As of 2017, I think the best camera for photography is the Ricoh GR II.
First of all; this is just my opinion. Now that we have that out of the way, let us continue:
1. Why I love the Ricoh GR II
I’ve been afflicted with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) for most of my life. I started with a simple canon point and shoot camera (SD 600), and thought I needed to upgrade my camera to make better photos. I bought a Canon Rebel XT (350D), then the internet told me that I ‘had’ to get a full-frame camera to make better photos. After pulling out student loans, I bought a Canon 5D, 35mm f/2, 24mm f/2.8, a Canon 70-200 f/4 L, a Sigma 100mmm macro, and other accessories I thought I ‘needed.’
My passion was street photography, and when I started to study the masters of photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson), I found that he shot with a Leica. I soon became convinced that I needed to buy a Leica if I wanted to conquer my fears in street photography, to feel more ‘inspired’ to go out and make photos, and to better capture the ‘decisive moment.’
One day, I finally got the Leica M9. I thought it would fix all my life’s problems. It didn’t. Rather, it (eventually) started to collect dust on my shelf like any other camera. I then discovered the lie we are all spoon-fed by the internet and camera companies:
“If your photos aren’t good enough; your camera isn’t expensive enough.”
2. The best camera fits in your pocket
I am convinced the best camera is the one that fits in your front pocket. That can be your smartphone, or a simple point and shoot camera. I prefer the Ricoh GR II because it fits in my front pocket, has a large sensor with great image quality (APS-C sized), and is affordable.
I’ve owned Leica cameras in the past, and the problem with it is that you can’t fit a Leica in your front pocket. And if you have a Leica and a lens, it is actually heavier than it seems. Of course, a DSLR is much heavier.
So the thing I realized for myself: the smaller my camera, the more compact, and the lighter it is– the more likely I am to carry it with me wherever I go, and the more likely I am to make photographs, and the more likely I am to find joy, happiness, and creativity in my life.
3. Set it and forget it
Another thing I learned:
Set it and forget it.
I keep my camera in P (program) mode, ISO 1600, center-point autofocus, and shoot in RAW with high-contrast black and white preview. I just point and shoot.
I follow my intuition when I make photographs. I don’t think. I just photograph what looks interesting to me. Afterwards when I go home, and look at my photos in Lightroom, I choose my favorite photos– and decide which to keep and ditch.
4. Bigger and heavier is worse
The bigger your camera; the less likely you are to always have it with you, and therefore, the fewer photos you will shoot.
When I had the Canon 5D, Canon L zoom lens, I felt like a ‘pro.’ Yet it was so heavy, and I hated carrying it with me. Even when I backpacked through Europe in college (with the Canon 5D, 35mm f/2, and 24mm f/2.8) I wish I left the camera at home. The heavy camera made my trip less pleasant. It made me less mobile. I became a slave to the camera, because my focus was to make good photos — rather than to have a good experience.
A big thing I love about the Ricoh GR II: the built-in flash. I use a flash in a lot of my photos, and it is easier to have it integrated into the camera, rather than having to have an external flash.
The flash adds better contrast to my photos, and a nice ‘pop.’ I make a stronger ‘figure to ground’ composition in my photographs. Also, it helps me control the light, when the light isn’t always in my favor.
I am no longer a slave to light. Now with the flash; the light is my slave.
No matter how advanced technology becomes, the human hand will not change. We need cameras that fit comfortably in our hand.
The Ricoh GR II fits perfectly in my hand. It is a small compact camera, yet has a sturdy grip. It is built solid, and doesn’t feel cheap.
The design of the Ricoh GR II is pretty much perfect. There is nothing left to add or subtract. The design has been a classic– since the film Ricoh GR cameras. It is like a Leica camera– the design is perfected.
The GR II looks good from any angle, and fits in your front pocket. I like how the lens comes out when you turn it on, which allows the camera to be smaller.
Also, menus and the user interface is important. I think the Ricoh GR II camera was actually engineered and designed by photographers. Why? The menus are simple, make sense, and not superfluous. You can almost customize everything, but still find all the options.
I am a big fan of the ‘adjustment lever’ on the back of the Ricoh GR II — which makes it easy for me to change the ISO, focusing, and other options (you can program this).
Furthermore, I like how not everything is programable in the dials. I think it is the responsibility of the camera designers to know what is best for the photographer. I believe in the Steve Jobs model — people don’t know what they want until you give it to them.
I love how easy it is to change the exposure-compensation on the back of the camera as well.
10. Image quality
- For monochrome, the Ricoh GR II looks amazing from ISO 1600-3200.
- For color, the Ricoh GR II looks great from ISO 800-1600.
Because it has a larger sensor, the images are a lot sharper, and have more detail and resolution than a smartphone. I am still a big fan of smartphone photography, but I still prefer the look of the photos I get on the Ricoh GR II.
The Ricoh GR II is by default a 28mm lens (full-frame equivalent). You can also turn on a 35mm/50mm crop mode. I used to shoot the 35mm crop mode quite a bit, but since then, I have transitioned into shooting 28mm for everything; as I find it more of a fun challenge.
The lens is very sharp, and the aperture of 2.8 is more than I need.
12. No camera is perfect
The Ricoh GR II isn’t perfect. The autofocus is relatively slow, inaccurate, and the buffer for RAW files is a bit slow.
Yet, despite those flaws, I still think it is perfect to me. I have made some of the most meaningful personal photos with it the last 2 years, and great street photos as well.
I also love it for travel. Small and light, and I can charge it via a USB cable. So no need for superfluous chargers.
I genuinely believe that any photographer that buys a Ricoh GR II will love it, and it will allow them to always have their camera with them (no excuses), end up making more photos, and finding more personal meaning in their photography and life.
13. Don’t buy it if you cannot afford it
If you’re tight on a budget; please don’t buy the Ricoh GR II. Just use the camera you already own, and make photos that make your heart sing.
14. Make more art
The smaller and less obtrusive the camera; the better. The more art you can make. So regardless if you use your smartphone or whatever– just make more art:
- How to Make Better Photos
- The Art of Street Photography
- The Art of Photography
- How to Conquer Your Fears in Art
- How to Be a More Productive Artist
- How to Have More Confidence as an Artist
- Make Photos for the Sake of Making Photos
- Make, Don’t Take Photos
- Perfect Pearl
- Make Photos to Delight Your Soul
- Revel in Your Defective Artistry
- Photography is Poetry Without Words
- Labor to Make Your Photos Concise
Unleash your creative potential:
- November 7th, 2020: ERIC KIM BLOGGING MASTER CLASS (Online, via Zoom). [Register Intent Here]
- April 10-11th, 2021: BOSTON / Discover Your Unique Voice in Photography Workshop [Register Intent Here]
- May 1-2nd, 2021: CHICAGO / Street Photography Composition Masterclass [Register Intent Here]
- May 22-22nd, 2021: NEW YORK CITY / STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MASTERCLASS by ERIC KIM [Register Intent Here]
Be notified of when new workshops are live here.