Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A Review

Construction and Handling

On this page we discuss the build quality and handling of our three high-end compacts.

Front view- click to enlarge

Build Quality

The GR, GRD IV, and Coolpix A bodies are all made of durable, high-quality materials.  The two Ricoh cameras sport magnesium alloy casings, while the Nikon uses part magnesium, part aluminum alloy.  The new Ricoh GR body has a brushed texture that is slightly more coarse than that of its predecessor. In order to simplify our discussion of build quality, in this section we will not talk about the GR and GRD IV separately unless otherwise noted, as the two cameras are virtually identical.

The GR and GRD IV feature basic yet very clean designs. We tend to prefer the Nikon's somewhat more traditional design, however.

Compared to the Ricoh GR, the build quality of the Coolpix A is noticeably more refined.  Firstly, there are fewer visible seams, giving it a more elegant appearance overall.  The buttons on the Coolpix have been carefully machined, while those of the GR feature matte finishes without any grooves.  The same holds true of the lens finish.  While the front of the Nikon's lens has very fine grooves (that make it shine), a matte plastic clover shields the GR's lens, and the lens name is printed rather than engraved.  Note that the GRD IV differs from the GR in that its lens does have engraved lettering.

Coolpix A Button Detail GR Button Detail

Both the GR and the Coolpix A have removable covers (rings) around their lenses.  This is to enable the mounting of some of the add-ons that we mentioned on the previous page, such as a hood or filter adapter.  A bayonet mount secures the GR's ring in place, while the Nikon has a traditional thread.  There is absolutely no play on the Nikon, while the Ricoh's ring does wobble back and forth ever so slightly.  We find this ring to the be most flimsy aspect of the GR's build.  While it may not secure the ring as tightly in place, however, the GR's bayonet design does allow for much easier removal of the ring.

Lens detail - click to enlarge

On their undersides, all three cameras have durable tripod mounts made of metal as well as a single door housing the both SD card and battery.

Overall, the build quality of the three cameras is excellent and certainly appropriate for their price class.  The Nikon, being made in Japan, seems to be built to tighter tolerances.

LCD

All three cameras have excellent 3-inch LCD screens, though the resolution on the GR and GRD IV is slightly higher (1.2m dots vs 0.9m dots).  We found no difference in readability between the two types of screens, though the Nikon does use larger fonts that at times which add a bit too much clutter to the live view display (display of this information can of course by disabled).  We had no trouble with the live view display in bright outdoor conditions.

Handling

We will start by mentioning that while the Coolpix A has traditional triangular strap lugs, those of the GR are integrated into the body and feature much smaller openings.  This is both good and bad: the good is this design makes the GR easier to hold, as the strap won't be in your way when shooting.  The bad is that the GR is not compatible with generic straps due to the small size of the lugs.

Coolpix A - Strap Lug Ricoh GR / GRD IV - Integrated Design

Compared to the GRD IV, the Ricoh GR's grip is slightly larger, making it easier to hold.  Both Ricoh grips bulge outward to fit the palm of your hand well; we find the ergonomics of this design to be outstanding.  On the other hand, the shape of the Nikon's grip is completely flat except for one insignificant trim piece, allowing your fingers wrap around it without achieving a firm grip.  Furthermore, the large strap lugs do get in the way.  The bottom line here is that the GR and GRD IV are significantly easier to hold steadily with a single hand. Thanks to the low overall weight of the Coolpix, however, it is still fairly easy to hold.  Thus, the poor grip design of the Nikon is certainly not a deal-breaker.

Even though the Nikon is slightly heavier than the GR, we found this have no negative impact whatsoever in practice.  We might even go as far as to saying that the Nikon feels slightly better-balanced than the GR.

The Ricoh GR is designed for one-handed operation.  Every button, with the exception of the flash release switch and "effects" button, is located on the right side of the camera (the GRD IV lacks the "effects" button).  The Nikon, while still usable with only one hand, will require both hands if you wish to zoom in on your images, change the expore compensation, or change the ISO.  We'd like to add that the GR's "effects" button is positioned in such a way that it is very inconveinent to press while holding the camera with two hands. 

Again, the one-handed design of the GR has both its pros and cons.  The main advantage is, of course, is that you'll have one hand free at all times.  This also explains why Ricoh chose to bundle their cameras with wrist straps rather than a neck strap.  But what if you like shooting with both hands?

Coolpix A - manual focusing ring & AF switch

The Coolpix A has a treat for you if you're a two-handed shooter.  Surrounding the lens is a dedicated manual focusing ring.  Flip the AF/MF switch on the side of the camera and it will control the focus setting just like on a DSLR lens!  The switch on the side of the camera also lets you enable macro mode.  On the GR, three separate menu options are used to control the focus mode, macro mode, and manual focusing.  Although we will elaborate more on the matter later, generally speaking the AF of the GR and the Coolpix is not particularly impressive.  We therefore see the Nikon's dedicated focusing ring as a fairly big bonus.

We will discuss the actual user interface and menu systems of the three cameras on the next page.

Physical Comparison

The Nikon Coolpix A is slightly larger and about 20% heavier than the Ricoh GR, which is in turn slightly wider and heavier than its predecessor.  All three cameras are easily pocketable.

Top, side, rear, and frontal views- click to enlarge

Limited Edition GR Accessories

In case you decide to get a GR and want to spice up its looks, Pentax Ricoh offers a limited edition red ring and red GS-3 leather strap designed specially for the GR.


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