Ricoh GR at a glance:

  • 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
  • 18.3mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens
  • GR Engine V processing system
  • 1sec start-up time
  • 3in, 1.23-million-dot LCD screen
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • Built-in -2EV ND filter
  • Street price around £599
  • See Ricoh GR product shots

Ricoh GR review – Introduction

One of my favourite compact cameras of all time is the Ricoh GR1 35mm film camera. It had a slim but understated design and an excellent 28mm f/2.8 lens – the chief reason why it was loved by enthusiast photographers around the world. The GR1 was so successful that four further GR models appeared, along with a budget version, the R1.

With the advent of digital photography, Ricoh then introduced the GR Digital, with a full complement of manual and automatic exposure modes, as well as a fixed 24mm equivalent lens, that once again made the GR series extremely popular among enthusiast photographers. However, the GR Digital compacts only use small, compact-camera-sized sensors, and although the cameras produced excellent image quality, they cannot compare with the larger APS-C or full-frame sensors of a DSLR.

Given that manufacturers made compact cameras with lenses that could cover a 35mm film frame, I often used to wonder why they failed to produce more compact-sized digital cameras that used larger imaging sensors. The main reason for this has always been cost, but in the last year or so the situation has started to change.

The Fujifilm FinePix X100 compact camera marked something of a turning point for the industry. Although previously the Sigma DP1, Leica X1 and X2 had offered large, APS-C-sized sensors, the X100, with its vintage rangefinder style, really captured the public’s imagination. This camera then paved the way for Sony’s impressive Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, the first digital compact to feature a full-frame sensor. Since then, we have also seen the launch of the Fujifilm X100S and, even more recently, the Nikon Coolpix A, both of which feature APS-C sensors and fixed lenses. Where once only one or two compact featured a large sensor, there is now a choice of almost half a dozen.

Ricoh’s latest model in its GR series joins this group of premium compact cameras. While it retains the style of its predecessors, it uses a larger 16-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor that is not fitted with an anti-aliasing filter, which should mean that fine details produced by the fixed 18.3mm f/2.8 lens will be extremely sharp.

And in addition to all the exciting features and promise of the new Ricoh GR is – perhaps of even more interesting to enthusiast photographers – its price. With a recommended retail price of just £599, the Ricoh GR is the cheapest camera in this market to date.

Ricoh GR review – Features

Image: Anyone who has photographed fields of oilseed rape will know it is difficult for a camera to really capture detail among the mass of yellow flowers, but the Ricoh GR does this very well

The main feature of the Ricoh GR is its 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor. As has been the trend among many other recent cameras, the GR’s sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter, which means the camera should produce slightly sharper images than if such a filter was present.

The sensor is paired with an 18.3mm f/2.8 lens, offering the equivalent focal length of a 28mm lens on a full-frame camera. What is interesting here is that the GR’s lens and sensor are virtually identical in specification to those of Nikon’s Coolpix A. Given that there is almost a £400 price difference between the Nikon and Ricoh cameras, there will be many enthusiast photographers who will be eager to find out whether the Ricoh GR camera can match, or even outperform, the more expensive Nikon model.

Personally, I find the 28mm focal length to be a little restricted for general use; it is, in my opinion, too wide for portraits, street photography and many landscape images. Thankfully, the Ricoh GR has a built-in crop mode that uses only a portion of the overall image to produce the same field of view as a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera. Due to the 35mm mode effectively cropping the full-resolution images from the camera, any shots captured in this mode are at a reduced resolution of 10 million pixels.

One thing I have always liked about Ricoh digital cameras is the huge range of options within the menu system. The new Ricoh GR is no exception. As well as the 35mm crop mode and native 3:2 aspect ratio, there is also the option to use either a 4:3 or 1:1 aspect ratio. Of course, each of these modes will again reduce the resolution of the images.

Raw shooting is possible, and these images can be captured simultaneously with JPEGs. That the Ricoh GR saves its raw images as DNG files should prove a huge benefit to many photographers. This means that the raw files can be opened in virtually any raw-conversion software, and it should ensure both forward and backwards compatibility with any future software.

Ricoh GR review – Accessories

There is a fantastic range of accessories available for the Ricoh GR that makes it more like a small system rather than a standalone camera. To protect the camera, there is the GC-6 leather ever-ready-style case, as well as the more standard GC-5 slip case. However, of more interest to photographers will be the GW-3 wideangle conversion lens, which turns the 28mm equivalent lens into a 21mm equivalent lens, and comes with a petal lens hood. The GW-3 requires the GH-3 adapter before it can be used, while the adapter also includes a lens hood.

As discussed in the Viewfinder, live view and video section two optical viewfinders are available: the GV-1, which offers more coverage and has guidelines for the conversion lens; and the GV-2, which is smaller and more compact.

Finally, there is the GF-1 TTL flashgun dedicated to the GR – although it is a shame that the camera isn’t compatible with the Pentax range of flashguns.

In all, there is a good complement of accessories and I would advise purchasing one of the viewfinders, as well as the GH-3 adapter and lens hood, which costs around £60.

Ricoh GR review – Build and handling

The Ricoh GR’s design is somewhat utilitarian, with the focus on making a comprehensive but easy-to-use camera, rather than a stylish or flashy one. In this regard, it looks virtually identical to many of the other enthusiast Ricoh digital cameras we have seen over the past few years.

The camera consists of a simple black magnesium-alloy body, which keeps the camera fairly light and sturdy. A slight handgrip thickens the left-hand side of the body, and offers the photographer enough purchase for a secure hold while still keeping it slim enough to slip into a coat pocket.

The button layout and design are very functional. Located on the camera’s top-plate are an on/off switch, the shutter button, a mode dial and the control wheel. On the rear of the camera is a selection of buttons that we would expect to find on most compact cameras.

The GR does have two interesting controls, though. On the top right of the camera’s rear is a zoom control, just as we would expect to find on any other compact camera. However, as the lens is fixed in this case, the plus and minus buttons instead control exposure compensation when in shooting mode, and zoom into the image when in review mode. I found this control very simple to use, and in fact it was probably easier than using a dedicated exposure-compensation dial that would be found on the top of a camera such as the Fujifilm X100S.

A jog control switch is also included on the rear of the Ricoh GR. This button is capable of doing a number of things, such as controlling the ISO sensitivity with a quick tap left or right to increase or decrease the currently selected sensitivity. As with the exposure-compensation control, this makes it extremely easy to change the ISO sensitivity in different situations.

The jog control can also be pushed in to overlay a menu on the rear screen. There are five items on this menu, including AF and metering modes, and image style. Each of these five items can be individually selected by the user, making it an excellent quick menu system>

A simple switch on the rear of the camera changes the AF mode between continuous AF, and single AF with AF-L or AE-L, and at the centre of this switch is a focus button. The focus button focuses the lens, even when in manual-focus mode. In fact, the range of focus options found in the Ricoh GR is quite comprehensive for a compact camera. For more on this, see the Autofocus section.

Finally, there are two switches tucked away on the side of the body, both of which can be accessed with the left hand while shooting. The first of these is a button marked Effect that, when pressed, opens the image effects menu on the rear screen. The second control is a simple catch that releases the camera’s built-in pop-up flash. The Ricoh GR also has a hotshoe, but sadly the Ricoh GF-1 flashgun is the only dedicated flash currently available. With Pentax now owned by Ricoh, I would have hoped that the new Ricoh cameras would have adopted the Pentax hotshoe mount.

Ricoh GR review – Metering

Image: he GR has an impressive sensor that can recover a lot of detail in shadow areas. This can be seen in the image above, which has been brightened by +4EV in Camera Raw. Areas that look lost, such as the tread in the tyre under the boat, actually show significant detail

The evaluative metering system of the Ricoh GR produces fairly bright images. Occasionally this meant I had to use exposure compensation of between -0.3EV and -0.7EV to ensure that plenty of highlight detail remained in slightly overcast skies.

One thing I did notice was that JPEG images seem to be slightly brighter than the equivalent DNG raw files created by the camera. This is worth noting because it is these JPEG images that will be used to create the preview on the camera’s LCD screen when shooting raw. If the image appears too bright on the rear screen, remember that the raw image will actually be slightly darker.

In trickier lighting, centreweighted and spot metering are also available.

Ricoh GR review – Autofocus

Unlike the Nikon Coolpix A and Fujifilm X100S, the Ricoh GR relies solely on contrast-detection AF to focus the lens. This means that the camera focuses steadily overall, but lacks the snap that a phase-detection AF system provides. That is not to say that it is slow; given the subjects that are likely to be photographed with the Ricoh GR, it focuses at an acceptable speed.

That said, there are a number of different autofocus modes that can increase the focusing speed depending on the subject. The multi-AF mode is a basic autofocus mode that selects the point of focus with no user input. Spot AF uses a focusing point that is by default in the centre of the frame, and is the mode I would expect most photographers to use. Photographers requiring a little more accuracy can switch to pinpoint AF mode, which is similar to spot AF, but with a smaller focus area for more precise results. For subjects moving at a moderate pace, or photographers who like to focus and recompose, subject-tracking AF is also available. Although this mode is not as responsive as I have seen on other cameras, it is fast enough considering the subjects most likely to be photographed with this camera.

For photographers who do require the Ricoh GR to be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, there is a snap-focus mode. When set to this, the lens is automatically focused to a set distance of between 1m and 5m. When using snap focus, or the alternative infinity-focus mode, the lens remains at a fixed focus distance and the image is taken almost immediately after the shutter button is fired. By carefully selecting the aperture, and therefore the depth of field, this mode should allow documentary and street photographers to preset their camera and quickly get the shots they want.

Manual focusing is also available, but as with most other compact cameras this mode is best used when photographing still subjects in a set environment. It simply isn’t fast enough to use out in the field.

Ricoh GR review – Dynamic range

Like many of the other cameras with 16-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensors that we have seen in the past few years, the Ricoh GR has a very good dynamic range. When editing the raw images, highlight details can be recovered within a reasonable tolerance, and there is a lot of information in very dark shadow areas. In fact, in one image taken just after sunrise, a car tyre that was completely black to look at and hidden in shadow not only became visible, but the trademark in the tyre could be clearly seen after a +5EV adjustment in camera raw. Some noise was obvious in the shadow area, but it is impressive that the raw files hold this image data.

Ricoh GR review – White balance and colour

Image: This image uses the GR’s ND filter so that a long exposure can be made. The vignette, black & white, square crop and 35mm modes were also used

There were no real surprises when using the Ricoh GR in AWB or any of the preset white-balance settings. The camera produces pleasing colours, and set to daylight white balance managed to reproduce the colour of bluebells to a reasonably accurate degree.

There are a variety of colour modes available in the camera, but just two defaults in the standard image settings: vivid and standard. There are two additional custom settings that allow the user to set vividness, contrast and sharpness, and a further option sets the degree of vignetting in an image. No doubt inspired by the craze for vintage-style imagery, a weak, medium or strong vignetting effect can be applied to JPEGs.

Having the in-camera ability to add a vignette to an image is an interesting development; usually, as photographers, we try to remove such edge shading. Thankfully, raw images remain unaffected by any of the colour adjustments, so users can experiment with the in-camera vignetting effects to their heart’s content, knowing that it will be applied only to JPEGs and not the DNG raw files.

As mentioned in Build and handling, a button on the side of the camera allows quick access to nine other image effects, including three different black & white modes, cross process, bleach bypass, retro and high key. Combing these image effects with the vignetting effects, and the option to shoot square images in-camera, means that the GR can produce the sort of creative images we are used to seeing from mobile phone apps like Instagram. The advantage of the Ricoh GR over a camera phone is obvious – this creativity does not come at the expense of image quality.

Perhaps the main difference between using these effects in the Ricoh GR and similar options on other cameras is that the Effects button on the side of the GR makes it very quick to switch between modes, and to see how a single image will look with a different effect applied. Thankfully, the effects are not as garish or as strong as they are in some other cameras.

One thing to note, however, is that when shooting in a crop mode such as 4:3 or 1:1 ratio, the crop is also applied to raw images.

Ricoh GR review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 18.3mm lens set to  f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

With no anti-aliasing filter, the Ricoh GR is capable of resolving up to almost 32 on our resolution test chart. In fact, only a few strange artefacts, and a slight hint of moiré patterning, prevent the GR resolving the entire test chart. The level of detail is impressive for a 16-million-pixel sensor, and when shooting real scenes details appeared slightly sharper and more defined compared to a 16-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor that does have an anti-aliasing filter.

Luminance noise starts to become noticeable at around ISO 800. It gets progressively worse as the sensitivity increases, but even at ISO 3200 images are still usable. Luminance noise reduction is by default set to quite a reasonable level, with little blurring or smudging of detail.

When editing the DNG raw images in Adobe Camera Raw, it is easy to remove colour noise almost completely, with little loss of image detail. There is a slight loss of colour saturation, but this is easily adjusted. Luminance noise removal is obviously more difficult to remove without losing detail, but a slight nudge of the slider to around 5 just takes the edge off of the noise without really compromising the image.

Overall, images are very detailed at low sensitivity settings and seem to match the competition. However, the usual caveat about avoiding high sensitivities should be applied to images shot above ISO 3200.

Image: With no anti-aliasing filter, the Ricoh GR resolves fien details, with very little sharpening needed for raw images

Ricoh GR review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video

Although the Ricoh GR has no built-in electronic or optical viewfinder, two optical accessory finders are available that slide into the camera’s hotshoe. The GV-2 mini viewfinder is the smaller of the two.

It is slightly more discreet, with its 85% coverage being bright and clear. The GV-1 finder is larger and offers 90% image coverage, and has guidelines that cover the 28mm equivalent focal length of the lens, and 21mm equivalent when the optional wideangle adapter lens is in use. These finders cost from around £150-£200, and although I found the screen reasonably good on a bright day, I would suggest that anyone thinking seriously about buying the GR should factor in extra cash for a finder – there is something about the Ricoh GR that makes me want to grasp it and hold it to the eye like a traditional compact camera.

Without one of the viewfinders, images must be composed using the 3in, 1.23-million-dot rear screen. With a refresh rate of 60fps, live view is smooth and the image bright and clear. I didn’t have too much difficulty shooting in bright sunlight, and the screen is of good quality and capable of displaying fine details.

Finally, the Ricoh GR can also shoot full HD video at 1920×1080-pixel resolution. However, sound is recorded in mono only, but with stereo output. I can’t really see that the GR will be used a lot by videographers, so the slightly limited video function should not be much of an issue. However, it is still a nice feature to have for those who like to record short videos of their travels.

Ricoh GR review – The competition

Apart from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 with its 24-million-pixel full-frame sensor, the real competition for the Ricoh GR will come from the Fujifilm X100S and Nikon Coolpix A. These cameras each have a 16-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor, which is the same as that in the GR. The Nikon Coolpix A also has the same 18.5mm lens as the GR, while the X100S has a slightly longer 23.5mm f/2 lens, which some photographers may prefer.

While it may be hard to separate the Nikon Coolpix A and the Ricoh GR, the Fujifilm X100S has one clear difference – it incorporates a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, which is seen by many as the main attraction. Given that the specification of the Ricoh GR and the Nikon Coolpix A are very close, the GR may be the preferred by many.

Ricoh GR review – Our verdict

Anyone who has used a camera in Ricoh’s GR series will know that they really are a photographer’s camera. The many different custom settings make the camera operate as the user intends, and all shooting features are easily accessed. The basic design and menu layout may not be to everyone’s taste, but the Ricoh GR is a tool – and a quality one at that.

With so much competition in the premium compact market at the moment, it can be difficult to know which camera to buy, but the Ricoh has one standout feature – its price. At just £599, the GR is at least £400 cheaper than any of its competitors, but this certainly does not represent a compromise.

We will no doubt do a full comparative test of these cameras in the coming months, but from what I have seen the image quality of the Ricoh GR is a match for its peers. It may well be the large-sensor compact that a lot of people have been waiting for.

Ricoh GR – Key features

Aperture preview
This button on the side of the camera allows the depth of field to be previewed, or it can be used as a function button to change the image effect.

Shutter button
As well as using a half-press to focus, a sudden full press will automatically take a shot. This is useful when the camera is set to a preset focus, and ‘full press snap’ is enabled. This means a moment can be captured in an instant.

Mode dial
Here the different shooting modes can be changed. Apart from the usual exposure modes, there are also three user-defined custom settings.

Although the Ricoh GR doesn’t have Wi-Fi built in, it is compatible with Eye-Fi cards, which will enable transfer from the camera to a computer or smartphone.