The menus are nicely laid out and reasonably intuitive and the physical controls are a nice balance of ‘out of the way when you don’t mean to press them, but where you want them when you do’. You can nudge the exposure compensation buttons by accident, but it required and ‘OK’ to enter the value, so no problem there. Annoying at times, but not a biggie. The main modes dialhas a button lock on it, so no accidental mode changes will just happen. The aperture dial (index finger, on the front) is easy to use, the ISO adjustment (press button on rear then rotate dial and press to confirm) is great. Everything is great and this camera should serve as a model to others. Handling-wise, the grip is sufficient to allow you full confidence to shoot one handed and the accessibility of the controls in one-handed use is superb. The grip has a rubber tack that is just right. It gives very good purchase, but is not enough to annoy you when you want to adjust your grip. Then there is the hot shoe, which is very handy for those who would prefer an optical finder for street shooting (I have the 25/28mm Zeiss finder, which will come in handy).
Battery life is very decent, but not spectacular, but batteries are both small and cheap, so I bought a spare. Its a non-issue, unless you object to carrying a spare ‘After Eight‘ sized battery on your person, ‘just in case’.
The camera is very solidly made and while light, the metal alloy casing ensures that it feels a robust, quality item. The buttons have excellent feel and I could not find fault with them. The ones that are meant to click, do so crisply and those which are meant to turn have just the right resistance. Ricoh, you are wielding your knowledge of what actual photographers want like a samurai sword….
The screen is great, there are the right display options ranging from all bells and whistles to a clean screen and variations between. Basically, everything is spot on and I cannot think of anything that is missing or badly implemented. I have noticed, however, that in RAW, when playing back images, you cannot zoom in and get a good idea of actual detail. This is fine in JPEG, but in RAW, when you zoom in not much additional detail is delivered. This is a minor nuisance for my uses, but still worth noting.
It has a built in flash, which performs very well within the constraints of small in-built flashes.
Switch on and start up times are very good. You do have to push out and set the little lens, so it’s never going to win world records, but as soon as the lens is out it is ready to rock. Besides, this is a camera that is left on and in your hand on a wrist strap, or tucked away inside a pocket or small case in your handbag.
There is a 21mm convertor lens available for it, which I hear performs exceptionally well at landscape apertures. The camera offers an in camera digital crop of 35mm and 47mm, the former offering 10MP resolution and, considering the lens quality, this is not something to be dismissed. You get the best 10MP available and when you consider the X100 is 12MP, it may have its uses. FWIW the lens in the GR is technically much better than the 35mm equivalent in the X100. It has far less field curvature and I vastly prefer the look of the files overall.
So is there anything to complain about? Not a lot actually, but it did irritate me that the little locking ring that surrounds the lens fell off. I have no idea how, or when, but it just disappeared (must have fallen into snow in Iceland). It covers off the bayonet fitting that allows the attachment of hoods, the 21mm lens adaptor etc, so has no impact on use, but it did irk me that it came off without me even knowing how to remove it. Its has quite a sharp serration cut into it for grip and must have brushed against something, or a gloved finger, causing it to fall off. The camera looks a little odd without it, but it has no impact on anything. I won’t articulate the visual analogy that comes to mind. The screen is not a touch screen, which might seem to be a disadvantage and is on many cameras, but to be honest I did not remotely notice its absence on this one. This is probably down to how this camera tends to be used along with the excellent user interface.
I will confess that I have not used mine for any street photography yet, but I have used the snap function to allow me to achieve precise timing. Throughout Iceland, I kept this little gem in the breast pocket of my parka. I used it whenever I just wanted to grab a quick shot, or when I knew 28mm was just what I needed. The end result was that it accounted for about 30% of all my shots. It was just so handy, so quick and intuitive to use and the snap feature was very useful with the sea. I focused where I could, but otherwise set the snap distance, used aperture priority and was able to get very precise timing on the movement of the water. So, even for ‘moving landscapes’ you really do benefit from this wonderful ‘best of both worlds’ integration fixed and automatic focus. I found this much easier than working with the A7 and A7R for certain images. While there seems to be some debate on whether there is shutter lag or not, I would say that it is minimal, if any worth noting. I think the lag people are reporting is primarily the screen refreshing, but YMMV.
It’s impossible to pick out the GR shots from the others with web images, but in LR it is not that difficult. They are the wide angle shots that show almost zero drop off in resolution into the far corners. Being a Sony sensor, the files can be processed in the same manner as A7 series images. To me they respond well to roughly the same processing as A7R files, due to the lack of AA filter and similar pixel density. One can add a moderate dose of sharpness and get lots of bite, or back off for a gentler rendering. Straight out of camera, however, the files are far sharper than many cameras and, like the A7R, you should take care not to sharpen too much, because the files suddenly turn a little brittle, as is the case with AA free sensors.
Where the X100 series fails, IMHO the little Ricoh GR scores big time wins the trophy and is unlikely to have to give it back anytime soon. Don’t be put off by the physical appearance, which implies a lack of manual options. Nothing could be further from the truth; it’s just that Ricoh has solved the problems in a completely different way to other manufacturers and far better, as it turns out.
For committed 28mm users (and 28mm was good enough for Garry Winogrand’s entire career – if you don’t know him, you owe it to yourself to look him up), it is hard to recommend anything else from my experiences. Its small, light, offers absolutely the focus options a street photographer desires, its unobtrusive, silent, the lens is genuinely peerless, the files are lovely, its affordable, well made intuitive, surprisingly flexible and fits in your pocket. It has been around for nearly two years and so prices are enticing and its only competition is the Nikon Coolpix A, but this is misleading. The Coolpix is in no way competition if you want the sort of snap focus solutions I have described. Nikon offers nothing of the sort and, from the samples I have seen, for B&W shooters the files from the GR are much nicer. The Coolpix A pushes out very high contrast, very modern looking, punchy, saturated colour. The GR is one of those cameras, which really does seem predisposed towards delivering a good file for B&W conversion. I have a feeling the Coolpix A files would be much harder work to soften the ultra-modern look they deliver, assuming that is not what you desire.
Just a word about shutter speeds: this camera resolves exceptionally well and as a result, you will not reliably get super sharp frames at very low speeds. I found that I sometimes got perfect frames between 1/20 and 1/30, but often not. 1/40th is the lowest speed that I can be guaranteed to get a pin sharp frame if I hold steady and release smoothly. But hey, for street photography, a bit of softness rarely bothers me.
If what I have written here strikes a chord with you, I can only suggest you go and buy one! Alternatively, wait a few days and I will show you more detailed files and give a feel for how the Ricoh GR actually compares to the Leica 28mm Elmarit-M asph on the Monochrom. I think you will be impressed!
You may also like to read this article, comparing its performance to the Leica Monochrom and to the Panasonic GM-1’s much respected 12-32mm lens set at 28mm. A more general look at the Ricoh GR’s astonishing lens can be found here.