Disclaimer: I have been provided a Ricoh GRD V (no strings attached) from Pentax-Ricoh. However I will try to keep this review as un-biased as possible.
Update: The new Ricoh GRD V (Version Number 2) is out, which is essentially the same camera with Wifi and some other minor changes. If you’re interested in the Ricoh GR, I’d just pick up the older one (unless you need the wifi setting).
Disclaimer aside, I think this is currently hands-down the best bang-for-the-buck digital camera for street photography currently out there right now. I love the compact size, the superb image quality and high-ISO performance, as well as the ergonomics and handling. It has been traveling with me alongside my Leica MP as a second shooter — and the camera seriously kicks ass.
While I still prefer shooting with film at the end of the day, it is an amazing camera and I highly recommend it to all street photographers who want a smaller alternative. Keep reading for more of my thoughts on the camera.
Also note I don’t really care for spec sheets and technical aspects, so I will keep this review as practical as possible for actual usage on the streets.
My history with Ricoh
I have always been a Ricoh fanboy. Ever since I first shot with the Ricoh GRD III, I was in love. The compact size (that fit into my front jean pocket), the quickness of it (being able to prefocus and shoot without shutter lag), and intuitive controls made it an ideal solution for street photography.
I actually tested the Ricoh GRD III a few years ago for a month (thanks to Chris Gampat from the Phoblographer and B&H for hooking it up) as well as the Leica M9 (provided by Leica Camera USA).
I loved both cameras and gave them both a good workout (in the streets of LA and in Paris) and find them to be a great combination. The Leica was better as a main camera for general street photography, but the Ricoh was great as a compact camera that was always with me. I actually had more fun shooting with the Ricoh over the Leica, as it was easy to use (the majority of the time I just set the ISO to 1600 and in P mode with autofocus). At the end of the month, funny enough, I was sadder sending back the Ricoh than the Leica M9.
Fast-forward a few years. I ended up buying a Leica M9 (with generous support from my loving mom) and an older (non ASPH) 35mm Summilux lens. I enjoyed my M9 to death for about a year, and then when I visited Tokyo, my buddies Charlie Kirk, Bellamy Hunt, Mijonju, Mike, and several others convinced me to start shooting film. The timing was great, as my buddy Todd had a spare Leica M6 that he wasn’t using, and gave it to me as a present (I have pretty awesome friends huh?)
Anyways, after shooting b/w film for about a month on the Leica M6, I was hooked. My Leica M9 started collecting dust, and I loved shooting film above everything else. Sometime during the period, I also wrote an article: “Why Digital is Dead for Me in Street Photography“– explaining how I was having much more fun shooting film compared to digital, and explanations for my switch.
Realizing it was no longer being used, I ended up selling my Leica M9 and used the funds to buy a second-hand Leica MP (thanks to Bellamy from Japan Camera Hunter for finding me a great minty one).
Enter: Film compacts
On a subsequent trip to Tokyo, I ended up also picking up a Ricoh GR1s (eventually traded it for a Ricoh GR1v for more functions).
Around several months later, I then also picked up a Contax T3 (as I switched from shooting black and white to color film, and the color images from the Ricoh didn’t look as great). I also wanted to stay consistent with the 35mm focal length (I have shot with a 35mm focal length more or less exclusively the last 7 years.
The only lens I currently own for my Leica is the new 35mm f/2 Summicron (traded my Summilux for it, as the Summilux was far too heavy, and I always shoot at f/8 in the streets anyways). The Contax T3 also has a 35mm focal length, which was perfect.
Compact vs Rangefinder?
Although at the end of the day, I prefer shooting with my film Leica (it can always take photos without a battery, I shoot with it quicker (in terms of pre-focusing), I love the freedom of a point-and-shoot. Why? It is simple, you just simply frame, point, and click. You don’t have to worry about the technical settings so much, and you can focus on more important things (interacting with your subject, trying to get a good composition, or the right perspective).
Anyways enough about my personal history and blabbing on about cameras–lets get to the meat of the article–my thoughts on the Ricoh GRD V.
Ricoh GR Digital (GRD V)
For starters, Ricoh re-branded their newest digital GR-series as the “GR Digital.” They officially dropped the “V” from the end of their naming convention (kind of like how the iPad 3 was simply the “iPad”). Funny enough, Apple brought back the naming convention for the iPad 4 (maybe to stop confusion). Leica has also done the same with their new “M” which isn’t the “M10.” Considering digital cameras come out with new iterations about every two years or so, I think they wanted to quit adding numbers at the end.
For the purposes of simplicity, we will just call it the “Ricoh GRD V.”
The big things worth noting in the Ricoh GRD V:
- 16MP APS-C sensor (a DSLR-sized crop sensor in a compact!!!)
- 28mm f/2.8 lens (the aperture dropped from 1.9 to 2.8)
- Ability to change from 28mm to “35mm crop mode” (more on this later)
- No anti-aliasing filter (leads to sharp images, not sure if this is a new function or not–but pretty badass once I found out)
This is quite possibly one of the most ergonomic compact cameras I have used in my life, if not the most ergonomic. It fits perfectly in your hand, and the rubberized grip prevents any concerns of slippage. The size is a tiny bit larger than the GRD IV, but it still easily slips into your front pocket (if you are a hipster with skinny jeans, you might have a problem). By default, the lens stays inside the body. It retracts once you turn it on (then it will no longer fit in your jeans).
The body is also made out of magnesium alloy– which gives it a bit of weight without being too heavy. It certainly feels like a quality product, not some cheap plasticky camera.
Hats off to whoever designed the controls of the Ricoh GRD-series. In an age where we have bloated menus, the Ricoh menus are a perfect balance between customizable without being too much. The camera has two function buttons (which is the left arrow and the self-timer button in the bottom left of the camera) which are easily customizable.
Function 1 and Function 2 buttons
I changed my left custom button (Fn1) to toggle between autofocus and snap focus (you can set your pre-focus from 1m, 1.5m, 2m, 2.5m, 5m, infinity. I have it set to 1m).
I also have my bottom left (Fn2) button to toggle between 28mm and the 35mm crop. How does it work exactly? It just crops in-camera from a 28mm to a 35mm in terms of the pixels. Considering it has a lot of pixels, 16mp, I find myself using the 35mm focal length a lot (I am used to it). Also it shows the different crops in-camera (it zooms in).
The adjustment lever is another brilliant control of the camera. It is situated at the top of the camera, and can be controlled by either toggling left, right, or pushing in. The settings I currently have programed in it:
- Snap focus distance (1 meter)
- Manual flash power
- Flash exposure adjustment
- Focusing options (in autofocus, I use “Multi AF”)
- Dynamic range adjustment (set to Auto)
You can also program it that whenever you push the adjustment lever to the left or right, it changes the ISO. I use this function a lot– and find it to be brilliant and easy way to change ISO quickly.
The new LCD screen is a big and bright 3 inches. I have no problems shooting with it during the day. The images look nice and crisp as well in it.
The brilliant thing about the Ricoh is that you can actually customize the different display settings– and even turn off the LCD completely (while the camera is still on). This is useful to those of you who want to shoot with a external viewfinder without having the LCD on (draining batteries).
One of the big questions I have is how do I like shooting with the LCD versus a viewfinder? Personally, I have no issue. In-fact, I love the versatility of shooting with an LCD screen because I can frame super-accurately around the edges (whereas with a Leica optical finder, it is about 95% accurate). Not only that, but I have been experimenting with a lot more angles (super low, and super high) while knowing exactly how I am composing.
The battery lasts me about a full day of shooting, which is about ~300 RAW photos.
Another brilliant part of this camera is the fact that it is quick, spunky, and has no shutter lag. The start-up time has been reduced from 2 seconds (in the GRD IV) to around 1 second in the GRD V. Therefore it boots up in a jiffy, and there is no shutter lag when taking photos (when you are in snap mode).
The autofocus is pretty fast in bright sunlight. In low-light, I have also found it to be pretty good. The only issue I had was using macro mode in low-light (it hunts forever).
I would rank the autofocus speed to be about similar to using a DSLR with center-focus autofocus. It certainly isn’t as fast as the Olympus OM-D (the fastest autofocus I have used so far) and a tad bit slower than the Fuji x100s (which is also super-fast, but not as fast as the OM-D). To sum up, the autofocus in the GRD V is pretty damn good.
Also the best part is that even when you are shooting in RAW, there is no lag from the buffer filling up (I’m looking at you Leica M9). I took many photos in quick secession in the streets, and never had the buffer fill up before my shooting was done.
One function I found myself using a lot is the macro mode, which allows you to focus up to .1 meter (10 centimeters). One of the frustrations of my Leica is that I can only focus up to .7 meters with my 35mm Summicron, which means I am a bit limited when I want to frame a bit tighter. So the macro mode of the Ricoh GRD V has been a blast, and I have taken some interesting photos with it.
The on-camera flash (you can turn it on by flipping a switch on the side of the camera) is small, but powerful. I used it a lot when taking portraits in the street– and found it to also recycle pretty quickly too (when recharging in-between flash shots).
I use the on-camera flash a lot, and love it.
There is a plethora of camera settings you can use, Av, Tv, P, M, Tav (when you can set your shutter speed and aperture and have your ISO adjust automatically, which is great for street photography), and a bunch of “MY settings.”
The Tav is quite possibly the coolest feature for street photographers, especially if you pre-focus and shoot in the streets. For example, you can pre-set the focus to 1 meter (in snap mode), set the aperture to f/8, the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second (I find this to be the sweet spot to make sure walking subjects aren’t blurry)
and the ISO will set itself automatically.
Nowadays I usually take still life photos, urban landscapes, and posed street portraits with my Ricoh GRD V so I usually keep it on multi-point autofocus and just keep it in “P” mode at ISO 400 (the same as my film cameras).
With no anti-aliasing filter (similar to the D800E) it is sharp as hell.
Below are some RAW un-processed images, and some processed images for you to take a closer look at:
The ISO performance is pretty solid too. I shot at ISO 1600 with no issues. At 3200 and above, it starts to get a bit noisy in color–but looks fine in black and white.
I found the colors that the camera produces to look great. Here is a RAW file straight out of the camera, exported into JPEG. See some of the details below.
To be quite frank, I find little to no downsides to this camera. The only thing that frustrated me was the hunting in the dark with the macro mode and autofocus enabled (even with the AF assist light on).
Who should buy this camera?
If you shoot with a big and hulking DSLR and want something smaller, I highly recommend the Ricoh GRD V to either supplement your camera (or replace it entirely for street photography).
In general if you want to downsize your gear and want to focus on more minimalism in street photography, this camera is for you.
At ~$800 USD, the camera certainly isn’t “cheap” but is very affordable fi you consider it is a compact camera with a beastly APS-C sized sensor. The closest rival is the Coolpix A (I have never used it, but you can see this nice rival review on Ming Thein’s blog). Also it is definitely a lot more affordable than the Sony RX-1 (which goes for ~$2800 USD).
But remember before you drop $800 USD on this camera (which doesn’t seem a lot to a $7000 Leica) don’t forget the cost opportunity. You can still stick to the camera you currently own, and buy 16 quality photo books (at $50 use a pop), or a round-trip ticket to a place you have always wanted to travel to.
Before Ricoh generously sent this camera to me for free, I was considering purchasing the camera myself for my GoPro videos. In-fact, I have a few POV videos actually lined up–in which I have been shooting with this.
I have been trying to simulate the look of my Portra 400 film on digital, but frankly–it doesn’t come close at the end of the day. Sure it is quite similar (you can download some of my Lightroom 4 presets for free here) but at the moment, I still love my film cameras. The Leica MP and Contax T3 are here to stay.
I still have been using the GRD V a lot as a fun snapshot camera in my daily life. I also use it when I need to focus really closely (with the macro function). When shooting urban landscapes on film, I have also taken same photos with digital.
If you need a compact daily shooter in street photography, I recommend this camera hands-down.
Not the best photos in the world, but here are some post-processed photos I have taken with the camera the last month in Detroit and NYC:
New York City
Below is a hands-on video review with the Ricoh. If you want to skip ahead, go to 6:44.