Tiny Second Hand Camera Smackdown: Ricoh GR vs. Sony RX100 IV

Recently I exchanged the Sony 20mm f/2.8 that I bought when I purchased my a6000 not that long ago for the Rokinon 35mm f/2.8. My thinking was that the two lenses were redundant since 35mm (50-ish in full frame terms) was my preferred focal length and the Rokinon seemed barely larger than the 20mm (2.43 x 1.30″ (61.8 x 33 mm) vs 2.46 x 0.80″ vs (62.6 x 20.4 mm)) while gaining another full frame lens in my quiver. No brainer, right? Nope. I really like the Rokinon, but it was not a suitable replacement for the 20mm. Why? Glad you asked:

  • Despite its tiny profile the Rokinon better marries with the full frame Sonys in operation. Where focus speed seems adequate on the A7Rii it is less so on the a6000. No idea why. While not awful on the a6000 it is nowhere near as fast as the 20mm on the a6000. Had no idea how good that lens was until I no longer had it… The framework for an R&B or Country song right there.
  • 0.5″ (12.6mm) does not seem like a huge difference in theory, but in application that turns a very pocketable camera into a somewhat pocketable camera. Also the slightly rounded front edge and metal build of the 20mm meant it went in and out of pocket far easier than the square cornered and plastic Rokinon.

Simple fix. Buy the 20mm again. One problem. Southeastern Camera had two tempting full-blown second-hand cameras (ones I always thought about buying) that barely cost more than the 20mm lens new that would be even smaller than the already petite a6000. The thinking was that for a little more spend than a lens ($350-ish) I could potentially have a whole camera ($500-ish).

 

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What to do? A comparison seems appropriate. Already being familiar w/ the 20mm on the a6000 I focused on comparing the Ricoh GR and Rx100 IV. And I was able to do that in a brief real-world comparison courtesy the kindness of Southeastern Camera.

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Below I will post back to back shots taken with each much like the recent KEH.com legend/bootleg, Leica/FED comparison.

Arbitrary ground rules:

  • Both will be JPEG out of camera with no edits. I shoot in RAW+JPEG always but chose JPEG to test the in body processing rather than Lightroom and my ability to manipulate RAW files.
  • All photos were taken in the quick one-shot style mimicking how I expect to use such a camera. If focus is missed it is missed.
  • Both set to the way I typically use small cameras. Aperture priority, wide open, ISO on Auto topped out at 6400, no flash, AF-S, Average AE, and single shot.
  • In most photos I used the native focal length, and by default max aperture, when powered on.
    • Note: Chose not to make an issue of the varying apertures here (f/2.8 constant on the always 18.3mm GR and F/1.8-f/2,8 across the zoom range of the RX100 IV) since I did not see an appreciable impact on bokeh or light gathering when eyeballing the images. My layman’s opinion seat of the pants impression is that larger sensor/smaller aperture seemed mostly offset by the smaller sensor/larger max aperture at the wide end of the RX100 IV.
  • Photos taken back to back.

Now on to pluses and minuses of each, final thoughts of each and my decision.

Ricoh GR

Pluses:

  • Feels fantastic in hand. Light. Quite a bit lighter in hand and pocket than the smaller RX. Truly a one-handed camera. Great ergonomics. Things like the effect button on the left that brings up a scrollable menu and other details make it very easy to get up and running. Worthy of the following.
  • In camera filters like B&W high contrast were very nice.
  • They jammed an APS-C sensor in this tiny thing.
  • Great lens.
  • Particular to this camera, but it came with a box of goodies including a wide angle adapter, hood, batteries, and charger. None used in this comparison.
  • Macro mode works surprisingly well.

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    Ricoh GR in Macro mode
  • Very quiet.

Minuses:

  • That APS-C sensor did not blow the smaller sensor away IQ wise as I expected.
  • There are JPEGs I took (that I now wish I had saved but did not) of a black plastic chair hit by sunlight where the GR rendered strange little blue and red splotches and the RX100 IV maintained all black and white. Don’t know why. Some may prefer it, but I did not like it.
  • Some will find one focal length a drag. But I shoot primes often on interchangeable lens cameras so this was no big deal. Admittedly given my druthers I would rather a fixed 50mm equivalent, or even a 35mm equivalent, rather than this rather wide 18.3mm (28mm equivalent) lens.
  • Focus, while not awful, could not keep up with the RX100 IV. You can also see in some images above that focus on the intended subject using center focus was missed, like the red flower on the cactus and the bicycle in the window. But in its defense the GR did focus on Balu in one shot while the RX100 IV missed him.
    • Note: If I had more time than a day I could have likely offset the focus speed issue by familiarizing myself w/ the zone focus presets I had read about. But quick AF is always preferable to me when available.
  • No EVF. No tilt screen. Hard to go back once you have had these.
  • No Wifi. Another feature hard to do without once you are used to having it. Available on the GR II as the only addition of that upgrade, but at a greater cost.

Sony RX100 IV

Pluses:

  • It has an EVF. I had owned and liked the RX100 II and while it had a tilt screen it did not have an EVF which is why I traded it in the end.
  • Has features like 4K, slo-mo, e-shutter that maxes out at 1/32,000 fps, and others.
  • Like the RX100 it has very good IQ for a 1″ sensor. Amazing detail retained in the shadows and dynamic range. Take a look at the ceiling pictures in the gallery above as an example.
  • Very small so easily pocketable.
  • Very quick and accurate focus. Astonishingly so.
  • Very quiet normally. Completely silent in e-shutter mode.
  • A rival to and even bests the feature sets of larger and more expensive cameras.
  • Wifi. Always nice to have.

Minuses:

  • No fault in general. This particular RX100 IV was in a rough state, but that was necessary to get the price in the same ballpark as the GR.
  • Common with many e-shutters is that it has limited use and should be reserved for static shots.
  • May also just be this particular copy, but the EVF was a bit wonky. 2 step implementation requiring it first be popped up and then the viewfinder pulled out. Putting your eye up to the camera sometimes (and this is the part that may be isolated to this particular camera) pushed it back in slowing things down as you have to stop and pull it back out again. Not awful, but not great either.
  • Very small. Ergonomics a bit awkward for my beef mitts. True with the RX100 before, but passable. The addition of more features and the EVF did it no favors where I am concerned. Your mileage may vary. 20171102_113531

Make no mistake. Both of these cameras are great. Both are perfectly capable of producing great images. Could recommend both with a clear conscious.

Decision time. So which did I choose?… Er, admit I never should have traded the 20mm f/2.8 for my a6000 and buy it again and remove the eyecup.

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Why? Came down to two things mainly. Ergonomics and IQ.

Ergonomics:

While only slightly larger than the GR it has many of the features of the RX100 IV like an EVF, Wifi, snappy AF, and tilt screen and is just as easy to use. And with those added features there is now enough body real estate to make proper use of them without feeling awkward. Turns out there is such a thing as a camera being too small.

IQ:

The GR and RX100 IV are great image-wise. But in my experience neither can match the a6000. The GR matches the a6000 in sensor size but, perhaps owing to the MP deficit (18.3 vs 24.3), not IQ. The RX100 IV almost matches the a6000 in MP count (20.1 vs 24.3) but, perhaps owing to the smaller 1″ sensor, not IQ. While I am not a pixel peeper per se I do like to crop an image occasionally. Neither can stand up to as much cropping as the a6000.

There you have it. I am quite smitten with the a6000. If I could only have one digital camera this would be a top contender. I never would have expected that considering that I purchased it as a backup to my full frame alpha mount camera. But as a camera that delivers blazing fast constant focus easily keeping up with 10 fps while extending the reach of my 70-200mm to 300mm, along with my other full frame lenses, it is a no-brainer. So it is a specific solution for my specific situation.

What would I do if I was determined to buy a non-interchangeable lens camera and I had to choose between a second-hand GR and RX100 IV? Oof. That is a hard one. Because of the trade-offs mentioned neither camera pulled away from the other over the course of the day spent with both.

Both are in the same ballpark IQ wise so the best I can offer in this comparison is this.

Are ergonomics, feel in hand, and quick access to filters the most important things to you? Ricoh GR.

Are quick AF, photo specs like e-shutter and 1/32,000 top shutter speed, and video specs like slo-mo and 4K, and functional items like a tilt screen and EVF the most important things to you? RX100 IV.

On second thought after looking at the last 2 paragraphs it seems like I would choose the RX if I had to.

That is a purely logical decision. But let’s be real if someone has been bitten by the GR bug they want a GR and nothing I have said matters. And that is perfectly fine. If photography has to make sense we are probably doing it all wrong.

Happy shooting.

-ELW