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Ricoh GR vs. Nikon Coolpix A - key interface differences

Discussion in 'Other >= 1" Sensor Cameras' started by Ray Sachs, Apr 28, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    In anticipation of the Ricoh GR and the comparisons already well underway with the Nikon Coolpix A, I thought I'd compare and contrast the two interfaces, which may be the biggest practical difference between the two cameras. Although I obviously haven't held a GR yet, I'm very familiar with the Ricoh UI from having owned a GRD3 and currently owning a GXR-28 and having read about everything there is to read on the coming GR. And I'm quite familiar with the Nikon Coolpix A, having shot with one pretty intensively for a month. For those considering both, it appears that there will be minimal differences in IQ, with potential differences in corner sharpness wide open and raw performance at high ISO being mostly of concern to fairly intensive pixel peepers rather than the general population. Then again, one might presume that the portion of the population considering these two cameras might have a fair amount in common with the pixel peeping portion of the population! But it seems likely that the primary differences between these two cameras will come down to feel, interface, and usefulness in the field. So, with that comparison in mind, here's my take. And as usual, my take revolves around a combination of street shooting and more general scenic and architectural and abstract shooting, pursuits that both of these cameras are well suited to...

    Ricoh has a well deserved reputation for having among the most customizable interfaces ever. Ricoh's long and somewhat convoluted menus are rivaled only by those used by Olympus, and some people hate both, but in both cases, the intent is to offer such a high level of customization that once you've spent some time in the menus setting UP the camera, you should rarely ever have to visit them again. Relatively steep learning curve for someone new to the system, but once customized, among the quickest and most intuitive interfaces available. The Nikon OTOH, uses a more traditional interface where the most common 4-5 functions can be made very easily available, but secondary controls require some degree of menu diving, or at least "I" button diving...

    The primary things I like to adjust quickly when I'm shooting are aperture (and shutter speed while shooting manual), exposure comp (which I use a LOT street shooting as I move in and out of the sun and shade and am suddenly faced with odd lighting situations), and ISO. On the Nikon, the aperture and shutter speed are controlled with the two dials (thumb dial and around the 4-way). ISO, as with more and more modern cameras, is not an issue because the auto ISO design is so good. You can shoot in aperture priority and designate both the min and max ISO and a minimum shutter speed that can range from one second to 1/1000, or you can shoot in the equivalent of Ricoh/Pentax's TaV mode, set the aperture and shutter yourself, let ISO float, and adjust exposure comp to taste.

    The Nikon has a dedicated exposure comp button on the left side of the back, but I also designated the fn button on the front of the camera for exposure comp, which has two advantages. First, that button is easily reachable at all times with your right pinky or ring finger, so holding that down and turning the thumb dial is an instant one handed operation. Also, although undocumented, you HAVE to put it there did you want a TaV mode because in manual mode, the normally designated exposure comp button (which does require the left hand) is essentially a toggle that causes the thumb dial to control aperture rather than shutter speed, leaving you without the ability to adjust exposure comp. With the fn button on the front designated for exposure comp, you've given yourself a very good and undocumented TaV mode that's operable with one hand. The other fn button doubles as the ISO button and is on the left side and I'd designate that for something I use but not as often like bracketing or WB or something. The auto ISO function on the Nikon is not as easily reached as it should be, not being available on the regular ISO menu (or from the ISO button). One has to enter the menu to adjust the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed (the minimum ISO, as with the X100, is based on the manually set ISO, which can be done from the ISO button/menu). This approach made me somewhat crazy on the X100 (although that was worse because you had to got to TWO different menus to get to these functions), but it doesn't bother me on the Nikon because the auto-ISO is so thoroughly configurable and because it works in manual mode with the exposure compensation still operable. With this implementation of auto-ISO, I basically never switched out of it, so not having an easy way to switch between manual and auto ISO doesn't bother me as on other cameras in the past. I'd basically leave the ISO set to auto with a minimum of 100, maximum of 6400, and minimum shutter speed of 1/250 (it can be set as high as 1/1000). Those settings govern in aperture priority mode - when I want more specific control over the shutter speed I just switch to manual mode and control the shutter speed directly.

    The Ricoh allows for customization to the point that ISO can be constantly available by just flicking the ADJ lever to the left or right (no button pushing to "arm" it is required) and I'm quite sure that auto-ISO is available directly from that menu of choices, as on previous Ricohs. This approach has been an enormous advantage on previous Ricohs where one often needed to adjust ISO on the fly, particularly with the small sensor GRD models (not so much on the GXR, where auto-ISO was a pretty good option). On the new model with its best yet Ricoh sensor, I suspect this adjustment will be a lot less necessary because the auto-ISO and TaV options should make auto-ISO the natural choice the vast majority of the time, as with the Nikon. Ricoh also has exposure compensation directly armed at all times on the "zoom" rocker switch, so no button pushing is required for that either, whereas on the Nikon, one must push a button and turn the dial simultaneously. Both are instant one handed operations, but the Ricoh is a bit less complex. Both of them are basically instant adjustments though. One other advantage of the Ricoh here, although I'd actually see it as more of a DISadvantage of the Nikon, is that the Ricoh always shows the current exposure comp setting on the rear screen. The Nikon, oddly, does not - you have to push the exposure comp button not only to adjust the setting, but to even SEE the setting. Nikon should fix this in firmware ponto!

    But, overall, for these basic controls over aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO, the cameras are pretty closely matched once you've used each and are in the field. I slightly prefer the Ricoh approach, but in use, I never had any problem with the Nikon - it never slowed me down or made me think too hard about what I was trying to do. After a short period of acclimation, both cameras "flow" in use and are wonderful shooters.

    Which brings us to the question of manual focus, which many will use either of these cameras with for zone focussing on the street. Ricoh has its very well known and brand-specific "snap focus" method of setting the manual focus distance for zone focus. This is fairly quick and easy (although the GRD4 and now GR make it a bit less convenient than it was on the GRD3 and GXR, requiring two pushes of the ADJ button and a dial turn, rather than just holding down one button while turning the dial). By designating one of the fn buttons to toggle between snap focus and AF, the camera can instantly switch between the two modes, with the manual (or "snap") focus distance always recalled when you switch back to that mode. The Nikon has nothing like snap focus, instead using a focus ring on the lens and a pretty good distance scale on the screen (though no DOF scale, which I actually prefer due to the conservatism of most electronic DOF scales). If you use the "press through snap" feature a lot on the Ricoh, there's no substitute on the Nikon - nothing like it. I never use that feature though - I never could get a feel for it and I'd lose too many shots for either not pressing hard enough and just refocusing the AF or pressing too hard and jerking the camera. The Nikon is a little slower to switch between auto and manual focus because you have to reset the focus ring each time you switch - it doesn't have a "sticky" memory for the last manual focus distance used. I thought this would be a real hassle, but in use I found it was a very quick process that became second nature within an hour or so of getting used to the camera. The focus mode switch on the side is a very quick switch between the manual and auto focus mode, and I found it almost instantaneous to switch to manual focus and turn the focus ring a fraction of a turn to move from infinity down to the 4-6 foot range I tend to use for zone focus. People who really love snap focus might find the Nikon inconvenient - I find snap focus to be one pretty effective way to implement zone focussing, but actually prefer a lens ring focus control all other things being equal (I actually love the GXR, which has both a focus ring AND snap focus). This is a matter of personal preference - somehow a rotary control that's directly linked to a focus scale just seems quicker and more intuitive to me than having to push a button and turn a dial to switch between discrete manual focus distances and then push the button again to accept the new distance. So I find the Nikon very quick and intuitive and the focus ring can easily be fine tuned just using the right hand. Old time Ricoh fans will no doubt prefer the GR here, but I actually prefer the Nikon with its lens ring to snap focus. If you switch back and forth between auto and manual focus a LOT, the Ricoh is more convenient with its manual focus memory and the ability to instantly toggle between the two modes. I find that I tend to do batches of manual focus shooting interspersed with batches of AF shooting so I'm not constantly switching and I found the Nikon more than quick and easy enough to switch on the fly when I did.

    For second level functions that one may switch from time to time but not constantly (things like WB, bracketing, AF area, metering mode, etc), the Ricoh can be customized to put these functions within easier reach than the Nikon, and for some that will be a major advantage. On the Nikon, they're most quickly accessed using the "I" button, which brings up a whole grid of such functions on the rear screen to move between and adjust. This button is basically the same thing as the "Q" button found on the Fuji cameras or the "super control panel" found on Olympus cameras. I personally find more it more than fast enough for changing these types of secondary controls, but if there are a few of these controls that you use as often as things like aperture and exposure compensation adjustments, the Ricoh can put them about a half-step closer (either on an fn button or as one of several scrollable options under the ADJ toggle). On the Nikon, I found myself using the rear control screen menu so rarely I'd forget it was there and had to remind myself that it was a convenient way to get to some occasionally used items.

    On balance, I personally prefer the Ricoh interface (except for lack of focus ring, where I prefer the Nikon), but its a very slight preference. The Nikon was basically as quick and intuitive once I'd spent a little time with it. A lot of Ricoh lovers seem find the Ricoh interface to be the holy grail of all camera interfaces and find it vastly superior to any other. On other forums, many have been trashing the Nikon for its "menu driven" interface. And I actually like the Ricoh UI as much as anyone, but not to the exclusion of other interfaces that I find equally good, if different. I find the difference between the Ricoh and Nikon interfaces pretty minimal when actually using them in the field. A slight advantage to the Ricoh for me, but two small firmware fixes (make the MF distance sticky when you power the camera off and on and always display the exposure comp setting on the rear screen) and I'd like the Nikon interface every bit as much, if not more, for how I shoot. Both are great cameras but different in operation and one should understand the operational differences before choosing one.

    -Ray
     
  2. trisberg

    trisberg SC Veteran

    251
    Jul 5, 2011
    New Hampshire
    Ray, thanks for the detailed write-up. Lots of info here.

    I was pretty much set on buying the Ricoh GR but decided to rent the Nikon, just to make sure I understood how it operates. I have a pretty good idea of the GR interface based on using a GRD II and III for a while.

    I read your impressions and also the review by Ming Thein. Both were very useful, it all boils down to a preferred shooting style. It seems that my preferred working style matches Ming's - he uses a add-on OVF and also assigned focus to the Fn1 button on front of the camera.

    Here are my initial impressions of the Nikon A:

    - image quality is superb, would have no problem using the pictures mixed in with others taken with a Leica M9. The lack of AA filter combined with a really good lens produces some extremely sharp image files that match the M9 output well.

    - the AF is not fast enough to use AF as the primary means of focus. It also seems to hunt a bit in low light. I would either use scale focusing or use Fn1 button to activate and lock focus. That makes this camera basically a manual focus camera for me. There is no multi-spot focus option either and the face detect is a bit strange - once the focus point moves to a face, it stays there even if you change composition and there is no face to lock on to anymore. I would have expected the focus point to move back to a central position. I have to hit the OK button to achieve that.

    - one nice feature is that when Fn1 button is assigned to activate AF, it works even if the focus switch is set to MF. So I can get the focus "quickly" to a specific distance. In this mode it focuses over the entire focus range, even close-up, so it is much slower than normal AF operation.

    - there is no way to turn off the LCD screen. This is really annoying when you use an external OVF. This is strange since Nikon even offer a separate finder as an accessory.

    Bottom line, not sure yet which one to get. I will have to wait and see how the GR behaves for AF operation. I like to have that as an option. It's really nice to have so many great options in pocket-able large sensor cameras now.

    -Thomas
     
  3. retow

    retow SC All-Pro

    Jul 24, 2010
    A very good comparison of the two cameras, thank you. The differences in UI and menu systems do not seem to be substantial enough to choose one over the other. I thought I would switch to the Ricoh because of the wide angle adapter and use the Ricoh either as a stand alone 28 mm equivalent focal length pocket/belt pouch camera or when traveling with other gear as well, to cover the 21/28mm equivalent wide angle needs. Which would make owning wide 21 mm angle lenses (i.e Fuji 14 mm or Leica M 21 mm) for system cameras unnecessary. However, the lens ring on the Coolpix A can be unscrewed as well and if Nikon would release a 21 mm equivalent focal length converter lens there would be no reason for me to switch over to the Ricoh.
     
  4. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Absolutely, but even then they're not as different as some loyalists on one side or the other would have you believe. But there are for sure key differences to be aware of that might lead one more towards one over the other...

    At 28mm, AF is almost never my choice when focus speed is essential, even with a camera like the OMD that is FAST! I always find zone focus to be preferable for these situations and AF ends up being used for static shooting where speed doesn't matter to me. That said, the AF speed on the Nikon seemed pretty consistent with most mirrorless cameras other than the current crop of m43 (and the Nikon "1" series). I'd say its on par with the Fujis (with an edge to the X100s in the brightest light) and RX1. Not blazing but for the way I use AF, more than adequate.

    Ming's tip about using the fn1 button for AF while in MF mode is intriguing. If I hadn't discovered the trick with having exposure compensation on that button, which expands its function to allow its use with auto-ISO in manual mode, I might have tried using the fn1 button that way. Or, if I cared more about AF than exposure comp. As is, it sounds like a function that would be better placed on an AEL/AFL button if there was one, but alas there's not. This could be a point against the Nikon and in favor of the Ricoh for some. Then again, Ricoh will have the TaV mode, so the kinds of trick I had to back into won't be necessary to get that functionality in the first place... But, again, for the way I use AF on a camera like this, its a non-issue for me...

    The LCD screen is oft mentioned and I can see how it would be an issue in the dark for those using an OVF. I've never liked dumb OVFs though and don't plan on using one with either of these cameras, so that's not an issue to me, but I can see how it would be for some.

    Indeed its nice to suddenly have choices. I'd the absolutely thrilled with either of these cameras (barring any nasty surprises with the Ricoh) if only one of them had appeared. I almost wish that had been the case because now I feel obligated to do my due diligence and really figure each of them out down to the molecular level in order to make a choice I won't second guess. If there'd only been one, I'd have been saved all of this work! :biggrin: And I'd have no doubt praised it as the second coming. But now there are two and we'll each have to choose one and, inevitably, sides will be taken among some, and one of these cameras will have to be the bad guy. Which is silly, but seems to be human nature. But I see it all as good news and look forward to having one and shooting with it a lot...

    -Ray
     
  5. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    If I'd already put down my money down on the Nikon, I can't imagine switching at this point. The 21mm might be the one exception, but having tried it on the GRD3, it changed the overall feel and experience of using the camera to the point that I never wanted to use it. So I don't see going there if I get the Ricoh. I have the 14mm for my Fuji anyway so I have that covered. Facing a decision today, it looks like about a 50/50 call to me at similar prices, probably an edge to the Ricoh if the $300 price difference holds. But even then, not an easy call if you prefer the feel of the Nikon. I really do kind of prefer the focus ring to snap focus, but either are OK, and there are enough little details that may make the Ricoh a little quicker in the field, that I may go that way. But it'll be a close call regardless.

    And there's something to be said for forming an attachment to a camera you've already done good work with! You've already done some great stuff with the Nikon in both Spain and Sicily (probably elsewhere too) and I was really happy with the results I was able to get with it in New York City a few weeks ago. So that makes me lean a little bit in that direction. Its like I give the camera a bit of credit for those shots and don't feel I should betray it after its done all of that for me! But, realistically, once I get a chance to shoot with both back to back, I'm sure that will go out the window quickly and I'll get a feel for them that will lead me in one direction or the other. Or, if not, I may just decide on price...

    -Ray
     
  6. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    When I tried the Ricoh GXR I actually found the interface to be something of a letdown, particularly after having heard how good it was supposed to be. The key issue was that I couldn't find a way to adjust exposure compensation with a dedicated dial after I had focused and framed.
     
  7. aleksanderpolo

    aleksanderpolo SC Regular

    112
    Apr 18, 2013
    Polo
    Thank you Ray, for the detailed comparison. For basic operations I think both are quite convenient. I switch on/off bracket mode, change white balance and meter mode quite often, so having quick right hand button access to these are important to me. I also don't like moving my left hand over to press button, so I never use the quick menu button on GXR, and suspect that I won't be using the "effect" button on GR unless it is in a very convenient place.

    The manual focus ring in A is a really nice touch. Do you know if the GR has a similar ring? Or how was manual focus implemented in the past models? Thanks.
     
  8. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    The GR doesn't have a focus ring. The GXR does. The previous GRD models didn't. I honestly don't recall how manual focus was controlled on the GRD3 I had - I basically used snap focus and AF on it. I'm sure one of the rear controls could control the focus distance, but I don't remember which. If I get the GR, my assumption is that I'd also just use snap focus on that too. Although I've used less than optimal MF controls on the Fuji X10 and a couple if Panasonjc LX cameras, so I guess I could do the same on the GR.

    -Ray
     
  9. trisberg

    trisberg SC Veteran

    251
    Jul 5, 2011
    New Hampshire
    Manual focus on the GR Digital III/IV is controlled via the up/down buttons, not nearly as convenient as the focus ring on the Nikon. This is one thing I really like about the Nikon. It has a dedicated focus switch on the side - I can jump from AF to MF without going through any menus. I can also set the focus distance without using the menus. This is a great plus in my book.

    -Thomas
     
  10. aleksanderpolo

    aleksanderpolo SC Regular

    112
    Apr 18, 2013
    Polo
    Thanks. A manual focus ring on lens is a nice touch. But since I don't use it at all with my AF camera I probably won't be using it on GR. Curious to know what are the four types of focus assist though. :)
     
  11. Archiver

    Archiver SC Top Veteran

    618
    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    If the LCD could be turned off, I'd have a Nikon A already. The GR, most recent in a long line of camera that Ricoh knows are used for discreet street photography, allows all lights, noises and LCD to be turned off, with the exception of the green AF confirm light. Apart from that, only the open lens would give away that the camera is powered up.
     
  12. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I'm gonna have to try shooting like that sometime with the GXR. I've never done it. I figure the act of shooting, having the lens extended, etc, is more of a giveaway than the LCD would ever be. But I guess if you're shooting in low enough light the LCD could matter. I know Michael Penn shoots with the camera totally dark a lot of the time and he does a lot of great night street work. I suppose if I try it and it seems to make a difference that would be another mark in favor of the GR. But with all of the street shooting I've done, its just never occurred to me to turn off the rear LCD. If I used a dumb OVF I could see it mattering, but I never do, so it just never occurred to me.

    -Ray
     
  13. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Is it possible to assign snap focus to the + - lever used for exposure compensation?
     
  14. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Never has been and I haven't seen anything to indicate you could do that with the GR. The way it USED TO WORK (GRD3, GXR) was that you'd hold down one button with your thumb (macro button on GXR, top of 4-way on the GRD3) and simultaneously turn the font dial and it would scroll through the snap focus distances. When you got to the one you wanted, you just stop scrolling and release the button and its set to the new distance. This was crazy fast and easy to get used to and made snap focus, well, a "snap", as promised. When they brought out the GRD4, they got rid of that control and there was literally no way to change the snap focus distances without going into the menu. I think the rationale was that with the PDAF on that camera they offered an option they called "auto-snap" which, to me and many other zone focus purists, was the most insane concept ever. But people yelled and screamed and finally Ricoh released a firmware update that allowed you to make the snap focus distance one of the items you could bring up by clicking on the ADJ switch (which is basically a clickable toggle switch, not an actual dial). If you have more than one item on that ADJ, you'd click it and then scroll laterally to highlight snap distance, then turn the front dial to select from the distances, then click the ADJ again to set it and make the menu disappear. This is not as quick or easy as the old way, but its not bad. If you either don't have anything else on the ADJ switch (I think you can have up to four or five separate controls housed there) or you don''t have anything else you USE often, when you click the switch, snap focus will come right up, so its click, select, click, which is only slightly slower than press, select, release. Not bad, but you have to make sure you set it up so that it will come up quickly and you don't have to scroll through options to get to it. Its possible that you can also designate snap distance to one of the fn buttons, but I don't think so, and frankly that wouldn't be any quicker than using the ADJ switch.

    So that's more than you wanted to know, but those are the options. No way to have it constantly armed so all you'd have to do would be to press up or down on the + and - rocker switch. Plus, that's such an awesome and immediate place to have exposure comp that I wouldn't want anything else there.

    -Ray
     
  15. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Thanks Ray! Very informative. That old way sure sounded a whole lot faster -- to change snap focus.

    I rarely use exposure compensation dials as I use a lot of spot or center-weighted metering. And I'll sometimes just meter and recompose (habit developed from the perpetual center-weighted meter of the M9).
     
  16. Orablue

    Orablue New to SC

    1
    May 3, 2013
    In my opinion, if you need to change the snap focus distance often, you will be better off with manual focus in Ricoh. It gives you a nice DOF indicator in the distance scale too. If it is anything like the GXR, you can also save the initial manual focusing distance in MY Settings. That's cool!
     
  17. strawhat20

    strawhat20 SC Rookie

    22
    May 24, 2013
    Bay Area
    From reading the Ricoh Announcement thread from yesterday, it sounds like Snap Focus works just like the GRD3, according to a post by Paul Giguere, looks like if you hold the Up Arrow (Macro) on the back wheel while turning the front wheel, you can adjust distance. I can't confirm since I don't have the GR yet :frown:
     
  18. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Yeah, it does. There are about 1000 ways to change snap focus on this camera and two of them are good, one great - the old way you're talking about. Although if you're not careful, holding down the macro button seems to switch you to AF-macro - I'm not sure what triggers it, maybe holding the button too long before you start turning the dial?

    The camera is a little buggie. I don't get on with press through snap, so I always have the fn1 button on my Ricohs set to toggle between AF and Snap focus. There are things you can do when the camera is in AF mode that will lock it there and prevent it from toggling back to snap focus. And I don't have a CLUE what those things are, but I've done 'em several times, whatever they are... I'm sure this will all get ironed out in firmware, but it's a reminder if what a complex beast this little camera is. The Nikon doesn't have a quarter of the options but there's an elegant simplicity to it that makes the GR feel a bit Rube Goldbergian...

    -Ray