The Ricoh GR, sometimes called the GR V on other sites, is the first camera in the Ricoh GR line released since Ricoh was bought by Pentax. It was announced a couple of months ago and I had mentioned that I had pre-ordered the camera. After a couple month delay, it finally arrived.1
This isn’t so much a review as it is a collection of my thoughts about the camera. There are plenty of great, in-depth technical reviews of the GR out there and I’m not going to rehash what’s already been said. I mainly want to add my voice to the ‘this is a great camera’ crowd.
Similarities to the GR1v
It’s very similar to the Ricoh GR1v in construction. The ‘grip’ is slightly meatier on the new GR. I view this as a positive thing; it provides a better purchase for your fingers, yet it’s really not big enough to change the thickness of the camera. As to other differences, some of the corners on the GR1v are a bit more rounded and of course, the biggest difference is the lens. On the GR1v, the lens retracted flush with the front of the camera body. On the GR, there is a ring that protrudes about 1/3'' which the lens retracts into. This ring protrusion sticks out only a tiny bit more from the face of the body than the grip. So, while the two cameras are more or less the same size, the GR looks and feels a bit bigger. It still fits into my front pockets, but it’s a bit tubbier.
All in all, it’s essentially as compact and portable as the film GR cameras. It just doesn’t look as sleek.
There’s not much in common here with the film GR cameras. The mode dial is in the same place, the shutter button looks the same, and there are lots of physical controls on each, but that’s about it.
Compared to the film GR1v, the digital GR gains a bunch of controls. The exposure compensation is now on a rocker switch under your thumb, aperture (or shutter) changes are made via a dial located in front of the shutter button (the ‘Up-down’ dial), and another lever is located on the back top of the camera behind the shutter button (the ‘ADJ.’ lever). Depending on the mode the camera is in, this control can be used to select ISO directly, or quickly access 5 user selected settings. In addition to those controls, on the back of the camera, there’s an autofocus button, a four way pad, two more buttons on the bottom. Lastly, living on the left side of the camera is a catch to open the flash, and one last button.
Whew. That’s a confusing array of buttons and controls. Notice I didn’t describe most of there functions; this is on purpose. Not only would you be better served by perusing the manual or dpreview’s review, but many of those controls can have their functions changed. Since some of the out-of-the-box choices are kind of… less useful, I would imagine most buyers of the GR will in fact change things around. There are several user configurable buttons on the camera:
- left on the four way pad (Fn1)
- the self timer button (Fn2)
- the effects button on the left side of the camera
- the ADJ. lever on the top right of the camera
I currently have the following settings configured to be directly accessible by a single button press:
- Some combination of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, depending on the mode
- Toggling between single point auto focus and Snap focus
- Self timer
- Continuous/single shot drive
- Macro focus (not configurable)
- White balance (not configurable)
- Flash settings (not configurable)
- Exposure compensation (not configurable)
Lastly, I also have almost instant access to the following settings via the ADJ. lever:
- Focus mode - 7 available
- Dynamic Range Compensation
You have the option to assign any one of 14 different settings to the above 5 slots. Bewildering, I know.
If that weren’t enough, on the mode dial live three ‘MY’ settings. You can store any preset of settings to these three slots so you can access them instantly. In addition to that, there are 6 memory slots for settings that can be used to program the ‘MY’ dial settings. The way I use these functions is to have several different setups stored in the memory slots which I can then recall to any one of the three ‘MY’ settings when I need them. I currently have the following three ‘MY’ settings:
a basic Av setting for quick use — in case I have the regular Av mode set to some wacky settings. Aperture set to f/2.8, single point autofocus, and Auto 3200 ISO preselected.
a long exposure setting — manual focus, smaller aperture, longer shutter speed, and low ISO preselected.
a flash setting — similar to the Av preset. f/4 for easier focusing and both flash exposure compensation and manual flash level settings configured to specific buttons.
First off, the image quality is excellent. The controls, once you set them up to your liking, are very easy to use. The camera is very responsive. Really, no issues there.
Auto focus is pretty fast in mediocre to good light. At some point in low enough light, focus performance gets pretty poor. Lots of hunting and very slow. Of course, if you turn on the AF focus assist lamp, AF speed is quite decent even in the dark. It’s important to note a couple of things:
- It’s still much better than the GR1v.
- The AF focus assist lamp is blindingly bright.
- Sometimes the AF will lock on to the wrong thing. For example, you try to focus on a person’s eyes and it chooses their hair instead. However, see point 1.
The GR has a bunch of different focus modes, including the Snap mode, which is a variant on manual focus much like scale focusing. It also has a nice feature named Full Snap wherein if you fully depress the shutter button in one swift motion without giving the camera a chance to auto focus, the camera moves to a preset Snap focus distance, and will also optionally move to Auto 3200 ISO, allowing you to quickly grab shots. Most of the GR focus modes are available in modified form in the GR1v with the exception of Full Snap, yet are much easier to use due to the greatly increased feedback via the back LCD. At least now you can quickly review your shot on the back of the camera.
The screen is also pretty excellent. It’s very usable in bright light.
Here’s a few random comments I have about the camera.
Manual Exposure Mode
The manual mode has a cool feature (in my mind at least) where you can hit the now useless exposure compensation button and the camera changes the shutter speed and aperture to something appropriate to what it is currently metering. This lets you shoot in manual exposure mode while still retaining the ability to quickly react to situations.
Both the Snap and Manual focus modes are very similar, with Snap providing fewer settings that are clearly labeled, while the Manual mode offers many more steps but you have to read the distance on the small scale. Note that Infinity focus is available three different ways: in Snap, in Manual, and in Infinity mode.
The Snap, Full Snap, and Manual distances are all set the same way: hold in the Macro button and turn the ‘Up-down’ dial under your forefinger. However, I really like how the AF button can be used in conjunction with these modes. While using the camera with Snap or Infinity focus, if you press the AF button and hold it, the camera will autofocus on what’s in the middle of the screen, and you can use that as your focus point as long as you hold in the AF button. In Manual focus mode, pressing the AF button will set a new focus distance based on what’s in front of the camera; no need to hold in the AF button.
My only complaint with this mode is that you get no visual indication of where the camera is focusing by means of an AF box. I’d like it if the Spot AF box appeared on screen as soon as you hit the AF button. It also appears to be a bit slower in achieving focus compared to Spot focus mode; however that might just be my imagination.
Dynamic Range Compensation (DRC)
This is an interesting setting. It affects both the RAW files and the jpegs. When set, the camera limits the ISOs you can select and essentially underexposes to capture more highlight detail. For the in-camera jpegs, it also boosts the shadows up to (or beyond) where they would be if the DRC was turned off.
The neat thing about this setting is that the amount of compensation in stops is written in the DNG files, so most RAW developer programs will compensate for the underexposure. What this means is that you get a bit of extra range in the highlights at the expense of detail in the shadows.
The three settings appear to apply the following amount of compensation in stops:
- Weak - 0.3 stops
- Medium - 0.8 stops
- Strong - 1.1 stops
This is above and beyond the 0.2 stops of compensated underexposure that the camera always applies.
Note, you could just dial in some amount of exposure compensation and manually adjust for it after the fact, but DRC does all of this automatically for you, including in the in-camera previews. Unfortunately, it also changes your usable ISO limits, so those who prefer ultimate control over everything might avoid DRC and manual adjust compensation.
Here’s a bit more about Baseline Exposure, which the DRC setting appears to change.
I’m really enjoying the Ricoh GR. It works and feels like a ‘real’ camera. The image quality is excellent as is the interface. It has some minor annoyances, but so do most cameras these days.
I’ve not uploaded many shots yet from the GR yet, but those that I have uploaded can be found on flickr.
I was hoping to have my hands on it already during my Leica M Monochrom rental period so I could do direct some comparisons, but of course, I got the shipment notification for the GR the day after I sent the Monochrom back. ↩︎