Ricoh GR review

The Ricoh GR fixed, wide-lens, large-sensor compact is one of those rare cameras that does just about everything right.
Photo of Ricoh GR

The Ricoh GR ($799.95 direct) is the rare camera that does just about everything right. It’s a fixed-lens compact with a 18.3mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.8 prime lens and a 16-megapixel APS-C image sensor, the same size found in most D-SLRs. It will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the Nikon Coolpix A, but the GR edges the Coolpix out in terms of image quality, performance, and ergonomics. And it ousts our current Editors’ Choice prime-lens compact, the pricey but stellar Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1. The GR is a full $2,000 less, and represents a better value.

Design and Features
About the same size as larger point-and-shoot cameras and smaller compact interchangeable lens cameras, the GR measures 2.4 by 4.6 by 1.4 inches (HWD) and weighs about 8.6 ounces. It’s a bit slimmer than the Nikon Coolpix A (2.6 by 4.4 by 1.6 inches, 10.6 ounces). Both cameras are small enough to slide into your shirt pocket.

The controls are designed so you can fully operate the camera with one hand. With the exception of an Effect button and the manual flash release, which are located on the left side of the camera, all of the shooting controls are on the right side. By default the Effect button previews depth of field, but it can be reprogrammed to perform any of a about two dozen functions. There’s a control wheel on the top front, directly in front of the shutter release. Also on the top plate are the Mode dial and the Power button.

The rear houses a dedicated Plus/Minus rocker that adjusts EV compensation, as well as dedicated buttons to enable macro shooting, control flash output, and adjust white balance. Two buttons, labeled Fn1 and Fn2, can be reprogrammed with the same versatility as the Effect button; by default they control the focus point position and the self-timer. There’s a toggle switch that lets you activate focus and exposure lock or to engage continuous autofocus by holding down an integrated button. There’s also an adjustment lever; press it to activate a software menu that allows you to scroll through and adjust any of five customizable functions. By default it is configured to adjust the ISO, image quality, aspect ratio, focus mode, and metering pattern controls by jogging it left or right.

There’s also a more detailed Menu system that’s a bit dense and text based. Advanced shooters will find that there are any number of useful functions that can be customized. You can enable snap focus shooting, which immediately fires off a shot without first confirming focus when the shutter is pressed down all the way. The distance to which the camera focuses is adjustable when this is engaged; 1 meter, 1.5 meters, 2 meters, 2.5 meters, 5 meters, and infinity are options. This is helpful for street shooters working at smaller apertures, as the camera can be set to a certain distance that will allow depth of field to capture most of the scene in focus. Direct access to adjust the snap focus distance is one of functions that can be assigned to the Effect, Fn1, or Fn2 buttons, or to the adjustment lever.

A number of effect filters are available, but they’ll only apply when shooting JPG. These include a couple different black-and-white settings, a washed-out bleach bypass look, the faux tilt-shift miniature effect, and others. All of these can be fine-tuned for a more dramatic or subtle effect. The color output for standard JPG shots can also be adjusted; you have access to sliders that control saturation, contrast, sharpness and vignetting.

The camera’s lens has a focal length of 18.3mm, which is roughly equivalent to a 28mm lens in 35mm film or full-frame digital photography. The Coolpix A and the Sigma DP1 Merrill are the only other fixed-lens compacts currently on the market that match this wide-angle field of view. The Ricoh GR is a bit more versatile; a wide-angle adapter is available that delivers a 21mm field of view with very little loss in image quality. There’s also an in-camera crop mode that narrows field of view to that of a 35mm lens; this mode works even if you’re shooting exclusively in Raw, but image resolution is reduced to 10 megapixels.

As you would expect in an enthusiast-level camera, the rear LCD is top-notch. It’s 3 inches and features a tightly packed 1.2-million-dot resolution. It’s just as sharp as the 920k dot display found on Nikon’s similar Coolpix A, but has an extra layer of white pixels for better viewing on bright days.

You get a hot shoe, which can be used to mount a flash or an external optical viewfinder. When using the optical viewfinder you can disable the LCD entirely; you’ll have to place some trust in the the GR’s autofocus system as there is no shooting information displayed in a simple glass eyepiece. The focus is quick and accurate so there should be no worries there.

Performance and Conclusions
The Ricoh GR is fast. It starts and shoots in 1.4 seconds and its shutter lag is a mere 0.2-second in its standard focus range of 11.8 inches to infinity. Switching to macro mode slows the focus a bit, the lag is about 0.3-second. In dim light, the GR requires about 0.8 second to lock focus. Compare this with the Nikon Coolpix A, which starts in 1.5 seconds, but requires about 0.4 second to lock focus in its standard 20-inch to infinity focus range. In macro mode the Coolpix can focus just as close as the Ricoh GR, about 4 inches, but it takes about 1.2 seconds to focus and fire in that mode. In low light, the Nikon takes just under a second to focus. Simply put, the GR is faster to focus and fire.

If you’re shooting in JPG mode, the GR’s continuous shooting mode fires off photos at 4 frames per second for as long as you’d like. If you opt to shoot in Raw or Raw+JPG, the camera rattles off four quick shots in about half a second, but stops there. I used a SanDisk 95MBps memory card to perform tests; the recovery time for a Raw burst was 2.7 seconds and 4.3 seconds for a Raw+JPG burst. The Leica X2 approaches continuous shooting a bit differently. Regardless of which file format you choose, the Leica captures photos at 5 frames per second, but it can only grab 8 shots at a time.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the GR’s lens. At f/2.8 the lens is able to resolve 2,105 lines per picture height, much better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp image. The score is more heavily weighted at the center frame than at the edges, but even at its widest aperture the edges score 1,927 lines. Stopping down to f/4 only marginally increases the overall score—2,208 lines across the frame, with the edges scoring 2,120 lines. You can shoot at any aperture without having to worry about sharpness. Like the Coolpix A, there’s no optical low pass filter, so fine details are better captured. The GR’s imaging engine compensates for any moiré that may be introduced by the lack of this filter. Barrel distortion is minimal, only 0.3 percent. We saw impressive edge-to-edge sharpness with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1; it scored 2,275 lines at its maximum aperture, but it did show a bit more distortion, about 2.5 percent.

Adding the wide-angle adapter hurts image quality, but not tremendously so. The GR’s field of view is expanded to match a 21mm lens, without significant light loss. The sharpness at f/2.8 is 2,016 lines, but you do lose resolution at the edges of the frame—they dip to 1,501 lines with the adapter installed. Stopping down to f/4 sharpens things up nicely, giving you an overall score of 2,168 lines and an impressive edge score of 1,906 lines. Adding the adapter does increase the distortion, but only to 1.4 percent—quite impressive for any 21mm lens.

Noise increases as you increase a camera’s ISO, which is a numeric representation of its sensitivity to light. Too much noise can make a photo look overly grainy, and eventually wipe fine details away. At default settings, the GR keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 6400. A good amount of detail is lost to noise reduction at this setting, but you have the option of reducing the amount of noise reduction applied to images. If you shoot in Raw, noise reduction won’t be applied at all; you’ll apply it as needed in the Raw software of your choosing.

I looked at Raw files in Lightroom at default settings and found that the camera captures an impressive amount of detail through ISO 1600, which is the setting at which the default JPG noise reduction starts to smudge images a bit. If you value image detail and don’t mind a grainer image, you can turn down the noise reduction—or simply shoot in Raw format. To my eye the Raw files from the Coolpix A were a bit cleaner and captured a bit more detail than those from the GR at ISO 6400, but it’s not a dramatic difference. The cameras are neck and neck when shooting Raw at ISO 3200 and below. The GR can go as high as ISO 25600, but don’t expect miracles; photos captured at settings that high leave a lot to be desired.

If you opt to shoot JPG, you’ll likely want to exercise your control over the amount of noise reduction applied to images. At default settings the Nikon Coolpix A edges out the GR in terms of image detail at ISO 3200 and 6400. You can lessen the strength of the noise reduction if you don’t mind a little grain. The Nikon does allow you to adjust this as well, but it doesn’t give you as much control as the GR does; with the GR you can customize the amount of reduction applied at each and every ISO setting separately. Default JPG image quality at ISO 3200 and above is the one area where the Coolpix A manages to edge out the GR, albeit only slightly.

Video is recorded up to 1080p30 or 720p60 in QuickTime format. The quality is quite good; details are crisp and colors are saturated, and you have the option of applying the same color effects to video as you do to stills. The only real knock on the video quality is that the GR is a bit slow to refocus when recording, and there’s no mic input, so don’t expect to use this camera for assignments where studio level sound quality is required. You get a micro HDMI port to connect to an HDTV to review photos and video clips. The USB port is proprietary, and it doubles as the battery charging port. You need to plug the camera into a wall to recharge its battery. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

If you’re a fan of the wide field of view provided by a 28mm lens, the Ricoh GR is the compact camera to get. It’s sharp, fast, and it does well in all kinds of light. Its closest competitors are the Nikon Coolpix A and the Sigma DP1 Merrill. The Coolpix A costs $300 more, but lags behind the GR in terms of performance and image quality. The Sigma uses a Foveon image sensor, capturing amazing images at lower ISO settings, but struggles in low light and its Raw format isn’t widely supported. The GR shoots in the standard DNG format, which means that you won’t have to wait for Lightroom or Aperture to be updated to start working with its files.

If you are after a fixed-lens camera, but can’t wrap your head around shooting in 28mm, you have some other options. The Fujifilm X100s covers a 35mm field of view, and has a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder—but it’s not nearly as small as the GR. Our previous Editors’ Choice winner, the Sony RX1, also covers that field of view, but its full-frame sensor and Zeiss lens drive its cost all the way up to $2,800. Because of its image quality, performance, and value, the GR earns our Editors’ Choice award for prime-lens compact cameras.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.4 x 4.6 x 1.4 inches
Weight 8.6 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
GPS No
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Touch Screen No
LCD size 3 inches
Image Stabilization None
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
LCD dots 1230000
Type Compact
Sensor Size 18 x 24 (APS-C) mm
Viewfinder Type None
Sensor Type CMOS

Verdict
The Ricoh GR fixed, wide-lens, large-sensor compact is one of those rare cameras that does just about everything right.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc