Pros: Excellent update to the original wide-angle GR film-based compacts. Boasts fabulous handling and quality digital capture.
Cons: There's no zoom, just a fixed focal length of 28mm and an optional 21mm conversion lens. Output is often a little noisy
Ricoh’s fixed-lens 35mm film-based GR1 and GR21 compacts achieved something of a cult following for wide-angle aficionados. The new 8mp GR Digital is a great improvement on the originals.
It boasts a slightly faster 28mm f/2.4 GR lens with a near-circular iris, and an unusually wide choice of focusing modes, including two lightning-fast fixed-focus snapshot options. The camera offers a high-quality 0.75x conversion optic, available as an option. This turns the 28mm into an ultra-wide super-fast 21mm f/2.4, and doesn’t compromise on features.
The rugged magnesium-alloy body is slim but comfortable to hold. The 2.5-inch screen is detailed, but slightly dim, and doesn’t leave any room on the back for an optical viewfinder. This is the only concession to going digital, and there’s an optional viewfinder add-on if you really want this feature. We’d recommend the investment, though, as the retro-looking finder has bright-frame lines for both focal lengths and, with the conversion lens, echoes the capabilities of both the original film versions.
No self-respecting pro-grade camera can be without a metered manual and semi-auto exposure options, and the GR Digital offers these features. However, the 320-x-240-pixel movie clip feature and two scene modes (oddly for shooting text and recording voice memos) seem like an afterthought.
Once set-up, the GR Digital handles with aplomb. With two SLR-style command dials and numerous programmed short cuts including the trinity of ISO, white-balance and quality, the need to trawl through the menu is greatly reduced. Unless you select the RAW (Adobe DNG) format, file capture is as fast as its rivals, but uncompressed RAW file capture is very slow.
Make a noise
Ricoh’s 28mm GR lens is well corrected for distortion and vignetting, but the choice of imaging sensor is questionable. All eight-megapixel chips we’ve seen are much noisier than the marginally lower resolution seven-megapixel alternatives and Ricoh’s decision to include a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600 is very brave. At this speed, noise robs the image of detail and there’s some colour degradation. There are no concerns up to ISO400. Above that, there’s always the noise reduction feature in CS 2 to fall back on.
Ricoh has done well to capture the essence of the original film cameras, but it’s expensive. The decision to buy still rests largely on the choice of focal lengths. On its own, the lack of an optical zoom lens will frustrate some users but if candid wide-angle shots are your thing the GR Digital easily makes the grade.