The 28mm equivalent wide-angle lens on the Ricoh GR Digital II is great for landscapes, interiors, architecture and 'street' photography, but hopeless for portraits, long-range sports photography and all but the tamest wildlife.

This is a camera you'd choose for certain jobs only.

A specialised compact camera

The Ricoh is specialised, then, but it does what it does exceptionally well. At the start we sang the praises of fixed focal length lenses, and this is a prime (sorry!) example.

At f/2.4 it's a tad faster than the average zoom, but better than that it has no significant barrel distortion or chromatic aberration. In these respects it beats a zoom hands down.

The autofocus system is no faster or slower than those on other compacts, but you can also switch to Infinity Focus, Snap Focus (fixed at 2.5m) or Manual Focus. And this is where the Ricoh's depth of field control comes in.

In Manual Focus mode, the up/down buttons adjust the focus point on a vertical distance scale on the left of the LCD. But if you're in Aperture Priority or Manual Exposure mode, a green bar shows you the extent of the depth field both in front of and behind the focused distance.

As you change the focus distance or the lens aperture, the position and the length of the green bar updates. It's a simple matter, for example, to choose an aperture and a focus distance that gives you images that are sharp from 1m to infinity!

Smart features

Like many compacts, the Ricoh can display a live histogram, which you can use alongside the EV compensation control. It's not that the Ricoh is doing something other cameras don't, but that it's making it so quick and accessible.

There are many other smart features, which set this apart as a camera for the cognoscenti rather than the casual snapper. Images can be saved as RAW files as well as JPEGs, and there's a choice of aspect ratios including the standard 4:3 ratio of digital compacts, the 3:2 ratio of digital SLRs and even the old 1:1 square ratio of 6x6 medium-format cameras.

Of course, you can crop any digital image to these ratios in your image editor (and in-camera with the Ricoh, too), but that's not the point.

It's only when you're working with these aspect ratios 'live' that you'll really learn to exploit their compositional potential.

More inventive photography

It's the same with black and white photography - it's easier to visualise and shoot 'live' in mono than it is to shoot in colour with the vague notion of converting your shots later (although you'll admittedly have more control).

It's all too easy to view the Ricoh GR Digital II in terms of its limitations rather than its strengths.

Yes, working with a 28mm lens is restrictive and demanding, but it also forces you to approach your subjects in new and more inventive ways.

Via PhotoRadar