When Ricoh designed the first GR1 film camera, they set out to make a camera that "brings a smile to one's face, just by holding it". Not only have they accomplished this but they have been constantly improving and evolving the subsequent GR film and GRD digital cameras.
With the new GR, Ricoh went back to basics with the naming but not with the ergonomics or controls. You still get a camera that will bring not only a smile to your face but will also inspire you to go out and take pictures. It accomplishes all this while staying out of your way thanks to the improved and highly customisable controls. The controls are all where you expect them to be and if not, chances are you can customise them to suit you.
The addition of the new AF switch and button is great and makes it very easy to leave the camera in Snap mode and just briefly switch to Spot AF when needed for one shot or to quickly lock focus and allow the exposure to be set at exposure time (or vice versa if you prefer).
The new effects button under the flash release is the only button you can't reach with one hand but I have mine set to the 35mm crop mode so this works well as it's not a setting I change often and the effects are set in the Adjust menu.
As always the Adjust menu is great and remains a very quick and efficient way to access settings you need without ever going into the menu.
For everything Ricoh improved, they have also inexplicably taken away the Auto-ISO option in Manual mode and the ability to confirm menu options by half pressing the shutter button. This might not be an issue for new users but for someone who is used to the older Ricoh GRDs or the GXR, this could be an annoyance.
All this would of course not matter much if the camera would not take good pictures or be too slow to capture the decisive moment but here the GR excels.
Thanks to the GR 28mm f2.8 lens and the 16MP APS sensor without anti-alias filter, you get very sharp and really detailed photos with a lot of dynamic range and a nice tonality. The sensor is so good that it does not need to hide behind the full frame Sony RX1 when it comes to details or dynamic range under normal circumstances.
The image quality is so good at any ISO that I don't have any problems with using ISO 25600 knowing that not only will I get less noise but also more details than the old 12MP sensor in the GXR.
The camera is also fast enough at powering on, focusing and writing to the card that you will never miss any moment. Where it really struggles is low light focusing and here you will miss the moment, unless you use the Snap focus mode or have a very stationary subject. The strange thing about low light focusing is that at times it's very fast and accurate, other tines it's slow but accurate and in rare cases it's both slow and misses the focus completely. This is so bad that i reminds me of the first firmware for the GXR A12 50mm so I have hopes Ricoh can and will fix this a they have done with the GXR A12 modules, which incidentally are both actually faster in low light focusing. The good news is that once the camera has achieved focus or if you have prefocussed there is zero shutter lag.
The display refresh could also be better given how snappy the camera performs otherwise and especially in low light it struggles to keep up with you if you pan around. This is again something that Ricoh needs to fox as it stands out like a sore thump on such an otherwise very responsive camera.
A huge bonus of the GR compared to similar cameras is the available 21mm adapter, this adds a bit of bulk to the camera but gives you the ability to shoot at 21mm and f2.8 without any perceivable loss of image quality. The corners are a bit softer than you would get with a 21mm lens or you get with the GXR A12-M and the Heliar 12mm and 15mm lenses but either of them not only cost more than double of what the adapter will set you back but are also some of the best wideangle lenses you can find and are not a simple adapter mounted in front of a lens.
The adapter works very well and extends the abilities of the GR quite a lot, unfortunately Ricoh has taken away the ability for the camera to automatically detect the adapter so you have to remember to set it manually in the menu if you want the EXIF information to be updated. This is a huge issue for people who might switch between 28mm and 21mm a lot and is an unnecessary step back. Sure, it's only for the EXIF information and does not actually affect the shooting but this was not necessary and if the GRD I could automatically detect the 22mm and 40mm lenses then I simply expect more from a camera which is essentially the GRD V.
Overall the GR is not only the most refined Ricoh camera and the best GR camera you can buy but it's the best serious compact camera out there. This is thanks to the fantastic handling, great image quality, speedy operation and small size. There are some small problems with the low light AF for example but most can easily be fixed with a firmware update and given Ricoh's track record of updating the firmware of the GRD cameras, this will most likely happen sooner rather than later.
Some people will look at it and miss a built in EVF or VF and/or flip screen but to those I say tht this is the wrong camera for this. The GR line was always about being as compact as possible, in other words fit in a jeans pocket, while delivering the bes image quality possible. Fitting a OVF/EVF or flip screen inside would make it bigger and it is already as big as it can possible get before it's too big. Once it passes that threshold and does not fit in a jeans pocket anymore so you have to carry it in a bag (like the Fuji X100s for example) then it becomes too big and you would demand interchangeable lenses (I know I would). This would make it a different class of camera altogether.
For travel, especially if you want to travel light, there is nothing better than the GR period. For me this is the bes camera out there at the moment, followed by the GXR A12-M.
I know, this is not the big in-depth review I promised and I still owe you the comparison pictures but rather than wait for me to get around on my travels to write and post this just go out, buy the GR and have fun with it. You can't go wrong with the GR, it's that good.
NOTE: I will try to post the comparisons when I can but before that I will provide the images to download for everyone to do have a look at this. It will also serve as a sample pictures gallery.