Review: Ricoh GR Digital IV

Published: May 1, 2012 9:30 AM
By Franck Mée
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
An expert compact is first and foremost a camera that gives users fast access to loads of settings, while also allowing the interface to be customised to suit specific needs and habits. Ricoh's model ticks all those boxes, and boasts a 28 mm fixed-focal-length lens and a body that's a fair bit more compact than many competitor models. So while the slowly but surely evolving GR Digital is now in its fourth incarnation, Ricoh's expert compact par excellence is still one-of-a-kind in the camera market.

Handling

Any spot the difference buffs should take a look at the Ricoh GR Digital III next to the GR Digital IV and try to work out what's new. We did just that, and spotted two differences—the four-way arrow keys are now bigger and have icons on them so show you what they do, and a new rangefinder window has appeared on the front of the camera!

So anyone who found the previous GR cameras rather plain and austere aren't likely to change their mind with this new model. The GR Digital IV is as plain, basic and post-Soviet in design as its predecessors. But while aesthetics are certainly debatable (note that the white version isn't any better), this camera still sets the standard for ease of handling in compact cameras—some SLRs could even learn a thing or two from Ricoh's GRs! With a mode dial and two thumb wheels for adjusting settings, you can set the aperture, shutter speed and exposure without having to go into the internal menus or press any buttons. Plus, clicking the ADJ wheel brings up a quick menu with access to settings for white balance, sensitivity, image quality and more. The two Fn buttons offer direct access to bracketing and the self-timer.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review - contrls and screen


At least, that's how things stand when you first get the camera out of its box, as the interface is almost entirely customisable. The five options (maximum) in the quick menu, the two Fn buttons and the 'up-down dial' on the front of the camera can all be user modified. You can also assign the function of your choice to the thumb wheel in M mode. There are three custom settings profiles on the mode-selection dial (MY1,  MY2, MY3) and the pre-set image profiles can be adapted too (square format, contrast, vividness, vignetting etc.).

So, as you've probably already gathered, the GR Digital IV is quite an unusual camera, and it may take you a little while to get your head around the interface. To use all the customisation options, you'll probably need to have a look at the manual at some point, but you'll ultimately be able to tailor the camera interface to meet your personal needs and preferences.

Responsiveness

The GR Digital IV is let down by its start-up time, as it takes over two seconds to take a first photo with this compact. While that's quite common in superzoom cameras, it's a bit disappointing for a model with a fixed-focal-length lens.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review - responsiveness

Otherwise, the autofocus works well. Although it's not lightning fast, there's been a noticeable improvement compared with the GR D III. However, in spite of the addition of a new rangefinder, there are still faster systems out there.

This model still comes with Ricoh's 'snap' mode, in which you can pre-set the focus to the distance of your choice. So if you half-press the shutter-release the camera will use its standard autofocus, whereas if you press the button quickly all the way down it will immediately take a picture at the focal distance you've selected, with a lag of under 0.2 seconds. You can therefore easily enjoy all the advantages of the hyperfocal distance and the autofocus.

Photo-to-photo turnaround is a decent 0.9 seconds and the burst mode shoots at 2 fps for pretty much as long as you like. In RAW + Jpeg mode the photo turnaround time rises to 2.4 seconds, which is noticeably slower, and continuous shooting is limited to 5 frames (but at the same speed).

Picture Quality

There haven't been many changes to the image capture system in version IV of Ricoh's GR Digital. It uses the same 28 mm f/1.9 lens as the GR D III, as well as the same 10-Megapixel CCD. In fact, the only significant new feature in this model is the mechanical stabilisation system.

Ricoh GR Digital IV review - picture quality, ISO

Noise is therefore handled pretty much as expected. A slight touch of smoothing starts to appear at 800 ISO, although it's not particularly problematic. However, noise is visible and details wiped out at 1600 ISO. The Canon G12 uses a similar sensor but does a distinctly better job. All in all, noise still isn't a strong point for Ricoh's GR Digital but, thankfully, a RAW mode is on hand.

The GR D IV lens could do with updating along with the sensor. In the centre of the frame, the results are less sharp than in many other expert compacts, with the Nikon P7100 and Panasonic LX5 leading the way. Thankfully, quality is very consistent across the frame, right into the corners of the shot, and 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) pictures are generally very detailed over the whole frame.


We were above all keen to see how effective the new stabilisation system would be. And, well, it isn't amazing. We only managed a clear, consistent shot in our Barbie without flash test at 1/12 ths, which is quite disappointing for a 28 mm lens. However, the addition of a stabilisation system—even if not the most effective—to a lens opening to f/1.9 still has the impressive effect of keeping the sensitivity setting down to 100 ISO in the same test. However, the Panasonic LX5 still does a better job with its f/2 aperture and better stabilisation system.

Video

As time goes by, camera video modes keep getting better and better, but Ricoh's GR Digital remains frozen in time with VGA video in the Mjpeg format with mono sound. While we can't penalise this camera for its lack of optical zoom in video mode (it has a fixed-focal-length lens), the video mode is still a good few years out of date by today's standards. Although the sensor can't capture Full HD, it's probably actually capable of recording 720p (Canon and Nikon manage to do so with similar sensors) despite being blocked at VGA. And, is it really too much to ask to add a stereo microphone?

Technical limitations aside, video quality is really nothing special. Video noise is only too visible in low light, moiré effects are present in finer detail, and audio quality is mediocre with a constant hiss and plenty of echoes.
4/5 Ricoh GR Digital IV DigitalVersus 2012-05-01 10:30:00

Pros

  • Great handling and controls (some SLRs could learn a thing or two)
  • Advanced custom settings
  • 'Snap' mode for instant shooting without the autofocus
  • Sharp, smooth VGA display with accurate onscreen images
  • Picture quality at low sensitivity settings

Cons

  • Austere design, controls and interface can be quite complicated
  • No zoom (28 mm fixed-focal-length lens)
  • Slow start-up
  • Outdated video mode.
  • Noise could be handled better, lens could give sharper and more accurate results

Conclusion

The Ricoh GR Digital IV is the photographer's equivalent of a notebook—a jotter you can always keep in your pocket so you don't have to carry your SLR around all the time. This camera is very nice to use, so long as you have the patience to set it up and get to know how it works. However, it's not suitable for beginners and some competitor models take better pictures with their out-of-the-box settings (the Panasonic LX5, for example).

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