It seems that 28mm large sensor compacts are like buses. You wait ages and ages and ages…and suddenly we now have no less than three APS-C options: The Nikon Coolpix A, The Fuji X100s with wide converter, and (drumroll please): the brand-spanking-new Ricoh GR.
The Ricoh GR (no ‘Digital’, no number – but V would be logical – I’m going to refer to it as the GR V from here onwards to avoid confusion with any of the other GR versions, film or digital) looks as though it was built specifically to target the Coolpix A. I’m sure this probably wasn’t the case; given the extremely close release dates, development would have had to be ongoing in parallel. That said, they read almost the same from the spec sheet: 28mm equivalents, f2.8 maximum aperture, no stabilization, APS-C 16MP sensor based on the same Sony design with no anti-aliasing filter (though the Ricoh version is purportedly the same as the Pentax K5IIS, which is a slightly updated version of the sensor compared to the D7000/ Coolpix A), premium build, no optical finders (but built in flashes and hotshoes), accessory threads, and a slew of manual controls.
I can spot three very important differences in the spec sheet – in favor of Ricoh at this point – firstly, the GR V supposedly has a high speed AF mode taking just 0.2 seconds to lock; you can turn off the monitor when using an external finder, and it will almost certainly have the same manual focus implementation (it remembers the distance and has a depth of field scale that shows the distance for the selected aperture) as the existing GR Digital cameras. It’s also a bit smaller (117 x 61 x 35 mm including protrusions, vs 111 x 64 x 41 mm of the Coolpix A or 109 x 60 x 33 mm of the GR-Digital IV – in fact, it’s remarkable just how similar in size it is to its predecessor despite the enormous increase in sensor size). It’s also got a built-in two stop ND filter to facilitate use of the lens wide open even in bright conditions – something which I’d occasionally find useful for environmental portraiture.
The one elephant remaining in the room is the price: The Nikon weighs in a bit under $1,100; the Ricoh is launching at $796.95. That’s a significant chunk of change; enough to get you a very nice optical finder or perhaps the 21mm conversion lens, a spare battery and a card or two. Of course, image quality at this point is completely academic until I get a chance to shoot with one – and I intend to do a head to head against the Nikon – but from the comparison MTF charts, things are going to be close, with the edge going to the Ricoh. Practically, the Coolpix A has an outstanding lens-sensor combination – so much so I don’t really see a lot of room for improvement – I think things will be close enough that sample variation and rendering style is probably going to make more of a difference. In a perverse way, I’m actually hoping that the Nikon has at least one significant advantage over the Ricoh; this is not so I have an excuse to buy both, but because if Nikon has been so thoroughly bested after such a long wait for them to get in the game, I fear there’s a high risk the Coolpix A will be their first and last attempt – and that would be a real shame.
I’m not typically given over to news announcements, but this one has me very excited. 28mm is my preferred documentary and walk-around focal length; I’ve got countless 28mm lens options for my system cameras, and on top of that, I’ve owned every GR Digital except for the IV, and I also have a film GR1v (now wouldn’t that make an interesting – if confusing from a naming standpoint – comparison against the GR V?) Admittedly I’ve gotten used to having the flexibility of a zoom in my pocket (and this is something I’ll deal with in an upcoming article on pocket carry) but if I had to choose one field of view…this would probably be it. You can always compose for more context if you’re too wide, but you can’t do anything but stitch if you’re too long.
I’ve been promised a review unit from B&H as soon as they’re available – supposedly early May; I know I’ll be keeping either one of the Coolpix A or the GR V, but I have no idea which one until I get a chance to shoot them. Suffice to say that the bar has already been set very, very high…MT
The Ricoh GR V can be preordered from B&H here.
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