Ricoh GRD IV Review- Exclusive!
October 31st 2011, Carl Garrard
Ricoh GR DIGITAL IV Check Prices
Ricoh GR DIGITAL IV US 10 MP Digital Camera with 1x Optical Zoom and 3-Inch LCD screen (Black)
I didn't need long to familiarize myself with the new GRD IV since I own and use the GRD III regularly. It's list of improvements are really the only things I need to test here, so this review will be brief compared to the extensive review I wrote on the GRD III over at AlphaMountWorld.com. In short, Ricoh have listed the following improvements over the GRD III:
- 3" 1.2million Dot White Magic LCD Screen
- First GRD with Image Stabilization (Yay!)
- New Hybrid Auto Focusing promising twice the focus speed than it's predecessor
- New HDMI port
- Slightly revised exterior aesthetics and button layout
- Improved 10mp Image quality using the same sensor as the GRD III
- Better Battery Life Via New LCD Screen
- Reorganized Image Settings and Scene mode stations
- New Interval Composite Mode
- Multiple Shot Exposure mode
- New Auto Bracket functions
- Dual axis electronic level (pitch and roll)
- ISO 3200 Setting
- Includes all of the previous GRD III firmware upgrades
This list may not be long, but it is indeed a progressive development- not a giant leap in technology- something that GRD fans have come to appreciate with this design. This is testament to its small size, form following function exterior, and its lightweight body. The GRD IV is no slouch on external controls and has several that can be customized or modified giving the user choice on set up and operation, similar to the cameras it replaces.
After spending some time with the new GRD IV, I've noticed it's progressive improvements right away. Most of them are subtle practical use improvements. I'll list my impressions here for readers starting with the obvious new stuff.
First off, I have to say this new "White Magic" LCD screen is noticeably nicer. Contrast and colors are outstanding and so are the refresh rate. It's vibrant and lively, detailed, and one of the best fixed 3"screens I've seen to date. I'm sure this LCD screen will make it on other cameras in the future. This is the best LCD screen on any GRD or Ricoh camera to date. I look forward to seeing the improvement in battery life as a result of Ricoh's addition to include it in this camera.
There are few tweaks to the body design that if you aren't looking you'll easily miss. That's what I'm here for, I find all the stuff about the new cameras and report them to you :). So first off, the beveling around the body is more pronounced and sharper than its GRD III counterpart which, has more rounded edges overall. Subtle, but a change nevertheless that adds a touch of "modern" to the GRD IV.
|New GRD IV to the Left, GRD III to the Right|
On the rear of the camera Ricoh added slightly more rubber for the rear thumb to grip at the top, and the four way controller has gone from 4 buttons to one big disk that rocks on its axis. The disc has a sharper edge that helps your thumb keep position on the control disc and I find it a better design than the previous. It has a cleaner appearance too- the soap stain emblems are located on the wheel, not the body.
|GRD IV to the Left Note Extra Thumb Pad Space and Multi-Controller|
On the right side of the camera the access port has a new HDMI port added to it (finally!) and this is a big deal to me. Although the cable type is different from the "standard" Mini HDMI cable, now the quality will at least be there. I would have preferred the standard Mini type but I'll live.
Fit and Finish
The exterior finish on the GRD IV has been thickened and hardened compared to it's predecessor. It may not be noticeable by most, but I have a keen eye for such things. My GRD III experienced a small unfortunate bump that left a scratch that went to metal. It's not a big scratch but hey, it's there. The GRD IV's finish seems to be much more resilient to scratches, feeling like hardened 150 grit sandpaper more than anything else. If you look closely in the images, you can see the difference in the finish texture.
Fit has always been excellent for Ricoh on most cameras, but with the GRD line, it has always been superb. The GRD IV is no exception, constructed like a high end jewelers watch more than anything. This is one reason why Ricoh cameras cost a bit more than competition and I say it's quite worth it. I like me a good built camera, Ricoh delivers.
New Digital Level
Autofocus speed has definitely been improved with the new Hybrid AF system that Ricoh has put into the GRD IV. Putting both cameras side by side with the same settings and testing them, I found Ricoh's claim of a twice as fast AF speed improvement to be just about right. While I never found the GRD III to be slow, the improved performance is definitely welcome here. The GRD IV is definitely no slouch on speed. As far as claims of accuracy, only long term testing will give me my final evaluation but first impressions have been very very accurate with no "misses" so far. Promising results here.
Thank you Ricoh! The already bright f/1.9 aperture allowing low light shooting is now enhanced with a image stabilized sensor. Now hand held shots with the GRD series are even better than before. I found at least 2 full stops of improvement bringing hand held shots down to one full second with ease. Mated with the bright wide angle lens, the GRD IV is the best street shooter than any prior GR Digital. I'm very happy to see this improvement that will definitely be noticed by adopters who've used GRD's in the past. Ricoh do listen very intently to their users.
Help: Ricoh Products
This will be the second time Ricoh has chosen the excellent Sony 1 1/7" sensor found in several great enthusiast compacts on the market, only this time they've improved the optical filter in front of the CCD and given the new GRD IV a new processor/processing engine. I expected a slightly noticeable improvement in image quality, and welcome the new ISO 3,200 setting wholeheartedly.
I personally found the GRD III and Canon G12 to have the best IQ for enthusiast compacts with the same sensor. Some of the images I've shot rival good DSLRs at lower levels which is quite outstanding. So suffice it to say I have high expectations of the GRD IV and it hasn't disappointed me.
ISO 80 is absolutely fantastic, and even ISO 3,200 quite usable. That means the entire range has value and this makes for a true pocketable low light machine (especially with its image stabilization!). Dynamic range on the GRD III was excellent and it seems the GRD IV has it slightly beat. I don't find the new processor struggling to extract the full capabilities of the sensor at all. Highly impressed here. No evidence of blue sky noise at ISO 80 and details are superb beating out the best 28mm DSLR lens easily. Example below. Look at the grass and the trees, eat your heart out DSLRs.
At ISO 3,200, and two full stops of image stabilization (at least) I'll be marking new territory of low light shooting with the GRD IV that I wasn't able to do hand held with the GRD III. Since the lens on the GRD series is exceptional even fully wide open, that means no worries using it up to f/5.6 where diffraction becomes a bit obvious and the point of diminishing returns has been reached for sharpness and depth of field. Sample here from Raw, converted with Adobe Camera Raw, only chroma noise removal was applied, the luminescence slider backed off to 0.
|ISO 3200 Low Light, Good Grain, Totally Usable!|
|ISO 1600, ACR Conversion No Noise Removal|
As for overall image quality I'm noticing about a 1/2 stop improvement over the GRD III in digital noise, and about the same in Dynamic Range gain. ISO 3,200 on the GRD IV borders on being just as good as ISO 1600 in the GRD III, with ISO 1600 looking fantastic. Ricoh's claim that the GRD IV has the best picture quality of any GRD camera yet, holds ground in my testing and evaluation.
For kicks, I wanted to see how good an even lower light high ISO shot than above would look at 24mp up-sampled resolution size. With the hype of 24mp sensors of late, I wanted to see how it'd compare to say the new Sony 24mp sensor of APS-C size. I'm actually quite impressed at how well the GRD IV can keep up with DSLR sized sensors and this image proves my point quite well I'd say. Just click the link below the image for a full sized view.
|ISO 2,500 GRD IV f/2.2 1/6th second, Up-sampled to 24mp using ACR/CS|
The GRD has what I'd call- functional video. If you can live with the resolution and lack of an "HD" badge, the 640x480 video quality is pretty good actually. Since the GRD is more of a classic still imaging device, or purist camera (as I like to call it), emphasis on video takes a back seat role. This frees up funds to work on other areas of the camera (such as the improved auto focus and addition of image stabilization) while keeping an improved camera at the cost of it's predecessor.
Here is a video sample of my home made chili reducing down from last nights meal. Yes the chili was fantastic, and the video isn't all that bad! Just keep in mind the blogger platform here will reduce the quality a bit
Here is a link to a higher quality video that will open in your current browser window, just hit your back button to return to the review.
I've not noticed much online interest in the GRD IV since it's announcement compared to what the GRD III got when it was initially announced. A lot has changed in the camera market since then but high quality compacts like the GRD IV still remain pretty rare beasts. This camera fits a niche that owners of the GRD cameras can attest no other camera can properly fill.
I'm impressed with Ricoh's latest offering even if the new improvement specifications don't look all that exciting at first glance. Yet I find that using a camera is much more exciting than reading specifications any day of the week (reading is what you do when you aren't shooting or testing cameras, I say). The Ricoh GRD IV is indeed better than the camera it replaces and offers a ton of customization and film simulation modes that keep this camera viable and interesting on the market.
The improvements in its design are welcome and useful and indeed do the GR series history justice. It's a fine addition to the lineup of very popular GR cameras. Ricoh has made sure this is the finest GR camera yet, and my opinion concurs with that assessment.
For enthusiasts looking for a unique experience, ultimate camera control and customization, excellent image quality (besting my Canon G12), excellent bright lens and fast auto focusing- the GRD IV is definitely worth a look, and in a class all its own.
I will be updating this review with even more details in Part II, or better yet, I'll elect to just continue to update this review as time allows.
As always be safe, and happy shooting.