Anyone who’s looked into buying a digital camera recently will have noticed that the biggest defining characteristic of the range of cameras on offer is conformity. Every manufacturer’s range is pretty much exactly like that of their competitors in terms of size, specification and price. In a market dominated by mid-range 3x zoom 6MP compacts, it’s a brave company indeed that breaks the mould and launches something completely original. However with the introduction of the GR Digital, Ricoh has done exactly that.
On paper at least it looks like a terrible idea. It is an 8-megapixel compact with a fixed (non-zoom) 28mm-equivalent lens, but with a list price of £399.99, about £150 more than most of the current crop of 8MP zoom lens cameras, such as the Olympus mju 800, Pentax Optio A10 or Ricoh’s own Caplio GX8. However it is £100 less that the list price of the Canon PowerShot S80, which is currently the benchmark for high-end 8MP compacts.
The GR Digital was launched in September 2005, nearly seven months ago as I write this, but for some reason it is still not widely available from the online discount retailers. This is probably because it is aimed not at the mass consumer market, but at the hobbyist and enthusiast photographer who is prepared to put up with a little inconvenience in exchange for total creative control and superior image quality.
The GR Digital is based on the concept and some of the design elements of the acclaimed Ricoh GR compact 35mm film camera series launched 10 years ago, which also featured a very high quality fixed wide-angle lens. For the GR Digital, Ricoh has developed a fixed 5.9mm F2.4 lens of a unique design and extremely high optical quality, and has matched it with a 1/1.8in 8.13 megapixel CCD sensor and the new GR Engine image processor, designed to produce extremely sharp images with natural colour and low noise.
Like the original GR it is also designed as the core of a system of accessories, currently including an extension adapter, and ultra-wide angle 24mm lens and an optical viewfinder, available as a kit with the camera as the GRD Creative Set at an RRP of £699.99. It is this kit that was supplied for this review.