Ricoh GR vs Olympus Pen-F

What a title. A better one would have probably been “Comparing the Ricoh GR II and the Pen-F mounting a Panasonic 14mm f2.5”, because that’s what this little post will be about — but that would have definitely been too long.

The idea for this post came to me when I remembered the Pen-F has an effect called Grainy Film that is somewhat similar to the Hi-Contrast B&W effect on the Ricoh Gr. This made me think –– how do these cameras compare, if I put on the Pen-F a 28mm equivalent and I shoot it in 3:2 format?

Contrasty Moriyama vibes… that’s the Ricoh GR, right? Not at all, it’s the Pen-F! (Grainy Film I)

At first I wanted to create a proper test, with the various ISO comparisons, the same scene shot with different cameras, zooming to the center, to the peripheral areas — judging the sharpness and noise levels etc. I then realised the final results of these image quality tests could be expressed in a couple of sentences:

A detail of a villa shot with the Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)
  • The Ricoh lens resolves much more detail and is definitely better than the Panasonic 14mm
  • The Pen-F sensor generally produces noise at all ISO levels, while the Ricoh stays quite clean up to 400 ISO
  • The Pen-F has IBIS and that allows for slower shutter speed and thus lower ISO, making it possible to shoot cleaner and more detailed photos where the Ricoh would struggle
What about these soft tones? That must be the Pen-F? Nope, this is the Ricoh GR. (Edited RAW)

So, if you can take advantage of the IBIS, then the Pen-F probably gives better image quality. If you can stay under 400 ISO, the Ricoh GR gives better image quality. Done, that’s the tech comparison!

Same scene and rendering as before. This time shot with the Pen-F. (Edited RAW)

Joking aside, while I find tech comparisons to be sometimes extremely valuable, I didn’t create this blog for publishing that kind of content. Instead of such tests I decided to post lots of photos shot with both cameras — some are meant to be similar, so it’s easy to compare –– others are totally different.

Pen-F (Edited RAW)

What I would like to give you in the end is an overview of what the two cameras can produce, side by side, and how is it like to use them. For more detailed info about each camera you could read the reviews I wrote for the Ricoh GR II and for the Olympus Pen-F.

Pen-F (Edited RAW)

As I mentioned, I shot 3:2 on the Pen-F for helping keeping a similar composition: this means we lose some data, but it’s nothing that can really change the overall outcome, because the GR is 16mp and if we crop the 4:3 ratio 20mp image of the PenF down to 3:2 we get approx 18mp. Than being said, I am appreciating 4:3 format more and more and I actually came to prefer it to 3:2 over time.

Ricoh GR (Edited RAW)

As you may know, I like both cameras very much. I know them quite good and I don’t need to declare which one is better: I know each one has its strength. What I want to do is to understand if there is really a huge difference when using them in the same way, as compact cameras with a 28mm equivalent, shooting (mostly) black and white straight out of camera jpgs.

Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)

I’d like to start with a field of view comparison. I will use a Nikon Z6 + Nikkor 28mm f1.4 as reference shot for a 28mm shot and compare the GR and Pen-F to that. All cameras are set at base ISO and the photos are shot using a tripod.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm f1.4
Ricoh GR II (with lovely dust spot)
Olympus Pen-F + Panasonic 14mm f2.5

The Pen-F isn’t actually showing the same field of view as a proper 28mm: it behaves more like a 30mm or something around that. To show it better, here is a comparison with the Ricoh and Pen-F frames aligned:

This behavior is quite consinstent with all my shooting using these two cameras, both landscapes and portraits: the Pen-F with the 14mm always shows a bit less of the scene.

I did set the Pen-F to f2.8, the Ricoh GR to f4, the Nikon to f5.6, so that we have kinda the same DOF –– because at the same aperture the Nikon has less Depth Of Field than the GR, and the GR has less than the Pen-F. How this fact influences our photography is up to us and what we need. I usually like to have more DOF, unless I am looking for some particular effect, and that’s one of the reasons why I like the m43 system.

Pen-F (Color Profile 2)

It’s funny to read people arguing over the amount of DOF it is possible to easily reach with a system, as if it’s some universal truth, a paramount immutable value of life. As a rule of thumb, if the possibility of extremely thin DOF is important for you, then you should better go for Full Frame of Medium Format. If it’s not important, maybe an APS-C or m43 could be fine. And if having a lot of DOF is something you want, then the m43 becomes a very interesting option.

Pen-F (Color Profile 2)

The maximum aperture is f2.8 for both lenses (the 14mm starts at f2.5 but the gain in terms of light gathering is marginal so for making things easier I treat both lenses as 2.8).

One of the issues of Grainy Film effect on Pen-F: the grain is not applied to totally overexposed areas (see the left part of the photo).
You can fix it in post adding some local grain to taste.

The optimal aperture I determined by shooting a lot with both lenses through the years is around f4 for both.

Pen-F (Grainy Film I)
Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)

As I wrote before, the GR lens resolves more detail, but that’s only visible if we manage to keep the ISO low enough. I believe the unique and almost analog look of the Ricoh GR I and GR II comes from the combination of an old sensor with a very sharp lens: in this sense, you could really treat it like a film camera, and ignore high ISO unless you are in an emergency!

Pen-F (Grainy Film I)
Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)

It’s interesting to note that the GR has a base ISO of 100, and shooting at 100 is one of the requisites for getting the most out of its old sensor. The best quality from the GR II comes in my opinion at ISO 100 and f4.

The Pen-F has a base ISO of 200. While it is possible to get noise free photos from the Ricoh GR (at 100 and 200 ISO), this is not possible with the Pen-F: even at 200, you still get some noise. Very few, but it is there.

Pen-F (Grainy Film I)
Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W with some grain added in post)

So, let’s talk a bit about noise. When you venture into high ISO, the image quality degrades because of many reasons, but noise is just one of them. For instance, you also get reduced dynamic range. So, we tend to associate the presence of noise with worse image quality, and yet this is not necessarily true: I think noise impacts image quality only when it starts reducing detail. The Pen-F has noise at ISO 200 but it still produces excellent image quality, especially considering it has such an old and small sensor. The same goes for ISO 400 and with the right situation, even ISO 800.

I’d like to add that I keep noise reduction off on my Pen-F, because I much prefer having noise than noise reduction artifacts.

The sensor on the GR is bigger but older: it has no noise at ISO 100 and 200, very low noise at 400, but it starts eroding detail from 800 on. In the end, an ISO 1600 photo shot with the Pen-F has more detail than the same photo shot with the Ricoh GR.

Pen-F (Grainy Film I)
Pen-F (Monochrome 2)
Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)

The dynamic range is quite similar, with a slight advantage for the Ricoh GR if you can stay under 400 ISO. The Pen-F has some issues recovering highlights and it introduces a sensible amount of noise in the lifted shadows, so it’s advised exposing as correctly as possible. The Ricoh GR at low ISO values gives us some more room for recovering.

Both cameras offer a very complete bracketing mode, so you can improve the scenes with a bit of compositing, even if you shoot jpg. Their bracketing also includes effects, so you can take a photo and have it saved at the same time as raw, as gritty contrasty monochrome, as soft monochrome, color, etc.

Pen-F (Grainy Film II)
Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)

This post has been mostly about black and white, but it’s also interesting to talk about the colors. Keep in mind, I am talking of out of cameras jpg files: if you venture into raw, then you can adjust images to look pretty much the same no matter the starting point.

Pen-F with Color Profile 2
Ricoh GR with Positive Film

These photos show a typical situation: the slide simulation in the Pen-F (called Color Profile 2) gives more natural colors, while the Ricoh GR slide simulation (called Positive Film) gives a strong chromatic identity, with vivid reds and blues. Both shot with daylight white balance (which is what I often shoot with).

What do you prefer? This is entirely subjective, of course. There are times when the GR is just perfect, other times when I need to dial down the vividness of reds on people. What’s evident is how the color GR photo is really recognizable as a GR photo, while the Pen-F is more general looking. Over the years I did lots of investigations about this and Ricoh GR I & II colors are usually loved and preferred by people: I don’t think this depends on the vividness, but it is more connected to the analog and unique look of the photos.

Pen-F with Color Profile 2
Ricoh GR with Positive Film

This doesn’t mean I don’t like the jpg colors on the Pen-F: on the contrary, I love them. They are just different and less extreme than what the GR produces.

In the previous example we can again see the strong reds and blues coming out of the GR with Positive Film effect, while the Pen-F produced slightly more realistic colors. I say “slightly” because the GR is shifting toward magenta and the Pen-F toward green, so they are both wrong. Nevermind the DOF: I shot the GR at f2.8 and the Pen-F at f4 for mistake, I actually wanted to do the opposite!

Another example of the beautiful colors the Pen-F can produce. Color Profile 2 straight out of camera.

If we take a look at the quality of the jpg files, we can see the GR compresses them more than the Pen-F, and this fact can sometimes eat detail, especially if you apply strong noise reduction and you shoot with high ISO.

Again, the Pen-F with Color Profile 2 straight out of camera.

In the end we can say that while it’s possible to create similar out of camera monochrome photos with these two cameras, things are more complicated with colors, and in that case you need to understand what you are going after.

The colors coming out of a Ricoh GR I or II set to Positive Film are unique, recognizable, and to my taste, stunning. I mostly shoot this camera in jpg and only do minor edits to the files, while with the Pen-F I tend to use the raw files more.

Ricoh GR II (Positive Film). When the light is right, the colors coming straight out of the Ricoh are just perfect.
More Ricoh GR II magic (Positive Film).

I never managed realiably simulating Ricoh’s Positive Film and Hi-Contrast B&W effects in Lightroom or Capture One: I guess Ricoh is also having issues with this, since with the GR III they radically changed the effects, in my opinion for the worse. I think the GR I & II effects are tuned for the sensor they had to work with.

Conclusion

As I wrote in the introduction, this post wasn’t meant for declaring a camera to be better than the other. It wasn’t even a detailed camera comparison, it’s more like a very relaxed camera/lens combo comparison. Stille, let’s try to put down some conclusion to my free rambling.

The Ricoh GR is a better choice if you want a pocketable camera that can be operated with one hand, if you shoot with good or controlled light (so you can keep ISO very low), if you like the unique look of its color photos.

Pen-F (Grainy Film II)

The GR produces cleaner images at low ISO, but it has no stabilization so it can’t always compete with the Pen-F, which lets you keep ISO at base level and shoot with super slow times (if you’re not shooting moving subjects).

Finally, the Ricoh GR I & II are famous for their wonderful and unique in-camera effects, and as you know I love the Positive Film and High Contrast BW. But the Pen-F also has very beautiful effects and colors, as I hope I managed to show with my posts.

Ricoh GR (Hi-Contrast B&W)

The Pen-F is a better choice if you can put its incredible stabilization into fruition and if you enjoy the chance of changing lens if needed. For instance, I could put a Panasonic Leica 12mm 1.4 on the Pen-F and do a huge jump in terms of image quality.

The Pen-F has a wonderful black & white Monochrome Profile complete with grain simulation and 3 variations (I only shoot the v2), it has black and white Grainy Film I & II art filters that are similar to Ricoh’s High Contrast BW, and it even has a Positive Film (“Color Profile”) with 3 different variations (again, I only shoot the v2). So it’s absolutely possible to shoot jpg with both cameras and get unique and beautiful results, but the Pen-F wins again when it comes to versatility.

Self portrait with the Pen-F and the Panasonic 14mm f2.5.

I can summarise and bring this whole post down to two word: the Ricoh GR is unique, the Pen-F is versatile. I think this touches the heart of the matter.

I believe cameras and lenses in a similar price tag and with similar sensors capturing the photos tend to give similar image quality. Some lenses are sharper, some sensors give less noise, but it is never night and day — no matter what marketing departments and popular review sites tell you. To see a difference that is obvious to someone that is not a photographer obsessed with such topics, you need to jump to a much bigger sensor and / or much better and expensive lenses.

In the end, the point I would like to make with this post is that even if they are very different, you can use both cameras for shooting with a similar style and output, so what could make you opt for one instead of the other is the value you give to its intrinsic characteristics, like ergonomics, stabilization, color rendition, pocketability.

What matters the most is always what’s in front and behind the camera.

17 comments

  1. Hi, Andrea! Thanks for the great post! I, too, noticed pen-f. When browsing the pics on 500px and looking into the ones that I liked most, pen-f popped up often among them. I know people say any ‘look’ is possible nowadays in post processing, but I still notice that there is a handful of cameras that I am fond of how they render. Which is why, to me, the Nikon shot that you shared reminds me of Sony, because I believe Nikon uses their sensors. Again, thank you for this detailed comparison of Pen-F and GR. The amount of attention to detail in your shots is amazing and inspiring, a true artists at work!

    1. Hello Andrei! There are definitely differences between cameras when using jpg as output, yes –– I think that’s where we see most of the uniqueness of that brand at work. Right now the Z6 II + 28mm f1.4 is my favorite camera/lens combination, but I know I must shoot it raw and do post on the shots, because the included jpg effects are not very nice nor unique. And sometimes I have no time nor wish of working with raw. The Pen-F and Ricoh on the contrary can be shot in jpg and what you get is very often surprising. I think the Pen-F is one of the most lovely cameras out there, too bad there is no high quality 28mm equivalent lens for it! Thanks for your kind words!

  2. Your skills in writing and taking photos, is what, I think many of these young street photogs should aspire to do. Gr2 and GRD4 in my bag now with Leica Q. I like the looks of the Pen F and am suitably impressed with the output you get from the camera. Two systems are enough for me they all fit in my ONA PRINCE so no Olympus for me. I am trying work up the courage sell the Q and 2 of my X’s for q2monochrom, that looks like it would be a blast. Thank you for this discussion.have great Christmas and New Year.

    1. Hello John, as usual your words are extremely kind, thank you! I am gravitating around the Q and Q2 since some time, but I am waiting to see what the M11 will be like before taking any decision. They will apparently announce it in a month or two. I am not sure about the Monochrome models though, because of the way I usually do my black and white –– a system I developed over the years and that requires I start with a color image. That being said, I am very curious about using something like the M10M or Q2M! Thanks for reading and commenting, I also wish you safe and joyful Christmas and New Year holidays!

  3. Biggest difference is that Ricoh is almost a disposable camera because it will die unexpectedly one day without any warning. It’s not a camera I can trust 100% of the time, it can live as a backup only.

    1. I personally would not call the GR a disposable camera, but yes, it does have a range of problems: while the Pen-F never gave me any issue, my GR has dust on the sensor and a couple of buttons that behave weird from time to time. Other GR I & II users I know have my same issues and also random shut downs of the cameras. And let’s not even touch the GR III, which has its own set of problems! This brings us to what I think is the biggest issue of the current GR line: quality control. Some copies have all kind of issues, some have no issues at all. As you say, it is a camera you can’t always trust 100%. I think for the money Ricoh asks, the GR should be a much more reliable camera. Let’s hope for the next model (if there will be one) they will address the issues: I think the fans of GR line would pay 100 or 200 euros/dollars more for a camera that is more reliable, has no dust reaching the sensors, doesn’t overheat, etc. We will see. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I’m a sample of one, but I’ve owned (new) all these: GR1, GR1s, GRD2, GRD4, GR, GRII and the only one which had a technical issue (lens retraction) was the GR1, fixed under warranty. They’ve been around the world, India, New Zealand, South America, Iceland, even _Sardinia_, with no special treatment. Well, both the GRD4 & GR got stolen (respectively in Argentina and Colombia) but that was my fault.

    The problem with the Internet is generally you only hear the bad news, and 1 complaint is amplified a thousand times over the “no complaints”. In my 1-person experience the Ricoh GRs are as reliable and robust as any other camera. And any camera can suffer issues.

    (well, I am about to completely ignore Andrea’s advice and order a GR IIIx, so we’ll see how that will turn out 🙂 )

    1. Hi David! Yes it’s true it’s usually the ones with issues going to forums and websites for complaining –– and people without issues rarely go around posting to celebrate the fact 🙂 But it’s also true that people do experience issues with Ricoh cameras. I personally know in real life and online tens of people with Ricoh cameras ranging from the GRD4 to the GR III and most of them had some kind of issue. Now, without reliable and complete data it is not possible to assert anything beyond the anectodal, and this makes all the matter too nebulous to be statistically relevant. I love the GR line and for me it is the closest to my ideal camera –– that’s why I use it and reccomend it since years, no matter the issues: for me, it’s worth it. By the way, everything I write in this blog is coming from my direct experience and that’s why I find it extremely valuable when people that have a different experience come hereto share their point of view, thank you for doing so. You are also encouraged to ignore my rambling and go for the GR IIIx, and then hopefully share with us your experience! I wish you good luck! 🙂

  5. I love your style and admire your talent.I consider it very fortunate too have found your blog.
    I have been doing photography since the 60’s . I had a major stroke and I am one handed shooting(camera).My question is which GR should I buy. I see the flash on the GRII and the tilt screen on the GRIII along with IS ,I am leaning towards the GRII.
    I would value your advice. I miss photography. Thank you

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for your kind words. The GR III has no tilt screen: it has a fixed one like the GR II. The GR III screen is touch though, maybe you meant that? The GR is probably the best camera for shooting one handed (right hand), because all the controls are reachable with your fingers, and you can configure them quite in depth to suit your style and needs. I have the GR II and never use the flash, because I have a LigthtPix FlashQ for it (small, detachable, can aim the head, etc), but many GR photographer love the flash included in the GR I & II. The touchscreen on the GR III is a nice feature for viewing photos and for other tasks, like focusing, but I think the kind of photography the GR encourages is practical even without a touchscreen. My advice would be to try both, if possible, and see what fits you better. I wrote some posts detailing why I sent back the GR III and why I prefer the GR II, but that’s my experience and you could feel and think drastically different. The only advantage I see in the GR III is better High ISO performance and slightly better autofocus, while everything else is in my opinion better in the GR I & II, which are also much cheaper. Thanks for reading the blog and commenting! I wish you to enjoy your time going back to photography, there is so much to capture and explore out there!

      1. I ended up with a gr1 .With practice I am learning too use it with one arm.
        It is a great camera ,I’m happy so far.by the way I bought the camera from Japan through E bay and as usual I am pleased ,it was advertised as 1100 shutter actuations and in mint condition, exactly as advertised.
        Thank you for your advice input . Peter

  6. Hi, amazing how much you can do with such inconspicuous cameras as GRII and Pen F. Your post is inspiring for me – as always. Now I’m looking for something with 50 mm, but not a miroless camera 🙂 Have you used a Pentax K1mII or K3mIII? Are they as Good as Ricoh?

    1. Hello Pawel! Thanks for your kind words. I do still work with a Nikon D850 as my primary camera for work and it’s one of the best cameras I ever used. Before that I used the D810, which in many ways is comparable to the K1, though the Pentax is much richer in terms of features and felt even more solid and well built. I always loved the Pentax brand and it’s too bad they don’t receive more attention. At some point I considered buying a Pentax KP as personal camera, but I didn’t want to invest in a third system — I am trying to downsize my equipment and only keep the essential. But I know sooner or later I will be shooting Pentax again 🙂 Talking about 50mm, a K1 + HD PENTAX-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW or a K3 + PENTAX FA 31mm f/1.8 AL Limited seem a good combination 🙂

  7. Just bumped into this blog and a few comments on the GR I/II/III/IIIx and the Pen-F.

    First of all- I absolutely love how you summarize in a. sentence or two your point when comparing or assessing something. You got a gift there.

    I do own a PenF and own a GRIIIX (just gave away to a friend a GRII because I a not a 28mm photographer usually). I am trying to see if I could have the GRiiix as only camera in an effort to kill gas, detox, and focus on one.

    I don’t use the PenF. The PenF has to be the camera I both loved and hated the most. Love its color. To me probably the best m43rds output in the world. But hated *hated* the fully articulated LCD, the rear rubber falling off and the issues the PenF has focusing the Panasonic 15mm in moderate to low light- in fact its low light AF performance and general slower response.

    I normally use a Pen EP7 and the GR. The EP7 inherited the PenF’s color and B&W profiles, adding just one more slot to color and B&W. It cleaned up the interface well, and best of all it’s smaller and lighter. Unfortunately no EVF.

    I find the EP7 much more responsive except some cycles of turning off/on. Even though it’s like a smaller PenF, there’s just *something* that the PenF seems to do just one notch better but the EP7 comes very close indeed.

    I am starting to love more and more my GRIIIx, but yesterday I discovered I did get a dust speckle. Virtually invisible at F2.8/F4 and mostly F5.6 but still… pretty disappointed with that. We’ll see how much Ricoh charges, it’s still under warranty.

    1. Hi Ricardo! Thank you very much for you words.

      The Pen-F is definitely a model that needed refinement. An updated version could have fixed its shortcomings and make it an even better all around camera. Sadly, it never happened. The viewfinder in the Pen-F is not so good, especially compared to modern ones, so it is not terrible to lose it with the EP7. There are times when it is handy though!

      I am sorry for the dust in the Ricoh. The dust is really the major drawback for this otherwise amazing line of cameras. My GR II is not full of dust and I am planning on opening it for cleaning it, but I am working a lot and I don’t know when can I sit, breath and try this scary process!

      Thank your for your comment and for reading the blog!

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