New Orleans, 2015
New Orleans, 2015. Shot on the Ricoh GR II
New Orleans, 2015. Shot on the Ricoh GR II

Dear friend,

I wanted to give you a new “no bullshit” review of the Ricoh GR II (new version, Mark II). I can honestly say that the previous Ricoh GR is the best value camera for street photography (read my review).

So the first question you might ask is: “What is different?”

Honestly, not much.

The new Ricoh GR II has Wifi (pointless), slightly faster burst mode (never use this), and some new JPEG filters.

So if you have a bigass camera and want something smaller for street photography, I think you should just pick up a used Ricoh GR on eBay, Craigslist, or somewhere else.

But if you want a smaller camera for street photography, the price between the original Ricoh GR and Ricoh GR II (at least in America) is so similar ($530 vs $613)– so just go for the new Ricoh GR II. But if you live in the UK or somewhere else where the price difference is huge, just go with the original Ricoh GR.

My history with Ricoh

I am a self-professed Ricoh fanboy. Ever since the Ricoh GRD III (read my review) in 2011, I was amazed by the size, compactness, and ease of use.

But after that, I got poisoned by Leica. And to be frank, I wish I never did.

The Ricoh is superior to the Leica in so many different ways: price, compactness, and ease of use. Not only that, but carrying the Leica around with me on a daily basis is such a pain in the ass at times, whereas the Ricoh can just fit into my front pocket and accompany me to the grocery store.

I’ve also been a huge fan of the film Ricoh GR1s camera, ever since I found out it was the primary camera that Daido Moriyama used for a long time.

Ricoh GR II in New Orleans

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I was having an amazing beignet and coffee at Cafe Du Monde with some of the guys at my week-long street photography workshop in New Orleans, and one of my students (and good friend) Simon Jacobs was telling me how he was annoyed using his Canon DSLR for street photography. I had my original Ricoh GR in my bag (the only camera I brought on the trip) and offered to let him use it for the week.

Problem was I had no camera for the rest of the week.

I played around with a Sony a7RII for an afternoon and wasn’t too impressed (inspired me to write the “More Megapixels, More Problems” article). I gave it back to my friend Chris Dillow, and then another student (and a new friend as well) Michael Kaufman offered to lend me his new Ricoh GR II (ironically enough my review of the original Ricoh GR convinced him to buy one).

I was curious if there was any real difference between the new Ricoh GR II and the old one.

Long story short: there is no difference.

However I still want to share some of my experiences shooting with the Ricoh GR II in New Orleans for the week.

The joy of traveling light

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For this trip I did in New Orleans for two weeks (4 days with Cindy and her younger sister Jennifer, 2 days before the workshop with my friends Todd, Neil, Chris, and then 5 days for the workshop) I brought the following:

  • ThinkTank Perception 15 Backpack (bought this in Paris with my own money after getting my North Face backpack stolen in Paris)
  • Ricoh GR (original)
  • 13” Macbook Pro (new version, 512gb, maxed-out processor, 16gb memory)
  • 2x UNIQLO Airism Shirts (every night wash it in the shower with shampoo, hang-dry for the next morning)
  • 2x Quick-dry Nylon socks (same, washed every night– the secret is to avoid cotton with traveling, takes too long to dry)
  • 1 pair of shorts (Quicksilver Amphibian shorts, love how they dry so quickly)
  • Smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S6)
  • Bose QC 15 noise-cancelling headphones (must-have for flights)
  • Anker 2x USB port (this is seriously the best thing ever, I can charge the smartphone and Ricoh GR at the same time)
  • Paper book (Seneca “Letters From a Stoic“, honestly should have left this at home, unnecessary weight)

It all fit in my little Thinktank backpack, when my friend Shannon picked me up from the airport, he said, “That’s all you have?” and then gave me a fist-bump for traveling so light (he does the same).

I have a problem in which I get afraid that “what if I need x,y,z” for my trip. So I tend to overpack.

Some things I didn’t bring this trip (which I have traveled with in the past):

  • iPad (honestly, smartphone is more practical)
  • Kindle paperwhite (just read on the smartphone on the Kindle app)
  • More than 2x shirts and socks (because New Orleans is so hot, clothes dry super-quickly)

Overall I was quite happy with traveling light, and found that it was just less stress traveling to and from the airport. I also enjoyed my trip so much, because I wasn’t weighed down with all the crap I usually travel with.

Shooting street photography in New Orleans

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If you have never been to New Orleans; go sometime when you have the opportunity.

It is honestly one of the most underrated places in the world (certainly America) to travel to.

The people are so kind, warm, welcoming (southern hospitality is real).

Not only that, but New Orleans is the only place in America that I have been to (especially the French Quarters), which doesn’t feel like I am in America.

The entire week I shot up-close and personal with the Ricoh GR II, and had no issues with anybody (using 28mm and flash).

For me, my favorite place was to shoot along Canal Street (the main boulevard in the city, where there is a good mix of socio-economic classes). I loved the French Quarter for the coffee (Spitfire coffee is a must-visit), the scenes, and Royal Street was a pleasure (loved the mix of fine art galleries, and there are fewer tourists). Avoid Bourbon street at all costs (it is seriously a tourist cluster-fuck there, but visit it at least once for the views. It is like Vegas on steroids).

Frenchman is also an interesting area, great music and scene there– “Yuki” was my favorite, a Japanese bar/jazz club which served solid finger food and great music.

Going back to the Southern Hospitality– I would have random strangers approach me on the streets and ask me how I was doing. Even people in California aren’t that friendly. And when people asked you how you were doing, they really meant it (not just for small chat). I will certainly be back soon.

What I love about the Ricoh GR II

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Shot at 28mm, P mode, pop-up flash, macro mode on the Ricoh GR II

Okay sorry friend I got a bit distracted, this was supposed to be a Ricoh GR II review, but it has actually turned into a New Orleans trip update. Whatever.

To continue, here is what I love about the Ricoh GR II (or the original Ricoh GR).

1. Small size/weight

I mostly carried the camera with me in my wrist (with the stock wrist-strap), and kept it off whenever I didn’t see something interesting. But when I did see someone interesting, I would “work the scene” and take a ton of shots (as many as possible).

2. People don’t take the camera seriously

The Ricoh GR II is a tiny black camera, makes me look more like an Asian tourist (rather than a “pro” with a big DSLR). Helps people feel more comfortable.

3. Helps me shoot closer

One of the things people ask me is, “Don’t you miss the viewfinder?”

To be frank, even though I have shot with a Leica for a while (optical finder), I don’t miss the viewfinder at all.

In fact, I prefer the LCD screen. Why? I can hold the camera really close to people’s faces (without them feeling as uncomfortable), and it helps me compose and frame my shots easier (by focusing on the edges of the frame).

Downsides of the Ricoh GR II

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Some downsides of the camera:

1. Slow autofocus

The camera’s autofocus isn’t great. I usually use center-point autofocus, turn on the “High Autofocus” performance mode on the settings, keep the camera in single-shot, and shoot in RAW.

If you want to photograph people moving, I recommend using “Snap” mode (prefocusing to 1 meter). The Snap mode reduces shutter lag, and effectively is the same as “zone focusing.” For zone focusing on the camera, I also recommend using the “Tav” mode, which lets you set the aperture and shutter speed, and then the camera automatically uses Auto ISO.

For a Tav setting I recommend:

  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter: 1/1000th a second

Also another tip: if you’re shooting in harsh light, use -1.3 exposure compensation. Found this to be the best setting.

2. Slight lag

The camera doesn’t have 0 lag– it has a tiny bit of lag. But by using “snap” mode, you almost reduce the shutter lag to 0.

Honestly other than that, I think the Ricoh GR II is the perfect compact camera for street photography.

Edgy perspectives

One thing I tried experimenting with this camera is to use “edgy” perspectives (super low).

Here is a shot I got in New Orleans of a woman:

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It is probably my favorite shot from the trip.

Here is the contact sheet:

0- Contact- NOLA Hat woman contact

You can see how having a small camera with an LCD screen allows you to shoot at super-low angles– which can give you some interesting images.

Shooting on Canal Street

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Canal street is my favorite street in New Orleans to shoot. These photos below were all shot during “golden hour”

In terms of technical settings, all of these photos were shot in “P” mode (I still prefer to keep it simple), and I just used the center-point autofocus.

But didn’t I just say to use “snap” mode?

Yes, I still recommend “snap” mode, but I am a simpleton. I like to just KISS (keep it simple stupid), and being very stupid– this works for me.

Another thing I learned during this trip was embracing “beginner’s mind“.

I imagined if I started photography all over again; what would I do differently?

First of all, I wouldn’t take myself too seriously. I would keep the camera in “P” mode, autofocus center point, and ISO 1600.

Then I went to Canal Street and I just point-and-clicked at anything I found remotely interesting.

It was the most fun I had in my photography in a long time.

I didn’t take myself too seriously, I was just a beginner again. No concepts of composition, no concepts of social media (worrying if a photo I took would get a lot of “likes” on Instagram), no concepts of a “good” or “bad” photo. After all, photos are just photos.

Moving forward, I want to be a newbie everyday. I don’t want theories to cloud my judgement– I want to live freely and enjoy myself. The best thing I learned from writing the new ebook: “Learn From the Masters of Street Photography” is the lesson to “Kill Your Master in Photography.” Learn all the rules, ideas, concepts, and theories– and once you learn everything, kill all the ideas and concepts, and start from scratch.

Should you buy the Ricoh GR II?

ricoh gr ii front

Here is some simple and practical advice:

If you have a bigass DSLR and never carry it with you, buy either a used Ricoh GR or a new Ricoh GR II. Just keep it in your front pocket, purse, camera bag, backpack, messenger bag, whatever– keep it in “P” mode, ISO 1600, center-point autofocus, and just take photos of whatever (doesn’t have to be “street photography”). The first goal in life is to enjoy your life, not to be a “good” photographer.

If you have the prior Ricoh GR, don’t upgrade (the wifi is just a gimmick).

Sure there are some additional upgrades from the Ricoh GR II, but they are all minor and mostly firmware. I frankly didn’t see any difference in terms of performance between the Ricoh GR and Ricoh GR II.

If you already have tons of cameras, don’t buy the Ricoh GR II (stick to the cameras you already have, and start giving away cameras you haven’t used in a year).

Remember at the end of the day: buy books, not gear. Better yet; buy experiences, not stuff.

The Ricoh GR II at around $600 isn’t expensive, not cheap, but think about what you can do with another $600. A round-trip ticket to NYC (if you live in America), or a photography workshop, or some nice photobooks, or a bunch of gas money to do a road trip across America.

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