On the Street with the Ricoh GR II

The below shots are from my past week and a half of shooting with the Ricoh GR II. Further down is my write up on the camera, but the short version is that it's a great nearly-pocket-sized alternative to carrying around my DSLR.

We See a Deadly Force

On Lexington Avenue

Checking the Map

On 43rd Street

Over the Grand Central

Crossing Vanderbilt Avenue

On 42nd Street

Outside the Grand Hyatt


Reflected Grand Central





My DSLR has done a great job capturing photos and memories. But its biggest shortcoming is its inability to capture memories when I've left it sitting in the closet at home. It's a big camera, and after a long day, it becomes a bit of a pain to carry around. It draws a lot of attention to itself while trying to shoot on the street or take candid photos of family and friends. I have some travel coming up, and it seemed like the perfect time to find a smaller, lighter camera. Before I picked up my first DSLR, I used a Canon S90. It was a great pocket camera, and initially took much better photos than what I could get with my phone. But as I've replaced my phone every few years, that gap had gotten smaller and smaller, to the point where carrying around a separate non-DSLR camera made little sense. In my recent search, I wanted to find a pocket sized camera whose quality would quite literally earn its weight.

Fortunately, in the time since I've bought my 60D, there has been a trend of new fixed lens cameras that are smaller than a DSLR, but offer comparable, if not better, performance. The Fuji x100 seems to have been a big step on this road. Smaller than a DSLR, larger than a pocket camera, no interchangeable lens, but with a beautiful nostalgic design and apparently excellent performance to boot. In part, this is due to its large APS-C sensor, the same size found in DSLRs like my own. Among other things, a large sensor allows for better low light performance and, depending on aperture and focal length, a shallower depth of field (subject-in-focus/background-blurry effect). More recently, there are two models that combine a good bunch of these attributes with what, for my purposes, is a killer feature- the ability to fit in one's pocket.

As of this writing, the two that currently fit that bill are the Fuji x70, released in February 2016, and the Ricoh GR II, released in 2015. For the features that I'm interested in, they are very comparable, with the exception that it seems the x70 has a slight edge in low light performance. I spent hours researching the two of them, and they are so closely matched that I reached a bit of a brick wall insofar as product research on the internet goes. A handful of photographers favored the x70, a handful favored the GR II, yet it seemed none would fault you for picking the other.

I went down to Adorama Camera and spent an amount of hands on time with both of them that was likely very amusing to the obliging sales clerk. I picked up the x70 and fiddled with its knobs and dials. It focused really quickly, and to the extent that I could gauge in the store, took really nice pictures. But my right hand felt oddly cramped cramped around the lens, and the double control ring around the lens felt a bit fiddly. I wanted to fall in love with the x70. I had already had one understated pocket camera in the S90, and I thought I might indulge in a camera with a bit of visual panache. But I picked up the GR II and after about two minutes, it felt like I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, and the shape of the camera informed me exactly how I was supposed to hold it. One handed, with my index finger on a top scroll wheel controlling the aperture, and my thumb on a back wheel controlling the shutter speed. And where the x70 required removing and pocketing the lens cover when preparing to shoot, for GR II I just had to hit a button, the cover would tuck away and the barrel would extend.

And that was it. After over twenty minutes of hemming and hawing, I conceded that the GR II was the one for me.

I kept it in my bag every day so that I could develop a feel for it and get some shots for this post. For street photography, I found that I could hold it down by my side, squeeze the shutter as I pass, and keep moving. The camera's 'Snap Focus' feature is helpful for this as well. A half-press on the shutter before shooting will focus as usual, but a full-press without pause will take a photo at a pre-set focus distance (e.g. 2 meters). I don't have a great sense of spatial relations, or the metric system, and I got many more misses than hits, but I think the camera has enabled me to take shots that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

For candids of family and friends, it works quite well. As you might expect, in bright sunlight it performed quite fine. It did fairly well at bars and restaurants, though past a certain point it would struggle (in fairness, probably about the same dim conditions that would challenge my DSLR's autofocus). I was initially pleased at what I'd get at ISO 3200, but on review I found that this was a case of them looking much better on the back of the camera than on the computer screen. Usable, but with just a touch more grain and noise than I'd like, so I reset the maximum auto ISO to 1600. If a GR III came out with better lowlight performance, I'd very much consider trying to resell the GR II and upgrade.

While editing in Aperture, I found myself doing about 1/3 less work than I usually would. Perhaps because I use my iPhone camera so frequently, the GR II's similarly wide 28mm equivalent focal length felt very natural while shooting, and I didn't need to do much cropping. I felt that the inherent color qualities of the GR III were pretty close to my own preferences, and after adjusting exposure, applying a simple S-curve and vignette, I was usually pretty close to a final product.

My DSLR still has its place, and it will continue to be the camera of choice for a lot of what I'd already been using it for. But for the days when its place is the inside of my closet, the GR II will do a great job as a camera that can go almost everywhere.