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Ricoh GR Review

by Mike Tomkins and Dave Etchells
Preview posted: 04/17/2013
Review posted: 07/22/2013

Ricoh GR review -- Front quarter view

For the best part of the last decade, there's been something of a dark horse in the enthusiast camera market. Since the launch of the Ricoh GR Digital way back in September 2005, the series has developed an enthusiastic following in Asia thanks to the combination of good image quality and well-considered ergonomics. In much of the English-speaking world, though, the company's limited distribution kept the GR Digital-series off the radar.

With the new Ricoh GR, the situation could be about to change for two very important reasons. For one thing, Ricoh finally has a foot in the door in both the United States and Europe, thanks to its acquisition of the Pentax camera business. Ricoh's cameras are now offered alongside those from Pentax, and although the latter's market share is modest compared to some of its rivals, it still represents a significant improvement over the status quo for Ricoh.

Ricoh GR review -- Magnesium construction

More importantly, though, while the magnesium-bodied Ricoh GR draws on the heritage of earlier GR Digital models and the GR film cameras which preceded them, it's had a major overhaul under the skin. Ricoh hints at this with the new model's name, dropping the word "digital" -- something we take for granted these days -- and also removing the Roman numeral. This is assuredly a new camera.

At the heart of the Ricoh GR is a brand-new APS-C image sensor, and it's paired to a 28mm-equivalent prime lens, the hallmark of a GR camera. (All the digital versions and all but one of the film models sported 28mm lenses). The sensor has over eight times the light-gathering area, as compared to past GR Digital models, and while at f/2.8 the lens isn't quite as bright as those in its predecessors, it matches its nearest rivals -- yet in a significantly smaller and lighter overall package.

Camera Sensor
Type
Lens
(equiv.)
Dimensions
(w/o projections)
Cubic
Volume
Weight
(loaded)
List Price
Fujifilm X100S 16.3MP
X-Trans
CMOS
35mm
f/2.0
5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 in.
(127 x 74 x 54 mm)
31.0 in3
(507 cc)
15.7 oz.
(445 g)
US$1,300
Leica X2 16.2MP
CMOS
36mm
f/2.8
4.9 x 2.7 x 2.0 in.
(124 x 69 x 52 mm)
26.9 in3
(441 cc)
12.2 oz.
(345 g)
US$2,000
Nikon Coolpix A 16.2MP
CMOS
28mm
f/2.8
4.4 x 2.6 x 1.6 in.
(111 x 64 x 40 mm)
17.6 in3
(288 cc)
10.5 oz.
(298 g)
US$1,100
Ricoh GR 16.2MP
CMOS
28mm
f/2.8
4.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 in.
(117 x 61 x 35 mm)
15.1 in3
(248 cc)
8.6 oz.
(243 g)
US$800
Ricoh GR Digital IV 10.0MP CCD 28mm
f/1.9
4.3 x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
(109 x 60 x 33 mm)
13.4 in3
(216 cc)
7.7 oz.
(219 g)
US$599
Sigma DP1 Merrill 14.8MP*
Foveon
28mm
f/2.8
4.8 x 2.6 x 2.5 in.
(122 x 67 x 64 mm)
31.8 in3
(521 cc)
13.8 oz.
(391 g)
US$1,000
* Note: Sigma's Foveon sensor has resolving power similar to a 20-25 megapixel conventional CMOS.

Thus far, relatively few manufacturers offer a large-sensor camera with a fixed prime lens. The category was pioneered by Sigma with its DP-series, while Leica, Fuji, and Nikon have followed suit over the last few years. Above is a size, weight, and list price comparison with the nearest current cameras in terms of sensor size and lens type. We've also included the GR Digital IV, to provide a comparison with Ricoh's most recent enthusiast compact. Note that the cubic volume is only an approximation, and doesn't take account of the variant camera shapes.

Ricoh GR review -- Versus the Coolpix A, from the front

Clearly then, Ricoh has a very strong entry on paper -- even when compared to its own small-sensor predecessor. It's not only the smallest and lightest of the large-sensor group by some distance, it's also the most affordable large-sensor compact by a significant margin. Its nearest rival, unsurprisingly, is the Nikon Coolpix A, and so a little more comparison with that camera is in order. Both cameras have precisely the same sensor specification, suggesting a common (or at the very least, closely-related) part. The Ricoh GR and Nikon A also share a very similar lens specification, but Ricoh's lens looks to be more sophisticated, sporting two aspheric elements where the Nikon has one, along with a nine-bladed aperture, two more than in the Nikon.

Ricoh GR review -- Versus the Coolpix A, from the side

Beyond the imaging pipeline, the Ricoh scores wins on paper in a number of other areas as well. It has a brighter, more efficient RGBW LCD monitor, versus the RGB panel in the Nikon. (Although at default settings, it actually opts for much lower brightness.) The GR also offers a much wider shutter speed range, and an essentially unlimited JPEG-mode burst depth, where the Coolpix A is limited to 26 frames. Ricoh also offers higher movie frame rates at 720p, and makes more extensive use of magnesium alloy in its construction, where the Nikon's body is mostly aluminum alloy.

Battery life, though, is something of a wash. The GR gets 26% more still-image frames on a charge, but the Coolpix offers 56% longer recording times before the battery expires, both according to manufacturer specifications. (We don't have a way to verify these claims, but subjectively the Ricoh does seem to win on still image battery life.)

But enough of the paper comparisons. Let's take a look at the Ricoh GR in-hand!

Ricoh GR review -- Versus the Coolpix A, from the rear

Walkaround. On taking it out of the box, the first impression for anybody who's handled a GR Digital-series camera will be one of familiarity. Although this is a brand-new body -- the first time it's been reworked in a couple of generations -- the comfortable, enthusiast-friendly styling is little-changed. The control layout is very similar to that of every previous GR-series digicam, as well, although there are a couple of extra controls and one which has been moved to accommodate them. As in the earlier models, almost all controls are within reach when shooting single-handed.

The Ricoh GR is certainly a little bigger and heavier than the earlier cameras, but the difference is nowhere near as significant as you might expect, given the vast disparity in sensor size. Body height and depth are close to identical, and the GR has grown only a scant 1/3 inch in width. Loaded and ready to go, the APS-C equipped Ricoh GR weighs only 12% more than the GR Digital IV with its 1/1.7-inch sensor.

Ricoh GR review -- Front view

Seen from the front, you really do have to pay attention to notice that you're looking at the large-sensor Ricoh GR, and not one of its small-sensor predecessors. Beyond the branding, the most obvious difference is the new camera's wider body. The Ricoh GR lacks the small window that sat near the top of the GRD IV body, between lens and hand grip. The reason: it concealed Ricoh's unusual Hybrid Autofocus system, which paired a dedicated, external, passive autofocus sensor with contrast detection on the image sensor to yield autofocus that was both swift and accurate. The Ricoh GR lacks that system, relying solely on contrast detection autofocus. The Ricoh GR is no slouch in the AF department, though: even though it lacks any dedicated AF sensor, it locks focus almost as fast as would the typical consumer DSLR.

One other change of note from this angle is the new stereo microphone that replaces the GRD's mono mic. It's visible as two small ports on either side of the lens bezel, near the camera's top. Speaking of the lens bezel, this is probably a good place to mention that it's removable. Take the trim ring off, and you can mount an optional adapter to which you can affix a lens hood, accessory lens, or 43mm threaded filter. Any of these lens accessories will add significantly to the overall bulk, though, so if you want the smallest, lightest kit possible you'll likely leave them at home.

Ricoh GR review -- Top view

The top deck, too, looks almost unchanged. The layout is essentially identical to every previous GR-series digital camera, but if you look closely you'll spot a couple of changes acknowledging the tie-up between Ricoh and Pentax. Where every Ricoh camera except the unusual GXR had a Power button, the Ricoh GR labels it as an On/Off button, the same term used on every current Pentax digital camera.

Pentax parlance -- and a new shooting mode that will be very familiar to Pentaxians -- can also be found on the Ricoh GR's Mode dial. Instead of the more typical PASM, Ricoh joins Pentax in labeling the main shooting modes as P, Av, Tv, and M. Av, obviously, stands for Aperture-priority, while Tv is Shutter-priority. The new mode is called TAv, and just as it does on Pentax cameras, this lets you dial in both shutter speed and aperture manually. It's similar to Manual mode, but with a clever difference -- the camera controls the ISO sensitivity, using this variable alone to achieve the metered exposure.

One other change on the Mode dial is the addition of a new Movie mode position, replacing the Scene mode position on the GR Digital IV. (As a camera aimed at enthusiasts, the Ricoh GR eschews scene modes entirely.) On that camera, movie capture was itself a Scene mode, and so you'll still be placing the dial in the same position to shoot movies.

Similar to earlier GR-series cameras, the Mode dial is a locking one; you have to press the little button just in front of it before you can change the setting. On the one hand, this is a little annoying because it makes mode changes a two-handed process. The flip side of this, though, is that you'll never have to worry about bumping the Mode dial and ending up in a mode you weren't expecting.

Ricoh GR review --  Rear view

The biggest changes since previous models are to be found on the left and rear panels. Brace yourselves, GR fans. You might've enjoyed the familiarity of exactly the same control layout for some eight years and four generations now, but the Ricoh GR brings... *gasp*... change! There are not one, not two, but three new controls for you to learn, and one existing control has been relocated to make way for the new additions.

Two of this trio sit atop of the control stack that lines the right-hand side of the LCD monitor: an AEL/AFL and C-AF switch, with a button at its center. The switch determines the function of that button: either locking exposure and focus, or enabling the continuous autofocus function for still image shooting.

These new controls reside where the Playback button once lived, so it's been moved. Its new home is directly beneath the exposure/zoom rocker that sits snug against the top right corner of the rear panel. Of course, the Ricoh GR like its predecessors has no optical zoom, nor does it provide a continuous digital zoom. (There is a one-step digital zoom available as a menu option, though, that crops to produce a 35mm equivalent focal length.) In Record mode the rocker controls exposure compensation, while in Playback mode it zooms in and out of the image.

Ricoh GR review -- Left view

A few other changes of note: the Ricoh GR now offers a Macro mode, and that's been given a dedicated control. The Up-arrow key of the four-way controller -- which previously had no function in Record mode on GR-series cameras -- is now used to enable and disable Macro shooting. And new labels screen-printed alongside existing controls hint at new functionality: the rear Adj. dial is now labeled as an ISO sensitivity control (this is one of five functions assigned to it by default; you have eight other optional functions to choose from), while the Display button now doubles as a Back button in the menu system.

Ricoh GR review -- Right view

And so, we come to the final new control on the Ricoh GR. Look at its left face (as viewed from the rear of the camera), and you'll spot a new button alongside the existing popup flash release switch. Labelled "Effect," it's a dual-purpose control: Press and hold it, and -- after a brief delay -- it enables depth of field preview, stopping down the aperture to the value that will be used when taking a picture. You can optionally half-press and hold the shutter button first to lock autofocus, then preview depth of field with the Effect button.

A momentary press of the Effect button by default brings up a menu of picture effects options, such as Black & White mode, Cross Processing, Retro, etc. As with most of the buttons on the Ricoh GR, though, you can reassign it to any of 26(!) other functions. In Playback mode, this button has no function.

There's also a shoulder strap eyelet at the top of the camera on the left-hand side, side, although the product bundle includes only a wrist strap.

If all these newfound controls have you in a tizzy, a glance at the right side of the camera will still your beating heart. It's a return to GR-series normalcy; everything is just as it was in the GR Digital IV. There are two small eyelets for a neck strap or the bundled wrist strap at both top and bottom, mirroring that on the left-hand side. If you're using a shoulder strap, these provide a choice: would you rather your camera hang in landscape or portrait orientation?

The only other detail of note on this side is the connector compartment, hidden beneath a small rubber flap. The Ricoh GR's connector options are identical to those of the GRD IV, with HDMI and combined USB/AV out connections.

 

Ricoh GR review -- Video Walkthrough

by Dave Etchells

Walkthrough: A hands-on introduction to some of the key features of the Ricoh GR.

 

Ricoh GR Review -- Shooter's Report

by Mike Tomkins

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo

Shooting with the Ricoh GR -- just like the Nikon Coolpix A -- was a learning experience and a lot of fun. I shot both cameras side by side.

When Ricoh rejuvenated its GR Digital series -- and in the process put forth an answer to Nikon's introduction of the Coolpix A -- with its first large sensor, fixed prime-lens camera, I must admit I was thrilled. I've long been intrigued by the GR Digital line, thanks to their strong reputation in the Asian market, but their limited availability in the USA coupled with the fact that I wasn't sure I wanted to give up my zoom lens conspired to keep the GRD-series cameras out of my hands.

The Ricoh GR, though, was different: that big sensor was a major attraction for me, and for a while now I've been stocking up on (and learning to shoot with) prime lenses on my Pentax digital SLR -- so while I'm still primarily a zoom shooter, the thought of a fixed prime wasn't as intimidating as it once seemed.

Throw in the broader availability thanks to Ricoh's acquisition of Pentax, and not only was I ready for the Ricoh GR, but it was ready for me. And yes, I was excited. Doubly so, given that I also had access to the Nikon Coolpix A -- its closest competitor by far -- and at the very same time, no less! (Both cameras landed on my desk on the same day, allowing me to make side-by-side comparisons without either camera having first gained the advantage of familiarity.)

Build quality. With it having been a few months since I wrote our Ricoh GR preview, I'd forgotten that its body was crafted from magnesium alloy, and in our Coolpix A review I mistakenly referred to the GR as plastic-bodied. A few readers corrected me, for which I'm grateful, but even armed with that knowledge -- and indeed, having refreshed my memory further with the alloy body image near the start of this review -- the Ricoh GR still feels more like a plastic-bodied camera to me than it does metal. Perhaps it's something to do with the coating or finish on the body, which doesn't feel as cool-to-the-touch as the Nikon. Perhaps it's simply because it is lighter, and there's a degree of panel creak not present in its rival. More likely, it's a combination of the above. For whatever reason, the Ricoh simply doesn't feel quite as sturdy and finely-crafted as the Coolpix, but as I said in my review of that camera, I wouldn't expect it to, given its significantly lower price tag.

Ricoh GR review -- Front view in-hand
The Ricoh GR's body is noticeably more comfortable in-hand than is the Nikon. That's thanks largely to its much more generous, rubber-wrapped hand-grip, which gives plenty of purchase for your fingers.

Ergonomics. What's far more important is that the Ricoh GR's body is the more comfortable of the pair in-hand. Not only is it lighter, but it has a much more generous handgrip, and it feels better-balanced as well. I wasn't comfortable carrying the Nikon for long periods, and preferred to keep it on a shoulder strap, as I do with most cameras of this size. The Ricoh GR I kept in my hand most of the time, using only its bundled wrist-strap. I did find myself wishing the strap could cinch down on my wrist for a little added security were I to accidentally drop the camera, but I didn't feel the need for a shoulder strap at all.

Controls. I wasn't so happy with the Ricoh's control layout, though. For one thing, I'd have preferred a real twin-dial design, where I see the Ricoh GR as having more like a dial-and-a-half. The rear "dial" is actually a clickable rocker, and while that design lets it perform more functions, it isn't as quick to adjust as a true dial. And I must admit, I did miss the control ring around the lens of the Nikon, which made adjusting manual focus an altogether more pleasant experience than it is with the Ricoh. (There's a lot more fiddling involved in a manual focus adjustment on the GR, and that's a shame.)

Nor was I a big fan of the locking Mode dial, and ordinarily that's a design feature I love. The GR's Mode dial is simply too small for the locking design to be anything other than awkward, though. Adjusting the dial involves changing your grip on the camera, which rather defeats what is otherwise a good layout for single-handed shooting. A lock-free dial with a firmer detent as in the Nikon would have been preferable to me. And the tiny, recessed Power button -- while fine normally -- would be tricky to locate by touch with cold-numbed fingers, let alone gloved ones. I preferred the Nikon's Power lever.

Ricoh GR review -- Rear view in-hand

I wasn't so comfortable with the Ricoh GR's rear-panel controls, finding them a bit cramped. If you like shooting single-handed, though, you'll almost certainly prefer the GR to the Coolpix A.

But there's certainly an element of personal taste in all of this. For example, I also wasn't thrilled by the rocker at top right of the rear panel, which falls naturally under your thumb. It looks much like a zoom control, even though the camera has a fixed prime lens, and indeed in Playback mode it does control zoom. It's in Record mode that I didn't get along with this control, though, as it serves to adjust exposure compensation -- which to my chagrin, I was forever accidentally changing if I left the camera switched on between shots. When IR founder Dave Etchells played with the GR, though, he was delighted by the very same control that bedeviled me, because of the quick access it gave him to exposure level adjustments.

And there are certainly features of the Ricoh's design which I preferred to those of the Nikon, too. For one thing, having a front dial that falls under my shutter finger is a big plus. The twin dials of the Nikon are both on the rear panel, and I often found my index finger reaching for a dial that wasn't there on that camera. I also loved the combined AEL/AFL and C-AF switch with its centrally-located button, which made light work of controlling both focus and exposure locking. And if you're a fan of single-handed shooting, the Ricoh's layout is much more conducive to that. Most functions of the Nikon require either a twin-handed hold, or that you adjust your grip to reach a control with your right hand.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo
Shooting with a wide-angle prime, you're forced to think about your framing. With a zoom lens, I'd have cropped in a bit tighter here, but I could hardly stand in the road -- and so that forced me to rethink my framing. Of course, cropping later is an alternative, if you don't need the extra resolution.

Aligned with Pentax. As a Pentaxian, I was happy to find that Ricoh has adopted Pentax parlance for the main shooting modes -- that is to say, P, Av, Tv, and M, instead of the more common P, A, S, and M. Those coming from other brands may take a moment to get used to the change, though. I was also thrilled to find that Ricoh has taken Pentax's smart TAv mode on board, as I use this regularly on my K-5 digital SLR. In a nutshell, this allows you to dial in both shutter speed and aperture, then let the camera attain the metered exposure by adjusting the ISO sensitivity. You get full control over your image, and the camera chooses the lowest possible sensitivity for you. It's a shame Ricoh didn't also adopt Pentax's Green button for the GR, though there's really not space for any more controls on the rear deck, so it's an understandable omission.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo

Metering was accurate for most subjects, with exposure compensation needed only rarely.

Customization. Speaking of control, the Ricoh GR gives it to you in spades. Its interface sometimes bucks tradition: For example, there's no Drive mode control, just a Self-timer button and a separate Continuous Shooting option in the menu system which you can optionally assign to one of the other controls. However, those occasional quirks aside I have used few cameras that have anywhere near the degree of customization offered by the Ricoh GR.

You can select up to five different settings (from 13 choices) to be controlled by the rear "dial", which Ricoh refers to as the Adjust lever, and optionally, have a sixth function -- ISO sensitivity control -- serve as the control's default function if it's flicked without first being pressed to activate an alternate function. You can switch shutter speed and aperture control between the front and rear dials, and separately, whether they control playback magnification and image selection, or pan around a magnified image. No less than 26 different functions apiece can be assigned to the Effect, Fn.1 and Fn.2 buttons. Focus and exposure lock can be decoupled from the AEL/AFL button, and you can choose whether or not the lock is retained when you let go of the button. You can even choose between focus priority and release priority.

And then, there are the three My Settings positions on the Mode dial, each of which can store different camera setups -- including control assignments -- for different shooting situations. And you can register a further six settings groups to the camera's memory for storage, then swap them out with those assigned to the Mode dial. Direct ISO control for the Adjust lever was about the first function I changed from the default, as I find instant access to sensitivity to be a really great feature. Beyond that, I kept fiddling -- it took me a fair while to decide how I wanted the camera to set up. Once done, though, the camera fits like a glove.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo
The GR's prime lens and OLPF-free sensor yield razor-sharp, detail-rich imagery. Here, you can just about read the finer text on the duck, goose, and fish food vending machine at the center of the shot.

How good is the Ricoh GR's fixed 28mm-equivalent lens?
Find out by clicking here to see our optical test results.

Manual focus. If there was one thing that I missed from the Nikon Coolpix A, it was that camera's ring around the lens barrel, used for manual focus adjustment. My Sony RX100 has a similar feature, and I'd have loved to see it on the Ricoh GR as well. It's a very intuitive interface element, and even if in truth it's fly-by-wire, a good implementation gives the impression of a direct connection between the physical control and the adjustment being made.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo

White balance tended to be a bit on the cool side -- you wouldn't know this was a golden-hour image from its tone -- but that can easily be fixed.

Manual focus adjustment on the Ricoh GR is performed first by pressing the Macro button, and then rotating the front dial. That is both less direct, and makes adjustments much slower. I tried counting how many clicks of the dial it took to get from infinity focus to the nearest macro, and lost count after a finger-numbing 200 clicks. Sure, you won't often need to manually step all the way through the range -- you can flick the AF function lever to C-AF mode and press the AF button to perform a single AF operation when in Manual focus mode, getting you in the ballpark -- but it's still just not as nice an interface as that of the Nikon's focus dial.

Autofocus. Beyond that, though, I found focusing on the Ricoh GR to be perfectly acceptable. Its contrast detection autofocus system to be fast enough for the subjects I'd shoot with a prime lens-based camera -- this isn't a camera I'd pick up for sports shooting, after all. It was able to keep up with my very active four year old son, and although in low light it did sometimes struggle to get a focus lock, when provided with a subject offering reasonable contrast it usually hit the nail on the head. I'm intrigued by the fact that the Ricoh GR turned in a much better focusing performance in our lab than did the Nikon Coolpix A, because my subjective assessment in the field was that the Nikon generally finished focusing first, if only by a slim margin -- but really, I think both cameras perform just fine in this area.

Real-world shooting. In other respects, the shooting experience was very similar to that of the Coolpix A. Exposure metering was typically very accurate, consistently turning out accurate exposures for the overwhelming majority of my shots, and only needing compensation with more challenging, harshly-lit scenes that flummox almost every camera. Burst performance was a bit mediocre, but probably sufficient for typical family and street shooting. (Again, this really isn't a sports camera.) It's bizarre that enabling raw file shooting raises the burst shooting performance well beyond that claimed by Ricoh, and a shame that it also slashes buffer sizes to well below those of the Nikon. That did occasionally leave me waiting, as with review cameras I always shoot bracketed exposures in raw+JPEG mode, so if I changed my mind about framing for a subject, I'd have to wait a few seconds for the buffer to clear before I tried again.

Just how fast is the Ricoh GR? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Prime lens. If you're not used to shooting with a prime lens, it's a learning experience, and one which I believe makes you a better photographer. When you can't simply zoom in or out, you're forced to really think about your composition more, and to look for a framing opportunity you might otherwise have missed. With that said, Ricoh does try to ease the transition from a zoom lens in a couple of ways. For one, just like on the Nikon there's a removable ring encircling the front of the lens, allowing you to mount an adapter.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo

Color is more muted than that of the Coolpix A -- and indeed, of most cameras -- but it's actually a pretty realistic rendering, and quite close to what I remember seeing in real life.

Ricoh uses a bayonet rather than a screw thread as on the Nikon, and doesn't limit you just to filters or lens hoods -- there's also an optional wide-angle conversion lens. All attach via a short, plastic adapter barrel. The conversion lens will take you out to a 21mm equivalent, but while it will fit in a pocket, the optic is quite bulky and heavy in use. I found myself preferring to leave it at home, but if you simply want to cover a couple of focal lengths and don't want an interchangeable-lens camera, you may find the option attractive. There's a soft, rubber lens hood bundled with the conversion lens, and the lens adapter can also accept a hard, plastic lens hood. I didn't find flare to be a significant issue, but if you have the camera on a shoulder strap, it's likely worth leaving the hood attached just to help protect the lens from minor knocks.

There's also a 35mm crop mode which works both for JPEG and raw files. It's a nice touch, although I personally preferred to shoot full-res images and crop after the fact. That, after all, gives me better cropping accuracy than I'd likely manage in the field, and lets me change my mind after the fact. If you're used to shooting with a selection of prime lenses, though, you may appreciate the ability to preview your 35mm-cropped framing at capture time.

Monitor. Initially, I felt that the Ricoh GR's display wasn't as good as that on the Nikon, which rather surprised me -- this is, after all, an RGBW display, most likely a Sony WhiteMagic unit like that on my Sony RX100. It turned out, though, that Ricoh simply defaults to a very low brightness level. Manually turning up the brightness in the menu system yielded a display that was more attractive than that of the Coolpix A, with rich color and good detail. And if I set both displays to their maximum brightness, the Ricoh's display was noticeably the brighter off the duo. If you're willing to dial back the brightness, the lower default of the Ricoh coupled with the RGBW design likely contributes significantly to the extra 26% battery life you'll get after the Nikon runs its cell out, according to CIPA testing figures.

User interface. I did think Ricoh's menus were far too small, though. In an effort to get as many options on screen as possible, the GR uses extremely small fonts that aren't terribly easy to read outdoors, and are downright impossible under strong sunlight without shielding the display with your hand.

You can view the IR Lab's in-depth Ricoh GR's image quality test results by clicking here,
and read further on in the review for side-by-side comparisons
against the Ricoh GR's top competitors.

Image quality. In terms of image quality, it's a very close thing indeed. Both Ricoh and Nikon had similar detail, which is to say, lots of it. Images were really sharp, with lots of detail. Noise levels were again very close between both cameras, with up to ISO 3,200 being very usable, and above that point being a step too far for me except in a pinch. I thought Ricoh's images had slightly better chroma noise levels, but I really had to pixel-peep to see much of a difference. Ricoh's color was very accurate -- and if anything, just slightly undersaturated, where most cameras tend towards oversaturation. However, the auto white balance was typically just a little cold for my liking, and that swayed me in favor of Nikon for color.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo
Even at ISO 3,200, there's still a lot of detail remaining in this image. Noise is certainly starting to intrude, though, with the sky in particular getting rather blotchy. I considered ISO 6,400 to be a last resort, unless there was no other way to get the shot. See examples in the gallery.

Where Ricoh really did well was with its lens. It was sharp with good contrast, low chromatic aberration, and it definitely bested the Nikon for both vignetting and distortion, although both cameras were more than acceptable here. (And I'd expect no less from a prime lens.) The corners were a tad soft wide open, but not unreasonably so, and stopping down a little had even the corners giving loads of detail.

If I had to call it, I think I'd come down on the side of preferring the Ricoh's image quality, because I'm a raw shooter and its biggest issue -- the cool white balance -- is a non-issue for raw. (It's easily fixed for JPEG, too, but with raw the white balance isn't baked in until you develop your image.) With that said, the slight vignetting and distortion of both cameras would also be an easy and automatic fix in a modern application like Lightroom or DxO. And if you shoot JPEG, the Nikon looks to offer just slightly better results, turning in larger print sizes in our testing.

Ricoh GR review -- Crop of sample photo
Moiré and false color artifacts appeared occasionally, just as they did with the Coolpix A. In this 100% crop, the Ricoh GR's low-pass filter free design causes artifacts in the fine detail of the fencing.

Flash. Ricoh's flash also seemed a tad more powerful than that of the Nikon, although there wasn't a huge amount in it. As with the Nikon, red-eye didn't seem to be a significant issue, and there's a standard hot shoe available if you want to shoot a more powerful strobe or bounce flash for a more flattering look. You'll want a pretty small strobe to pair with the lightweight, relatively compact body, though.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo

There's also a subtle rainbow of false-color visible in this railroad crossing sign, just as there was in the same shot from the Coolpix A.

Moiré and correction. As I did with the Nikon, I did spot some moiré in shots from the Ricoh GR, a side-effect of its low pass filter-free design. That's really going to be the case with most-any OLPF-free camera, and its severity is going to depend on the subject matter, as well as whether the camera includes algorithms to try and locate and correct for the issue at capture time. I didn't go out of my way to seek out moiré in my shooting, and what I did see in my shots was relatively minor, but that was simply the luck of the draw. It does show up quite strongly in some of our lab shots, certainly.

Unlike Nikon, Ricoh includes a post-capture tool that attempts to correct for moiré. I tried this on my own shots and noticed absolutely no effect whatsoever, likely because the moiré I had found was so minor. With our lab shots, there was certainly an improvement in terms of the false color, and it didn't seem to damage image quality noticeably in other respects, but strong luminance banding remained. Curiously, there seemed to be absolutely no difference between the variant levels of moiré reduction on offer -- all seemed to yield identical results.

Movies. I gave movie mode a quick whirl as I did with the Nikon, but just as I said in my review of that camera, I don't find a wide prime lens terribly conducive to appealing video. The Ricoh GR dedicates a Mode dial position to video, and shares the same shutter button for its still imaging and video features, which means there's a distinct division between the two. (But at least it's not hidden in the menu system, as in the Coolpix A.)

Video from the Ricoh GR lags that from the Nikon Coolpix A somewhat, with noticeably lower detail and a softer look. While it doesn't show the false color artifacts of the Nikon, the GR has an equally distracting flicker on fine detail. It also suffers the same issue as its rival: a fixed prime lens just isn't terribly conducive to shooting great video, especially with no image stabilization available. (You can see a handheld sample without panning here.)
YouTube clips recompressed by Google; click to download originals of panning video and static video.

As with its rival, the Ricoh GR doesn't allow focusing during video, nor any form of exposure control beyond simply locking exposure. (You can, however, do this during capture if you want.) If you forget that autofocus isn't available, simply half-pressing the shutter button immediately stops capture, which is a bit unusual -- it's much more common that a full-press is required.

Ricoh GR review -- Sample photo

Video quality is only fair, and quite a step below that of the Nikon. Shot side-by-side at the same time, the GR's movies are softer and noticeably less detailed. They seem less prone to false color, but there's a prominent flickering on fine detail. (For example, in the clip above, look at the ripples in the water's surface, as well as the structure of the power station beneath the dam.) Both effects are, to me, about equally objectionable, but I give the tip of the hat to the Nikon for the sharper, clearer image. The situation isn't helped, incidentally, by the lack of stabilization -- motion from camera shake makes this flickering all the more noticeable.

Overall, much like the Nikon A, I don't find video capture terribly useful on the Ricoh GR. It's there at a pinch, but I have a feeling most owners will seldom use it -- and nor would they likely expect to do so. It's not really much of a knock against a street shooter camera focused on still image quality that it doesn't make the best video platform.

Power. The Ricoh GR has noticeably better battery life than does the Coolpix A. I found that I could easily get through a day's shooting without the battery expiring. I'd probably still recommend having a second battery on hand for extended sessions or overnight trips. It's also worth noting that by default you have to charge batteries in-camera, which means you can't be shooting one pack while you're charging another unless you buy an extra charger. (The Ricoh BJ-6 charger is compatible, and I'd recommend picking that up too -- it costs about US$50.) If you only plan on casual day shooting though, you may be able to get away with a single pack and in-camera charging.

Ricoh GR review -- Crop of sample photo
Choosing between the Ricoh GR and its nearest rival, the Nikon Coolpix A, is a hard task indeed. Both are great cameras, so long as you're ready to move to a fixed prime lens.

 

Ricoh GR Review -- Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Ricoh GR review -- Image sensor

Sensor. The defining feature of the Ricoh GR is its image sensor -- a large APS-C sized chip. That's about eight times larger than the 1/1.7-inch, 1/1.75-inch, and 1/1.8-inch chips of past models in the GR Digital series. It's also the first camera in the GR line to use a CMOS sensor, rather than the once-common CCD sensors that have largely fallen out of favor due to lower readout speeds and higher manufacturing costs, among other reasons.

The Ricoh GR's APS-C CMOS sensor has a total resolution of 16.93 megapixels, of which 16.2 megapixels are effective in creating images. Maximum image dimensions are 4,928 x 3,264 pixels. By way of comparison, the original GR Digital had an eight megapixel chip, and its successors stayed at ten megapixels.

The sensor specifications may seem familiar; to date the Pentax K-5, K-5 II, and K-5 IIs have all offered the same combination of size and resolution, as have the Nikon D7000, D5100, and the GR's nearest rival, the Nikon Coolpix A. It seems reasonable to assume that the chip in the Ricoh GR, then, is the same as (or at least very closely related to) those in the other cameras.

Just like the Nikon Coolpix A and Pentax K-5 IIs, the Ricoh GR forgoes an optical low-pass filter. Effectively, it trades off one image quality metric for improvements in another area. By dropping the low-pass filter, you increase per-pixel sharpness, although our past experience with OLPF-free designs has shown the difference to be relatively subtle. In exchange, you increase the likelihood of color moiré patterns appearing in areas of fine, repeating detail, which can be tricky to remove in post-processing. Ricoh has included an in-camera color moiré correction function, in an attempt to combat this.

Ricoh GR review -- Image processor

Processor. Of course, it's preferable if issues like moire can be controlled before you get as far as reviewing your images. A new image processor dubbed GR Engine V has been optimized to account for the Ricoh GR's lack of a low-pass filter. According to its maker, the GR Engine V also offers better color and white balance than its predecessors, along with improved color noise reduction at higher sensitivities.

Performance. The new GR Engine V processor and CMOS image sensor combine to offer a significant improvement in performance compared to previous GR-series cameras. The GR Digital IV was limited to just 1.54 frames per second in Continuous mode, but the Ricoh GR can now manage four frames per second for JPEG shooting, with a burst depth that's essentially unlimited. (Ricoh specifies a burst depth of 999 frames.) Bizarrely, our lab testing turned up the ability to shoot at 6.1 fps in raw or raw+JPEG mode, but here the burst depth plunged to just four frames.

The lab also found the GR to start up in around 1.6 seconds, and perform full autofocus in approximately 0.28 seconds.

Ricoh GR review -- Noise reduction menu

ISO. The Ricoh GR's has a base sensitivity of ISO 100 equivalent, a little higher than the ISO 64-80 of previous GR-series models. It's at the upper end of the range where the GR differentiates itself from its predecessors, though, thanks to that roomy sensor. The GR Digital IV had an upper limit of just ISO 3,200, and earlier models topped out at ISO 1,600. The Ricoh GR, though, offers everything to a maximum of ISO 25,600 equivalent.

There's also an Auto ISO function, which by default is capped at ISO 800 equivalent. However, you can opt for Auto-Hi mode, which allows you to specify your own upper limit for Auto sensitivity, spanning the entire range of available sensitivities. You can also select a threshold shutter speed that the Ricoh GR must hit before it will raise the sensitivity.

To reduce the impact of noise at higher sensitivities, the Ricoh GR includes a noise reduction function which you can choose to disable, leave under automatic control, or tune manually. For the latter option, the camera presents three levels of noise reduction -- weak, medium, or strong -- and you specify a threshold sensitivity at which that strength will be used, or to simply not use a specific noise reduction level at any sensitivity. (For example, you can specify no noise reduction at all below ISO 6,400, and then Strong reduction above that level, or Weak noise reduction from ISO 800 to 1,600 and High above that level -- whatever combination you desire.)

Ricoh GR review -- Lens

Lens. The defining feature of the GR-series digital cameras -- and the film cameras in whose footsteps they follow -- is a bright, wide-angle prime lens. Of the film cameras, the original GR1, GR1s, and GR1v all shared a 28mm f/2.8 lens, while the GR21 had a 21mm f/3.5 optic. The original GR Digital and its follow-up shared a 28mm-equivalent f/2.4 prime, while the GR Digital III and IV sported new 28mm f/1.9 glass.

Obviously, that lens was aimed at a much smaller sensor size, and so it's had to be replaced. The new GR lens is, essentially, the analog of that used in the first three film cameras, albeit for an APS-C crop rather than a full 35mm film frame. It's an 18.3mm f/2.8 prime, which after accounting for the crop is similar to a 28mm-equivalent lens.

The design features seven elements in five groups, including two double-sided aspherics, and there's a new nine-bladed aperture diaphragm in place of the seven-bladed aperture used in past GR-series digicams. The aperture range spans everything from f/2.8 to f/16, and there's a built-in 2EV neutral density filter. The ND filter can be controlled manually, or used automatically as needed to get an acceptable exposure.

The new lens is, says its maker, the highest-performing optic ever used in the GR series, promising sharp images with low distortion and chromatic aberration, and luscious, creamy bokeh.

Ricoh GR review -- Crop to 35mm

Although it's a prime lens, Ricoh does offer a small modicum of additional control thanks to a 35mm crop mode. This simply discards everything except the 35mm-equivalent area at the center of the frame, reducing resolution and file size in the process. It's hence nothing you couldn't also achieve on your computer, but it does let you save a little storage space if you know that you wouldn't be using the full 28mm-equivalent coverage for a shot. It even works in raw mode, saving medium sized DNGs.

Note that there's no image stabilization function provided, either mechanical or software-based. Given the lens' wide focal length and relatively bright aperture, and the camera's wide ISO sensitivity range, the omission isn't a showstopper, though.

Via an optional adapter, you can mount 43mm threaded filters, or a lens hood that's included with the adapter. A trim ring surrounding the lens bezel on the front of the camera must be removed before the adapter can be mounted. Ricoh offers one accessory lens -- the 0.75x GW-3 wide lens -- which can be mounted on the GH-3 adapter. In use, this yields a 21mm-equivalent wide angle.

Ricoh GR review -- Lens hood and adapter
Expandable: The Ricoh GR accepts 43mm threaded filters, accessory lenses, and a hood via an optional adapter. Both lens hood and adapter are sold together.
Ricoh GR review -- Focus mode

Focusing. The Ricoh GR lacks the external, passive autofocus sensor of its forebears, and also forgoes the on-chip phase-detect and hybrid autofocus systems found on an increasing number of cameras these days. Instead, focus is a contrast-detect only affair, as in almost all fixed-lens cameras, and many mirrorless models as well. The GR's lens offers a focusing range of 12 inches (30cm) to infinity by default, and in macro mode you can focus to as close as 3.9 inches (10cm).

Both single and continuous autofocus is possible for still imaging, with the latter controlled using the rear-panel AF function switching lever and its central AF button. The camera will focus continually while the button is held down, if the lever is in the C-AF position. (Otherwise, the same button locks focus and/or exposure while held.) Continuous autofocus isn't available for movies, sadly.

By default, the GR's autofocus system operates in nine-area mode, choosing the area with the nearest subject as the point of focus. You can also opt for spot or pinpoint focus at the center of the frame -- these differ from each other only in the focus point size -- and a subject-tracking AF mode that starts from the center of the frame and then follows your subject's motion. In Auto mode only, there's also a face-detection function that can locate up to ten faces within the image frame, and then take their positions into account while adjusting focus and exposure.

Ricoh GR review -- Autofocus options
Autofocus options: The Ricoh GR lets you move the autofocus and autoexposure points around the frame together or separately, add four different focus assist effects, and either center the magnified preview within the image frame, or fill the screen.

If you want to specify a focus point away from the center of the frame, this is possible as well, through the FA/Move Target function. You can opt to have the camera meter from the same point, and the Ricoh GR also lets you lock only focus or metering at the chosen point. A magnification function lets you choose either a smaller magnified area at the center of the screen, so that you can keep tabs on the overall framing at the edges, or allows you to fill the screen with the magnified view. There's also a focus assist function that can emphasize contrast and/or outlines, with an optional black and white reversal for even greater contrast.

If you prefer to specify the focus distance directly, you have a choice of a fixed infinity focus, a snap focus function with presets for 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, or 5 meters as well as infinity, and a manual focus function. This last provides a distance gauge, and is adjusted using the front dial -- the Up-down dial in Ricoh parlance -- while holding the Up-arrow button on the rear panel.

In low-light conditions, an autofocus assist lamp on the front of the Ricoh GR helps the camera to lock focus on nearby subjects.

Ricoh GR review -- Optical viewfinder accessory

Viewfinder. Although it doesn't offer a built-in viewfinder or any connectivity with which to provide for an electronic viewfinder, the Ricoh GR will accept external viewfinders on its hot shoe. Ricoh itself offers two hot shoe-mounted, inverse Galileo optical viewfinders: the GV-1 or GV-2.

They differ in a few ways: the GV-1 has framing guidelines for both 21mm and 28mm, meaning you'll be able to see your subject through the finder well before it enters the frame, and you'll have guidelines to match the optional GW-3 wide angle conversion lens. The GV-2 will give less leeway, with only a 28mm guideline, but it has higher 0.5x magnification, versus 0.42x for the GV-1. It's also significantly smaller and lighter, but has a slightly tighter eyepoint of 11.6mm from the viewfinder frame, where the GV-1 offers a 12.8mm eyepoint.

LCD. Both viewfinder options are relatively pricey, though, costing a quarter as much as the camera itself. For that reason, we'd wager that most Ricoh GR owners will stick with the LCD monitor instead.

Ricoh GR review -- LCD monitor
Bright and efficient: The Ricoh GR's display is a four dot-per-pixel design with red, green, blue, and white subpixels. Under bright light, it's brighter. Indoors, it uses less power.

Thankfully, that monitor is more than up to the task. Ricoh was the first camera manufacturer to offer an RGBW display -- most likely a Sony WhiteMagic panel -- in its GR Digital IV. Although we've seen relatively few cameras sporting RGBW displays since -- largely Sony's own models plus a handful of cameras from Fujifilm and Nikon -- we've found them to offer significantly better outdoor visibility.

Compared to a standard RGB display, an RGBW panel adds an extra white-colored dot that can be used either to increase brightness for outdoor viewing, or to reduce power consumption in less-harsh lighting conditions by allowing the power-hungry backlight to be dialed down further.

Resolution of the 3.0-inch panel in the Ricoh GR is 1,228,800 dots, which equates to a 640 x 480 pixel array. The display has both auto and nine-step manual brightness adjustment, and can optionally dim itself after a short period of inactivity, to save more power.

Ricoh GR review -- Flash strobe

Flash. The Ricoh GR includes both an internal popup flash strobe, and a hot shoe for external strobes. The internal flash sits at the leftmost end of the top deck, and is released with a mechanical slider on the left side of the camera body. It has a guide number of around 17.7 feet (5.4m) at ISO 100, and a working range of up to 9.8 feet (3m) using Auto ISO sensitivity.

There are a total of eight flash modes: Off, Auto, On, Slow-Sync (all with or without red-eye flash), and Manual. In this last mode, you can specify the flash output in 12 steps, from full power to 1/64th power. Flash exposure compensation is available in a range of +/-2 EV in 1/3 EV steps, and the flash recharges in around five seconds or less. Both first and second-curtain flash modes are possible. The flash sync speed is 1/2,000 second, suggesting use of a leaf shutter.

Ricoh GR review -- Mode dial

Exposure. Befitting a camera that's clearly aimed at the experienced photographer, there are no Scene modes here, and as we've noted previously, Ricoh has taken a few cues from new acquisition Pentax when it comes to the Mode dial. Two of the familiar PASM modes found on most enthusiast-friendly cameras bear different names on the Ricoh GR, and they're joined by a new mode found on many Pentax cameras over the years. Program and Manual are still P and M respectively, but Aperture-priority mode is now called Av, and Shutter-priority is Tv. The new addition is called TAv, and allows manual control of both shutter speed and aperture together, while the camera controls ISO sensitivity.

The Ricoh GR's Program mode includes a Program-shift function that lets you flick between different combinations of shutter speed and aperture without straying from the metered exposure. The Manual mode includes a Bulb function, and the maximum exposure time varies with the ISO sensitivity. At ISO 3,200 or below, exposures as long as 320 seconds are possible. Above this limit, the maximum exposure time is slashed to 32 seconds.

As well as the exposure modes we've already covered, the Ricoh GR also provides three My Settings modes that let you save settings groups for later recall, and a Movie mode.

Ricoh GR review -- Exposure mode

Metering. The Ricoh GR meters exposures using the image sensor, and in doing so considers the scene as 484 distinct segments. Three metering modes are available: Multi, Center, or Spot. There's also an autoexposure lock function, and you can move the metering point around the frame manually, either alone or in concert with the autofocus point.

The GR offers exposure compensation within a +/- 4EV range, in 1/3 EV steps. You can also bracket exposures, with three frames varied by anywhere up to 2.0EV on either side of the metered exposure, in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV -- and unusually, the step size can be varied between exposures. (For example, you could shoot one frame at 1/2 EV below metered exposure, another at 1 EV above, and the last at 2EV above.)

The metering system in the Ricoh GR has a working range of 1.8 to 17.8EV, when using center-weighted metering.

Shutter. Shutter speeds on offer range from 1/4,000 to 300 sec. plus bulb. The latter allows exposures to 320 seconds at ISO 3,200 or below, and to a maximum of 32 seconds at higher sensitivities. Time mode is similar, but opens the shutter with the first press of the shutter button, and closes it with the second.

Available shutter speeds vary depending upon your aperture, though. 1/2,000 second is available at all apertures. At f/3.5 or above, you gain access to 1/2,500 second. 1/3,200 becomes available at f/4.5. Finally, 1/4,000 second is available only at f/5.6 or above.

Ricoh GR review -- White balance

White balance. The Ricoh GR offers a pretty comprehensive set of white balance modes and presets. There are two automatic modes, Auto and Multi-P AUTO; the latter attempts to take account of multiple light source types in a single scene. There are also ten preset options: Outdoors, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent 1, Incandescent 2, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Warm White Fluorescent. Finally, the Detail option lets you dial in a color temperature directly from 2500 to 10,000 kelvin, and the Manual option lets you measure the color temperature from a neutral subject such as a white or grey card.

You can also adjust white balance on both blue/amber and green / magenta axes, within a range of +/- eight steps, and have the Ricoh GR save three exposures with bracketed white balance for each image captured.

Ricoh GR review -- Level sensor

Creative. The GR's creative options, too, are generous. There's a dual-axis level gauge to help you attain level horizons and parallel verticals, and you can recalibrate the level yourself, should its accuracy drift over time. You can also embed your copyright details in images as they're captured, and and develop raw images in-camera.

The Ricoh GR also offers a Multiple Exposure function, which allows a maximum of five images to be merged in-camera to create a single final image, and not only do you have the option to have an additive or averaged exposure, but also to have the results saved after each multiple exposure frame is added, and all of the source images saved individually, as well. (So if you're not happy with the result straight out of the camera, you can revisit it in your computer and tweak it more precisely.)

Ricoh GR review -- Multiple exposure

There's also an Interval function which allows you to capture anywhere from one to 99 frames, or just to have the camera shoot continuously at your defined interval until it runs out of storage / battery or you press the Menu / OK button. The interval can be set to one or two seconds, or anywhere from five seconds to one hour in five second increments.

The Ricoh GR also includes a Dynamic Range Correction function that aims to draw out detail in shadows and highlights. The function can be controlled automatically or manually in three steps, and can be disabled altogether. You can also bracket the Dynamic Range Correction.

Ricoh GR review -- Effects menu

A variety of Effects filter modes are available, too, which let you customize the look of images and movies in-camera. For still imaging, your options include Black & White, Black & White Toning Effect, High Contrast B&W, Cross Process, Positive Film, Bleach Bypass, Retro, Miniaturize, and High Key. Movies allow all except High Contrast B&W, Miniaturize, and High Key effects. To provide easy access to the effects, they can by default be selected by pressing the Effects button on the left side of the camera body. Effects can also be bracketed.

If you want to tweak the look of images more subtly, there's also an Image Settings function that lets you choose from standard or vivid looks, or to adjust saturation, contrast, sharpening and vignetting manually and save two presets of your own. Contrast can also be bracketed.

And you can, of course, opt for Adobe RGB or sRGB color spaces when saving JPEG images.

Ricoh GR review -- Movie format

Movie. In the absence of a Scene mode, the Ricoh GR frees up space to promote Movie capture to its own position on the Mode dial. (Previously, it was itself a Scene mode, which hid it from sight.) There's still no dedicated Movie record button, though. Just as in Pentax's cameras, movie capture is instead started and stopped with the shutter button, meaning that you must switch modes if you want to alternate between still and movie shooting.

The Ricoh GR allows recording at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080), HD (1,280 x 720), and VGA (640 x 480) resolutions, and frame rates of 30, 25, or 24 frames per second are available at all resolutions. Additionally, 60 and 50 fps frame rates are available for 720p movies only.

Movies are recorded with MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression in a .MOV container, and include linear PCM audio. There's a maximum clip length of 25 minutes per clip, and shutter speeds range from 1/60 to 1/2,000 second.

Note that continuous autofocus is sadly not possible during movie capture. You can, however, trim movies in-camera to discard portions from before or after the action, although you can't cut at the precise frame you want, just at one second intervals. You can also extract still image frames from movies in-camera.

Ricoh GR review -- Microphone ports
Stereo audio: Two single-hole microphone ports nestle either side atop the lens bezel. Together, they provide for stereo sound, an upgrade from the monaural audio of the GR Digital cameras.

Microphone. The audio portion of movies comes courtesy of two ports for a stereo microphone, straddling either side of the lens bezel. Unlike many cameras, that means there's a fair distance between the ports, and that they face towards your subject, something that might perhaps provide a more convincing stereo effect than cameras which hide both ports side by side directly behind the hot shoe, or in a similar fashion.

There is, however, no external microphone connectivity.

Ricoh GR review -- Connectivity

Connectivity. Ports on the Ricoh GR include a combined USB 2.0 High Speed and NTSC / PAL-compatible standard-definition audio/video connector, and a Type-D Micro HDMI high-definition video output. The latter allows output at 1080p, 720p, or 480p resolution, selected automatically or manually. The combined USB / AV port, meanwhile, is also compatible with Ricoh's CA-2 cable release.

Storage. The Ricoh GR stores JPEG or raw images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, and the higher-speed UHS-I types. Perhaps a little unusually for an enthusiast-oriented camera, it also includes some 54MB of available built-in memory, enough to store a few pictures should you accidentally leave your flash card at home. Raw images are stored in Adobe's open DNG format.

Although it lacks in-camera wireless connectivity, the GR does support Eye-Fi X2-series Wi-Fi-equipped SD cards. If an Eye-Fi X2 card is inserted, the camera will display options specific to the card in its menu system, allowing you to enable or disable Wi-Fi, and select whether all images should be transferred, or only those selected for transfer in Playback mode. You can select to transfer full-resolution originals or reduced-size versions, and the camera can keep itself powered on until transfer is complete. Note, however, that movies can't be transmitted via Wi-Fi.

Ricoh GR review -- Power and storage
Behind the door: The Ricoh GR sports a Secure Digital card slot compatible with high-speed and high-capacity media. A lithium-ion rechargeable battery caters for power supply.

Battery. Power comes courtesy of a 3.7-volt, DB-65 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, which Ricoh says should be able to provide 290 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. The company also predicts 190 minutes of playback, and 45 minutes of movie capture. That's fair -- but not spectacular -- compared to the competition.

Alternatively, the Ricoh GR can accept mains power via an AC-5c 3.8V AC adapter kit with dummy battery.

Ricoh GR review -- Wide conversion lens
Go from wide to wider: Among accessories for the Ricoh GR is a 0.75x wide conversion lens that takes you out to a 21mm-equivalent focal length, matching the Ricoh GR21 film camera.

Accessories. The AC adapter kit is one of a number of accessories Ricoh offer for the GR; some were already sold for other products, others are specific to the GR. We've already mentioned the GV-1 and GV-2 accessory viewfinders, and the CA-2 cable release. There's also a GF-1 external flash strobe, GH-3 lens hood and adapter, GW-3 21mm wide angle conversion lens, a leather soft case, and a leather bottom case.

Ricoh GR review -- Firmware

Support. Ricoh, more than most companies, has made a point of regular firmware updates as a part of its after-sales service for its cameras. The company's function-enhancing firmware updates often add valuable new features based on user feedback and requests, and the company will apparently be providing similar firmware for the Ricoh GR. That means you can look forward to new features throughout the life of the camera.

While we don't have any indication as to how many such updates users can expect, past models such as the GR Digital, GR Digital II, GR Digital III, and GXR have received five such updates apiece. (And that's on top of the more typical bug-fixing updates released by most manufacturers.)

Ricoh GR review -- Rear quarter view

 

Ricoh GR Review -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Ricoh GR with the Nikon Coolpix A, Pentax K-5 IIs, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Sigma DP1M and Sony RX100.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.


Ricoh GR versus Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 100

Ricoh GR at ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 100

The bottle crops above are very similar, although the GR does a slightly better job at resolving the bottle's edge. It also does remarkably well with the mosaic pattern, but loses all detail in the red fabric swatch, while the Coolpix A renders it rather well.



Ricoh GR versus Pentax K-5 IIs at ISO 100

Ricoh GR at ISO 100
Pentax K-5 IIs at ISO 100

It's almost unfair to pit the GR against the K-5 IIs, Pentax's flagship DSLR with no lowpass filter, but we wanted to show you the relative difference. The crispness of the K-5 IIs is immediately obvious of course, but it's amazing to note how well it does with our tricky target red swatch of fabric, especially as compared with the GR.



Ricoh GR versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at Base ISO

Ricoh GR at ISO 100
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200

The E-M5 suffers slightly from noise reduction artifacts apparent in the bottle crop, but certainly shines in the other two crops in the crispness arena as compared to the GR, especially notable in the pink fabric swatch.

 

Ricoh GR versus Sigma DP1M at ISO 100

Ricoh GR at ISO 100
Sigma DP1M at ISO 100

The Sigma DP1 Merrill was born for low ISO performance, and its handling of the red fabric swatch here will best most any fixed lens camera. But the GR doesn't lose too much ground for fine detail in the bottle and mosaic crops.

 

Ricoh GR versus Sony RX100 at Base ISO

Ricoh GR at ISO 100
Sony RX100 at ISO 125

These are interesting, because the GR has a much larger sensor and yet the RX100 has higher resolution. The bottle crop is perhaps the most telling example of this, as the GR does a much better job at the smooth and accurate rendering of the subject matter. But its loss of detail in both the red and pink fabric swatches is still curious.



Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Ricoh GR versus Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 1600

Ricoh GR at ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 1600

The GR does a better job of controlling noise in the shadows of the bottle crop, and is perhaps a touch crisper in the mosaic crop. The fabric swatches though now lose most all detail, while the Coolpix A renders them quite well for this ISO.



Ricoh GR versus Pentax K-5 IIs at ISO 1600

Ricoh GR at ISO 1600
Pentax K-5 IIs at ISO 1600

The GR makes up some ground here against its pricier uncle the K-5 IIs, especially notable in the lower noise in the shadowy areas of the bottle crop. The K-5 IIs does do a better job for overall detail in the next two crops however.



Ricoh GR versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600

Ricoh GR at ISO 1600
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600

Yet again the E-M5 shows more noise reduction artifacts in the bottle crop, with the GR producing a much smoother overall image. The E-M5 turns in a slightly better performance though in both the mosaic and fabric crops.

 

Ricoh GR versus Sigma DP1M at ISO 1600

Ricoh GR at ISO 1600
Sigma DP1M at ISO 1600

The Sigma Foveon sensor is not made for higher ISOs, as is clear here. At base ISO it has few rivals though, so don't let its high ISO performance deter you too much if you are interested in incredible detail at low ISOs (see the detail table below).

 

Ricoh GR versus Sony RX100 at ISO 1600

Ricoh GR at ISO 1600
Sony RX100 at ISO 1600

The smaller sensor in the RX100 clearly starts to lose ground here against the APS-C sensored GR. Interesting that it still resolves more detail in the fabric than the GR.


These days, ISO 3,200 is a very viable shooting option for most good cameras, so let's take a look at some comparisons there.

Ricoh GR versus Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 3200

Ricoh GR at ISO 3200
Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 3200

The Coolpix A has a bit more obvious chroma noise here apparent in the shadows, and is not quite as crisp in the mosaic, but obviously wins handily in the fabric swatches with good detail for this ISO.



Ricoh GR versus Pentax K-5 IIs at ISO 3200

Ricoh GR at ISO 3200
Pentax K-5 IIs at ISO 3200

Interesting indeed to see how much ground the GR has made up against the K-5 IIs since we took a look at base ISO. The GR handles noise better in the first crop comparison, though the K-5 IIs still has better detail in the mosaic image.



Ricoh GR versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200

Ricoh GR at ISO 3200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200

Aggressive noise reduction in the E-M5 can be seen in the first of these two crops, creating images that are somewhat blotchy in comparison to the GR.

 

Ricoh GR versus Sigma DP1M at ISO 3200

Ricoh GR at ISO 3200
Sigma DP1M at ISO 3200

As noted at ISO 1600, the Foveon sensor was made for low ISOs.

 

Ricoh GR versus Sony RX100 at ISO 3200

Ricoh GR at ISO 3200
Sony RX100 at ISO 3200

Yet again, the larger sensor of the GR is simply able to capture more light and display more fine detail than the RX100 here.


Detail: Ricoh GR versus Nikon Coolpix A, Pentax K-5 IIs, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Sigma DP1M and Sony RX100.

Ricoh GR
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon A
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Pentax K-5 IIs
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus E-M5
ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sigma DP1M
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony RX100
ISO 125
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. Here is where the Sigma gets to shine at ISO 100, with its rich, gorgeous detail. The E-M5 is also quite nice there for fine detail. As ISO rises the K-5 IIs resolves detail fairly nicely as well, although by ISO 6400 the E-M5 is clearly in another league for resolving power than the rest. The GR and Coolpix A seem like the average cousins of this bunch, with the RX100's smaller sensor not able to compete as ISO rises.

 

Ricoh GR Review -- Print Quality

Very good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 100/200; ISO 1600 capable of a good 13 x 19; ISO 12,800 prints a nice 4 x 6.

ISO 100/200 images are excellent at 24 x 36 inches, with good color rendition and rich detail. The only exception is a general loss of contrast in our rather tricky target red swatch. Wall display prints look great all the way up to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 400 prints look quite good at 20 x 30 inches, crisp and clean, with wall display prints possible up to 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 800 yields a nice 16 x 20 inch print. All detail is lost in our target red swatch but the print is otherwise very good, even in shadowy areas prone to noise as ISO rises.

ISO 1,600 is capable of a good 13 x 19 inch print. There is minor noise apparent in some shadowy areas, but a good print overall for this ISO.

ISO 3,200 prints are good at 8 x 10 inches. 11 x 14s here are OK for less critical applications but have some blotchy areas from noise reduction in some spots.

ISO 6,400 produces a nice 5 x 7. The 8 x 10s here are just a bit on the noisy side to merit our "good" ranking.

ISO 12,800 prints a reasonable 4 x 6. Colors are a bit on the muted side, but still a good performance for such a high ISO.

ISO 25,600 does not print a usable 4 x 6 and is best avoided.

The Ricoh GR lives up to its APS-C sensor in the print quality department, producing very nice prints at large sizes up to ISO 1600, and right on par with its rival the Nikon Coolpix A. From ISO 3200 and higher the stakes change a little, with the GR losing one print size at each successive ISO as compared to the Coolpix A. But given that it is priced a good bit lower, and still matches step with the Coolpix A up to ISO 1600, it certainly makes for a compelling battle between these two stellar competitors in the "small-body-big-sensor" game.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)

 

In the Box

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Ricoh GR Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Good ergonomics
  • Light and compact for its lens and sensor size
  • Well-suited to single-handed shooting
  • Extremely (!!) customizable
  • Sharp, detailed images
  • Very good high ISO performance
  • Excellent dynamic range in RAW files
  • Excellent f/2.8 lens, with built-in ND filter
  • Low lens distortion (with no correction performed by processor)
  • Fast autofocus
  • Very good low-light focusing (though can be slow)
  • Very fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Bright, vivid RGBW LCD monitor
  • Fast 6.1 fps bursts with RAW (but limited to 4 frames)
  • Good built-in flash range for a compact
  • Fast flash recycling
  • Good battery life
  • Uses open standard DNG format for RAW files
  • Small and tightly-packed controls
  • Fiddly locking Mode dial
  • Exposure compensation easily bumped
  • Fixed focal-length lens
  • Muted colors by default (but can be dialed up for snappier color)
  • Auto white balance tends rather cool
  • Limited dynamic range in default JPEGs
  • Default noise reduction too strong in the red channel even at base ISO (but lowest NR setting is much better)
  • Susceptible to moiré and other aliasing artifacts
  • In-camera moiré correction fixes only strong color effects, leaves significant luminance banding and more subtle color effects
  • Default LCD monitor brightness is very low
  • Menu text is very small, hard to read in bright light

 

If you're a fan of large sensors and fixed prime lenses, things are really starting to look up for you. For years, your selection of cameras has been fairly limited. This year, that's finally changed, with the debuts in quick succession of the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR. Both companies have clearly had the same photographer in mind with their creations, and on paper the two cameras are incredibly hard to separate.

By reviewing both models side by side, we hoped to be able to come up with a clear favorite. (It's always nice when we can give a clear answer to what's probably our most-asked question: "Which camera should I buy?") As it turns out, though, both cameras are exceptionally close, and capable of turning out great images. Brand preference, then, is likely to play a big part in your buying decision.

That's not to say that there aren't areas of differentiation. For one thing, the Ricoh GR is significantly less expensive, lighter, and has a more comfortable body in-hand than does its Nikon rival. It also offers much faster burst shooting, but only if you're willing to shoot in raw mode and live with a dramatic reduction in burst shooting depth. The GR will also likely still be shooting for a fair while after the Nikon runs out of battery. And although we don't see either camera as very well-suited to movie capture, Ricoh doesn't hide its movie mode in the menu system.

On the flip side of the coin, though, the Nikon Coolpix A offers a true twin-dial setup, and its controls are larger and feel less cramped, meaning they would likely be easier to use with cold or gloved hands. It also feels more solid in-hand, and offers more intuitive manual focusing thanks to a physical (albeit fly-by-wire) dial around the lens barrel.

Image quality, too, is quite close between the Ricoh GR and Nikon Coolpix A. In some areas -- for example, corner sharpness, vignetting, and geometric distortion, the Ricoh's excellent prime lens gives it a slight edge. In other respects, the Nikon's higher saturation and more accurate auto white balance give it more pleasing images, and it also shows just slightly higher detail -- a modest difference, to be sure, but enough to see it return larger usable print sizes.

Both cameras show some issues with moiré and false color, and while the Ricoh GR is unique in offering a post-capture tool to mitigate these effects, it seems not to do much beyond reducing the strongest false color effects, leaving strong luminance banding behind, along with more subtle artifacts. Here too, then, a draw.

Really, it's too close to call definitively in favor of either camera. If you're the kind of photographer who would appreciate the challenge of shooting solely with a fixed prime lens, either model yields great images, and comes highly recommended. (And after spending some time with both cameras, we really do think some time with a fixed prime can be a very worthwhile experience, helping you to see your subjects in a new light.)

Like the Nikon Coolpix A before it, we think the Ricoh GR -- while definitely not the camera for everyone -- is a great photographic tool, and clearly earns itself a place on our Dave's Pick list.

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