I went from not having reviewed a camera in ages to having done two in a row.
In my last post, I waxed romantically about how I no longer care about gear so much. I talked about the real limitations we face–creative limitations, not those imposed by what camera we use–and how familiarity with a camera can yield great results. I also said I don’t take pictures of cameras anymore; I just don’t see the point. There is no longer a steady stream of cameras and lenses in and out of my life, and the U.S. Postal Service is surely feeling the ramifications.
However, I have to say that there have been a few pieces of gear that I have enjoyed more than others. The Fuji X100 and X100s have been a revelation for me; the original X100 unlocked so much that I had not yet discovered about photography. The Leica M rangefinder was something that I enjoyed using probably more than any other camera; it’s not quite the spiritual experience that some people make it out to be, but it is the most enjoyable shooting experience for me personally. There is one other camera in this group that I have enjoyed using and has challenged me and made photography fun.
The Ricoh GR.
The first thing you notice when you hold the GR is that it’s small–I mean really small–yet manages to pack a large sensor under the hood. It’s a fixed-lens camera, with a 28mm-equivalent, f/2.8 maximum-aperture lens. The camera has a matte black finish that has a functional attractiveness to it, and the grip has a rubbery feel to it that makes it easy to hold in one hand. The back has a large screen, and the buttons are laid out well so that the camera can be operated with only one hand.
The menu system can initially be difficult, but it is incredibly customizable; once you spend some time with the camera it really feels like it’s yours. The camera can easily become an extension of your photographic vision. The camera is virtually silent–a nearly inaudible *snick* is all you hear as the shutter goes–and so can easily be used in close quarters. It comes with a wrist strap for carrying, and has a small pop-up flash that can be programmed.
The GR slides easily into a pocket and starts up almost instantly, making it an ideal street camera. The wide 28mm focal length can work well for close quarters, but the GR includes a crop-mode that makes it a 35mm effective field of view (I have this programmed to one button so I can easily switch if needed). Finally, the GR has a unique “snap focus” mode; this allows the user to program a pre-set focal distance and thereby eliminate any lag when releasing the shutter. When the shutter button is pressed, the camera responds instantly when in snap focus mode. Normally, the camera waits for the auto-focus to lock on. The AF is by no means quick, but it’s usable–think the X100s as a fair comparison. It can occasionally hunt in low light or low-contrast scenes, but this is not too big of an issue in my experience.
One issue I have had with the GR is dust on the sensor. A little bit of research online has shown that this is a common problem, and can cause the camera to need to be sent to Ricoh/Pentax to have it addressed. My first GR had a real dust issue, and so far my second copy has not developed this. I have taken steps to try to avoid this issue going forward, but it’s not an exact science.
The biggest thing about the Ricoh is that with the small size it can go anywhere, and with the near-silent shutter can be used anywhere. This allows me to have an APS-C sized sensor with DSLR image quality in my pocket anywhere I go. Having the buttons customized to my preferences means that I can quickly change settings on the fly and operate the camera with one hand.
The GR simply gets out of the way. When I’m taking photographs with the GR, I can not worry about anything but the image. The camera is not overly complex. It makes things fun, simple, and enjoyable. Nobody is intimidated by the sight of the GR, as it looks like a cheap point-and-shoot, not like an expensive, “professional” (whatever that means) camera.
Anyone considering the GR should go for it. One of the blogs that pushed me off the fence was the fantastic blog by Wouter Brandsma, who shoots with the GR almost exclusively. He has some great shots.