photography

My Ricoh GR impressions

2013, Photography

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

As a predominantly small sensor photographer, preferring the sketchy look, I have consciously and consistently stayed away from large sensor cameras. For a long while my Panasonic GF1 was what I considered the maximum. So in the last three years my main camera was the Ricoh GR Digital 3. I appreciated the limitations provided by the small sensor and the 28mm fixed prime lens. Only hindered by lesser performance at high ISO’s in low light and some AF problems this year and two years ago. So when Ricoh announced the GR with an APS-C sized CMOS sensor it immediately caught my attention. Not necessarily for the much better expected image quality, but more the better low light performance.

For many years the Ricoh GR Digital cameras weren’t noticed by many photographers and the main websites. Recently though, the Ricoh GR however already got its fair share of attention and many wrote about the history and specifications. I don’t plan to do that again. I mean, we all know that the camera has a long history and that this is the first GR with a larger sensor. The only thing really worth mentioning is that the GR kept the Snap mode. A mode where the focus is immediately set to a particular focus distance which minimizes the shutter lag drastically. Many would say this is a key feature for street photography, but what about parties (in particular with kids) or in low light?

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

Those photographers who had a previous GR Digital will immediately feel at home with the GR. The body is only a bit larger, but in a good way. When Ricoh started to use the 3″ inch LCD screen in the GR Digital 3 I critized that some of the buttons got too close to each other and that you could accidentally hit a button with your right thumb. With the increased size of the body it directly had a positive effect on the button layout. My thumb has more space, but all buttons are still easily accessible.

The camera operates nimble and you can configure the camera the way you want to. Kai from the DigitalRev said it was a camera for geeks and when you first go to the menu, you immediately realize that basically everything can be altered. The adjustment lever on the back can be set to your personal liking. There are two additional Fn buttons, and even the effect button on the left side can be reconfigured. All this gizmo stuff is of course great, but can also be daunting. Personally I prefer to set up the camera as fast as possible. For me that means, Av mode, using the Fn1 button for switching from Spot AF to Snap mode, the Fn2 button for adjusting the focal distance for the Snap mode, and the adjustment lever for rapidly changing ISO.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

When you open the package you will immediately notice that there is no battery charger. It can now be USB charged. Some like that, some don’t. Let just say I feel fortunate of having a suitable Ricoh battery charger. What I do like is that it not only takes DB-65 batteries, but also the older DB-60 battery used in the GRD3. Ricoh delivers the camera with a RAW converter by Silkypix. It works, enough sayd. Ricoh sells an additional lens adapter and 21mm converter lens. Also the GV1 and GV2 viewfinder are still sold for this camera.

I use the GR with a 28mm Voigtländer optical viewfinder. I prefer the 3:2 frame lines. The camera exposure metering is set to multi and for the white balance I like Multi-P Auto. It just works convenient and reliable for me. Like many other Ricoh cameras the GR is shutter speed limited at 1/2000 sec at the lens wide open, because it uses a leaf shutter. Therefore it comes in handy that they added a ND-filter. I put the ND-filter in auto and the camera automatically uses it whenever needed. Excellent! Some worried that the lens was ONLY f/2.8 instead of the f/1.9 GRD3 and GRD4 lens. At f/2.8 with the larger sensor it is still a lot more usable in low light.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows, self portrait

Everything on the GR seems at the right place. It operates fast and you change settings on the fly. In low light the AF seems to struggle a bit, but the wide angle lens and the snap mode still provide enough depth of field.

The most noticeable feature of the new GR is the larger sensor. Oh boy, what a differences it does make. The images are a lot cleaner, especially at low ISO. Its performance in low light is significantly better too and I feel comfortable using it up to ISO6400. Which is a lot better too than the Ricoh GXR with the A12 28mm lens module that showed banding from ISO3200 and up. My camera does show hot pixels that steadily increases from ISO1600. I asked several other owners about this and some even shared photographs with me, but until now it seems I have a one off. I have still asked Pentax Ricoh to examine it.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

Admitted, I had my concern about the cleaner images. And at low ISO I feel it is too clean for my taste, but I think many others will certainly like it. I prefer a modest texture in my image and I found a sweet spot at ISO 400 for good light. Still with all the tonality from this sensor, yet with a very fine noise structure. And talking about noise. It is very fine, even at ISO6400 and doesn’t come with those ugly blue blotches. Some say, it appears film like. Dunno, but it works for me. And best, it makes up for great looking black & white photographs.

Those familiar with the Ricoh GR predecessors learned that it was best to set the exposure compensation to -0.3EV at default. I know it was the first thing I also did with this camera. I learned though that the GR already exposes quite conservative. As a result I think it is best to keep the compensation set at zero, especially when photograph in RAW only. And when you first check your photographs on your computer you instantly notice the larger dynamic range. I tell you, this GR is way beyond any digital GR previously released.

Unlike the GR predecessors the shutter makes a little bit more noise, but I you got used to it I didn’t notice it anymore. Typical for Ricoh cameras the shutter speed sill remains maximized wide open at 1/2000 sec. In bright light that could be a concern, but the camera comes with a built-in ND filter.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

With the Ricoh GR also come some new features known from Pentax dSLR cameras. Some can be found in the firmware, others in the camera modes. Previous GR models all had P, A, S and M modes (for program, aperture, speed and manual). The GR now has P, Av, Tv, TAv and M mode. Av is the replacement for A and Tv for S. All these work unchanged. They just changed the naming. The TAv mode is new for Ricoh and is a clever mode where you set the aperture and shutter speed while the camera calculates the needed ISO. It seems to do a good job at good to moderate light, but when it becomes darker the camera somehow finds ISO25600 (!) the best sensitivity. Some might like the noise at ISO25600, but due to this behavior I find this mode less usable. The manual seems to suggest that AUTO ISO can be used with the TAv mode too, but I learned that the manual is wrong here. So I prefer Av mode instead where I set the ISO.

One other thing immediately noticed is the sharpness. The GR doesn’t come with an AA filter. In post processing you hardly have to add sharpening. The lens is sharp too. Even at f/2.8 it shows good sharpness in the corners and that progresses when you go for a smaller aperture until f/8. There is one caveat though. Moiré! With very fine and regular textures it can produce moiré and a wavy pattern. In Adobe Lightroom, my preferred post processing application, it cleans up really well. And also Silkypix, which is bundled with the GR, handles it really well. Although it can take a while for the program to handle it. I had set up the camera without applying noise reduction for the out of camera jpegs. Somehow though it seems to fix moiré, which can look really ought. This became most noticeable with brick walls. And brick walls? These are kind of hard to ignore here in the Netherlands.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

That brings me to the in-camera jpegs. At default the jpegs look very good. Certainly less sharp than the RAW images, but colors are pleasing. The camera also has a lot of effects available, like the high contrast B&W and bleach bypass. One other nice feature, known by current Fuji camera users, is the possibility to process RAW images in-camera. With my GRD3 I felt comfortable to just use the jpegs instead of the RAW images. Taking in account the moiré handling in jpeg I decided to stick to RAW only though. Not a deal breaker you know. These images are very malleable.

The RAW images come with a rather subdued color profile, but with a simple S-curve in post processing the colors quickly come alive. Ricoh and Pentax cameras provide RAW images in the DNG format. Nice, because most RAW converters will be able to open and process these. The downside can be that it may take a while before these RAW converters come with a proper camera profile. The GR is no exception. Most will likely use the Adobe RAW converter and at default it can display red colors a bit strange. Lightroom 5 now supports the Ricoh GR and on seriouscompacts you can find good info how to add the Ricoh GR camera profile to older versions of Lightroom or the RAW converter for Photoshop. This camera profile makes a lot of difference.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

I was worried that the larger sensor would somehow affect my photography. I learned though that the benefits at the high ISO side outweighed the downsides of the cleaner images at low ISO’s. The Ricoh GR doesn’t come with a viewfinder unlike the Fuji X100s and some would call that a dealbreaker. I photographed more freely in the last years and accepted the small optical viewfinder in the hotshoe as an alternative.

So what to remember of the GR though? It is a very nimble and fun camera with unlimited possibilities. The only constrains can be your own imagination. After less then a week I felt so comfortable with the camera that I did not need to think anymore about the settings. It just worked for me the way I intended it. This Ricoh GR could well become a new classic. The image quality is amazing, but still comes in a familiar Ricoh package. In the end it is still a tool for me and it should be one I don’t notice at all. For my kind of photography it just works. It works for me, because I am in charge.

photography, photograph, stroll photography, Ricoh GR, GR, GR Ricoh, Pentax GR, Pentax Ricoh GR, Ricoh GR Digital, light, shadow, light and shadows

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

47 thoughts on “My Ricoh GR impressions

  1. Wonderful writeup and images Wouter. I have no experience with earlier Ricoh models but I can say without a doubt that the GR is one great camera, one of my favorite compact cameras ever.

  2. when hardware meets the software! Ricoh should pay you or just give you this camera if they haven’t 😛 I actually want to see the Wouter go ‘Oh no, my GRD3 broke. What should I do when the new GR isn’t releasing for another year?’

    1. After two years it was certain that Ricoh would come with a new GRD, but I was close to buying a different brand. My GRD3 is still close to broke and haven’t used it since the GR replaced it.

      I am still concerned about the reliability, but that can only become detected after some time.

      1. Whatever the replacement might be it has to be a compact. I think the D-Lux or equiv. or the RX100 would be something you thought about, wild guess :p

        Reliability issue would only come to you when not thinking straight, if it’s bugging you, you wouldn’t’t buy it in the first place.

  3. Glad the new one is now the tool you don’t have to think about anymore but keep on telling these mighty stories of yours, Wouter. I experienced it when finally getting myself the camera I long desired & after only a few frames found out that this probably could be the last camera I need to purchase because it really gets familiar with my work of photographing & developing. Thanks for showing I’m not alone out there & thanks for the great frames & stories, my friend!

    All the best & safe travels, Fritsch.

    1. For my photography now, it is the tool. And it matters a lot to me that I don’t have to deal with it. I am glad I am not alone in that reasoning. And good to know that your camera works for you.

  4. One of the most useful reviews I have ever read. I am a recent owner of the Ricoh GR iii. And I am happy with it. But I already know what it’s successor will be in a couple of years. Thanks for posting!

  5. Whether it is because of your different frame of mind or the different character of the GR’s larger sensor, or a bit of each, your most recent images are consistently some of your best and most evocative. They are still sketches, but drawn it seems with pencil as opposed to charcoal. I think perhaps they have a cleaner and fuller range of tones and along with that a fuller range of feelings. Anyhow, whether the new GR is in any way responsible for this effect or not, it certainly has allowed you to produce some wonderful images that I really like a lot.

  6. Hallo Wouter,

    Thank you very much for your review RICOH GR.

    I own a GRD 111 and find focussing nearby (e,g,flower,s) disappointing with this camera .

    What are your experiences in this aspect with the new GRD ?Bokeh?

    Best regards, Hans-Arnold Klaarenbeek.

    Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2013 19:56:47 +0000
    To: haklaarenbeek@hotmail.com

    1. The GR can’t beat the GRD3 for macro. Period. The larger sensor makes close focusing not possible. The minimum distance is 10cm. And it is faster to focus on a subject far away then to focus quickly on a very close nearby subject where critical focus is the criteria. In other words, be realistic about a 500 Euro camera compared to dSLR’s with special macro lenses.

      Bokeh is a personal preference, in my opinion.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts on the GR, Wouter. I always appreciate your reviews. They are still hard to come by in the UK but I should imagine that will soon change as stocks become more plentiful. Then it is a question of finding the money. 🙂

  8. Great review. Just to share, personally I prefer to set the Fn1 as AF/Snap and to change Snap Distance by hold “Up” & roll the front dial to change Snap Distance just like on GRD III.

  9. Hi Wouter,
    Very impressive writing! I was looking for this camera in NL but couldnt any of the online webshop have it in stock….
    Do you think this Ricoh GR camera is suitable for a beginner like me shoot only in Auto mode??
    Thanks
    Regards,
    Anita

    1. Hi Anita, As a beginner you do better learning the true basics of photography. The GR is small and tempting, but you’re better off when you know a thing or two about photography. A dSLR with a nice 35mm lens is a lot better to learn photography.

  10. Hi Wouter
    I enjoyed your review very much. One issue I have is the lack of a viewfinder – I simply can’t take pictures from the rear screen, it just doesn’t suit me. To date, I’ve been using a Ricoh GV-2 on an old GRD and it’s ok, but I would still prefer a finder that accurately shows me the image that will be captured. I know you use the 28mm Voigtländer finder – how do you find that in terms of its compositional accuracy?
    Thanks
    Jim

  11. Good article, I made ​​a copy and paste. I’m with the GR for a few days, this is my first Ricoh and probably not the last, I’m bluffing by quality, by the functions at hand. On the street it is ideal at night in low light. For easy snap mode I programer to 2.5m very fast, I preferer departing in manual mode, but now I prefer to snap the AV mode. Congratulations for your blog

  12. Very interesting review! Nice read 🙂

    I got the GR last week (imported it from Germany). However one think is really getting anyoing… I cannot set the ISO to 100 or 200, I can set any higher ISO; but some turn yellow (higher AND lower ISO).

    The GR seems to be very partial to ISO 320 or 400 (in every setting, everywhere).

    I have tried so many things, and I have read a lot already, but I cannot figure it out why I cannot manually set the ISO to 100 (or 200 for that mattter).

    Perhaps you have any clue to what I am doing wrong? I did read the manual….

    Thank you!

  13. A lot depends on the selected mode. I you stick to P-mode or TAv the camera picks the ISO. Instead go for Av, Tv or M mode and you are completely free to select your ISO. And ignore the yellow. You are in charge, not the camera.

    In the Setup menu you can set the ISO Step Setting. I use 1EV and can go from ISO 100 to 200, 400, etc. You can also set smaller ISO steps if you prefer too.

    And don’t worry about ISO320 to ISO 400. It performs really well at these light sensitivities.

    1. Thank you for your reply.

      I have tried what you said, but the ISO is still ‘stuck’ at 400 … in M mode and in Tv/Av mode. Is there some lock or something somewhere which I might be overlooking???

      When in M mode, I try to select eg 200 iso, it turns yellow and then is auto selects 400 for no apparent reason. I wish I had the firmware, so that I could try to flash it again manually. Currently my GR is on 1.11 firmware.

      Thanks again!

      1. I don’t necessarily think it is the firmware. Instead bring the camera back to the factory settings.

        Also, have you set the ADJ. Direct ISO Control ON? That way you can just use the adjustment lever on the back to quickly change ISO.

        The current firmware version is 1.11. If you still insist on flashing it again just let me know and I will mail you the 1.11 firmware.

        1. “Also, have you set the ADJ. Direct ISO Control ON? That way you can just use the adjustment lever on the back to quickly change ISO.” ->

          This was on, that’s what makes it so strange..

          Thank you so much for your help!

      2. I seem to have solved it (for now). I think this was a serious bug, I cannot reproduce it right now…. I did a factory/hard reset (not using the one in the menu). It worked! Now I can FINALLY set choose my ISO setting 🙂

        ————————————————————————————-
        Ricoh GR (V) key codes

        Camera must be off!

        Set camera to green (auto) icon
        button pad -> down press together with playback button -> firmware info
        button pad -> up press together with playback button -> firmware update

        Factory reset!!! WIPES EVERYTHING
        Set to movie mode
        press Fn2 press together with the playback button; for about 4 sec.
        The monitor screen will display: “Initialize the Setting”
        Select “Yes” and hit “OK”.
        The camera will turn off after its initialization.
        The internal setting would be cleared, and sequential numbering will start from 0001>

        (Disclaimer: I am not responsible in any way if anything bad happens to your camera!)

        1. thanks big time for the master reset codes!
          just repaired the broken snap focus on my three days old ricoh GR (II) 🙂
          imagine living without snap focus!!

  14. I bought the GR this week and I must say I am impressed, at least for street. The one thing I am struggling with is the camera profile on LR5. I can’t see Adobe Standard, only Embedded, despite having copied the dcp file into what I think is the right location. It’s frustrating. Not an issue for Ricoh, although I would have thought the Ricoh web-site could have been more proactive.

  15. I’m glad I found your page Wouter. I love your images, especially that landscape with the trees on the horizon. I’ve been using a GRD 3 for a year and a half. After being inspired by the Moriyama / Klein exhibition in London at the start of the year, I suddenly found a consistent way to express with it, doing mostly urban landscapes.

    Recently, I photographed in a number of lower light situations where the GRD 3 was right at the edge of its capabilities. The results were perhaps a bit too grainy – and I love grain – and the camera behaved sluggishly. Trying out a friend’s Lumix GX1 briefly, I loved its quick autofocus and handling. However, though I managed to get some nice contrast and deep blacks in Lightroom, I found I really missed that Ricoh GRAIN and CHARACTER. Seeing what you’re achieving with the GR is a real eye opener (literally) and a relief because I was wondering how to get those extra few stops. Now that I see what’s possible I’m happy I don’t have to audition the x100s, though it gives nice results.

    In the end though, composition is everything and I’m enjoying your view of the world. All the best, Aniruddha.

  16. Hi Wouter,
    Nice write-up! I’m still using the same GRD-II I’ve had since you & I first started bumping into each other in various internet forums. I know that the GR’s have grown slightly in size with each model… can you give me an idea of what the leap from GRD-2 to the new GR might be like; does it physically look or feel much bigger?

    1. It feels and looks only a bit bigger. It is nice nearly the same to the classic GR1 family. One thing is for sure, it feels more endurable than the older digital Ricoh cameras.

      I know some really disagree with me, but I think that the GR cameras have become to complicated to set up. Once you start using it things start to simplify again.

  17. Thanks for that. I also use an X100, EM-5 and most recently an RX1R, but nothing compares to the Ricoh cameras for usability, not to mention pocket-ability!

  18. Excellent review! Thanks very much for this Wouter. I’ve been following your blog for a few years now and your thoughts and work have taught me a lot and probably influenced my own photography a bit as well 😉
    Regarding the issue with hot pixels: I do have this issue as well but only with long (few minutes) exposures. Did you ever hear back from Ricoh about this?

  19. Dear Mr. Brandsma,

    I enjoy reading your posts and viewing your images, as well as hiw you have set up and use the GR.

    I was wondering if during your usage of the GR, you may have had an issue with dust on the sensor at any time. I am interested in the GR, and have seen this topic discussed online as an apparent source of great frustration to some owners. I am unclear, and so are others, as to whether design, manufacture, or operation may be contributors to this, and to what degree. I thought you, with your extensive day-to-day observation and handling of the GR, might have a comment or two in this regard, if you had encountered the issue at all. Thank you in advance.

    Regards,
    Dario

    1. Hello Dario,

      I have been using the GR for over a year since its launch date I have no dust issues with this camera. The thing with forums, especially dpreview, it seems that some issues occur to a lot of people and everyone is full of opinions. Just wonder how representative these guys are for the average Ricoh GR owner. I don’t have a camera bag and when I am out photographing I always have the GR in my hand, ready to photograph. The last time I had a real issue with dus was in 2008 with a Ricoh GX100. And apparently my GRD3 had a dust spot, but I never noticed it. No need to worry in my opinion.

      Cheers,
      Wouter

  20. Hi Wouter,
    It’s a nice and deep review. I am with my GR I for about 6 months and still learning to blend with it.

    Your writing makes me want to dig and dig more into my GR 🙂

  21. Hi,
    I am using the GR II and in TAv mode auto ISO works perfectly, as outlined in the manual. maybe it is just matter of firmware update? regards and thanks for your post, very interesting!
    fabii

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