The Ricoh GR in Brazil by Colin Steel

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

Colin

See his Blog HERE

36 Comments

  1. Another great post. The GR is just amazing.
    I love the way your style has changed so much from the first posts you put here too. I’m still hoping to get to learn with EB later this year.

  2. Hello Jayne, I am not going to be very helpfull here I am afraid, I just stick mine in my pocket or more often on a wrist strap if I am walking around. I dislike bags as I always seem to miss things and am more reluctant to shoot if the camera is not im my hand. Guess I haven’t helped you but I think Steve recently reviewed some small bags on his site.

    Cheers,

    Colin

    • I picked up the Lowepro Tahoe 10 (around $10.00). The GR fits perfectly and the case has some padding to protect it. Normally use a wrist strap as well but this is perfect to stow it away (or put in my pocket when not needed).

      Colin – thanks for the tips re Tav mode. I was so busy learning everything else about this wonderful camera that I overlooked this function. Used your advice re settings this past weekend and it worked like a charm!

      I am off to Central Asia for a month this week and will travel with just the GR.

      Thanks again for another great review,

      David

  3. Looking for a replacement for my one ageing LX3, a toss up between this and the X100 and I really can’t decide which one I should go for, both fixed lenses, both reasonably compact, both would be good for street photography, and everyday usage, I like the stealthy aspect of the GR, and the retro looks of the X100, both have great features I’d use, I do like the 28mm of the GR, and its crop to 35mm would be quite useful too… Decisions decisions….!

    • Personal comments here. Having used both, I find the GR much more user friendly, especially the menus. ( I actually sold my x100 as I wasn’t using it enough ). Also, from memory, the weight of the x100 may be against it. I love my GR, and as someone who des not do a lot of processing ( lazy I know) I love the B & W etc effects on the GR. Enjoy, whichever you get!

  4. A slightly trivial question. As a go everywhere camera, I do not want a bulky case on my camera. I thought the dedicated case a very poor fit, so did not get that. Got a small crumpler pouch on mine, but what do you use?

  5. I always think 28mm is a little too wide, but your composition is inspiring. I will try 28mm again in near future myself. Thank you.

  6. You, my friend, show here that any camera in skilful hands is a powerful tool. Awesome photos with story and intention. I dont care what camera you use because I know you will produce good work with every body out there.

    Cheers mate. Alen.

  7. Excellent pics. Love them. Colin do you still shoot with your V1? I heard somewhere you’d moved on to an OMD and was just wondering what you were using these days aside of the Ricoh and Fuji. Lastly, it’s a bit ironic that for a person who doesn’t do color, your pics are always so good in color.

    • Hi there, one of my problems in life is that I am a hoarder so I tend to keep things 🙂 so, yep I still have the V1 but in all honesty I haven’t shot with it for a little while. I think you have prompted me to fish it out though…….. The Ricoh is very new to me so I haven’t used it very much but I am liking it a lot and it ticks all of the right boxes for what I am looking for in a camera. I keep going back to my Fuji X20 though, it just does so many things right that I like.

      Thanks again for your encouragement and I am really glad that these color pics seem to work for people.

  8. Great shots and article. I too have a GR and it’s the best photographers camera by design.

    I also saw your blog, and the photos shown here have more punch to them then the ones on the blog, Steve thing? 😀

  9. Simply wonderful Pictures with the wonderful GR (which I love!). A soft smell of healthy and anarchistic takes, inspiring!
    Thorkil

  10. Great colors, Colin. The GR has a sublime film like colors that is under appreciated. Thanks for also sharing your thoughts on the camera and providing some hints as well, I’m still learning my ways through this camera slowly but surely.

  11. Great camera. Superb photos.
    I’m curious, which camera did you use more than the GR during your trip?
    I set up my GR as follows: the effect button for 35mm crop.
    The Fn1 button as continuous/single drive.
    The Fn2 button as snap focus.
    I use the top (macro) button plus the dial to adjust the snap focus distance.
    The TAv mode is great.

    • Thanks Gary, I didn’t realize there was a 35 mm crop option, will give that a try.

      As I hope came over in the review, I value usability and mobility more than out and out image quality or eye splitting sharpness and I have become very comfortable in using the Fuji X20 (and the X10 before that) I have shot so much with it that everything is second nature and the mechanical use of the camera doesn’t even enter my mind any more. I think I like the GR so much for the same reasons and I often shoot the X20 wide open at 28mm anyway. The snap focus and TAv modes are real killers for me and one of the reasons I am going to persist with it. The downside is that for some absurd reason I am not liking the results when I set it to my favorite 1:1 crop hence why i showed these photos. It might be just a familiarity thing so will stick with it.

      Cheers,

      Colin

  12. These are fantastic. A great eye. Pity, your colorblindness, as the color really works in all of them. Don’t stop shooting color!

  13. Great review and stunning images, Colin – as I was absorbing the penultimate image (legs with mosquito net) I was thinking how ‘Roger Ballen’ this would be if desaturated; lo and behold as i scrolled down and read the next sentence, you mention his name. Keep up the good work and thanks for the review.
    Andrew

  14. usually not commenting here, but i was impressed with the quality of the pictures! half of them are really stunning, aesthetically speaking. great job!

  15. Always a pleasure to read one of your reviews, Colin. Great images packed full of character as usual. I suspect that you may be my long-lost twin as not only do we share the same name but we also both shoot with the Nikon V1 and the GRD! There’s something about these cameras – they just get out of the way and let the photographer shoot. My only gripe currently is that my GRD ll has some dirt on the sensor and Ricoh/Pentax have quoted me 180 pounds (US$270 equivalent) to clean it, which is not really worthwhile given the age of the camera. I guess I’ll have to resort to Photoshop to clean up the images!

    • Hey Col, sounds like it 🙂

      I have a GR ll somewhere in my house but I cant find it despite searching. I notice in the Singapore camera sales community Clubsnap that they are appearing very cheaply now and a GR 4 is down to around S$300 so , as you say, a repair wouldn’t make sense.

      I am really glad you liked the review, I never really know if its too patronizing for experienced photographers but I know that I like to read these more experiential kind of reviews before I buy anything.

      Thanks again, Colin

  16. Great shots! May I ask you if you ever attended an Ernesto Bazan’s workshop? I recognize his style and colors!

  17. I have one question. In your discussion of the 28mm wide angle you state, “You can see the ‘pull’ on the boys eye and face.” I’ve never hear that term used. To what part of distortion does it refer? Just curious. Thanks.

    • Hey John, sorry, I am not technical at all and I used the word ‘pull’ as I thought it best described how the boys face and eye begin to get stretched as they are right on the edge of the lens frame. As I said though, for a 28mm lens I think this is pretty exceptional and I think when you go close at this focal length the results can be very interesting given the width available. I guess this is just am observation from me when shooting people close to the frame edge which I do a lot. There might be more on the subject in the DP Review. Anyway, thanks for looking John

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