The Three Amigos in the Streets of New York:
Ricoh GR, Sony Rx1, Nikon V1 and 32mm Lens
By Joe Marquez – His website can be seen HERE
On a recent trip to New York, I took the Ricoh GR, Sony Rx1 and Nikon V1 (and 32mm lens) to do a little street photography on the side. The Ricoh GR is the smallest aps-c camera, the Sony RX1 is the smallest full frame camera and the Nikon V1 is most likely the fastest focusing mirrorless camera in the world. Walked around New York in my spare time carrying these three little cameras in a very nice ONA Bowery bag.
Here are my brief thoughts working with each of the cameras and I’ve included a plethora of images for your review.
The diminutive Ricoh GR has the full frame equivalent of a 28mm f/2.8 lens and is widely touted as one of the best street cameras available. I consider its 16.2 MP aps-c sensor a sweet spot for street work. I’ve owned this camera for about a month and it took a few days to get comfortable with the menu system and features. I still have much to learn yet I was able to use the Ricoh effectively on the street.
For the most part, I set the camera on TAv mode (manual setting of aperture and shutter speed and auto iso) and adjusted aperture and shutter speed as necessary. Very easy, intuitive and important because light in New York City changes often and significantly due to buildings, open avenues, cloud cover and more. I did blow out a couple of shots when I forgot to adjust shutter speed. However, other than my miscues, the camera seemed to consistently nail exposure.
Another feature I enjoyed was every time the camera turned on it would display the function buttons and the assigned customization. Such a small feature but so nice for a Ricoh novice such as myself. And of course the exposure compensation toggle was easily adjustable with my thumb and I used it with no problem.
I really enjoyed the focusing options on the Ricoh – perhaps its strength. Primarily, I used snap focus between one to two meters but would often override by using the autofocus button. In general I stopped down as much as possible to maximize the DOF however there were situations when I had to shoot wide open at f/2.8.
Image quality from the Ricoh was outstanding. Colors looked accurate, black and white conversions were excellent and there’s plenty of detail in the 16.2 MP aps-c sensor.
Oh and I really liked the small size of the Ricoh. One day while shooting the New York Halloween Parade (with a Nikon DSLR – my El Guapo) I carried the Ricoh in my pant pocket and used it for a few wide angle shots. Worked like a charm. Also, the camera is so small and discrete people pretty much ignored my picture taking. Thanks Ricoh for keeping the camera so nondescript. Well done.
Overall, the Ricoh was the smallest and most discrete of the three, but simply worked great – the Martin Short of the Three Amigos.
The Sony Rx1 with the 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens is a superb camera and produces amazing images with its 24.3 MP full frame sensor. However, the Sony would be such a great street camera if it simply added a snap focus feature or would not revert to infinity every time the camera slept or was turned off. Of course shooting at f/8 or f/11 alleviates much of the focusing issues, but my intent was to shoot the Sony wide open to get that shallow DOF for a completely different street look than the Ricoh.
To give me the focusing flexibility I assigned the C button to AF/MF Control Toggle and the AEL button to AF/MF Control Hold. This allowed me to alternate between autofocus and zone focusing. More often than not I would focus to a particular point by holding down the customized AEL button, then release to lock in the distance. This required some extra effort but worked reasonably well. I probably looked silly randomly aiming the camera at different things in different directions to get the zone focusing distance I wanted. And of course every time the RX1 went to sleep the distance would revert to infinity. Ugh.
Overall I was willing to sacrifice the percentage of keepers to get that shallow DOF and lovely out-of-focus rendering from the Sony – so most of my shots were taken at f/2. Occasionally a scene required a greater DOF and it was a treat to hear and feel those 1/3 incremental soft clicks when I turned the aperture ring. Sweet camera this RX1.
I shot in manual mode (mostly f/2) and auto iso and adjusted shutter speed depending on light. The exposure compensation dial is readily accessible and allowed me to quickly tweak if needed.
Image quality was superb as one would expect from this camera and the shallow DOF shots were just what I wanted.
If the Ricoh GR is Martin Short, the Sony Rx1 is Steve Martin – the most successful of the Three Amigos.
Nikon V1 and 32mm Lens
That leaves Chevy Chase. I only took one lens with the Nikon V1 and that is the 32mm f/1.2. This gave me the equivalent of an 86mm super fast lens on a fast focusing camera – all in a package similar in size and weight to the RX1.
As you may be aware I am a fan of Nikon’s 1 System, primarily because it is the fastest focusing mirrorless system available. And despite the small CX sensor, the camera delivers more than adequate image quality for my street photography. Add the 32mm lens to the V1 and now I had a crazy quick rig and an entirely different look than the Ricoh and Sony.
In many ways the Nikon is the easiest to shoot because it has the fewest bells and whistles. I set the camera to manual or aperture priority and auto iso. I love shooting at f/1.2 and the greater DOF with the small sensor hides many focusing errors. Focus is set to auto-area, face-priority AF is activated and I simply let the camera rip with its silent electronic shutter that reaches speeds of 1/16,000 sec. So different than the Ricoh and Sony.
Autofocusing is fast, accurate and tracks very well – although not perfectly. If someone walked toward me I raised the Nikon and pressed the shutter. Most of the time the camera found a focus point quickly, but occasionally it hunted before finding a subject or face. Sometimes it missed focus entirely, then latched on in the second or third shot of a continuous sequence.
The Nikon was so fast I was able to get a considerable number of in-focus shots out the window of a fast moving New York taxi. It could see it trying to lock onto people’s faces standing or walking near an intersection. Incredible little camera and the 32 is just plain special IMHO.
Image quality may be the worse of the three cameras but is perfectly adequate. The metering system is top notch and the small 10 MP files convert beautifully to black and white. The out-of-focus rendering of the 32mm lens is a pleasant surprise and of the three cameras it produced subject isolation the best.
The Nikon with the 32 is larger than the Ricoh, but because of the longer focal length I was able to get some nice close-ups without being intrusive. People in the street generally ignored my shooting with the Nikon and 32 and I believe I was able to get the most natural looking candids of the three.
Overall the Nikon did a great job on the street and I probably ended up with more keepers than with the Ricoh or Sony. I suspect this may change over time as I become more familiar with the Ricoh GR.
So the Nikon 1 system may not have the image quality of the Ricoh or Sony, but the one strength it has – incredible autofocusing – when coupled with the fast 32mm prime lens makes for a beautifully efficient street rig.
You may wonder why I took three cameras and didn’t just use the Nikon V1 and an all-in-one zoom lens (10-30mm) or a couple of primes (10/2.8 and 18.5/1.8). Well, the zoom lens is too slow and even with the 1 System primes, I really wanted a variety of looks and the image quality of the Ricoh GR and Sony Rx1.
I’m not a pixel peeper when it comes to image quality. In particular, street photography is less about image quality and much more about the moment and composition – and of course getting the subject in focus. But all else being equal it’s nice to have that little extra image quality or slightly different look if possible – and he Ricoh and Sony delivered.
Overall, the Ricoh GR is small, discrete and simply made for street photography. The Sony Rx1 is a bit temperamental as a street camera, but the images are so lovely and worth the extra effort. The Nikon V1 and 32mm lens kept producing surprisingly strong street images with the least amount of work.
Why else take all three? Kind of cool being on the streets of New York with the smallest aps-c, smallest full frame and fastest focusing mirrorless cameras in the world – and shooting like the wind. Cough.