Pondering Digital: Ricoh GRX vs. Olympus EP-1 Pen 9

First let me be clear: I love film and have no plans to cease using film until the last frame of the last roll on Earth has been exposed. I enjoy the 100% hands-on nature of it, the texture of it, and the fact that the portraiture clients I have value it (which, of course, pays for me to buy more film). However, there are situations in which it is obvious that digital would serve me better. A good example is this blog. I would really love to be able to post more timely Taiwan-related travel, culture, and event articles and that would be much more practical shooting in digital. So I guess the first thing to do is firgure out the camera that best suits my shooting preferences and subjects.

General Requirements
I’m primarily a street-shooter.Yes I shoot portraits for cash, but that’s primarily done on 120 and 4×5″ B&W film, which is an integral part of the “package” I sell the client, so there’s no need to include that in considering a first digital system. Basically, these are my general requirements:

  1. A body compact enough to fit in my normal messenger bag or a coat pocket
  2. Fast lens availability
  3. Interchangeable lenses.
  4. Minimum of 10MP
  5. Decent High ISO/Low light performance

The first requirement pretty much eliminates any and all dSLRs and while there are point & shoot cameras with fast lenses, they are eliminated by requirement #3. Leica M8 or M9, you say? Yes, they fit but they are far too expensive for someone like me. At first glance, the Epson R-1x also seems to be a good fit, especially since most of my film kit consists of rangefinders, but unfortunately they are limited to a 6MP sensor. I am aware that great A4 prints can be made from 6MP but there is an industry standard of 10MP. Want to submit some images to Getty or Corbis? They generally impose a 10MP minimum resolution requirement. Of course, microstock sites such as Shutterstock have less strict requirements, but the rewards are equally diminished.

From what I can see, there are essentially two choices for me:


Both are small packages, with the Olynpus EP-1 utilizing the micro 4/3 mount standard and the Ricoh GRX utilizing a very ingenious system in which the sensor is integrated into the lens and not the camera, allowing for a very small body. Both are also 10+MP, with the Olympus Pen having the same proven 12.3MP as in its E-620 dSLR and the Ricoh GRX being either 10 or 12MP depending on which of the 2 currently available lenses was mounted. According to reviews, both have excellent performance up to EI1600, too. Both also come in a kit with either a slow zoom or moderately fast (f/2.8) fixed focal length lens. Neither have a viewfinder and must be composed via the LCD, however the Olympus + 17/2.8 kit comes with a hotshoe viewfinder (VF-1) for faster framing. The GRX has a small integrated flash while the EP-1 does without.

And both Olympus and Ricoh only manufacture 2 lenses for these systems. But here’s where the Olympus EP-1 takes a big leap in front of the Ricoh GRX and even a big step in front of many dSLR bodies. Quoted from page 2 of the dpreview Olympus EP-1 review:

The ultra short flange back and small lens mount actually makes Micro Four Thirds, theoretically, the most ‘lens compatible’ system on the market – you could in principle produce physical adapters for just about any lens designed for 35mm (or larger), specifically manual focus lenses from older film SLRs. Olympus has already launched an adapter for its own legacy OM (manual focus SLR) lenses, Panasonic is promising one for Leica M and R lenses, and third parties are looking at a range of other options. It’s not surprising camera geeks are excited by the possibilities offered by the new format.

I did a quick search on eBay and found m4//3 adapters to every camera system I could think of, SLR and rangefinder alike. Because of the way the GRX is designed, with the sensor integrated into the lens and not the body, you are limited to only the lenses Ricoh produces specifically for that system. Because the EP-1 uses a mounting that is standard across a number of manufacturers, you have a wider selection of native lenses and a selection that will grow broader with time with companies like Leica, Panasonic, and Olympus all behind it. Not only that, but the adaptability of the Olympus Pen to other lenses would allow me to utilize the mix of Voigtlander M-mount and Nikkor F-mount lenses I already have.

So the Oly wins? I’d appreciate some thoughts on this.

About Brian

Brian Q. Webb is a photography enthusiast from Los Angeles, California who spends most of his time in Taipei, Taiwan. He is especially interested in street photography as well as large format portraiture and pinhole photography. He also likes to shoot lifestyle portraiture and occasionally acts as an agent for foreign newspapers wanting event coverage in Taipei. He was also on the staff of deviantArt and is co-founder of PhotoMalaysia, the largest photography community in that country.

  • http://poagao.org Poagao

    Why are you not also considering the Panasonic GF1?

  • http://www.photojazz.ws Brian

    It was lost in between the PEN, which is the first and most well-known body in this newish “class” of camera and the GRX, which is the most recent entry and one with an interesting gimmick.

  • Matey

    Got myself a used M8, exorbitantly hefty price tag, but well worth it.

  • http://poagao.org Poagao

    Is the GRX even out yet? I personally can’t stand the huge, ungainly digital M’s. Hopefully someday Leica will get the proportions back down to those of the just-right M3/M6.

  • http://www.photojazz.ws Brian

    The GRX became available just in time for the holidays. A friend in Malaysia got the full kit (body and both lenses) as a Christmas gift from his family and put his thoughts on it HERE.

    It looks like it has excellent high ISO performance, but since the sensor is in the lens, that will differ from lens to lens I guess.

  • http://poagao.org Poagao

    That link goes to a review of the GR Digital III, Brian. I’d be curious to see more hands-on reviews of the GRX, but I’m not sure I’d like the idea of tying sensor to lens. Also, with the EP1/2 or GF1, you’d be able to use your current lenses, albeit at twice the focal length.

  • http://www.photojazz.ws Brian

    You’re right…must’ve been the lack of caffeine, which has since been solved. 😀 He has a few Ricoh GR models… his GRX testing is HERE.

  • http://thebestinslrs.info/blog/pentax-k200 Lesley Bruntz

    Hey mate, when looking at your site i see some kind of weird codes all over the page, in case it’s important I just thought I’d let you know it says this with all sorts of other stuff after it: “Warning: Cannot modify header information ? headers already sent in wp-settings.php line 12”

  • http://www.photojazz.ws Brian

    You may have caught my site as I was updating the WP core and about 4 plugins. Everything seems to be working fine now. :)