12-bit vs 14-bit Raw and shadow detail

The Nikon outputs 14bit Raw files, rather than the 12bit ones produced by the Ricoh. The real-world difference this makes is minimal - the Nikon files appear to have a fraction more latitude if you push them hard (a tiny bit more information in the deepest shadows). We've tried to create images with substantially brightened shadows and the only realistic difference is a slight loss of contrast in the deepest shadows. Overall, then, in terms of image quality/flexibility the Nikon offers a theoretical benefit, but you'll rarely see the results of it.

The shots below have been processed in Adobe Camera Raw 7.4, with Blacks set to +34 and Shadows brightened to +89, to reveal detail in the shadows without degenerating into heavy-HDR creepiness. The Ricoh's green and yellow response have also been slightly adjusted to overcome the profile embedded in its DNG files, to more closely match the standard Adobe profile used for the Nikon.

The result is a pair of images with shadows that have been lifted by up to 2.5EV in places but both cameras are still showing plenty of detail in the darker areas, with no sign of noise intruding.

Ricoh GR - F8, ISO 100 - Original JPEG Nikon Coolpix A - F8, ISO 100 - Original JPEG
Ricoh GR - Adjusted Raw Nikon Coolpix A - Adjusted Raw
100% Crop of adjusted Raw 100% Crop of adjusted Raw

There's essentially nothing to choose between the two files - there's slightly more contrast (and possibly a fraction more color data) in the shadows of the Nikon file but, without being able to exactly match the tone and color response on both cameras, we can't be certain this difference really exists.

The difference that certainly does exist is that Nikon's 14-bit Raw files are significantly larger than the Ricoh's. The Coolpix A's Raw files are typically around 17MB per file, rather than the GR's 13.5MB (Which would allow you to fit over 100 more Ricoh images onto an 8GB SD card, if you were shooting Raw only).

In-camera Raw Processing

We've mentioned this in a few places in this review already, but as is increasingly common on contemporary cameras, the Ricoh GR allows you to re-process its Raw images in the camera. The GR's implementations is one of the better examples - constantly re-rendering a small preview to give you an idea of what difference your changes will make.

The Raw processing option in the camera provides an updating preview image as you tweak parameters such as white balance, brightness and noise reduction.

You can retrospectively apply any of the camera's Effects and adjust the available settings - such as tweaking the tint on bleach bypass filter or specifying where the in-focus region should appear and how wide it should be, on the 'Miniaturize' filter.

The Raw conversion process also allows you to retrospectively apply the camera's 'Effects' - a rather film-orientated selection of processing filters. (Including Cross-Process, Bleach Bypass and Positive Film).

Overall Image Quality

The Ricoh's image quality is impressive - with the lens ensuring very sharp images and the sensor giving solid image quality in a range of conditions. The camera's JPEGs have plenty in the way of detail and the noise reduction is both subtle and controllable, meaning the output can be rather good.

The Ricoh's biggest down-side is its metering - while generally good, it's perhaps too conservative - to the point that the camera can be a bit prone to delivering underexposed images (as shown in the 35mm crop images on the previous page). Although it is possible to show an on-screen histogram, we found it too small to reliably let us set the correct amount of exposure compensation to achieve optimal exposure.

The Ricoh's color response is also a touch muted, compared to the Nikon Coolpix A which, when combined with a tendency towards underexposure, makes the GR a better camera for Raw shooters than those shooting JPEGs. That said, the in-camera Raw processing option is flexible enough to allow you to tweak your images if you're away from your computer.

Default JPEG Embedded profile in DNG Adobe default profile

It's also worth noting that as you can see in the image above, the color profile embedded in the camera's DNG files isn't as attractive as the one used by the camera's JPEG engine. Reds in particular end up being presented as magenta unless you modify or choose a different profile.