At the end of my last article on the Ricoh GR, posted two photographs; one from the 16 megapixel GR and the other from the Leica Monochrom, which is often compared with 36 megapixel cameras in terms of resolution (the Leica Monochrom is 18mp but has no Bayer array, which reduces the resolution of colour cameras). This should mean that the GR is hopelessly outgunned in terms of pure detail. The Monochrom is also widely regarded as having the finest tonality of any B&W ‘solution’ and I have to agree (at least from all the cameras I have used) so…. the GR once again has quite a mountain to climb. If anyone has any remaining doubt as to the quality of the GR’s files, I suspect the following samples will suffice.
Please note all images are 1500 pixels wide and 70% quality jpegs. MM shots are at f11 and GR images at f8, to account for the different sensor sizes and ensure sufficient depth of field for this 3D scene. These are about one stop beyond the optimal (for each), but quality loss is tiny.
As I said in the last article, I have lightly processed the files to make them look broadly similar in terms of contrast, just to provide a more even comparison. It is not tonality we are looking for (more on that later), but ‘comparability’ and detail. Firstly, while there are differences, they can be made pretty similar. Now lets look at detail:
Onto the bottom left:
Now I’ve lightened the files and balanced them a little so you can better see what is going on.
Now for the Top Right:
Not much difference is there? Looking at the files in Lightroom, rather than those that have gone through a mill to get onto this website, I can see a difference in resolution. The MM resolves a little bit better across the frame and there is a bit more micro-contrast and very fine detail. While I can get the GR to show comparable contrast, it takes adjustments that the MM needs less of. The difference is, however, is relatively small. The difference in overall terms, as it matters to most street photos and a lot of documentary work, is IMHO…. zero. I suspect that if we were to seriously uprez these files, the MM would pull much more noticeably ahead. I know from experience that the Monochrom’s non-Bayer files uprez remarkably well. I can also tell you that you don’t get the same artefacts or moire that can affect Bayer files of modest pixel count. The GR can generate pretty substantial moire, whereas the MM will produce none. Ever.
Regarding ‘B&W tones’, here is what I see from straight out of camera files:
The GR files have more shadow information off the bat. This is the 2.5 additional stops of DR showing. This means shadows can appear very ‘illuminated’ when shooting modest contrast scenes and can need forcing down somewhat if you are to get some nice blacks and shadows. While the MM produces quite flat files out of the camera, it seems very easy to produce super B&W files from them. I find it quicker and easier than the GR most of the time, but when dealing with extreme contrast scenes, the higher inherent DR of the Sony sensors is preferable IMO. The MM’s files can be lifted in the shadows very impressively, but you have to pull them up two stops just to get them where the GR’s are straight out of the camera. It all depends on what you are shooting! Certainly, the new M240 based Monochrom will be interesting, as that should have about 13-13.5 stops of DR.
The MM files seem to have a different curve, not only to the GR, but all other CMOS cameras with a Bayer array. No matter what you do to the highlights and shadows, mid tones seem more naturally separated. None of this matters a huge amount, but I still prefer the files from the Monochrom to any other camera for B&W, most of the time. Ming Thein talked about this in his article comparing the Monochrom and D800E (look at the shots of the lady at the end)
The GR, however, produces astonishing performance. Heck, this is a £450 Ricoh being compared to £8,000 of Leica: I never would have thought that 16MP could come so close and on an APS-C compact no less!
Its not fancy, its not going to impress brand worshippers, or make you want to uploads portraits of your camera to forums, but it will produce results that nobody will question. After all, they might have been shot on a Leica…