MENUS & CONTROLS
the menu is organized in three categories: Photo, key custom options, set up. The display in the menu is very sober and very readable. There are no big “faux pas” in the menu but everyone would need to familiarize itself to the menu settings if only to assign functions to all the customizable dials and buttons on the camera.
The good news is that, once you have customized the camera to your liking, you will hardly need to go back to the menu (other than for formatting the card). Speaking of SD cards, one small but appreciable detail is the ability to shoot a few images without a SD card thanks to its internal memory of 54 MB.(NF1). this can come pretty handy if you ever cannot find a card right away.
In addition to the classic PSAM (for program,shutter priority,aperture priority, manual) modes, the top dial also features a video mode and three customizable modes labeled MY1, MY2 & MY3. This dial has a lock preventing the dial to rotate accidentally in the bag or the jacket which happens a lot on other small cameras (like the Fuji X’s or the first Olympus Em5 for instance)(NF2).
Each of the custom modes allows to store several sets of settings making the GR one, if not the,most customizable camera with a fixed lens.
While the camera has a program mode I think the GR is aimed first at photographers who like to stay in control of the exposure parameters. I, for one readily admit that I am a “manual mode” kind of shooter. This is true, regardless of the camera, and the GR is especially kind to manual mode users. First, you can really customize the display and if you like uncluttered lcd with just the shutter speeds , apertures and iso settings well you’re in luck. Here is time to get another ” neat trick. If you were shooting say inside a church or a dark street and a few seconds later there is a sunny exposure to be made. Instead of losing a few precious seconds to change the aperture and the speed, just press the exposure compensation lever and it will automatically adjusts to the recommended exposure and then you just take the picture (NF3).
Another very useful control is the AF lock located on the right side of the LCD. It is ideally placed to be activated by the thumb and remains activated until pushed again. Of course there is a sign in the finder to remind you that the focus is locked. Something also worth noticing is that even when you are in snap focus mode, pressing this Af button activates the af without having to leave the snap focus mode. Brilliant ! another important control implemented flawlessly by Ricoh engineers (NF4).
The manual focus on the GR is not that practical as it is often the case on small compact cameras. Fortunately this is not really an issue because of another non AF mode which is, I believe unique to the Ricoh : Without a doubt, the camera control which makes the GR stand out from the crowd is the extremely useful “Snap focus” function. Basically what Snap allows you to do is to preset the camera focus at a distance of 1,1.5,2,2.5, 5 meters ( plus focus at infinity) You can choose to use the snap mode or even include it when you are in AF mode. When the camera is in AF mode simply pressing the shutter all the way ignores the AF and focuses at the preselected focus distance previously chosen by you. (as long as you have set the camera to react that way). If you select the snap focus distance at 2,5 meters (or less) having the GR lens perform that well at F8 or F11 ( like the GR does) is really a HUGE advantage. When you select a snap focus distance of 5 meters, you will not need to close the lens aperture that much
This allows to basically avoid any shutter lag when taking a picture and allow for in-focus image when AF is not really an option (NF5). Here are two examples of images saved by the snap function :
I cannot count how many times I have shoot this way. My guess is more than HALF of all my images with the GR were made using this mode. This is why I have the AF/snap switch assigned to my FN1 button.
On this subject, for those interested, here are my settings for the custom backdial and the three functions buttons :
Adj. dial : ISO, Snapfocus dist. , Effect, Cont.mode, Expo. Metering
FN1 : AF/SNAP
FN2 : 28/35mm crop ( 47mm crop is desactivated)
FN3 (effect button) : ND filter
Autofocus is fast in anything but the darkest conditions. The GR is an contrast af camera which means that while it may not always compete with the fastest DSLR and their phase detection AF system, it is also more accurate which is a compromise I am happy to make. As is the case for all recent digital cameras, autofocusing in difficult lighting depends more on the understanding of contrast autofocusing by the user than the camera itself. I personally only use spot AF (pinpoint AF is also a very good choice). The other instance when AF might get a little bit tricky is when you are just at the limit of the distance required to activate the macro mode.
In my opinion the number one area where the GR shows its age is the buffer capacity. when shooting RAW+jpeg, the GR only allows four images before slowing down.
The Ricoh has, like most cameras nowadays, a list of special effect filters (eleven filters to be exact). By talking to hundreds of GR users, it is very clear that most photographers only use a few on a regular basis but preferences vary greatly among them. Personally, I mostly use the positive filter (which is my default setting for color pictures in jpeg) which I found more pleasing than the natural default setting. Once in a while, I use the bleach bypass. It would have been nice to be able to select only the filters you use like on the olympus m 4/3rd bodies. No big deal but maybe this could be addressed in a future firmware update.
When the GR came out it did have only one competing camera the Nikon Coolpix A.However, the A was missing several smart features of the GR (snap focus, ND filter built-in, optional lens converter,…) and was significantly more expensive than the GR at launch.So, unless you are so familiar with the Nikon user interface to the point of being reluctant to use a better one, this is a no-brainer.
The GR has one of these self- retracting lens which makes the camera thinner in the off position.The built in auto cap allows the camera to be very quickly turned on and off.
This self-retracting design probably makes the camera more sensitive to dust intrusion on the sensor and there has been some cases on the internet forums complaining about this issue.
I never had this problem on either my GR (or on my GRD’s III & IV) despite intensive use. Maybe it has to do because I use it with the hood (except for carrying purposes).
Another neat feature (NF6) that does not get mentioned enough in the quick previews is that the left side of the camera is flat. This detail allows to get some support on any flat surface when shooting vertically. I cannot count how many times this little detail allowed me to shoot handheld when others had to pull out the tripod or risk camera shake.put the camera down on a surface or against a wall to use the camera hand held at low shutter speeds
Finally, the next trick may come to you as a surprise. If you know me by this blog or on the photo forums,you know that I have very little interest for video (to put it mildly !). The GR is known to be weak in this regard. However, I am amused to note that, in the two instances when I needed to use video, only the GR has a feature that I find essential. Let me explain : Sometimes there are video clips on the net that I would like to send to my friends. Chiefly funny videos(10 best jokes, 10 funniest commercials or stuff like that). When I do I never find everything in the video to be funny or worth sharing and therefore need to be able to only record the content I want to share. I neither have the skill (nor the desire) to use video editing for such a basic request. Now guess what I found out that if I use say my PANASONIC LX100 or my OLYMPUS EM5 mark II, two cameras reputed for their video abilities, I cannot do that. For this simple request really, the ONLY of my cameras that can pause the camera simply without creating a multitude of files or wasting some precious card space is (you guessed it) the GR. Just press the function 2 button to pause and press it again to resume recording (NF7).
FILE QUALITY & PERFORMANCE
As illustrated by many printed and online tests, image quality on the GR is very high. Noise remains a non-issue until 1600 Iso. 3200 iso remains usable for small to medium B&W prints with some noise software reduction. One thing that really shines on the GR is the lens. It is very sharp at full aperture and the corners are already very good at F 2.8 Maybe even more impressive is how well the GR maintains its sharpness over the aperture range. I am enclosing some examples of images of the same scene shot at different apertures to illustrate that point. My lens tests are always done on static subjects on a tripod in order to avoid any user-driven shake. The images are not sharpened or post-processed other than applying auto-contrast in Photoshop. I always choose a subject including lines and/or text to allow to evaluate sharpness correctly. The soldiers figurines are added to show how sharpness affect texture. For information, the focus on all pictures for this test was set on the matchbox. First, here is the low-res version of the full image :
In summary, the GR lens is really impressive. Of course, the lack of an anti-aliasing filter participates in no small way in the general impression of sharpness. Ricoh was one of the first company to voluntarily omit this filter in its now defunct GXR and once you have seen the difference it is hard to go back to a camera featuring this low-pass filter.
In my experience, the sweet spot of the lens on the camera is between F4. and F5.6. There is hardly any vignetting or distortion to notice. Diffraction does not really appear until F11. While apertures past F13 are better avoided (which is made easier thanks to the built-in ND filter), all apertures are usable which is pretty rare in a compact camera. To keep results to your liking you can not only adjust the noise reduction applied to the files but customize this level of noise reduction according to the sensitivity. This is another unique feature of the GR, which proves once again that the GR was designed for demanding users.