Ricoh GR Impressions

Shades of Moriyama? I don’t know you tell me. I really didn’t have that intent. I did shoot this strange photograph from the hip, on-the-fly, while hanging around at a video session someone else was producing. I shot it without looking at the back of the camera. I have two frames I shot this way. One happened to have a lot of motion blur and one doesn’t. Subject motion at 1/40s plays a huge roll in the rendition you happen to grab. The top one is without motion blur. The following is with motion blur. I like them both — sorta.

They both have their charms but the commonality is the grab-shot conditions back to back that presented themselves. This is one mode I happen to use the Ricoh GR in. Grab shot, documentary, whatever is in front of me kind of mode. Paying more attention to the subject than I am optimum photographic IQ conditions. Half glancing at the back of the camera sans viewfinder. It’s certainly well suited for this kind of work. A lot of it’s control functionality, custom settings, buttons, and overall design suggests and encourages this particular mode of shooting. Truth is that working method with this camera is growing on me.

There’s another mode of operation that this camera is well suited for as well. Before I get to that let me digress to convey just a slice of how strange a beast I am. In a lot of ways completely reverse of other people I meet. Before I actually use any camera on anything remotely like a real subject I must must must really understand it. I shoot a bunch of StupidCrap™. I try everything with it. I do my best to understand it’s strengths, it’s limitations, what happens with RAW files under what conditions and exposures. I try to internalize the controls, the feel, what works, what doesn’t. Why it works. I simulate things I might use the camera for. I push it to it’s limits. Only then do I venture out and shoot other StupidCrap™ or what might possibly be a real subject with live people involved.

Let’s take another camera I’m intimately familiar with, the D600. I know that camera model inside out. More importantly I know the particulars of the one I actually use. I don’t have a camera that doesn’t annoy me in a dozen different ways. I probably never will. Then again everything annoys me to one degree or another. It’s a matter of degree of annoyance. Can I live with it? Somethings I think I can live with end up so distracting that I just cannot. Other things that I believe are going to be deal killers turn out to be no big deal. My D600 has not one but two, count ‘um two, completely different focus sensor alignment issues — intolerable. Turns out I can live with both in real world shooting conditions for my subjects of choice. Psychologically they are there but not anywhere near the forefront of thought when shooting. I can reproduce both at will. The first happens to be quite obvious miscalibration of focus sensor distance vs image sensor distance. Hence my constant comments on Nikon outsourcing calibration to it’s users. The second and possibly worse is the misregistration of focus point display on the viewfinder screen with the actual location as compared to the image captured.

Okay, you get the idea. Turns out those intolerable things happen to influence nothing in my real-world circumstances. Note; The Df is absolutely perfect - well at least mine is as well as every one I know that has one. Were the D7000/D600/D800 horrid (par for the course w/ other brands) manufacturing tolerance and QC just a blip in an otherwise awesome track record? I hope so. Here’s the point, there are almost no annoying characteristics about the GR from a shooting perspective. That’s a big leap for me, in fact it’s huge.

The Ricoh’s controls are strange in a way. There are similarities to other cameras but it’s a beast all it’s own. Strange, not in a Fuji quirky way but different than other cameras. Not a bad thing as this 99% of the control features and interactions and customization capabilities appear to be by design and thoughtful. They all boil down to the best handling small camera I’ve used. Extremely compact means little controls but they are done well and not at all as fiddly as other cameras even approaching the GR’s size. Those tiny tiny buttons and dials actually feel good as well. The whole camera feels good to shoot with. Just the right weight-y-ness, solid feel, great texture, nice materials for the most part (the front plastic on the lens when extended is the odd-ball cheap looking shit on an otherwise well executed materials bill). A camera that really makes you want to use it.

I’ll go through some of my own personal control setup decisions soon. I’m a little on the fence on a few of control decisions — no big deal one way or another just need some more time behind the wheel before I land on a those. Before that, theother mode of use I spoke of above. The GR is also at home doing the extremely careful view-camera like approach. Contemplating composition and making sure every single thing is just right. Every setting, every choice, every tiny degree to optimize image quality. Like a view camera either with a tripod/stabilization method or without. All of that is well worth the effort as absolute image quality is astounding for the price and size. The AA-less update of that D7000 Sony part along with whatever other fine-tuning went into the sensor is half the story. The 28mm-e lens bonded to the front is the other half. You would be hard pressed to eek out more performance from just about anything. It’s that good. I’m sure the Nikon A is on par but having handled both the GR’s controls suit me better in a small camera. Hard to believe since I am such a Nikon aficionado but Ricoh’s small camera approach is the win in my book.

More to come.

RB

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