Ricoh GR Digital IV £449.99

20th Mar 2012 | 10:04

Ricoh GR Digital IV

A premium street photographer's compact with a fixed 28mm lens

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Shoots raw; Fast; Customisable; Excellent creative presets; Superb LCD;

Dislike:

Small image sensor; Fixed wide lens limiting; No HD video; Weak 'ADJ.' controller; Expensive;

Overview and features

The Ricoh GR Digital IV is a high-end, premium priced compact camera that, superficially at least, appears to be little more than a re-badged version of 2009's GR Digital III.

To be fair, when Ricoh began designing the follow-up to the finely-tuned photographer's compact that was GRD III, it was always going to be a question of 'where to now?'

Like its predecessor, the Ricoh GR Digital IV features a 10-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CCD and a fixed focal length 28mm (effective) f/1.9 lens. It retains the same body design, too, complete with accessory hotshoe, pop-up flash and well considered control layout.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

HD video shooting continues to be noticeable by its absence - the camera can just shoot VGA footage at 30fps - but we imagine that its target owner is likely to be largely unfazed by this. This is a camera for people who need a photography tool rather than a toy.

There's certainly a distinct lack of 'extras', with new features introduced by the Ricoh GR Digital IV being focused firmly in the areas of shooting performance and image quality.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Take the new Hybrid AF system, for instance. This sees an external 190 AF-point sensor working in parallel with the conventional CCD contrast detection system. The result is said to be an autofocus performance that's twice as fast as the Ricoh GR Digital III's.

Sensor-shift stabilisation and a new GR ENGINE IV image processor promise enhanced image quality, while a higher resolution 1.23 million dot Sony LCD monitor improves upon the GR III's 920,000 dot panel and makes images look glorious.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Further tweaks on the Ricoh GR Digital IV include a more refined electronic level that detects if the camera's titled forwards or backwards, in addition to left or right, plus new Auto Bracket options for dynamic range and contrast.

Two new Image Setting options for Bleach Bypass and Positive Film complete the line-up of major changes.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Priced at £449.99 in the UK and $599.99 in the US, the Ricoh GR Digital IV's rivals include the Fuji FinePix X10 and the Olympus XZ-1.

Build quality and handling

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Like earlier Ricoh GRD cameras, the Ricoh GR Digital IV is understated, almost boxy in design. Despite its diminutive brick-like quality, it handles superbly.

The modest grip and its rubberised finish, along with the excellently-placed control buttons and dials mean that it's a camera that can be comfortably supported and operated using just one hand.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

As with earlier versions, the Ricoh GR Digital IV's buttons are on the small side, with the inset control wheel (that Ricoh dubs the 'Up-down dial') positioned in front of the shutter release button being notably fiddly when you first pick the camera up.

However, it doesn't take long to adapt to the setup, and it soon proves exceptionally quick in operation.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

In fact, use the Ricoh GR Digital IV for any length of time, and you begin to wonder why other compact cameras don't feature such a logical user interface.

On the rear of the body is a typical four-way control pad surrounding a Menu/OK button, however it's the Adjustment rocker switch ('ADJ') that sits neatly within thumb's reach on the top rim that gives truly fast access to key features.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Pressing this ADJ rocker brings up five control options on the rear screen. By flicking the switch left or right, you can then cycle through these options, using the up-down dial or control pad to make a selection from them.

By default, these options are white balance, ISO, picture quality, image setting and exposure metering. However, you can assign a function you use more frequently (from a range of eight) to any of these slots.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

In addition to the playback zoom button, which can be customised to change exposure compensation or white balance (or act as a digital zoom) in shooting mode, there are two Function buttons that can be registered with up to four control options.

Three My Settings modes on the mode dial enable you to record precise camera presets for different shooting situations, too.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

That's the thing with the Ricoh GR Digital IV: it offers an extensive array of customisation, enabling you to tailor the camera to your preferred way of shooting. The dedicated Key Custom Options menu stretches to three screens, such is the range on offer.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

The menu system can be a little daunting at first, and many of the options may be unfamiliar. Thankfully, Ricoh is a manufacturer that continues to include a substantial manual in the box.

Performance

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

The Ricoh GR Digital IV's new autofocus system really does improve the camera's responsiveness. Focusing is swift, only hunting for a lock-on in the typically testing conditions of low contrast subjects in weak light. Even in macro mode it proved generally assured and reliable.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

The GRD IV can also be set to focus continually, without the shutter release being pressed, thereby potentially reducing reaction time when you need to grab a shot. We used this feature fairly frequently during the test, although it does reduce battery life.

Ricoh's Snap Focus feature continues to perform well, too. By fully pressing the shutter release button, the camera takes a picture with the lens focused at a predetermined distance, even if autofocus hasn't been achieved.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

This is one of the features that makes the Ricoh GR Digital IV a good choice for street photography. By setting the Snap distance to 1 or 2 metres, and positioning yourself within the focus zone, you can take pictures without being concerned by lag time as the camera tries to catch up.

One of the benefits of the small sensor is that it gives plenty of depth, too, so even if you're a little out with the focus sweet spot, the image will still contain enough apparent sharpness to be useable.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

The lens is capable of resolving a high level of detail across the frame - it's just a shame that detail is masked by clumps of colour noise and smearing at high ISOs.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Pictures taken at ISO 80 to 400 are pleasing, and it's not until ISO 800 that noise becomes obvious. We wouldn't push the camera to 1600 or 3200 unless there really was no other option.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

As with seemingly most of the Ricoh GR Digital IV's functions, there are plenty of intricate automatic settings for controlling noise. There are four settings for noise reduction, and you can choose to have it only kick in above a certain ISO threshold.

Macro performance with the Ricoh GRD IV is excellent, with the camera able to focus as close as 1cm. Lighting becomes an issue at this distance, though, and careful choice of positioning is required to avoid the camera's shadow appearing in the frame.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Ricoh GR IV we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the GR IV is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 100

JPEG images

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 80

ISO 80, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 14 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 3200

ISO 3200, score: 14 (see full image)

Raw images

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF resolution ISO 80

ISO 80, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF resolution ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF resolution ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF resolution ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 20 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF resolution ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF resolution ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 18 (see full image)

Ricoh GR IV review: Resolution ISO 3200

ISO 3200, score: 16 (see full image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Overall picture

Our results from the lab have been compared against the Samsung EX1, Canon PowerShot S100 andFujifilm X10

Our analysis shows that the Ricoh GR IV results compare well against the Samsung EX1 and Fujifilm X10, but is out performed by the Canon PowerShot S100 on all but JPEG dynamic range. JPEG signal to noise ratio is good across the sensitivity range, however when it comes to TIFF files (after conversion from raw) there are clearly visible signs of noise in the image from ISO 800 upwards. Dynamic range results vary greatly across the sensitivity range especially in JPEG files, TIFF files from ISO 1600 indicate that some tonal detail can easily be lost within the shadows and highlights.

JPEG Signal to Noise Ratio

Ricoh GR IV review: JPEG signal to noise ratio

JPEG images from the Ricoh GR IV compare well against shots from the Samsung EX1 and noise is handled well across the sensitivity range.

Raw (TIFF) Signal to Noise Ratio

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF signal to noise ratio

TIFF images (created by converting raw files) compare well against the Samsung EX1, but the Samsung camera does just have the edge. From a sensitivity of ISO 800 the SNR drops below 30 showing the noise will become an issue in images.

JPEG dynamic range

Ricoh GR IV review: JPEG dynamic range

This chart shows that dynamic range of JPEG images across the sensitivity range is varied with the sensor capturing a good tonal range up to ISO 400. Above this sensitivity results drop steadily and, whilst not bad, the Samsung EX1, Canon PowerShot S100 and Fujifilm X10 all put in a better performance. At the higher end of the sensitivity scale some tonal detail can easily be lost in the shadows and highlights.

Ricoh GR IV review: TIFF dynamic range

TIFF file (after conversion from raw) dynamic range lags behind the Samsung EX1,Canon PowerShot S100 and Fujifilm X10 at all sensitivities.

Sample images

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

BLACK AND WHITE: An example of the Ricoh GR Digital IV's in-camera black and white processing. A high-contrast mono effect is also available, as is a range of toning options.

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

MACRO: Close focusing is excellent with the Ricoh GR Digital IV. Macro Target focusing enables you to place the focus point precisely, while the new Camera Shake Correction helps to reduce blur when shooting at such magnification.

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

CONTRAST: Metering is generally good, although this backlit white sheet required some positive compensation to bring back the brightness. For high-contrast conditions, the Dynamic Range scene mode is excellent, combining two separate exposures automatically.

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

CROSS PROCESS: The range of image settings are particularly good, with parameters such as contrast, vividness and vignetting being manually adjustable for each. This portrait was shot at ISO 400 using the Cross Process effect.

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

COMPOSITE: The Ricoh GR Digital IV's multi-exposure mode enables you to capture up to five images in succession. These are then automatically combined into a single composite. An Interval Composite Scene mode can also be used to capture a time-lapse composite of subjects such as star trails.

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

MONTAGE: No HD movies, no panorama mode... the Ricoh GR Digital IV might not have all the gimmicks, but it's still got some creative tricks up its sleeve, including a Stream Continuous mode that captures up to 16 frames in two seconds and produces a single montage JPEG using them.

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

LITTLE FRINGING: Chromatic aberration is well controlled by the Ricoh GR Digital IV, with purple fringing around high contrast areas being very minimal during our testing period.

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Sensitivity and noise

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 80

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 100

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 200

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 400

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 800

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 1600

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Ricoh GR Digital IV review

ISO 3200

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Verdict

Ricoh GR Digital IV review

In a world of plain vanilla compact cameras with 'me too' spec sheets, the Ricoh GR Digital IV stands out as a camera that feels as if it's been designed by photographers for photographers.

The level of customisation possible on the camera is nothing short of stunning, and the creative options, such as multi-exposures, time interval shooting and retro image presets, are addictive.

We liked

The Ricoh GRD IV has hidden depths and an intuitive user interface that rewards you if you're prepared to spend time with it.

We disliked

Results from the small sensor predictably suffer as sensitivity increases, and that price tag makes it look overpriced and underpowered compared to its APS-C and Micro Four Thirds rivals.

Final verdict

The Ricoh GR Digital IV's fixed lens means that it's not a camera for everyone - this is a compact for people who like to frame with their feet, and get close to the action. You do have to work a little harder to get the best image quality out of the camera, though, and the small size of the sensor is limiting.

The bloated price is also a sticking point. Although the Ricoh GR Digital IV's street price is closer to £420 than the full launch price of £499, it's still a lot of money to pay for a camera with a 1/1.7-inch sensor.

Especially because the Ricoh GR Digital IV faces stiff competition from the likes of the Fuji FinePix X10, with its APS-C sensor and fixed 23mm lens, the Olympus XZ-1 and the Sigma DP2x.

However, if photography for you is more about the journey than the destination, then the Ricoh GR Digital IV should prove a worthy companion. Few cameras in this area of the market are as compact and easy to live with.

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