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Compared to the Ricoh GR

It's a little unusual for two models to appear at the same time that address a niche in such a similar manner. The GR represents a re-thinking of a long and well-loved product line from Ricoh, while it's been a long time since Nikon has offered a prime-lens camera for enthusiasts.

The similarities are so great that it would be perverse to review one without the other so, in these pages and throughout the rest of the review, we'll look at how the cameras compare.

Camera size

The two cameras are fairly similar in size, with the Ricoh being a touch wider but also a touch less tall.
The difference is more apparent from the top - the Ricoh's body is a fraction slimmer than the Nikon's. However, the big difference comes in the lenses - the Ricoh is 5mm (12% slimmer) when both cameras are switched off. With the lenses extended, the Ricoh is between 4 and 8mm thinner.
It may not be immediately apparent from the backs of the two cameras how different their operating philosophies are.

The two cameras have similar numbers of buttons (both have a customizable button out-of-sight in this view), but the approaches are rather different - the Nikon makes the primary exposure parameters and focus point selection immediately available, while on the Ricoh AF point positioning requires an extra button press, but you can gain quick access to many more functions.

Basic specifications

Although the headline specifications are the same (28mm equivalent, F2.8 lenses, 16MP APS-C sensors without anti-aliasing filters), there are a reasonable number of differences between the GR and Nikon's Coolpix A.

  Nikon Coolpix A Ricoh GR
MSRP $1099/£999 $799/£599
Sensor 16MP APS-C CMOS
w/out OLPF
16MP APS-C CMOS
w/out OLPF
Lens 18.5mm F2.8 18.3mm F2.8
Lens design 7 elements, 5 groups
1 aspherical element
7 elements, 5 groups
2 aspherical elements
Aperture blades 7 9
Raw bit-depth 14-bit 12-bit
Minimum focus distance 10cm / 3.9" 10cm / 3.9"
Maximum shutter speed (sec) 1/2000th 1/4000th
(aperture limited)
Rear LCD resolution 910k dots (VGA, RGB) 1.2m dots (VGA, RGBW)
Battery life (CIPA) 230 shots 290 shots
Weight (with battery and card) 299g / 10.5oz 245g / 8.6oz
Movie options 1080/30p,25p,24p 1080/30p,25p,24p
Movie exposure set before shooting? Yes No
Exposure control during movie shooting Exposure Comp. None
Flash GN (m/ISO 100) 6 5.4
Built-in ND filter? No Yes
In-camera Raw processing? Yes Yes

The biggest difference, though, is their interfaces. The Coolpix clusters most of its features in a single interactive control panel, requiring a lot of button pressing to navigate. The Ricoh, by contrast, lets you choose the five features you're most likely to want to change and puts them in an easily accessible place. Of course, if you regularly use more functions than you can assign to these positions (and the Ricoh's three customizable buttons), the Nikon might prove faster to use, overall.

The other difference is that the Nikon's placement of Exposure Comp and ISO/Fn2 buttons on the left edge of the LCD mean that it requires two-handed operation, whereas on the Ricoh's (customizable) Effects button on its left flank is the only thing that requires your left hand to do anything other than support the camera.

Sigma's DP1 Merrill also deserves a mention at this point - it also has a 28mm equivalent, F2.8 lens in front of an APS-C sensor. However, instead of using a conventional Bayer design, it has one of the company's Foveon sensors that works in a completely different way. The Foveon uses a three-layer design that attempts to collect all its color information at each of its pixels, rather than only capturing Red, Green or Blue at each pixel, then attempting to calculate what the other colors would have been.

The advantage of such a design is that it shouldn't suffer from the color moiré that we might expect to see from the Nikon and Ricoh. The disadvantage is that the sensor only works well in relatively bright light, as you'll see in our studio comparison images.

Image quality comparisons

Here we've shot our forthcoming test scene, which shows more useful information about corner performance than our current studio scene. We've shot the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR alongside each other. The directly comparable Sigma DP1 Merrill will be covered in its own article.

ACR-converted RAWs, F2.8

The shots from the first two cameras have been processed from Raw in Adobe Camera Raw 7.4. The two shots have been white balanced and brightness matched and both noise reduction and sharpening minimized. Our standard unsharp mask sharpening (Amount 100%, radius 0.6, threshold 0) has then been applied in Photoshop and the results saved as quality 11 JPEGs for download.

Nikon Coolpix A - F2.8 100% Crop - Top left corner
Ricoh GR - F2.8 100% Crop - Top left corner

The only noticeable difference between the two cameras, in terms of lens performance, is in the extreme corners, where the Nikon shows a little softness at F2.8 (probably as a result of slight curvature of field - a non-flat plane of focus at close focusing distances). This disappears on stopping down though, and as the lens test data on the next page shows, there's no significant performance difference overall.

Moiré

These crops were taken from the center of the image and show just how sharp both lenses are. As you can see, both cameras are exhibiting extensive moiré as a result of their sharp lenses and lack of anti-aliasing filters.

Nikon Coolpix A - F2.8, 100% center crop
Ricoh GR - F2.8, 100% center crop

Out of camera JPEGs, F5.0

By F5.0 both lenses are more consistent across the frame. These shots show how the camera's JPEG engines cope with moiré. Both the Ricoh and Nikon have been re-processed from Raw in-camera to fine-tune white balance.

Nikon Coolpix A - F5.0 - JPEG 100% Crop - center
Ricoh GR - F5.0 - JPEG 100% Crop - center

As you can see, the moiré is much less pronounced than it was in Raw. Comparing with the Raw files also shot at F5, you can see the difference is a result of the camera's attempts to suppress it, rather than the effect of changing apertures:

Nikon Coolpix A - F5.0 - JPEG Nikon Coolpix A - F5.0 - Raw
Ricoh GR - F5.0 - JPEG Ricoh GR - F5.0 - Raw

Click here to download the Raw samples of both apertures:

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Comments

Total comments: 6
Hoovage

Just bought one from BH Photo including the electronic viewfinder for $490.00. Quite a camera for that price.

0 upvotes
Skinnerrr

Frankly, how you can let yourself be disappointed by autofocus when the camera has manual focus is beyond me. Pre-focus and snap away!

0 upvotes
Locks

I see what looks like the same Coolpix A offered on Amazon.com for about 1000 dollars and for about 650 dollars. The latter is marked "import". Anybody able to explain the difference?

0 upvotes
Andrew770

Any deeply discounted price indicates that it is likely an import. Nikon will not service it if you have a problem. You can take the risk, but if you experience a problem do not give Nikon a bad review. Don't say I knew but...

Also note that you will not be able to download firmware updates for the camera. I would not touch an imported camera. If you want to save money, then wait about a year and hope they are coming out with a newer version - and that is when they offer great discounts. For example, Nikon just dropped the price on the camera for only $699.

0 upvotes
oohaah

That price!

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
cknapp61

Over $1,000 for a DX sensor with a fixed 28mm lens? I get that it is for "enthusiasts", but that seems like quite a bit of enthusiasm to me.

7 upvotes
Total comments: 6