Compared to the Nikon Coolpix A

It's a little unusual for two models to appear at the same time that address a niche in such a similar manner. The arrival of the GR, shortly after the Coolpix A's announcement cast the Nikon is a slightly different light. A prime-lens, enthusiast-focused camera marked a departure for Nikon but the GR is a more obvious continuation of a long-running and well-loved product line from Ricoh.

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.

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

With the exception of the (customizable) Effects button on its left flank, the Ricoh can be operated one-handed. In fact, for most functions, it can be operated without having to shift your hand out of its shooting position. It's an interface that benefits from some time spent configuring it when you first use the camera, but the speed and sense that you're shooting with an interface you've tailored to your own needs is rather satisfying. The Nikon's two customizable buttons and entry-level DSLR interface can't really compete if you're the kind of photographer that regularly wants to change more than the basic exposure settings.

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 images below have been processed from Raw in Adobe Camera Raw 7.4, white balanced and brightness matched and both noise reduction and sharpening have been 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.

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

By comparison, the Ricoh's unit focus design (where multiple lens elements move together as a group to focus), is impressively consistent, even in the fairly unusual situation of shooting flat subjects at close distances.

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.

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

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

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

Click here to download the Raw samples of both apertures: