The Ricoh GR in Brazil
by Colin Steel – See his BLOG Here
Hey friends, sorry its been a while since I posted anything but I thought some of you may be interested in some thoughts I have on the newish Ricoh GR which I used in a pretty limited way on a recent trip to Brazil. Regular readers will know that I have been shooting 1:1 black and white for a while now and this trip was no different, I used my trusty Fuji X20 and to a lesser extent the X100s for most of the work I did (working on a post on that to follow). However, I also had along with me a newly purchased Ricoh GR and I decided to see how that worked for me as a camera and just for a change, to show the results in a normal format and in colour. As most of you will know, I kind of take image quality as for-granted with modern cameras and of more importance to me personally is how the camera fits the way I work and its overall usability factor. Here are some links to reviews that you might want to look at if the camera interests you at Steve Huff, and, although I much prefer Steve’s real world user style, here is the more thorough and technical DP Review version. I think as you can see here, you will have no problems with IQ and so on and almost all of the reviews I looked at were very positive on the camera overall.
Just in case anyone is wondering, I stopped shooting colour and 3:2 because firstly, I am very colour blind and had a lot of problems in Lightroom when editing and secondly, I really find that I can fill the frame more interestingly with a square format. These are only personal preferences of mine and I will try to explain the thinking behind them a bit better in my next post on the main body of work from Brazil. Anyway, these colours look ok to me but please bear with me if they are a bit off in any way. All of the shots here have had very minimal adjustments with a mild saturation boost and a little clarity added and that’s more or less it. Enough of the background stuff, what about the camera as a travel partner and photo tool?
GR, Friend or Foe?
Quite often camera reviews often end with a ‘who is this camera for?’ statement or an extensive list of pro’s and con’s that can often be somewhat amusing. For example I read a review of the GR that had the fixed 28mm equivalent lens as a con, you have to be kidding !!!!!! Surely no one in their right mind would buy a camera like this if they didn’t see that as a distinct advantage for their needs.
The longer I am involved in photography and the more passionate I become about the creative possibilities of its art, the more and more I gravitate towards simplicity and compactness in the cameras that I use and this little wonder ticks all of the right boxes in that respect with a couple of major operational upsides that I will come to shortly. The reason I mentioned the lens comment is that I have tried to show with the photos that I have chosen to show here that this is an extremely versatile camera and much of that is down to its maturity as a product (the GR range has a strong film heritage) the focal length chosen and its overall ease of use.
From a handling perspective I really love this camera, I attached one of the marvellous Peak Design cuff wrist straps on it and it becomes a highly manoeuvrable and flexible, one hand if I want it, shooting marvel. Let me explain why and also point out where you have to be a bit careful with this as well. The GR is very easily configured to your preferred set up and very easy to control with one hand if you need to – here is what I find works best for me and you might want to try yourself. First up, I set the camera in the Pentax/Ricoh unique TAv mode which allows you to set both shutter and aperture via the front and back control dials and the camera then gets the correct exposure by choosing the ISO value. This is extremely liberating for me as I tend to value a lot of depth of field but at the same time want to make sure that I can maintain a suitable shutter speed for my situation. I also found that ISO up to 6400 was a breeze for this camera although you need to be very careful in colour if you go beyond that. So, all I do is tweak the setting as I move into a new environment. In other words in daylight I would normally walk around with the GR set at F8 and 1/125th as I know this will get me almost any shot I want as long as there is no great movement going on. Indoors in poorer light I simply open up the aperture F3.5 or something and if things are static drop to 1/40 s shutter speed or thereabouts. This is a very simple process that quickly becomes second nature and gives good predictable results. Then the icing on the cake is that I have configured the ‘effect’ function button which is handily placed on the left hand side to control the snap focus distance and I use this as a kind of insurance policy by normally setting it on 1.5 metres so that I know that if I press he shutter straight down it will focus there and my additional DoF via the aperture will get me the shot. I realise as I read what I have written here that this sounds a little complicated but trust me its not, simply try it for yourself and you will see how it frees you up to think about the shot and what you want to say with it. The only catch I have found with this is that you have to be respectful of not shooting one handed unless it suits what you are doing and this is because of the obvious risk of the inherent lack of stability that goes with this style of shooting. Its fine to control the camera with one hand for the settings and so on but better to get as much grip on it as you can when actually shooting. I believe some of the previous GR models had image stabilising in them and its a shame it wasn’t possible to engineer it in here, just be sensible and you wont find it a big deal. Thats it for menus and settings for me, I simply don’t touch the menus again after that initial set up and only apply small variations to the aperture and shutter speeds as I described. Incidentally, I mentioned that the GR is a mature product and it feels just great in the hand, the grip and tactile feel is superb.
Here is a good example of the one handed approach giving me an interesting angle and there is a strange story to this shot as well. Two of my companions were Brazilian and unbeknown to me this guy that I was photographing outside the tiny Bar Dos Amigos cantina had told them that he had killed a guy with a machete the day before !!! Not sure if this was true or not but he did look a bit sinister and I am glad I was blissfully unaware. As usual with smaller cams though, they are generally much less intrusive and discrete and I think that, as many of you will have experienced, they lend themselves to a more intimate style of shooting.
As other reviewers have pointed out, I did find that the camera has a slight tendency to underexpose but personally I tend to like a slightly darker tone and the exposure compensation is a breeze being handily located near the thumb grip. You may want to consider setting the AEL/AFL button on the other side of the thumb grip to exposure lock and using that to control metering off of neutral tones if required or to lock on a sky as in this shot above.
I had intended to keep this brief as in all honesty I didn’t use the GR very much on the trip so I want to finish by returning to the lens and its benefits and then looking at what happens when you push the ISO on the camera.
At 28mm equivalent focal length this is about as wide as I am prepared to go nowadays as I have come to really dislike the distortions that come in with wider lenses. The distortion is here too in the GR but I chose this shot as an example of how decently controlled it is for such a wide lens. You can see the ‘pull’ on the boys eye and face but for me it doesn’t ruin the shot or overly distract me and I think that is a fine achievement by Ricoh and this is a pretty extreme example. Sharpness is something else that I usually take fore-granted in modern kit as I don’t think its that critical for my style but even with my dodgy eyesight this looks sharp all of the way to the edges. Again, this is born out in the techy reviews.
By the way, all of the shots here were taken using the superb rear screen on the GR and I never once felt that I couldn’t see properly to frame my shots. I have mentioned it in previous posts but I rather like the giant rangefinder effect of being able to see the complete environment while framing. Since returning from Brazil however I did have a bit of luck and found a a Lumix 24mm optical viewfinder used for S$70 and its proving great for when I feel a viewfinder framing is needed. Absurdly the stated 24mm frame lines seem to fit perfectly the 3:2 size of the GR images. I don’t know if anyone else has had this experience but if if you are looking for a cheap viewfinder option I can highly recommend this one.
I want to draw towards a close with a couple of shots that were taken in near impossible light at what I think was the cameras highest ISO setting. I had to apply quite a lot of NR in Lightroom to these and the they became a bit mushy but I rather think they still just about make it. I am not a purist at all in these matters and prefer the fact that the images have some degree of visual and emotional impact on me that overrides the lack of clarity in the final image. The following shot was taken with flash and unfortunately this one is a bit more mushy but I still like the overall effect and I could probably have gotten away with more in a B&W conversion.
By the way, I think the marvellous Roger Ballen would have loved this place which was a riverside abandoned sugar cane factory which had been occupied by itinerant fishermen and their families. I would dearly love to go back and try to shoot in a more controlled way, it was an astounding setting.
Which leads me to the end here by mentioning that I have been studying with the very wonderful Ernesto Bazan for a while now and the trip to Salvador de Bahia and Cachoeira was as part of one of his incredible workshops. Ernesto is a dear friend, very fine human being and wonderful maestro so if you enjoy learning and want to develop your style while having a great time, have a look at his amazing schedule.
Well that’s it folks for this short piece, I sincerely hope that there was something of interest in it and hopefully it will have at least given some ideas to anyone thinking of buying the Ricoh GR. I will round out by saying that I have been carrying it in my bag every day and while I don’t see it unseating the X20 for my personal way of shooting, its definitely a very fine creative tool.
safe travels and happy shooting,
See his Blog HERE