Jun 18, 2013

Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A Review

Introduction

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 and photo enthusiasts who cannot always justify carrying around a bulky DSLR; 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 (28mm equivalent on full-frame).

Nikon Coolpix A, Ricoh GR, and Ricoh GRD IVNikon Coolpix A (left), Ricoh GR (center), Ricoh GRD IV (right)

While high-end compacts with above-average features date back to the early days of digital cameras, premium compacts with large APS-C sensors are a relatively new market segment.  The only other APS-C compacts on the market today include the Fuji X100 series and the Sigma DP Merill series.  What sets both the Coolpix A and the GR apart from their competitors is their small size.  Both the Ricoh and the Nikon as so small that they are easily pocketable, and they both weight under 300g, which makes them almost as light as small consumer point-and-shoots.

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 the most affordable camera in its class.

Specifications alone do not define how a camera works and feels in the field, however.  Since both the GR and the Coolpix A are designed for passionate photographers, our goal in this review will be to evaluate both cameras in the areas that matter most to the target audience: image quality, ease of use, and handling. 

In addition to comparing the Ricoh GR directly to the Nikon Coolpix A, we will also investigate how the new GR has evolved compered to its predecessor.  At the end of the review, you will find conclusions about all three cameras, although the majority of our discussion will be focused on the two new cameras.

This review is based on a production Ricoh GR with firmware v1.11, a production Coolpix A with firmware C: v1.01, and a production Ricoh GRD IV with firmware v2.11.

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