Friday, November 04, 2005

And now for something completely different

In an ever increasingly competitive digital compact camera market it is actually difficult to find something that stands out from the crowd. In the early days there were diverse and creative camera designs with differing feature sets. Now nearly every camera has a small maximum aperture 3x zoom, a high pixel count small CCD, colour fringing, barrelling & pincushioning, power-hungry extra-large LCDs, and ever-more bewildering menus. So it was nice to see Ricoh come up with a camera with a prime wide-angle lens and a commitment to image quality: the GR Digital.

When I moved from film to digital I tried to replicate my range of film cameras with digital equivalents and found it impossible to to replace my high quality compact - a Nikon 35Ti - with anything that approached its quality of image, build or usability. In the end I purchased a Fujifilm F810 as it gave me some control over exposure, but it never matched my Nikon D70 or my 35mm cameras for image quality.

At a similar time that Nikon was producing the 35Ti (& 28Ti) Ricoh launched their GR1 family, and with no compromise on image quality in such a small form-factor, this camera became a firm favourite with landscape & stock photographers. Now Ricoh have dared to stand out from the crowd and have launched a camera that hopefully will be a firm favourite again. The GR Digital has a similar look to the old 35mm film-based range, except for the usual rear LCD and controls we have come to expect from digital cameras.

Ricoh's GR Digital compact camera

What makes the GR Digital interesting is the newly designed fixed focal-length f=5.9mm (28mm on 35mm format equivalent) lens with a maximum aperture of F2.4. Of course it has the now obligatory 8+ megapixel CCD and a large LCD on the back. Ricoh state in their blurb that they have developed a completely new image processing system, which is about time too, as there previous engines have not been anywhere near best in class. One thing missing from this camera, like so many others at the moment, is an optical view finder, however there is an optional accessory view finder that can be attached to the accessory (hot)shoe, which is also a rare find on pocketable compact camera. Other useful features is a selectable 3:2 image ratio (the same as 35mm film & most DSLRs) and ultra-wide angle lens attachment (21mm equivalent - like the GR21), however this (as well as lens hood & filters) sits on the end of an extension tube which reduces the compact nature of the camera.

Other interesting features include:

  • RAW capture mode (Adobe's DNG format)
  • magnesium alloy body
  • 7 blade aperture & a neutral density filter
  • DSLR-like twin input dials
  • Aperture priority and manual exposure modes
  • Ricoh's usual ultra-close macro mode

RAW file format is disappearing fast from compact cameras so it is nice to see it here. This helps to convince me that this camera is aimed at photographers that already own a DSLR and are looking for a carry everywhere compact - at last! Let's hope that the image quality (at all ISO speeds) holds up to the promise that the specifications tantalising dangle before us.

[update] There is a review of the GR Digital on Digicam Review.

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