Camera love from Ricoh GR to Leica Q: confessions of a philanderer
By Denis Sauve
This is the confession of a 28mm aficionado who loves cameras, mostly pocketable ones, and who has been cheating on his Ricoh GR since 2006.
Like many of us, I suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I’ve had more than 25 digital cameras, including gems like the Nikon D700, D800 and DF, a (so primitive) Leica Monochrom, and in my favorite style of compact, no less than 6 Ricoh digital GR cameras. In my relationship with the GR series, I have been like an unfaithful married man, cheating over and over again on his beloved wife.
The GR was my soul mate and true partner. She was the most ergonomic camera I had above all others, including professional DSLRs. I had the GRD1, the GRD2, the GRD3 and the GRD4. Since the Ricoh team succeeded in inserting a APS-C sensor in such a small body with the rebranded 5th “GR”, I bought two of them — love abuse killed the first one.
The GR is not an electronic device that happens to make pictures, like most modern digital cameras, but a real photographic tool, visibly made by photo lovers for photo lovers. Even the Nikon D800 has inferior ergonomics and handling. The extraordinary level of customization, and the prodigious level of fast adjustment we can make with the GR without even entering the menu system, all with one hand, is absolutely insane. I took thousands and thousands of pictures, travelled many times only with one GR, for over 10 years.
In the long Canadian winter (which lasts 25 months per year!), this camera is always comfortable in any coat pocket. It is a fantastic B&W shooter, either in JPEG out of camera or from raw files. The raws are in the standard DNG format, not like all the proprietary raw format out there. The GR family is a legend in Japan. Look in Flickr, and you will find Japanese GR street shooters who’ve been making B&W pictures since the GRD1, and I suspect this unrecognized camera (in the Western world) had been very important in the digital B&W trend, and in street photography popularity, since 2005.
But I was tempted and strayed! Forgive me, dear GR.
I cheated on her with the Panasonic LX3, the Sigma DP1, the Nikon J1, the Sony-RX100-III, and others. I had one of the extremely rare early Fujifilm X100 units made before the Japan earthquake. Later, I succumbed to the sexy Sony RX1…before the APS-C Ricoh GR was announced: then I returned to the beloved GR!
Later, I had the Leica Monochrom disease, which is an other kind of GAS syndrome, another level of madness, soooo hard on the bank account!
Like a sex addict, I had to try them all. The desire was stronger than my willpower. Yet over and over again, I came back to my GR.
When this model was announced, within a few hours, I knew once again I could not resist. I knew I would try it, have fun, lose a ton of money, and come crawling back to my faithful GR after a few months. It was my destiny.
But this time the story changed: the Q became my new wife. The level of shooting pleasure I have with it, and the proportion of “keepers” I found among the pictures taken with this device, are unequaled in my whole life. I lost my Q (really: I LOST IT !!) three months ago, and even as I wait for my second Q, the GR sits on the shelf. Sorry, GR, my heart has gone away. I decided to sell all my equipment, including a collection of professional Nikon lenses, to be able to afford another Q. It is such a marvel.
I hope some of my pictures show the magic “glow” of the Q Summilux lens and the pleasure I have taking them.
Notes about the Leica Q vs Sony RX1 debate
The Q is for real 28mm shooters, for real wide angle composition. The 35mm point of view offered by the Sony RX1 (and now the RX1R mark II) is kind of midway between wide angle and standard. I consider genuine wide angle shooters see the world in 28mm or below.
If your subject is almost in the center of the image, the RX1 may be great as well. But if your composition includes often plural subjects, or a subject in a context, like in a lot of successful wide angle pictures, it is another story. If you want the focus to be on a element in a corner or somewhere else in the rule of thirds, the RX1 is very frustrating. You cannot focus and recompose in order to change the framing, since the field curvature is too important. For instance, the element focused in the center becomes out of focus if you move it a little bit on the left. For this purpose, the use of the tracking function is too slow. Off-centered composition is a pain with the RX1 especially when using open aperture. I don’t see how this may have changed with the mark II.
In this department, the touch screen focus feature of the Q is so a marvelous function. I compose the frame, touch the focus point desired, et voilà: I have my perfect shot with a perfect focus, even wide open. I don’t have problems with focus and recompose either, since the curvature field of the Q lens seems to be less a concern than with the RX1.
About the Leica “glow”
The RX1 lens is great. I understand some people may prefer it to the Q’s 28mm Summilux. I remember one or two pictures I really love from the RX1’s Zeiss. But when I see pictures from the Q, its “glow” is so strong! But it can have an undesirable side effect: even bad composition and bad subjects make almost good pictures. This “glow”, with the pure pleasure of taking pictures with the Q, makes me shoot uninteresting things like walls or hydrants, and like the result, which is a bad thing somehow. I have to prevent myself becoming a bad photographer because of this too great camera.
The Ricoh GR is a real pocket camera. It can even fit in a jeans front or rear pocket. I tried to carry the RX1, like the Fujifilm X100 before, in one of my big canadian parka made for minus 100 degrees, and I always felt like I was carrying a dictionary inside my coat. You cannot be comfortable and look normal with such a big camera in your pocket. Same thing with the Leica Q.
For more than 10 years, I’ve been hoping for a real pocketable (read GR) full frame camera. In the film era, we had the Contaxt T, the Nikon 35 Ti, the Ricoh GR, the Leica Minilux, the Rollei 35, the Yashika T4, the Minox 35 and so on. In digital era, now, the RG is the only one of this kind with a APS-C sensor. I even wrote to Ricoh about my dream of a full frame GR, but I don’t think it will happen, since modern lenses are so big
This is more of a personal preference: I prefer 28mm to 35mm, I enjoy wide angle composition and I love the Q more than great 35mm lenses cameras like the X100 or the RX1.
When I read that the Sony RX1 is “better” than the Leica Q, it’s like an insult to my wife. No, I reply, no way: my wife is the best woman on earth. She is so marvelous, I even stopped playing around with other cameras! The RX1 is another big electronic gadget which makes photos; the Leica Q is a delight, helping me to see the light and the magic of this world.
But don’t buy the Leica Q. She is all mine. I want to keep her for myself!