Why I’ve just bought a compact camera instead of an iPhone 13 Pro

They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and I have a camera with me all the time. It’s right here in my pocket. This is… my new Ricoh GR III X.

Of course, in my other pocket is a smartphone, although I’d prefer it to be the Ricoh GR III. Both the GR III X and my Google Pixel 4a have incredibly capable cameras, but I spent about three times as much on the camera as I did on my phone – and it doesn’t make calls, doesn’t does not organize my life and does not guide me where to go.

So what could make someone part with £900 (or around $999 / AU$1,699) for a compact camera, when the money could instead be used to upgrade to something? like the iPhone 13 Pro? Well, let me answer by telling you a bit about my new camera.

decisive moments

The Ricoh GR III X is no ordinary compact camera, which is why it costs the same as an iPhone 13 Pro. It’s purpose-built for street photography, with a quick start-up time of under a second, plus controls and dials that I can customize in advance to make sure the settings are right for the moment. unfolds before me.

The Ricoh GR III X compact camera in front of a smartphone

(Image credit: future)

I can assign each camera setting to a custom shooting mode, and I can do this for three different user-defined collections. For example, one might have their focus set to a very specific distance via “Snap Focus”, their Picture Style set to dynamic black and white, exposure metering set to protect highlights, and the list goes on.

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But what does all this mean? Well, as I’ve gotten to know the camera and tweaked it over time, I can instinctively flick a switch or turn a dial and the camera is ready to capture the decisive moment with precision, with the exposure and style that I love. Minimal fiddling involved and much faster than a phone.

The big picture

There are other reasons why I chose the GR III X over upgrading to an iPhone 13 Pro, which is probably the best camera phone you can buy.

Despite its small size, the GR III X packs a large 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and sharp 40mm f/2.8 lens. That’s a lot of pixels to play with, plus the sensor size and wide-aperture lens give me organic control over depth of field. I can blur my portrait backgrounds for real, and the results trump any Portrait mode. It’s not a fallible smartphone computing workaround; it’s the real thing and you can tell.

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A man sitting next to a window

The GR III X’s highlight-weighted metering can help produce low-key self-portraits. (Image credit: future)
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A self-portrait of a man

A self-portrait made on the Ricoh GR III X compared to… (Image credit: future)
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A self-portrait of a man in a garden

…a plug on my Google Pixel 4a. (Image credit: future)

Don’t get me wrong, I took some great photos with my humble smartphone, and phones have come a long way thanks to the biggest investment in camera technology today.

But on phones, everything from controlling depth of field to bright nighttime images is done by computer magic. On the other hand, this large sensor of the GR III X is able to provide more immersive depth and gather more light for authentic and sharp night images.

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clouds on a beach

(Image credit: future)
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The exterior of a fish and chip shop

(Image credit: future)
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A sunset over a misty forest

(Image credit: future)
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A white car parked in a street

(Image credit: future)
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A narrow alley illuminated by artificial purple lights

(Image credit: future)
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A sunset over a horse and a field

(Image credit: future)

Another big plus is the size of my new compact camera. High-end cameras are usually big, bold, and scream “professional photographer making money, passing.” But not the GR III X. It’s chunkier and narrower than your average smartphone, albeit a bit deeper to accommodate that brilliant image sensor.

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But it still slips into your pocket and it’s properly unobtrusive in a way that no other large compact sensor is. On the outside, you can take it out like your phone and no one really moves an eyelid. It’s a great camera for observational street photography and everyday snaps. If that’s your thing, it’s definitely one of the best compact cameras you can buy.

Stay focused

Photographic chops aside, the other main advantage of the GR III X is that it’s a camera – and only a camera.

With my phone, WhatsApp will ping, or I’ll be distracted by the need to buy a same-day delivery gift for my nephew’s birthday. My GR III X does none of that, and that’s the beauty. Concentrated beauty.

If I take the GR III X out of my pocket, it’s to take pictures, not to check my messages. It encourages me to be creative. Even its limitations, like the prime lens, help me develop a way of seeing things. Viewing, filming and even editing on the Ricoh helps me refine my shots. For me, it’s giving back pleasure to taking pictures.

A tree in a forest

The Ricoh GR III X has handy raw editing tools, which can help you develop custom looks. (Image credit: future)

Speaking of editing, the GR III X tries to go along with smartphones by providing a decent range of in-camera image editing, even to those images in raw format for editing flexibility. . It also has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, which is fast and reliable, so I can then download those lovely images to my phone to share (yes, the phone is coming somewhere).

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There’s a real refinement to some of the modifications available in the GR III X and this is the first time I’ve really gotten into black and white photography. Of course, the really tricky stuff, like cloning distracting stuff, still happens in free smartphone apps like Snapseed. But the crucial part of editing and developing my style is done behind closed doors.

imperfect genius

My Ricoh GR III X is far from perfect. Its battery life is weak, there’s no built-in flash, its video recording is Full HD, and there’s no viewfinder (or even the ability to add an external one). But it also has a macro focus mode that cuts the minimum focus distance down to 12cm, and with a bit of cropping you can get top-quality close-ups on the iPhone 13 Pro.

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Two bluebells in a forest

GR III X’s macro focus mode creates dreamy bokeh (Image credit: future)
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Two bluebells in a field

This photo of Google Pixel 4a shows how computational photography handles the same shot. (Image credit: future)

More importantly, the GR III X is simply a pleasure to use. It’s a camera I want to have in my pocket at all times as much as my phone, and its blend of power and customization makes it something most photographers will love.

For all the smartphone computing magic in the world, I love the genuine depth and clarity I get in images with my large-sensor compact camera. Above all, it is a discreet, fast-response and single-use device that focuses my creativity. The fact that it slips into my pocket like a phone makes it the gift that keeps on giving.

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