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Sony RX100 vs. Ricoh GR: Why I Jumped

A user's experience with two serious compacts · 08-14-2013 · By pentaxFan85 in Ricoh GR

Editorial note: Welcome to the first of a series of five guest blog posts about the Ricoh GR.  In these posts, we'll be exploring the camera on its own and alongside other serious compacts.  We hope you enjoy, and stay tuned for more!

For the past year I’ve owned and used a Sony RX100, and in general I’ve been amazed at what the little thing can do. I’ve taken it all around the country and beyond, and I've been consistently amazed at the image quality I can get out of the 1-inch sensor and Zeiss lens. In my position as a camera reviewer and tech guru to friends and family, I’ve recommended it countless times, to all kinds of photographers.

So why did I sell it last week and buy a Ricoh GR instead? Well, it was a very personal calculation, but I had a few solid reasons...

1. On Pocketability

The Ricoh GR, compact as it is, is at the upper limit of what I’d call pocketable. But I should probably explain my definition of “pocketable,” since it may be different than others’.

I’ve never been comfortable carrying my compact cameras in a jacket pocket. It just doesn’t feel secure enough, and then there’s the fact that you can’t wear jackets during half of the year. If a camera only fits in a jacket pocket, it simply doesn’t qualify as pocketable, in my estimation.

For me, a camera has to fit in the front pocket of a pair of dude-jeans (boot cut, thanks) to earn that distinction. The GR is significantly wider than the RX100 (longer in pocket terms) and pretty much exactly the same height, but thanks to its prime lens it’s also a tiny bit thinner. The small difference in depth doesn’t make much of a difference on its own, but paired with the GR’s grip it’s a functional improvement.

Why? Because the grip and lens have nearly the same depth, they create a flatter profile in my pocket. Where the fabric of my pants would bunch around the elevated surface of the RX100’s lens, it’s stretched smooth across the GR’s lens and grip. It’s a pretty minor difference, but it makes the GR significantly easier to get out of my pocket in a hurry, in spite of the rubberized grip covering. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

2. The Zoom Paradox

When someone asks me what I like about the RX100, my gut reaction is to say that I love how flexible it is, despite its small size. Cramming a sharp zoom lens into a body that small is a considerable achievement, without a doubt.

But I noticed a funny thing when I looked at my RX100 shots: the vast majority of them (75%+) were taken at full wide angle. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise. It’s a tendency I’ve noticed in myself before—when given a zoom lens, I tend to shoot at either extreme and ignore the middle focal lengths. It’s why I don’t own any zooms for my Pentax kit. I’m just a prime kind of guy.

I don’t want to get into an equivalency argument here, but these two cameras offer pretty similar depth of field (slight edge to the RX100 wide open), angle of view, and low-light ability (considering max aperture AND sensor size/performance) when shooting at 28mm equivalent.

Realistically, the GR has an edge on that last point at the highest sensitivities, but the RX100 is still remarkably good. Ultimately, the differentiators are the slight edge in overall image quality that I can get from the GR’s proven APS-C sensor, and the superb edge-to-edge sharpness of the GR lens (which also produces slightly smoother close-up bokeh).

In short, the Ricoh simply makes better images at 28mm, where I shot the RX100 most of the time. It goes without saying that the RX100 does better everywhere else (with the possible exception of 35mm) but those focal lengths don’t do as much for me. And we can’t forget that the GR "system" also offers an excellent 21mm wide-angle adapter (assuming it's ever available on these shores).

3. A Photographer’s Camera

There’s no doubt that Sony has a slicker user interface, with its whiz-bang graphics and clever animations. But slicker isn’t necessarily better. The Ricoh GR’s menu and OSD are all business, all the time, and that suits me perfectly.

More important than its aesthetics is what the menu can actually do. The level of customization the GR offers is just insane for such a small camera. Virtually every button can be tweaked to the user’s preference (with up to 26 choices for assignable functions), and you can save those tweaks and more in three custom user modes. The RX100 allows some customization of its own with the clever lens ring and multi-setting Fn menu, but it still behaves far more like a typical point-and-shoot than the GR.

And I haven’t even scratched the surface of some of the GR’s other advanced shooting options (like snap focus, a built-in ND filter, and the wonderful TAv mode) or its endlessly adjustable shooting parameters (like per-sensitivity noise reduction and dual configurable auto-ISO modes). The GR may include an automatic shooting mode, but you get the feeling it was a grudging addition. It’s a true photographer’s camera, first and foremost.

4. Ergonomics, Ergonomics, Ergonomics!

The RX100 packs a lot of power into a pint-sized package, but suffers for it. The total lack of a front grip and the body’s slick finish leave it a bit too slippery for my taste, and the absence of a real dual-dial setup is a real stumbling block, in my opinion.

Those same ergonomic issues make the RX100 a two-handed camera. Most obviously, you need to use your left hand to adjust the lens ring. Beyond that, the absence of any leverage means you can’t effectively secure the camera while using your right thumb to adjust the rear controls. The buttons are also flat and mounted flush with the body, making it hard to find them without looking.

On the flip side, the GR’s modest grip provides exactly enough traction to let you tweak pretty much every setting with only your right hand, and the camera is light enough that you can get shake-free shots without a second hand to stabilize. (You need your left hand to raise the flash or hit the Effect button, but those are the only outliers.)

The controls aren’t perfect—the front dial feels a little cheap and I’d prefer a true rear dial to the odd quasi-joystick, despite its multiple uses. By and large, though, the GR feels wonderfully well-built and thoughtfully designed. You can feel the long lineage of the GR family behind it—there's a palpable sense of refinement.

Combined with snap focus, the result is a camera that’s perfect for street shooting, where reaction time can be the difference between success and failure.

Epilogue: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I want to make one thing clear: The Sony RX100 is still an amazing pocket camera, and for some users it’s almost certainly a better choice than the Ricoh GR.

The RX100 does a number of things the GR can’t. Here are some of its biggest advantages:

  • Zoom (duh)
  • Image stabilization
  • Quality HD video, including 1080/60p and full manual control (sorry, Ricoh... your video sucks)
  • Lightning fast AF, even in dim conditions
  • Better manual focus implementation
  • A larger range of JPEG filters (sounds silly, but they’re really fun and just as good as Ricoh’s)
  • In-camera panoramas
  • Faster burst shooting, if you care about that
  • Longer battery life
  • And oh yeah, it’s at least $150 cheaper

If you’re on a slightly tighter budget, if you need the flexibility of a 28-100mm zoom, or if you need a camera that will do more of the heavy lifting for you, the RX100 is a fantastic camera that will work wonders. But for me, it’s the GR—all the way.

For more information on the GR, check out the PentaxForums.com Ricoh GR review, or get yours today!

-pentaxFan85


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twitch [Delete] Aug 16th, 2013 5:03PM

LX7 and GR are in a totally different class for image quality.

alexcox [Delete] Aug 16th, 2013 1:31PM

As you're a full wide-angle kind of guy, why didn't you consider the Lumix LX7 with a 24mm equivalent wide angle and a Leica lens?

rosserx [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 4:05PM

I never thought I'd get a compact but I just picked up a GR two days ago and I'm lovin' it! This little thing was intriguing me ever since it hit the market. Kept mulling over review after review. I really like having a pocketable camera with all (most) of the features and IQ of a dslr. Lots of control. And everything they say about ergonomics is true. However, it will never replace my K-5 IIs. On the other hand, if someone here (you know who) doesn't come out with a FF soon...

Tord [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 2:15PM

I would have chosen the RX1R, but that's in another price class, I know!

Prefer bigger sensors, but even so, take most of my shots with my V1 (small, discreet, and has a battery that lasts for ever)!

Often I carry the V1 with a wide on (in 35mm terms, from 20-50) and either the lovely 85/1.8G on the D600, or the equally sharp 80-400 VR II (there is nothing in the world of Pentax like those two lenses, sadly).

Still have some Pentax gear, but most of the time it just collects dust. The K-x with the DA40 is a noisy, but capable, combo, as is the wife's K-30, plus DA55-300. Let us hope Pentax will produce something like the D600, and concentrate on low noise, and good IQ, not thrills, and colors, on the camera body itself!

chiane [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 11:41AM

to caver3d...or the mx-1.

caver3d [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 10:49AM

Although the author compared the GR with the RX100, which he owned, the better comparison would be with the Sony RX100m2. The RX100m2 has even better IQ and sensitivity (sensor improvement), a hot shoe, tilt screen, etc., than the RX100. This makes the choice of the GR even more difficult.

fzrcraig [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 10:36AM

A very well written and interesting article.

Rupert [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 8:18AM

Good article, we all have different needs and different views on what works best. For me the Fuji X20 beats anything else in its class, the OVF is heavenly on those bright sunny days, or when shooting fast moving action shots and the LCD just won't cut it. The best thing nowadays.....we have so many great choices!

Docrwm [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 6:48AM

Thanks, I really like these articles - keep them coming.

twitch [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 3:49AM

Thanks for your thoughts :) I own a RX100 but have been very tempted to also pick up the Ricoh GR. The only thing stopping me is actually how good the RX100 is @ 28mm.

sunfog [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 3:12AM

Thank you for interesting article!

aglet [Delete] Aug 15th, 2013 12:44AM

That's what I love about cameras, they're all similar but different! :)
I have a hard time explaining this to some people when they see me using different systems.
Other than fact that I like to collect cameras, i like to use them and learn to appreciate their idiosyncrasies then try to exploit their specific strengths whenever I need to. It's fun.
The GR is sitting on my "curiousity-burner" at this time, however I'm more likely to get a Q7 or a Fuji XM1 first.