For a camera with semi-pro pretensions performance is obviously an important factor. The original GR Digital had a fast hybrid autofocus system, but this has been replaced with a nine-zone contrast detection system, which is still nice and fast and also operates extremely well in low light thanks to a good bright AF assist LED. As a result shooting speed is also very quick, with a consistent 1.4 seconds per shot at the highest quality JPEG setting, which is slightly faster than the previous model. In continuous shooting mode it is even faster, shooting at just over two frames a second, which it can maintain until the card is full. In the highest Raw setting shooting speed drops to four seconds per shot, but this is a massive improvement over the original model, which would take around 13 seconds to process a Raw shot. Start-up time is approximately 2.5 seconds.
Picture quality is also a crucial consideration, and it is here where the original GR Digital excelled, although some commentators criticised it for image noise at higher ISO settings. Since the new model uses the same lens optical quality is unchanged, and is still superb, with virtually no barrel distortion and very good edge-to-edge sharpness. The final images are slightly soft in default mode, but adjusting the sharpness either in the menu or afterwards in editing produces better results. Shooting in Raw mode and converting images in Photoshop, as most serious users will prefer to do, overall picture quality is excellent with good colour depth and above average dynamic range for a 10MP camera.
Shooting at 80 ISO with noise reduction turned on there is absolutely no trace of image noise and the resulting pictures are among the best I’ve ever seen from a compact camera. As with most 10MP compacts however, noise does begin to become a problem at higher ISO settings. At 200 ISO colour noise is visible particularly in the green channel, although not enough to cause a serious problem, and even at 400 ISO there is little loss of either detail or colour fidelity. However at 800 and especially at 1600 ISO image quality does suffer a great deal, so it would be best to avoid these settings for important shots.
Perhaps more important than anything else though is the sheer pleasure of using the GR Digital II. It is a real photographer’s camera, and its combination of versatility, performance and handling encourage you to use it, and once you start it’s difficult to stop. The fixed-length lens means that you have to think about your shots more, and the result is more and better pictures, which in my opinion is as good a reason as any to choose it. I will very likely buy one of these cameras myself.
The Ricoh GR Digital II is a unique and ambitious camera. Despite its lack of a zoom lens it offers a level of versatility higher than almost any other pocket-sized compact camera on the market. Handling, performance and build quality are all of a very high standard, and image quality is excellent at low ISO settings. More importantly it is a genuine pleasure to use and encourages creative photography. For enthusiast photographers looking for a compact camera it offers one of the few serious alternatives to the Canon G9.