The digital Ricoh GR is my favourite camera of all time and I’ll tell you why. It’s a beautiful little utilitarian device that screams “shoot with me”, sporting an aging 16.2 MP APS-C CMOS image sensor and a sexy f2.8 Ricoh lens it’s all you’ll ever need in a camera and nothing more. It wants you to go out daily, forces you to think more, fiddle with settings less and push yourself to visualize compositions. It will help you frame shots and teach you how to get close to subjects because if you don’t your shots will be trash.
I dig this little beast that fits into my pocket and I’ve run thousands of frames through mine and it refuses to die or falter (short of some dust on the sensor). It’s my daily driver and I’m going to share my thoughts on why it could possibly be the very best camera ever made, right now.
My GR is the original APS-C GR model and is very well traveled, much of what I’m about to say could be applied to the GRII if you would like as there’s very little documented difference, but I have only used the GR1 (digital APS-C). The G and R on my model have faded away to basically nothing, the screen is covered in scratches, most of the white paint is faded, the rubberette/fake leatherette thing has rubbed away to it’s original rubber state on the rear and it’s STILL kicking. It’s sensor is dirty as hell (more on that later) but yet it endears and continues to provide me with some of the best shots I’ve ever produced.
Both versions of the GR pack the same Pentax 16.2 MP APS-C size CMOS image sensor that some say is outdated and to be fair, it is. But, it’s just the right size for aimless shooting on a day with fine light that won’t completely fill up your SD card. Files from the GR come out to be about 15MB in .dng RAW and about 3-5MBish in JPG, if that’s your thing. I never shoot JPG and apply all my edits after the fact in Lightroom CC, so RAW in .dng is perfect for my use. The lens is SUPER sharp for it’s age and provides some nice creamy bokeh for you out-of-focus nerds. That said though, for us street shooters we’re less concerned about shallow depth of field, but the opposite and this camera can render the hell out of a scene at f16 LET ME TELL YOU!
The GR fits perfectly in your hand and a deep-ish pocket (or cargo pocket, if you’re still in ‘Nam), powers on in a second or two and is ready to fire away. How good is this: it REMEMBERS your settings that you had previously used and turns on again to those very settings! Amazing. The ergonomics cannot be understated – this is camera that was designed by a lazy street shooter who did NOT want to use two hands to operate their camera. Almost all the functions can be activated or manipulated with a single hand while firing off frames. This is so perfect for the run-and-gun style shooter who is walking the streets firing off frames and composing on the go. Nothing can be more utilitarian than swapping AF modes, to manual mode, using SNAP in a matter of seconds and for multiple shots depending on the environment or lighting conditions.
But, it’s still a point and shoot. So, you can give it to a complete photo novice and it will still be able to produce unreal shots in Auto mode (or P mode). It’s that good it can almost sense when its in the hand of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing (aka me) and does the work for them. The results are almost always stunning, sharp and usable. The macro mode is perfect for close up detail shots and perfect for your notice mate who wants to take photos of flowers or whatever.
The GR comes with a perfectly usable 3 inch, 1.23m dot LCD screen on the back that doesn’t move because it’s fixed. I don’t hate it, mine does what it needs to and is rarely on. I barely chimp with it (no really) and leave it off unless I’m composing a scene with it. My setting of choice for the screen preview mode is Black & White of course, this just makes composition of highlights and shadows easier in my mind, I’m not sure if it actually does. But, you can change the colour rendition mode of the preview screen to whole gamut of weird and wonderful settings (read: 17), if that floats your boat. I don’t care for the so-called “art” modes and just leave it B&W to distract me less, despite what the haters say.
The Ricoh becomes an extension of your hand and eye, once you get used to it. Granted, the 28mm focal length is not for everyone, in fact quite a few will struggle with anything wider than 35mm as a “standard” focal length. But, once you’re dialed in to 28mm and you “get it” you can fire it off at will and almost have a 6th-sense as to what the shot will be, before you take it. Predictably, once you’re dialed in composition comes down to angles, framing, location, subjects etc etc etc but the Ricoh really takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. For street photography, you couldn’t ask for a better companion.
I typically use mine in Shutter Priority, Tv in Pentax/Ricoh language and let the GR set my aperture for me – which it gets right about 90% of the time. Changing my approach to use Shutter Priority away from M and TAv (Aperture Priority) really helped me learn how to deal with variable and changing light. What you learn to do is flick the modifier wheel on the front one way for less light the the opposite for more, it’s so easy as you just adjust it with your index finger then move it back to the shutter button and you’re good.
For a regular session on the street I will take a couple of test shots and set my baseline shutter speed to start, which is usually 1/125 or 1/250 in general and just adjust as I go from there. I usually have the screen off, you can do this by tapping “DISP” a couple of times and fire away. There’s really not much more to it. From here, it’s up to you.
The Auto-Focus typically gets a bashing from digital camera nerds online, I however disagree. It’s snappy, rarely fails to lock on your subject if the light is what I would call “good enough”, it’s great in great light and not so good in low light. That said though, anything is possible with the GR. Additionally, Ricoh have brought back SNAP focus from the GR1 film cameras which essentially is just af-zone focusing to a pre set distance. When I first bought the Ricoh I used this exclusively and to great success, however as time has gone on I have tended to just the straight Multi-point AF as it captures my subjects fast enough, I just don’t have to think about it. With SNAP mode, I’m always having to judge my distance before I snap off a frame, not impossible but just requires more thought processing power on the street. I’m more about finding light, interesting subjects and compositions on the street now, cool features aren’t really what I’m after. SNAP is a rad feature though and some use it to great effect, I just don’t have time for it anymore.
Files & Results
The GR shoots in native .dng files, making processing by whichever tool of preference quite easy. My weapon of choice is Lightroom CC on my iPad, but you milage may vary. In any case the files are easy to edit, the colours are nice and they have about 3-4 stops of leeway, more so if you push it to Black & White and pump the blacks and contrast for good measure.
As you can see, I use this camera for basically everything, everyday, in a variety of ways. I’ve shot mostly street with it, but it’s also flexed landscapes, urban stuff, shot some abandoned buildings, portraits and family days out to the park. All in both colour as well as Black & White to great success (lol) and very pleasing results. You can really use this camera for anything and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. In the hand it looks like a mobile phone, not a camera until you pull it up to snap a frame and by the time your subject has noticed you’re long gone. Perfect for street shooters.
Ricoh’s Sensor Issues
The elephant in the room is the sensor issues that are created by the extending lens and lens cap. The mechanism pushes the lens outwards from the body and releases the cap over the lens, this attracts dirt and/or grit which fall through the cracks and land on the sensor. This effects every single GR and there’s nothing you can do about it. Pentax/Ricoh will not even service them for you any more because they know they’ve cooked it.
This annoying flaw is probably the only real deal breaker for some people
What inevitably happens is you get some weird splooches and dust marks on your sensor that you have to fix up later in post. I hate it personally, but I turn my camera off frequently and drop it in my pocket, another lint filled environment that’s likely to infect my sensor. I will try to clean the sensor manually soon, but that requires a complete disassembly of the camera and may be too tricky. As I said, this is something to be aware of and will infect your sensor no matter what, much like the Leica M9 corrosion cock up.
This camera is not rare. It is easy to find and generally, condition does not matter so long as the sensor is clean ENOUGH. I would suggest before buying one used to get the seller to snap a shot of a blank white wall in full sun at f/16 or f/22 to see the state of the sensor. If it’s clear, go for it. If the lens looks to be in good enough shape you’re basically on a winner. That said, don’t spend more than $400. The overall shape of the body and moving parts largely don’t matter for the GR, your biggest worry is always going to be that sensor and that should be your priority.
The final option is to go for a brand new GRII or perhaps the GR3 when it is inevitably released, but don’t hold your breath. I wouldn’t buy a GRII new, the price is silly for a three year old camera. Just get a used one but make sure the sensor isn’t trashed and you’ll be fine.
This is my go everywhere, do anything camera. It is performs well at almost any kind of photography you can throw at it. It’s well designed, the files are easy to work with and has a truly special lens on the front (despite the dust problems).
From a street photography perspective, this camera teaches you how to think about the scene and not your settings becoming an extension of you. I couldn’t recommend it more to the would be street shooter or traveler who wants to capture their adventures. Buy it now!