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Biography

Several years ago, John Riley decided to turn his passion for photography in to his profession. Since then John has written for Pentax User magazine and has been a regular web contributor on many forums, including Pentax User, where he continues to be a Moderator.

As well as photographing weddings and writing about photography, John now regularly reviews cameras for ePHOTOzine. John also dedicates time to his role as the Chairman of the Atherton & District Amateur Photographic Society (ADAPS) and is a Lancashire & Cheshire Photographic Union (L&CPU) judge.

John is interested in a wide range of photographic subjects, which he captures with his range of PENTAX RICOH cameras and lenses. John is looking forward to putting the new high quality GR through its paces.

As for the future? John says: “More pictures, more photography and there is so much more yet to learn means that the photographic schedule will hopefully stay busy for a long time yet.”

Review about GR

First impressions are very positive as we open the package, finding even a real, paper instruction manual. This in itself is increasingly rare, but very useful. The GR camera is refreshingly understated, but clearly extremely well made, solid but not overly heavy or bulky.

The only omission is a proper charger. Charging in camera does not lie well with my usual workflow. Normally I would have several batteries, rotated in use, and this works much better when they can be charged out of camera. I think at this price level a charger should be included, indeed much lower priced cameras from stable-mate Pentax all have chargers supplied.

The controls on a compact camera can be a problem. They can be small, fiddly, perhaps easily changed by accident. Not so with the GR. The mode dial has a firm locking button, so no finding we are in Tv mode when we thought we were in Av mode. Excellent. The dials are light but not too light, so with a bit of practice operation becomes instinctive and efficient.

The wide adapter lens is a bit more cumbersome than I would have liked. A tube has to be attached to the camera, the adapter screwed into that and the lens hood provided seems rather flimsy. The worst part is that the menu needs delving into to set up the use of the wide angle lens. Swapping to and fro as needed becomes too time consuming and isn't really practical. The GR on its own works superbly well, the added accessories seem a bit of an afterthought.

We will also search in vain for any form of shake reduction. How spoiled we are that suddenly we have to worry again about camera shake. However, it is a 28mm-equivalent lens, so maybe SR is not so essential. There is also no zoom, unusual for most compact cameras, so the question is does that limit us in the images we shoot?

In the event though, the real bonus here is the full APS-C sized sensor and the promise of DSLR quality. If that can be fulfilled, then most if not all of the questions will fade away. It has been a Holy Grail of compact cameras for decades. The idea of a pocketable high quality camera has always been an attractive one. Almost everything has failed to cut the mustard.

So at last, here is the GR. Images indistinguishable from my Pentax K-5. No doubt, no buts or maybes. The GR sensor also has no anti-aliasing filter, so the images have that characteristic crispness right from the start. Handling is superb. The camera is pocketable. The results are right up to the best DSLR quality. I can even forgive the rather oddly designed wide angle lens by this point. The 28mm lens has not proved a limitation for street, documentary and architectural shots, so it suits my photography, and it suits the purposes to which I want to put a pocketable camera. In fact, the camera is so unobtrusive onlookers don't even register that we are shooting pictures. With the wide angle lens we can even stretch things a little further when shooting interiors.

In conclusion, the GR works, it works well and it delivers the quality it promises. It has earned a permanent place in my jacket pocket.

Notes to photographs

Image Set 1

Arley Hall

Set in idyllic grounds in Cheshire, Arley Hall is a favourite haunt of mine. I regularly try out new cameras and lenses there.

001 Arley Hall. The magnificent architecture makes a brilliant subject in itself. This was shot on a dull day, but the Garden Festival made it a busy and interesting day.

002 Arley Flowers. The GR may not be the closest focusing compact camera, but it is ideal for flower studies such as this. I never get tired of the wonderful colours of nature.

003 Jazz Trio at Arley. This trio of musicians were very friendly and they asked if we wanted a request played. I suggested “Lonesome Road” and sure enough they produced a very creditable version to order. The GR delivers plenty of detail.

004 Morgan. One of the delights of special events is that often we find classic cars as well. The GR is an ideal camera for this, offering enough drama from the close viewpoint the wide angle lens delivers. The colour using AWB is spot on.

005 Sax. More street musicians, this time offering classic jazz rather than Dixieland. The GR is unobtrusive and the musicians were happy for me to approach closely to capture my shots. This image has been tonemapped to increase the sense of drama.

Image Set 2

Bradford Industrial Museum

There are many free museums in the UK and there is a huge choice of Victorian/Industrial themed sites offering plenty of scope for photography. I selected the Bradford Industrial Museum as an example and went there for the first time, armed with just the GR.

The site comprises houses, a mansion, outbuildings and of course the mill building itself. The challenge for me is to find areas where it is not obvious that we are in a museum. This implies a very selective approach to framing and the use of available light to maintain a sense of drama and realism. Glass barriers, low light and a lack of support for the camera all make these locations challenging to the photographer.

Interestingly, the fixed prime lens of the GR was no handicap to composition. Although a zoom would enable more choices to be made in terms of cropping, using care this can be overcome easily enough. It's just a state of mind, an approach.

001 The GR was switched into macro mode and available light used to shoot this detailed Monotype keyboard. The convergence was dealt with in Photoshop. This makes a fine pattern picture with the added interest of an antique item.

002 The loom shown is still in operation, making fine cloth for sale. As the operator moved around, inspecting its status, I made sure the framing was exactly as I wanted. The wide angle lens of the GR was perfect for the shot.

003 Low light indeed for this picture. The ISO had to be set to maximum and the resultant picture has lots of noise as a result. However, hand held, we have an exposure that records the scene, whereas with less noise the shutter speed would have been too long and we would have a blurred image. It is much better to have a sharp, noisy image. In fact, the noise is very similar to film grain and personally it does not bother me at all.

004 Groovy! This was shot through a glass partition, so great care was taken to avoid reflections. The window was also used as a partial support to reduce the possibility of camera shake. A real slice of the 1960s.

005 Shots of individual items are great in that background details can be almost entirely excluded. A picture such as this relies on shape and texture, so sharpness is essential.

Image Set 3

Rufford Old Hall

Rufford Old Hall lies just North of Ormskirk in Lancashire. This is a perennial favourite and we visit several times a year. I have chosen this as it is typical of the many National Trust and English Heritage locations, all of which can be guaranteed to offer excellent photo opportunities.

001 The overall view of the hall shows the oldest timber part of the building, plus later additions as late as the 1820s. The GR is ideal for this sort of travel view, the wide angle lens allowing both foreground interest and background to be kept sharp.

002 Outhouses lie in the gloom,l away from the bright exteriors. I never use flash, but I do increase the ISO value as much as necessary to ensure there is no camera shake. To maintain the darker look, I also may decide to use a minus value of exposure compensation.

003 An old pigsty, a pile of twigs, some interesting stonework, it's enough to make an image of, if we can learn how to open our eyes and really look. It is something I worked at as we tend to filter things out when we observe, so learning to see is well worth the effort.

004 A gorgeous sight in the flesh, needing a low viewpoint to keep the sense of drama in an image. The GR lends itself to being held lower, although seeing the screen in bright light can be tricky. The alternative is to lie on the floor to make the shot, something that definitely amuses those who are watching. The they try it themselves....

005 Strong, bold colours show off the GR's sharp lens. I've been very impressed with the image quality and to pack such a lens into such a small camera body is no mean feat. Especially as the format is APS-C, relatively large for the short lens to sensor distances involved.

Image Set 4

Mere Sands Wood

“Places” can mean many different scales, from huge stately homes to quiet corners that may become our favourites. Mere Sands Wood lies between Rufford Old Hall and martin Mere and offers woodland paths, small lakes and various hides from which to view the wildlife. The GR is not perhaps the camera for capturing the more distant wildlife, but small scale nature is within its capabilities. At the right time of year, Mere Sands offers various fungi and wild flowers as well as the more obvious bird population.

001 Small open areas of water house birds, dragonflies and various wild flowers line the banks. The GR captures very fine detail beautifully and we can enjoy the peace and calm of the landscape.

002 Every corner reveals something of natural beauty. These wild flowers were found just by the side of the rather basic visitor centre. The GR macro setting is sufficient for small groups of blooms in the context of their environment.

003 The GR offers various in-camera effects at the push of a button. This encourages experimentation. Obviously there is more scope available in Photoshop, but nonetheless if the in-camera JPEG offers something that suits then there is a real advantage to pre-visualising the shot and actually shooting in perhaps black and white or, as here, Black and White (Toning Effect). This default setting can be modified, but as it is so close to what I would produce in Photoshop it really is a valuable feature.

004 There is nothing to beat the detached calm of woodland. The GR produces realistic images with superb colour and sharpness and cannot be faulted when fine detail is required. The texture of the shot is perfect for the result I wanted to achieve.

005 Pathways always lead us into a shot and the various pathways at |Mere Sands offer many opportunities. What lies beyond our view? The GR as a constant travelling companion enables us to record the world around us with maximum quality and minimum encumbrance.

Image Set 5

Astley Green Colliery Museum

When we look around us, really look, there are gems to be found on our doorstep. Looking for photographic inspiration means going places and seeing what we can find. Just over one mile away fro my home is Astley Green Colliery Museum. I use it for lens and camera tests, model shoots, camera club open air evening visits, and it never disappoints. In a very small area we have a multitude of different things just crying out to have a camera pointed at them.

001 The winding house is a very fine structure that houses the operational winding engine. It is a useful lens test target as well and the GR passes the test with flying colours.

002 Every corner finds something gently rusting away and nature finds it way to gradually take command. Wild flowers survive amongst decay. Here is have used the macro setting and some exposure compensation to ensure the background stays that dark, rich colour.

003 It's not all decay though and machinery is renovated and then repainted in vivid colours. This is an accurate record of the fresh vibrant green on one of the displays in a covered area of the yard.

004 I always head for this rusting boiler as its deep colours and texture make an interesting image. It also tests the ability of a camera and lens to record all the fine detail of that texture. The wider lens of the GR meant I had to climb over a few things, but this is one of the few open air museums where that is entirely possible.

005 Inside the winding house we have this wonderful winding engine. It is run on various weekends during the season. The GR lens is wide enough to cover almost all of the space. I did experiment with HDR for this, but in the end opted for the straight exposure from the camera. It gives a better feeling for the light quality than the HDR version was giving.

Image Set 6

Port Sunlight

In these images I have been looking for places where there are endless photographic opportunities. Port Sunlight has to be one that falls into this category very comfortably.

Created by Lord Lever, of Sunlight Soap fame, to house his workers, this garden village is an enclave of peace and tranquility. Most of the buildings are Grade II listed. The lady Lever Art Gallery is well worth a visit in its own right and there is also a museum.

001 The GR has handled the intense light of the mid-day sun and recorded these magnificent blooms accurately.

002 An overall view of one of the Galleries in the Lady lever Art Gallery, shot from a balcony.

003 In dark interiors modern cameras such as the GR can still produce a usable image, even when the ISO is pushed as far as it will go. The noise structure remains crisp and quite film-like.

004 The old Post Office is now a Tea Room, but the telephone boxes remain.

005 The quality of the housing is spectacular. Every road is beautifully maintained and it must certainly be a pleasure to live in this Garden Village.

Image Set 7

Portmeirion

Portmeirion lies on a small, sheltered peninsula in North Wales, just a few miles east of Porthmadog. Created by famous architect Clough Williams-Ellis, who collected together an array of curious architectural pieces from all over the world. Portmeirion is a dazzling visual trick, a warren of perspectives and hidden corners. The climate her is very mild and even in the depths of winter is can be a warm climate capsule all on its own. Photographers will not be able to resist this magical place.

001 The main square is a very familiar sight, having been used extensively in Patrick McGoohan's TV series “The Prisoner”. In fact, the whole village reveals location after location used not only in The prisoner but in almost any series that demanded an Italianate backdrop to the action.

002 The peninsula is covered by woodland and paths weave across and through. Here the GR was fitted with the wide angle lens adapter to show one fern leaf caught by the dappled woodland light.

003 Architectural oddities abound and this unusual fuel pump is but one example. Every corner hides some new gem.

004 The Dome in The Prisoner is of course the home of “Number Two”. In reality it is an art exhibition and the white façade is actually a gargantuan fireplace from some long demolished Grand House.

005 There are more buildings along the peninsula edge and this example shows some of the visual trickery employed throughout the village.

Image Set 8

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall lies just off the A6, south of Bakewell in Derbyshire. Another favourite haunt, a magnificent house and gorgeous gardens, leading down to the secluded river. Special arrangements were made to gain entry to the house before it opened to the public and a band of photographers from ADAPS roamed free, with tripods as needed, until at noon the doors opened for all. Special arrangements can often be made at properties and locations. It's necessary to ask and it's necessary to have a proper proposal for the visit. In general, property owners are delighted to help.

001 Here we have a view of the house from one of the lower gardens. The huge buttresses are themselves covered in vegetation and colour.

002 Throughout the house are bowls of oranges, real oranges. The area was very dark, so the ISO on the GR was upped to maximum and a good exposure was made. Yes, there is noise, but crisp, grain-like noise that is very acceptable.

003 Inside, Haddon Oak is apparent in panelling and stairs throughout the building. This is a substantial structure, but with a delicacy of design throughout.

004 A group of photographers from ADAPS arrives in the main courtyard. Haddon is a very photographer-friendly location.

005 I enjoy details around great houses. Everybody has shot the overall view and in any event it will be covered very well in guide books and on the web. What we can do it look for details and enjoy the discovery of new corners that most people just walk by.