Ricoh GR £599.99

6th Jun 2013 | 12:04

Ricoh GR

Ricoh joins the APS-C format compact party

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

Like:

Large maximum aperture; Quick and easy to use; Great customisation options; Sharp, high-quality images;

Dislike:

Macro focusing isn't automatic; No viewfinder included; No touchscreen; LCD can be hard to see at awkward angles;

Introduction

Ricoh had a reputation for producing superb 35mm film compact cameras such as the GR I and GR21 that found favour with enthusiast photographers. However, despite producing high quality images, the company's digital compact cameras such as the Ricoh GR II and Ricoh GR Digital IV haven't really attracted the same attention.

The Ricoh GXR, a compact system camera (CSC) that couples the lens and sensor into a single interchangeable module that slots into the back, which houses the controls and the LCD screen, confused the company's fans and consequently also failed to sell in high numbers.

The new Ricoh GR, however, could be about to put the company back on the map for photography enthusiasts because it is a compact camera but its 16.2 million pixel sensor is an APS-C format device rather than a 1/1.7-inch unit as is found in the Ricoh GR IV.

Ricoh GR review

It also affords full control over exposure (as well as automatic and semi-automatic control) and images may be saved as raw or JPEG files - or both simultaneously.

At around £599/US$796 (approximately AU$882) the Pentax Ricoh GR's price is also much more attractive than that of the Nikon Coolpix A and the overly complicated Ricoh GXR.

Furthermore, despite the 9x increase in the size of the sensor, the GR isn't a great deal bigger than the GR IV and it fits neatly into the average coat or jacket pocket. It's a similar size to the Nikon Coolpix A and Sigma DP1, and a little smaller than the Fuji X100S.

Features

Ricoh GR review

Like the Nikon Coolpix A, the Ricoh GR's APS-C format 16.2MP CMOS sensor has no anti-aliasing filter, which should enable it to capture sharper details than a comparable sensor with the filter.

Omitting the filter brings the risk of moiré patterning in images with fine repeating patterns of detail, but it hasn't been an issue for the Nikon Coolpix A, Nikon D7100 or Nikon D800E. Even if it is a problem, moiré patterning can be dealt with using image editing software, but the Ricoh GR also has in-camera post-capture moiré reduction available.

Because it's a compact camera the Ricoh GR has a fixed lens, and, like the optics on the other APS-C format compact cameras, it has a fixed focal length. In this case it's a 18.3mm lens, which is equivalent to around 28mm in 35mm terms.

Ricoh GR review

This and its small size makes the GR ideal as a 'walk-around' camera and well suited to shooting street and documentary photographs as well as landscape images when you're out on a hike and want to travel light.

There's also an optional adaptor available to transform the lens into a wider, 21mm optic. At the other end of the scale, an in-camera 35mm crop mode is available.

Since the lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, there's plenty of opportunity to control depth of field, and relatively fast shutter speeds can be used when the light level falls.

Ricoh GR review

One of the trade offs that Ricoh has made as a result of the larger sensor is that the lens can't focus quite as close as its predecessor. However, there is a macro mode that enables you to get as close as 10cm to the subject.

One of the problems with previous Ricoh digital compact cameras was their relatively slow responses. Ricoh is hoping that the new processing engine in the GR will address this, and it has a claimed start-up time of approximately one second, a maximum continuous shooting rate of 4fps, shutter release lag of 0.03 seconds and 0.2 second autofocusing.

Unlike several new cameras such as the Panasonic G6, Canon IXUS 255 HS and Nikon Coolpix S9500, the Ricoh GR doesn't feature Wi-Fi communication built-in. But it is compatible with Eye-Fi cards if you want to be able to transfer images wirelessly.

Build and handling

Built from a sturdy magnesium alloy, the Ricoh GR is billed as the world's smallest and lightest APS-C format camera. It's surprisingly close in size to the Ricoh GR IV and has a similarly understated design.

The front of the camera has a pronounced grip, which has a rubberised texture and gives good purchase, enabling the camera to be held one-handed. The layout of the buttons on the back of the camera also makes changing settings with a thumb quick and easy.

On the top of the Ricoh GR is a mode dial for speedily changing between automatic, semi-automatic and fully manual exposure modes. In a nod to Pentax, which is now owned by Ricoh, there's a TAv (Aperture and Time priority) option in which you set the shutter speed and aperture while the camera selects the sensitivity.

Ricoh GR review

There are also three customisable groups of settings, labelled My1, My2 and My3, available via the mode dial. All you have to do is set up the camera to your preferences and then save that arrangement as a custom setting.

We found it especially useful for enabling a quick change in the Effect applied to the JPEG file. My1, for example, could set the camera to aperture priority mode with the High Contrast B&W Effect applied, while My2 might switch to Program mode with Bleach-Bypass mode activated. You can even save a name for the custom mode that will be displayed on the screen when it's selected.

These Effects modes are made all the more attractive because they can be used when shooting raw and JPEG files, with the JPEG file having the effect while the raw file stays clean.

Ricoh GR review

Helpfully, Ricoh Pentax has opted for the DNG raw file format, which is compatible with a wide range of conversion software including Adobe Camera Raw that comes with Photoshop CS6, Photoshop Elements and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom without the need to update.

Just to the side of the mode dial is a lock button, which stops the dial from being knocked out of place. We found this relatively easy to depress with the finger of the right hand while rotating the dial.

A small dial on the front of the camera at the top of the grip is used for altering aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode you're shooting in. When shooting in fully manual mode, this dial is used for aperture, while the rocker dial on the back of the camera controls shutter speed.

Ricoh GR review

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Exposure compensation is changed quickly using the plus and minus control, which doubles up as the zooming buttons during playback.

Meanwhile there's a lever just above the thumb rest that gives another means of navigating through some settings and provides a quick route to the sensitivity, image quality, aspect ratio, focusing and metering options by default. This list can be customised via the menu to give access to your most commonly used features.

Ricoh is aiming the GR at enthusiast photographers, and these users will appreciate that several of the buttons on the back and side of the camera are customisable, giving you quick access to key features.

Ricoh GR review

Changing autofocus point is done by default by tapping the F1 Function button and using the arrow keys to scroll around the scene to the point you want to use. After pressing this button, you can use the zoom control to check critical focus.

There's also an option to enlarge a section of screen around the active AF point to check focus as it is achieved.

On the back of the camera is a high resolution, 1.2 million-dot 3-inch LCD screen. It's not articulating, or touch-sensitive, but it appears to cope reasonably well with direct light, not suffering too badly from glare or reflections. The menu layout is simple and uncomplicated.

Performance

On the whole images look very good straight from the Ricoh GR. In the most part they are well exposed, have natural colours and plenty of detail. The amount of detail captured by the Ricoh GR's raw files is especially remarkable, and few experienced photographers will fail to be impressed when they see the results at 100% on the screen. It's on a par with a DSLR with a good lens mounted.

JPEGs from the Ricoh GR are also good, but they are a little bit softer at 100% than the simultaneously captured raw files. As usual, the images become softer as the sensitivity climbs towards the ISO 25,600 maximum.

Noise is well controlled and only really becomes visible at 100% on the screen in images taken at ISO 1600 and above. There's not much in the way of chroma noise in raw and JPEG files, and the luminance noise in raw images has a fine, granular texture. It's the removal of this texture that causes the softening and slight smudging of detail in high-sensitivity JPEG files.

Ricoh GR review

Where possible we would shoot raw files, or raw and JPEG files simultaneously, for the greater detail and bespoke control over noise in post-processing. Images taken at ISO 25,600 have a granular texture visible at A3 (16.5 x 11.7 inches) size, colour saturation is reduced and the shadows have a magenta cast. Better lit areas look good, but a very high sensitivity setting is unnecessary if the scene is well-lit. That said, the ISO 25,600 raw files make great monochrome images.

As a general rule, however, whether shooting raw or JPEG files, we recommend keeping the sensitivity below ISO 12,800 where possible and reserving the top value (ISO 25,600) for emergencies only.

Helpfully, there's an Auto-Hi sensitivity option in which the maximum sensitivity setting can be specified via the set-up menu. This makes it possible to leave the camera to select the ISO speed without the risk of the top options being used if you want. There's also an Auto option in which the camera will set the sensitivity in the range ISO 100-800.

Ricoh GR review

In the past, some of Ricoh's digital cameras have suffered with long writing times, and after a brief experience with a pre-production sample of the GR we were worried that this would be the case with the new model.

Happily, we found that there's very little waiting around for the Ricoh GR to clear the buffer and write to the memory card, even when shooting raw and JPEG files simultaneously. When a relatively slow card is installed you might see the 'busy' indicator flash up very briefly, but with a Class 10 SD SanDisk Extreme SDHC card installed it's not an issue.

Throughout the majority of this test we shot with the Ricoh GR set to its Multi metering option. This is the default option and the camera draws information from 848 areas within the frame. We found that this performs very well in a wide range of situations, although naturally it isn't 100% foolproof and there are occasions when the exposure compensation facility is required.

Ricoh GR review

There were also a few occasions when the Ricoh GR's metering delivered a correctly exposed image when we might reasonably have expected it to underexpose. When shooting a landscape with a light, chalky field under a bright, overcast sky, for example, we might have expected the camera to produce a dark image, but it coped remarkably well.

Because it's a compact camera, the Ricoh GR uses a contrast detection autofocus system, and it performs very well even in quite low light. The only times we experienced any difficulty in achieving focus was when shooting a subject behind glass in gloomy conditions, and when the subject was approaching the closest focusing point and the macro option needed to be engaged. It's a shame that the macro focusing facility can't be activated automatically.

We found Pinpoint AF mode was the best option for most situations as this allows you to pick a precise spot on which to focus. However, Snap focus, in which the lens is set to a specific focus distance was useful on occasion - for example when shooting very low down when the AF point was tricky to see on the screen.

Ricoh GR review

In most situations the Ricoh GR's automatic white balance system delivers natural-looking results, but in late afternoon light the Outdoor option produces slightly warmer images that match the scene more closely. But there's not a huge amount in it, and if you shoot raw files they are very easily tweaked.

We used the standard image setting during much of this test, and it produces images with pleasant colours that match the original scene well. If you want to give colours a boost the Vivid option is available, or you can specify the Vividness (saturation), Contrast, Sharpness and Vignetting control to your preferred values and save them for use whenever you want.

There are also a number of Effects (Black and White, Toned Black and White, High Contrast Black and White, Cross Process, Positive Film, Bleach Bypass, Retro, Miniaturize and High Key) that can be applied to JPEG images as they are shot. These produce some interesting results, and if you shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously you have a clean version of the image without the effect as well as the one with the effect.

Ricoh GR review

Ricoh has a reputation for building high quality optics, and it prides itself in matching them to the sensors in its cameras to get the best performance possible. This was the justification for the GXR's off-the-wall design that saw the camera body accept interchangeable lens and sensor units, with some having APS-C format sensors and others smaller compact camera-sized sensors.

The same care and attention appears to have been continued into the 18.3mm f/2.8 lens on the Ricoh GR, since there's little sign of distortion of straight lines, vignetting is very well controlled even at f/2.8 and detail reproduction extends into the corners of the frame. You'll also only find chromatic aberration if you really go looking for it.

We are also pleased to report that the Ricoh GR's battery life is good. We found we were able to take over 500 shots in raw and JPEG format (giving over 1,000 images in total) with plenty of reviewing and experimentation with settings before the battery died.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Ricoh GR, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Ricoh GR is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Ricoh GR review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Ricoh GR review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 25600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Ricoh GR review

ISO 100, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 200, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 6400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 25600, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Ricoh GR with the Sony RX100, Nikon Coolpix A, Canon G1 X, Fuji X100S and Sigma DP1.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Ricoh GR review

These results show that JPEG images from the Ricoh GR have similar signal to noise ratios to those from the Sony RX100, Nikon Coolpix A, Canon G1 X and Fuji X100S throughout the sensitivity range. The Ricoh's images come out slightly ahead of all the others at ISO 100 and 200, slightly behind the Fuji but ahead of the others at ISO 400 and 800, slightly behind the Fuji, Sony and Canon at ISO 1600-6400 and slightly behind the Fuji but ahead of the others at the top ISOs. The Ricoh GR and other camera's JPEGs have significantly stronger signal to noise ratios than the Sigma DP1's, at every sensitivity setting.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Ricoh GR review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Ricoh GR are less changeable than those from its JPEGs, with the Ricoh's TIFFs containing stronger ratios than those from the Sigma DP1 at every sensitivity setting, and from the Sony RX100 at ISO 100-800, though after that the Sony's TIFFs are stronger. The Fuji X100S's TIFFs have similar signal to noise ratios to the Ricoh GR's, but are slightly stronger, while the Nikon Coolpix A and Canon G1 X's TIFFs have greater signal to noise ratios than the Ricoh GR's.

It seems that Ricoh has opted to produce slightly noisier images to allow more detail to be visible.

JPEG dynamic range

Ricoh GR review

JPEG results for dynamic range compare better than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Ricoh GR's JPEGs having a greater dynamic range than all the other cameras' at ISO 100-800, and once again outperforming those from the Sigma DP1 at every sensitivity. The Ricoh GR's JPEGs have greater dynamic range than the Canon G1 X's at ISO 100-800, but at ISO 1600 and above the Canon's images are stronger. Similarly, the Ricoh's JPEGs have greater dynamic range than the Sony RX100's at ISO 100-1600, but fall behind at ISO 3200 and 6400, which is as far as the Sony's range extends. It's the same story with the Nikon Coolpix A's images, except that the Nikon's JPEGs continue to beat the Ricoh's from ISO 3200 to 25600. The Ricoh's JPEGs beat the Fuji X100S's at every sensitivity but ISO 6400 and 12800.

This indicates that the GR's JPEGs can reproduce a greater range of tones than the competing cameras at the lower to mid sensitivity range.

Raw dynamic range

Ricoh GR review

This chart indicates that the Ricoh GR's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) have a lower dynamic range then those from the Sony RX100, Nikon Coolpix A, Fuji X100S and Sigma DP1 at every sensitivity setting, although the Sigma's are very similar to the Ricoh's at ISO 100. The Ricoh GR's TIFFs contain greater dynamic range than the Canon G1 X's at ISO 100 and 200, but fall behind at ISO 400 and above.

Sample images

Ricoh GR review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This image shows that despite the tricky lighting conditions the Ricoh GR manages to evaluate exposure well, capturing a good amount of detail in both shadows and highlights.

Ricoh GR review

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It's easy to get carried away with the different effects modes, especially High Contrast Black and White. However, when using this effect it's worth dialling in some exposure compensation to brighten the image.

Ricoh GR review

Click here to see the full resolution image

While the impressive minimum focal distance of the Ricoh GR IV isn't matched by the Ricoh GR, macro shots are still possible even with the wide 28mm equivalent (in 35mm terms) lens.

Ricoh GR review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Ricoh GR review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Auto bracketing can be set to not only take the more traditional sequence of different exposures, but also to shoot three effects, white balance settings or contrasts.

Ricoh GR review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Both JPEG and raw files show well balanced colour with plenty of tonal detail and a pleasing vibrance direct from the camera.

Ricoh GR review

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The small flash is sufficient to produce a good amount of fill in illumination. In the case of this image it has worked well to pick out detail in the foliage.

Ricoh GR review

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The level of detail captured by the Ricoh GR is excellent. Looking at the image at 100% you can easily see the fine detail in the fur on the bracken.

Ricoh GR review

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Quick access to the effects through the one-touch button on the side, along with the rocker dial exposure adjustment, makes it quick and easy to take creative shots.

Ricoh GR review

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The stormy conditions confused the Multi-zone metering system a little here, so this image is a little under-exposed, but there's detail in the brightest parts of the sky.

Ricoh GR review

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This is the raw version of the previous JPEG image and it's been brightened by 1EV in Adobe Camera Raw. The amount of detail in the grass is very impressive. It looks more natural at 100% than the JPEG version.

Ricoh GR review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This was shot in low light and through glass (hence the occasional reflection), which gave the AF system a few issues. However, noise is well controlled (the sensitivity was set to ISO 1600) and the automatic white balance system has coped well with the artificial light. The exposure was set to 1/20sec at f/7.1.

Ricoh GR review

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Another example of the superb colour and detail delivered by the Ricoh GR.

Ricoh GR review

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The Ricoh GR produces some nice monochrome results using the Black and White Effect, but as it's also possible to use the Effects modes when shooting raw files, you can save a full-colour image at the same time.

Ricoh GR review

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Shooting with the aperture wide open (f/2.8) enables the background to be thrown out of focus, especially when shooting close-up like this.

Ricoh GR review

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The automatic white balance system has retained the warmth in this early evening shot.

Ricoh GR review

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Although this scene is quite bright, the camera's Multi-zone metering system hasn't underexposed the image.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Ricoh GR review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Ricoh GR review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Ricoh GR review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Ricoh GR review

ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

As with the Nikon Coolpix A, when you first pick up the Ricoh GR you have to remind yourself that it has an APS-C format sensor like many DSLRs and compact system cameras. It is delightfully small and neat for a camera with such a large sensor, and is only a little bigger than the Ricoh GRD IV (aka GR Digital IV) which, like many compact cameras, has a 1/1.7-inch sensor.

The camera also has plenty to attract enthusiast photographers, including the usual array of advanced exposure modes such as shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, along with Aperture and Time priority as well Program. There isn't a host of scene modes.

Crucially for many serious photographers, the Ricoh GR enables you to record images in raw format as well as JPEG format, and its write times make shooting both formats simultaneously a practical solution.

There's a collection of Effects modes that can be applied to JPEG images to produce, for example, high-contrast black and white images straight from the camera, and helpfully these Effects can be used when shooting raw and JPEG files so you have one image with the effect and the raw file without.

Some may consider a fixed focal length lens limiting, but in some ways it is also liberating because instead of wasting time zooming in and out you walk towards and around the subject, discovering new angles and better shots. And with a battery life that extends beyond 500 captures (raw and JPEG) there's no reason to limit yourself.

A focal length equivalent to 28mm is great for street, documentary and landscape photography, which makes the GR an ideal 'walk-around' camera. It's also small enough to be slipped into a jacket pocket or handbag.

The large maximum aperture (f/2.8) ensures that there's plenty of control over depth of field, and shutter speeds can be kept high as light levels fall.

We liked

Ricoh has given the GR the features that a serious photographer wants without going over the top with extras, so the camera is quick and easy to use. The control arrangement doesn't take long to get used to and there's plenty of opportunity to customise the camera to your preferences.

The best part, however, is that the camera produces very high quality images that are full with sharp detail at the lower sensitivity settings and have manageable, fine-textured noise at the higher settings.

We disliked

One of the few issues we have with the GR is the need to activate the Macro focusing facility on a regular basis. It would be nice if this could be done automatically.

The LCD screen provides a pretty clear view in many situations, but it would be nice to have a viewfinder in very bright light. Ricoh Pentax has addressed this by making an optical viewfinder available (GV-1) as an optional extra.

This slots into the hotshoe and will naturally suffer from some degree of parallax error because it can't see exactly the same view as the camera sensor. It retails for around £199/$219 and has bright lines indicating the 21mm frame (for when using the wide-angle adaptor) and the 28mm frame.

Although it has a wide viewing angle as it's a fixed screen, the Ricoh GR's LCD display can be hard to see when shooting at very high or low angles.

A touch-sensitive screen would make it quicker and easier to set the AF point.

Final verdict

Ricoh has created a superb pocketable alternative to a DSLR. It has all the control over exposure that you need and it is responsive, with fast write times.

The Ricoh GR produces very high quality images, that are generally well exposed, have natural colours and a very impressive level of detail. Noise is well controlled - especially in raw files, which at high sensitivity settings have a fine texture with no banding or clumping.

Ricoh isn't a widely recognised camera brand in the way that Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus are, but its compact cameras have found favour with enthusiasts and professionals in the past. The new Ricoh GR is an excellent addition to the Ricoh Pentax camera lineup, and given its considerably lower price than the Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji X100S, we think it could be a hit - it deserves to be.

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