First Impressions: Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A

Comparative in-depth review coming soon

By PF Staff in Hands-On Tests on May 28, 2013
First Impressions: Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A

In March, Nikon entered the world of premium compact digital cameras by announcing the Coolpix A, the smallest digital camera to feature an APS-C sensor.  Just a month later, Pentax Ricoh announced the new Ricoh GR, an evolution of the Ricoh GR Digital IV (GRD IV) that was fitted with an APS-C sensor similar to the one in the Coolpix A.  These two cameras are built for professionals who cannot always justify carrying around a bulky DSLR, and they promise to deliver DSLR-grade image quality in a much smaller package (as long as you can live with the fixed 18mm focal length).

It seems that Pentax Ricoh did their homework when developing the new GR, for in almost every area, the GR's specifications are either better than or the same as those of the Coolpix A.  On top of this, at a MSRP of $799, the GR is $300 cheaper than the Coolpix A, which retails for $1099.  This makes the GR one of the most affordable cameras in its class.

However, we all know that numbers alone do not reveal the true nature of a camera from a photographer's point of view.  Therefore, we feel obliged to compare the Ricoh GR to the Coolpix A in a head-to-head in-depth review to see which one performs best overall.  We will also be comparing the Ricoh GR to its predecessor and reviewing it separately, as the older GRD IV- which is still being sold- will appeal to a much different audience with its lower price tag of $399.

We have been in possession of the GR and GRD IV for over two weeks and the Coolpix A for about one week.  The Ricoh GR has (strangely) not yet arrived at retailers in the US, though we expect this to happen very shortly.  Read on for our first impressions of the three cameras.

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First Impressions

The Ricoh GR's image quality is nothing short of professional-grade.  Its lens is so sharp that it can easily exceed the sharpness of a K-5 IIs with the 18-135mm zoom lens and match the performance of a DSLR prime.  Its filterless sensor design makes the out-of-camera files exhibit a degree of crispness like what we've seen in K-5 II files.  Even though the GR lacks image stabilization, its small size means makes it easy to hold steadily, and thus you can still get sharp hand-held photos at very slow shutter speeds. 

The GRD IV is slightly smaller than the GR, but it features the same general button layout and interface.  Because it is fitted with a 1/1.7" sensor, its image quality is not quite as good as that of the GR, but it still packs a punch.

Many of our users praise Ricoh cameras for their intuitive and customizable interfaces.  We've found the GR to have more customization options than any other camera we've reviewed to date.  The GR has two fully-customizable buttons (FN1 and FN2), three dedicated users modes, multiple custom setting memory banks, and dozens of shooting and setup options.  Just to give an example of how far Ricoh have gone, there is an option in the menu allowing you to disable the LED power indicator around the on/off button.  You can also control the self-timer delay down the second and tell the camera how many photos to take.

All this customization comes at a price, however.  The GR has so many options that simple tasks, such as changing drive mode for instance, often require you to go deep into the camera's menu system.  There is no single drive mode menu; instead, there are separate settings for enabling the self-timer, bracketing, and continuous shooting. Of course, each of these menus can be mapped to a FN button, but then you can't use those buttons for other purposes.  The GR also lacks a status screen that would have otherwise allowed the user to quickly access various settings.

The Coolpix A, while not entirely intuitive either, features the same menu system found in Nikon DSLRs.  This means that it has a status screen; the screen is accessed via a dedicated button on the back of the camera.  The Coolpix A also includes a help system that shows helpful tooltips for beginners and explains the camera's settings.

While both Ricoh cameras feature a clean design, the Coolpix A feels more sturdy and has a more elegant appearance with additional finishing touches.  Even though the Ricoh GR is mostly made of a magnesium alloy, the way that the camera is finished makes it feel somewhat "plasticky".  The GR has also lost the chrome lettering than was found on the GRD IV's lens, so the lens specs are printed rather than engraved. Cosmetics aside, however, the Coolpix A holds another advantage: it has a dedicated manual focusing ring and a physical AF/macro/MF switch beside the lens.  On the GR, manual focusing is enabled via a menu setting.  The up button on the 4-way pad enables macro mode; had the GR been fitted with a physical focusing mode switch, this button could have been assigned for something more useful, such as changing drive modes.  The dedicated switch and ring make it faster and easier to change focusing modes and focus manually on the Coolpix A.

We found the Coolpix A to autofocus slightly faster than the Ricoh GR, though both cameras perform very poorly indoors compared to DSLRs.  Initial tests have shown us that the Coolpix A delivers image quality very similar to that of the GR, though the results suggest that the GR's lens is in fact sharper. 

We well report our complete findings in the upcoming in-depth review, which you can expect to see on our homepage in late June or early July.

One last thing that we'd like to mention is that the Ricoh GR seems to be the first camera to directly benefit from the Pentax-Ricoh merger.  The mode dial on the GR uses Pentax nomenclature (P/Av/Tv/M) rather than the traditional P/A/S/M layout, and Pentax's unique TAv mode has also been added.  Although this is the only "Pentax DNA" that we have found so far in the GR, it shows that Pentax and Ricoh are finally able to work together on developing products, which is certainly welcome news for Pentax fans.

Some member impressions of the Ricoh GR can be found on our forum.

Until we post our in-depth review, check out this post to learn more about the Ricoh GR!

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