Ricoh’s GR Digital II – a compact that may well stand alone!

John L. Nevill © Courtesy eos-images.com

I never thought I’d buy another compact but somehow Ricoh’s new GR Digital II appealed.
Back in December, I walked around central London and had a few uneasy exchanges with Joe public while taking photos with a 5D and 24-70 zoom, so I thought it was time to invest in a pocket-able high-quality compact.
After reading a number of reviews and trying out models from Ricoh, Canon and Nikon. I had narrowed it down to three products; Ricoh’s GX100, Canon’s G9 and Ricoh’s new GRD II.
The GX100’s flexible short range zoom appealed but I felt it lacked the image, lens, build quality and raw capabilities of the GRD II. However, it was a close call between choosing the Canon’s G9 and the GRD II. I liked the flexibility of the G9’s zoom, but felt it wasn’t compact enough for my needs.
Ironically, Sean Reid, a well respected “down to earth and forget the specs” photographer recently evaluated all three products and concluded that each had distinct advantages depending upon application.
I was pretty much sold on the GRD II’s resolution, optical quality and ability to shoot discretely. Furthermore, it had the added benefit of being small enough to fit in your pocket and therefore provided no excuse not to carry it with me, wherever I went!
So I decided to order one with an optical viewfinder from Clifton Cam

Why a GRD II?

As stated earlier, I wanted something that I could carry anywhere. My mainstream photography involves the use of Canon 1 series dSLRs with hefty zooms and super telephotos lenses, for wildlife and event photography. So, whenever I go on holiday, take a weekend city break or just wander the streets, dSLRs are becoming a little too noticeable and weighty. These issues impacted on my ability to get the images I wanted and I started to feel somewhat compromised.

Up until now digital compacts were less than ideal in terms of image quality with both noise and optical performance being questionable.

Let’s be honest, the sensor on these compacts is 1/3rd of the size of a full frame sensor and so expecting dSLR quality is probably pushing the laws of physics. However, Ricoh seem to have designed and packaged something quite unique.
The GRD II is a raw capable 10mp digital compact without image stabilisation, weighing 200g (incl. battery) with overall dimensions of 107 x 59 x 25mm (roughly 4¼ ” x 2 ¼” x 1”).

It bears a fixed 28mm lens, which I initially thought would take some getting use to, but flicking through my catalogue, I was quite surprised to see how many landscape and street shots were in fact taken using my Canon EF 24-70 at around the 28mm setting. So this may not be an issue after all.

Ricoh provides (as optional extras) a couple of lens attachments, namely a 1.4x converter and a 0.75x converter, providing 40mm and 21mm focal length equivalents.

I quite like the look of the 1.4x converter as it gets close to the human field of view, but for the same price I thought it best to first invest in the hot-shoe mounted optical viewfinder (GV-2).

Who knows I might add the 1.4x converter later, but given the size increase of adding these attachments, it may well defeat the object of having a compact. Interestingly enough other reviewers suggest that Ricoh should provide fixed lens options on the GR D II, say a 40mm version. I guess this would appeal, but for me the 28mm lens seems adequate for landscapes, cityscapes, interiors and maybe street photography. Let’s see how I got on with it in New York later in the review.


The overall feel of the GRD II is both compact and solid. It actually feels heavier than it really is; perhaps the tough magnesium alloy body gives one that impression.

The GRD II is only available in black and has a tactile rubberised feel. Unlike a lot of compacts, the GRD II has a grip. This aids handling and gives your fingers something to grasp. The base of the camera also has a couple of tiny rubber feet which stops it from sliding around on a table top.

The GRD II is also equipped with a small pop up flash which differs from most as it is manually operated and sits flush with the camera’s top plate when not in use. The flash itself is mounted on quite a flimsy hinge, which doesn’t feel that robust. I guess only time will tell how well it stands up to the rigors of use. The flash output is limited to ~3m and really doesn’t provide enough power to effectively light indoor group shots.

Fortunately, the GRD II is equipped with a hot shoe which accepts an external flash gun or one of two optical view finders. When not in use, a little black plastic cover (provided) can be slid into the hot-shoe. I wasn’t too sure what value this added, but if you carry the camera in your pocket, it does stop the edges of the hot-shoe from snagging on your jacket lining while giving the overall camera a more flush and aesthetic appearance.

The GRD II has a very usable 2.7" LCD screen which is bright, colourful and can be viewed from quite an angle. The LCD’s purplish anti reflective coating is similar to that found on many GPS products. It seems to work well and resists light scratches but does smear easily.

From day one, I decided to cut an existing 1D screen film protector to size and cover the LCD to improve scratch resistance. I've read that Dicain manufacture a more substantial 3" screen protector which is supposedly a good fit.

In use, I noticed that the GRDII's LCD backlight had a top central bright spot. This is only visible when the screen is displaying menus with dark backgrounds. When displaying a live view or playing back images, the bright spot isn't really noticeable.

In live view, one has the ability to switch the LCD screen off or cycle through various display options, which include a live histogram, a composition grid or just a plain live view. All display options are accessible from repeated touch of the display button. This is an instinctive feature, although there’s no histogram on the post-captured image preview, so one has to go into playback mode to review the exposure. A simple firmware update could resolve this.

In full playback mode, one can cycle through various displays and show a histogram, various image information and blinking over-exposed highlights, again at the repeated touch of the display button.

Also while in playback mode, if one rotates the camera to display a portrait shot, the image automatically rotates on the LCD.

As I added the GV-2 viewfinder to my initial purchase, I had the option to switch the display off to help conserve battery power. Ricoh suggests ~370 shots on one charge, but I only managed to get ~250 shots.

Although to be fair, I used the GRD II extensively over 4 days of shooting in New York and constantly switched the camera on an off during a 12 hour period. So having two batteries seemed more than adequate for a full day’s shoot. Battery charge times were ~90mins, so I could get both batteries recharged overnight ready for the next morning.

The controls on the GRD comprise four arrow keys set around a central button, a user defined adjustment lever with push selection, an index finger operated up-down wheel, a rocker switch and a couple of other buttons (play, display and timer). All buttons and switches are placed on the right side of the camera.

Too often manufacturer’s scatter buttons all over the back of their compact cameras with little consideration being give to ergonomics. In contrast, the GRD II can be used in one hand with all buttons and dials being well placed and naturally accessible to my medium-sized right hands.

I suppose if you’re left-handed then it could be a problem, but come to think of it, are there any cameras made for left-handed people?, Anyhow I digress!

The user defined adjustment lever is quite innovative. One can assign up to four function settings to it e.g. ISO, WB, Shutter speed, focus etc to the lever and select them by depressing the lever with one’s thumb and cycling through them by moving the lever left or right. The rocker switch can then be used to make appropriate parameter adjustments.

The ergonomics of this control seems to resonate with dSLR users. I have set mine up to cycle through ISO, shutter speed, EV compensation and focus. However most of these settings are accessible through the menu button.

I like to adopt an instinctive approach to camera use. So, it was quite novel to be able to customise the controls to my preference out of the box.

One of the key features on the GRD II is the level meter. Ricoh claim that the level meter’s calibration was set-up manually on the production line by the hand of man! This seems almost unheard of in today’s mass produced and heavily robotic manufacturing environments. Perhaps it was an oversight, but I’d like to think it adds a personal touch to the GRD II.

The level meter can be displayed with / without sound and seems pretty effective if one keeps the camera relatively perpendicular. However, if you tilt the camera forwards or backwards beyond 45º, the meter turns red and warns the user that it cannot be used effectively. The meter works in both landscape and portrait orientation and moves its screen position respectively. The level meter is activated by selecting and holding down the display for a few seconds.

Exposure Modes

The GRD II has a top dial similar to what one would find on a dSLR. Due to the compactness of the GRD II and to help stop inadvertent operation, Ricoh have added a clever dial lock button, which needs to be depressed before one can rotate the dial.

The top dial has six mode settings, Auto, P, A, Scene, My1 and My2.

The Auto mode provides simple “point and shoot” style operation, something I haven't really explored, but looking at the manual it’s not feature rich and does not provide the myriad of programs that a typical compact owner would be accustomed to e.g. landscape, portrait, sports, indoors, snow etc

In fact I would suggest that if you are new to photography then the GRD II is probably inappropriate, in that it seems quite restrictive (auto program wise), although it’s definitely a camera that a beginner could learn from and ultimately grow into!

The P mode provides preset aperture and shutter combinations relative to the metered light conditions. Emphasis is on shutter priority up to 1/125s (in order to minimise camera shake), thereafter aperture reduces from f/2.4. Again, this is something I haven't really explored.

The A mode provides aperture priority control. The top up-down dial enables one to increase or decrease the aperture using your index finger. The maximum and minimum aperture settings are f/2.8 and f/9.0 respectively.

I found that while trying to shoot indoor scenes on a tripod (to achieve people blur), both the maximum shutter speed and minimum aperture were restricted. I could ultimately switch to manual mode to increase the shutter speed beyond 1s up to 180s, but I could not get the aperture smaller than f/9.0, even though the manual suggests it should go to f/11.0.

It's also worth noting that apertures smaller than f/7 are obtained by means of a neutral density filter, rather then physically reducing the aperture size. This helps to reduce diffraction, since it's more prevalent on small sensors.

The Scene settings mode (not to be confused with auto programs) provides video capture, text capture and skew correction facilities.

Video mode can capture 640x480px or 320x240px AVI movie clips at 15fps or 30fps with sound. Movie duration is governed by the size of the media card; hence an 8GB card can record almost 98 minutes at the best settings.

Unfortunately, like most other compact cameras the movie quality is pretty average.

There are quite a few jaggies and compression artefacts evident from the low bit-rate AVI. (1572kbps for 640x480px @ 30fps).

It’s certainly better than most mobile phones and probably good enough to deposit your latest ditty on You-tube. So one can’t really knock it too much, better to have than have not, as they say!

Text mode provides a facility to capture text as a high resolution pure black and white image. Options exist for deep, light and normal density adjustments together with date and time stamp overlays.

Pure B&W Text capture

The Skew mode enables one to capture documents and apply skew correction to flatten perspective in camera, although output image size is restricted to 1280px or less.

Before and After Skew correction done in camera

MY1 and MY2 modes are extremely useful as they provide instant recall to a preferred mode of operation.

One can set the GRD II to operate in an aperture priority mode with EV compensation, at a given ISO using manual, snap or auto focus and then store such parameters to one of two MY settings. This enables the camera to operate in either quick fire mode or HQ landscape mode, simply by selecting the appropriate MY setting mode.

The GRD II also has facility to set ISO to auto and nominate the highest ISO setting e.g. Auto 200 up to Auto 1600, something quite useful for constraining image noise or going all out for low light grab-shots.

The GRD II offers continuous, stream and memory reversal shooting modes. These provide variations on continuous shooting themes and only work when in jpeg mode.

Continuous mode provides continuous shooting until the buffer fills. Both stream and memory reversal modes capture 16 sequential images (at a frame rate of 1/7.5s). The GRD II beeps while capture is in progress. Images are then re-sized internally in order to output them as one high resolution 4x4 matrix jpeg.

The latter two modes differ in that memory reversal mode continuously captures and only records the last 16 frames when the shutter is released, while Stream mode begins capturing 16 frames from when the shutter is depressed.

Lastly, the GRD II also provides time-lapse shooting from 5 seconds to 3 hours in increments of 5 seconds. I’ve yet to explore this feature, so I’ll refrain from reviewing at this stage.

Exposure Metering

The GRD II has three metering modes; Multi, Centre and Spot. Multi divides the scene into 256 segments and determines optimum exposure. Centre use the same 256 segments but biases the exposure to the central area. Spot uses the central portion of the image to bias the exposure.

A nice GRD II feature is ability to set the Fn button as an exposure lock button, leaving the shutter button to only operate the AF and shutter. This not only enables one to re-compose the shot after setting the exposure, but it also allows one to continue shooting indefinitely based on the locked exposure value.

So, if like me, you like to meter off a grey card or grass on a sunny day, you can then lock your exposure, keep an eye on the light levels (re-measure at intervals) and concentrate more on composition. So one could consider the GRD II to be an optimised point and shoot compact!


The GRD II offers three types of bracketing modes, auto exposure bracketing, white balance bracketing and colour bracketing.

Auto Exposure bracketing is limited to two presets, 0.3 or 0.5 EV. The GRD II automatically takes three consecutive shots at the chosen bracket preset, based on the current exposure compensation level. For example, if the GRD II is set to -0.5 EV exposure compensation, then the resulting 3 shots would be taken at -1, 0.5 and 0 EV respectively.

For HDR work this is quite restrictive. Again a simple firmware revision to make this adjustable to say +/- 2EV would make this feature really useful. I have since emailed Ricoh’s support team with such a request and already had a reply stating that they have passed it on to their R&D section. Who knows what might come of it.

White balance bracketing is also a little light on features. When selected, the camera takes three consecutive shots, one with a blue tint, one with red tint and one with the current white balance setting. No reference is given to the colour values of the tints and furthermore this function does not work in raw mode.

Colour bracketing provides an option for in-camera toning effects whereby a B&W, colour and a toned image are simultaneously written out from one exposure. This function does not work in raw mode.

Focus modes

The GRD II has no less than five AF modes, Multi AF, Spot AF, MF, Snap and Infinity.

Multi AF uses any number of the AF points to grab focus using the CCD method. Obviously this is no dSLR, but the AF speed isn't too bad, depending upon the scene's light and contrast. I haven't actually measured it but it seems to take ~2secs to lock focus depending upon ambient light levels.

Spot uses the central spot as the main focus point which is useful for central subject matter.

MF mode places the GRD II into manual focus and the up and down arrows buttons can be used to adjust focus which is stepped. Approximately 24 discrete steps of manual focus are available between 0.3m and infinity, while approximately 85 discrete steps are available between 30cm and 1cm focal distance. Selecting the OK button while in MF brings up a useful 1:1 zoom feature for checking focus.

Manual focus mode can also be selected by using the up-down wheel (if assigned) or by selecting the Fn button (again if assigned).

When in MF, a depth of field indicator bar is shown on the LCD screen and this can be useful for setting hyper-focal distances based on the selected aperture setting. For example, with the aperture wide open at f/2.4, one can set the focal distance to 4m which will keep everything in focus from 3m to 15m. Similarly, one can set the aperture to f/4.5 at the same focal distance (4m) and keep everything from 1m to infinity in focus.

Snap mode sets the focus point to 2.5m, which can be quite useful for street grab-shots.

Traffic Warden grabbing a coffee – 1/800s, f/4, ISO-100, -0.7EV

Incidentally, if you prefer a closer or further snap distance, then consider using manual focus, set it at your preferred distance and then add it or update one of your MY settings.

Both MF and Snap modes noticeably increase the GRD II’s speed of operation and at the same time removes the somewhat melodic AF motor noise.

The GRD II is also equipped with a useful macro mode. Pressing the macro button (down arrow) enables the GRD II to focus as close as 1.5cm. In addition one can move the focus point by depressing the adjustment lever and moving the cross hairs to the desired focus area (with the arrows keys) and then re-select the focus button (shutter release).

This is something quite unique in a compact, which can be put to good effect when using wide apertures.

Image size and quality

I have no intention of doing black noise tests or binning images to derive noise floors etc. Let's work in the real world with real images. After all it's a compact!

Furthermore, I rarely shoot in jpeg mode and haven't done so for four years. I bought the GRD II purely on its ability to capture raw (DNG) files.

However, looking through the menus, there are plenty of jpeg options for sizing from 640px up to 3648px, including a square format, although there's only two options for jpg compression; fine and normal.

The difference in file size between these two compressions is ~40% less for normal. A 2GB card will therefore hold ~240 fine images versus ~420 normal images (for an image size of 3648x2736px.)

Moving on to raw (DNG), Ricoh have adopted the Adobe DNG format. The buffer will allow 2 DNG to be capture consecutively and the write times vary between 3.5s and 5s depending upon SD card. A class 6 SDHC card is wholly recommended.

In contrast, to jpeg, a 2GB SD card will only hold ~100 images.

Although be careful, the GRD II relies on a jpeg for preview / playback display and by default, a fine resolution (4MB) JPG is paired with the DNG file. This drastically reduces the overall storage capacity.

I immediately went out and bought an 8GB SDHC card and was surprised to note that it could only hold ~420 images. I then changed the JPG format to small and the capacity jumped to ~530 DNGs. That’s better!

The downside to using small jpegs is that previews and playback don’t provide enough resolution for focus and blur check, so chimping is restricted!

The GRD II can capture three DNG size formats; 4:3 (3648x2736), 3:2 (3848x2432) and 1:1 (2736x2736). I personally see little value in capturing in anything less than the largest 4:3 format as cropping can be done in post processing. It’s worth noting that live view screen and grid overlay adapt to the selected format, which does aid with composition.

Being a Canon DSLR user, I initially found the 4/3rd format a little strange. I tend to print using ISO paper sizes and their aspect is closer to the 3:2 format, whereas US paper sizes are closer to the 4:3 format.

So what's the DNG quality like? I must confess that the GRD II's 1/1.75” sensor is quite a star performer.

OK it’s noisy beyond ISO 400 and to be honest, even ISO 80 shows some minor noise (if you pixel peep), but realistically, for printed output it’s pretty good.

One could easily print a colour A3 from any of the GRD II’s DNG size formats (up to ISO 200) and be hard pressed to see the difference between the GRD II and say a budget dSLR.

Manhattan – 1/1050s, f/6.3, ISO-80, -1EV

Many Ricoh enthusiasts quite like the noise and draw comparisons to film, I'm not too convinced on this, noise is noise and by and large Ricoh have managed to keep it under control given the sensor size. One thing I did note was the noise pattern. It has an almost painterly look at ISO800 and above.

Noise pattern at ISO 1600 at 2x crop

Printing A3 size images beyond ISO 800 one can start to delve into the B&W arena, using the painterly noise to good effect.

Park Avenue – 1/17s, f/2.4, ISO-800, -1EV

For general colour use, anything up to ISO 400 is easily usable for large prints. Beyond this one needs to start employing noise reduction software.

For the JPG shooter, Ricoh have added a Noise Reduction option. For most this is adequate but it does tend to smear detail at the higher ISOs. It’s therefore better to shoot in raw and post process the noise out.

Here are six DNG file crops (2x) of the noise generated as ISO increases from 80 to 1600:

Whilst on the subject of noise, I found that SilkyPix did a slightly better job of noise reduction than Lightroom.



Using an ISO 1600 DNG file as a reference, both converters failed to remove noise completely.

Lightroom tended to smear detail and retained more colour noise, whereas SilkyPix kept the image looking sharper and less blotchy.

Here are the settings that I found helped reduce noise across all ISOs for DNG files.


ISO Luminance Colour
80 20 25
100 40 25
200 55 45
400 75 55
800 90 65
1600 100 75


ISO False
Colour Control
80 30 10
100 30 20
200 40 35
400 60 55
800 70 70
1600 85 95

Colour Rendering

The following three Imatest colour check plots offer a comparison between the default colour renderings of in-camera JPG, Lightroom and SilkyPix respectively. All images were taken at ISO 80 and where white balance corrected prior to performing the analysis.

It was evident that the in-camera JPG colours were rendered with a higher level of saturation than either of the DNG converters, although yellow was rendered slightly more accurately.

Ricoh is renowned for its blue renderings and one can see saturation emphasis in all primary colours. There was also some evidence of warmth (hue shift) in the red and orange spectrum. I believe Ricoh’s JPGs are engineered to be rich and vivid.

Lightroom seems to render Ricoh’s DNGs with a marginally higher saturation level than SilkyPix, while also adding some warmth (hue shift) to the red, orange and pink spectrum.

This colourful approach is typical of Lightroom and these properties can be seen in other dSLR raw conversions.

SilkyPix seems to offers the most faithful colour reproduction with less hue shift and saturation.

I actually prefer the SilkyPix renderings as it provides a more accurate colour baseline to work with.

I suppose at the end of the day it really depends on what you are trying to portray, as high colour accuracy doesn’t necessarily mean pleasing to the eye. So it’s best to be creative and tweak away!

Dynamic Range

Using Imatest and a 22 patch step chart, I set out to find the overall dynamic range available from the GRD II using both Lightroom and Silkypix. This is useful not only to determine the exposure latitude of the camera but to also see how the delivered dynamic range is affected by two different raw converters.

A number of manual exposures were taken at 1 stop intervals at ISO 80 in DNG format and converted to 16-bit tifs using Lightroom and Silkypix. Two images were chosen from each raw converter to represent full saturation (255,255,255) through to deep black (0,0,0,) of the step chart.

DR from Lightroom Conversions

Using the Lightroom conversions, Imatest measured the overall dynamic range as ~8.1 EV (f-stops), although based on the highest quality pixel S/N this reduced to ~7 EV (f-stops).

DR from SilkyPix Conversions

Using the SilkyPix conversions, Imatest measured the overall dynamic range as ~9.6 EV (f-stops), although based on the highest quality pixel S/N this reduced to ~8.5 EV (f-stops).

Considering these rather crude tests were from the same DNG source files, I was surprised to find that SilkyPix delivers nearly 1.5 EV (f-stops) increase in exposure latitude. This suggests that for both colour and B&W output, SilkyPix offers the end user a wider dynamic range. However, neither DNG conversions take into account any post noise reduction that one may wish to apply.
Lens Quality

The 28mm fixed lens is a total glass optic comprising 6 elements, two of which are aspherical and three have aspherical surfaces.

I decided to run a number of Lightroom DNG to TIF conversions through Imatest with default +25 sharpening and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

The GRD II lens is pin sharp centrally from f/2.4 to f/5.6 and then it shows a significant drop off at f/8. This is a sure sign of diffraction on the sensor. Extreme edge sharpness was at its best between f/3.2 and f/5.6.

Chromatic aberration on the other hand was quite pronounced at the extreme edges and consistently acceptable at the centre.

Using SilkyPix’s transverse CA removal tool, CA was completely removed with an R rate of 1 and a B rate of 10. Similarly, dialling in +2 and +33 in Lightroom’s CA function also removed it without trace.

I must say without a shadow of doubt that this lens is a very fine piece of glass. I’ve tested a number of Canon, Sigma, and Tamron lenses over the years and this easily stands high among them.

Notes on how to interpret the results

Sharpness - The graph depicts two bars per aperture. Each bar represents a region of interest (ROI) taken from the target frame e.g. centre and extreme edge. The value unit is line width per picture horizontal. i.e. the higher the value, the more lines recorded per horizontal frame, hence the sharper the lens. In general, values >1800 lw/ph are excellent and values <1000 lw/ph are poor.

Chromatic Aberration - The graph depicts one or two bars per aperture. Each bar represents a region of interest (ROI) taken from the target frame e.g. centre and extreme Edge. The value unit is area width in pixels i.e. the lower the value the less area width of pixels visible, hence lower chromatic aberration. In general, values >2 pixels are poor.

The GRD II in use

Walking around the streets of New York for 4 days, the GRD II was an absolute dream to use. It was very discrete amongst the myriad of compacts, mobile phones and dSLRs seen everywhere.

It was responsive enough to do composed shots in aperture priority mode using multi point autofocus.

During my visit, I had the camera attached to my wrist and just kept it my pocket. The start-up time was a little slow (~2secs), so I resorted to switching the LCD screen off and keeping the camera switched on, ready to shoot using the optical viewfinder. Occasionally, the GRD II would power down after 5mins (user defined) of inactivity, but I shot approximately 700 images over the 4 x 12 hour days.

The GRD II was primarily set to Aperture priority using Auto ISO. It’s worth noting that Auto ISO subtlety differs depending upon image size. Since I shot using DNG at 3648px, the Auto ISO varied between ISO-80 and ISO-154.

Trinity Church – 1/810s, f/5, ISO-100, -0.3EV

At night I kept the GRD II on auto Hi ISO at a maximum of ISO-400. Given the amount of depth of field achievable at apertures between f/2.4 to f/3.5, I tended to use manual focus at ~3m and assigned these settings to MY2.

I tended not to use the optical viewfinder for night shots and stuck with the LCD. In manual mode the LCD screen coped well with both low light scene rendering and image refresh rates, although intense point light sources gave the usual white zipper effect on the LCD

Since the GRD II has no image stabilisation, I did like the camera's anti shake warning feature, which overlays a bold red icon on the LCD when below 1/32s. However, this feature is not user definable and I would have lowered it a tad, as I could get away with shutter speeds down to 1/17s with a steady hand.

42nd Street – 1/125s, f/2.4, ISO-400, -0.7EV

Walking through Central Park, the GRD II never really grabbed anyone's attention. In fact one homeless guy wanted his picture taken doing something stupid and played to the dSLR owners among us. Needless to say we just humoured him and went on our way.

Unfortunately the GRD II is not waterproof and I was very conscious that on the only day of torrential rain, I really didn't want to get it wet. The lens retracts inside the body and so does any water on it, which is probably not good for the electronics. Given the size and ergonomics of the GRD II, it made one-handed operation a synch. So the other hand was free to hold up an umbrella!

I wanted to explore some Yellow Taxi motion pan shots while walking Broadway and although the screen is responsive, there's a definite pause while the camera acquires focus. Switching the screen off, going into manual focus and using the optical viewfinder, immediately gave me the results I was looking for.

Taxi on Broadway – 1/25s, f/8, ISO-80

Walking through Grand Central Station, I felt the urge to do a people blur shot from one of the balconies.

I had packed a tiny Gorillapod and thought it would be a good time to try it out. The tripod mount is off centre and when you attach the mini QR plate it also obscures the battery and SD cover. Not a great issue, until you need to change either. I set the GRD II up for manual, adjusted the aperture to give a slow 4s shutter speed, attached the remote and clicked away.

Inside Grand Central Station – 4s, f/7.1, ISO-80

Another thing I learnt while using the GRD II was to always underexpose. Highlights tend to blow out easily when using multi metering. During daylight hours I kept varying the exposure compensation between -0.3 and -0.7 EV depending upon lighting conditions. Even for brightly lit dominant white subjects, I never really went above +0.3 EV.

Ground Zero – 1/1150s, f/5.6, ISO-100, -0.7EV

Night shots of the city were mainly shot with between -0.7 and -1.3 EV compensation, again all were handheld with various f/2.4 to f/3.5 apertures.

Times Square – 1/30s, f/2.8, ISO-228, -0.3EV

For me, working with a fixed 28mm lens was quite a challenge. I normally use a 24-70mm zoom on my dSLRs for city breaks. Clearly a zoom has the flexibility and yes one could buy either the 21mm or 40mm attachment, but after a few days of shooting, you start to use you legs more and work with the scene’s subject matter.

I found the biggest restriction while working with 24mm lens, is close up portrait work. It's difficult to fill the frame without putting the camera in the subject's face. So I think the 40mm attachment would be very useful. In addition one could obtain a more natural perspective with greater background blur. Although saying this, the 28mm fixed lens yielded very little distortion.

Street close-up – 1/1000s, f/2.8, ISO-100, -0.7EV


The GRD II retails at £399 ($800) and can be found as low as ~£350 ($700) if you shop around. So let’s put this into perspective, it’s about the same price as a budget dSLR with kit lens.

At which point I would stick my neck out and suggest that a typical dSLR kit lens probably wouldn’t match the GRD II lens for optical quality. Of course one has the option to change the dSLR lens but that would mean additional cost.

I do have a few minor criticisms though, so let me get them out of the way first.

• There’s no histogram displayed in the post capture preview. This would be a really useful feature and simple to add.

• All images are copyright tagged with “(C) by GR DIGITAL 2 User” in the EXIF data. This is a PITA, if you use Lightroom and want to output images using the watermark feature. Ok it’s easily resolved, but why can’t this be set in the camera? After all, most users like to personalise their camera. A simple firmware revision could easily rectify this.

• I’d really like to explore HDR with the camera and the auto bracketing capability of only +/- 0.5 EV is quite limiting. Again, something a firmware revision could resolve. Until then I’ll have to resort to manual compensation

• Ricoh accessories are a little expensive. Add the 21mm and 40mm converters together with the optical viewfinder and obligatory lens hood, adaptor and cable release and the complete package is pushing £725 ($1550) - an awful amount of money for a compact!

• The flash hinge is a little flimsy and could be made more substantial.

All said and done, I believe the GRD II is a great compact camera. It’s discrete and small enough to carry everywhere, yields very good colour image quality below ISO400 and is solidly made.

The handling and ergonomics are superb; in fact I would say it’s the best compact I’ve used to date.

It’s wealth of manual features and overall flexibility is second to none, while its output (with some post processing) is probably good enough to sell off.

Unlike other compacts, Ricoh have chosen to adopt the Adobe DNG standard for their raw format and the GRD II is responsive enough (buffer wise) to work in this format.

Furthermore, if one wants to explore black and white photography, the GRD II provides some unique noise attributes to satisfy the classic film enthusiast.

I’d thoroughly recommend the GRD II to anyone who wants to be a little more creative with their photography. Novices could easily grow into the GRD II’s features, while both enthusiasts and pros might be pleasantly surprised how well it performs.

It’s not a high end dSLR replacement or a back-up camera and it does have some limitations. However, to coin Sean Reid’s phrase it really is a “digital sketchbook” that’s fun to use.

And finally, did I mention that it comes with a two year warranty, well it does!

I’ll leave you with few of my favourite images from the New York trip.

Jumping the lights on Broadway – 1/500s, f/2.8, ISO-100, -0.7EV

Lower Manhattan at 8:47am – 1/760s, f/7.1, ISO-80, -0.7EV

Ellis Island Window – 1/540s, f/7.1, ISO-100, -0.7EV

Flat Iron Building – 1/1410s, f/5, ISO-100, -0.3EV

Author’s other resources (eos-images.com):

An Introduction to SilkyPix Studio v3 - An 80+ page tutorial guiding the user through many aspects of this feature rich Japanese RAW converter. (Priced at £2.50)

SilkyPix Classic Taste Collection - A set of 18 Tastes (presets) to give your images that classic retro-creative look with SilkyPix, to include: 300 Style, Aged Photo, Antique, Antique Light, B&W High Contrast, B&W Solarize, Burnt Sepia, Cold Tone, Copper, Cross Processed Kodak, Cross Processed Agfa, Polachrome, Cyanotype, Golden, Lomo Velvia, Negative, Selenium 1 and Selenium 2. (Priced at £7.50)

SilkyPix Film Taste Collection - A set of 18 Tastes (presets) that emulate the palettes of colour slide, colour negative and B&W films within SilkyPix, to include: Ektrachrome 100, Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, Kodachrome 200, Fuji Astia 100F, Fuji Provia 100F, Fuji Velvia 50, Kodak Porta 160, Fuji Superia Reala 100, Fuji Superia Xtra 800, Fuji Superia HG 1600, HP5, Tri-X, XP2, Neopan, CP Agfa, CP Fuji and CP Kodak Elite. (Priced at £7.50)

SilkyPix Classic and Film Collection - A 35 Taste collection provides the SilkyPix user with unique and endless image creativity! What's more, you save 20% when you buy this combined Film and Classic Collection. This collection includes all 18 Tastes from the Film collection and 17 Tastes from the Classic collection. (Priced at £12.00)

John L. Nevill