Text and pictures © 2007-2014 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/10
"Photography is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." — Dorothea Lange.
I received for Christmas 1997 a Ricoh GR1 28mm/f2.8. It is a great tiny camera; one of the only 3 existing compacts with a 28mm lens (at that time). The lens is awesome even at full aperture, it has aperture priority mode, under/overexposure compensation, autofocus lock (but too awkward to be useful), self-timer delay (10s), long exposure synchro flash (up to 2s), a real T pause (I love the T pause, hey, Nikon, you listening ?), optional film leader out rewind...
One of the many little tricks of this camera is that it prewinds the film. If you also have a normal SLR and want to finish the film of the GR1 (say you have 10 shots left), just press the rewind button twice to leave the film leader out, pop the film out, put it inside the SLR, shoot up to 9 pictures and then rewind. Done.
The T pause is awesome for night pictures. No need for a cable release. You only need to carry a very light tripod, screw it on top, set the camera to f2.8 with the T-pause, press the shutter, wait as much as you want, press the shutter again when you are done. Optionally it's advised to put something dark in front of the lens as you press the shutter so the camera motion induced from your pressure on the trigger won't be visible on film. Did I say I love the T-pause ?
It only lacks an exposure lock and an easier to use AF-lock. I also wish the [Focus to infinity] button was a true hyperfocal button instead. The newer version, the GR1s has an illuminated display. The newest version, the GR1v also has manual ISO setting, easier manual focus, ±0.5EV bracketing (flash off, 3 shots) and the lens hood (apparently it's possible to get an accessory to screw in filters on top of the hood threads but I haven't been able to find it). Don't get the Ricoh hard case for it since it only covers the bottom half of the camera and it's way too large, get an OP/TECH USA Euro Small phone pouch 2"x4"x¾" or something similar.
And this camera is so small it's always in the pocket, very convenient for mountain climbing... except when my sister broke it by falling in the stairs while 8 month pregnant the morning of our wedding (I'm not making this up !!!) or when the Ricoh service failed to repair it properly (misaligned AF, non working flash, non working shutter) causing me to lose all my altitude pictures of Cho Oyu ! Bitter, bitter, bitter.
HF=NK/f (to find the hyperfocal distance, divide the K number NK by the aperture)
I had been dreaming about a point and shoot camera with a 20mm lens ever since I started climbing... And Ricoh made it. The Gr21 has the widest lens of any P&S camera, in that case 21mm/f3.5 lens. The price is steep, but that's a truly unique piece. Well, not quite unique, but only 4000 were made, as far as I know.
In addition to everything the GR1 has (Aperture priority, +/- compensation, AF lock, self-timer, T-pause, optional film leader out...), the GR21 also has the following great additions: a remote flash synch socket (makes it look old fashioned !), an electric cable release socket, manual ISO setting, 0.5 bracketing, lit display, filter threads, lens shade... Most SLRs twice the price don't have as much, what else could you ask for ?
Although the body itself is the exact same size as the GR1, the lens protrudes even when the power is off which makes it a lot more fragile. And there is a not very convenient and fragile lens cover that you fortunately can't loose thanks to a small wire. Those are the two negative points of this camera, along with the steep price. It comes with a convenient leather case (when was the last time they sold cameras with leather cases included ?!?). A lens hood can be attached whenever you need it and you'll be lucky if you don't stick your big fingers on the tiny lens a couple times a day swapping between the hood and the cover... I don't know where to put the hood, so it's always at home... The (lit) viewfinder has exposure time and distance indicator while the aperture can be set manually.
The lens protrudes inside the field of the viewfinder, sometimes making it tricky to frame accurately. The lens is awesomely sharp but has a lot of vignetting (see image on right) at full aperture, given the non-retrofocus technology. So it's better to use it above f5.6 when homogeneity is needed, for assembling a panorama for instance. Also the flash has 1.3 EV (Guide Number 6.9) between the corners and the center but that's not a huge deal.
So what do the pictures look like ? Here is an example that shows the wide angle put to good use.
NK=Focal2/30=15m (write this on the camera)
HF=NK/f (to find the hyperfocal distance, divide the K number by the aperture)
So in very short, here's my summary: the pro is an extraordinary camera with no equivalent, very sharp, very lightweight and very professional in its accessories. The con is the heavy vignetting. And you'll be lucky if you are able to find one.
Hmmm... What ?!? It doesn't exist yet ? Please Ricoh, make it ! With a GR1, a GR21 and the same camera with an 85mm, I would hardly need a SLR anymore...
A digital version of the Ricoh GR1 came out at the end of 2005, retaining most of what made the GR line of cameras famous: wide angle, compactness, quality of lens and functionality. It has a fixed equivalent 28mm lens and a 21mm equivalent add-on, so it can replace both the GR1 and the GR21. It doesn't have a viewfinder (only as an add-on, clipping on the flash shoe mount), which is not be the best of things if you want to use it outdoors (and you will). And while I'm talking about the screen, it's big (good) but the luminosity and colors vary a lot depending on the viewing angle, making it impossible to appreciate the colors on an image. On the other hand, like the other GRs, it has several extras that don't exist on any other digital compact camera: a real flash socket, a 3 minutes exposure time, manual setting through two quick dials...
So I got it in early december. A week later the camera turned itself on in my pocket and the lens subsequently broke. Something was rattling inside. Back to the shop where I wanted my money back for having missed all the pictures of the ascent of the north ridge of Sefton. Now as to the functionalities: the lack of viewfinder is an absolute no-no when taking pictures up in the mountains: when on snow you have absolutely no idea how you are framing the shot and can't read any of the menus. There's no T/B pause and I find this deeply annoying, they replaced it with a 3 min max exposure time which is a far cry from enough if you want to do star rotations. Then there is the even more annoying fact that if you take an exposure longer than 15 seconds, the camera then waits double the exposure time before returning. Yes, you read that correctly: if you take a 3 minutes shot you then have to wait 6 minutes so you can take only one shot every 9 minutes. It's absurd but confirmed in small prints in the manual. If the exposure time is above one second, a noise reduction luminance filter kicks in; if it's over 15 seconds, the camera subtracts a dark frame. Anybody knows how to get rid of those 'noise reduction functions' ?!? I want a firmware update that offer this as an option. Another issue I have is that the provided Caplio software seems to only download the images, without any possibility to control the camera from the computer.
The auto-focus is slow, noisy, dreadful, reminiscent of the 30 year old technology and gets it wrong in most cases. Note that this has improved notably with recent firmware upgrades, so make sure you have the latest one. I wish there was a distance indicator somewhere, at least in manual focus mode. And although the screen is bigger than on most other compacts, it's still very difficult to tell whether the focus is correct, just slightly off or completely on the other side of the moon. After each shot I now look at the image and zoom to the max to verify the focus. The classic GRs had much better AF. One more thing to blame on going from 24x36 to 7x5mm sensor: it takes sub-micron mechanics to do the same things, it's harder to do, more expensive, and with plenty of drawbacks.
The macro mode allows you to get very close to the front lens (something like less than 2cm), but the wide angle is not too adapted for macrophotography, and the deported flash even less. Even though it's possible to take some decent images (right) if you use a reflector (or external manual flash) for the light and some patience for the focus. Since the sensor is so small, just don't expect a 1:1 ratio, the maximum ratio is around 4.5:1, nothing to beat a dead mosquito with.
Right: An image of snails really going at it, a good test of the macro capabilities of the Ricoh, as anything faster wouldn't let you focus properly (or you'd fog the lens from the hot action !)
Globally the menus and the user interface is much better than on all other digital compact and most digital reflex cameras I've used. In the image display you get the usual DPOF options, but inexplicably, there's no option to rotate an image (either by tagging it or by applying a lossless jpeg rotation). So you have to fire off IrfanView after moving the images to the PC and use the [Lossless Jpeg Image Rotation] option. You can do this on selected images from the Thumbnail previews, making the whole process very fast.
The tiny size of the sensor (7.18x5.32mm) leads to a 4.84 equivalent focal ratio with respect to film cameras: the 5.7mm lens is indeed equivalent to the 28mm of the GR1. Keep this in mind when doing geometric processing of the images such as panorama assembly.
|Table of Hyperfocal distance using NK=5.9²/10|
Now about the aperture: having f2.4 is nice, but the sensor is so small (7.3x5.5mm) that it's impossible to get shallow depth of field; the background is basically always somewhat in focus and you can forget about doing portraits (not that 28mm is a focal for portraits anyways). Also I find the min aperture of f9.0 somewhat limiting; the original GR could go to f22 where it can come in handy for instance with running water.
The exposure is usually correct, without the common burnout of many other digital cameras, and the auto-bracket mode works well and is very quick (less than a second for 3 images), the problem is that it only works in half stops and it gets disabled when you turn the camera off... Useless as it takes longer to go thru the menus to reinstate it than to press the over/underexposure buttons and take 2 more shots. Another minor issue is that the tripod screw is off axis, making it impossible to easily rotate around the nodal point when taking successive shots on a tripod. Serious parallax problems here.
As for the camera speed, it is reasonable in booting and taking a shot (delay is there, but not excessive). When in continuous mode, it can take about 4 images in the first second but then it slows to about one image every 1.5 seconds while it writes them as Jpeg. This probably depends on the speed of the memory card and I don't care much about it. The wheel button is a bit hidden in the manual but quite useful for quick access to custom functions; I have mine set to exposure compensation, ISO, white balance and AF.
About the image processing. The GRd is one of the few compact cameras which can produce RAW files, in this case in Adobe DNG format (Digital NeGative), a format touted as 'universal' but with actually poor support from other software makers besides Adobe. The DNG files are about 12Mb in size and contain the full sensor information. The main problem is that it takes the camera a good 10 seconds to record the file on the card, so that pretty much precludes their use for action shots. Even a snail eating a salad becomes an action shot when you need to wait 10s between shots. Here's a discussion about some of the points surrounding the use and support of DNG files, or lack thereof.
As to whether it's interesting to use DNG files or not, I'm skeptical. I forced myself to use them for 2 months, taking hundreds of shots this way, and then what ? You first need a good and convenient RAW file processing program and then you should compare it with the JPG given directly by the camera. For the type of images I take, the main problem with the Ricoh is the very visible blown highlights (typically white clouds). No amount of RAW processing can recover this as there's simply no information. The noise can be slightly improved but in case you take high ISO shots I find that the best strategy is to simply not apply any sharpening, you get a soft image but it also has low noise. Pick one. The only place where RAW processing is useful is when there are difficult color balances, for instance a mixture of flash, tungsten light and neon light; this you can recover easily in any halfway decent RAW processor, and without hacking away at your histogram.
As for the results themselves, well, the quality is here... The tiny flash is obviously not up to the task in most cases, like on all compact cameras. The fact that it pops out helps somewhat to avoid red-eyes (not much). The internal flash is way overexposed on close subject (white cheese faces). The AUTO color balance is completely wrong when using the flash in slow-synch mode (I get everything from blue to orange images). When using an external flash, remember to disable the internal flash (it seems counter-intuitive but the external flash will always trigger, even if you set the flash mode to 'none'), set the flash and the camera to A mode, set a fixed white balance (I recommend 'cloudy'), and set the same ISO sensitivity and aperture on the flash. Using a flash bounced on the ceiling I got some pretty good images indoors but it's hard to get consistent results without a TTL.
The camera has 64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 ISO sensitivities, but 1600 should be reserved only for desperate situations and 400/800 are quite noisy leaving 200 as the max usable one. Indeed 1600 is not available when shooting in RAW mode, showing that it's only a software gimmick. If you really need to use the 1600 ISO setting, make sure you lower the noise by using a custom setting (I recommend putting it on the quick-access wheel) with highest contrast, medium-low sharpness and low color depth. This minimizes the damage done by the post-processing 'enhancements' but still to be reserved for desperate situations.
I tested the sensor for hot or dead pixels and didn't find any. So either I'm lucky, or the sensor quality is outstanding, or there's 'an erroneous pixel removal algorithm' even before the RAW file save. To give you an idea, on my Fuji S5 pro which is renown for the quality of its sensor (and costs quite a bit more), there are 4 hot pixels...
With its wide angle this camera is meant for 2 main purposes: landscape photography and crowded indoors. It performs poorly in the 2nd case without an external flash or raising the sensitivity, but it is indeed good at the first task. If only the sensor was much bigger... I'd kill for an APS sensor in a camera of the same size.
And finally: support. I'll just say that 2 years after I bought mine, there are still regular firmware updates coming out, although Ricoh stated that there'll be no new ones out after 2007. Nothing major, all the bugs having been corrected in the first few months, but nice little tweaks and additional functions (several B&W modes for instance). And it shows that Ricoh still stand behind its equipment, even though the new generation came out.
Click on the buttons below to see various test images taken at various sensitivities and contrast.
So what is the GRd good for ? An excellent digital wide angle camera. Great lens. Good definition (compared to its GR1 ancestor). Very light. Excellent menus and functionality (compared to the rest of the digital market, even reflex). Only so-so dynamic range (compared to film, make sure you set the contrast to low in the custom settings for landscapes). Its main domains of applications are landscape photography such as mountain climbing, discreet street photography (the B&W mode in higher ISO is reminiscent of older film technologies), photo notebook (fits in a pocket unobtrusively)...
Here is a script I use as part of my workflow. It is an extension of the script I originally wrote for the Ricoh and works on any digital camera or memory card. It moves the files from the camera/card, renames them by date and moves them to dated directories. It works on RAF/RAW/RW2/DNG raw files, JPG/TIF images, sound files, videos and a few other specific files. You need Cygwin installed on Windows but it works directly on Linux. Read the comments in the file.
Finally, here's the flickr Ricoh GRD discussion group and image pool.
After 2 years of using the GRd almost daily, I started feeling constrained. Having only a 28mm lens can be limiting sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I love the GRd and it produces excellent images (not necessarily the same thing), but when climbing I can easily take a 2nd identical compact camera, but not so easily my heavy SLR. So I started wishing for something to replace or complement the GRd it with 2 extras: a wide-angle zoom and an extended dynamic range. After some research I figured out that the excellent SuperCCD SR technology used on the Fuji S5 to extend the dynamic range does not apply to compact cameras (or so they claim). So I'm left with the zoom option. The GX100 appears at first like a GRd with a 5.1-15.3mm zoom instead of the 5.9 fixed focal (24-72mm vs 28mm in eqv). First thing of note: although the lens is quite a bit bigger, you loose luminosity (2.5-4.4 instead of 2.4). And you 'gain' a lens cap hanging by a string just like on the GR21.
Both camera bodies appear identical apart for the protruding front lens of the GX100. But when you hold them the weight difference is significant: 220g vs 170g (so 30% more). The width is given as 25mm in the specs; and I find them a bit creative here: it's closer to 42mm ! Many things stay the same: same battery, same memory card type, same menu and interface design (with some minor variations as we'll see), some accessories can be shared as well (the remote control, the AC adapter but not the wide angle adapter or the soft case). So if you know the GRd, you can get started with the GX100 without opening the manual.
Now the differences: the ADJ wheel is gone, replaced by a [left/push/right] button. It looks the same but the usability is somewhat reduced in my opinion. Then the flash: you still have the selector mode [Off/Auto/RedEye/On/Synchro/Soft], but the real [on/off] is a physical switch next to the flash itself; the advantage being that it retains your settings even if the flash is off. Then the [Mode] dial on top has lost its security lock: an error for all those who will keep the camera in tight places such as pant pockets. Then there are some new buttons: [Mode], [Fn] which can be programmed with the same extras as the [Adj] fake wheel, [VF/LCD] to commute the external viewfinder (or blank the screen) and a [Ring cap removal] that will keep some people from loosing the useless plastic ring around the lens; two presets on the [Mode] dial. The exposure compensation buttons, a staple of the GR line, is now replaced by the zoom buttons; something obviously necessary but that I'll miss greatly. That's it for the obvious external differences.
Now perusing the menus, one discovers a rather violent [Skew correction] of already taken images, the same wheel programming method, a similarly low min ISO setting (80 vs 64) and, very important, a shake correction. The shake correction works perfectly down to 1/2s, which is a good 3 stops better than what I can normally manage with such a light handheld camera. There doesn't seem to be any drawback, so it's a huge improvement for any kind of low-light handheld photography. But still remember to pack a tripod for anything above 1/2s as this function gets automatically disabled.
On usage the screen proves much brighter than the GRd, which was all but impossible to see outdoors. Its resolution is slightly increased by 10%.
Zooming is a bit strange (heh, after 15 years of using Ricoh GRs with only a 28mm fixed lens, indulge me): zooming in is quick and precise (there are more steps than I can count), but zooming out always makes the lens move farther and then back a bit. You can indeed change this behavior and have the zoom use only 5 preset positions of standard focals: 24, 28, 35, 50 and 72mm. Less precise but quicker, if it wasn't for the fact that you need to press the button 4 times to go from one end to the other.
The flash socket doubles up as an external viewfinder holder. Not an optical one like the GV-1, but an electronic one included in the kit. My first try with it is that I think it's a gimmick: same drawbacks as a screen (lack of resolution and lack of luminosity outdoors) and same drawbacks as the GV-1 (protrudes and won't fit in a compact pouch). It tilts up so it may be useful in some awkward shooting positions... on the other hand you can completely forget about using it to focus manually: even though there's an integrated diopter correction, the field is uneven and quite tiny (forget about using it with glasses). And the pixels very big.
I also thought: "but how do they transmit the video", thinking there would be additional contacts on the flash socket; on examination there are actually fewer contacts (only 2 vs 6 on the GRd). The contacts of the viewfinder are underneath and connect when you slide it in. The consequence of the flash contacts diminution is that if you hoped to use an external flash, you are now limited to manual mode only, while the GRd with the proper flash had some more extensive possibilities. The internal flash can indeed pop up while the viewfinder is mounted. A new flash mode is 'soft', which was quite necessary, seeing at how overexposed often were GRd images; it works very well on portraits. Another flash improvement is the use of a pre-flash to determine correct flash exposure. I rather hate that on digital SLRs as the delay between the pre-flash and the real one is determine by the time it takes to raise the mirror and is measured in tens of seconds, a time long enough for your subject to close her eyes; here the central shutter is much faster so the twin flashes are basically undiscernable.
The camera has higher resolution than the GRd, and the number of pixels for the videos quadruple to an acceptable number. We'll see if the lens resolution and the sensor noise is up to the pixel increase.
Like on the GRd the tripod screw is off-axis, which gives you parallax if you want to use a tripod to make panorama stitches. They've added something to keep the battery from falling off when you change the memory card.
The scene modes have been greatly expanded: from the original GR with only TIF B&W images for text and WAV files for sound, you now have all the rather useless modes found on cheap compacts (portrait, sport, landscape, nightscape, digital zoom macro) but also some interesting ones such as skew correction (which can also be performed after taking the shot or in photoshop!) and the useful high display sensitivity (which increases the contrast of the display, quite useful when shooting in the dark, for instance with the flash). Now why can't I have the display enhancement when shooting in Manual exposure ?!? It's a silly menu thing to create a full mode for this when a simple menu option would be much better suited. Also, you cannot record sound anymore as with the GRd; an unfortunate loss.
The [Fn] button is a great addition, but I have a hard time deciding if I'd rather use it as an auto-exposure lock, an exposure compensation (like all the other Ricohs), or a manual-focus button...
I wrote all of the above before taking even my first picture. Now that I've noticed that it's not only a toy but also a camera, let's look at the results.
The very first image I took was indoors with artificial lighting and I immediately noticed that the Auto color balance is terribly inefficient: the correction is indeed minimal and will give a strong 'warm' feel to indoor images, so maybe it's done on purpose. If you do a manual balance, it works flawlessly.
Raw files are in the same DNG format as the GRd, but even though they are 10Mpix vs 6Mpix, they save in about 4 seconds vs 10 seconds on the older brother, making them a lot more usable. Unfortunately, there is no more AdobeRGB color profiles. Just like on the GRd, the DNGs show a bit purple in various RAW processors, but that's easily corrected.
So far I find 3 rather grave defects to the camera. First it often just refuses to shoot. Particularly if I press the shutter halfway, reframe and try to shoot, it's guaranteed to fail. I have to press directly the whole way, but then I can't reframe or force the exposure or the AF on a different subject. Annoying to the point of making the camera unusable. Second, in A mode, the shutter speed never seems to go above 1/750s; say you want a large depth of field for a portrait in the sun: you'll get a message saying 'AE!' and the resulting image will be overexposed. A workaround is to use P mode and rotate the wheel to change the coupling. It works, so I'll put this along 'firmware bugs that hopefully will see a correction in a later version'. Third, the image processor turns out ugly images, even in raw mode.
Taking pictures on snow, I was pleasantly surprised to _not_ see any blinking areas denoting over-exposed shots while reviewing the shots I'd just taken... But when I loaded the RAW files into SilkyPix, I immediately saw why: they were all underexposed by about two shots. So tomorrow on the next ski outing, I'll remember to push by 1/3 or 2/3, hoping that the snow won't be burnt out.
Executive summary: the GX100 has the following better than the GRd: flash lever and better overall flash quality, higher resolution, brighter screen, faster RAW files, memory cards above 2Gb, wide angle down to 24mm, no loss of sharpness with the zoom, higher movie resolution. But the GRd stays with me for: wheel instead of lever, faster trigger time, more menus and customizations, black and white modes, AdobeRGB profiles, more realistic noise processing, use as sound recorder and overall image quality.
Finally, here's the flickr Ricoh GX100 discussion group and image pool. And remember to always perform the latest firmware upgrade.
Comparison of Ricoh GR digital lineup
It's enough to take a quick glimpse at the comparison table below to figure out that the GRII is a mix of GRd and GX100. It uses the body and lens of the former (with all compatible accessories), but the sensor of the latter. Coming out 2 years after the GRd, one may be disappointed to see so few improvements: basically only 25% more pixels. It's a commendation of the GRd that hardly anything needed improvement from the original version, but an exacting photographer could ask for many new things. The most obvious missing capability here is the shake correction: present the GX100 but not on the GRII ?!? That thing is useful.
Then how about improving the dynamic range, my pet peeve ? Or using a much bigger sensor, an orientation detection like on SLRs, face detection for quick checks, hyperfocal AF mode instead of cheap Snap mode...? Ricoh, you know what you should do ? License the SuperCCD SR technology of Fuji and stuff a full APS-sized sensor into a same body-size. Then we'll talk. And don't say there's no room: the GR1 had a 24x36mm 'sensor', plus room for the canister and the winding mechanism !
I haven't looked at this one closely but the lack of a stabilizer in 2009 really puts me off.