Ricoh GR II review: Grab the GR II when you only care about the picture and the price

It's a respectable continuous shooter for JPEG, sustaining 4.1 frames per second for more than 30 images; the tracking autofocus doesn't really keep up, though. And while its raw burst reaches 6.8fps, that's only for 10 frames, after which you have to wait for it to save.

The autofocus generally performs well as long as you don't use the multi-point AF -- like all cameras, it usually picks the wrong subjects -- and I didn't struggle with the LCD in direct sunlight. However, given the lack of a zoom lens and no electronic viewfinder, it seems like the battery life should be much better than it is.

Design and features

I have really mixed feelings about the camera's design. There's a lot to like: it's a good size and weight, with a decent rubberized grip that makes it easy to shoot single-handed, and once you've configured it to your taste, it's quite streamlined to use.

The small, untiltable popup flash sits on the left top and doesn't pop up very high, though it seems pretty powerful, and you can dial back its output to a variety of levels to avoid harsh results.

To the right of the hot shoe is an illuminated power button, a large shutter button, and a lockable mode dial -- that's a nice feature that you don't find a lot in compacts. In addition to the usual manual, semimanual and automatic exposure modes, it has Pentax's unique TAv (shutter/aperture auto shift) mode which lets you set shutter speed and aperture while the camera automatically adjusts ISO sensitivity as necessary. There are also three saved custom-settings slots as well as a dedicated movie mode: unlike most modern cameras, the GR II lacks a dedicated record button, and in fact has no manual controls at all for video.

It has only one adjustment dial, vertically mounted into the grip and oddly named "the up-down dial." A thumb-operated jog dial on the back also handles some adjustment tasks, such as control aperture when you're in manual-exposure mode, but when pressed it brings up access to five settings, which you can customize. Below that is a switch that toggles between setting the adjacent button to autoexposure/autofocus lock or to to enable continuous autofocus.

To the right of the thumb rest is an exposure compensation rocker that I really wish was used -- or could be reprogrammed -- for manual focusing. The four-way navigation switch has buttons for macro mode, flash, white balance, and a function button that defaults to setting the autofocus area. To manually focus, you press the macro button and then rotate the up-down dial to adjust.

There are several options to make manually focusing easier, such as a user-defined magnified area and edge-highlighted monochrome, but none of these are on by default -- and good luck finding them without reading the manual. Below are a programmable button and the display-options button.

On the left below the flash popup switch is a button to bring up your effects options. The camera has a nice selection with the ability to adjust their parameters.

The GR II has a decent set of effects, and you can adjust the parameters for each. For instance, there are four variations of HDR Tone (top), not including the adjustments you can make. Lori Grunin/CNET

Holding down the effects button turns Wi-Fi on or off; you can also trigger a connection on Android devices by tapping the NFC spot on the grip. Also on the grip side is the compartment with the micro HDMI connector for connecting to a TV and an annoying proprietary USB connector through which you charge or hook up to a computer. The lens also has a bayonet mount for adapter lenses.

Useful features include contrast bracketing (in addition to all the other usual bracketing suspects, like effects, exposure, dynamic range optimization, and white balance); a full-press snap mode, which automatically focuses at a user-specified distance when the shutter button is pressed; and interval composite, for exposure-adjusted time lapses. It has an easy to use level indicator, three saved-settings options, and a built-in neutral density filter for cutting down light when you want to drop to a slow shutter speed or wide aperture.

Ricoh has an odd Wi-Fi strategy. It has a somewhat bare-bones wireless-transfer app which (at least when I looked at it) doesn't rotate for horizontal use. It supplements that with a seriously full-featured wireless tethered-shooting web application called Ricoh GR Remote that's optimized for use with the Safari browser on Apple devices running iOS 8.x and the Chrome browser on devices running Android 4.4-5.x .

Ricoh has surmounted the biggest hurdle for GR Remote, which was that it couldn't connect to the camera and the Internet at the same time on many phones. Now more phones support simultaneous Wi-Fi and mobile data, but just in case, the company now offers a cached version of the software that downloads to your device but still runs in the browser. (My unit had some issues with GR Remote, so I've been unable to test it thus far.)

So what's not to like? Well, for one I wish it had a tilting or articulated screen or a viewfinder for easier framing. But mostly it's just surprisingly complicated for a camera that doesn't have a huge feature set. Plus, if you've got vision issues you may have a problem with the tiny print in the menus.

For a complete explanation of its features and operation, download the GR II's manual.

Conclusion

As a pocketable camera that can produce great photos -- albeit with some fiddling -- the Ricoh GR II is a nice choice for inconspicuous and quick street shooting or as a travel camera for the landscape fan. But if you're looking for something that's equally adept at video or has the shooting-angle flexibility that a movable LCD or viewfinder provides, this may not be the camera for you.

Comparative specifications

Fujifilm X100T Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Ricoh GR II Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
Sensor effective resolution 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II 12.8MP MOS 16.2MP CMOS 20.2MP Exmor RS CMOS
Sensor size APS-C
(23.6 x 15.8mm)
Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13mm)
APS-C
(23.7 x 15.7mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x 2.7x
OLPF No Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 125 - ISO 12800
Lens (35mm equivalent) 35mm
f2
24 - 75mm
f1.7-2.8
3.1x
28mm
f2.8
24 - 70mm
f1.8-2.8
2.9x
Closest focus 3.9 in./10 cm 2 in./3 cm 3.9 in./10 cm 1.9 in./5 cm
Burst shooting 6fps
25 JPEG/ n/a raw
(burst only available with focus and exposure fixed at first frame)
6.5fps
n/a
(40fps with electronic shutter and fixed AF/AE)
4fps
unlimited JPEG/4 raw
5.5fps
(with electronic shutter; 16fps with fixed focus and exposure)
n/a
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Hybrid
Reverse Galilean
92 percent coverage
EVF
0.48 in./12.2 mm
2,360,000 dots
100% coverage
EVF
0.4 in./10.2 mm
2.764m dots
100% coverage
1.39x/0.7x
Optional
Reverse Galilean
(GV-1, est $230; £150; AU$300)
OLED EVF
0.4-inch/10.2mm
1.44m dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
49-area
Contrast AF
190-point
Hybrid AF
25-area
Contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a n/a 1.5 - 17.5 EV n/a
Shutter speed 20 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 minutes 60 - 1/4,000 sec. (1/16,000 electronic shutter); bulb to 2 minutes 300 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb; time 30 - 1/2,000 sec, (1/32,000 electronic shutter); bulb
Metering 256 zones 1,728 zones n/a n/a
Metering sensitivity n/a n/a 1.8 - 17.8 EV n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 30p
MP4 UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p Motion JPEG AVI
1080/30p, 25p, 24p
XAVC S 4K 2160/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo Stereo
Manual aperture and shutter in video Aperture only Yes No Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 14 minutes 15 minutes 25 minutes 5 minutes
Optical zoom while recording n/a Yes n/a Yes
IS None Optical None Optical
LCD 3 in./7.5 cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3 in./7.5 cm
Fixed
921,000 dots
3 in./7.5cm
Fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3 in./7.5cm
Tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Memory slots 1 X SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection None Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Yes Bundled optional Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes No Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 450 shots 300 shots 320 shots 280 shots (LCD);
230 shots (Viewfinder)
Size (WHD) 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 in.
35.2 x 49.5 x 10.8 mm
4.5 x 2.6 x 2.2 in.
114.8 x 66.2 x 55.0 mm
4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 in.
117 x 63 x 34.7 mm
4.0 x 2.3 x 1.6 in.
101.6 x 58.1 x 41 mm
Body operating weight 15.5 oz. (est.)
439.4 g (est.)
13.9 oz.
394 g
8.8 oz.
248 g
10.4 oz.
294 g
Mfr. price $1,300
£1,000
AU$1,600 (est.)
$800
£700
AU$1,000
$800
£630
$950
£920
AU$1,400
Release date (US) November 2014 November 2014 July 2015 July 2015

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