If one trend comes to define 2013 in the camera space, our money is firmly placed on compacts with large sensors. The Ricoh GR is the latest camera to sport an APS-C sensor, a size normally reserved for consumer-level SLRs. That is, until manufacturers like Nikon, Fuji and Sony popularised putting a big sensor inside a small body.
Design and features
The GR looks no different on the outside from earlier Ricoh compact cameras such as the Digital IV, except for the insignia at the front. The top panel keeps things simple with a power and shutter button, as well as a locking mode dial that turns when the small button is depressed alongside. Three customisable slots are found on the dial, as well as automatic, PASM and movie mode. A hotshoe, pop-up flash and exposure dial are also accessible from the top.
Around the back, the GR has a textured area for the thumb to sit comfortably while still accessing all the rear controls. A switch flicks between focusing modes, while a button in the middle can lock the setting in place. The operation of this configuration can be changed in a number of different ways from the menu system, but we found that the most intuitive set-up was to use the AEL/AFL side for focus locking when the button is depressed, and the C-AF setting for continuous focus as you recompose.
A secondary exposure dial around the back can be used to adjust other shooting options like capture type (RAW, JPEG or JPEG sizes), ISO, aspect ratio, metering and focus modes. It's a testament to the interface design that all the options are easy to find without needing to consult the manual, and work in a similar manner to earlier Ricoh cameras.
The four-way directional pad operates as expected with a macro, flash, white balance and a customisable slot. The 3-inch screen is sharp and bright. An effect button at the side gives easy access to a range of filters, including black and white, cross-process, positive film, bleach bypass and retro. The effects can be previewed in real time.
Some examples of the effects (or filters) available on the GR, including cross-process and black and white.
Pretty much every button and option on the GR can be customised to the user's liking, which makes this an ideal camera for enthusiasts and those who like to tweak their cameras from the ground up.
With a 28mm f/2.8 lens, the GR holds its own against other cameras in this price bracket, thanks to an all-purpose focal length that's useful for street and portrait photographers. The 16.2-megapixel sensor (with no low-pass filter) bears striking resemblance to the Nikon Coolpix A.
Video shooters won't find many options on the GR. Full HD or VGA recording is available at 30/25/24fps, while 720p is 60/50/30/25/24fps. It's all in motion JPEG, too, rather than H.264 or another codec geared toward video quality. As for other options, well, they're pretty thin on the ground. Users can choose focusing mode, the image effect filter, white balance and snap focusing distance. There's no microphone jack, so audio has to be recorded with the built-in microphone.
A built-in neutral density (ND) filter ensures that you can use the full benefits of the wide aperture even in bright situations. There's also an intervalometer available, too.
|Nikon Coolpix A||Ricoh GR||Fujifilm X100s|
|16.2-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor||16.2-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor||16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II APS-C sensor|
|28mm f/2.8 lens||28mm f/2.8 lens||35mm f/2 lens|
|Optional reverse Galilean viewfinder||Optional reverse Galilean viewfinder||Hybrid reverse Galilean viewfinder|
|Contrast AF||190-point hybrid AF||Contrast AF|
|3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 921,600-dot LCD||2.8-inch, 460,000-dot LCD|
|30-1/2000 second shutter||300-1/4000 second shutter||20-1/4000 second shutter|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Nikon Coolpix A
Sony Cyber-shot RX1
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Nikon Coolpix A
Sony Cyber-shot RX1
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The focusing system is nimble, and much faster than that found on the Coolpix A. The GR is able to acquire focus within a second, even in situations with little ambient light.
There are so many focusing modes on the GR that it's hard to know where to start. Apart from the more standard modes such as multi-point, spot and subject tracking, the GR also offers snap focus. This lets you determine a preset focusing distance in increments from 1 metre to infinity. Then, with snap focus mode chosen, the camera will be immediately ready to go at that focus distance — ideal for street photography.
In continuous mode, the GR can push out 12 full-resolution JPEG frames before slowing to process them. The buffer takes around five seconds to clear after a burst of shots. In RAW, the GR only pushes out four shots (at a faster rate than JPEG, though) before stopping completely to process them.
Ricoh rates the battery at 290 shots, which is about average.
The Ricoh GR does not disappoint on the image quality front.
The lens is particularly sharp: most prominently at the centre, even when shooting at f/2.8. Moving out toward the corners, it's still pretty good in terms of sharpness. There's no obvious barrel distortion, either, which means hardly any lens correction needs to be done. What is also pleasing is the beautiful, soft bokeh when shooting wide open.
There is very little chromatic aberration noticeable when shooting in regular conditions. The only time fringing is noticeable is on areas of high contrast, and also when photographing bright light sources in low light.
Macro mode lets the GR focus around 10cm away from the subject, typical for a fixed wide-angle lens. Not particularly close, but good enough for most situations. Like earlier Ricoh cameras, the multi-pattern white balance produces excellent and accurate results in a number of different lighting situations.
Noise is handled pretty well on the GR, and only starts to become obvious at ISO 1600 and above. On default settings, the GR is a bit aggressive, with noise reduction on JPEGs.
A comparison between the RAW and JPEG files from the GR, with 100 per cent crops inset.
The GR shoots its RAW images in the DNG format which makes things particularly simple for photographers who don't want to mess around with conversion software from manufacturers. The GR retains a touch more detail in the RAW files than in its JPEG files.
Video quality is OK — not great, but not terrible, either. The image is slightly soft, while the audio is reasonably well-separated. However, as the GR doesn't have image stabilisation, video will be incredibly shaky if recorded hand-held. Arguably, the target audience for this camera won't really miss having a fully featured video arsenal at their disposal, though.
The one advantage of the GR's video mode is that users can select a number of different filters to apply during recording, which appear in real time, such as cross-process and black and white.
Exposure: 1/20, f/4, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/125, f/4, ISO 100
With an aggressive pricing strategy, Ricoh should win plenty of photography enthusiasts over with the GR. Competing cameras like the Nikon Coolpix A are easier to pick up and start shooting with for beginners, but it seems like a waste for these cameras to stay in auto all the time. This is where the GR steps in — there are just so many ways to customise this camera, it's almost ridiculous.
All the customisation in the world would mean nothing if the GR wasn't able to take good photos. Fortunately, it does, making it an ideal tool for photographers looking for a large-sensor, fixed-lens compact to sit alongside their SLR or interchangeable-lens camera gear.