Hi my name is Olivier and I’ve been using Ricoh cameras for about 10 years. Ricoh is the underdog of the camera world, Fuji, Sony and co rule these waters but to those who know, Ricoh makes the best cameras for street photographers.
There’s actually way more Ricoh cameras then you think, they have SLRs and Compacts galore, but the focus of this article is the Ricoh GR cameras.
What are the Ricoh GR cameras?
Most cameras try to be everything to everyone, manufacturers make their cameras good for most situations so they cram as much as they can in there. Ricoh on the other hand made the GR line of cameras for and only for street photographers. Everyone else will ask “Where’s the zoom?”
So what makes a GR camera exactly? A few things:
The hallmark of a Ricoh GR camera is the 28mm lens, like I said these cameras are made for street photographers and they love their 28mm lenses. There’s a few variants with 21mm and some of the GRDs have a 21mm adapter made for them.
Fast, sharp lens
The second aspect of the Ricoh GR line is the lens, they are usually fast and sharp. We are talking about f2.8 and up. As for the sharpness, well let’s just say that the Leica thread mount version of the 28mm lens of the Ricoh GR1 is pretty rare and sough after.
But it is not that the lenses are worth drooling over, what makes a GR a GR is the package. You can slip them in your pocket and the handling is some of the best you can ever get on a compact camera.
One of the most loved ways to focus on the street is to zone focus, pre-focus your camera and simply make sure your subject is within that range so that they are in focus. The Ricohs have this signature mode where the camera immediately goes to a preset distance. Coupled with the full press snap turned on, you can have two focus modes at you fingertips at all times. Quite revolutionary for street photographers and a feature ONLY Ricoh GRs have.
A word about naming convention
There’s a problem when it comes to the Ricoh GR and it is the naming convention. Let’s take this from the top. At first there was the film cameras, these have never been called Ricoh GR by themselves but always had a number following them, so Ricoh GR1. But since it’s a group of cameras theses are referred to the Ricoh GR film cameras.
Afterwards Ricoh launched the Ricoh GRD line. D is for Digital. There’s been 4 versions of these. But afterwards Ricoh launched another line of cameras called….the Ricoh GR, hence the possibility of confusion. To add to that, there’s also been many refreshes so you must be very careful when buying one because the Ricoh GRD III ≠ Ricoh GR III.
Let’s get into each line a little bit deeper.
Ricoh GR Film cameras
This is where it all started. Probably one of the most famous photographers to use this camera line is Daido Moriama. He uses the GR1s and the GR21 cameras.
This is the camera that started it all: Small, compact 35mm camera with a fast 28mm f2.8 lens. The design language is already there with the size and the signature grip.
This was a refresh of the Ricoh GR1. Pretty much the same 28mm f2.8 but the lens had an updated coating, the LCD is now illuminated and you could screw filters on.
This is probably the one you want. Again, all 3 pretty much look and feel the same but this one has a few notable differences. First you could finally set your ISO and more importantly this is the birth of the snap focus mode where you could preset your focus a 1,2,3,5m or infinity.
This one is pretty different than the others is a big way. If the name didn’t give it away yet the big deal here is the 21mm lens (vs the other Ricohs that have a 28mm). The lens is a slower aperture of f3.5, but that lens is legendary. It’s pretty rare and sought after so you are looking at about a grand to get one. There is also an M mount version of this lens that is quite the catch.
Ricoh GRD: Small sensor digital cameras
When the world went digital, so did the Ricoh GR. Enter the Ricoh GR Digital, or Ricoh GRD line. Because of the technology all of the GRD line are small sensors. What’s really cool with all of these is that if you are ever in a bind, you can always ditch the included rechargeable battery and instead use them with standard AAA batteries. This is for “emergencies” only as you can only get about 20-30 shots.
All of the GRDs have a certain look to them, probably because of the CCD sensor, especially at high ISOs where many see it as film-like.
It was a huge downgrade from the 35mm full frame to a small 1/1.8″ sensor. The lens is of course 28mm with a max aperture of f2.4. This camera’s snap focus is locked at about 2.5 meters and not selectable. The SD card is NOT SDHC so the max is like about 2GB. The JPGs are quite nice and at high ISO have a film-ish quality to them. This has a bunch of accessories, including a 21mm adapter that is compatible with the whole range.
Ricoh GRD II
This one could take SDHC cards that could go up to 32GB. Updated image engine and bigger 1/1.75″ sensor made for better image quality. This has the same lens qualities as the previous one, 28mm f2.4. There’s two groups when it comes to the GRD, the GRD I+II pair, and the GRD III + IV pair. Even as a massive fan of the III & IV I had a hard time loving the II. It does however has a specific appeal, especially in the BW high ISO JPGs. Both are on the slow side, even more then the second pairs and the snap focus is still stuck at 2.5 meters.
Ricoh GRD III
This is the much needed upgrade. Better 1/1.7″ sensor, and the lens is a faster 28mm f1.9. Finally chose between 1, 2.5, 5m and infinity snap focus mode. Not only this it had the revolutionary full press snap so that you had two focus modes at your fingertips at all times. Only get this if you can’t get the IV
Ricoh GRD IV
A camera so good, I spent a decade shooting it and STILL shooting it. It has the same internals as the GRD III with 28mm f1.9 lens but is faster. Relatively speaking as this still needs 1-2 seconds between shots.
For focusing there’s a little window on the top left of the lens that makes it AF faster and there’s snap focus too, but with more distance options: 1, 1.5, 2.5, 5m to infinity.
Ricoh GR: Large sensor digital cameras
I still remember when Ricoh announced what was previously known as the Ricoh GRD V. The words said only a GR could replace a GR (And to be honest, it’s true!) and it gave people exactly what they wanted: A large sensor ultra compact camera.
I never jumped the boat fully as there’s advantages to the small sensors, most notably more in focus for high apertures and the small sensor grits better.
Also, while the cameras might look similar to the GRDs, they are not. They are similar but feel different in the hands.
This is where I feel like Ricoh really went mainstream. For most, Ricoh is the name of an office equipment manufacturers and only hardcore street photographers highly regarded them. I knew that things changed when regular tech outlets started to review the GR. This camera is one of the smallest APSC sensors you can buy so it is unparalleled image quality in your pocket. Because of sensor size and all that the lens is a 28mm f2.8 and again, because these are different beasts, the previous accessories for the GRD line are no longer compatible.
Ricoh GR II
The upgrade to the first. It had better battery life and wifi. If you didn’t notice a pattern already, the second camera after the first is always a refresh, kind of like the “s” line with iPhones. The sensor and megapixel count is the same.
Ricoh GR III
And now we have a more substantial upgrade. The sensor jumped from 16 to a more notable 24 megapixels. It added phase detection which is the fastest/best AF system to date, and finally has stabilization included. This is good news if you have hand tremors or if you like to shoot in the dark. Ricoh removed the built-in flash and added a touchscreen.
Ricoh GXR: Large sensor compact
While not technically part of the GR line, it is close in design philosophy and with a great grip. It is the interchangeable lens version of the Ricoh GR of some sorts. It was probably too groundbreaking for the time, and if you know anything about technology, you need to be a surfer and catch the wave at the right time.
The Ricoh GXR is nothing short of industrial looking. It’s boxy. It’s ugly. But if you can get past that it is one of the finest cameras you can get.
The GXR had a modular form factor and you could remove the battery and screen and attach different modules on it. So you could get the 28mm that would make it act as a Ricoh GR, or you could get the S10 that will give it a small sensor and zoom.
For more information check out the the Ricoh GXR review and guide to all modules.
Which Ricoh GR should you get?
For right about 90% of the population the one you should get is the Ricoh GR III. It has all of the modern features you could want from squeaky clean images, sharp and fast lens, stabiliaztion, etc. If you are totally invested in street photography and love your gritty / dirty / raw images, then nothing grits better than the small sensor Ricoh GRD IV. If you can’t get it the GRD III is just as good.
If you are not totally into the 28mm thing / street photography, then the GXR with the M mount. It allows you to shoot Leica M lenses and you can always add an extra module to change things up into a small sensor.
Ricoh GR cameras conclusion
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the Ricoh GR cameras. These are some of the most underrated cameras available (maybe not the GR as they are pretty popular) and for those in the know, they are nothing more than gems. I’ve been shooting GRs for about a decade now and they are special.