Most cameras reviews are based on a simple though misleading logic to write a review shortly after a new camera is released. While there is some logic to it, it is generally not the best way to go. Why ? Digital cameras have reached a level of maturity and one can say that there are not really bad cameras anymore. However, digital devices often tend to get more and more complex and are loaded with a bounty of features that tend to make them more counterintuitive to operate (at least at first). After all, how can one expect a journalist or a photographer who has been shooting, say, Nikon cameras for most of his life to be really objective and at ease when writing about, say, a Fuji or an Olympus camera that he, or she, had only for a few hours/days to test.
Back in the film days (for those of us who are old enough to remember them), this was a non-issue. Back then, most people would choose their camera system based on cost, lens choices and the availability of given accessories (such as close-up lenses for macro shooters or telephoto options for bird or wildlife shooters). People with smaller hands might have preferred OLYMPUS or PENTAX cameras which already were making a specialty of developing smaller bodies. But all of these factors were easy to grasp for any knowledgeable reviewer. Nowadays, digital cameras are like small computers and often differ more in their interface than the image quality they allow one user to achieve.
For today’s digital photographers, this translates into a simple truth : Reading the user’ s manual is a necessary step even for experienced photographers. And some time spent using the camera is really needed for a serious and unbiased review.
I have been using the Ricoh GR for almost two years since its launch in May 2013. I was already familiar with the Ricoh GR philosophy having used a GRDIII and a GRDIV. I was also very familiar with the Ricoh interface in general having used the now discontinued GXR (and GX100 prior to that).Therefore this “in-depth” review is going to be longer than my other reviews to allow a full understanding of the cameras specifics…
Back when the first GRD was introduced, the 1/1.7″ sensor was the trademark of so-called “serious” compacts. The GRD I was a very utilitarian device without bells & whistles, like a photo sketchbook for the street photographer. Now, barely ten years later, this same 1/1.7” sensor seems doomed and with the advent of the Sony RX100, the 1” sensor seems the “minimum de rigueur” for serious compact cameras. One simple look at the GR next to its predecessor (the GRD IV) illustrates the real “tour de force” of managing to fit a sensor almost nine times as large in the GR despite being barely wider and deeper than its predecessor. Technically, this is the fifth GRD but to illustrate the fact that with the huge increase in sensor size the GRD line is really turning a new corner, the new model is simply named “GR”.
There has been a GRD appearing every other year since the first model and hopefully this would continue with a new model this year. In Japan, the company notoriety is indisputable and the GR line in particular enjoys a cult following. This is not the case outside Asia and I cannot help being amazed that the company which has arguably the best user interface of ANY compact digital cameras has so little brand recognition outside Japan for its digital cameras.
The first thing that immediately becomes obvious is how well the camera feels in the hands despite its diminutive size. I have normal-sized male hands and the camera feels just right, all buttons and dials falling exactly where they are supposed to. The adjustable lever on the back can be pushed in to access five different settings of your choice. With the 2 function buttons that is already 7 different functions that can be accessed with only one hand and more importantly without having to dive into the menu. I personally use both hands to shoot but I know that the one-hand ability is appreciated by lots of shooters.
There are several smaller cameras with relatively large size sensors but, truth be told, none feels as good in the hands as the GR. The Sony RX100 & the Panasonic GM1, for instance, are too small for my hands. Of course one can get an additional handgrip to improve the way the camera holds but no accessory can fix the cluster of dials which is the price to pay for small cameras.
At 240 grams the GR is also very light. The body is mostly made of magnesium alloy and is well built. The camera features a native 3:2 ratio LCD with a high resolution of over 1.2 million dots (featuring the white point technology allowing the LCD to remain visible even in bright outdoors). This is good because the GR does not include an rotating LCD or an electronic finder (built-in or external). The lack of an high-resolution electronic finder is, without a doubt, one of the few serious limitations of the camera.
You can fit an optional optical finder using the hot-shoe on top of the camera. Ricoh has two options for you in addition to those you can find from Voigtlander, Zeiss or Sigma :
First, there is the GV2 with its really tiny size and the larger GV1 finder showing both fields of view of 28mm equivalent and 21mm (the latter one is very handy if you decide to attach the optional GW3 conversion lens that turns the GR FOV from 28mm to a larger 21mm equivalent).
This GW3 attachment makes the camera significantly less pocketable but offers a very good image quality keeping the maximum aperture at 2.8. There is a little bit of vignetting at the 21mm focal length but nothing that cannot be fixed in post processing. The attachment lens surface is convex so if you lose the original cap (like I did) you may have a hard time finding one that does not touch the lens surface. Sadly, the lens comes with a rather unpractical rubber hood and does not allow to screw-in a lens hood or a filter.
One thing that gets too often overlooked in all the GR reviews I have read is the image ratio.Contrary to lots of other “serious compacts” (like those from Sony, Nikon or Fuji), the GR allows the user to switch image ratio. For me, this is a must-have feature, truly essential for my work for which I need a less oblong ratio than the native 35mm ratio. Most of my images are shot vertically and the 3:2 ratio is way too rectangular for my taste.
When you regularly print your work and show your images in galleries, it is essential to get your images to show some uniformity in terms of image ratio.
Maybe the most obvious remark upon getting familiar with the camera is that the Ricoh GR (much like its predecessors) is not an entry-level camera aimed at “casual users”. No silly modes on the dial, no selfie-mode,no on touch-screen or self-deploying flash…
In fact, each detail of the camera shouts that the camera is aimed at those photographers who want to keep control of their camera. In fact there are several details clearly showing that the GR was designed by people who actually know something about photography. I will single them out in this review by numbering some of these “neat features” ( NF1, NF2,…)
There are several accessories available for the GR. Among them, there are two that I find absolutely indispensable :
First, the BJ-6battery charger which is not included in the box. The 110 version is preferable as it is a cordless version with a very practical fold-out prong. The second one is the optional GH3 lens hood. With the hood on, the camera would barely fit a large coat pocket but comes very handy when shooting against the sun, the rain or to protect the lens from dust. Maybe it is the reason why I never got dust on the sensor like some other GR owners have.
A GR user will also want to acquire one or more additional batteries DB-65 (or the Sigma Version BP-41 which is identical and usually cheaper). Note that the same price comment applies to the Sigma BC-41 as well which is identical to the Ricoh charger. Some prefer to buy third-party batteries which are even cheaper but to me this is like playing “russian roulette” with your money as there are usually not as reliable or long lasting than the branded ones despite what you may read on the forums. Each to his own, but I have enough data on different camera platforms to motivate my remarks.
Speaking of the battery, lots of reviewers keep complaining about the battery capacity (around 250 shots on the GR). I find these comments irritating and misguided. First, it seems that lots of those reviewers expect a serious compact to have the battery capacity of a big DSLR. The point of a compact camera is to be small and that size requirement also applies to the battery AND the charger. Maybe some of you will remember the first Leica M digital (a flawed product in many ways in my opinion) with its battery charger which was almost as large as the camera itself !!!
Secondly, changing the battery on the GR is like can be done in a few seconds and anyone who is serious about its photography should always carry a spare regardless of the battery life. Another point that a reviewer does not care about but which is important for an user already owning a previous GRD model : Not having to change battery and battery charger with any new “updated” model -hello Nikon – is both cost-effective and shows that the manufacturer actually cares about its existing clientele.
If there was any complaint to be made about the battery it would be that the indicator level is very crude and similar to a 15 year-old cellular phone but, in all fairness, this drawback is common to most compact digital cameras on the market. I find it odd and disappointing that most digital cameras on the market cannot even show remaining battery charge in percentage like any cheap 10 year old laptop !! Why this issue is never discussed in the camera tests never ceased to amaze me.
Having a small battery also allows to carry comfortably one or two in the smallest pocket available ( shirt, jean you name it). Here is a picture to show how easy it is to travel with the charger and spare batteries
From right to left you can see a matchbox (for scale purposes) then the GR DB-65 battery which is barely thicker than a matchbox, next is a battery for small camera (here is the battery for the Lumix 100) then mirorrless camera (Olympus OMD series). Next to the olympus battery is a stack of two GR batteries which is less wide and almost the same height. In the back is the GR battery in its charger. As you can see anyone who needs to travel for days with the GR will quickly understand the advantages of the combination of a small battery and a small charger.
Some readers also asked me how I carry the camera. I am aware that some GR users love the idea of carrying the camera in a pants or shirt pocket. For me while I carry my GR around my wrist when in a photographic environment (or put in my coat pocket when I am expecting some immediate action, I feel naked without a small bag when I go outside even for a few hours. There is just too many small things that I want to have with me without encumbering all my pockets : keys, phone, small windbreaker or sweater, bottle of water, pen and notebook, small hand sanitizer, ipad mini. I am talking usually small daypack (less than 4 or 5 pounds total including the weight of the bag) light enough to be carried on one shoulder. If you prefer a small shoulder bag I would strongly recommend this one (here) or this one (here). In my opinion, this DNA line is one of the best, if not the best, line of shoulder bags currently on the market. I have the 13 model number because if I need a smaller bag , I personnally prefer a daypack, like this one here
In the second part of this review I will cover comments about menus/controls and image quality with some examples and my conclusions…