With a sensor that delivers top image quality, has Pentax Ricoh just catapulted itself to the top of the posh, pocketable compact digital camera heap?
Note: The Ricoh GR will cost $799.95 when it becomes available in May, and can be pre-ordered now from Adorama. Credit cards will not be charged until orders ship.
It's been seven years since the original Ricoh GR Digital—a posh point-and-shoot that I described in my review for Adorama at the time as "a camera created by someone who loves photography"—was released. At the time, I felt this camera handled great on the street and amazing potential, but lacked in the area of image quality. Four generations later, with today's announcement of the APS sensor-based Ricoh GR, they may have finally fulfilled the promise of the original as a handy, fast pocket-sized camera with image quality that matches the best APS DSLR's.
A quick history about this quirky camera: Over the years, a succession of new Ricoh GR models showed smart, but incremental, changes: The lens was upgraded from a 28mm (equivalent) f/2.4 to f/1.9. The sensor was upgraded from 8 to 10MP, and numerous firmware upgrades gave the camera new capabilities. Along the way, each camera saw its functionality improved via numerous firmware upgrades. The GR Digital IV, introduced in 2011 and reviewed here by Mark Wallace for AdoramaTV, had relatively minor changes including more RAW options.
But the newest model in this evolution, known simply as the Ricoh GR, represents a huge leap in image quality, thanks to its new APS-C-sized 16MP sensor, and replaces the thumbnail sized 10MP sensor that appeared on GRs II through IV.
Let's take an in-depth first look at this latest and possibly greatest of Ricoh's well-designed line of high-end compact digital cameras.
Ricoh GR Key Features:
- 16MP APS-sized CMOS sensor
- ISO range 100-25,600
- Retractable 28mm f/2.8 lens (35mm equivalent)
- Magnesium alloy construction
- Full 1080p HD video at 30fps
- Shutter speeds: 300-1/4000 sec, bulb, time
- 3-inch, 1,230k dot resolution LCD
- Built-in flash, TTL hot shoe
- 54MB internal memory
- Supports Eye-Fi memory cards
- RAW and JPEG Capture
- In-Camera RAW Processing
- Macro mode
- No Low-Pass Filter
- Optional Wide Conversion Lens for 21mm equivalent coverage
- Optional 28mm viewfinder
- 4.6x2.4x1.4 inches
The first GR model to be released since Ricoh bought Pentax and became Pentax Ricoh, the Ricoh GR has a redesigned 18.3mm (35mm equivalent: 28mm) f/2.8 lens, a nine-blade diaphragm, and a claimed 0.2-second focus acquisition.
New Controls, Familiar Layout
One of the key attractions of the Ricoh GR has been the ability to easily take manual control over exposure and focus, and these controls are inherited by the latest model, keeping all controls on one side for one-handed operation. While the familiar and intuitive layout has remained mostly untouched, Ricoh managed to add an AF Function lever to the back panel, and a depth of field preview button, which has been placed on the side with an aperture icon and the word "effect". The GR also offers TAv (Shutter speed/Aperture Priority) mode, which until now could only be found on Pentax DSLRs.
Despite its larger sensor, the Ricoh GR remains true to its compact design and, as with previous versions, retains its solid magnesium alloy construction.
Lens and Sensor
One area where Ricoh engineers had to compromise a bit was the lens. Whereas the small sensor model sported an f/1.9 lens, in order to make the lens and camera body small enough to still be pocket sized with and still accommodate an APS sensor the 18.3mm (35mm equivalent 28mm) lens's widest aperture is f/2.8, which is still quite respectable. Remarkably, it accommodates the same 43mm filter size and hood and Ricoh Adapter GH-2 as its predecessors. The lens has nine aperture rings for smooth, natural-looking bokeh, and it fully retracts into the camera body. Pentax Ricoh claims the sensor, which captures 8-bit JPEG and 12-bit RAW, has been optimized to match the lens for best image quality over the entire field.
Focus can be achieved via Multi AF contrast detect, spot AF, pinpoint AF, subject tracking, snap AF, face recognition priority, and manual focus. Focus range is 3.9 inches to infinity.
Using the H.264 video format, the Ricoh GR can capture 1920x1080 pixel HD video at 30 fps, using a 16:9 aspect ratio. The camera can autofocus during video capture; the camera continually focuses on subjects in the center of the frame.
New shooting functions
A variety of new functions have been aded, including the ability to edit RAW images in-camera and converting them to JPEGs. New creative effects include Retro (subdued saturation), High Key, and Miniaturize. The same new button used for depth of field preview also selects these effects. Pentax Ricoh says an upgraded Multi-pattern Auto White Balance segregates different areas of an image and applies discrete color balance.
Other useful features include Auto Macro, which monitors camera to subject distance and automatically applies macro mode when focusing closely, and Interval Composite, which captures a series of images in the night sky at a fixed interval, then combines them into a single composite.
As in the past, the feature set is fluid; Pentax Ricoh promises future function expansion via firmware updates. The company has a good history of incorporating user suggestions in its firmware, thereby extending the life of each model.
Conclusion and recommendation
Combine the GR's 16MB sensor (not the same as the K-5 II but the same resolution, according to Pentax) with its shirt pocket convenience and Pentax Ricoh may have just leapfrogged to the top of the high-end compact digital camera heap. The Ricoh GR will be available in May for $799.95, and can be pre-ordered now from Adorama.