Changing Perspective – Wide Angle Photography – Preface : Ricoh GR Review

Mid to long focal lengths have been my preferred lenses to reach for when heading out to see what is out there to photograph. My absolute favourite (which will probably change next week – like my fave camera of the week) is 135mm on 35mm. Long enough to get closer, and still short enough to let some of the background into the shot. Seeing people’s faces and how they are responding to the environment around them is a very popular subject on my photostream. Like these in the below slideshow, all shot using at 135mm focal length :

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A lot of my photographer pals are into wide angles. Sometimes down to 14mm and below, to capture some wonderful images. Being a slave to art fashion, the idea of having a crack at wide angles took a deep hold in my mind about 6 months ago – but instead of going out and buying a 17mm or similar lens, I wanted to make it even more interesting by taking a less well trodden path.

Go with a compact digital point and shoot.

Fuji X100 cameras seem to de rigueur at the moment. Lovely stainless steel metal, Leica look, and a great lens – who wouldn’t want one? If I was going to do something different, I needed a camera that wasn’t same same (anyone who owns an x100 or x100s please know I am still a big fan!). Enter the Ricoh GR, just released. GR A camera with a famous film heritage – and pocketable to boot! If you want to read more about why the Ricoh GR film versions are one of the best compact 35mm cameras ever, check out Japan Camera Hunters’ definitive review here. The new Ricoh GR digital has some great positives :

  • Small, inconspicuous camera. One that the eye is not naturally drawn to.
  • The GR must have smoked a lot as child as its growth has been seriously stunted. It has an APS-C large-size CMOS sensor underneath the stealthy matt black finish. That is probably the same size as the sensor in your DSLR at home unless you spent over 2k on your happy snapper.
  • Contrary to what Ken Rockwell says (he slammed it without even picking one up), the GR has mostly manual controls. A command dial for aperture or shutter, and two “+ and -” buttons for expsoure compensation ISO control. Hmmm, works just like my DSLR. It is easy to learn to love the intuitive controls on this camera. Update Since writing this,  I have spent a little more time with the manual. The toggles and dials are very nicely positioned – I wish my DSLR was as easy to change up!
  • F2.8 lens – a prime lens on this camera can really help get the job done.
  • Quick focusing, and focus tracking. It also has (inherited from it’s film DNA) a setting for “Snap Focus” to predetermine focus distance so the shutter fires as soon as you press the button – no focus lag, just K-Pow, ready or not.
  • After dragging around some kit that feels like it was designed by a bricklayer, the GR is virtually weightless. Walking around with the GR is a very different experience to schlepping around a big ass Hasselblad.
  • Feels like it would stop a bullet – which is handy if you are not a particularly popular photographer…
  • Something I have not come across before is T/AV function. Very, very useful. You can set your aperture and shutter speed, and the camera changes the ISO to suit. Shifting the aperture of shutter can be done simply using the great command dial or toggle. I often get frustrated using Aperture Priority when a slow shutter speed is selected without me realising it – and delivering a blurry result.

Downsides : So far only a couple of gripes.

  • Battery life is crap, just as the reviews said it would be – the battery exhausts itself on one of my regular length walks. That said, when on the digital teat, I can take up to 300 shots in two or three hours… I never claimed to be a good photographer – I am a better curator than one-shot Ansell Adams. And no battery charger – only a charger that you plug into the camera. Cheap.
  • I need to go back and look at the manual. Gasp. The flash is tending to overexpose, and I still haven’t figured out the best way manage demanding contrasty light conditions.

The great lens, pocketability, and sensor got me over the line. Oh yeah, that combined with the peer respect and interest I am sure to garner because it is a very uncommon camera. There won’t be too many GRs parked on the table next to the beers at the next Melbourne Silver Mine function – well, probably more so because MSM is all about film cameras. Now I have the camera, let’s start the journey.

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