Sunday, February 14, 2016

Non-Review: The Ricoh GR II in Hong Kong

Ricoh GR II: 1/60th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 400

I haven't written an article on the Ricoh GR in a very long time. I've been shooting with the Ricoh GR series since 1998 and it's helped shape my style of photography. The ability to capture images with the confidence of a full sized camera with unique features and functions that could only be had with a compact camera makes the Ricoh GR a very powerful photographic tool. I've owned many cameras as a professional and enthusiast photographer, but my favourite images were always taken with compact EDC (Every Day Carry) cameras. I have experimented with other compact cameras over the years but I've always felt at home with the Ricoh GR. I'm not saying it's the best, but it's what I'm use to. I 'get it' when people equally praise their beloved Contax T2, Nikon 35Ti, Minolta TC-1, Rollei 35, Olympus XA, Yashica T4, Konica Big Mini, etc. If I bought any of those cameras instead of my Ricoh GR-1 back then perhaps I would be singing a different tune today, although I don't see many digital cameras with a similar legacy today except for the current Ricoh GR line. So how good is the new Ricoh GR II and is it still a worthy contender to the newly released Fujifilm X70? Let's find out.

Ricoh GR II: 1/640th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 800

This isn't going to be a typical review of the Ricoh GR II. I'm not going to list all the specs and features here, nor am I going to do any critical tests looking at lens sharpness or ISO performance. I reviewed it while in Hong Kong a few months back and produced a video review already. This review is more about the images I took during that trip, and I'll explain some of the reasons why I enjoyed shooting with the GR over the other cameras I brought with me. Am I saying that the Ricoh GR is the best compact camera out there, or the best for travel photography? No, but it is for me. It works with my style of photography, my focal length bias, as well as my photographic priorities.

Instead of talking about pros and cons, let's just list the things I really like about the Ricoh GR II, which will apply mostly to the previous Ricoh GR, since there really isn't a huge difference between the two versions. So these are the main reasons why I liked shooting with the GR:

  • It's the most powerful point and shoot on the market with the largest sensor in relation to its size
  • It's truly pocketable with a built-in lens cover and no standard strap lugs
  • Unique design and shape that does not look like any other camera on the market other than itself. The original GR-1 from 1997 looks very much like the current GR II. Style and design are important to me
  • Although the design appears retro, the placement of the buttons and dials are modern and makes complete sense. There is no nod to the past unless it makes sense
  • True single hand operation when needed, and light enough to shoot all day. Very good ergonomic design
  • Very customizable features, including your personal 'MY' custom settings that go beyond any other camera on the market, including full size DSLRs
  • Very sharp lens with the perfect 28mm equivalent focal length on a point and shoot, great for street photography or basic snap shots
  • No optical low-pass filter for very fine resolution on a large APS-C sensor

We will elaborate on the things I like about the Ricoh GR II, but let's go over some things that irritate me about it as well, including some things I would like to see improved:

  • Better high ISO performance. I rarely shoot above ISO 800 unless I am shooting at night or shooting black and white
  • Better low light autofocus
  • Horrible manual focus with no focus peaking or a decent horizontal distance scale in both meters and feet.
  • No optional hot shoe electronic viewfinder, or at least an optical viewfinder with LCD information overlay
  • Due to no weather-sealing, there is a 'dust on sensor' issue (I have not had this issue but enough have complained so I think I should mention it here)
  • No optional 16:9 aspect ratio crop. Even just the frame lines for post-cropping would be helpful for framing purposes.
  • Better JPEGs and better 'filters', similar to Fujifilm's film simulations.
  • Better wifi implementation with AdHoc connection and native smartphone applications
  • Average video features. No mic input, no ISO control, no shutter speed or aperture control, only 30fps maximum frame rate. I know this is a weird one, but I really like the GR for recording video
Ricoh GR II: 1/250th f/4.0 @ ISO 800. Fill-flash with Fujifilm EF-X20 at 1/16th power

The main reason I enjoy shooting with the Ricoh GR is because it's the most powerful compact camera (in terms of image quality, functions, ergonomics) in the smallest form factor without feeling too small. Some compacts are smaller, but your fingers feel cramped and is not designed for all day shooting. These same compacts try to be everything to everyone without being great at one thing. Other cameras may be bigger and have more buttons and dials, but are often placed in all the wrong places. Other cameras may be able to change lenses or have a built in zoom, but none of those lenses can keep up optically with the GR's super sharp prime lens, nor keep it as compact or light at the same price point.

In terms of sensor size, the APS-C format (24mm x 16mm) has become the equivalent to what the 35mm format was back in the film days. 35mm was the most common and accessible camera format back then, and today it is the APS-C sensor for the majority of DSLRs and mirrorless camera systems. To have a sensor this big in a camera this small makes the Ricoh GR quite unique in the market place. Yes the Nikon Coolpix A was very similar in size with almost identical specs, but it was priced too high and the ergonomics was a bit awkward. This camera was not popular and was soon discontinued. The latest and greatest Fujifilm X70 (check out my first impressions here and here) is also very very similar to the Ricoh GR, but it is slightly bigger and also much heavier. Yes the X70 has a full articulating screen, but the controls are cramped in the back and the camera is still two-handed operation. The GR is light, small, powerful and highly customizable. Street photographers are drawn to this camera and it appears there is very little competition at this time.

Ricoh GR II: 1/500th f/4.0 @ ISO 400

We can analyze and compare specs and functions all day, but in the end the most important thing is the shooting experience and the final images. Can the GR take great pictures? If you take the time to learn how to shoot with it, the answer is yes. Vacation photography can be like taking a final exam. There's a lot of pressure to take great pictures within a limited amount of time. You and your camera have to perform. To make the most of a camera, you must know how to use it properly and practice with it daily. A fixed focal length camera is great training for the eye, learning to see the world through a single focal length. Once you learn how to shoot with a specific camera at a single focal length, your images start developing a certain style or look. This takes time. The GR can be a very powerful tool, but it takes longer than a week to figure it out. Some cameras you can instantly take great pictures right away, while others having a longer learning curve. The GR has a longer learning curve (like many Leica cameras), but once you've mastered it, you will be ready to go on vacation and take epic images. Just remember to spend the time to study, practice and prepare for your final exam!

Ricoh GR II: 1/800th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 320. Fill-flash with Fujifilm EF-X20 at 1/16th power

My favourite combo with the Ricoh GR is shooting with a flash for daylight fill. My current favourite is the Fujifilm EF-X20 flash. No it's not perfect (like the GR), but it's compact and it has a manual power output control dial on top. No need for TTL, no need to scroll through a menu screen. It's fast and efficient. Because the GR has a leaf shutter (meaning the shutter is built into the lens and not over the sensor), you can flash sync right up to the maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th allowing for low powered flash output for daylight fill for great street photography images. I've indicated in the captions which images contain fill flash, but you can probably pick out the images. The subjects are well lit with very little facial shadows and a 3D look to the image as the fill flash separates the subject from the background in a subtle manner. These are my favourite type of street shots and the GR and EF-X20 combo does a great job. Because the whole kit is super compact and light (almost toy-like) most don't realize you're a serious photographer and ignore you. Even if you decide not to shoot discretely and use it to shoot portraits or group shots, the compact form factor helps to put people at ease. I've done a complete family portrait series using just the GR and the EF-X20 flash with DSLR level results.

Ricoh GR II: 1/125th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 400

Many ask about the lack of a viewfinder on the GR, if it hinders the ability to take serious images. Yes and no. It's a different way to capture images, but so is the shooting-style difference between a rangefinder, an SLR, or viewing through a piece of ground glass with a loupe on a large format camera. With each format a good photographer learns to adapt his or her shooting style. In general I prefer to shoot with a viewfinder, but I've learned to adapt when shooting with the GR. You do lose stability and clear framing when you don't use a viewfinder, and in bright daylight, it's hard to see what's going on through the back LCD. If you can't live without an viewfinder, this camera is not for you.

However, I've heard people say that a real photographer never uses the LCD screen. I think that's a very ignorant and narrow view (get it?). Yes using a viewfinder often makes you 'look' more serious, and there are many many advantages of shooting with a viewfinder, but using a rear LCD screen doesn't make a person 'unprofessional'. In fact, there is one major advantage shooting with the rear LCD screen that even a professional can learn to use to their advantage. During the film era many professional wedding and studio photographers used a similar technique, but in a different way. Once we framed the shot via the viewfinder, we would cover the finder and with our heads up we would look directly at our subjects with direct eye contact. How does this apply to digital photography?

When using the back LCD screen for framing, you gain your visual field-of-view. With both eyes looking forward and your head up, you see 180 degrees in front of you, with 100% forward peripheral view. Once you learn what the angle of view of the lens is without having to look at the screen, you can pretty much shoot blind on the street. The majority of my fill flash images were taken this way: zone focusing (2.5-3 meters), f/4.0 to allow for better flash exposure, and shooting without looking at the screen at all. 100% of my attention was on the people walking towards me and coming in from the sides as well. No object entered into my frame without me knowing about it far in advance. This helps my 'chaotic' street images look more planned and organized. Even now when I shoot portraits or group shots, once I frame the image via a viewfinder or the LCD screen, I always look up and make visual contact with my subjects. The connection I have with my subjects is very important, and the reverse is true as well. A kind smile and an enthusiastic demeanour goes a long way to relax and engage your subject.

Ricoh GR II: 1/750th f/4.0 @ ISO 320. Fill flash with Fujifilm EF-X20 at 1/16th power

Many ask about my shooting specs when I take pictures, so I've added my shooting information so you can have a basic idea of how I captured my images. I like shooting ISO 320 and above, helping me with higher shutter speeds as well as the ability to bring out details in the shadows in post processing. I shoot in aperture priority on the streets (especially when using fill flash) with a medium wide angle lens to get the right amount of background separation; and I shoot at f/4-5.6 to allow for the small fill flash output to be effective. If I stopped down to f/8.0 for greater depth of field, then I would have to increase my flash output to 1:1 (on the EF-X20 the guide number is 20 meters) with negative results. It would drain my battery quicker, much slower flash refresh rate, it would make the use of flash more obvious by completely washing out the ambient light hitting the subjects, and it would make it more obvious I was using flash with my subjects. By shooting at f/4, I can shoot at ISO 400-800 in good daylight and use only 1/16th flash output, giving a really nice balance between ambient and fill flash.

Ricoh GR II: 1/90th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 800

The danger of shooting at f/4.0 with an APS-C sensored camera is that the DOF is not that deep, and with the GR having average autofocus speeds, there is a high chance of blurry and out-of-focus images. The Ricoh GR is just average when it comes to good light AF, but in low light the GR is almost unusable for moving subjects. For many this is the 'make or break' feature. As modern photographers we have come to rely heavily on autofocus to take great pictures, but remember that autofocus did not become mainstream until 1985 when Minolta came out with the Dynax/Maxxum 5000. Before that, every great image was manually focused, weather it was sports, photojournalism or fast moving children. How did we do it back then? Skill and practice. And remember in the film era, we couldn't see the results of our images for hours or days. I'm not excusing the bad AF on the GR, but I rarely rely 100% on any camera's AF system.

One main trick is to separate the AF trigger from the shutter button to the rear AF-L button, and this is possible with most full featured digital cameras. On the Ricoh GR, set the camera in manual focus mode and make sure to be in C-AF mode (you can also use the AEF/AFL mode but make sure the lock feature is off). When you press the rear C-AF button the GR automatically autofocuses for you and remains at that focus distance. Decide ahead of time where you want the subject to be in your frame and pre-focus (zone focus) to that distance by picking any non-moving subject and focus on it. Visually remember that distance and practice to shoot at that distance. I use to practice by using a tape measure in front of me to remember what 2.5-3 meters looked like. For street photography it's easier that you don't move and instead allow the subject to walk into your frame and to your preset distance. Yes this technique is easier when your subject is moving across your frame (like a car or bicycle) but becomes more difficult when your subject is moving towards you. However, over time you will get better at shooting like this. Another great feature on every GR ever made is 'Snap Focus'. You decide on a pre-determined focus distance (1-5m or infinity), and no matter what focus mode you are in, when you press the shutter button all the way down without a half-press, the GR will bypass focus and go directly to your set snap focus distance. This is great if you constantly shoot at a specified distance. There's no need to autofocus, but you do need to have a good sense of your preferred distance to your subject. This is how the pros did it for decades before autofocus and it's a very consistent way to get sharp images with absolutely no focus lag!

Ricoh GR II: 1/250th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 800. Fill flash with Fujifilm EF-X20 at 1/16th power

The biggest con of this camera is the manual focus feature. The Ricoh GR has horrible manual focus and I've rarely been able to use it effectively. Yes it's a quick single handed way to focus (press up on the 4 way controller on the back and spin the front dial) but the resolution is so low that it's not sharp enough to do critical focus. This is not acceptable since the GR has a very high resolution 1.23 million dot LCD screen. Even if you decide to focus by scale, the tiny, vertical, meters only scale is not accurate enough for critical focus. This is where an external EVF would come in handy. I've never found using the rear LCD to manually focus very effective on any camera, even with focus peaking. The GR has no effective manual focus aid except by zooming in, and even then it's one of the worst (equally as bad on the Leica T and X Vario). This is the biggest con on the Ricoh GR and I hope the next version will include focus peaking, a better focus distance scale with both meters and feet (similar to Fujifilm's), and an optional EVF for those who need to do critical focusing (the very cool Ricoh GXR has an optional external EVF). Faster low light AF would be nice, but better manual focusing would actually be a more effective feature. Please update this Ricoh.

Ricoh GR II: 1/800th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 320

The Ricoh GR II (all digial GR's in fact) have a 3 point strap system that allows for different orientations and styles of carrying your camera. I prefer the standard around-the-neck style for a few reasons. I'm rarely in 100% shooting mode while on vacation so attaching a wrist strap just isn't practical nor functional for me. I want to be able to have both hands free at any time and having a camera around your neck is the best way to do so. I also find that when you're ready to shoot with a camera strapped to your wrist, the act of raising your arm attracts more attention as you look more serious versus having it around your neck like a tourist. Even when I'm not in tourist mode, because I review cameras and I usually have more than one with me, having a camera strapped to my wrists limits my ability to quickly switch between cameras, or in the case of an ILC, the ability to quickly switch lenses or accessories without having to stop and put everything down on a flat surface. Some like attaching a strap with the camera in the vertical position, but I've never found it very practical. If I was to use a wrist strap on the GR, there is the option of using the lower right connection, freeing up the top right corner where most of the controls are on the GR. Most cameras don't have this option. Thank you for options Ricoh.

Ricoh GR II: 1/60th sec f/4 @ ISO 320

Newer cameras now brag about start-up time and this feature is important, but not in isolation. The GR isn't the fastest kid on the block (just under a second) but it's quick once it's ready to shoot. With your hand in the shooting position you can easily turn the GR on, off, go into play mode, adjust shooting modes, adjust all your settings and shoot without ever repositioning your right hand. This means you can shoot while holding an umbrella, a shopping bag, your loved one's hand, or while riding a bike. This is the major advantage of shooting with a point and shoot, but with the GR you still have the power and control of a full featured DSLR. There's also lots of thumb real estate (almost 2" across and 2.5" vertical), comfortable for all day shooting, something that is missing from many compact enthusiast cameras currently available (including the Sony RX100 and Fujifilm X70). The one control feature I dislike and feels completely out of place on the GR is the rear toggle dial aka 'ADJ Lever'. The lever itself is in the right position and has the right functions (direct ISO control, quick menu access, rear control dial), but feels cheap and should be the same as the full spinning front dial. I would also like the next GR to allow for full customization of the 4 way control dial buttons, currently with only the left button as Fn1 button (macro for top, flash control for right, WB for bottom).

Ricoh GR II: 1/640th sec f/4 @ ISO 320. Fill flash with Fujifilm EF-X20 at 1/16th power
Another weird feature that many probably never use on the GR is video. It could be much better if Ricoh would just allow for a few changes with firmware. It is probably one of the best dial implementations since it actually has a full video option on the main control dial, something missing on most competing cameras. I despise the recessed red video button on most new digital cameras because they are hard to press when you want to use it, but also easy to hit by accident when you don't want to shoot video. The GR is easy since you use the shutter button to start and stop video, but only when you're in video mode. This makes more sense. However, Ricoh has to update the video features with manual control of aperture and shutter speed, ISO control, up to 60fps option and a microphone input. Many might not think of using the GR for video but I love it.

Ricoh GR II: 1/60th sec f/4 @ ISO 800
Many have asked me how I set up my Ricoh GR for the street, so I will go over how I shot it in Hong Kong. Before I do that, let me talk about the most powerful custom set-up feature on the Ricoh GR, the 'My' settings on the main dial. It is so powerful that almost every menu function can be specified in your custom My setting. For instance, when I go into My1, I label it 'Street B&W'. Here is my main custom settings:
  • Manual focus mode set at exactly 3 meters when I'm ready to shoot
  • Aperture Priority set at exactly f/5.6 
  • Picture Format RAW+ JPEG in 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Jpeg effect: Hi-Contrast B&W with custom setting (-2 contrast, +2 sharpness)
  • Jpeg custom setting 1: (-1 vivid, -2 contrast, 0 sharpness, weak vignetting)
  • Crop: 28mm
  • Function Button 1: crop mode (28,35,47mm);  Function Button 2: Jpeg and RAW+
  • Snap focus set to 2.5M
  • ISO in full stops
  • Flash Mode: force flash
  • Display Mode: setting 2
Ricoh GR II: 1/500th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 400. Fill flash with Fujifilm EF-X20 at 1/16th power
There are a total of 41 major custom settings you can set, and you can save up to an additional 6 settings that you can custom label and access quickly. The previous GR-D IV allowed for up to 12 banked settings and even more if you wanted to store the information on your SD card, great for transferring the data to another GR. But even the current GR II allows you to set things like the exact focus distance, custom white balance, jpeg effect, jpeg adjustment, SNAP focus distance, ND filter on or off, 1/3 or full stops on ISO. This is very powerful. Imagine you have a very specific setting for shooting cars, or people, or even shooting under very specific mixed lighting situations. You can create your own complete custom profile that changes the way the camera shoots, as well as the way the images will look like and store it for future use. While in Hong Kong I created a special one just for street photography, different from the one I use in Vancouver. So here is my Hong Kong street set-up:
  • Manual focus mode set at 3 meters with rear C-AF button set to focus priority
  • Aperture priority set to f/4.0
  • Picture format RAW+ and JPEG
  • JPEG effect was normal with custom settings 1 at -1 vivid, -1 contrast, +1 sharpness, weak vignetting
  • Fn1: 28/35/47 crop
  • Fn2: RAW/JPEG
  • Snap focus: 2.5 M
  • ISO in full stops
  • Force flash
  • Effect button: ND filter
Many of the effects are only applied to the JPEG, and in the end I didn't keep any of my JPEGs for this review, but it's still nice to have just in case.  This powerful custom setting feature is great, easy to create, store and switch around, as well as custom naming each profile setting. Most brand's custom settings are pretty superficial, usually only applying to the look of the jpegs, but not applying to the actual shooting functions or major settings, and most don't give you the ability to name each setting. My current ones are labeled: Street Zone Focus, Street Manual ISO 80, B&W ISO400. This is much clearer and more functional than other cameras that force you to remember your custom settings as setting one, two and three. How uninspiring and confusing. Thank you Ricoh.

Ricoh GR II: 1/180th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 400
But how does this camera shoot? My experience in Hong Kong with the Ricoh GR II was great. I currently own the Ricoh GR (V) Limited Edition so I was not surprised by anything. The only major difference is the addition of the wifi, but since the wifi function is really bad (worse than Leica), I didn't bother using it. Other than that the new GR II was a pleasure to use while on vacation. For me, light weight and compactness is one of my highest priorities when shooting on the street, especially while on vacation with my wife and family.  I don't want to be seen as the guy always dragging around lots of equipment while having a good time. I use to be that guy with the big backpack full of lenses and accessories and I hated it, and my pictures suffered too. I find that a compact point and shoot with a fixed lens helps me to be consistent with my shooting ability but still allows me to be more creative, a very unique combination. How is this possible? Because the camera and its controls can be ignored (once you learn how to use it), I can focus on getting great images, not fiddling with my camera or lens options.

Ricoh GR II: 1/30 sec f/4.0 @ ISO 400
The GR was already set up before my vacation, and I tweaked a few things once I arrived. I recommend you do this with all your cameras before you shoot, make sure it's ready to go. The Ricoh GR had an unfair advantage over my other review cameras because I was already well acquainted with it. Other than my bias for the GR and the 28mm equivalent lens, this little compact can really pack a punch when it comes to image quality and shooting features. Better AF and manual focus would make this camera better, but even without it, many great images can be created because of the well-thought-out button layout and feature set. The new Fujifilm X70 will take a chunk out of the sales from Ricoh for those wishing to upgrade their current GR or those who wish to get into this category of camera, but I'm not worried. The Ricoh GR has been around for 18 years and I don't think  it's going anywhere anytime soon.

Ricoh GR II: 1/500th sec f/4.0 @ ISO 400
Although I personally had a great time shooting with the Ricoh GR II while on vacation, would I recommend this current version? Yes I was disappointed that it took Ricoh over 2 years to create the GR II with basically the addition of wifi and a few firmware updates which can easily be applied to the previous generation GR. The GR II did feel a bit faster and more stable, but that's not enough for someone with the previous model to upgrade. I would recommend to wait for the GR IIs or GR III for current GR owners. However, if you are currently looking to buy the GR II as your first compact EDC camera, I would recommend looking at the Fujifilm X70 as well. Although they are very similar in many ways, there a a few big differences. The X70 has a fully articulating screen, something that perhaps a street photography doesn't need or want, but it is nice to have for certain things. Also, the X70 is a stand alone camera, meaning you don't need to own other Fujifilm cameras to buy the new X70, just like the Ricoh GR series. Many Nikon, Canon and Sony shooters also own Ricoh GR's as a back up or vacation camera. Now they have the option of the X70. I am currently reviewing the X70 and I really enjoy shooting with it. If someone asked me which camera is better, I would say that it depends on who the photographer is.

Ricoh GR II: 1/180th sec f/4 @ ISO 400
The Ricoh GR II is for someone who knows what they are doing and don't mind spending time to set up the camera and customizing it to their own shooting style. The GR is a very powerful camera if you spend the time to learn all its features. Initially the X70 will seem better because it's easier to shoot with, but this doesn't make it the better camera. Once you learn how to shoot with the GR and learn how to process the RAW files, the GR images are fantastic. The X70 has better high ISO performance, but the Ricoh has better low ISO performance with a base ISO of 100. The X70 has better JPEGs but the Ricoh has the standard DNG RAW files, easier to process. The lens on the GR is also better (I will elaborate on a future review with side-by-side images). The X70 has an articulating screen, but the GR has a better button and dial layout, as well as more thumb real estate for all day shooting comfort. The X70 button and dial layout feels cramped and uncomfortable. The GR is also more compact with a built in lens cover and also 100g lighter. So depending on your priorities, both the Ricoh GR II and the new Fujifilm X70 are great EDC cameras for the enthusiast photographer wanting the largest possible sensor in the smallest possible size.

Ricoh GR II: 1/640th sec f/4 @ ISO 400.
Moreover, the Ricoh GR II is a great camera for those who know how to make the most out of it. It's not an easy camera to shoot with if you do not understand the fundamentals of photography or if you do not want to spend some time in post working with the RAW files. There is no image stabilization, no optical zoom, average looking JPEGs (except for B&W), mediocre wifi capabilities, no electronic viewfinder, below average low light AF and horrible manual focus. This doesn't sound very promising if you're only looking at features or specs. However, many great photographers of the past and present swear by the Ricoh GR because of the great lens (one of the sharpest APS-C 18mm lenses, including stand alone ILC lenses), great shooting ergonomics, and a very powerful sensor in a compact form factor. If I was to go on vacation again, of all the cameras I would take with me that would guarantee me the greatest images, I would definitely choose the Ricoh GR II as one of my choices. Please check out my YouTube video review of the Ricoh GR II while I was in Hong Kong, including seeing me actually shooting with it on the streets. Thank you Ricoh Imaging Canada for loaning me the camera for a few months.

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  1. Thanks for the great review. Interesting how more cons you bring how more I feel to buy it, it sounds really as a challenge, if you overwin those the results will be great. Beside my Leica I have the sony rx100m4 and for one or another reason I don't like it. It doesn't "feel" right, very subjective I know. I go for it. Regards Bernard

    1. Ha ha, it's the underdog complex, I get it. I too get excited when someone tells me I can't do something or that something is not very good. I want to prove them wrong. At the same time, I wanted to be honest with the GR's weakness so someone who's use to shooting with a camera like the RX100 series or a DSLR will know ahead of time that this camera is not an easy camera to just pick up and start shooting epic images. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Love the helpful settings provided for shooting a city I love, HK! Was wondering though if its overkill to use the Fuji flash with the classic GRD-IV - bought recently for b/w use alongside my beloved EOS-M with 22mm for color. Regards Bert Tang.

    1. I have the GR-D IV myself, and in many ways I like it better than the GR and GR II. The fill-flash look is for any camera including the GR-D IV. It works best in bright light because it removes the harsh shadows from your subject, or in cloudy weather because it makes your subject pop out from the background. Give it a try. And remember, the GR-D IV is also a leaf shutter so you will have the ability to flash sync at very high speeds. Good luck!

  3. Awesome read. I've been looking for something exactly like the GR or x70. I think an edc camera is somethibg everyone needs. Any idea when the grIII would be launched?

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog. My guess is the GR IIs or GR III will come out sometime before the end of the year. I don't think they can wait another 2 years before updating.

  4. You have my respect & gratitude for a respectful and honest review. I am still in the process of deciding between GRii, DP, X70 or Q (expensive!).

    1. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. The Q is super amazing... but expensive for sure, and big. No matter what you choose, commit to learning how to shoot with it and you will become good at using it. Anyone who blames the camera for bad images has bought into the sales pitch by manufacturers that the camera does everything for you. Look at Tim Cook's recent blurry iPhone picture!

  5. The color and contrast in your images is wonderful. I recently acquired the GRII and use it as an EDC and for discreet use on the street. May I ask how exactly you process your raw files. I know you use VSCO and Snapseed for your iPhone photos, and they come out great. I have LR and a couple of VSCO preset collections. Any insight would be appreciated.

    1. Thanks for visiting my website. RAW process is mostly Lightroom for my initial batch edit and post processing. For my colours I tend to play a lot with vibrance and saturation, purposely pushing one high and the other low and see how it affect the primary colours I want to focus on. Before I post I do a quick touch up in Photoshop and resize the image. That's it. It's mostly my eye and how I want to see the image. While many oversaturate colours, I like to pull it back and increase colour depth by using contrast, lowering exposure and playing with highlights and shadows.

    2. This is very helpful. Looking at your images, I could see the underexposure, which would tend to make for richer colors and potentially more contrast. I'll try the same in Lightroom. I recently began underexposing in camera. It's important to protect the highlights when shooting digital anyways. Thanks again for your generous help!

  6. Hello, thanks for this great review. I'm quite quite new to the mirrorless camera. After watching one of your video, I decided to go for the fuji Xe2. I'm not really a street photography guy but I 'd like to practice. I was about to buy the fuji 27mm pancake, but after reading your fantastic post i'm hesitating... Should I go for the 18mm!!?
    Best regards from France

    1. Both lenses are designed to be compact and light, so it comes down to your focal length choice. I personally prefer the wider 28mm equivalent, so the XF 18mm lens. However, I also like the 40mm equivalent (my Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm for the Leica M mount system) which is the XF 27mm. It comes down to what you enjoy shooting. The wider lens is great for overall point and shoot style images, where the Xf 27mm is great for cropped in images, waist-up portraits, etc.

  7. Thx for your advice. And keep on going. Really like your blog and videos!

  8. Excellent article, but I have some observations/questions regarding the GR vs the X70.

    "Pocketability" is the first; I wear jeans and a t-shirt as a standard. The GR is in no way more pocketable then the X70, neither is going in my pants. An expensive camera will never go into my hoodie pocket either. It's one place it's guaranteed to fall out from. Besides, with the sensor dust issue, a pocket seems like the last place you want to put a GR.

    Snap Focus is always pointed out as a huge plus for the GR. My question is, if the GR had 'snap'(snappier) autofocusing and/or better manual focusing, would the 'Snap Focus' feature still be such a huge benefit?

    You've covered the pluses and minuses of the GR very nicely. The one feature I never wanted, but will never skip over again is the articulating touch screen on the X70. It's so much more useful then an EVF / OVF / Hybrid finder on a small street camera. It really does open up a whole new world of perspectives.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Perhaps one day AF will be so fast and instantaneous that perhaps snap focus may be less needed, but never completely gone. The reason is because snap focus and also zone focusing allows you to choose a distance to shoot at ahead of time. when someone walks into that distance, then you press the shutter. No AF camera knows exactly the distance you choose to shoot at. It's a different style of photography and once you get use to it, it's faster than any AF because there's absolutely no lag, and there's no way the camera will misfocus on the wrong subject. That's the problem with AF. Imagine you're taking images of people walking towards you and 4 subjects are all at different distances from you. How does the AF know which person you want to focus on? One of the fastest ways is having some sort of face recognition system and touch focus and release camera like the Leica Q. Then all you do is press the screen on who you want the camera to focus on and hope that it locks on. This is probably the future. However, if you know your snap focus distance, all you do is wait for your subject to hit that distance and 'snap' you get your shot. Super fast and efficient. Low-tech ends up being the best-tech once you've practiced and are good at it. I'm pretty good with the 28mm wide equivalent and shooting between 2.5-3M.

  9. One more question. Doesn't the fill flash ruin the whole 'stealthy street' mode that 'street photographers' profess to with their dark outfits and gaff tape? Don't people jump after the flash goes off? At the very least that little flash has got to wreck the pocketablity of the GR.

    1. when you use daylight fill-flash with a leaf shutter camera in bright sunlight or even a cloudy day, nobody notices the flash go off. It's so subtle since you can sync at high shutter speeds to compensate for the daylight, and yet shoot at wider aperture and thus lower flash output. It's only when it gets darker that people will notice, and even then there are some photographers that will continue using flash. That's not my style, but some will do so.

  10. Thank you for your review. I still can't decide whether to buy the Ricoh or the Fuji. I downloaded a view Ricoh Raw files to practice in Rawtherapee (I'm a linux user). It's very hard to equal the jpg's I've seen. This worry's me a bit because I read that the Jpg's of the Ricoh are not that great. Hope I can do better in the future with RT. I have only one question. Is there a reason for not using the internal flash for fill flash?

  11. There's no problem using the internal flash, I just don't like draining the battery and I also like that I can quickly change the power ratio from a top dial versus digging into the menu to find it. Here's two GR shooters who use internal flash on their GRs. Check out their images:

  12. Thank you for your quick response! I will check out their websites.
    I'm thinking of ordering te GR II very soon for myself and finally start using it instead of reading about it :-)

    Best regards, Eric (from the Netherlands)

  13. Hi Take-San, following this blog post I got myself one of these little Fuji flashes, but somehow cannot sync at anything faster than 1/500th on my x-pro2 with mechanical shutter on. Any idea why? Many thanks in advance
    Eric T from Tokyo

  14. Bought one today!!
    Couldn't even test it properly because of empty battery.
    I had a few minutes to go trough the menu and take some shots.
    One thing I really don't understand is the menu option "high speed" for autofocus. When I choose the high speed setting focus was much faster. Even in lower light.
    Made me think; what's the use for such an option? Why would anyone would ever choose for slow focus?

  15. Well, Used it a couple of days and have to say that it's an available light only cam.
    Indoors, when using a flash it's almost useless. Exposure is most of the times way off..wayyyy off. No matter if I choose Point, centre or matrix metering, it doensn't get it right. Sure, I'm spoiled with Nikon exposure and flashes but even my 10 years old Sony point and shoot is never off when it comes to metering.
    It's the only flaw I found so far, but it's of course a big one, because I can not use the Ricoh on a birhtday party.

    1. Oke, I have to get back on that. After playing around a little bit, it seems not as hard as I thought.
      I can't trust the metering but with manual flash it turns out it's rather easy to determine the right flashpower. So I assigned a hardware button for flashpower adjustment and problem solved. Still a bit strange that the Ricoh is doing fine in normal light but gets confused with automatic flash.

  16. Excellent article friend,

    As a brand new beginner to the photography game I am extremely torn between the GR and X70 as you mentioned. It just seems all the GR images I have seen are much sharper and more gritty. Do you think the X70 would be as capable of such edgy images with the right presets and environment? I really do like some of its features for group photos but the GR draws me to it.

    Thank you so much for your time and great reviews! Wonderful work.

    1. Yes the X70 has really good film profiles that can be added in camera or in post. The RAW files are harder to process so make sure you have LR or PS by Adobe. The GR lens is slightly sharper, but not to the point that I would not recommend the X70. The touch screen and articulating screen is a big deal. Both great cameras. If I was starting out fresh, I would also have a hard time to choose, although spec for spec the X70 is better.

  17. Found another flaw. Sometimes all of a sudden, I can't switch between Autofocus and snapfocus.
    I have to put the camera off and back on for the function to work again.
    Not a big deal but I already mist 2 shots because I couldn't switch to snapfocus in time.
    I'll hope that more people will experience this problem so maybe in the next firmware update it will be solved

  18. Hi, Great review. Quick question about screen protectors. It sounds like you have had the GR a long time. Do you use a screen protector on it or have you had any issues with the screen getting scratched as it is? Thanks!


    1. Yes I have a screen protector, but I bought mine in Japan, the home of screen protectors. In general, if you get a good one that doesn't hinder screen viewability, I recommend it.

    2. Canon makes screen protectors that fit the GR.

  19. Great job with the review and site. I really am loving the images this camera produces yet am still struggling a bit with the settings.

    I can't seem to get the ISO to change automatically when shooting manually. I want to be able to adjust f stop with the front dial and shutter with the adjust lever and just let the ISO be whatever it needs to be. It seems to stay at the ISO I set, with no auto adjusting.

    1. The TAv mode does exactly what you describe - in effect "manual with auto ISO". I like Ricoh's way as this leaves Manual to be fully manual.

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  22. sorry I accidently removed your question, but not before reading it. I don't do anything special with my camera except I always put it back into its case and I don't walk around with it too often with the camera turned on. I do wear the camera around my neck if I'm shooting, and I usually have the lens hood on. As for self cleaning, I would only recommend if you're good at that type of thing. I personally wouldn't try it but I know there are some tutorials online to help people to do it. Plus, depending on your country, I would recommend to send it back to Ricoh to do it if it won't take too long. I hope this answers your question. Sorry for deleting your comment.

    1. Thank you BHT you've beeb super helpful with your answer. I an taking notes. ^____^

  23. I've spent a few days with this camera now, and am wildly unimpressed, I'd much rather carry the larger DigiLux or even my M or X-Pro. I just can't figure out what the fuss is, but these images are fantastic and have me thinking maybe I should give it another day.

  24. Hello, I just bought GR II because of your channel, fantastic little camera. Just one question, I usually use P mode when taking pictures. I just found that if I put auto ISO, the ISO won't go higher than 800 on P mode no matter how dark the environments are. Unless I put it on Auto-hi ISO. Is it just the way it is? Or something wrong with my GR II. Thanks

  25. I still don't get how the leaf shutter works with Fuji flash. You said you forced the flash and set the flash power at 1/16th. Did you set the flash to Manual mode? If so, is it all to make the flash work?


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