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.
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.
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
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.
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