Ricoh GR Five-Year Review: Still Going Strong

Ricoh GR camera review

Ricoh GR is probably my all-time favourite camera. I won’t be exaggerating too much when I say that it’s been love at first sight.

I bought my Ricoh GR not long after it was released in 2013 and have been using it ever since – which means I’ve had it now for close to five years. It’s still as wonderful as it was when we first met – perhaps more so, because I’ve gotten acquainted to it better.

So, this is our five-year anniversary and we’re still going strong!

What’s so great about Ricoh GR, you may ask.

One, it’s really small and fits easily in your jeans pocket.

Two, It looks cheap and unassuming but is made out of sturdy magnesium alloy.

Three, the image quality that it produces is truly fantastic.

For more great reasons to love this camera, read on.

Info Box: Ricoh GR technical specs >>

Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A

Ricoh GR camera review

When I purchased the Ricoh GR camera, I wanted something portable that I could use on my walks in the bush with my dog. I remember having two options: Nikon Coolpix A and the Ricoh GR. I might have also briefly played with the idea of purchasing a Fujifilm X100 or one of the other X-series cameras but decided that they would be too large for my purposes. They looked cool but I needed something truly compact with a large sensor, and the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR seemed the only ones that would fit the bill.

The two cameras are almost identical. I’ve never used a Nikon Coolpix A, or even seen one in real life, but from looking at sample images online and reading comparison reviews, there doesn’t seem to be much difference. The field of view on the Ricoh GR is slightly wider at 18.3mm than the one on the Nikon Coolpix A at 18.5. Both have an APS-C-sized sensor (although the sensor on the Nikon is one millimetre smaller in both directions) and the 35mm equivalent field of view on both cameras is roughly 28mm.

I think what tipped me towards the Ricoh GR was the price. It was a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the Nikon. I must say, I’ve never found Ricoh GR beautiful; the Nikon Coolpix A looks better to me and even that is not the most aesthetically pleasing camera out there.

Looking back at my choice now, however, I’m glad I chose the Ricoh over the Nikon. See those knobs and wheels on Nikon Coolpix A? They’re moving parts. Anything with moving parts will break at some point, and I’m in this game for long term. I’ve said it before, but cameras nowadays are so good that there’s no reason to switch cameras every year, or even every five years. I aim to use my cameras as long as they’re operational and as long as they still give me pleasure.

The external dials and switches might also get caught inside a trouser pocket, or gather lint – both valid considerations when you plan to use the camera in less-than-ideal situations.

Ricoh’s Famous Compact Cameras

Ricoh GR camera review

The Ricoh GR line of cameras go back all the way to the film days. Ricoh released the following cameras between 1996 and 2001. All but one of them are meant for professional use.

  • 1996: GR1
  • 1997: GR1s
  • 1997: GR1s DATE (date imprinting)
  • 1998: GR10 (non-professional)
  • 2001: GR1v
  • 2001: GR1v DATE
  • 2001: GR21

The digital line of Ricoh GR cameras began in 2005. At first, the cameras had sensors that were significantly smaller than the ones used in the two last iterations. The real revolution happened with Ricoh GR which has a relatively large APS-C sensor. The fact that Ricoh has managed to fit the APS-C sensor into a body that’s as small as the GR is truly remarkable.

The following is a list of Digital GR cameras manufactured by Ricoh.

  • 2005: Ricoh GR Digital
  • 2007: Ricoh GR Digital II
  • 2009: Ricoh GR Digital III
  • 2011: Ricoh GR Digital IV
  • 2013: Ricoh GR
  • 2015: Ricoh GR II

Ricoh GR III?

Looking at this timeline, it’s clear that a successor to Ricoh GR II is due any day and, according to the usual rumours that always precede the release of new camera models, Ricoh GR III indeed seems to be coming out in September 2018, just in time for Photokina.

There doesn’t seem to be much information available about the new camera so I’ll curb my enthusiasm for now. I would certainly be interested in buying it if it had a Bluetooth function, in addition to the WIFI available in Ricoh GR II.

A zoom lens with a constant aperture – instead of a fixed focal length and a digital zoom that both Ricoh GR and Ricoh GR II sport – would be a dream come true. Unfortunately, that’s just what it might be, a dream.

What is Ricoh GR Known for?

Ricoh GR camera review

To get back to the camera we’re talking about, Ricoh GR is a really popular choice for street photography. This is due to a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the size. As mentioned, Ricoh GR is very compact and can fit into your trouser pockets. It also, kind of, looks like a point-and-shoot toy camera.

It’s a point-and-shoot, for sure, but there’s nothing “toy” about it. It just looks simple and non-threatening, which is great when you’re photographing people on the street and wish to attract as little attention as possible.

The second reason the Ricoh GR is so popular is the ‘snap focus’ that the camera has. Snap focus allows you to capture an image in a blink of an eye, without the usual composing and half-pressing before finally nailing the shot. I know it doesn’t take forever to focus in the traditional way but sometimes a fraction of a second is what counts.

The third reason many street photographers use Ricoh GR is the quality of the black and white pictures that it produces. This little marvel churns out formidable monochrome images reminiscent of the best film-era black and whites. That is, if you shoot JPEG. If you’re a RAW shooter, you’ll have to make the look in post. Which can be fun but also takes more time. And I suppose would feel a bit less ‘authentic’ to some street photographers.

The fourth good reason for using Ricoh GR for street photography is the combination of the small size and the wide field of view. These will let you get close to people on the street and photograph them surreptitiously, most likely from the hip.

One of the street photographers I know that have used Ricoh GR in their art successfully is the American photographer Eric Kim. His unpretentious closeup shots manage to capture something of the essence of the people walking on the street. No doubt, his choice of camera has had a big influence on the work that he’s doing and also the look that it has acquired.

What I Photograph with my Ricoh GR

Ricoh GR camera review

I’ve never really been a street photographer. I don’t even live in a place that would support this hobby. The two streets in our town are somehow not conducive to guerilla-style stealth photography, and if I attempted to photograph people on a regular basis I’d probably have the cops called on me sooner or later.

I’m more interested in capturing landscapes and nature scenes. For this purpose, Ricoh GR is ideal. I can only imagine how much easier Ansel Adams would have had it if he’d lived in our days. No more lugging hundreds of kilos worth of photography equipment into the Yosemite National Park. Just slip your Ricoh GR into your pocket and good to go. I’m exaggerating, obviously. I know the little Ricoh is no match for a huge viewfinder camera but still, times are changing….

If I wanted to take my landscape photography onto a new level, I could do that with the Ricoh GR. The camera comes with a few optional accessories that will have a huge impact on your nature photography.

Most importantly, there’s an adapter for attaching filters infront of the lens. Any serious landscape photography needs at least a polaroid and a graduated neutral density filter.

The first one has an effect on the reflections and also cuts down on aerial haze. The second one will help you capture those contrasty shots with a bright sky and a darker foreground.

In addition to the filter adapter, you can buy a wide-angle lens for the camera which turns it into a 21mm shooter. An optional lens hood might also be useful when shooting towards the sun.

All of these accessories require an adapter which attaches to the front of the camera and is sold separately.

The only real deficiency that the Ricoh GR has in terms of landscape photography is the lack of a telephoto option. I’d like to see a similar lens converter to the the wide-angle attachment that would allow you to change your focal length in the opposite direction.

There is a digital zoom which crops your photos to produce an equivalents of a 35mm and a 47mm images. But, using this option will cost you pixels and I hardly ever use it. When you’re starting from 16.2MPs there’s not a whole lot of extra pixels to lose.

Which would be yet another item on my wish list for Ricoh GR III: an updated sensor.

Info Box: Ricoh GR technical specs

Ricoh GR is a point-and-shoot camera released by the Ricoh Corporation in 2013. It has a 16.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor that luckily does not have a low-pass filter. The 18.5mm lens on an APS-C camera translates into a 28mm lens on a full-frame camera.

The aperture of the lens is a respectable F2.8, which allows you to get bright shots in relatively dark conditions without hiking up the ISO too much. Incidentally, the ISO range of Ricoh GR is 100 to 25,600. It is my experience that restricting your ISO between 100 and 400 is a safe bet and produces very usable images. Anything over 400, and you’ll run the risk of producing sensor noise. Ricoh GR is NOT a high-ISO camera. Unless you like digital noise.

You can shoot your images in either JPEG or 12-bit Raw in DNG format. The addition of Adobe DNG is a commendable choice since it makes converting your Raw images a simple task.

The camera can shoot upto 4 frames per second and record 1080p movies in MOV format with H.264 compression at 24, 25 or 30fps. It has a 3.0″ 1.2m dot LCD. There’s no optical or electronic viewfinder. Neither is there a microphone socket. The built-in microphone works fairly well but if you need anything better you will have to record the audio on a separate device.

Ricoh GR has two crop modes. The 35mm crop produces 10MP images. The image size of the 47mm crop is only 5.6MP. These image sizes – especially the latter one – are unfortunately not adequate for any kind of serious photography.

The lens on Ricoh GR has a built-in 2-stop ND filter which will come in handy on bright, sunny days. The lens has seven elements in five groups. The shutter is located in the lens itself and has 9 blades. The maximum shutter speeds depends on the aperture and are as follows:

  • F2.8 – F3.2 = 1/2000th sec
  • F3.5 – F4 = 1/2500th sec
  • F4.5 – F5 = 1/3200th sec
  • F5.6 – F16 = 1/4000th sec

The big reason this camera is so popular with street shooters is the snap focus mode which allows you to get an extra fast shot without the half-press step normally used for focusing. I haven’t used this feature much but I can imagine it coming in handy in some fast paced action shooting on the street – which, of course, it’s meant for.

Ricoh GR is a fixed-lens camera but can be made more versatile with the additiion of optional adapters. The wide-angle lens adapter (GW-3) will turn your 28mm camera into a 21mm landscape camera. The GH-3 adapter (sold in combination with a lens hood allows the use of 49mm filters on your lens. The adapter is also needed for attaching the wide-angle lens converter.


Sources:

Nikon Coolpix A: http://www.nikon.com.au/en_AU/product/digital-compact-cameras/a/coolpix-a
Ricoh GR film cameras: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricoh_GR_film_cameras
Ricoh GR digital cameras: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricoh_GR_digital_cameras
Ricoh GR III: Ricoh To Finally Refresh the GR Lineup For Photokina?: https://www.thephoblographer.com/2018/03/05/ricoh-to-finally-refresh-the-gr-lineup-for-photokina/
The Ricoh GR and Street Photography – A Review: https://streetbounty.com/2017/12/21/the-ricohgr-and-street-photography-a-review/
Ricoh GR: Crop Modes: http://www.waloszek.de/gr_crop_e.php


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