Tips and Tricks for the Ricoh GR

By aleksanderpolo in Ricoh GR on Aug 24, 2013
First a Little Bit of History

I am a little late as a Ricoh user. The first time I was conscious of Ricoh as a camera brand, was when I was looking for a non P&S to take better pictures of my baby girl. At around that time, Ricoh announced their GXR modular system.  Like many people’s reaction towards the lens module concept, it didn’t make much sense to me to permanently bind a lens with a sensor, as one would need to buy the lens again when they upgrade the sensor later. Little did I know about the long history of Ricoh as a compact camera maker; and that instead of a system camera, the GXR is aiming to be a series of fixed lens compact with a common body.  Well, I didn’t buy the GXR at that time and got a Panasonic Lumix GF1 instead.

Over time, I came to like shooting manual focus lens, especially Voigtlander and Zeiss’s M lenses. I was looking for a camera that does a better job in using M lenses than my GF1.  After some research, I picked up the Ricoh GXR+M module over the Sony NEX-5N.  I was very impressed by its built quality, button layout, customizability, and especially, the well implemented mode 2 focus assist.  I was thinking to myself: I don’t think I would need to get another camera anytime soon.

Then came the announcement of GR.  At first I thought: this is not for me as the lens module or fixed lens camera concept never appealed to me.  At around the same time, I was looking for a 28-35mm eqv. lens to be used on my GXR-M.  The only lenses that I was interested in were the Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 and the recently announced Cosina-Voigtländer CV 21/1.8.  Compared with GR, both of them are much larger, heavier, more expensive, not to mention that the GR comes with a free body attached. So the decision was made.

Again, I was really impressed.  The camera is so tiny compared with the GXR.  The GXR feels very substantial and solid in the hand, the GR in contrast is really light weight, about the weight of the GXR body with the EVF mounted, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The body is texturized, the rubber grip is very secure and pleasant to hold without having the feeling that one might drop the camera anytime (wink at RX100). 

Most importantly, it fits into my pants pocket perfectly.  Before I got the GR, I always carried the GXR with me in a camera case in my backpack.  There were many cases where I felt too lazy to get the camera out and take a picture.  Now the GR is in my pocket all the time and I find myself taking a lot more pictures that I would have otherwise have missed.

So, that’s my little history with Ricoh.  Now I would like to share with you some little bits of tips and tricks.  We all know how infinitely customizable Ricoh’s camera is, so a full coverage of all the options is not my intention.  But though experimenting, trying a few different settings myself, as well as reading other people’s discovery, I have collected a few things that I think is helpful to me, and hopefully helpful to you as well.

Family resemblance, two cameras, three companies

Tips and Tricks

Turning the Camera On Without Turning It On

This would be the most obvious one if you are a long time Ricoh user: You can turn on the camera for reviewing images or changing settings without extending the lens.  Just press and hold the display button for a second.  On GXR it used to take a press and hold for a few second before it would turn on, it is now much faster on GR.  I found it helpful when I want to change settings in a quiet environment.  

Snap Focus in AF Mode vs AFL in Snap Focus or in MF Mode

We all know that in GR, there is a full press snap function: that is, when you are in AF mode, you can press the shutter release in one full motion without first half pressing it to focus, the camera will then focus instantly to a preset snap focus distance. Very useful when you see a photographic opportunity suddenly presents itself when you are working on something else.  But do you know that, in MF and in snap focus mode, the AFL button will still function?  It is almost like a flip side to the full press snap. And why would one want use AFL in the snap focus/MF mode? Because in those modes, there is a permanent distance and DOF scale on the left side of the screen, and I found that very helpful in training me to estimate distance.

Movie Mode Exposure Lock

Ricoh’s cameras are not known to have complete control over exposure, AF, etc, in movie mode.  If you are like me who occasionally use it to take short clips, you might have noticed that sometimes when you start the recording by pressing the shutter button, the exposure will be off from what you expected.  Cue a trick that I learned from DPR’s GR review:  If your AEL/AFL button is set to be AEL or AEL/AFL, pressing the AEL/AFL button before starting the recording will lock the exposure (and focus if it is AEL/AFL).  Yes, you still can’t change the exposure during the recording as far as I know, but it’s better than having an unexpectedly overexposed clip.


Use of Focus Assist to Pin-point Focusing

One of the features on GXR-M that I missed a lot on the GR, is that on GXR you can assign the Fn1/Fn2 button to toggle the excellent mode 2 focus assist/magnification on/off.  On GR, the focus assist function is tied up in the FA/Move Target function, so it is a little clunky to use.  Not to mention that in GXR-M, when the magnification and/or focus assist is on, half pressing the shutter release will temporarily return to a normal screen for metering and composing.  After spending some time experimenting with GR, here’s what I found would make the focus assist more useful.

  1. Press the FA/Move Target button to activate
  2. Press the exposure compensation ++ to magnify (there are multiple options in the focus assist function that can be memorized in the settings, I use mode 2 focus assist and magnify whole. Magnify portion will only magnify a low resolution center portion of the screen, I found it to be not helpful in determining focus)
  3. Press ok to exit the FA/Move Target setup

Now, you will see a high resolution magnification with mode 2 focus assist on.  The problem with it, however, is that half pressing the shutter release will not return it to normal screen for metering and composing, UNLESS, you are in MF mode.  And remember that you can use AFL button to AF in MF mode? So:

  1. Switch to MF mode (if you are not already in it)
  2. Use AFL button to focus, half press the shutter release to meter and compose.
  3. If you want to exit the focus assist, press the FA/Move Target button again and then the DISP button to exit.

I found the focus assist to be very useful when you are in a low light, low contrast situation and you want to be sure that the camera is really focusing on something you want it to focus on. It is also very useful when taking macro shots.

Ultimately, I wish Ricoh would update the firmware to enable the focus assist w/ magnification to be a button assignable function, much like it is in GXR-M. For now, we just have to live with the 3 button press to activate and 2 button press to dismiss this function.

Continuous Mode vs Exposure Bracketing

I love continuous mode.  My primarily victim/target of my photographic adventures are my two kids.  And if you have kids, you know it is hard for them to sit still.  So I use continuous mode a lot.  I found out that when they are relatively still, I can get critical focus 2-3 out of 4 frames at 1/60s at ISO 6400.

For outdoor shots, I found the exposure bracketing to be very helpful.  Now the 16MP sensor has better dynamic range than the old 12MP sensor in GXR-M, so there is much less chance of blowing out highlights permanently.  But it is still helpful when you are lazy like me and don’t want to spend all the time nailing exposure.  Here’s my setting:

Metering mode: center weighted.  I found the matrix metering of Ricoh to be a little bit sensitive and unpredictable at time, much like multipoint focus of other camera I’ve used.  So, I like to have more control over what I meter.

Exp comp: +1/3 for outdoor, +1 for indoor

Exposure bracketing: -1 and -2 for the second and third shots. 

Now if you are a long time Ricoh user, you probably know that continuous mode and exposure bracketing cannot be used simultaneously (and on camera flash too, if you wonder why your flash is not firing, chances are you have continuous/bracketing on).  If both modes are enabled, continuous mode will take precedence. So, one way to quickly switch between the two, is to have both of them enabled, assign one of the ADJ lever slots to continuous mode.  This way, the continuous mode will be on by default.  If you want to switch to EXP bracketing, press the ADJ lever, switch off the continuous mode, then the EXP bracketing will take over.  For my use, I have one of the MY mode with EXP bracketing on for outdoor shooting, another MY mode with continuous mode on for indoor use. So I can switch even quicker between the two with a flick of the mode dial.

TAv Mode ISO Ceiling

One of the happy consequences of the Ricoh/Pentax acquisition is the appearance of Pentax’s TAv mode on a Ricoh camera.  Previously on Ricoh’s camera, auto ISO and exposure compensation would not work on the M mode.  Instead, when one pressed the exposure compensation button in M mode, the camera would meter and set the shutter speed at the approximate exposure - helpful to some extent, but that’s about it.

Now with TAv mode, auto ISO and exposure compensation will both work. What doesn’t work, however, is the highest allowable ISO set in the AUTO HI ISO setting.  In another word, the camera will go all the way to ISO 25600 before starting to slow down the shutter speed if there is not enough light at the current Aperture/Shutter speed setting.

So here’s a trick that I’ve learned from another forum member on DPR: The dynamic range correction.

Normally, the dynamic range correction functions by altering the curve used in jpg, but at the same time it also limits the useable ISO range.  For example, if dynamic range correction is set to strong, the useable ISO will be between ISO 320 and ISO 8000.   So, let say you are setting F2.8 and 1/500s, but don’t want the ISO to go above 8000, what you need to do is:

  1. Enable dynamic range correction, set it to strong (you will need to turn off continuous mode as it is not compatible with dynamic range correction)
  2. In the shooting menu, Shutter/Aperture Auto Shift: set it to Aprtr Priority.

What it does is that it will use F2.8 and 1/500s and the lowest ISO possible (down to ISO 320).  When there is not enough light, it will shift ISO upward until it reaches ISO 8000.  At that point the dynamic range correction will not allow ISO to go any higher.  Since you have Aprtr priority set in auto shift, the shutter speed will start coming down to maintain the same exposure.

The drawback of this is you will be using the very shallow curve of strong dynamic range correction for its out-of-camera jpeg.  But as far as I know it has no effect on the RAW.


Hopefully the above tips and tricks will be helpful to you.  For me, the GR has become an indispensable tool.  I might use other camera with a longer lens if needed, but the GR will always be in my pocket ready to be whipped out at a moment’s notice, and that’s important for capturing all the moments that one savor.   

I remembered that when I was a kid, the first camera that I used was my dad’s first camera.  I don’t remember all the details now, but I do remember my dad teaching me how to turn the lens so that two boxes in the glass window would align.  Then I would press the button to take a shot.  It was not until many years later, recently actually, that my dad told me that first camera he had was, guess what, a Ricoh fixed lens rangefinder! 

So it turns out that I was not that late as a Ricoh user after all!

- aleksanderpolo

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