Ricoh GR Digital IV Review
The Ricoh GR Digital IV is a brand new compact camera with a fixed 28mm lens that's aimed firmly at the serious photographer. Virtually identical in design to the two-year old GR Digital III model, this latest version has a brand new Hybrid auto-focus system, image processing engine, sensor-shift image stabilization, a refined optical filter and a higher-resolution LCD screen. The 28mm fixed focal length lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.9, the GR ENGINE IV image processor promises enhanced image quality and speed, and the LCD screen is a high-resolution 3 inch model with 1.23 million-dots. At the heart of the GR Digital IV is a "high-sensitivity" 1/1.75-inch CCD sensor with 10 megapixels, images can be recorded either as JPEGs or in the Adobe DNG RAW format, there's a pop-up flash and an external hotshoe which can accept a flashgun or the optional electronic viewfinder, and full creative control over exposure is available. The Ricoh GR Digital IV is available in black for £499.99 / $599 or limited edition white for $649.
Ease of Use
As the GR Digital IV and the previous GR Digital III model are virtually identical in terms of their design, a lot of the comments that we made about the GR Digital III will be repeated here. The Ricoh GR Digital IV is a wide and fairly slim compact digital camera that just about fits into the palm of my average sized hands, measuring 108.6 mm (W) x 59.8 mm (H) x 32.5 mm (D) and weighing around 190g without the battery or memory card fitted, very slightly bigger and heavier than the previous model.
Utilising an aluminium alloy body, it's an exceedingly well built camera - the GR Digital IV is one of the most well-constructed Ricoh's that I've seen and certainly up there with the best that the other manufacturers have to offer. Our review sample has an under-stated, all-black appearance which lends the camera a professional feel. Despite its small dimensions, the Ricoh GR Digital IV has a large rubberized handgrip that allows you to get a good grip, and there's a small area of the same material acting as a thumb rest on the rear of the body. The all-metal, central tripod mount is another giveaway sign that this is intended to be a serious camera (most compacts have a plastic mount squeezed into one of the corners).
The GR Digital IV features a 28mm, f1.9 wide-angle fixed focal length lens, which will immediately put a lot of people off this camera. The GR Digital IV's 28mm lens is perfect, however, for wide-angle shots, so if you're a fan of land and city scapes, or you're happy to get up close and personal, the combination of the GR Digital IV's lens and every photographer's constant companion, their legs, proves to be more versatile than you might first think. New to this model is image stabilisation, offering around 3 stops of compensation to help you combat unwanted camera share, as does the increased maximum ISO speed of 3200. Cleverly you can also set a specific shutter speed in Auto High ISO mode as well as setting the upper limit of the ISO sensitivity.
Street and landscape photographers will love the wide-angle setting, especially when they discover that Ricoh also offer the optional GW-1 wide conversion lens which provides an even wider 21mm focal length. The maximum aperture of f1/9 is also a real highlight, making it possible to shoot at a faster shutter speed or to shoot at the same shutter speed but at a lower setting for ISO sensitivity. It also makes it easier to throw the background out of focus, something that small-sensor cameras traditionally struggle with.
The GR Digital IV features the same 10 megapixel "high-sensitivity" sensor as the one used by the GR Digital III, which supposedly improves low-light photos - you can judge for yourself on the Image Quality and Sample Images pages. There's the usual choice of Fine and Normal JPEGs, but Ricoh have stolen a march on their competition by providing a RAW mode setting, joining an exclusive club of compact cameras like the Canon Powershot G12, Panasonic DMC-LX5 and Olympus XZ-1. Even better, the RAW format that they have chosen it not a proprietary one, but Adobe's DNG format, which means that the Ricoh GR Digital IV's files are instantly available in any RAW software that supports DNG (virtually every one). This is an excellent move by Ricoh.
There are three external controls which form the creative heart of the GR Digital IV. Located on the top right of the camera are the Mode dial and what Ricoh refer to as the Up-down dial, and on the back is the Adj. dial. These controls allow you to choose which shooting mode you want to use, with a choice of full auto, program shift, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and fully manual, and to control the settings of the particular mode that you have picked. For example, in Manual mode, the Up-down dial sets the aperture and the Adj. button sets the shutter speed, providing quick and intuitive access. Furthermore, pressing the Adj. dial allows you to quickly adjust 6 different settings that are commonly used. Press it to alter White Balance, ISO Speed, Quality, Image Settings, Metering and the AF Target, which allows you to shift the target for AF or AE or both without having to move the camera. Even better, the Adj. menu is customisable - you can choose what the first five settings do, allowing you to control exactly what you want quick access to.
Continuing the customisation theme, you can configure the GR Digital IV and save the current settings as one of three My Settings modes, which are accessible by setting the Mode dial to either the MY1, MY2 or MY3 option. This allows you to configure the GR Digital IV for different uses and allows quick access to each configuration (the camera remembers the settings when it's turned off). The two Function (Fn) buttons on the rear of the camera can also be customised to suit your particular needs. Finally, the GR Digital IV uses an up/down rocker switch on the back of the camera for operating the exposure compensation (and image magnification during playback), but this too can changed to control either the digital zoom or white balance. The GR Digital IV is one of the most customisable compact cameras that we've ever reviewed.
As the Ricoh GR Digital IV offers a full range of advanced exposure controls, it's quite complex in terms of its design. There are 17 external controls in total, leaving just enough room for the new 3 inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. Further appealing to the avid photographer in you, the Ricoh GR Digital IV has a range of focusing and metering modes that should cover most situations. On the focusing side, the multi AF system has 9 separate auto focus points, and there's also Spot AF, Manual focus, Snap mode (can be changed to focus at either 1m, 2.5m, 5m or Infinity) and Infinity.
The Full Press Snap option takes a photo at one of the Snap mode distances with a full press of the shutter button. This means that you can use both the camera's auto-focus system by half-pressing the shutter button, and over-ride it to instantly shoot at at a pre-determined distance without having to wait for the camera to focus. Completing the GR Digital IV's extensive range of focusing options is Pre-AF. This accelerates the already snappy focusing time by following the subject's movement before the shutter release button is pressed half way (only works when the focus is set to Multi AF or Spot AF). In terms of metering, the multi metering mode is 256 segment, and there's also center weighted average metering and spot metering.
The Ricoh GR Digital IV's 3 inch, 1.23 million dot LCD screen is a real highlight, improving further on the previous model's already excellent screen. Both text and images really come alive on a simply breath-taking display that's one of the best of any camera that we've ever reviewed. It also has an automatic brightness adjustment function which as the name suggests automatically matches the screen's brightness to your surroundings. If you don't like composing your photos by holding the camera at arms length and looking at the LCD screen, there's also another way of framing your shots. You can additionally buy an optional, completely removable optical viewfinder, which is smaller than the one supplied with the original GR Digital. Sold as part of the GR Digital IV VF Kit, the OVF slots into the hot-shoe on top of the camera, allowing you to hold the camera up to your eye and instantly giving the GR Digital IV the feel of a single-lens reflex camera. Unfortunately Ricoh UK didn't include this with the review sample that they sent us, so I can't comment on its usability.
Multi-pattern auto white balance is useful for scenes with mixed lighting - daylight and flash, or fluorescent and daylight, for example. Instead of just taking an average reading from the whole scene, which inevitably gets the white balance wrong for the secondary light source, the GR Digital IV breaks the image down into small areas and analyzes and sets the white balance for each one. In practice it produces a subtle but noticeable effect that is particularly useful for capturing more natural portraits when using flash. Also very useful is the ability to change the power of the built-in flash which can be set at 12 levels from full flash to 1/64, enabling you to balance the intensity for both the subject and background.
The Dynamic Range double shot mode is one of the Ricoh GR Digital IV's star attractions, taking advantage of the high-sensitivity CCD sensor to record images with much greater dynamic range than most compacts (a claimed maximum equivalent of 12EV). When the Ricoh GR Digital IV is in DR mode it takes two images with different exposures, and then records a single image that combines the properly exposed parts of each one. There are three DR strengths - Weak, Medium and Strong. You can also choose to take a DR and Normal image at the same time (both are saved to the memory card). In practice this mode works really well, resulting in images that have noticeably more dynamic range that those shot in the Normal mode. New to this model is the Dynamic Range Compensation feature, essentially a single-shot version of the Dynamic Range double shot mode with the same Weak, Medium, and Strong settings. You can even bracket this feature too. If you want to shoot images that retain detail in both the highlight and shadow areas, then the Ricoh GR Digital IV is a good choice.
The electronic leveler is a neat feature that helps to ensure level shots while viewing through the LCD monitor, both in landscape and portrait mode. You can view the horizontal and vertical indicators on the LCD monitor to ensure that shots are aligned along each axis. If you're using the external viewfinder, or can't see the LCD screen in very bright sunlight, then the camera can also be set to make a sound to indicate a level horizon. It doesn't sound like a big deal in theory, but in practice it really helps to make all those wide-angle shots perfectly level.
The Depth of field indicator is an equally useful function. If you set the GR Digital IV to either Manual or Aperture priority mode, and the Focus mode to Snap, Manual or Infinity, a vertical scale on the left of the LCD screen indicates the depth-of-field at the current aperture, helping to ensure sharp focus when you're not relying on the camera's auto-focus system.
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and easy-to-follow 200+ page manual before you start is a must. Thankfully Ricoh have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you for easy reference in the field.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The main menu system on the Ricoh GR Digital IV is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/OK button in the middle of the navigation pad. There are three main menus, Shooting, Key Custom Options and Setup. Quite a lot of the camera's main options, such as image size, sharpness, metering mode and continuous mode, are accessed here, so the Shooting Settings menu has 27 options spread over 3 screens, the Key Custom Options menu has 21 options, and the Setup menu has 34 options. Due to the high-resolution LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to 10, the various options and icons are clear and legible.
Ricoh are well known for delivering responsive cameras, and the GR Digital IV certainly continues in that tradition. The start-up time from turning the Ricoh GR Digital IV on to being ready to take a photo is responsive at around 1 second. Focusing is lightning quick in good light thanks to the new hybrid autofocus system. This combines an external 190-point auto focus sensor with the conventional contrast autofocus system used by the previous GR Digital III model, resulting in a focusing speed of 0.2 seconds in good light. The camera also happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, and macro focusing speed has been improved too.
It takes about 0.5 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card, and there is virtually no LCD blackout between each image. Shooting in RAW mode, the GR Digital IV only takes around 3 seconds to store a RAW image, and you can also take another shot while it's being written to memory. In the fastest Continuous mode the camera takes 1.5 frames per second for an unlimited number of images at the highest JPEG image quality, which is very good for this class of camera. Even better news is that the GR Digital IV can also shoot up to 5 RAW images at 1.5fps, although doing so locks the camera up for about 10 seconds whilst the camera writes to memory. Using the new AF-Continuous mode, while the shutter-release button is pressed GR Digital IV takes a series of photos and adjusts its focus on the subject at the same time using the external autofocus system, which proves very useful for quick-moving subjects.
Once you have captured a photo, the GR Digital IV has an above average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (81 onscreen at once!), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows with audio, set the print order, delete, protect and resize an image. Level Compensation allows you to correct the contrast and tone of an image after it has been taken, and White Balance Compensation the white balance. The Skew Correction function alters any photo that was taken at an angle so it appears as if it were taken directly in front of you.
Images are automatically rotated during playback to fit the current orientation of the camera. Pushing the Adjust dial instantly displays the image at a previously defined magnification, handy for quickly checking focus. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during both shooting and playback. The White Saturation display mode during image playback indicates over-exposed highlights by flashing those areas on and off. When taking a photo, pressing the Display button toggles between the detailed information, the histogram and gridlines to aid composition.
In summary the Ricoh GR Digital IV is a fast, intuitive and almost infinitely customisable camera, adding a few major improvements and a multitude of minor ones to an already proven design.