More than 2 years ago when I first tested the Ricoh GW-3 wide angle adaptor lens on the Ricoh GR I gave it the equivalent of a 5 star rating. Despite being an adaptor, the lens allowed sharp, contrasty images with hardly any deterioration in the centre and acceptable falloff at the edges. So when I finally picked up the GM-1, I had great expectations going in. And a day after my purchase I was able to test it at BranchBrook Park where the cherry blossoms had begun to bloom. I was not disappointed.
First off, like the GW-3, the GM-1 is also made in Japan (at least both my lenses are of Japanese make). Sometimes I wonder if the there would have been no dust issue if the camera had been manufactured there as well. But unlike the GW-3, the GM-1 is a little sleeker and a little shorter than its wide-angle sibling. And unlike with the GW-3, I was not worried about edge sharpness, only about focusing distance and centre sharpness.
Secondly, the GM-1 feels a lot lighter than the GW-3. In some ways the increase in weight (<120g) is not as perceptible and one-handed operation is effortless (though two hands are recommended for close-up macro work). Thirdly, this attachment allows for 49mm filters to be screwed on. Lastly, as with the GW-3, the GH-3 adaptor is required to mount this on to the camera.
So how does the lens perform? My initial impressions were restricted to testing minimum focusing distance, AF speed and sharpness when taking pictures handheld. And my initial impressions are that this is an absolutely fantastic lens. For most of the pictures below, I set the camera to F4 - F5, set the ISO value to 400, pretty much ensuring that shutter speed was always in the 1/400 sec - 1/1000 sec range (enough to freeze motion and compensate for lack of IS.
One of the really great benefits of this lens is that it allows you to focus up to 1.5inches away (and I can swear there were instances that I was able to focus from a little farther than an inch away!) AF is pretty quick, and in my tests, the camera did not hunt. Even in very contrasty scenes (as in the pic below), the camera was able to lock focus quickly enough.
Sharpness is outstanding for a screw-on adaptor lens and in my humble opinion takes the joy of macro photography with the GR to an all new level. As with all macro shooting on the GR bokeh is smooth and pleasing.
There were times when I wished that I had carried a tripod, but I was able to ensure focus accuracy most of the time. While sharpness is fantastic, there are still a few things that could be improved - not so much with the lens as with the macro shooting experience as it relates to the camera. And while most of these will have to wait for the next iteration of the series, here goes:
a. Articulating screen for those shots that need to be taken at odd angles and for when brightness makes it too difficult to see
b. Touchscreen interface to enable setting the focus and exposure point at will
c. A better implemented manual focus operation to maximize the use of the lens and GR sensor
d. A 24mp or higher sensor to allow creative cropping.
I know this probably seems like a gratuitous rant but I hope Ricoh is listening and implements this in the GR 3. I have purposely left out the request for an EVF, but some of the stuff above would be a great start. A camera like this with the GW-3 and GM-1 to complement and enhance its abilities would keep the GR series in the game for a long time.
For now, though, the GM-1 promises to be a great GR companion and a must have for those who want macro equipment that is both highly capable and compact.