We'll say this up front: the 2013 Ricoh GR compact is one of our favorite cameras of all time. Though it's not the fastest or the smallest, its blend of performance and design makes it an absolute pleasure to use. I remember mocking Ricoh Japan's ad slogan ("Be Your Eyes") when the camera came out, but darned if there isn't something about the GR that does make you see the world in a whole new way.
We could write a ton about this camera's history—from the R1, to the GR1 and GR21 film cameras, the GR has heritage a-plenty. Ricoh's new GR II (MSRP $699.95) isn't a huge departure from the first APS-C version of the GR, which means it's still a great little camera. Though hardly revolutionary, the GR II adds a couple features that are definite plusses for certain shooters, and at a little under $600 in stores today, it's worth every penny.
What We Liked
It's the same camera we already fell in love with.
The GR II doesn't mess with anything we loved about the original. It's built around a very similar (likely identical) 16-megapixel APS-C sensor, has the same 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm-equivalent) lens, and the same control scheme.
That last point might be the most important. We wouldn't change a thing about the way that this camera handles, because its controls are among the best we've ever used. Why? Because it's one of the few serious cameras we've seen that feels like it was truly designed to work one-handed.
That makes it perfect for street shooting, where you need to be able to whip out your camera and fire off a shot at a moment's notice. This kind of responsiveness and emphasis on street shooting is in evidence everywhere in the GR's design, from the snap focus modes to the excellent JPEG color profiles. Other cameras in the same ballpark haven't managed such a singular focus. Even Fujifilm's new X70, which mines similar territory and offers an incredible set of manual controls, isn't quite as intuitive to use.
New features exclusive to the GR II include WiFi and NFC, with an app that lets you transfer your photos to your phone or tablet, direct from the camera. The top shutter speed has been raised to 1/2500sec, and the burst shooting rate has also been increased. But if you're looking at the GR, you're probably not interested in shooting action or sports. This is still a camera that's best appreciated elsewhere.
All of the accessories made for the original APS-C GR work with the GR II. The small ecosystem of first-party cases, optical viewfinders, the accessory filter adapter/lens hood, and the GW-3 wide-angle conversion lens (21mm equivalent) are along for the ride, and Ricoh recently announced a second conversion lens. The GM-1 macro adapter provides an additional 0.3x magnification, letting you get up close and personal with your subject.
What We Didn't Like
All you get is WiFi? C'mon!
Our only real complaint is that the GR II barely qualifies as a new piece of hardware. If not for a new bulge on the top plate for the WiFi hardware, it'd be tempting to believe that the GR II's features could have been gifted to the first GR in a firmware update.
We don't expect image quality to be improved in the GR II, but it didn't really need to be. Except for some heavy banding by ISO 3200, the GR's sensor and lens have the skills to pay the bills. If there was anything that needed improvement, it was autofocus. But in our experience, the GR II was about as fast (or slow, depending on your feelings) as the original.
Even in bright light, the GR II's AF system hunts a bit before finding a focus point. Though its image quality is comparable to a DSLR, its AF accuracy certainly isn't. If they're smart, new GR II owners will immediately switch to single-point AF and learn to focus and recompose. It's certainly better than relying on the camera's iffy multi-zone focusing system. (Don't forget to check out the snap focus modes, as well.)
The Big Picture
It doesn't break new ground, but something is better than nothing.
If you were on the fence about the GR before the GR II, whatever was holding you back is probably still in play. Adding a few minor features does little to move the needle in either the positive or negative direction. But if you can live with its few shortcomings (poor autofocus and a fixed focal length, mainly), the GR does so much right that it's almost a no-brainer.
New options like a limited-edition silver finish (pictured above) and premium kit (which includes a spiffy carrying case, wide converter, leather body case, strap, and colored lens trim rings) offer new, exciting entry points to the Cult of the GR.
That being said, there's a new kid in town. The Fujifilm X70 shares many of the same key ingredients, and given its hybrid autofocus and newer processor, it's the one to go for if fast AF speeds are important to you. Even though we've had a long time to fall in love with the GR, we can't deny that the little Fuji has us thinking about stepping out. At around $699, it's not like it costs that much more than the GR II, either.
But having spent so much time with the original, we're confident in saying that the GR II's retains the series' unique charms. Between its stunningly sharp lens, supremely ergonomic design, and photographer-friendly features, the GR II offers up a very special shooting experience.