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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ricoh GR II Review

Ricoh GR II Review
September 2017, Carl Garrard
Ricoh GR II Review- No, I'm not late reviewing a camera that was announced in 2015 or anything (ducks for cover)... I mean, its only been two years plus since Ricoh announced it, and I'm just now finally getting around to reviewing the GR II. I will get a pass from my friends at Ricoh though, since they know I've always been a fan of Ricoh cameras in the past. Considering that I've personally met with a few friendly Ricoh representatives from Japan long before they purchased Pentax, and, that I've owned every digital GR model made, I thought I ought to at least dedicate some time for a short review on the latest GR here. And with the review I'll include some notes on this camera that haven't really been mentioned  before in other online publications. Note that this review is solely based on using the GR II with latest firmware v3.00, which few reviews were based on. Ricoh's are some of my favorite cameras in the world. Lets see how I like the newer GR II.


Ricoh GR II Review- Introduction

First off, lets start by mentioning the fact that I, like many, wasn't terribly excited about the GR II when it was announced. At that time, I already owned a GR and wasn't really using a smartphone all that much. So the new additions such as wifi, didn't really appeal to me nor did the other seemingly relatively minor additions and changes. But two years with a smart phone sorta changes things a bit. I'm running a pretty nice android phone and use it quite a bit for a lot of things. That said, Wifi and NFC that were added to the GR have more appeal, but there are also more slight changes to the GR II than some may care to want know about.

Well known GR II Differences:
  • Addition of Wifi and NFC 
  • Body style change to top Panel to facilitate Wifi
  • Maximum shutter speed now 1/2500th of a second vs. 1/2000th
  • 10 continuously shot raw files vs 4
  • Composite Raw File Capability (Interval mode)
  • AF while shooting movies (and transfer capable over app)
  • CTE White Balance Setting
  • Seven new Effect Modes
  • On board flash can be used as a wireless flash remote trigger

Not So Known Minor GR II Differences:
  • Slightly softer texture main grip
  • Slightly grittier black body texture
  • NFC logo on grip
  • CE Info on bottom, shows only Ricoh Imaging vs Pentax Ricoh Imaging
  • Left Side Button shows wifi symbol vs. DOF symbol (and defaults to wifi for long press)
  • Many new additions/changes to the menu system to facilitate new features/changes
  • New features via firmware upgrades
  • 251 grams vs 245
  • Faster overall playback and operational speed (this is arguably a big change)
  • Slightly better Dynamic Range, high ISO capability
  • Min/Max Auto ISO settings (vs only high ISO setting)
  • Different texture on shutter release (matte vs gloss)

Granted the changes listed may not seem like much to some of you, but for the GR dedicated they are more obvious. The sum total of the changes has an effect of refinement or progression that gives you a sense of a grown up GR. It feels a little nicer in the hand, faster in operation, gives slightly better image quality, refinements in ease of use, more filters to play with, and more features to work with. All it was really missing  in the announcement in my opinion, was the newer Sony 24mp sensor. That would have made the GR II a much bigger hit initially, at least with prospective enthusiasts. And by the way, this 24mp sensor will likely show up in the guaranteed third version of this camera.I'm perfectly fine with the amount of resolution from the GR as it is currently. 

Noise up to ISO 800 is almost none at all. I don't need to take it higher than this, but image quality looks really good all the way up to ISO 3200. With a fast lens, you really don't need to go higher in most cases.

GR's are fashionable and refined compact cameras with a dedicated following and pretty long history. But what stands out most for me is just how much Ricoh engineers are in tune with the minds of photographers. When I use a GR, I always know that enthusiast shooters designed it. It's actually very obvious. I'm certainly not the only one either, which is why GR's are so popular, and seem to be gaining further popularity. 

Special edition set, and Special Edition Silver kits available as well.

While I was setting up my GR II, I was rekindled with that the level of control that Ricoh gives you, it is simply mind blowing. It's almost too much, to be honest. But that Ricoh can do this without making a mess of the menu system, is just plain head scratchingly, ... brilliant. Ricohs' thoughtful level of customization is almost obscene. For instance, the GR II gives you the option of two different looking level indicators, or the ability to turn the green power ring light on or off. I mean, who else does that?

The delux set include different color rings for personalization.

Are they perfect? Well no they aren't, but the GR II is just about as good as you are going to get in a pocket-able  compact camera. Part of me misses the more simple earlier Ricoh models, and wishes Ricoh would release one with only the basic essentials- eliminate video, art filters, and other such frippery and bring at least one GR variant back to the simplicity of the film GR's of old. I'd also like them to add a small built in optical finder.

Ricoh GR II Review- What the GR II Has Right

There's so much right to the Ricoh GR II. So let's start with image quality. 

The custom Sony designed, AA filter-less sensor and Ricoh GR lens provide such extraordinary image quality, that it surpasses every other 16mp APS-C camera on the market (and some with higher resolutions than that), no matter what kind, no matter what lens you attach. Nobody can touch the GR and GR II for detail retained and overall optical quality of that lens. It's really superb, and one main reason why GR's have a loyal following. I've never used a sharper 28mm equivalent lens on any camera.

The wide dynamic range, sharp edge to edge performance of the lens, and detail retention of the sensor make this a must landscape pocket camera for outdoor types. Too bad it's not weather sealed, just keep good care of it and you'll be fine. 

Detail is ridiculous. No sharpening in post is ever needed. Dynamic range is more than you'll really need. The GRII is an image quality powerhouse.

Fit and finish and ergonomics need no improvements. Hands down the GR's are the most pleasant and full featured compacts I've ever used in terms of these qualities. Everything is comfortable, located correctly, easy to use, and mostly customizeable. The grip is especially wonderful, it begs you to pick it up and use it. In these categories, the GR II is simply a photographers ideal compact.

GR II is fast focusing and with an improved buffer. Not a bad action camera at all, but I prefer to get shots like this pre-planned and in one exposure only. Which I did.

It's menu system has to be the best implementation of any manufacturer (even besting Canon in my opinion). And yet, with all the customization and options it has, its remains neat, easy to read, and superbly organized. It seems to laugh at Swiss Army knives. But with all that customization and option comes the price- the temptation to fiddle with the camera's customization and image output options can distract from actually using the camera. You'll be best served to set the camera to your normal expectations, and leave them. Then get out and shoot.

Ricoh GR II Review- Improvement Ideas And A Wishlist

And now with that said I would still like to see some improvements in version III.  For example,I'd like the camera to be weather sealed for two reasons:
  • This will open up GR's to more types of photographers, especially outdoor types
  • It will solve the dust on the sensor issue of the past
If Ricoh do weather seal it, they should also add a piezo crystal element layer to the sensor, to shake off dust as well. This will near bullet proof the GR III from getting dreaded dust spots and allow more users to comfortably use the camera in more elements of weather etc.

As I stated before, I would also still like to see Ricoh fit in an optical finder in a GR somehow. Perhaps remove the pop up flash and and make it a pop up optical finder with an LCD overlay? I'd prefer to have an attachable flash on a hot shoe, than an attachable old school optical finder honestly.  An optical finder with 28mm frame lines would give a more rangefinder experience, one I could truly appreciate.

I think at this point, a 24mp sensor is a given. Not necessarily on my list of needs, but to keep in line with demand of the market, Ricoh will no doubt include one into the next version. 

ISO 1600, barely any real noise. The GR II is at home just as much indoors as it is outdoors.

And last but not least, I'd like to see the addition of a 3:2 ratio glass  LCD screen. The 3:2 ratio would give more room above the lcd screen (perhaps for an ovf), and be in line natively with the ratio of the sensor. And I'd want the surface to be like the ones on our smart phones that resist smudging and dirt. Overall, I think the changes I suggest here would make the GR III a worthy and updated successor.

Decent macro capability, but not the best of the GR series by far. The GRD IV does much more magnified macro's. Still, not a bad performance for those who like to get close. ISO 1600 here, no noise reduction performed, or sharpening.

Ricoh GR II Review-Concluding

Elegant, form over function design. The GR II just works.

Since I have both GR cameras, and I used them both side by side before, during, and after this review, I can tell you that after using the GR II, the original GR really got most things right. I appreciate Ricoh's consistent progressive approach to its GR camera line however, all of the minor tweaks and additions do help keep it on many people's wish list and keep it selling. Personally, I'm not big on need with of the features of the current GR II, but I can see how people appreciate them. They attract a wider range of photographers as a result, and are in my opinion the most advanced, capable, and photographer friendly cameras available that you can put in your pocket.

During this review period, I was inclined to bring out my older Ricoh GRD IV, give it a dust off and use it side by side with the GR II. It's amazing how Ricoh manage to keep the soul of the original design without abandoning many of their core fans. I'm pretty sure there are some Leica admirers in Ricoh's design team. They seem to know the value of the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", just like the very popular Leica M camera's.

Great DR and retention of highlights. The GR is also light, fast, and ready. 28mm is a perfect fixed focal length lens. And I really do use the 28-35-47mm Cropped Raw mode. Its like owning a 28-50mm pocket cam. Plenty of detail is left using 47mm for large prints up to 13"x19" easily.

Lastly, I do hope Ricoh heed my personal wish list. The next generation GR needs a built in optical finder- not an EVF. They should pay homage to the film GR in this respect. I'm fine with an overlay to give basic info, but it should be a glass finder. Changing the aspect ratio of the LCD screen and a couple minor design changes make this entirely feasible. Adding weather sealing and a vibrating piezo crystal layer (to eliminate the pesky dreaded dust spot issue), with a more modern sensor would really put more more photographers on a waiting list. Simplifying the menu system further would also be a nice step, for me personally. 

But as is, the GR II is really your best pro grade pocket able camera on the market. It is fun and comfortable to shoot, insanely customizeable, and has some of the best image quality at lower ISO's you can find in any camera today, let alone a camera you can put in your pocket. A perfect companion for travel or as an every day camera. For less than $700.00, I doubt you'll find a better deal for image quality anywhere.

Stay focused.

-Carl Garrard

(Next review is the Leica X1.... stay tuned.)

The GR II was a perfect companion for Sedona Arizona. Light, powerful, capable.



  1. Great review, Carl ... and accurate; not one word you wrote falls into the categories of hyperbole or exaggeration. I've owned the GR II for nearly a year now and am consistently impressed, image after image after image. Sometimes I wonder why I even need to own any other cameras (well, we all know the answer to that)!

    I would have made more mention in the review of its 3-tier crop mode. The IQ at 47mm, despite the fact that it leaves you with only 5MP, is pretty amazing. I think I use mine at the 35mm setting more than any other. IQ-wise, 10MP from the GRII is more like 16MP of useful detail.

    The GRII is surely a camera like no other, and in a world of "me-too" products always dominating the photography scene, that's saying a lot.

    Thanks Carl.

  2. Hi Steve! :) Thank you so much, I'm glad you like the review. I do believe I mentioned it (closing comments under the jeep image). I think 47mm works out to about 5.5mp, and when you consider the lack of an AA filter the detail equates to what 8-10mp cameras used to be. Agree on the 35mm setting and your figures as well.

    But I agree, its amazing and I use that feature consistently. I assigned it to the FN1, so its right under my thumb.

    I think GR's are near as popular on the street scene as Leica M's are. They are just too good at what they do. Lets hope Ricoh see my review and implement the upcoming changes I've suggested.

    Thanks again for your support and comments Steve, much appreciated.


  3. Hi Carl:

    Great review. But you are saying it's the best 16mp compact. I have a Nikon Coolpix A, and have to say that its IQ is outstanding. How about a friendly head-to-head comparison?

    - Chuck

  4. I would love to do a side by side comparison :). I just haven't come across a Coolpix A yet.

  5. Reading this review and the review of your GR Digital iv, I was surprised that you didn't suggest image stabilisation in your wish list. Given how IBIS is exploited in Ricoh's Pentax cameras, it would make the camera even more versatile as well as offering a dust removal solution.
    I do agree with you about the need for a built in viewfinder being more useful than a built in flash - the latter could be a tiny clip-on version. Like you I don't feel the need for more pixels, but provided that doesn't increase noise I would be ok with it.

  6. + 1 for weather sealing - I was in Scotland last week!