Ricoh GR – an old married couple

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about my newly acquired Ricoh GR, and my thoughts on the camera during our ‘honeymoon phase‘. Long story short I was rapidly falling in love. It was, I thought, everything I had been looking for in a camera. There where a few things that bugged me, namely the battery, but at the end of the day I was pretty stoked.

Fast forward 53 days and the story is much the same, I’m still very find of the GR, but it’s shifted from ‘do-no-wrong’ lust to a comfortable familiarity. I’ve discovered a few more flaws, but I’m OK with them and together we’ve been capturing some nice moments.

The good remains much the same as it was in my original post.

The user interface is fantastic, and gets better as you become more accustomed to how it functions. I have ‘MY1’ set as my day to day mode with Aperture Priority (f5.6) and Auto-iso, ‘MY2’ as my street shooter with TAv (f5 and 1/500) to maintain depth of field and limit movement, and ‘MY3’ for moving scenes with Shutter Priority (1/10″). These three cover most of what I do and allows me to very quickly change the primary camera settings if a moment appears.

It’s tiny and unobtrusive. Small enough to fit in the back pocket of a pair of boarshorts, and the leaf shutter is quiet enough that it’s almost imperceptible for candid street photography. Plus it looks like a point and shoot and even if people see, they just don’t care.

The quality is amazing. When I was researching the GR a photography enthusiast I know said it had the ‘best lens I’ve used, period.’ Frankly I assumed hyperbole, but I’m beginning to think he was right – the lens is remarkable. Combine this with the matched sensor sans AA filter and you have a kit capable of almost clinical image quality. I’m yet to print from the GR but fair to say I’m excited to see what it’s capable of.

An interesting off-shoot of the lens/sensor clarity is something Ming Thein has alluded to a few times – despite the relatively slow aperture and wide-angle lens, when you nail a shot there’s a three-dimentional ‘pop’ that I haven’t experienced before. Dare I mention the ‘Leica Look’?

There’s also a few really cool features. Snap-focus has been discussed extensively and is outstanding for street-photography, and the ‘Interval Composite’ mode makes star-trails ridiculously straight-forward.

I’ve found a few more gotchas though…
– The battery remains crap, and $90 for a new Ricoh one is idiotic.
– Compared to a few other premium compacts the tactile ‘feel’ (which isn’t necessarily the same as the quality) is a bit average – you can see where the comparatively low weight and price have forced a corners to be cut.
– Focus in low light and macro-mode are terrible. It hunts like mad and often ends up locking way out of focus. 9 times out of 10 it simply refuses to focus to the actual minimum focussing distance, which means you have to use manual focus, which is an issue because…
– The manual focus implementation is awful; unintuitive and completely at odds with the rest of the UI. I’d really like to see a simple ring around the lens barrel. Likewise the focus-magnification is idiotically convoluted.
– Moire. The obvious downside of removing the AA filter. It’s not an issue for my photography and honestly I think it’s a fair price to pay for the amazing IQ, but be aware that it’s definitely visible in the right/wrong conditions.

And the two big-uns…
– Dust. The major downside of a fixed-lens camera – I’ve got a bit of dust on the sensor, it’s visible in images, and there’s precisely bugger all I can do about it. I could send it back, but there’s no reason the next one won’t do the same thing in a month’s time.
– Purple-blob flare. This one is quite puzzling as all the reviews I read indicated that flare performance was very good. I’ve had two bodies now (the retailer sold me the first one NEW IN BOX with a third party battery already installed) and both have had the same issue – place the sun or a direct light source in the corner of the frame and you get an intense, hard-edged purple blob of flare. I’m well aware that shooting into the sun has issues, but I think this is something else…

An interesting thing I’ve found (which I’ve noticed in a few other cameras as well) – if you’re a RAW shooter the in-camera image preview is terrible and cannot be used to check focus. An easy fix is simply to shoot RAW+jpeg.

At the end of the day, I’m a happy photographer. The GR does what I want it to, and does it very, very well. The downsides are there but nothing drastic enough to be a deal killer. I’m more convinced than ever that as a combination of quality, feel, performance and price, it’s the best advanced compact out there.

Here’s a bunch of shots to whet the appetite, check out my ongoing 365 project for regular updates!

The not-so-good – the purple-blob (obvious) and dust spot (mid-right)