October 2nd, 2011, 11:09 AM
The Ricoh GR Digital Camera: A Philosophy of Design
With the recent announcement by Ricoh of the revised Ricoh GR Digital camera, the Ricoh GR Digital IV, I thought an article explaining why this camera line is so popular with so many photographers and why it remains the camera I use most often for most of my photography, might be of interest to readers of SeriousCompacts.com. This article is not a review of the GR Digital camera but rather it’s a discussion about a camera design philosophy and how that philosophy helps photographers (myself included) separate the technology from the actual process of making photographs (admittedly a technological process unto itself). For this article, I’ll reference the GR Digital III, which I own and will refer to as the GRD, and I’ll discuss specifically how I’ve set-up the camera (basically I will share my GRD soup recipe) and how I actually use it in various photographic contexts in the field. NOTE: All photos that appear in this article (with the exception of product photos) were made with a Ricoh GRD III and edited using Adobe Lightroom. Black and white conversion was accomplished using Nik Silver Efex Pro v1.x. The photos are from various documentary projects that I have worked on over the past three years. For more information (and photos) visit my web site at http://www.paulgiguere.com
The GRD camera has an almost cult following among many photographers around the world but sales in the U.S. and Europe have never been strong, Ricoh has never aggressively marketed the camera outside of Japan nor has Ricoh ever tried to go head-to-head with compact cameras from the likes of Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, Sony, or Olympus. The GRD is prized for it’s compact size, ergonomics, lens quality, customizability, and a photo quality that sometimes is reminiscent of film (particularly with black and white photos). By ignoring the big camera-makers, Ricoh is able to set it’s own agenda rather than be ruled by the agenda of others. This approach will never move Ricoh into the top echelons of camera manufacturers but from what I’ve seen, Ricoh is quite content targeting photographic enthusiasts who understand and appreciate Ricoh design philosophy.
The cult-like status of the camera has also been fueled by the adoption of the GR (film), and later the GRD cameras, by photographers like Daido Moriyama (the modern-day patron saint of street photographers who appreciate the rough, blurred, high contrast look that Moriyama is so well known for). Ironically, and just for the record, Moriyama probably couldn’t care less what camera he is using as long as it meets his needs (in other words it is simple and quick to operate) and is compact enough for street photography (easily carried and doesn’t draw attention to the photographer). There is a lot of wisdom in that “couldn’t care less” philosophy. In order to get a better handle on the GRD though, it helps to look at the history of the successful and popular GR line going back to the mid-1990’s when Ricoh released a compact film camera called the GR1.
A basic 35mm film camera, the GR1 featured aperture priority control, exposure compensation and a fixed f2.8 28mm focal-length lens. It also had a self-timer, built-in flash, and a basic viewfinder. Subsequent versions of the camera added a date function (GR1 Date), an illuminated display (GR1s), and the ability to change ISO and exposure bracketing (GR1v), among other miscellaneous features from model to model. A final version of the film-based camera was made with a 21mm focal length lens (GR21). The GR camera line from the beginning was well made and solid (featuring a magnesium alloy body), comfortable to hold and use, was simple to operate, and took great photos. It was embraced by photographers in Japan and by anyone outside of Japan who was able to obtain the camera. Today the GR film cameras sells for upwards of $500 for cameras in excellent condition with the box and related accessories. What really set the GR apart though was a feature that would come to define the GR line as a camera for street photographers, Snap Focus.
The Snap Focus setting on the GR film cameras is actually quite simple. Set the focus to “snap” and the camera is pre-focused to two meters. What this meant was that you no longer had to wait for the camera to achieve focus when you pushed half-way down on the shutter release. You just pressed all the way down and, as long as you were within two meters of your subject, the subject would be in focus. This simple, elegant method was how many street photographers already focused their cameras, that is, they zone focused the lens to a particular distance using the distance setting on the lens so that all subjects at a certain distance would be in focus. This is a bit different, and less complex, than hyperfocal focusing where you can obtain a maximum DOF based on the f-stop you have your camera set to to achieve a range of focus. The Ricoh GR camera took the complexity out of all of this by allowing you to simply set the camera to snap mode and make the photo without waiting for the auto-focus system to catch up. I’m sure this capability was probably not unique to Ricoh cameras but Ricoh seized on this functionality and promoted it and buyers responded.
In 2005 Ricoh released a digital version of the GR film camera called simply the GR Digital (also known today as the GRD I). The camera was virtually identical physically to it’s film-based counterparts with the exception that the lens housing was a bit larger, the camera had a maximum aperture of f2.4 (versus f2.8 on the film-based cameras) and an LCD screen (no built-in viewfinder but one could be attached to the hot shoe) and additional controls on the back for managing other functions specific to a digital camera. The original GRD also used an 8 megapixel sensor. The GRD I was followed in 2007 by the GRD II (sporting an upgraded 10 megapixel sensor along with various updates and upgrades), and then by the GRD III in 2009 (with, among several additional improvements, an f1.9 lens). Ricoh is also well known as a company that is continuously working to improve and add to the features of their cameras after product launch. It is typical that Ricoh will release several firmware upgrades between product updates. Sometimes these updates will fix issues or problems but usually it is to add new features (something that more camera makers should consider). True to it’s two-year cycle established in 2005, Ricoh’s announcement of the GRD IV in 2011 follows in the same tradition and footsteps as the cameras that came before it.
It is also worth mentioning that the Ricoh GXR camera system, while it shares several traits with the GRD line of cameras (namely a similarly designed but larger body and a similar user interface), is really a different camera in that it utilizes interchangeable lens/sensor modules that range from small sensor zoom modules to fixed focal length, medium sensor modules (28mm and 50mm equivalent currently) as well as a medium sensor module that accepts M-type lens such as those used on Leica M film and digital cameras as well as Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander Bessa film cameras (to name a few). The bottom-line is that the GXR is a different system and not really a part of the philosophy that Ricoh is pushing for the GRD line.
The first thing you notice when holding a GRD camera is that it is small (small enough to fit into a shirt pocket or jacket pocket) but not the smallest in it’s class. It is also surprisingly heavy (you might want to re-think putting it in your shirt pocket). The camera fits well in small to medium-sized hands. Those with larger hands might find the camera a bit smallish but these folks would have the same problem with just about any other compact camera of a similar size. The rubberized grip gives you something to hold on to. When handling the camera, I find my right thumb fits comfortably on the back of the camera with my other fingers wrapped around the front where there is a hump/perch. The camera simply feels good to hold and it is easy to use the camera one-handed when necessary.
Button and dial layout is well thought out with essential buttons located exactly where they should be. The top dial on the camera allows you to easily set the camera mode from fully automatic, manual, program mode, aperture or shutter priority or to one of three saved camera set-ups (aka My Settings). A particularly nice feature of the top dial is a locking function where you have to hold down a small button next to the dial before you can rotate it. Some people hate this feature because they feel it slows them down a bit when changing aperture (for example) however I love this feature. I always know that if I had the aperture set to aperture priority when I put the camera in my bag, it will be set to aperture priority when I take it out (the dial can’t be accidently rotated when putting the camera into and out of a bag, pants pocket, purse, etc.).
There are four additional dials, one on the front of the camera just in front of the shutter release button, and two adjustment rocker dials on the back along with a toggle wheel. For the most part, the buttons and dials can be customized so that their functions and behavior closely match how you like to work. The two Fn buttons on the back in particular can be customized to directly access almost any function that the camera is capable of. Also, the behavior of the adjustment dials can be changed as well (more on my custom settings later).
The three-inch LCD display is crisp and clear (920,000 pixels) however the finish has been known to wear over time (particularly if you don’t baby the camera which I don’t). This can happen due to the wiping off of finger prints, slipping the camera into pants pockets, etc. I’m not saying it is a real problem for most people but something to be aware of. When I first bought the GRD3 I knew this would be an issue for me so I bought an LCD protector cover and attached it immediately upon removing the plastic film from the LCD that is a part of the protective packaging from the manufacturer. I highly recommend the AC-MAXX LCD protector (ACMAXX LCD Protector - Ricoh GR Digital III). AC-MAXX also makes a protector for the front lens housing (which will protect the lens from fingerprints and scratches) which doesn’t interfere with the lens retracting into the body when powered off however I prefer not to have anything on the lens. Both of these protectors can easily be removed and reapplied as needed.
Another possible issue with the LCD is that it can be difficult to see in bright light (particularly in bright sunlight). This may have been mitigated with the new GRD IV (which sports a new LCD screen) but with the GRD III some people prefer to use an optical viewfinder on the hot shoe (Ricoh makes two of them but any viewfinder suitable for 28mm focal length lens should work just fine). A nice feature when using an optical viewfinder is a small green light that you can just see when peering through the viewfinder that alerts you that you have achieved focus (when using AF). As with many functions, this can be turned off and you can also activate a setting that lets the camera know you are using a viewfinder (thus shutting off various LCD display functions as appropriate). You can even set the green power light that is recessed into the power button to “off” so that it doesn’t become a distraction when making photos in dim light. The thinking that went into these little details collectively make the camera a joy to use.
The camera comes with a wrist strap, which I prefer to use (an optional neck strap is available but pricey), and a battery and charger (in addition to a printed manual, which isn’t bad, and other paraphernalia which I typically ignore). In addition to a memory card or two, a spare battery is also useful to have. Regarding the charger, it simply plugs directly into an outlet (no intermediary cord needed). I really like this as it is less to pack when traveling and one less thing to lose.
I don’t think there is any one perfect carry bag/case for the GRD. It really is a matter of taste and personal preference. For the record, I like a small camera bag with a shoulder strap for carrying the camera (and spare battery and cards) around but when I’m actually making photos or just walking around prepared to make photos, I keep the camera out and use the wrist strap. My favorite bag for the GRD is the LowePro Apex 60 AW (Lowepro - Apex 60 AW) but your mileage will vary in this regard.
The Soup Recipe
I think it might be useful to discuss the kind of photographs I tend to make as it will help explain the various settings that I use on the GRD (my soup recipe so to speak). First, I’m primarily a black and white photographer. I can appreciate color photography just fine however I have trouble deciding how to produce color photographs (much less print them). Yes, I know there are ways to automate a lot of this but I just can’t decide what looks good and it’s complicated by the fact that there are so many ways to treat color. Also, I find that color sometimes competes with the intended subject of the image (the color becomes the subject). Sometimes this is intentional but most times it is not. Black and white just works best for helping me communicate my vision photographically.
Much of the work I do is of a social documentary nature. I will also just make photos of things I find interesting just because I can but I’m talking here about how I usually use the camera in the field. This means I typically make photos of people (both indoors and out) and sometimes of social landscapes (landscapes that are products of human intervention). The deep depth of field inherent in a camera with a small sensor like the GRD is perfect for this kind of photography as I’m usually trying to capture detail from the foreground to the background. Out-of-focus details, or blur, or bokeh, are not that important to me for this kind of photography. This is not to say you can’t achieve out-of-focus details (backgrounds for example with the foreground subject in focus) it just requires careful placement of the camera and careful focusing.
Regarding camera settings, I’ve put together a table below that outlines the major settings (at least the ones that really matter to me) that I have set across the three menus (remember this is for the GRD3 with version 2.30 of the firmware and the menus may be different with subsequent firmware versions and/or the GRD IV):
| Shooting Menu |
| Setting |
| Comments |
| Picture Quality/Size |
| RAW (10M) |
| I only shoot in RAW because I want the best image possible later in Lightroom. I know that there are many cool picture settings possible if I use JPEG but I can do that stuff later in post-production if I really want to. RAW just gives me more options later. |
| Focus |
| Spot AF |
| This is a hold-over from my DSLR days where I much preferred spot focus over letting the camera try to figure out what I want in focus in a scene using all those focus points. |
| Snap Focus Distance |
| 2.5m |
| This is my initial setting for Snap Focus however I will frequently change this in the field by holding the Up Arrow on the wheel on the back while turning the front dial located in front of the shutter button. |
| Full Press Snap |
| Auto-Hi ISO |
| This will keep the ISO in line when using Full Press Snap (which basically allows you to press the shutter all the way down without letting the camera achieve focus while in a focus mode other than Snap Focus) with the maximum ISO you will allow the camera to use normally. |
| Pre-AF |
| On |
| I may turn this off at times as the lens makes slight clicking sounds as you move the camera around and the lens continuously focuses. It does however make overall focus faster because the lens is usually ready for you when you are ready to make an exposure. |
| Exposure Metering |
| Center |
| I go back and forth between Center and Spot metering depending on the lighting conditions. |
| Image Setting |
| Black and White |
| Since I will eventually post-process in B&W, I find it useful to review my images in B&W on the LCD (when I bother to review the images that is). |
| Noise Reduction |
| Off |
| I may use noise reduction later in post-processing if necessary but usually isn’t desirable particularly in B&W as the noise resembles traditional film grain. |
| White Balance |
| Auto |
| I may adjust the white balance later in post-processing if necessary (RAW makes this possible) but will sometimes change this setting in the camera if the lighting is causing problems. |
| ISO Setting |
| Auto-Hi |
| I usually let the camera set the ISO unless the lighting is difficult. |
| Auto Aperture Shift |
| On |
| This will shift the aperture to prevent over-exposure regardless of the initial f-stop setting. This feature basically has saved me on a few occasions particularly when moving from indoors to bright outdoor situations and I forget to change the aperture from something very wide like f1.9 (which will overexpose my photo) to something more reasonable for bright conditions (e.g. f4 or smaller). |
| Key Custom Options Menu |
| Setting |
| Comments |
| ADJ Lever Setting 1 |
| Exposure Metering |
| Provides quick access to something I change somewhat regularly. |
| ADJ Lever Setting 2 |
| ISO |
| Provides quick access to something I change somewhat regularly. |
| ADJ Lever Setting 3 |
| Focus |
| Provides quick access to something I change somewhat regularly. |
| ADJ Lever Setting 4 |
| White Balance |
| Who knows, maybe I need to change this occasionally when things just aren’t working out well light-wise. |
| Set Fn1 Button |
| AE Lock |
| Again, this is a hold-over from my DSLR days where I frequently use exposure lock to get the correct exposure in a tricky lighting situation. I use this function all of the time. |
| Set Fn2 Button |
| AF/Snap |
| Basically I usually switch between AF and Snap all of the time and so assigning this function to one of my Fn buttons helps me do this quickly. |
| Zoom Button |
| Exposure Compensation |
| Since I don’t use digital zoom (yuk) and I don’t change the white balance frequently, the only other function that can be assigned to this button is exposure compensation (which I do use occasionally if I’m having trouble locking exposure with AE Lock). |
| Setup Menu |
| Setting |
| Comments |
| Auto Power Off |
| 5 minutes or 30 minutes |
| This depends on what I’m doing with the camera. Usually I leave this set to 5 minutes unless I’m roaming around and need the camera ready at a moments notice (no start-up time) in which case I will set it to 30 minutes (keep an extra battery with you though and shut off the LCD until you need it to conserve power if you do this). |
| ISO Auto-High Settings |
| AUTO 800 |
| I find that most of the time there isn’t a need to expand the ISO beyond 800 so this setting works well for me. ISO 1600 can show banding at times (not always and it is hard to see) but I’ll use ISO 1600 if I need it and worry about quality issues later. Better to get the photo at 1600 ISO than not at all. |
| Volume Settings |
| Off |
| I like my cameras to be entirely silent. No beeps or simulated shutter sounds. With the sound off, you can barely hear the actual shutter when taking a photo in a silent room. Outside, you really don’t hear the shutter in most situations. |
I’m also a minimalist when it comes to working on images after the fact. I use Lightroom for all of my work these days. My workflow post capture is simple:
- Import the files from the memory card(s) into Lightroom
- Edit (star) the photos that I think are keepers
- Apply basic exposure, white balance, and other adjustments as needed to the color RAW version of the starred photos.
- Convert to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in for Lightroom. I know I can do this within Lightroom without a plug-in and that there are other plug-ins out there but I like Silver Efex Pro as it has a nice workflow, step-wise process within it. I generally start with a B&W film effect (usually Kodak Tri-X 400 because I like the contrast settings) and then work the photo from there using the available tools. Note that the film settings in Silver Efex Pro simply try to approximate the contrast, grain, and general look of the film equivalent. I find I still need to make adjustments to the photo to get it to where I like it. This is analogous to working in a chemical darkroom (dodging, burning, etc.) for me.
- Bring the new image back into Lightroom.
- Go through a second editing (star) process to narrow down the photos that are keepers after conversion to black and white.
- Print the images as 4x6” prints on my Epson 3800 printer using the Epson Advanced B&W settings and live with them for awhile on a magnetic board.
- Go through a third editing (star) process to eliminate images that don’t stay on the magnetic board. The resulting images are usually my final keepers.
In the Field
In the field, I tend to shoot a bit loosely. I carry the camera one-handed with the wrist strap and I use the LCD to compose. As an aside, I’ve tried the optical viewfinder but for some reason I just don’t like it. It slows me down and my photography isn’t quite as loose when I’m trying to compose through the viewfinder. I also feel looking through a viewfinder closes me off from by subjects (particularly when making portraits for example). This is one of the reasons I stopped using a DSLR (Canon 5D).
The key I think to really “becoming one” with the GRD is to practice with the custom settings until you not only have assigned the functions that you use the most to the Fn buttons and such but that you can use these buttons intuitively without even looking at the camera (if possible; some functions of course require you to peek at the LCD). This takes practice of course but it comes fairly quickly.
Why the emphasis on customization and practice? I feel the GRD is an extremely well designed camera. Every single detail of the camera seems to have been thought out with respect to how photographers actually use cameras including the ability to customize the camera for each individual photographer’s preferred method of making photographs. I think Ricoh probably talked to many photographers about how they actually make photos and incorporated that feedback into the design. We’ve seen enough “stupidly” implemented camera features on many different cameras in the past to know that some of these cameras are designed by people who have probably never really used a camera in any serious way. I suspect that many of the folks who work at Ricoh designing the cameras are themselves photographers too (at least that is my fantasy image about how Ricoh works).
What the GRD does is that it allows me to basically forget that I’m using a camera in the first place. I don’t think about the camera other than to bring it up to make an exposure. Yes, I do peek at the LCD to make sure I’ve got the composition that I want but sometimes I don’t bother and I shoot without looking at the LCD (mostly because I don’t want to break my attention from the action/composition that may be unfolding in front of me). This is different from shooting totally blind without thinking about composition and hoping for the best. I know what I want in my composition when I see it and I know (through experience) what will and won’t be in the photo before I press the shutter release.
Remember, the GRD has a fixed focal length lens of 28mm. Use this camera enough (or even exclusively) and you will come to know the world through a 28mm sensibility. The same can be said for working with a camera or lens at a different focal length. I used to work only with a 50mm lens on my Canon 5D for years (a full-frame sensor which gave me an actual 50mm focal length, no multiplier due to a smaller sensor). I came to know the world through a 50mm focal length (which is also known as a “normal lens” because it approximates how we see compositionally in the real world through our own eyes). Moving to 28mm was a bit of a stretch but over time (about three years of working almost exclusively with a 28mm focal length), it has become very natural to me. A 50mm lens for me now would be equivalent to a telephoto lens for other photographers and I have very little need for a telephoto lens for the type of photography that I do.
The GRD is also small and most people, if they notice it all, think you are just some goofy tourist snapping photos and typically will ignore you. I don’t believe in stealth photography so I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m making a photo of someone but neither do I need to advertise myself either. This was one reason why I gave up on DSLR cameras. They basically shout to world, “Hey look at me, I’m a photographer!” whether you intend to or not and consequently, we tend to behave that way (kind of like the way people behave differently when they are dressed in a suit or fancy clothes among people who aren’t). This all runs contrary to what I’m doing with my photography, particularly with my documentary work where I am also trying to establish trust and a rapport with my subjects (constantly looking through viewfinders can hinder this as well).
I usually make between one and six exposures of a scene, usually from different vantage points if possible or if the action is evolving. For example: the man raises his hand to the woman’s face (snap), she looks up at him and makes eye contact (snap), he bends his head down to hers (snap), they kiss (snap). You get the idea. I’m rapidly taking photos like this and the GRD (particularly in Snap Focus mode) allows me to do that. Being ready for a photographic moment like this also means you can’t be fiddling with your camera settings or sometimes even looking through a viewfinder to get the composition right. You just need to respond. Also, the final exposure may not be the best exposure. For me anyway, it is usually the first exposure that is the keeper in a sequence like I just described. This is not because I’m a genius or something but rather because I had a camera that was ready to make an exposure of a scene in front of me that really grabbed me and usually grabs me later when editing out the keepers, and usually grabs an audience for the photo when I print it or post it on-line. In other words, my first impression of a scene is usually my best impression and the GRD allows me to photograph that impression.
As I walk I will sometimes make fine adjustments using the Fn buttons and settings as needed because I can see conditions changing as I walk (e.g. knowing I will soon move into a building from the bright outdoors). Sometimes, you don’t have time to make the adjustments you want to and you just have to make the photo and hope for the best (shooting RAW helps in this regard later in post processing but is in no way foolproof and should not be used as a crutch). As I tell my seven year-old son: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”.
Anyway, I know you might be thinking that this advice is great if you’re a documentary or street photographer but I have to say I use the same techniques for just about any photographic situation I find myself in including making snapshots at a birthday party, making a formal portrait, a landscape photo with no people, etc. For me, it’s about being ready to make a photograph of what grabs or motivates me immediately. I have to work instinctively to achieve this state of photographic connectivity to what is in front of me and that is what the GRD allows me to do. No other camera that I have owned has ever come close.
When family and friends who are casual photographers inevitably ask me what kind of camera to purchase and whether they too should get a Ricoh GRD, I always say “No, don’t buy this camera, you won’t be happy with it.” You might think that strange given how much I like the GRD but I really feel it isn’t a camera for the general camera-using public.
First, the camera lacks a zoom lens (which many people expect, particularly zooms that go from very wide to astronomical telephoto ranges). Also, the camera (even in the case of the new GRD IV) is has a 10 megapixel sensor. Consumers typically think that more megapixels is better and but that really isn’t the case (particularly with a small sensor camera) and 10MP seems to work best in terms of controlling noise and achieving image quality. The camera also lacks common consumer features such as face recognition, touch-screen controls on the LCD, and advanced High Definition (HD) video capabilities (all standard on most consumer cameras these days). In short, the GRD concept is not one that lends itself well to the typical consumer-oriented photographic culture.
The GRD is a camera designed for photographers who are looking for a small, easy to carry, camera that can provide complete manual control over the photographic process (easily) while also giving photographers the ability to customize the camera and it’s settings to best meet their needs in the field. To the GRD photographer, the fixed focal length lens (28mm) is not a challenge but an opportunity for interacting with our subjects in a way that longer focal lengths don’t allow for. With a 28mm lens, we must get closer and in doing so, engage with our subjects (whether a person or a thing). Features such as Snap Focus allows us to be more spontaneous and aware of the photographic possibilities before us without having to wait for the camera. The compactness of the camera allows us to carry it everywhere but it is also designed to be ergonomic to the point where it becomes an extension of our hand and our eyes. The GRD does what all cameras should do, it allows us to express ourselves photographically. In a sense, it is an extension of our photographic awareness.
You might be wondering if I intend to purchase the new Ricoh GRD IV. The answer is that I already have one on pre-order (placed through SeriousCompacts.com). Given that the I use the GRD III as my primary camera (indeed, as of this writing it is my only camera) and that the new features of the GRD IV are features that I will use on a daily basis in my photography, the cost is worth it to me. If you have been sitting on the fence about the GRD camera and are interested in getting one, you might try purchasing a GRD III (the price on new GRD III cameras has come down significantly and will drop further and used cameras can be found everywhere on-line). The GRD III is still a wonderful camera and I will keep mine as a back-up.
Paul Giguere is a photographer based in the United States. His current focus is on social documentary photographic projects that show the positive aspects of society and community. He is the host of the podcast Thoughts on Photography (www.thoughtsonphotography.com) and you can also visit his personal web site at: www.paulgiguere.com. -Amin
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October 2nd, 2011, 12:35 PM
Excellent piece Paul. Interesting too to read a personal interpretation of a camera design and how it fulfills the creativity of a photographer. I am the proud owner of a GR1 which I bought in the winter of 1996/1997. In the meantime I have photographed with a GX100, GX200, GXR (with the S10 and both A12 modules), GRD1, and the GRD3. While I think the design philosophy of the GRD is very unique, it is a world apart from the original GR. And personally, I really regret that. It is too modern, too complicated, and while you can set it to your requirement, you really have to got a science degree to make it fully for you. The GR1 was a no thrill, high quality camera. You can only use it aperture or program mode. It has an optical viewfinder which only showed a focus confirmation. Mine still has a working LCD screen on top to show the numbers of exposures available. Clean and simple. No distractions and you could focus 100% on your photography. And to me, that is unfortunately not how the GRD is working.
Like you say the GRD provides so much more control. And that to me is where it differs from the original GR design philosophy. Not that bad either, it is a photographers camera, but personally I miss that even more simple (and even less consumer oriented) ethics of the true original.
October 2nd, 2011, 02:13 PM
Like Wouter, I also see the GRD as a bit of a disappointment when compared to the original GR film cameras but for a different reason. I first owned a GRD and found it to be an engaging and highly satisfying camera with probably the best interface on a compact digital camera ever. But after owning the GR1 it quickly became apparent how poorly the two cameras compare in the image quality department. And as new compact camera categories have emerged - m4/3, NEX, X100 - it becomes more difficult for me personally to swallow the small sensor pill Ricoh is selling.
Originally Posted by Wouter Brandsma
And this comes from a true lover of the Ricoh brand and their photographer friendly interfaces (both old and new). I will happily retire my GR1 and buy the next GRD when it contains an APS-C sensor.
p.s. thanks Paul for the time and effort you put into this write-up. Excellent work!
October 2nd, 2011, 03:36 PM
Good article Paul. I currently use a GRD 3 and a GR1s camera for street photography. After trying a dozen or so compact cameras there really isn't one that was made for the street like the GR line. I retired my Nikon D300 and Leica D-Lux 4 because of how simple this camera was with very un-digital like photos. I've even decided to sell my Fuji X100 and replace with the new GRD 4. I'm not sure why one would try to compare a film camera with a digital but the history of the GR line has always been one of small incremental changes from the film GR1, GR1s, GR1v to the digital GRD, GRD II, GRD III and GRD IV. This camera has proven that sensor size and pixel count doesn't mean much and that it's possible to have a camera with a simple well laid out menu and controls.
October 2nd, 2011, 04:23 PM
Thanks for the write up. I've been shooting with a GRD3 for several months and my experience has been very similar to yours (if less extensive). I have a couple of thoughts and questions.
First, I initially thought full press snap was a great idea so I could be cruising along using AF and then if an opportunity presented itself that required snap focus, I could just use that. But I quickly found that I didn't use FPS nearly as effectively as just plain snap focus. I think because if I wasn't aggressive enough with the shutter button, it would pause at the half press location and would AF and if I WAS aggressive enough to avoid this happening, I'd often shake the camera or otherwise end up with a shot that just didn't work. As you've done, I simply assigned focus to one of the fn buttons and I can switch between snap focus and AF in about no time at all, so I've since turned off full press snap. Just didn't work for me.
In terms of the snap focus settings, the camera has settings for 1, 1.5, 2.5, and 5 meters, as well as infinity. But when I switch between them, the focal distance / DOF slider over on the left side doesn't seem to acknowledge the setting for 1.5. When snap focus is set to 1m, the focal point shows at 1m and the DOF range is set around that point. When I then move up to 1.5m, though, the focal point and DOF range in that display jumps all the way up to 2.5 meters. And stays there when I then adjust the snap focus distance to 2.5. And then if I ever jumped up to 5m or infinity, the display adjusts to reflect both of those. But there doesn't seem to be an actual setting for 1.5 meters, just two of them for 2.5 with one of them labelled 1.5 and the other labelled 2.5. I was just wondering if you'd found the same thing or if I have some sort of glitch in my camera or FW (which is the latest, btw).
I've never really figured out the difference between Auto ISO and Auto-Hi ISO in terms of its effect on a minimum shutter speed (fairly important for street work). On the X100, I find this very clear - you can set the shutter speed you don't want it to dip below and it will adjust the ISO to keep this from happening unless the light gets so low that even at the highest ISO, it can't maintain that shutter speed. I don't really get how the Ricoh thinks in this regard, so I've just used manual ISO settings and use the horizontal rocker switch to cycle through ISO settings. The vertical rocker is set to exposure comp. The first fn button is set to cycle between snap focus and AF, and the second fn button is set for metering, which I only occasionally change. But I find manual ISO to be the way to go with this camera...
I'm also not clear about what the auto aperture shift does either, but its never seemed to cause me any problems as long as I'm on top of the aperture and ISO settings.
In terms of your settings, you mention that you set your pict quality for raw, as I do, but there's no way to set it ONLY for raw, right? You still have to pick a jpeg quality and you always end up with two files - a DNG and a jpeg. This isn't a problem - I just set Aperture up to import only the raw files and the small jpegs (I set them to the smallest, lowest quality) don't seem to cause any problems.
Finally, you note that you turn noise reduction off, but this is really just a setting for those shooting jpegs, no? This shouldn't affect the DNG files one way or the other, if I'm not mistaken. And the B&W setting just allows one to compose and review in B&W, but also has no impact on the color content of the raw files...
Any further insight is appreciated.
Regardless I love this camera and can't imagine getting some of the shots I've gotten with any other tool.
Last edited by Ray Sachs; October 2nd, 2011 at 04:51 PM.
October 2nd, 2011, 04:53 PM
Thank you Paul for a wonderful walk thru history of the GR/GRD history. As a new convert to the Ricoh product line I really appreciate all that Ricoh has done and I believe their camera are helping me become a better photographer. At least I'm enjoying my hobby more than ever before and I contribute that to Ricoh GRD and now the GXR!
October 2nd, 2011, 05:28 PM
I think you are correct in that the original GR cameras were really much easier to use (less features, less controls, less complexity). The GR film cameras were really point and shoot cameras (with a little extra complexity for those who wanted it) in my opinion and for that, they excelled in that area. My intention in the article was not to directly compare the two cameras but to show where the GRD came from and how some of the design thinking that went into the GR film cameras found their way into the GRD. Yes, the GRD, with all of it's features and capabilities, can be complex to learn and use (as is any camera that offers greater control over the many facets of the camera's operation) but you can also operate the camera in a fully Auto mode and let the camera make all of the decisions for you. The GRD can, essentially, be just like any other consumer camera from that vantage point (point and shoot). The beauty is that the GRD can be so much more. This is not to say the GRD is better than the GR because it has more features. They are as different functionally as any two cameras can be however, they share a similar design aesthetic and in some ways, the GRD is a logical outgrowth of the GR (and owes much to the GR) in a digital world.
October 2nd, 2011, 05:47 PM
I'll try to respond to some of your points and questions . . .
- Full Press Snap is really an emergency setting when I'm in AF mode and need the Snap focus for some reason. I agree that in general practice, it isn't the best solution due to the fact that I find you may press harder than you anticipated and cause camera shake.
- I think the glitch in the snap focus distance markers is really just a firmware glitch with the markers alone. It appears that you can indeed access each of the snap focus steps but the marker hangs at 2.5m for both 2.5m and 1.5m. Again, not your camera per se, just a firmware glitch that came about with one of the more recent firmware upgrades.
- Manual ISO is indeed a good way to use the GRD. The Auto Hi-ISO just sets the upper limit of the cameras ISO when using Auto ISO mode. For example, if I set this to 800 ISO, the camera will never go higher than even when it is called for due to inadequate light but it will go lower as needed when there is more than ample light. If I directly set the ISO to 800, then the camera will always use this setting no matter what the lighting condition is.
- The Auto Aperture Shift is actually a nice feature. I'll give you an example . . . I was recently making some photos in a dimly building and I had the aperture set to f1.9 (I was in Aperture Priority mode). I then stepped out into a brightly lit courtyard which joins two areas of the building and made some photos without changing my f-stop from f1.9 to something smaller. The photos got blown out right away (all white) and I had to make the adjustment to f5.6 to get a good image. With Auto Aperture Shift, the camera would have done this for me automatically without asking in order to get a photo that didn't blow out. As I said in the article, this can be a lifesaver and doesn't cost you anything in terms of camera speed or operation to leave on.
- Yes, even when using RAW, you have a choose a JPEG quality for your review image after making the photo. Since I only work on the RAW images, I choose something small so as not to take up extra room on the memory card. This has been a sore point for many GRD owners (many don't want to the JPEG sidecar image) but I guess if it could easily be fixed Ricoh would have done something by now. In actual use, it doesn't worry be too much and I keep ample memory cards with me on each outing.
- You are correct about the Noise reduction. It does only apply to RAW but I still keep it off because I do use the JPEG sidecar images to evaluate my images in the field on the camera's LCD screen and I don't like the mushy-ness of noise reduction applied to these images.
Anyway, I hope this helps.
Originally Posted by Ray
October 2nd, 2011, 06:24 PM
Excellent article Paul, you summed up why the GRD is what it is and has such a following.
For me the GRD I is one of the best cameras ever made and although I have the GR1 film camera, the GRD I seems to give me the same quality pictures but without the hassle. The GRD III is a way more advanced camera and maybe this is what Wouter meant when he said it lost the simplicity of the original GR concept, I tend to agree in some ways and this is why the GRD I for me will remain the most special of the GR cameras.
I hpe you will enjoy your GRD IV and can't wait to try one out myself. I have written a lot on my blog and the GRD III book I have done for Ricoh regarding the GR series so it's great to see that other people feel very similar about the GR camera philosophy.
October 2nd, 2011, 07:01 PM
Thanks Paul, this is very helpful. So there really IS a 1.5 meter snap focus setting - its just not reflected in the focal point and DOF graphic on the left side of the screen. Good to know, although it does render the DOF guide pretty useless! That's OK, you learn by experience very quickly with this camera and in anything but the dimmest light (and largest aperture), you've got a lot of DOF to work with anyway.
Originally Posted by Paul Giguere
And better understanding the Auto Aperture Shift, it sounds like it could occasionally be helpful and doesn't sound like it has a downside, so I'll probably start using it. The Auto ISO, though, doesn't sound like its for me without more control over how it interacts with shutter speeds when light gets low. I'd rather just handle that manually and keep track of how the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are interacting.
Thanks much for your insights - very helpful indeed...
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