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Reflecting on the Ricoh GR

Get Ricoh GR and Leica Q at B&H Photo.

Due to some reader inquiries, I happened to go back over some work with the Ricoh GR from 2.5 years ago. What is striking to me here today is just how fantastic the results are from the Ricoh GR, even in comparison to today’s standards.

     
      
Ricoh GR

There is something lovely about Ricoh GR sensor, plus its lens is pin-sharp with hardly any aberrations, its 240g fits easily into a pocket, black and white results are superb, and the total operational excellence and feature set remain unequaled by anything even halfway similar*. It’s an incredible camera: people go looking for reasons to buy a Leica Q (and there are some reasons), but bottom line is that 8X the price buys you both less and more**.

Just a sampler:

I have not tested the Ricoh GR II, so it’s an assumption that it maintains all the best behaviors of its Ricoh GR predecessor (specs seem to indicate this is so). There is also a wide angle conversion lens to get to 21mm for either the Ricoh GR or Ricoh GR II. One wonders what Ricoh might achieve by making a full-frame or even medium format equivalent with an EVF.

* Excepting lack of an EVF. Not even an optional EVF is offered on the Ricoh GR II, though it does have HDMI output.

** The Ricoh GR II not only has a leaf shutter supporting full speed flash sync with the built-in flash, it can operate wirelessly with slave flash units. The built-in flash alone is a major advantage over the Leica Q and the Sony RX1R II for many types of shooting, and a huge plus for any kind of portraiture.

At the beach
Ricoh GR, f/9 @ 1/500 with fill flash at 1-1.7

Sohail K writes:

I’ve just read your entry on the Ricoh GR. I don’t dispute that it has an incredible sensor and superior IQ. In fact, as per your favourable reviews, I bought one when it came out, stuck with it for a year and a half, but ended up selling it. Frustratingly, I was not able to make a single satisfactory image with it largely because of no EVF support.

That said, despite your lukewarm praise of the Q, I did end up buying one. I’m willing to agree that its sensor and IQ are not the best on the market, but in purely operational terms it is the by far the best camera I’ve had with an already (for me) high hit rate. It’s a joy to use, sits perfectly in my hands, is just the right weight and does almost exactly what I want it to, which is mostly travel/street/reportage photography. My only gripe, as you rightly pointed out, is that it doesn’t have an off-centre manual focussing capability. Perhaps this could be fixed in a future firmware release. Will it be? Probably not. :-(

DIGLLOYD: the lack of an EVF is a serious handicap. I hope Ricoh figures that out—even if it were an optional hot-shoe variant. I made many fine images with the Ricoh GR in spite of that limitation, as have many, many readers who bought one and used it. But for some, the lack of an EVF is problematic and indeed it is now more of a problem than ever for me (presbyopia).

As for the Leica Q, it has very high sensor and image quality (though its 10% distortion means that edges can never be truly sharp due to distortion correction). I was unlucky enough to run into a bug on a personally important and unreproducible day. Though I was able to make some fine images in spite of it, it also killed many images. Leica ships all its cameras with bugs, and that particular one cost me. Still, I have no hesitation recommending the Q for most people and maybe that bug is fixed (?). But the Q is a much larger camera than Ricoh GR, does not fit into a pocket, and is hugely expensive by comparison. As for “street shooting”, the Ricoh GR could actually be preferred in some cases, because it calls no attention to itself. And the Q can never provide built-in fill flash and the self timer resets every shot (a serious headache for me)—so personal shooting habits come to bear on which is a better choice, as they ought to. For cycling, the Q is way too large; the Ricoh GR fits into a jersey pocket.

The Q is so expensive that the Ricoh GR can be considered an accessory: sales tax alone here in California on the Q is $393 while the Ricoh GR II is $557. Why do I have a Ricoh GR and not a Leica Q... the cost, or more accurately the value proposition! If money is no object, surely most people would pick the Q (it is a beautiful camera after all), but the Ricoh GR does some things the Q does not and will never do.

See also Will the Leica Q Kill the Leica M?.

As for my hike with the Q—it’s a fair question as I did have the Ricoh GR along as backup—which camera would I prefer? No question—the Leica Q, for its full-frame sensor and EVF. BUT I want that bug fixed which disabled autofocus with the leveling display enabled. And that self-timer reset every shot was actually dangerous on the summit: going back and forth each shot on slippery icy rocks, the risk of injury. That self-timer stupidity Leica probably won’t fix, and I don’t like willfully handicapped cameras for general use: the Q would not make the cut against the Sony A7R II on this type of hike.

Mt Dana Hailstorm with view to Mt Conness in sunlight
f4 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 100; 2015-07-11 14:10:24
LEICA Q (Typ 116) + 28.0 mm f/1.7

[low-res image for bot]
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