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Ricoh GR Digital Digital Camera Review

|  Ricoh GR Digital in Compact Cameras
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The original Ricoh GR series of 35mm film cameras set a benchmark for the quality achievable from a compact. Their no-nonsense design was loved by photographers who simply wanted a camera that not only did its job, but did it well. Carrying on the tradition, Ricoh have released the GR Digital. In this review Gary Wolstenholme will see if it lives up to the standards set by its predecessors.

Ricoh GR DigitalSpecifications
  • 8.13 megapixels
  • Focal length of 5.9mm (equivalent to 28mm for film cameras)
  • Lens consists of 6 elements in 5 groups
  • Aperture range - f/2.4-11
  • Shutter speed range of 3mins - 1/2000sec
  • Jpeg and RAW recording
  • Sensitivity range - ISO64-1600
  • 256 segment multi, centre and spot metering modes
  • SD memory card compatible
  • 2.5inch 210.000pixel TFT LCD screen
  • Dimensions - 107 x 25 x 58mm
  • Weight - 170g
  • Lithium Ion Rechargeable battery or 2x AAA battery compatible
Creative Set
Two different Ricoh GR Digital packages are currently available. The standard package consists of the camera and basic accessories, such as a battery and charger, strap, USB cable and software. The creative set bundle contains everything the standard package does, plus a 0.75x wide angle converter and adapter, a lens hood and an external viewfinder. In this review I will also take a look at these optional accessories.

Ricoh GR Digital

Build and handling

The design of the Ricoh GR Digital seems to follow the Bauhaus principles of form following function. The all-black matt exterior adds to this understated appearance, while the soft rubber finger grip is very comfortable and secure to hold. It feels like it is there to do a job, rather than to impress your friends. The body is made of metal and feels cold to the touch in the same way that a quality manual-focus film SLR feels.

I like this no-nonsense approach to the design. It's a refreshing change to most of the plasticy silver all-singing, all dancing digital compacts I'm used to seeing.

The only flaw I found with the handling was when using any of the continuous shooting modes. The camera takes photos for as long as the shutter button is pressed but it doesn't show you what you are taking. This means you have no idea of your framing with moving subjects unless you use the optional optical viewfinder.

Display screen and viewfinder
Ricoh GR DigitalA large 2.5inch TFT LCD screen fills just over half of the rear leaving plenty of room for the well laid-out controls. The screen is finished with a great anti-reflective coating which makes the screen easy to use, even in bright daylight.

The resolution of the display is good, the live image is crisp and clear, plus plenty of detail is visible when images are played back. The screen also shows 100% of the area to be captured, which allows for very careful composition, knowing that what you see is exactly what you will get.
The optional viewfinder fits onto the hot-shoe on top of the camera. The image is bright and the edges of the frame are clearly marked with white etched lines. This is a welcome feature for people who prefer to use an optical finder, or for when it may wish to turn off the screen to prolong the battery life.

Five different autofocus modes can be found in the menu including, multi-AF, spot AF, MF, snap and infinity focus. The default setting is multi-AF and this locks on quickly when the shutter button is lightly pressed. A pronounced gritty noise is made when focusing, but this was something I soon got used to. For composing off-centre subjects, the spot AF mode is useful as you can focus and recompose. I would have preferred a way of manually selecting focusing points, as the spot AF mode isn't ideal for rapidly moving subjects, by the time you have recomposed, your subject will have vanished. The snap auto focus makes the camera behave like a fixed focus compact and is useful for shots where split-second timing is needed, as there is no delay waiting for the camera to focus.

Battery life
Ricoh claim that the lithium-ion battery should give enough power for around 250 shots and this is pretty accurate unless you use the flash, where the amount of images you can take decreases. When taking about half of the shots with flash, I only got around 120 shots.

The GR Digital can also be powered with AAA batteries if your rechargeable battery is out of juice. I got 21 shots with some unbranded alkaline batteries which would be useful if you had no other option, but regularly powering your camera this way could end up being quite expensive.

Memory card
The GR Digital takes SD cards which fit into a slot beside the battery. The following are write speeds for RAW and Jpeg quality settings when using a Sandisk Extreme III card.

Quality setting Time taken to write to card
8 megapixel RAW 13.4secs
8 megapixel Jpeg Fine 2.7secs
8 megapixel Jpeg Normal 2.2secs

The time taken to write a RAW file to the card is extremely long and will hamper using this setting regularly. The times for both Jpeg setting are fairly similar and quick enough for the camera to be ready for soon enough for your next shot.

Menu and controls
Ricoh GR DigitalOne of the first things that struck me when I took the GR Digital from its box was that it has two exposure control wheels very reminiscent of high-end SLRs. The front wheel controls the aperture or exposure combination depending on which mode is selected, and the rear controls the shutter speed when manual exposure is used. Pressing the rear dial allows you to access menus for the ISO sensitivity, white-balance, exposure compensation or the different focusing modes. I loved having such quick access to all these creative functions, it allowed me to feel properly in control of the camera.
Another feature that is reminiscent of SLR cameras is the exposure mode dial on the top. All the common choices (manual, aperture-priority, program, auto) are here except shutter-priority, although I didn't really miss it. There is also a scene mode option on the dial. Anyone expecting to find myriad of features here may be a little disappointed. In line with the simple, no frills concept this camera has been designed around, there are only two modes, text and sound both accompanied with utilitarian descriptions of their use. Text mode, surprisingly, makes text sharper and the sound mode allows you to record sound. For me this isn't a problem, the manual exposure modes provide all the scope I need to capture images the way I want them.

The centre-piece of the GR Digital is the newly developed GR 5.9mm f/2.4 lens which gives an equivalent angle-of-view of 28mm on a 35mm camera. The bright f/2.4 aperture is ideal for capturing scenes in dim light.

There is no zoom on this camera, just the fixed lens and an option for a wide-angle converter. This converter gives an equivalent angle-of-view of 21mm on a 35mm camera which I loved. It is very rare that this wide an angle-of-view can be provided by such a small camera, it opens up a whole world of dramatic perspective that would normally require much more involvement to capture.

The lens hood that comes as part of the creative set is also a useful addition. The rectangular hood effectively shields the lens from extraneous light that can cause flare and ghosting. It triples the width of the GR Digital, which for me, kind of defeats the point of using it on such a compact camera.

Macro mode
You can get very, very close to your subject when using the macro mode, although the maximum magnification of your subject will still not be that great. Using a wide-angle lens so close can create dramatic macro images because the effect of perspective is stronger than normal.
Ricoh GR Digital
This shot was taken so close that the petals of
the flower were wrapped around the lens.
Ricoh GR Digital
A 100% crop taken from where the red square
is located in the image to the left.

Image quality
There are three different image quality levels on this camera - Raw, Fine, and Normal. All images in this review were taken on Fine and at maximum resolution, so that I could truly see what the camera is capable of producing using the settings that will typically be the most common.
Ricoh GR Digital Ricoh GR Digital
The auto white-balance setting tends to
give images a cyan cast.
The GR Digital produces muted colours
compared to many other compacts.
Ricoh GR Digital Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital Left - the automatic metering has coped very well with this difficult subject, only clipping highlight where it is necessary.

Above - the optional wide-angle lens allows you to capture more than you normally could with a compact digital camera.

Ricoh GR Digital Ricoh GR Digital
Above - This busy scene was taken using a tripod to determine the level of detail this camera can produce.

Below - A 100% crop of the image shows the
high level of detail captured by the GR Digital.
Above - The same scene, but taken with the optional wide-angle converter.

Below - A 100% crop shows the
quality this combination produces.
Ricoh GR Digital Ricoh GR Digital

The level of detail recorded is very good, edges are sharp and there is very little sign of chromatic abberations. The performance remains good when using the optional wide-angle converter, the images are very slightly softer with a small drop in contrast, which is much better than I expected.

The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.

The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the red square is.
Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital
Ricoh GR Digital

For a compact digital camera, noise levels are quite commendable across throughout the range. The camera produces very clean images between ISO64 and ISO200. At ISO400 there is a slight increase in noise, but the levels similar to that found on most other compacts at ISO200. Things start to get a little messy at ISO800 and above, with high levels of chroma noise present at ISO1600, although both are still very usable due to the noise having a film-like pattern to it. Images taken at ISO1600 benefit from being converted to black & white, where they take on a similar appearance to high speed monochrome film.

What stands out for me is how little noise reduction Ricoh appear to have used. Noise reduction normally results in a loss of detail as the noise is blurred slightly to give it a smoother appearance. The detail present at ISO1600 is only just short of what is captured at ISO64, which is preferable in my opinion even if there is more noise.

Personally, I love the no-frills approach Ricoh have taken with the GR Digital. For me stripping down the camera to its basics and concentrating on quality has paid dividends and created a camera that is fun to use, as well as providing excellent clarity.

I have to remember that not everyone is like me though, many will find the lack of automated features and a zoom lens restrictive, but then this camera isn't intended as an all-in-one box of tricks, it's a specialist tool.

I am impressed by the noise performance at lower ISO settings, and the higher sensitivities are acceptable if you are willing to accept the limitations.

The few minor issues I had such as, the screen blackout when using continuous shooting, or the strong cyan cast created by the auto white balance, were not enough to ruin my experience. Overall I found the Ricoh GR Digital to be tremendous fun to use, despite its limitations.

In summary the positive points of the Ricoh GR Digital are:
Ricoh GR DigitalClarity of images.
Ricoh GR DigitalBuild quality.
Ricoh GR DigitalNo-nonsense design.
Ricoh GR DigitalOptional wide angle converter.
Ricoh GR DigitalMacro mode.

The negative points:
Ricoh GR DigitalDisplay blackout when using continuous shooting.
Ricoh GR DigitalTime taken to write RAW images.
Ricoh GR DigitalAuto white-balance tends to create a strong cyan cast.

Discuss this review and other digital cameras here.
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Photographs taken using the Ricoh GR Digital

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