I’ve waxed lyrical about both of these cameras and they are both quite different; The GM-1 is an ultra compact system camera that uses interchangeable lenses, whereas the Ricoh GR comes with a fixed 28mm equivalent. In one respect, however, they are similar: they both sport 16mp sensors and the GM-1’s 12-32mm lens includes 28mm in its range (it is the equivalent of 24-64mm).
We know that the 12-32 on the GM-1 tests out as top of its class, when it comes to resolution and contrast. It is better than similar kit zooms and matches, or surpasses, a number of much more expensive M43 primes. Clearly the two cameras are quite different in their functions and flexibility, but I thought it might interest some of you to see how the two compare in pure image quality terms at low ISO at the same focal length setting.
While the GM-1 is the most compact M43 option and is very portable with the collapsing 12-32mm lens attached, the Ricoh GR is considerably thinner due to the retracting lens and of course comes with a larger APS-C sensor. I can say from experience (as you will read elsewhere) that the GR’s sensor offers higher dynamic range and better high ISO performance, so am going to keep this quick comparison restricted to optical difference.
Problems with Direct Comparison
The GR has a 16mp 2:3 ratio sensor, with 4928 pixels on the long axis, whereas the 16mp Micro Four Thirds GM-1 is 4:3 in ratio, giving 4592 pixels on the long axis. To make comparison simple, I have used the long axis as the basis for comparison, but as you will see, there are differences that cannot be attributed to more/less linear pixels.
Methodology: I set the APS-C Ricoh GR to ISO 200, which is the base ISO of the M43 GM-1 for this comparison. I also stopped down the GR by one stop more than the GM-1 to roughly compensate for the depth of field (and diffraction) differences between the two. Both cameras have different aspect ratios, so I aimed to achieve broadly comparable magnification. The result is that the GM-1 shows ever so slightly lower magnification, but not enough to affect the impression you will be left with. No, this is not perfect methodology, but I am familiar with these cameras and I am very sure that what we are seeing is entirely representative of the differences (or lack thereof). If you were to routinely crop the left and right edges off the GR’s files, the GM-1 would clearly draw closer as it would have more vertical pixels, but the optical message will remain largely unchanged.
Please note that unless otherwise stated, all files have the same very low default sharpening applied and have been ‘sharpened for web’ during export from Lightroom. All images are 1500 Pixels wide.
Starting with the first comparison below, just to show the basic frame. Point of focus for all frames is the green central gate.
Centre: The GR is has slightly higher resolution. Fine details are crisply rendered and with excellent contrast. The GM-1’s details are ever so slightly softer. This is not due to pixels, but the pixel level of detail. On the GR it is simply a bit better, due to an incredible lens perfectly matched to the sensor.
Edges & Corners: The GR is significantly better (just look at the brown tree detail). Whereas the fall off into the corners with the GM-1 is easily noticeable, it isn’t with the GR. Its there, but when you remove depth of field considerations, its absolutely irrelevant as illustrated in my review of the GR here. With a flat field subject, fall off in resolution across the frame is not easily seen at all, even at 1:1. The GR’s lens is that good. It’ll generate moire in the far corners…
The GM-1 Performs like a very good compact zoom lens. Sure, a high spec lens like the Olympus Zuiko 12-24 f2.8 Pro might perform very much better, but it alone weighs twice what the GR weighs. It’s a completely different end package and therefore not really comparable. That said, I very much doubt the Olympus zoom lens would beat the GR, but it may… possibly… match it.
As it is the Panasonic 12-32 is very good competition on centre, with a reduction in performance that is unlikely to be significant in prints. At the edges and in the corners, however, you are going to see visibly better performance from the GR, even on A3 prints. At A2, the difference will be fairly obvious.
But does this matter? This is the key question and my view is yes and no. Yes, it will possibly matter quite a lot of you have extremely detailed subject matter that spans the frame (finely detailed foliage in landscapes, for example). If you are shooting street photos, or documentary, the differences may prove to be trivial, especially if you are shooting up the ISO range and converting to B&W.
The GM-1 is, IMHO, the ultimate pocket rocket – that has not changed – but when up against a specialist like the Ricoh GR, it cannot reach the same level of overall optical performance. There are of course major differences between these two cameras and how many people are likely to use them. My advice would therefore be to look at these features to make your decision.
The GM-1, with Panasonic 12-32mm kit lens, shows up the 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS kit zoom for the Sony A7 series, allowing it to level the low-ISO playing field when compared with compact DSLR and kit lenses. In some cases, it will surpass their low ISO (optical/file) resolution simply because the lens performs so well for a slowish zoom, especially when compared at relatively wide apertures. Sure, it’s limitations are very much shown up in the face of something like a 5D III and a 24-70 f2.8 L II, but at low ISO it is quite shocking how close the little GM-1 can come at optimal apertures. With a range of features, interchangeable lenses and the fact that its part of the M43 system, it is far more flexible than the GR can ever be.
The GR, however, matches its incredible lens performance up with ergonomics and focus features that lens themselves beautifully to street and documentary snap shooting. In more deliberate use, however, the overall low ISO resolution easily eclipses DSLRs of a higher pixel count, when such cameras are equipped with average kit lenses. From experience, I would expect the GR to give my 5D III and 24-70 L II a heck of a run for its money at 28mm. At the edges, when when uprezzed to match the 5D III, I think the GR would come out on top at the widest apertures. The 5D III combo would surely come out ahead on centre, meaning that overall…. well, there would be little to choose between them and that’s plain nuts. I guess I will have to do this comparison at some point just to be sure..
P.S. With the Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 OSS collapsible being so absurdly small, the GM-1 is now an even more appealing ‘complete kit in two pockets’ travel kit. 600g and you are performing within reach of most compact DSLR kits at triple the weight and bulk and significantly greater cost. Food for thought.