Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Society for Camera Anachronisms approved.
The Long Version: The Ricoh GV-1 is an add-on optical viewfinder that's marked with 21mm and 28mm framelines, which makes it a decidedly odd accessory in these days of electronic viewfinders and zoom lenses. It conveys no information aside from a rough approximation of framing in exchange for considerably increasing the bulk and cost of the few cameras that can use it. On the other hand, it does come with a nylon carrying case, so there's that.
Ricoh also makes the GV-2, which is a physically smaller optical viewfinder with only 28mm framelines, but it offers less eye relief than the bulky GV1. That rules it out for me – I can see the GV1's 28mm lines with my glasses on, but the 21mm lines are a struggle. Both Ricoh viewfinders have squarish black stippled metal bodies that match the GR-series cameras.
With an eye to the viewfinder the framelines take up almost the entire field without the 'tunnel' effect that SLRs are famous for. The 28mm framelines are visually larger than a midrange DSLR's viewfinder, and to my eye even exceeds the entire viewing window of the Fujifilm X-Pro and X100/s optical viewfinders. It can't match the awesome m-mount Zeiss Ikon for viewfinder size – few can – but it the GV1 is brighter.
The guides on the GV1 are a bit tighter than the actual capture area, especially toward the bottom of the frame. The lines are basically in a 3:2 aspect ratio, despite the viewfinder being made for for the small-sensor GR Digital line, but it makes surprisingly little difference between the two camera types. The viewfinder is also offset to the right to avoid the pop-up flash that's next to the hotshoe on the GRD cameras, but the new GR has a bit more room up top, which will make it more compatible with other 28mm finders.
The view through the GV1 is very good. Clear, bright, and with good optics in its own right, although its slight barel distortion exceeds that from the lenses of the GR/D4. An interesting side effect of looking through a wide-angle accessory finder like the GV1 is that they make vertical perspective visible, which is something that we're normally blind to although it absolutely will show up in the GR's photos.
For critical framing the GV1 is useless, and for normal use it's not really necessary; the LCD screens on the GD and GRD4 are very good even in bright sun. (Although the lower default brightness of the GR makes it slightly weaker than its predecessor in this regard.) It's occasionally useful as a fast framing aid, even with the LCD on, since I find it more intuitive to bring the camera up and quickly boresight my subject rather than look away from my subject and concentrate on the image on the LCD screen, which may not even be in focus yet. I've done this with taxis and with fighter jets, and it works just fine for snapshots, although obviously composition is somewhat extemporaneous.
Where the optical finder really shines is for discreet photography with the LCD turned off. "Street" photography is an obvious example, but there are ample other times when it's nice to be subtle, smooth, and unobtrusive. Here the GR's focus confirmation LED comes in handy, letting the camera and viewfinder work as one unit. I just have to remember that the brim of my hat won't be in the photo even if it impinges into the viewfinder's field of view.
The time when I'm most likely to remove the GV1 is when I'm taking macro photos, since it's very easy for it to cast a shadow on the subject. The good news is that my GV1 usually lives on the bigger-sensored GR, which is fairly bad at macro photography, leaving my closer-focusing GRD4 naked and ready to go. So the viewfinder even gives me a quick way to tell my two Ricoh cameras apart, which probably isn't a problem that many people will have.
Having the viewfinder attached does considerably increase difficulty in finding a camera case that will hold the complete assembly. I usually carry my GR in a neoprene sleeve that was meant for a 5" tablet; it cost $7 at an office supply store, making it the best accessory-per-dollar I've ever spent on anything photographic.
Seeing the camera with the viewfinder attached has different effects depending on the audience. Non-photographers seem more inclined to notice the camera and then dismiss it; instead of being just another compact digital camera it looks more like a film or toy camera. People who know cameras seem to take it a little more seriously, since it says something about the owner's intent, even if it may be a bit of an affectation.
Yes, it is something of an anachronism, but the GR with its matching viewfinder just has a certain integrity that I really enjoy. That might sound trivial or superficial, but i've proven over and over again that I take better photos when I'm using gear that I like. At the very least, I take more photos with gear that I like, and often that's the same thing.
last updated 27 spet 2013