The Ricoh 40mm is one of those fantastic photo accessories which is amazing under certain conditions, and fouls the mind when used in sub-prime environments. The Ricoh GR digital is one of the best digital cameras around, and possibly has the most legacy support of any digital camera I’ve come across. I use an original GR Digital, and bought the 40mm lens for it, what follows is my review of it’s capabilities in a controlled light (studio) environment.
The original GRD (28mm lens) was released as a stand alone small sensor camera, and additionally with a 21mm lens in a creative set. Basically, the GR Digital is the most portable and useable wide angle point and shoot digital every created, which means it’s also the most portable and usable wide able camera ever created. There were limitations of course, one being that the 28mm and 21mm focal lengths are great for city and landscape work, but more difficult to use for portraits. So it was intensely cool when Ricoh released the GR Digital II, an updated version of the GRD, as well as a new 40mm add-on accessory lens. The new 40mm lens is compatible with the “old” Ricoh GR Digital camera. A weak dollar and rampant vacation through Detroit made purchasing the 40mm add-on a no brainer for me.
My main desire in buying the 40mm was to extend the portrait capability of my GRD, by using a more patriot-oriented focal length (40mm). I use my Ricoh for controlled light (studio) portraits, often employing a “strobist” inspired lighting philosophy. One advantage of using the GRD for controlled light portraits, is that it’s so small it can be used in many situations where a DSLR is too bulky to use, like in confined-space conditions.
Wait…why use a point-and-shoot camera when you have a full DSLR setup?
There are many benefits to using a small sensor camera with studio lighting for portraits. In general, one key element of portraiture is ensuring that the eyes remain in Focus. You can have all the diffused areas you want around the subject, blur out the mouth, whatever, but if the eyes aren’t in focus, you don’t get that feeling of being pulled into the image and conversing with the soul of that face staring back at you. This is where small sensor cameras are awesome compared with DSLRs, because with the Ricoh GRD and 40mm lens, the very large depth of field means that the eyes will pretty much always be razor sharp, and you can add all the blur and diffusion you want later in Photoshop.
When you start getting into a serious camera and photography knowledge collection one thing is clear, there’s no end to it. Once you understand cameras you move on to lighting, and once you know how to light for portraits and mood, you generally get into fashion and design, and once you get past basic fashion down, the most logical step is getting into make-up. This is confusing territory for guys who aren’t into drag, so I went to the Source to get a crash-course schooling in eyeliner and foundation.
The makeup was sort of a freak accident you see. I was strolling through the Somerset Collection, an upscale shopping experience a-la-mall in the suburbs of Detroit, and after checking out the Levi’s store I wandered into Sephora. Previously unknown to me, it’s one of the prime makeup stores in the States. I walked in with a vague idea about asking for eyeliner, and a minute later found myself sitting in a chair with a makeup artist named Susan applying foundation to my nose and facial structure. 10 minutes later I was being told by everyone in the store that I looked fresh from a rock stage. I ended up dropping $100 on eyeliner and makeup. With my new look intact I headed to suitable location to make some magic.
The perfect cramped studio location presented itself in the form of my parent’s basement in the Detroit suburbs. The place is still cluttered with things like my old G.I. Joe and Star Wars toys. I found a section of wall to work with and setup my lights: one Contax TLA280 and a Sunpak 383, both placed in Alzo digital softboxes. After a wardrobe change plus a few lighting adjustments I had a set of images called:
The Sad Clown
Every photo needs a back-story:
The Sad Clown has little ambition or direction in life, schooled on the streets and usually found sleeping in the gutters of Paris, he sports a stripped sweater, yellow button-down shirt by Ben Sherman, and occasionally a sport coat by “WE” and a tie by the same label.
The Sad Clown smokes 15 year old cigarettes and laments on the laughs he cannot produce due to this wasted life on the stage.
From a tech standpoint, the 40mm Ricoh is a sharp and rather bad-ass piece of glass. The detail from well-exposed portraits is really excellent. However, the lens is also big, and pretty much kills the convert, concealable factor, for which the GRD is known for. The 40mm also flares like a Phoenix farting in your face whenever a light source is pointed even remotely towards the front element. This shouldn’t be a surprise, the main element is massive, and sets the perfect stage for ungodly internal reflections. I had to be sure my softboxes were not directed at the camera, otherwise big red blotches would show up in the images.
You can see in this view that the eyes couldn’t be sharper. This is one reason to use a Ricoh Digital over a massive DSLR with an 85mm f/1.4 lens, the quality of small sensor Ricoh GR portraits include very sharply defined lines – and when properly exposed, excellent subject-background separation. I don’t think it would really even be feasible to produce an image like this using my Minolta 7D, or any other DSLR, unless using a very long lens to compress the image and increase the depth of field by using a very small aperture. With the Ricoh GR and Alzo Digital Softboxes, it took 5 minutes to setup and execute this portrait in a very confined and cluttered space.
Every piece of equipment has it’s limitations, and in total the 40mm is an excellent lens, extending the usability of the GR digital system considerably. With the 21mm and 40mm lenses, you have an excellent small sensor camera system, suitable for travel, landscapes, city, portrait, and the production of unique images with studio lighting techniques. Well, actually, you can use it for whatever your heart desires – go out and make the Sad Clown smile again.
The Sad Clown on Flickr