Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A Review

Conclusion

We have greatly enjoyed reviewing Ricoh's latest GR-series camera and the new Nikon Coolpix A.  Both cameras deliver excellent image quality and we are sure they will satisfy any photo enthusiast that can live without having the best in video or autofocus performance.  At first, it was hard for us to believe that tiny lenses like the ones found in the GR and Coolpix A would be capable of delivering such sharp, aberration-free images.  We must say that Ricoh and Nikon have both come up with some impressive optical designs.

The high price of these two cameras undoubtedly confines them to a niche market.  Enthusiasts or professionals looking for an alternative or supplement to a DSLR should consider one of these cameras if portability is a priority.

Much of what we say about one camera will also apply to the other, as they are very close to each other in terms of specifications. There are some subtle differences, though, which we think are best explained through a simple list of pros and cons:

Pros and Cons

Ricoh GR
Coolpix A
Both
  • Max. shutter speed of 1/4000s
  • Highly-customizable interface
  • 35mm crop mode
  • Innovative TAv shooting mode and Hyper Program
  • Quick-access menu
  • In-camera moire removal
  • Interval shooting
  • Add-on 21mm wide adapter
  • Easier to hold, lighter
  • Electronic level
  • Focus assist: focus peaking
  • Bigger AF area
  • Max. aperture of F22
  • Superior build quality
  • Compatible with Nikon DSLR flashes and GPS module
  • Manual video controls
    (before recording)
  • Easy zooming during live view
  • Slightly less luminance noise
  • Dedicated manual focus ring and AF/MF switch
  • Context-sensitive help system
  • Traditional strap lugs
  • Excellent resistance to lens flare, even w/o hood
  • Slightly more decisive AF
  • Fast flash recycle time
  • Superb sharpness, even wide-open
  • Good dynamic range
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Minimal chromatic aberration
  • High-resolution sensor
  • Large JPEG buffer
  • Truly compact, pocketable design
  • Large, clear 3" display
  • No discernible live view lag
  • Add-on hood accessory available
  • Body made of metal
  • Dual control wheels
  • 3 programmable buttons
  • Decent 4FPS framerate
  • Good performance in RAW mode


  • Some interface quirks
  • Steep learning curve
  • Button duplication
  • No exposure compensation during video
  • "Effects" button awkwardly placed
  • Worse high-ISO detail
  • Small RAW buffer in continuous mode
  • No status screen
  • Tedious manual focus
  • No drive mode menu
  • 12-bit RAW
  • Slightly more distortion
  • Less corner sharpness
  • No ND filter
  • Pronounced vignetting
  • Limited feature set
  • No histogram
  • Difficult to start video recording
  • Limited button customization options
  • Some settings hard to access
  • Very expensive
  • Prone to moire up to F11
  • 28mm focal length limits versatility, often too wide
  • No video AF
  • No video mic input
  • Generally slow AF
  • No fullscreen focus peaking
  • Short battery life
  • High-ISO performance is not class-leading

The Ricoh GR is a serious competitor to the Coolpix A, as it is almost 30% cheaper than the Coolpix while delivering slightly better image quality and a more customizable interface.  At the end of the day, however, both cameras are good in some ways while being in need of improvement in others.  And so our quest for the ultimate compact camera does not end here!

Missing Features

There are a few features that we would have liked to see in the GR and Coolpix A.  The first is true focus peaking; we expect users of both cameras to switch to manual focus quite often, and without focus peaking, it is at times difficult to judge the focus accuracy without spending extra time to zoom in.  Both cameras are halfway there in terms of focus assist features: the Nikon makes it very easy to zoom in during live view, and the Ricoh supports a focus peaking overlay for part of the screen (although it's difficult to enable and disable).

Second, we would have liked to see a better macro mode in both cameras.  While we realize that it is difficult to achieve high magnification at such a short focal length (18mm), better close-up capabilities would partially make up for the lack of versatility that a fixed wide-angle lens imposes on these two cameras.

Finally, even though video is clearly not a integral feature for either of these two cameras, focusing during video recording as well as exposure compensation should always be standard features in this day and age.

In the Nikon, a live histogram or blown highlight alert option would have been nice. 

14-bit RAW is supported by the Coolpix A but not the GR, which outputs 12-bit files.  A higher bit depth would allow GR users to squeeze even more shadow and highlight detail out of the RAW files.  The GR still performs exceptionally well overall, but as 14-bit RAW has become a standard feature on today's professional cameras, we were expecting the GR to support it.

The Bottom Line

In the area that matters most- image quality- both the GR and the Coolpix A are great, though the Ricoh has a slight advantage.  Both can be considered true "photographer's cameras", and neither has any major shortcomings that we would consider to be deal-breakers. 

It is important to understand that these cameras are so small that you can take them just about anywhere you go, and this should be seen as a defining feature that goes hand-in-hand with the image quality.  Professional-grade photographic equipment is plentiful, but a pro-level camera that fits in your pocket is an entirely different story.  These cameras will fit in jean pockets, coat pockets, and briefcases- and there will definitely be room for one of them in your current camera bag!

Of course, to like these cameras, you must also like shooting at the fixed, wide focal length that they offer.  This will depend entirely on your shooting style.

The issues we found with both cameras are minor, but they do add up.  Chances are that many of the cons we've identified will not bother you at all, but they do show that Ricoh and Nikon can do better.

Where to Buy

If you enjoyed our review, consider supporting us by picking up your Nikon Coolpix A or Ricoh GR at B&H photo, the largest authorized Pentax dealer in the US, and one of the most reputable photo stores in the country.

The Ricoh GRD IV continues to be available at Adorama Camera, another reliable NYC-based photo store.

Coolpix A - Rating

US MAP Price: $1099

Handling 
 8
Build Quality 
 9
User Interface 
 7
Auto Focus 
 7
Responsiveness 
 9
Image Quality 
 9
Features 
 7
HD Video 
 6
Value 
 6
Overall 
 7.6 (Good)

Ricoh GR - Rating

US MAP Price: $799

Handling 
 9
Build Quality 
 8
User Interface 
 8
Auto Focus 
 6
Responsiveness 
 9
Image Quality 
 10
Features 
 9
HD Video 
 4
Value 
 8
Overall 
 7.9 (Good)

Ricoh GRD IV - Rating

The outgoing Ricoh model is a solid performer.  However, with its 1/1.7" sensor and slower overall speed (except for autofocus), it does not stand out nearly as much as its successor.  Most of the pros and cons of the GR also apply to the GRD IV, so we will not be discussing it separately.

US MAP Price: $399

Handling 
 9
Build Quality 
 8
User Interface 
 7
Auto Focus 
 7
Responsiveness 
 5
Image Quality 
 6
Features 
 7
HD Video 
 2
Value 
 8
Overall 
 6.6 (Average)

Special Thanks

We would like to thank Pentax Ricoh Imaging USA for giving us a production copy of the Ricoh GR, B&H Photo Video for sending us the Nikon Coolpix A, and Adorama Camera for sending us the Ricoh GRD IV.  Support us by shopping at these reputable stores!

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