Jean Perenet’s excellent Ricoh photographs in his Myanmar articles proves yet again what a useful no-compromise pocket camera the GR can be. It may look like a £10 cardboard throwaway, but the capabilities of its f/2.8 28mm lens and the APS-C sensor belie its appearance. But the Leica X1 also makes a great pocketable travel camera and I’m hard pressed to choose which is the one to go for.
I have also spent a lot of time with the GR over the past few years and still own the first-generation model (which isn’t a lot different to the current model, although a replacement is now overdue) and definitely have a soft spot for it. My major concern is that the controls are small, therefore fiddly. And a big downer is the top-right-mounted see-saw lever for exposure control. It moves almost of its own will and I find it impossible to handle the camera without dialling in +3 or -3 without trying.
The new GRIII addresses this issue and, for me, it is a worthwhile (although expensive) upgrade.
Be that as it may, the GR I and II are both useful little cameras to have in the bag. And, as Jean so successfully demonstrates, the GR can be The One for important foreign trips. Apart from its small size, the appearance is so unthreatening that it succeeds in grabbing those candid shots that a big DSLR would never get.
Ideal for travel
The Leica X1 or X2 is another design that punches above its size and weight. The simplicity of the (chunky in this case) controls and the small size make it an ideal travel camera.
Although the X2 looks a lot bigger than the GR, this is something of an illusion. It is on 8mm longer and 8mm higher (without the accessory viewfinder, but then the same applies to the GR). It’s thicker, particularly when the larger Leica lens housing is taken into account — 52mm compared with 35mm. The Leica is also 50% heavier than the GR, 345g compared with 245g. Overall, though, the Leica is easier to handle because of the larger controls.
On balance, I do now prefer the X2, even with its outside EVF. It has a similar APS-C sensor to that in the Ricoh, possesses a truly excellent 36mm-equivalent lens which is well capable of producing usable 50mm-angle crops. Both have an f/2.8 aperture. The GR wins out with its wider 28mm field of view, of course, but that isn’t a big issue for me.
Both these cameras as now oddballs, both with a curiously stubborn cast of aficionados. They are further examples of purity and clarity of purpose. When they are too old to continue snapping, we will miss them. Let’s hope that someone in the camera world thinks it worthwhile to follow in their footsteps.
The other main contender in the APS-C mould is the Fujifilm X100F, one of the most popular fixed-lens cameras of its type in the past ten years. But the competition has moved up a notch or two with full-frame fixed-lens cameras such as the Sony RX1 and the Leica Q. The Q2 now brings greater levels of competence, although it is undeniably heftier than the Fuji, the Leica X1 or the Ricoh GR.
For the money, on the secondhand market, an X1 or X2, or GR I and II, represent great value and will give years of faithful service.