This review will not cover every single aspect of the camera for a very simple reason : This new model is a very subtile evolution -too subtile many might argue- of the 2013 model, dubbed GR on which I published an detailed review here and here
While this new model is aimed to replace the first one, the first model remains scarcely available until the remaining stock is sold. If you have no use for the Wifi AND do not really need the larger buffer capacity, the GR is probably a better deal (here) than the GRII (here) although the GRII went already down compared to its $799 introduction price. At the time of this article, the difference amounts to a difference of $126 which one could use to get some accessories like the very useful Gh3 hood (here) or even, the very good GW-3 Ricoh lens converter which will turn on your GR or GRII the 28mm FOV into a very broad 21mm (here).
The GR II was announced back in June and most Ricoh users, including yours truly, were expecting several improvements like : a sensor with a higher megapixel count, some kind of EVF option, wifi… only to list the most realistic expectations. In the end, we only got WIFI/ NFC options, additional special-effect filters, & a larger buffer (the latter being for me the most useful addition). For sure, this was disappointing for most. The idea of having to wait two full years (an eternity in the digital age) was to have some real improvements over the previous model. Indeed, it is difficult to fathom why Ricoh could not at least add some contacts on the hot shoe for an external EVF and why they could not use the 24mp sony APS sensor which has already been used on Pentax cameras (a company now owned by Ricoh) for over a year now
The GR II is well built like its predecessor was. As a matter of fact, both models are almost impossible to tell apart except from the little hump on the latest model due to the addition of wifi. The handling of the camera remains unchanged which is mostly a great thing. While the feel of handling the camera may vary depending the size of the hands, the camera feels immediately comfortable in most hands and getting this feeling of being “just the right size”.
There are several “previews” of the new model and it is upsetting to read often reviewers complaining about the battery life and wondering why Ricoh did not change the battery on the new model. Allow me to share a completely dissenting view and remind readers of a cold hard reality : Most reviewers are not using the camera past the review time and do not buy the model they are testing. Instead, they are just testing one model after the other and tend to compare features across the board without thinking of what may be good for the end-user.
At the risk of stating the obvious, let me first say that a compact camera should NOT be expected to offer the same battery life as a DSLR. if it had, it would not only mean a larger battery but ALSO a larger charger and most likely a larger camera (at least under the grip). If you have any doubt, one just need to look at the new sigma DP Quattro models which sacrificed to the ever complaining ( I almost wrote “whining”) of bloggers and reviewers for a larger battery life. Any serious user should be willing (and able) to change battery every THREE HUNDRED pictures or so. Ricoh is a small brand but enjoys a solid customer base. As such, it is safe to assume that a fair number of GRII buyers still have a previous GR model (this GRII model contrary to what the number may indicate, is the SIXTH digital model in the GR line) and the current DB-65 battery can be used in every one of these models. While this concern may not resonate with reviewers,(or camera geeks who change camera every 6 months or less) this kind of perenniality for real users easily supersedes a marginal gain in battery life and avoids stocking different batteries (and chargers !) for a similar camera of the same brand or having to re-purchase new batteries every time a new model comes out.
To be honest, I find this all the more annoying that all of these “professional reviews” never address the REAL issue which is plaguing almost all compact digital cameras : The GR has one of those THREE bars battery level indicator like the cheapest cellular phone you could find 10 years ago. This antique system is very unreliable, often going from 2 bars to zero without warning. Even a 20 year-old laptop gives you the opportunity to get a read of battery life remaining by percentage !!
The charger (which is not provided in the box with either the GR or GRII) is very compact and features the great fold-out prongs in its 110 version. The only irritating quirk of this otherwise brilliant charger is the color coding : a green light means the battery is being charged and no lights means the battery is full. In addition to being really counter-intuitive, this might be tricky when you are using a plug in an unknown place (like an hotel room). This flaw is shared by many other cameras but a simpler , understandable-by-everyone- approach would have been : red light=battery empty, orange or yellow=battery charging, green light=battery fully charged. While it may seem like a detail for many this is where Ricoh normally excels : taking care of small details for true photographers. I am not an engineer so I do not think that this could be fixed via firmware update but if it could, it should.
If you want to buy the Ricoh charger for the GR you can find it here and extra OEM battery can be found here (the sigma BP-41 is identical to the Ricoh Db-65).
One significant improvement for this new model is the larger buffer. This is a welcome change for street photographers or anyone who regularly uses the continuous mode. With the first GR model, one could only record up to FOUR images in Raw (or Raw+jpeg) before the camera stopped to clear the buffer. On the GRII in continuous mode you can record up to TEN images (in Raw or Raw+Jpeg) before the buffer needs to empty itself which it does in about 12 seconds for a 10 image burst. Please note that this capacity of “up to 10” files means that you need to keep the shutter pressed to reach this number. If you depress the shutter after say 4 or 5 images in a row when in continuous mode and press the shutter again, the camera will not record new images until the buffer clears.
SPECIAL EFFECT FILTERS
Another improvement in the new model is the addition of special effect filters. There is now a staggering amount of SEVENTEEN filters in the drop-down menu. Some of these new filters have a rather “cryptic” interest like the clarity filter which according to the manual “takes images with enhanced subject texture and surface details” (sic). I have also yet to find the real difference in results for the “brilliance” and “bright” filters (at least in their standard settings). Photographers who have used the previous model are aware that colors of the camera jpeg’s tend to be a little bit muted compared to other makers. This also applies to colors on the LCD. this is the reason I now use the vibrant filter effect as my standard setting.
Here are a few examples how some of different filters affect color rendition :
More importantly, it has been my experience meeting with experienced photographers using their digital cameras (ANY digital camera) that most of them do only use a few (if any) of such special effect filters. Be it on my GR, my olympus EM bodies, or my LX100 a lot of filters are very “cheesy” and aimed at a different kind of users. Sure most users are going to like to experiment for a short while using every special effect but soon they will settle on 3 or 4 filters (if that) that they will find a benefit to use. Depending on the photographer, preferences for such or such special effect will vary. Furthermore, sixteen of these seventeen filters can be customized by pressing the FN2 button. On my olympus I sometimes use the dramatic filter which increases the contrast and color saturation. On the GR models there is a High contrast BW which I find useless. Even with contrast set at “minus 2” I could not find one instance where the result was pleasant and when I could not get a better result in post processing for instance using the excellent DXO film pack software. the GR II even has a face detection of some sort hidden behind the “portrait” effect filter. You can customize saturation and vignetting with the Fn2 button but the AF system when that filter is selected is changed to face detection AF regardless of which focus mode is selected in the menu.This is an unusual and not very intuitive implementation of a face detection focusing method.
What remains though is that 17 filters is a very long list to scroll down if your filters of choice all over the place in that list and this brings to make a unusual statement : On my Olympus bodies you can turn off in the menu the filters you do not use regularly . Olympus interface is very customizable but to say that it is not known for its user-friendliness is an understatement. Therefore to suggest that a Ricoh camera, which are often unparalleled for their user interface, should take example on the olympus interface may seem like an odd proposition but in this very specific instance true nonetheless. To allow users to turn off/on certain filters (preferably depending on the mode used) in a future firmware update would be a welcome change.
And talking about built-in filters , let me make one more complaint about the GR compared to the Olympus EM series. As any B&W photographer would tell you, having built-in filters for Black & White images (like yellow, orange, red, green) is VERY useful and it is regrettable that Ricoh did not choose to offer this option in a product aimed at “experienced” and savy photographers. Sure, my Panasonic LX100 has even more cheesy, amateurish filters than the GR but it would have been nice if Ricoh had given us those black & white filters. I doubt that this can be solved via firmware update but maybe (hopefully) I am mistaken on this score.
Both models have the same sensor and optics so image quality is identical between both models. Image samples are really impressive across the range and illustrate how the combination of an excellent lens, a very good sensor and, last but not least, the absence of an anti alias filter can bring truly excellent image quality in APS sensor sizes. In summary , sharpness is already very good in the center at full aperture f2.8 while the borders are good (on my sample the left corner shows more blur than the right corner). Sharpness becomes excellent across the frame at F4.0 and stays that way all the way to F8. From F11 to F13 sharpness is still good but diffraction takes its toll. Altogether this is between F4.0 and F5.6 that the lens is the sharpest across the frame.
For those who are unfamiliar with the GR line , it is fair to report that a portion of GR users experienced the “dust on the sensor” issue. This was heavily discussed (and amplified) on several photo forums on the net and there is some evidence that the treatment of this issue has not been consistent across all countries. Strangely, some people who received their GR II are already claiming that this issue has been solved on the new model (or even in recent batches of the first model); but of course this is pure speculation and I believe this is way too soon to draw final conclusions either way.
I have had my GR since the very first day it came out and can report that I never had this issue on my GR in the thirty months I have been using it. Maybe I have just been lucky or maybe the fact of using the GR with the hood on most of the time helps ?
The most widely publicized improvement of this second model is the addition of Wifi/NFC capability. I am fully aware to belong to the tiny community of adults under the age of 50 not having a smartphone (I have no need for it). On the other hand, I am very interested in being able to tranfer wirelssy images from my GR to my ipad-mini. The ipad options to tranfer images from and to another device are very often tricky and slow. I have looked at the remote application but have not got around to transfer files so far. I will update this part of the review once I have used those functions.
In the next section I will also publish some crops to compare the camera at different apertures ( center and corner crops) as well as a comparison with m4/3 olympus camera. Stay tuned…