR II Wide Enough?
As a landscape photographer (predominantly), I was really worried I would miss the wider 24mm lens for most of my daytime shots. However, I was shocked to realize that I hardly noticed the difference! Anyhow, there is an excellent (and affordable) Ricoh 21mm converter available for those who love to shoot really wide. Best of both worlds.
However, the way I've come to see it, photographers share most of their work on Facebook and Instagram, and a very large chunk of their audiences are viewing their pictures on small phone screens. A wider lens doesn't lend itself too well to pictures that will be viewed on smartphone screens. Not that there's that much difference between the 24 and 28mm lenses.
A note about the images on this page: My hosting company compresses JPEGS mercilessly, but it leaves PNG files in tact. I tried to keep these sample images as high quality as possible, so they were created with the PNG-24 format. It still skews the colors a bit, unfortunately.
As you may have guessed, they have all been edited in post-processing. I just wanted to show what is possible using each camera. If you're curious, the picture at
the top (title image) was taken in the Philippines, with the Ricoh.
For those interested in full-sized unedited JPEG samples, you can download a few below. I just used the "AUTO" mode, and largest file size available on each camera. Note the difference in image sharpness near the edges.
Which Pocket Camera Is Best For You?
Either way, you'll get exceptional image quality in a tiny, convenient package. I guess my advice is to be honest with yourself...
Are you very serious about photography AND not too self-conscious when you shoot? Are you a very technical person, a seasoned DSLR shooter, or a "pixel peeper"? If so, you're going to need the Ricoh GR II. There is no better pocket camera in terms of ergonomics, sensor size and overall image quality...and you probably won't mind working with its limitations, given that fact.
However, if you need a versatile pocket camera with great image quality...a consistent camera that will function quickly and easily in a variety of situations (especially low light!), then you'll love pretty much any models in the RX100 series. They are truly impressive little cameras.
Do you own the Sony or the Ricoh (or both)?
I'm curious if your findings are the same.
- Nathan Allen
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share!