Ricoh steps up to APS-C with it's latest compact camera
Ricoh had a hit back in the late 1990s with its GR1 compact film camera. Like the new GR, that camera had a fast f/2.8 wide-angle lens in a body that could fit into any jacket pocket. Like Ricoh’s more recent GR Digital cameras, the new GR sports a sensor instead of film. But with the drop of the word “Digital” from the model name comes a move to an APS-C-sized CMOS sensor that has about 8.6 times the surface area of the 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor found in its predecessor, the GR Digital IV.
The Ricoh GR’s body design remains very similar to the earlier GR Digital line. While not the sleekest looking camera, the minimalist GR has a solid feel, thanks in part to its magnesium-alloy chassis. With a 16.2MP sensor and 28mm (equivalent) lens, the $797 (street) GR shows similar specs to Nikon’s Coolpix A. You can get the Ricoh, however, for about $300 less than the Nikon. As you might imagine, we wondered how the GR would fare in our tests. Read on to find out.
In the Test Lab
With wonderfully accurate color (when white balance is set properly), and an impressive ability to capture detail, the Ricoh GR earned an Extremely High rating from ISO 100 through ISO 400 in overall image quality.
In our color accuracy test, the GR had an average Delta E of 5.1. This score was achieved with the camera’s white balance set using a neutral gray card—a practice we always recommend for proper color reproduction. One reason: In our field testing, we found that the GR’s automatic white balance often failed to produce a neutral color rendition. In some instances, this lent a pleasing warm tone to images. But more often than not, we found ourselves fixing the white balance during RAW processing.
In our resolution tests, the GR showed a respectable result with 2425 lines per picture height at ISO 100, for an Extremely High rating. Much of this was retained at ISO 1600, where the camera captured 2375 lines. ISO 6400 brought a drop to 2290 lines—still within our Extemely High ratings band. At the camera’s top sensitivity of ISO 25,600, it turned in 2150 lines, which makes for a Very High rating on our scale.
The camera comes with a customized version of Silkypix RAW conversion software, which we used at default settings. (We lab-test all cameras using RAW files converted to TIFFs in the manufacturer-supplied software at default settings.) While Ricoh saw to it that the noise reduction defaults increase at ISO 1600 and ISO 6400, the GR still wound up reaching Unacceptable noise levels at ISO 3200 and above. It rated Low or better up to ISO 400. This places it slightly behind the Nikon Coolpix A in both resolution and noise control.
Photographers who convert in Adobe Camera Raw instead of Silkypix might be able to keep noise lower while preserving more detail. During field testing, we often used Adobe’s software, made easier by the fact that the GR captures its RAW files in the Adobe DNG file format.
A few other comparisons? The Fujifilm X100S eked out just enough resolution for an Excellent rating (with 2525 lines), but it, too, produced Unacceptable noise at ISO 3200 and higher; it showed extremely accurate colors and more consistently pleasing auto white balance. Sigma’s DP2 Merrill, which has a 40mm (equivalent) lens, trailed the GR in resolution (2360 lines at ISO 100) and Color Accuracy (average Delta E 7.9), and also reached Unacceptable noise at ISO 3200 and above. The Sigma tops out at ISO 6400, though, while the Fujifilm and Ricoh extend to ISO 25,600. You can look to PopPhoto.com for test results of the Leica X2—if you’d rather spend nearly $2,000 on a compact camera.
In the Field
Ricoh’s cameras typically have an understated look that can’t compete with the retro-chic design of Leica, or, for that matter, the Fujifilm X cameras. But the utilitarian plainness of the GR means the camera won’t call attention to itself—unless you’re in a hipster enclave, in which case all eyes will be on the Ricoh.
Hipsterdom notwithstanding, we do love the GR’s design. Exposure compensation is instantly available thanks to the tiny up/down rocker on the upper right of the camera back. You can switch between continuous and single-shot autofocus with a handy switch, toggle between five assignable settings with the clickable Adj lever, and assign one of 26 different functions to each of the two function buttons.
In manual mode, you can assign shutter speed and aperture to the Adj lever and the front command wheel as you see fit. While most camera makers seem to have some notion of which functions should be assigned where, and limit your choices accordingly, Ricoh leaves things wide open. This might be overwhelming to less experienced shooters; advanced photographers will love the flexibility that the Ricoh GR offers.