Home Cameras/Lenses Leica APS-C Fixed Lens Duo: Ricoh GR v Leica X2

APS-C Fixed Lens Duo: Ricoh GR v Leica X2

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Many of you know of my love affair with the Ricoh GR. It has been my travel camera for the past six years, although it has recently started to collect dust since I bought the Leica X2 a couple of years back.

I used to own an M8, which I loved, and used it with a 35mm Summicron and a 24mm Elmar. This combination gave me roughly the two focal lengths I used most: 47mm and 32mm when the 1.33 crop factor is taken into account. The M8 had to go because of my severe astigmatism which made focusing with the rangefinder really painful and near impossible. No nervous breakdown afterwards, however, because I invested the cash in a GR and two plane tickets for Laos.

Comparison

With my experience of these two fixed-lens travel cameras, therefore, I feel a comparison would be useful. In a sense, both these are oddballs and definitely not mainstream. The X1 and X2 have survived remarkably well over the past ten years and, as we know from reading Macfilos, both are cameras which inspire affection and, indeed, zeal.

The same could be said for the Ricoh, whether the original GR, the GRII or the GRIII. It has become a cult camera for its unobtrusiveness and ability to pack a quart into a pint pot. Street photographers love it and, of course, it has the big advantage of its supreme pocketability which burnishes its credentials as a travel camera.

What’s more, the GR line continues and has just been upgraded, unlike the X2. Leica killed off the ultra-simple X2 and has enjoyed no real success in finding a replacement, probably because the company lost that knack of producing a camera with straightforward, basic controls aimed at the Leica enthusiast. Everything has gone soft in the control department and the contrast with the usability of the Ricoh and X2 is palpable.

Digital crop

I won’t go into detailed specs of the cameras. Both have a 16MP APS-C sensor and both start proceedings at f/2.8. On the Ricoh, it’s an 18.3mm lens, equating to 28mm in full-frame terms. The Leica has a 24mm lens, equivalent to 36mm. Unusually, the Ricoh has the ability to crop (digitally) to 35mm and 47mm. Of course, you can do this with the X2 as well, but only in post-processing. With the Ricoh it’s an inbuilt feature and helps with composition.

The Ricoh can be equipped with the awkward but useful lens hood accessory which is capable of housing a UV filter. This is a good thing since the sensor is prone to collect dust because of leakage in the retractable lens mechanism.

With its hood attached, the Ricoh is no longer pocketable. But it remains small and light enough to be carried everywhere. The Leica is heavier but feels more sturdy and better built. The Ricoh with the accessory viewfinder attached weighs in at 250g while the X2, complete with the electronic viewfinder, tips the scales at 385g.

Side-by-side comparison. In this picture my Ricoh GR features the ugly lens hood proboscis while the Leica is equipped with the Leica Hand Grip and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder

Ugly but nice

I’ve also bought the decidedly unattractive but effective Kiwiphoto lens hood for use with the X2 in dusty environments. There have been a few dust issues with the X2 as well, but not as many as with the GR. The advantage of these lens hoods is that you can screw in an ND filter for long exposures. The Ricoh has one advantage here — it has a built-in ND filter which can be activated when needed.

Some may think the Leica menu is simpler — it is — but the Ricoh’s menu is straightforward, offers more customisation and, once you’ve set your preferences, the two cameras are similarly simple to use, which is what I like.

I usually shoot aperture-priority mode with Auto ISO (up to 1600) on both cameras, auto white balance and spot focus. The Leica’s accessory tilting EVF is a real plus and wins out against the Ricoh if an electronic viewfinder is a must. However, the Ricoh screen is good, even in very sunny conditions. I also have the small Ricoh GV-2 28mm optical viewfinder to use when the fancy takes me. And don’t forget a couple of spare batteries which are advisable add-ons for either camera.

Cooler

The following images were not taken on the same day but the light was pretty similar, so they should give you a good idea of the image quality of both cameras. All the images went through Lightroom with the same preset in each case (contrast +15 and clarity +35). Sharpness seems on par with both cameras but the rendering is quite different.

The Ricoh images are definitely cooler than those from the Leica. There’s also a sort of bluish colour cast to the Ricoh images, a flaw that you’re likely to encounter with any CMOS sensor in today’s Ricoh-Pentax line-up.

The Leica images, by contrast, tend to the warm side. Micro-contrast is far better, however. The pictures also appear to my eye to have more substance than the Ricoh’s output. I feel I have found the rendering I loved from my old M8.

A glass of what you fancy

As a Frenchman, I’d compare the Leica with an excellent full-bodied and pungent red Burgundy while the Ricoh is more akin to a lighter wine from the Loire valley.

And I prefer Burgundy, it has to be said.

So you may wonder why I picked the Ricoh as my travel camera. The reason is simple. I didn’t have the X2 at the time. Lately I’ve bought a brand new ten-year-old Ricoh GRD4 with a 1.7in CCD sensor. Surprisingly, it renders far better than the GR despite the tiny outdated sensor. It complements my X2 wonderfully as a travel camera.

May exhibitions in France

If any Macfilos readers happen to come to France in early May there are two exhibitions that are well worth a visit, one in Normandy and one in Lyon. Photographer Reza is featured in the exhibition at Le Chateau du Bec, 4 Route du Château, 76133 Saint-Martin-du-Bec, Normandy, running from Wednesday, May 15, to the following Sunday (opening 2.30 pm to 7 pm). In Lyon, the Le monde de Steve McCurry (10am to 6pm) is currently underway at La Sucrière, 49 – 50 quai Rambaud – 69002 Lyon 2ème. It ends on May 26.

Related articles

Read more on Jean’s travels with the Ricoh GR

Macfilos on the Leica X2

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Jean,
    An interesting comparison and nice photos, thanks. I toyed with buying a GR before I bought the X1. All in all I think I’d have been happy with the images from the GR. Kevin

    • Thanks Kevin. If you have a few spare pounds the gr 2 (similar to the GR with wifi capability) has dropped pricewise and it may be a good bargain just now to get one new. However you are the lucky owner of an x1 + an x-vario (the next and probably the last camera I buy) and I guess if I were in your situation I’d be happy with your combo. If you stumble on a decent GRD 4 that I mentioned at the end of the article That may be a great adding to your camera collection.
      Jean

  2. Hi Jean, I’ve just read this properly, as I only managed to scan this on my phone yesterday.

    I do think (personal opinion) that there is something better in Leica images, they do something with their blues (look at skies and water) that other cameras do not naturally produce. My Nikon Df comes close, but I still have to process images to get them nearer – and still i often feel they do not have the same depth. So for me Leica use something in their colour science that makes some images have a little more je ne sais quoi.

    I look forward to more comparison images if you get the time, and are travelling with both cameras to hand.

    Dave

    • Hello Dave,
      I also prefer the Leica images and I haven’t shot with the GR for the past 6 months. Yet the ricoh remains brilliant when it comes to black and white. I prefer the grd4 nowadays

  3. Interesting comparison Jean. Thank you.
    I’m with Dave in preferring the way that the X2 images present themselves.
    It was in the days of film that the phrase “the Leica look” emerged. Maybe it has evolved in the digital world. Is it their lenses? Lens coatings? Their in-camera firmware? Indeed, is it even real?

  4. Hello Wayne,
    the Leica images have “ce je ne sais quoi” that makes Leica cameras and lenses the best in my view. I’m totally sold to Leica. Just wish my wallet contained a few K euros.

  5. Many thanks, Jean, for the comparison.

    There is no doubt that the Leica has more contrast and definitely a warmer, more saturated feel to it, particularly in the greens and earthy tones.

    In terms of IQ, the thing that has always appealed to me most about the Aps-c GR’s is the dynamic range and a seemingly natural conversion to monochrome output. Online examples suggest it is a great monochrome camera. But i could never bring myself to buy a 28mm FOV fixed lens camera. Especially without a VF.

    I did see an X1 for sale the other day, and in truth i was tempted largely due to fellow Macfilos readers enthusiasm for it! But work is scarce at the moment and i have to be prudent with our money.

  6. And i’ll add that in the pics posted, i sometimes prefer the GR version and sometimes the X2. Its not really a case of one always superior.

  7. Thanks Jason,
    To my eyes the rendering is far more pleasing with the leica and comparing the colour renderin of both cameras Leica is miles ahead. When it comes to black and white I can’t compare as I have never tried it with leica and I love the GR rendering and stick to black and white high contrast. If you have money in your wallet I’d buy the X1. I know many Macfilos readers are raving about the x series and I think they’re absolutely right. The x series is a no-brainer. After much thinking I think I’ll buy the X-U (waterproof version of the X) to take to the beach and dusty environment. I’m just waiting for some feedback on the web to take the plunge.

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