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Review: Ricoh GR

by Abram Goglanian on 07/17/2013

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The Ricoh GR is the latest in the long and illustrious line of GR compact cameras. Some have been calling it the GRD V as it is succeeding the GRD IV, but the reality is that this is far more than a simple model upgrade from the previous camera. This is an entirely new animal all together. Pentax – Ricoh was kind enough to supply me with a GR to take on my international trip throughout the Mediterranean so I could come back with a complete and thorough experience to share with you all. This is a strictly hands-on 2000+ frame user experience review and not one that will be plastered with test charts, brick walls and MTF graphs. Undoubtedly you have seen some or all of the reviews that have been shared thus far, but this review was my mission to find out how the Ricoh GR handles the real world as an everyday and travel camera. Head on past the break for my journey with the Ricoh GR.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Extremely compact and discreet with a “non-descript” style
  • Impressive image quality from the APS-C sensor
  • Best ergonomics of any compact digital for one handed operation

 Cons

  • Battery life could be better and no external battery charger is included (you have to plug the camera into an outlet via USB)
  • Exposure compensation gets changed a little too easily without you knowing it
  • High ISO beyond 3200 is pretty noisy, though usable with careful processing

Tech Specs

Copied from Adorama’s Product Page

Sensor Type CMOS Sensor
Sensor Size APS-C
Color depth 8 bit JPG, 12 bit RAW
Effective pixels (total pixels) 16.2MP
Lens Type/construction Ricoh GR lens, 7 elements, 5 groups (2 aspheric elements), 9 diaphragm blades
Focal length (equiv.) 18.3mm (28mm)
Aperture f/2.8 – f/16
Filter diameter 43mm (Hood and Adapter GH-2 required)
Focus Type TTL 190 point hybrid autofocus, AF assist lamp, AF external sensor (CDAF)
Focus Sensitivity range LV 4 to 17 (without AF assist lamp)
Focus modes Multi AF (Contrast AF method), Spot AF (Contrast AF method), Pinpoint AF, Subject-tracking AF, MF, Snap, infinity, Face recognition priority (only in Auto mode), Continuous
Focus range Normal: 11.76″ to infinity
Macro: 3.9″ to infinity
Metering system: Sensitivity range EV 1.8 to 17.7 (ISO 100, 50mm F1.4)
Metering patterns (multi, center, spot)
Exposure compensation +/- 4 EV (1/3 steps)
Exposure lock Yes
Exposure bracketing +/- 2 EV (3 frames, 1/2 or 1/3 steps, individual image exposure adjustable)
Shutter speed 1/4000 – 300 sec., Bulb, Time
LCD/Viewfinder Display 3.0″ transparent LCD, w/ protective cover
LCD resolution 1,230,000 dots
Viewfinder Yes, via hotshoe mounted external optical viewfinder (sold separately)
Auto flash: Type Built-in series control auto flash
Flash modes Auto, Flash ON, Slow-Sync, Manual, AUTO Red-Eye Flash, Flash ON Red, Eye, Slow-Sync Red-Eye
Effective range 3.3′ – 9.8′ (auto ISO)
Guide Number (5.4 / 100 ISO)
Flash exposure compensation +/- 2 EV (1/3 steps)
External Flash: Type Hot shoe TTL-A (TTL w/ pre-flash)
Synchronization speed 1/2000 sec
Removable memory SD, SDHC, SDXC, Eye-Fi (X2 Series)
Ports USB 2.0 hi-speed, AV/USB out, HDMI (Micro, Type D)
Video out NTSC, PAL, HD (HDMI supports HD Auto, 1080p, 720p, 480p)
Microphone Built-in monaural
Power source Rechargeable Li-Ion battery DB-65
Recordable images Li-Ion approx. 290 (CIPA)
Movie recording time 25 min. maximum time per clip
AC adapter available Yes (sold separately)
Primary construction material(s) Magnesium Alloy covers
Operating temperature 32-104deg.F
Image file: Recorded resolutions 16M (4928×3264), (4352×3264), (3264×3264), 10M (3936×2608), (3488×2608), (2608×2608), 5M (2912×1936), (2592×1936), (1936×1936), 1M (1280×864), (1152×864), (864×864) + 1920×1080, 1280×720, 640×480
Image file: Quality levels RAW, RAW +, L (Large), M (Medium), S (Small), XS (Xtra Small)
File formats RAW (DNG), RAW +, JPG (EXIF 2.3), DCF 2.0 compliant, DPOF, PIM III
Color space sRGB, AdobeRGB
ISO Sensitivity AUTO, AUTO-HI, Manual ISO 100 – 25600
White Balance: Type Image sensor detection, Auto, Multi-P AUTO, Outdoors, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent 1, Incandescent 2, Daylight, Neutral White, Cool White, Warm White, Manual, Details, White Balance Bracket Function.
WB fine adjustment +/- 8 steps B-A axis or G-M axis
WB bracketing Yes
Capture Mode selection Auto shooting mode, Program shift mode, Aperture-Priority mode, Shutter-Priority mode, Shutter/Aperture priority mode, Manual exposure mode, Bulb mode, Time mode, Movie, My Settings Mode
Effects modes B&W, B&W (TE), High Contrast B&W, Cross-Process, Positive Film, Bleach-Bypass, Retro, Miniaturize, High-Key
Face Detection AF & AE – available in Auto modes for up to 10 faces.
Date Imprint Yes (date, date & time)
Electronic level Yes (horizontal tilt, forward-back pitch)
File/Folder customization Embed copyright
Drive Mode selection Continuous shooting, Self-timer, Interval shooting, Effect bracketing, Dynamic range bracketing, Contrast bracketing, Color space setting, FA/Move Target, Dynamic range compensation, Multiple exposure shooting, Interval composite, Noise reduction, Histogram, Grid Guide, Depth-of-field indicator, Electronic level indicator
Continuous FPS Approx. 4 fps
Multi-exposure 2-4 shots, auto exposure adjustment, save individual images
Interval Unlimited shots, 5s to 1h interval in 5s increments
HDR Available as Dynamic Range Double Shot scene mode
Cable switch Yes (sold separately)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 4.6×2.4×1.4″ / 11.68×6.09×3.55cm
Weight Without battery or removable memory: 7.6oz / 215.45g
Loaded and ready: 8.6oz / 243.8g

Gear Used

For my review I used the Ricoh GR (obviously), and also had a chance to try out the seemingly hard to find GW-3 wide angle adapter (21mm equivalent) which requires the GH-3 mount adapter as well. I personally prefer Sandisk for all my flash memory needs, and the Extreme SDHC cards are inexpensive and fast enough for continuous usage.

Ergonomics

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The Ricoh GR is a very low-profile and unassuming camera, with only the controls you need, and nothing that you don’t. The front of the camera itself is essentially bare, but you can see the small AF assist lamp (which I always disable, but I did try it and it works well), you will also notice the front control dial embedded into the grip, this will control your Aperture setting in most modes, and the shutter speed in manual mode.

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On the left side of the camera is the release switch for the small popup flash (great for fill flash if you dial it way down), and the Effect button for selecting the pre-installed Jpeg color modes. Unless you want that button to do something else, then you can easily re-program it!

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Here’s the command center of the GR; just enough controls to be effective, without being a calculator. Practically everything you need to adjust is right at your fingertips, including quick access to exposure compensation (upper right corner). I did notice that while walking around with the camera in-hand I would often have inadvertently changed the exposure compensation to a dramatic +/- 4 stops, which I wouldn’t catch until I shot a frame or two if I was in a hurry. I did list this as a con, but I truly appreciate the quick and easy access to this feature as I used it quite often. It’s also worth mentioning that the 2 Function buttons (Fn1 & Fn2) can be reprogramed to another function of your choosing, and the Adjust menu (ADJ button) can also be configured to hold a number of different quick-access features. I loved the customizability of this camera!

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Housed underneath a rubberized door on the right side of the camera, you will find your USB / Charging port and a micro-HDMI port for displaying your images on a TV. It’s worth mentioning that you have to plug the camera into a power outlet to charge the battery, but there are external chargers available, both first and third party; why one wasn’t included, I’m not sure.

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As is commonplace to find on compact digital cameras, the battery compartment also houses the SD card slot, you’ll also notice the tripod socket is not quite centered, but since the camera is so lightweight, I didn’t find this to be too much of an issue in usage.

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On the top deck of the camera you’ll find the usual suspects of a power button, shutter button and control dials. I appreciated that the mode dial has a built-in lock so you don’t accidentally change modes all the time. I also appreciate the inclusion of a standard hot shoe, so one can attach all sorts of accessories or speedlights onto the camera. The shutter button has a good feel overall, but I did find it to be slightly spongy, though not enough to be a real problem.

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Attaching the GW-3 wide angle lens onto the body of the GR bulks up the overall size of the camera considerably. I didn’t get a chance to use the GV-1 optical viewfinder or the normally included lens hood (they couldn’t be found in time for the review) but it’s easy enough to compose with the rear LCD. I will say though that despite the additional bulk, the camera still felt well balanced, but it was ideal to use two hands for maximum stability.

Build Quality

When I first picked up the GR, I could tell straight-away that it was a well made product. It just felt reassuringly solid in my hands. I was actually a little surprised to turn it over and find that it’s made in China, but regardless of this aspect it feels like a premium product when you handle it. All of the buttons and toggles have a solid action to them with no slop or play in their movements, and when the lens barrel is extended it does not wiggle while in use. In my travels around Europe with this camera at my side and in my bag, I noticed that some parts of it did seem to scuff easily, despite the care I was giving the camera since it was not my own. I managed to get a scuff on the LCD screen, and several small scuffs on the front of the lens barrel (while it was closed), yet how this actually happened, I cannot seem to figure out. Cosmetic scuffs aside, this camera worked wonderfully in the heat and humidity of the locations I visited, leaving little room for doubt in my mind that it would hold up to strenuous use in the real world. Additionally, I was using the GW-3 wide adapter (effectively turning the lens into a 21mm f2.8) and it, too, felt well made. The lens barrel is entirely made of metal and has a reassuring heft to it, but the attachment adapter is made of lightweight plastic which still feels well built, but not the same as the metal of the lens or even the body of the GR itself.

Autofocus

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The GR has a contrast detection AF system (a common find in non-SLR cameras) which works pretty well in most conditions. In typical daylight the camera will lock onto a subject quickly and accurately the first try (I don’t like saying things have 100% accuracy, but it felt pretty darn close). In very very low light I found that the GR would hunt for focus for a second or two, but most of the time it would eventually lock on what I had intended. This was a bit slow, but I feel that it was within my expectations for a non-DSLR camera.

I found that I mostly used the Spot AF mode as it uses a single (positionable) AF point which works for my usual focus & recompose method of shooting. Multi AF works well too, but it tries to grab a central subject and I don’t always like letting a camera decide where I want to focus. In addition to these two modes, there is a manual focus option (which I never used) and two very cool other options: Snap Focus and Infinity Lock.   With Snap Focus, you can preset a specific distance for the camera to be pre-focused at and as soon as you press the shutter, it is instantly ready to fire. This is hugely beneficial for street photography, as you can preset your working distance, stop down the lens to f5.6 or f8 and have a nearly unlimited depth of field with instant response time. Infinity Lock does exactly what it sounds like, locks the lens at infinity focus. This is very helpful when shooting subjects at a distance in low light conditions where the lens may not be able to focus quickly; I found it to be quite useful for shooting distant subjects quickly as I was on foot with numerous walking excursions.

Metering

The meter in the Ricoh GR is pretty decent, but not the most accurate that I’ve seen. In “easy” daylight conditions it will usually be spot on with the Sunny-16 rule, but once you start to get into trickier backlighting conditions be ready to use that (conveniently located) exposure compensation toggle. I will say that this is one area where the Nikon Coolpix A (which I recently reviewed) proves to be superior with its 3D-Matrix Metering system. Overall, it works well enough, and with the wonderful controls available on the camera, it’s an absolute breeze to quickly adjust your exposure.

Image Quality

The Ricoh GR is capable of outstanding image quality at normal ISO values, and very good image quality in higher ISO ranges. I was very impressed with the sharpness and clarity of the GR lens, and also how well the files handled in post production. I’m not one to do a lot of editing, but I found I was easily able to get the look I wanted from the files with very little effort. I thought that the Raw colors seemed to be a bit on the weak side, but they punch up well with minimal editing as well. This could be an attribute of the native DNG format. I’m not entirely sure to be 100% honest, but what I do know though is that there are a ton of options for tweaking the Jpeg color palette to your liking, if shooting Jpegs is something you want to do. Additionally, I thought that the in-camera B&W Jpegs were fantastic, most of the ones I shot needed no additional editing which I really enjoyed.

In-camera B&W Jpeg

In-camera B&W Jpeg

As I was also able to try out the GW-3 wide adapter, I was actually pretty pleased with the overall quality the attachment lens provided. Naturally it’s not as good as the onboard GR lens, but the sweet spot is at f5.6 which gives to sharpness from corner to corner with minimal smearing. It’s better than some ultra-wide lenses I’ve seen for DSLRs, so that’s saying something.

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Hagia Sophia

High ISO

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I was pretty pleased overall with the image quality in higher ISOs. I thought that 3200 was completely usable, and 6400 was passable with some careful processing. 12800 could be used in a pinch, but you’re going to see a lot of noise, and 25600, well, let’s say it’s for emergency uses only. Overall, for a compact camera with an APS-C sensor I think that it has solid high-ISO capabilities (though the Nikon Coolpix A was about a stop cleaner in my tests).

RAW Versatility

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I was also impressed with the usable dynamic range of the GR. It completely saved some horrendously overexposed images (thanks to me accidentally overexposing 4 stops from pressing the compensation button without realizing it). I was able to pull the exposure to a very usable level in Lightroom 5, and it’s good to know that images can be salvaged when you make a mistake.

Extra Image Samples

Greece.

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Vatican

GR Wanderings.

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I used LR5's auto perspective correction for this example.

I used LR5’s auto perspective correction for this example.

Conclusions

 

ricoh-gr-editors-choiceThe Ricoh GR is the latest successor in the long line of the GR camera series, and their popularity (as well as cult-like status) never seems to dwindle. It is a camera designed by AND for photographers with one of the best control layouts I’ve ever seen in a compact camera. I truly appreciated the level of customization Ricoh gives us with the ability to remap several buttons, but overall it just feels like a very smartly designed and well thought out camera. I was fortunate enough to test the GR and Coolpix A back to back, and in my honest opinion I would choose the GR hands down every single time. The Coolpix A did have superior High-ISO abilities, and I also felt that its 3D-Matrix metering system was also superior, but from a usability standpoint, the Ricoh GR is the one to beat, not to mention it’s $300 CHEAPER for what is essentially the same camera on paper. Go figure.

I absolutely fell in love with this camera from the moment I first picked it up and shot my first few frames, also being able to travel with it across Western Europe was an enlightening experience. This was the first time I went on vacation without my DSLR kit, I took only the GR and my Fuji X-Pro 1, and you know what? I didn’t miss my DSLR, not once.

The Ricoh GR is a perfect travel camera with its 28mm focal length (and 35mm crop ability) as you can shoot just about anything with this lens. I would have really loved if it had an f2 lens over f2.8, but that’s only for real low light. I found that in most cases it was able to achieve an adequate shutter speed in all but the darkest of dark locations (like exploring a 1st century home underneath the city of Rome).  I’m coming away from this review and my trip with an incredible experience, and from a photographic standpoint, I was SO glad to have the GR with me. It was my constant companion at my side and with its fast reflexes I was able to capture those fleeting moments on my trip that would have otherwise been missed if I had to grab my camera out of my bag.

In the end, I have found a camera that I can live with every day, and know that it will deliver consistently impressive image quality and allow me to leave the bulky gear at home when it’s not needed. And that’s why we’re awarding it our Editors Choice award. You can pick one up for yourself from places like Adorama and Amazon.

 


 

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