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DCRP Review: Ricoh GR Digital II  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 20, 2008
Last Updated: April 16, 2012

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Ahh, Ricoh, you've been missed. I haven't reviewed a Ricoh camera on this website since the year 2001. The good news is that I'll now be able to review their cameras as often I do those from other manufacturers.

The first Ricoh camera I'm looking at is the GR Digital II ($699). It packs a 10 Megapixel CCD, a fast 28 mm lens, manual controls, support for the RAW image format, and a 2.7" LCD display. Two unique features include a 1:1 ratio mode (which simulates medium format cameras), and a "leveling meter", which helps prevent crooked photos (and boy, do I need that). The GR II is expandable as well, offering conversion lenses, optical viewfinders, and a remote shutter release cable.

The GR series of cameras date back to the mid-1990s, back when people still used that "film" thing. The GR cameras were well-known for their slender bodies and high quality wide-angle lenses. The GR jumped into the digital age with the introduction of the GR Digital in 2005. Ricoh cameras are currently sold in the US by just two resellers: Adorama and PopFlash.

If all this sounds interesting, then keep reading -- our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The GR Digital II has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.0 effective Megapixel GR Digital II camera
  • DB-60 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Hand strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Caplio software
  • 238 page camera manual (printed)

As is the case with most cameras these days, Ricoh has built memory into the GR II, instead of bundling a memory card. The camera has 54MB of onboard memory, which is more than you'll get on most cameras, but I still strongly recommend buying a larger memory card right away. the GR Digital supports SD, SDHC, and MMC memory cards, and I'd recommend starting out with a 2GB SD or SDHC card. It's probably worth spending the extra bucks for a high speed card.

The GR Digital II uses the DB-60 rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has 4.2 Wh of energy, which is about average. Here's how that translates into battery life compared to other wide-angle cameras:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS 270 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z200 400 shots
Fuji FinePix Z100fd 170 shots
Nikon Coolpix S600 190 shots
Olympus FE-350 Wide 170 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 280 shots
Ricoh Caplio R7 300 shots
Ricoh GR Digital II 370 shots
Samsung NV24 HD N/A
Sigma DP1 250 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 390 shots

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

There are a lot of cameras that I wanted on this list that don't have battery life specs posted yet, hence the N/A's. That said, the GR's 370 shot/charge number is well above the average for the cameras that I actually have data for -- only the Sony W170 does better.

It's important to mention that the proprietary battery used by the GR Digital, as well as all the other cameras on the above list, are quite expensive. An extra DB-60 battery will set you back around $40. A common complaint of mine regarding li-ion batteries is how you cannot use off-the-shelf batteries in an emergency. Ricoh was very clever when they designed the GR Digital: it can use two AAA batteries for just those situations. Now, you can only take around 45 shots with AAA alkalines, but that may be all you need.

When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. This is my favorite type of charger: it plugs directly into the wall. It takes about two hours for a full charge.

Ricoh GR Digital II in the hand

The GR Digital II has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with. As you can see, it's a pretty small camera.

Large external viewfinder

Mini external viewfinder

Wide-angle conversion lens

One of the nice things about the GR Digital is the incredible amount of accessories available. Above you can see three of them: two viewfinders, and a wide-angle conversion lens. Here's the full list of available accessories:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Wide-angle lens GW-1 From $149 Cuts the focal range by a factor of 0.75X, which brings the lens down to just 21 mm
Telephoto lens GT-1 From $149 Increases the focal range by 1.43X, which turns your 28 mm lens into 40 mm
Hood & adapter GH-1 From $49 Includes a lens hood and the adapter needed to use the conversion lenses above; also allows use of 37 mm filters
External viewfinder GV-1
From $199
From $199
One is huge, the other is more compact; the big one has frames for 21 and 28 mm; the small one has a frame for 28 mm and 1:1 shooting
Cable switch CA-1 From $25 Take photos without touching the camera; cord is 2.5 feet long
AC adapter AC-4c From $40 Power the camera without using the battery
Neck strap GS-1 $25 Does just as it sounds
Soft case GC-1
Protect your camera with these leather cases; the latter can hold the camera with the mini viewfinder attached
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Pretty impressive if you ask me. Only downside is the price of those viewfinders -- ouch!

Irodio Photo & Video Studio in Windows Vista

Ricoh includes Irodio's Photo & Video Studio with the GR Digital II. This software is for Windows only, so Mac users will have to use iPhoto or something like that. Photos are actually transferred off the camera by another piece of software known as Ricoh Gate La, but you'll use Irodio for everything after that.

Irodio Photo & Video Studio is a pretty decent application. The main screen has the same thumbnail view and file navigator as every other image browser. On this screen, you can print or e-mail photos, rotate them, or start a slideshow.

Editing JPEGs in Photo & Video Studio

Here's what the edit screen looks like when you're viewing a JPEG. There are plenty of tools available, and you can see them on the left side of the above screenshot. Highlights include a horizon tool (for straightening photos), auto image quality enhancement, and redeye removal. There are also several "artistic effects" available, if you're so inclined.

RAW editing in Irodio Photo & Video Studio

The Irodio software can also edit the RAW (DNG) images produced by the GR. You can adjust white balance, exposure, sharpness, and noise reduction. I did find it to be on the slow side compared to other RAW image editors. For more advanced editing you can use Adobe Photoshop, which supports DNG files (which is, after all, an Adobe standard).

What's the deal with RAW anyway? RAW files contain unprocessed image data straight from the camera's sensor. That means that you can adjust things like white balance, noise reduction, exposure, and more, without reducing the image quality. So, if you used tungsten white balance when you really should've used fluorescent, no problem -- relief is just a mouse click away. The downsides to RAW include larger file sizes, slower write times, and the need to process them on your computer.

Ricoh includes a thick, detailed manual with the GR Digital II. While it has more than its share of fine print, you will get any question you might have answered by flipping through its pages.

Look and Feel

The GR Digital II is a compact, very well built camera. Its stark black design reminds me of the interior of BMW automobiles: strictly business. The camera may look a bit plasticky in the photo, but it's anything but. The GR is constructed almost entirely of a magnesium alloy, with a minimum of plastic. The parts of the camera that you need to hold onto have a nice, "sticky" rubber surface, giving the shooter confidence that the camera isn't going anywhere.

I found it quite easy to take photos with one hand using the GR Digital. The important controls are logically placed, and you can adjust nearly everything without having to adjust your hands. Ricoh didn't go overboard with buttons here, so you don't have to read the manual in order to figure out the camera. I especially liked the dual adjustment dials, which make changing common camera settings easy. The one thing I didn't like was the placement of the flash. It's right where your left hand wants to hold the camera, so I found myself closing the flash by accident on more than one occasion.

Now, let's take a look at how the GR Digital II compares to other cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.5 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z200 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 119 g
Fujifilm FinePix Z100fd 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 138 g
Nikon Coolpix S600 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.6 cu in. 130 g
Olympus FE-350 Wide 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.4 cu in. 138 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 143 g
Ricoh Caplio R7 3.9 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 135 g
Ricoh GR Digital II 4.2 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 9.7 cu in. 168 g
Samsung NV24HD 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 6.6 cu in. 146 g
Sigma DP1 4.5 x 2.3 x 2.0 in. 20.7 cu in. 250 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 142 g

The GR Digital is the second only to the new Sigma DP1 in terms of size and weight. I would sway that it's a bit too large for your jeans pocket, but it fits very comfortably in a small bag or jacket pocket.

Enough small talk -- let's get to the tour now!

Front of the Ricoh GR Digital II

The main thing to see on the front of the GR Digital II is its fast F2.4, fixed focal length lens. The focal length is 5.9 mm, which is equivalent to a nice and wide 28 mm. If you want to expand this range (in either direction), you can do so using the conversion lenses I mentioned in the previous section. You'll first need to unscrew the ring around the lens, then attach the hood adapter, followed by the lens or filter of your choice.

At the top-right of the photo you can see the GR's pop-up flash, which is raised manually. This isn't the most powerful flash out there, with a working range of 0.2 - 3.0 m at Auto ISO. If you want more flash power (and less chance of redeye), then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a moment.

The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. The green-colored light also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

Back of the Ricoh GR Digital II

The main thing to see on the back of the GR II is its large, 2.7" LCD display. While the screen is a bit larger than the 2.5" screens of years past, the resolution hasn't changed -- it's still 230,000 pixels. That's still plenty sharp, though, and the viewing angle seemed better than normal. While outdoor visibility was fairly good, the screen is nearly impossible to see in low light, as it barely "gains up" at all.

As you can tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the GR Digital. However, Ricoh sells two different optical viewfinders for the camera (one of which is quite large), which attach via the hot shoe. Kudos to Ricoh to offering this feature.

To the right of the LCD we find a number of buttons, plus the four way controller. The two buttons on the bottom are for self-timer (2 or 10 secs) and display (toggles what's shown on the LCD). The four-way controller above that is used for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - Mode (Movie, skew correct, text mode) - more on these later
  • Down - Macro (on/off)
  • Left - Function (customizable)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash synchro, external flash, flash off)
  • Center - Menu/OK

Above the four-way controller is the button for entering playback mode. To the upper-right of that is what looks like a zoom controller, but remember, the GR II has a fixed lens. You can use it for digital zoom if you wish, but most likely you'll use it for playback zoom.

The last thing to see on the back of the GR Digital is the adjustment lever, located near the top of the photo. This is used for adjusting things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation (or whatever you wish -- it's customizable), as well as the shutter speed when you're in manual mode.

Top of the Ricoh GR Digital II

The first item of note on the top of the GR Digital II is its hot shoe. Ricoh recommends using the Sigma EF-530 DG Super or ST models, which apparently link up with the camera's metering system. You can use third party flashes as well, though you may have to adjust their settings manually. Ricoh does not publish the GR's maximum flash x-sync speed, and I've seen everything from 1/250 to 1/2000 sec on the Web.

To the right of that we have the power and shutter release buttons, plus the mode dial. The mode dial has a "lock" on it, so you must press that little button in order to turn it (kind of nice, in my opinion). Here are the available options:

Option Function
Auto mode Point and shoot with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift lets you quickly adjust the shutter speed or aperture by using the dial on the top of the camera.
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Aperture range is F2.4 - F9.0.
Manual exposure mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Shutter speed range is 180 - 1/2000 sec. Aperture range same as above.
Scene mode Select from movie, skew correct, and text mode
My Settings mode 1/2 Save your favorite camera settings to these two spots on the mode dial

The GR Digital II has an almost complete collection of manual exposure modes, with a shutter priority option being the only thing missing. The camera can take 3 minute exposures, which is much longer than you'll find on most compact cameras.

There's a scene mode spot on the dial, though the options are definitely atypical. There's no portrait or food modes here. Instead, you'll find movie, skew correction, and text/whiteboard modes. The only one of those I want to cover in more detail right now is the skew correction mode (I'll do movies later). This lets you take photos of business cards, sheets of paper, posters, and more, and the camera corrections the distortion, like so:

Before skew correction After skew correction

As you can see, the distortion is gone, though the resulting images are always a little "fuzzy", in my opinion. Skew correction is also available in playback mode.

The last thing to see on the top of the GR Digital is what Ricoh calls the up/down dial. You'll use this for working with the adjustment menu (described earlier), or for changing the aperture when shooting in manual mode.

Side of the Ricoh GR Digital II

The only thing to see on this side of the GR is the switch for releasing the pop-up flash.

On the opposite side you can find the GR's I/O ports, which are for A/V out as well as USB. They're protected by a plastic cover.

The GR Digital II supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, as you'd expect from an expensive compact camera.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, plus the battery/memory card compartment. The plastic cover over the battery/memory compartment is protected by a plastic door of decent quality. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to access the memory card while the camera is on a tripod.

The included DB-60 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

Using the Ricoh GR Digital II

Record Mode

It takes just under two seconds for the GR to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's not terribly quick.

A live histogram is shown in record mode

Focus speeds were about average. Typically it took the GR II between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds to lock focus. In more challenging situations, focus times could exceed one second. Low light focusing was very good in most situations.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot delays are minimal. You'll wait a little over 1 second before you can take a shot, regardless of whether it's a RAW or JPEG image. Adding the flash into the mix doesn't change things, either.

There's no way to delete a photo right after it's taken. You must first enter playback mode.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 54MB onboard memory # images on 2GB card (optional)
3648 x 2736 RAW 18.2 MB 2 105
Fine 3.5 MB 14 495
Normal 2.0 MB 24 853
3648 x 2432
(3:2 ratio)
RAW 16.2 MB 3 118
Fine 3.1 MB 15 553
Normal 1.8 MB 27 960
2736 x 2736
(1:1 ratio)
RAW 13.7 MB 3 140
Fine 2.7 MB 18 653
Normal 1.5 MB 32 1138
3264 x 2448 Normal 1.6 MB 30 1059
2592 x 1944 Normal 1.0 MB 47 1661
2048 x 1536 Normal 680 KB 73 2560
1280 x 960 Normal 365 KB 133 4726
640 x 480 Normal 95 KB 497 15359

As I mentioned back in the software section, the GR Digital II supports the RAW (DNG) image format, at three different resolutions. A JPEG (at the size of your choosing) is saved along with the DNG.

At the top three resolutions you can select from fine or normal quality (compression), but it's normal-only for the lower resolutions.

Images are named RXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 001 - 999 and Y = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

While the GR Digital's menus won't win any awards for looks (they're quite dull, actually), they get the job done. The menus can be navigated with both the four-way controller, or the up/down wheel. Here's what you'll find in the record menu:

  • Pic quality/size (see above chart)
  • Focus (Multi AF, spot AF, MF, snap, infinite) - see below
  • Exposure metering (Multi, center, spot)
  • Continuous mode (Off, continuous, stream-cont, memory-reversal-cont) - see below
  • Img set (Hard, normal, soft, B&W, B&W (TE), setting 1/2) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV)
  • Auto bracket (Off, on ±0.3, on ±0.5, WB-BKT, CL-BKT) - see below
  • Noise reduction (on/off)
  • Interval (Off, 5 secs - 3 hours) - see below
  • Date imprint (Off, date, time)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV)
  • White balance (Auto, outdoors, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, manual, detail) - see below
  • ISO setting (Auto, Auto-Hi, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - the "hi" option simply uses a higher sensitivity [which you can set] than regular Auto
  • Restore defaults

Manual focus

Lots to talk about before we move on to the next menu. There are a number of focus options, and I want to tell you about the manual and snap choices. Manual focus lets you use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the left side of the LCD, and the center of the frame can be enlarged as well. The "snap" AF mode fixes the focus distance to 2.5 meters, which allows for faster shooting (as long as your subject is at the right distance, of course). There's a "secret" focus mode known as target select, which is only available in macro mode. This lets you use the four-way controller to select the area of the frame on which to focus.

There are three continuous shooting modes on the GR Digital, though they're for JPEGs only (no RAW). The one with the name that actually makes sense is regular continuous mode. Here, you can keep taking pictures at 2 frames/second until your memory card fills up. That's quite good for a 10 Megapixel camera. The stream-continuous mode takes sixteen shots in a row at 7.5 frames/second, and compiles them into a single 10 Megapixel collage. Memory-reversal-cont is similar: the camera buffers photos at 7.5 fps as you hold down the shutter release button, and when you let go, the last sixteen photos are combined into a collage.

Img Set menu for B&W (TE) Img Set menu for setting 1/2

The Img Set submenu allows you to adjust various image properties. The "hard" option increases contrast, sharpness, and color depth (saturation), while "soft" does just the opposite. If you want to tweak things manually, there are two "setting" options which let you do just that. For black & white shooters, you can adjust contrast and sharpness, and add toning effects such as sepia (in B&W TE mode only).

The GR Digital has a number of bracketing options, as well. The two for exposure bracketing both take three shots in a row, with the only difference being the exposure interval (0.3 vs 0.5 EV). White balance bracketing is similar, with the camera producing three photos (from one exposure): one at normal white balance, one with a reddish cast, and another with a bluish cast. You can also bracket for color (sort of): the GRD can take either two or three photos, saving either B&W+color or B&W+color+B&W (TE) images.

The interval feature is for time-lapse photography. You can select an interval ranging from 5 seconds to 3 hours (in 5 second increments). Use of the optional AC adapter is highly recommended.

White balance "detail" adjustment

The last thing I want to mention are two of the GR Digital's white balance options. The manual option lets you use a white or gray card as reference, for accurate color in unusual lighting. The "detail" option lets you use the four-way controller to sort-of fine-tune the WB, though there's no units or color temperature involved.

Let's move onto the setup menu now, which has even more options. They include:

  • Format [card]
  • Format [internal]
  • LCD brightness (-4 to +4)
  • Register My Settings (Setting 1, 2) - store favorite settings to spots on mode dial
  • ISO Auto-High (ISO 200, 400, 800, 1600) - how high the ISO will go in this mode
  • Function button (Off, AF/MF, AF/snap, AE lock, JPEG>RAW, color>B&W, color>TE, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, quality, focus, image, metering, continuous mode, auto bkt, flash comp) - define what pressing left on the four-way controller does
  • Function set / My Settings (on/off) - whether the previous option is saved with your saved "My Settings"
  • ADJ lever 1/2/3/4 (Off, exposure comp, white balance, ISO quality, focus, image, metering, continuous mode, auto bkt, flash comp) - choose up to four items for the ADJ menu
  • ADJ shutter (on/off) - whether halfway-pressing the shutter release button selects the current ADJ menu item
  • Zoom button (Off, digital zoom, exposure compensation, white balance) - what this button does in record mode
  • Digital zoom image (Normal, auto resize)
  • Operation sounds (All, shutter)
  • Volume settings (Mute, small, medium, large)
  • Level setting (Off, display, display+sound, sound) - see below
  • AF aux light (on/off) - AF-assist lamp
  • Auto power off (Off, 1, 5, 30 mins)
  • LCD confirm (Off, 0.5, 1, 2, 3 secs, hold) - post-shot review
  • Info display (on/off) - whether shooting info is displayed, even when the LCD is turned off
  • Auto rotate (on/off)
  • CL-BKT B&W TE (on/off) - whether the camera takes a color, B&W, and B&W TE image, or just a color and B&W image in color BKT mode
  • RAW/JPEG setting (Fine, normal, N640) - what kind of JPEG is saved along with the RAW/DNG image
  • Color space set (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Enlarge photo icon (on/off) - whether certain icons on the LCD are enlarged
  • Sequential numbering (on/off)
  • Date settings
  • Language
  • Video out mode (NTSC, PAL)

Two things to mention before we move into the photo test section. First, the "digital zoom image" option. Normally, using digital zoom will degrade the quality of the image. However, if you use the "auto resize" option, the camera will reduce the resolution of the image as you increase the amount of digital zoom. For example, at the 3 Megapixel setting, you can use 1.8X digital zoom without a loss in image quality.

Camera is not level The guide is green (and a sound is played), so I know I'm level

The "level setting" option is one of my favorite features on the GR Digital II. A guide is superimposed on the LCD, and when the camera is level, it turns green and/or plays a sound. It works in both the landscape and portrait orientations, and it's a really handy feature for people like me who always seem to take crooked photos. The only other camera that I know of with this feature is the Nikon D3, which costs eight times more than the GRD.

Alright, let's move onto our photo tests now.

The GR Digital II produced a very nice photo of our usual macro test subject. Colors are accurate and saturated, and the subject is sharp. I see mild amounts of noise reduction artifacting, but you really have to look hard for it.

You can get as close to your subject as 1.5 cm in macro mode on the GRD.

Since my usual night test shot wouldn't be terribly impressive on a camera with a fixed 28 mm lens, I decided to try something different. I had no doubt in my mind where I'd take the GR Digital and my tripod: the Golden Gate Bridge.

The results here are just fair, in my opinion. While the camera took in plenty of light (shooting in "M" mode), the image is quite soft, most likely due to noise reduction. Shooting in RAW mode would probably help in this situation, but unfortunately I didn't take any RAW shots that night. Colors look pretty good, though, and purple fringing is minimal.

I have two ISO tests in this review, and the first uses the same night scene you can see above. Here we go:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There's just a slight difference between the ISO 80 and 100 crops, with the latter having slightly more noise reduction artifacting. The NR artifacts become a lot more noticeable at ISO 200, though a small to midsize print is still very possible. At ISO 400 you get plain-old noise, which really speckles the image -- I'm not sure how much you can do with this one. Things don't get any better above that, with a color shift and more noise / NR artifacting at ISO 800 and 1600. I would not consider either of those settings usable in low light.

We'll see how the GRD performs in better lighting in a moment.

The GR Digital's lens has remarkably little barrel distortion considering its focal length. Vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem, and there was minimal blurring around the corners and edges of the frame.

Here's something I wasn't expecting: a complete lack of redeye on a compact camera! Way to go, Ricoh!

Here's that second ISO test I promised you. This one is taken in the studio, and the results can be compared to those from other cameras I've reviewed. While the crops give you a hint about the noise levels at each ISO setting, I highly recommend viewing the full size images to get the most out of this test. And here we go:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 80 and 100 shots are both very clean, with minimal noise or NR artifacting. Noise becomes a bit more visible at ISO 200, but it's still not much of an issue. Noise reduction starts to noticeably soften up details at ISO 400, though I'll show you a way around that in a moment. ISO 800 is pretty soft and mushy when shooting JPEGs, though you may be able to squeeze out a small print, especially if you shoot in RAW mode (see below). I don't think the ISO 1600 shot would be usable, regardless of how you shot it.

With ten million pixels crammed onto a tiny sensor, Ricoh has to apply a lot of noise reduction to keep noise levels down. However, the NR will soften your photo and smudge fine details. The good news is that the GR DIgital II supports the RAW image format, which helps you squeeze out as much detail as possible from the camera. Have a look at this:


ISO 400, DNG -> JPEG

ISO 400, DNG -> NeatImage -> USM -> JPEG

All three of these crops are from the same exposure, which was taken in RAW+JPEG mode. The first crop shots the JPEG image as produced by the camera. YOu can see the detail loss from the camera's noise reduction system. The next crop shows the RAW (DNG) file, which I converted with Photoshop. The noise reduction artifacts are gone, and mild noise has taken its place. The third crop takes that same DNG, runs it through NeatImage (noise reduction software), and applies the unsharp mask filter. The differences between the first and third crops are like night and day -- the latter is so much nicer. Thus, if you're willing to do some work, you can get sharper, more detailed images out of the GRD II.

Overall, the GR Digital II produced very good quality photos, especially if you shoot in RAW mode. Exposure was almost always spot-on, and colors were vibrant. Images are definitely on the soft side, and you can either sharpen them yourself on your computer, or turn up the in-camera sharpening a notch. Ricoh is fairly aggressive with the noise reduction, which smudges fine details such as grass, leaves, and hair, and also gives the sky a mottled appearance. This becomes much more obvious at ISO 400 and above, which is where shooting in RAW mode comes in (see above example). I did not find purple fringing to be a problem on the GRD.

As usual, I invite you now to have a look at our photo gallery. View the full size images, print a few if you can, and then decide if the GR Digital II's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The GR Digital II has a standard-issue VGA movie mode. You can record videos at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound until you hit the 4GB file size limit (or your memory card fills up). It takes around 50 minutes to hit the limit at the highest quality setting, which is plenty of time. Using a high speed memory card is recommended for best performance.

For longer movies, you can cut the resolution (to 320 x 240), the frame rate (to 15 fps), or both.

Since there's no optical zoom on the GRD, you'll be doing all your filming at 28 mm. The digital zoom is available, of course.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you:

Click to play movie (9.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The GR Digital's playback mode is pretty basic. The usual features are all here, including slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and "zoom and scroll". This last feature lets you enlarge a photo by as much as 16X, and then move around the image. This comes in handy when you're checking for proper focus, open eyes, and smiles.

Photos can be resized, but not cropped or rotated. The skew correction feature that I demonstrated earlier is available here.

The GRD gives you a decent amount of information about the photos you've taken. You'll get exposure info, the focus setting, and a histogram.

The camera moves through photos with almost no delay. When you rotate the GRD 90 degrees, the image on the LCD rotates too, as you may have seen on some Canon cameras.

How Does it Compare?

The Ricoh GR Digital II is a unique, but pricey digital camera. Ricoh is marketing the GRD as sort a "boutique camera", much like what Leica has done for so many years. The GRD is a lot different than what I typically review around here, with its fixed 28mm lens and gimmick-free feature set. It takes good quality photos (though no better than cheaper cameras), is well put together, expandable, and chock full of manual controls. If you've got $700 to blow on a fixed focal length camera, then I can recommend the GR Digital II. For the more budget conscious people out there, you can get a camera that's at least as capable for 50% less.

The GR Digital II is a fairly compact camera with a black, minimalist design. The build quality is superb, giving you a feeling that it's worth what you paid for it. The camera can be operated easily with one hand, with a nice grip, and easy-to-reach controls. For you two-handers out there, watch out for the flash -- it's VERY easy to accidentally push it back down. The camera's ADJ and up/down dials make menu navigation and adjusting manual controls a lot easier than the typical four-way controller (which the GRD has too). Fixed focal length cameras are rare these days (the Sigma DP1 is the only other camera like it), and the GRD offers a fast F2.4, 28 mm lens. If you want to expand that range, you can go down to 21 mm or up to 40 mm with optional conversion lenses. The GR Digital is the most expandable compact camera I've tested, with support for conversion lenses, an external flash, optical viewfinders (!), and more. On the back of the camera you'll find a large 2.7" LCD display, with 230,000 pixels and an impressive viewing angle. Outdoor visibility was about average, but low light viewing was poor, as the screen doesn't "gain up" enough to actually see your subject.

While most camera manufacturers are busy putting gimmicky features like smile detection on their cameras, Ricoh has stuck to the basics with the GR Digital II. There aren't really any scene modes (unless you count the skew correction or text features) -- just an auto mode. If you're looking for face detection, keep looking, it's not here. However, if it's manual controls you're after, the GRD delivers the goods. It has manual control over shutter speed (in "M" mode only -- there's no shutter priority mode) aperture, focus, and white balance. If you like to bracket your shots, you can do so for exposure, white balance, and color. And, the GR Digital supports the RAW (DNG) image format, allowing you to get the most out of your photos. Much of the GRD is customizable, including the Function button, ADJ button, and "zoom controller" on the back of the camera. You can also assign your favorite settings to two different spots on the mode dial. One of my favorite features on the GRD is the "level". This puts a guide on the LCD that tells you if the camera is level or not (a big problem for me, apparently). You can use it in both the landscape and portrait orientation. The GRD has a pretty standard mode that allows you to record up to 50 minutes of continuous VGA (30 fps) video.

Camera performance was mixed. The GR Digital's 2 second startup time was unremarkable. The camera won't win any awards for focus speeds either, especially in low light. On the other hand, shutter lag was minimal, and shot-to-shot delays were brief (even when shooting RAW). The GRD's regular continuous shooting mode is excellent -- it allows you to keep shooting at 2 frames/second (JPEGs only, though). Battery life was well above average, and the camera's support for the USB 2.0 High Speed standard means that file transfers to your Mac or PC will be quick. Oh, and speaking of batteries: the GR Digital II lets you use two AAA batteries as an emergency backup for when your rechargeable dies.

Photo quality was generally good, though you'll get the best results out of the GRD by shooting in RAW. The camera generally took well-exposed photos, with pleasing, vivid color. Ricoh has taken a conservative approach to in-camera sharpening, so images are on the soft side here. They've done just the opposite with noise reduction: you'll notice some of it at the lowest ISOs, mostly in fine details like grass, or in the sky (which appears mottled). At higher ISOs it becomes a lot more noticeable, though if you are willing to shoot in RAW and do some post-processing, you can get much better photo quality at those settings. Purple fringing wasn't a problem and, much to my surprise, neither was redeye.

There are a few other things to mention before I wrap things up. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the GR Digital II is very expensive - $699 to be exact. Frankly, I think that's at least $200 too high. While the GRD does have some nice, unique features, I don't think they justify the price tag. I'm not a fan of the fact that you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, either. Finally, there's no Mac software included, though iPhoto will do the job just fine.

If you've got $700 to spend on a compact camera and don't plan on taking a lot of low light photos (seeing how you won't be able to see your subject on the LCD), then the GR Digital II is worth a look. There's certainly a lot to like about it, but ultimately, you can get most of its feature set in cameras costing hundreds less.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Fast, 28 mm wide-angle lens
  • Slim, very well constructed body; good control layout
  • 2.7" LCD display with good viewing angle and sharpness (though see issue below)
  • Tons of manual controls
  • Support for RAW (DNG) image format
  • Nice 2 fps continuous shooting mode (JPEGs only)
  • Customizable buttons and spots on the mode dial
  • Handy "leveling" feature
  • Very little barrel distortion for a wide lens; redeye not a problem
  • Very expandable: supports lenses, flashes, and even optical viewfinders
  • Above average battery life; can use AAA's in "emergencies"
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Very expensive
  • Images on the soft side
  • A bit too much noise reduction applied, especially at ISO 400 and above
  • Focusing is sluggish at times, especially in dim light
  • LCD nearly impossible to see in low light
  • Poorly placed flash is easy to close accidentally
  • Optical viewfinder a $200 extra
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • No Mac software included

Some other wide-angle cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z200, Fuji FinePix F100fd, Nikon Coolpix S600, Olympus FE-350 Wide, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55, Ricoh Caplio R7, Samsung NV24 HD, Sigma DP1, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the GR Digital II (which isn't easy) and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.