December 27th, 2011, 01:53 PM
The Ricoh GR Digital IV: First Impressions
This is not a full review per se of the latest GR camera from Ricoh (to be called the GRD4 for the remainder of this article). For more information about the Ricoh GR Digital camera, check out my prior article (http://www.seriouscompacts.com/f41/r...y-design-4392/) for SeriousCompacts.com or the excellent reviews by Sean Reid (ReidReviews, by subscription only but worth it IMHO). Instead, this article addresses several questions and issues that people who are already familiar with the GRD camera (in it’s three prior versions) may have.
The GRD4 is essentially the exact same physically as it’s predecessor the GRD3 in that it looks the same and handles the same. The only noticeable difference is the hybrid-focusing sensor located to the left of the lens housing which is a sure way of telling this camera apart from it’s older siblings (more on this later). Here are my thoughts on several aspects of the GRD4 that are of the most importance to me:
Size – One thing you should know is that the GRD4 (although it doesn’t look like it at first glance) is actually thicker than the GRD3 (32.5mm vs. 25.5mm). In practical terms you won’t even notice this slight increase and if I had not put my GRD3 and the GRD4 next to each other for comparison purposes, I would not have noticed this. In practical terms, this slight difference means nothing. Where the difference in size could be a problem though is in your carry case selection. The Ricoh GC-3 case for example (a leather carry case accessory for the GRD camera) is a very tight fit for the GRD4, so much so that if I was Ricoh I would not even list this as a option for the GRD4. In practical terms though, I found the GRD4 fit into my two main carry cases that I have used in the past for the GRD3 (namely a LowePro neoprene pouch and a small Apex carry case) without any problem.
Focusing Speed – Ricoh claims that the GRD4 is twice as fast at focusing (due to it’s new hybrid autofocusing system that combines external autofocus with contrast autofocus). In actual fact I not only found this statement to be true but I think the GRD4 might be even faster than that under certain lighting and contrast conditions. It is definitely as fast as the Ricoh GXR with the 28mm lensor module. This is quite a feat and in practical terms makes the GRD4 a very responsive camera when used in autofocus mode.
Snap Focus – One thing that initially caused me some concern was the fact that the method for changing the snap focus distance setting had been removed and you now have to go into the menus to change the distance. On the GRD3, you could simply press the Up Button on the back of the camera and rotate the front dial in front of the shutter release button to change the distance setting at which the snap focus was set to. This has been replaced with the ability to change different function button configurations (something I hardly use anyway). The GRD3 approach was how I used snap focus on a regular basis.
On the GRD4, you can set the snap focus distance to Auto through the menu (in addition to a set distance). I’ve been using the Auto setting for awhile now and I can say that it is fairly accurate when I also turn on the distance scale setting so I can see the distance to subject (admittedly not the most accurate scale either). With some careful recomposing when necessary, I have found the Auto setting for snap focus works well enough for me. In general, the great depth of field with a small sensor camera like the GRD4 renders this issue kind of moot but I for one would welcome getting the option to change this back to the GRD3 method in a future firmware upgrade.
Image Quality – It all comes down to image quality and given that the GRD4 uses the same lens as the GRD3, I expected image quality to be at least as good with the GRD4 and it is. I do think that the images from the GRD4 are a bit sharper though and this may have to do with the new built-in image stabilization feature as well as the new processing engine. Also, I found color rendition to be just about the same as the GRD3 (but I’m primarily a B&W photographer so my measuring stick may not be that exact here).
One big advantage of the GRD4 over the GRD3 is the ability to easily push your maximum ISO to 1600 now without blowing out the photo details or getting too much grain/noise in the photo (maximum ISO is 3200 now as compared to 1600 on the GRD3). This is a great advantage and as a bonus, I haven’t been able to detect any banding issues either (a sporadically reported problem with the GRD3).
Dynamic Range – The GRD4 has a new feature called Dynamic Range Compensation which works for both JPEG as well as RAW (DNG) images. Essentially you can set three levels of dynamic range from weak to strong. There is a cost to using this feature though. As you increase the dynamic range setting, your lowest possible ISO setting goes up. I don’t know how all of this is being done behind the scenes with the GRD4 but I suspect it has something to do with the new processing engine and the ability modify the contrast sensitivity of the sensor through the engine (thus giving you more dynamic range). In practical terms, this feature might be useful when photographing scenes with clouds, sharp contrasts, or dark areas juxtaposed with light areas in the scene. In general though, I leave it off unless I’m having trouble with a scene.
LCD Quality – I have never liked using a viewfinder on my GRD3 (I prefer the LCD) but there were times when I wished I had one, particularly in bright light (e.g. outdoors at mid-day). The GRD3 LCD screen, as nice as it is, washes out in bright light and is hard to see. The new LCD for the GRD4 uses LED technology (it is much brighter) and is of a higher resolution than the LCD for the GRD3. Another nice feature is that the LCD on the GRD4 will dim or brighten automatically based on the ambient light present. In general use, I find this feature very useful.
As I said at the outset of this article, this is not a full review by any means so I’m not going to go into the other enhancements and upgrades to the GRD4. You can read full reviews on-line in a multitude of places and in general, the GRD4 functions as well if not better in some regards than the GRD3 anyway so it is kind of like comparing apples to oranges.
The big question is it worth upgrading from the GRD3 to the GRD4? That will depend on whether the new enhancements will really be useful to you in your photography. For me the focusing speed, image quality, and LCD screen were enough to justify the upgrade. The only downside is the change in how the snap focus works on the GRD4 but I think I can live with this for now (and hope that Ricoh puts this capability back in in a future firmware upgrade.
Then there is the cost. You can still buy a new GRD3 for $380 (a significant savings over the $600 GRD4). If you opt for a used GRD3 your savings will be greater. For me personally, and given that the GRD camera is the only camera I currently own and use, I felt the upgrade was worth it. Anyway, I will add and respond to comments to this article (including some photos) over time. The bottom-line is that if you have ever wanted to get a Ricoh GR Digital camera, there has never been a better time with two superb cameras to choose from at different price points and feature sets.
December 27th, 2011, 02:13 PM
Thanks for the insight, Paul. Having just got back into GRD's after long hiatus it is of interest to see how my opting for cost versus the newer model played out in other hands than mine.
There are times I miss IS (got spoiled by it, really). but for most of my work the GRD 3 works very well indeed. Oddly I had got so in tune with my GRD 1 that sometimes I miss the power button on the 3 when in hurry.
GRD are THAT intuitive!
December 27th, 2011, 02:53 PM
for me the upgrades were worth it, very happy with my GRD IV
December 27th, 2011, 03:45 PM
Paul, I did a back to back comparison of the GRD3 and GRD4 pretty recently and I agree with almost all of your conclusions. But I don't believe the difference in low light associated with the higher ISO values and associated noise of the images is a real difference. I wrote the following in a post about a week ago:
Originally Posted by Paul Giguere
So, it was gonna come down to how much better the GRD4 actually was in low light. And my conclusion is that its not. Yes, you can shoot comfortably at ISO 1600 with 3200 possible as a last resort, whereas with the GRD3 you can shoot comfortably at ISO 800 with 1600 possible as a last resort. Which I guess is what all of the talk was about in terms of the GRD4 being better in low light. BUT, BUT, BUT, there is essentially no difference between ISO 800 on the GRD3 and ISO 1600 on the GRD4. Or 1600 on the GRD3 and 3200 on the GRD4. I did a bunch of back to back to back shots with both cameras in various low light settings at all of the upper ISOs and the ultimate results were the same. Keeping the same aperture, no exposure compensation, and the exact same scene, ISO 800 on the GRD3 always picked the exact same shutter speed as the GRD4 picked at ISO 1600. And the 3 always picked the same shutter speed at 1600 that the 4 did at 3200. Same sensor, same basic sensitivity - I don't know why I was surprised.
After a fairly lengthy discussion about this on DPR, I looked more carefully at the images and concluded that the GRD4 images appear to resolve just a bit more detail but also bring more noise along with it. The associated GRD3 images were a little cleaner but without quite as much detail. So maybe the allegedly weaker AA filter in the GRD4 has something to do with this? But this is a really minor difference - the images are so close that I could only conclude there's no meaningful difference in the low light capability of the two cameras. At least associated with the sensitivity of the sensors at high ISO. The image stabilization in the GRD4 appeared to be quite effective, so for the kind of shooting that is aided by IS, there is a notable difference. But in terms of the sensor's ability to handle low light at high ISOs, I don't believe there is a difference...
For folks who value AF and IS a lot, the upgrade is probably worthwhile. For those (like me) for whom the ability to manually change the snap focus distance on the fly is more important, the GRD3 is probably a better choice. Neither is a bad choice, but I'd eliminate the higher ISO capabilities of the GRD4 as an actual improvement...
December 27th, 2011, 10:23 PM
Thank you, Paul. I only had the GRD IV for a few days...and have to say that I loved it's smallness and it's speedy AF and write times.
December 28th, 2011, 01:06 PM
Hi Ray - I'm wondering if you were using a program mode or auto-mode when you did your comparisons or were you using Aperture Priority? This could make no difference at all but I know on some DSLRs using program or auto-mode makes the camera act strangely when determining shutter-speed based on ISO sensitivity. I recall using the GRD3 at ISO 1600 and the images were too grainy (not the nice kind of grain mind you but blotchy grain). With the GRD4 photos at ISO 1600 have that grainy effect that reminds me of ISO 800 on the GRD3. In actual fact, I think the weaker AA filter is creating images that are more reminiscent of the GRD1 photos that I have seen (again, a camera with a weak AA filter). Perhaps GRD1 owners can compare at some point.
Originally Posted by Ray
Anyway, everyone's mileage will vary with the GRD4 vs GRD3 decision. I like the GRD4's new capabilities enough to put aside the snap focus issue for now and just work with the Auto setting (or take the time to set the distance in the menu when necessary). I hold out hope that Ricoh will provide a work-around for this in the future. They clearly have tweaked the firmware enough to allow for very minute custom settings so they can do this. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond.
December 28th, 2011, 02:13 PM
Paul - I was using Aperture Priority throughout. And you're right - the GRD4's 1600 iso images look almost exactly like the GRD3's 800 iso. And, correspondingly the GRD4's 3200 iso images look almost exactly like the GRD3's 1600 iso images. Which would make it seem the GRD4 is one stop better than the GRD3 if that's as far as you look. Except that the GRD4 chooses the SAME exposure (same shutter speed with aperture held steady wide open at f1.9) at 3200 that the GRD3 chooses at 1600 when framing the same shot back to back. And the images come out looking basically the same with the exact same exposure but with the GRD4 at one stop higher ISO.
Originally Posted by Paul Giguere
Essentially, it appears to me that they re-labelled the GRD4 iso, but didn't actually increase the sensitivity. ISO 1600 on the GRD4 is almost exactly the same as 800 on the GRD3, in terms of exposure and the appearance of the resulting image, so you really haven't gained anything but a higher number to refer to, brag on, etc. I really think the Ricoh marketing guys won this fight because I don't think the engineers could really squeeze any additional performance out of the same sensor. The actual low light limits of the two cameras are very nearly exactly the same (except for that accounted for by IS) - only the numbers have changed.
Kind of reminds me of the classic scene in the movie "Spinal Tap" where the British rock guitarist is bragging on his custom amplifier because his amp "goes to eleven". Of course, the volume knob has merely been re-labelled with a highest volume of "11", rather than the typical "10". So he's convinced that his amp is actually louder and more powerful. When the interviewer tries to explain to him that the amp is really the same, but the volume knob is just labelled differently to show the "11", he's dumbfounded and insists, "yeah, but mine goes to ELEVEN"! I think Ricoh did more or less the same thing here. The character's name was Nigel Tufnel and the once per century date of 11/11/11 that we just passed last month was nicknamed "Nigel Tufnel Day" by many fans of that movie - and anyone who was around in the mid-80's and a fan of both rock music and good satire was a fan of that movie!
Its not the first time or the first company to do this - I've heard plenty of stories of similar behavior from other camera makers - I guess its a time-tried marketing trick... But I'm quite convinced that's what's going on...
And again, I don't think that negates the reasons to like the GRD4 - the improved AF, the image stabilization, the better rear screen, and maybe a couple others. But I think the higher ISO is an illusion, not a reality.
December 29th, 2011, 08:44 PM
So making me want my GRD IV back.. damn GAS
December 30th, 2011, 03:05 PM
Hi Ray - Unfortunately I no longer have my GRD3 handy to try this myself but perhaps others on SC who still own both cameras might be able to try and replicate your experiment (also making sure to turn off the Image Stabilizer feature on the GRD4 which I'm sure you did). You may be right and Ricoh is just playing with the numbers. As you rightly point out though, higher ISO capabilities was not my main reason for upgrading so I'm less concerned about any trickery going on.
December 30th, 2011, 03:09 PM
Nicely written review Paul. Feeding the GAS in me as well. Fortunately, I still have the V1 on hand to temporarily satisfy my immediate urges to buy new gear!
Current Gear: A little bit of this and a little bit of that, but want more!
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