Monday, October 31, 2011

Ricoh GRD IV Review- Exclusive!

Ricoh GRD IV Review- Exclusive! (Updated 11-4-2011)

October 31st 2011, Carl Garrard
Ricoh GR DIGITAL IV Check Prices
Ricoh GRD IV Review- It's indeed a spooky Halloween, a mysterious black camera arrived for testing and evaluation- the newest GR Digital from Ricoh. I am admittedly a huge Ricoh GRD fan, and by that it makes me more critical than most might be to changes in the design. Ricoh's last GRD, the GRDIII was the most impressive of the series overall that I've used to date (and I've used all of the digital GR Digital models). The GRD IV promises progressive improvements along with being the first camera ever to have Sony's new 1.24 Million Dot White Magic LCD screen which claims a 50% reduction in power consumption.
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 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
    Ricoh GR DIGITAL III 10 MP CCD Digital Camera with 28mm f/1.9 GR Fixed Lens and 3-Inch LCD

    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.

    First Impressions
    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.

    LCD Screen
    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.

    The Body
    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 

    Leave it to Ricoh to nail a slick fully featured Digital Level into the GRD IV. I've used many cameras with digital levels and I think this one is the best implementation yet. At least it is the least distracting of the bunch, and it also shows ultra fine increments for very accurate horizons and pitch. It's incorporated into one small section of the LCD screen and is quite nice to use. I find it well sorted and organized on the screen in the center bottom. Well done again Ricoh.

    Autofocus Speed
    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.

    Image Stabilization
    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

    Image Quality
    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

    Video Quality

    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.

    Preliminary Conclusion (Part I)
    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.

    -Carl Garrard


    1. Willing to take questions on the GRD IV, so let me know if you have any. What a good performing camera here, going to have to replace my GRD III now.


    2. Excellent initial review, look forward to more indepth coverage in the future particularly if you could with more images at all the various ISO's and such. I read your GRD III review and that was a fantastic one!


    3. If you can hand hold at 1 second and not have shutter blur, then I can't wait tot ry it out.

    4. This is such a tempting camera, but with 28mm I have to pass. Ricoh! Make a GRD 35mm version!

    5. Hi

      Great review, very helpful indeed.
      I'm new to Ricoh and this will be my first purchase. I nearly bought the GRiii and then swithched to the Canon 550D. In the end DSLR's are just to big for my needs so after looking around again I'm back where I started! My only question is should I get the GRiv or is the GRiii totally fine especially as there are some fantastic price deals around now. Money is not the main problem but I'm just not totally convinced the iv is that much of a step up. Tale away cost would you fully recommend just going for the iv. One big consideration for me is the ability to shoot in low light and the IS with a 1.9 is very attractive.


    6. Hi,
      Thanks for the review. I had a question too. Have you tested the dynamic range expansion feature (not the double-shot scene mode but the single shot one) and does it work well?

    7. I have tried the Dynamic Range feature. Typically it is advised to use it on lower ISO settings in brighter conditions as shadow areas tend to gain noise as the area's are adjusted accordingly. It works by adjusting levels automatically for highlights and shadow regions. While it is more convenient to use than the double shot HDR feature, the results aren't as effective as the latter.


    8. Carl, thank you for a thorough and excellent review of this latest and what seems like the best yet GRD camera. I started with the lll, picked up a revered l but did not keep it as it never got used even though it is a special camera....the lV may be the ideal GRD.

    9. Hi Carl,
      Perhaps you are to blame. I picked one up yesterday and it is a slick little camera. It really performs exactly as you described.

      Elliot Stern

    10. Hi Elliot, guilty as charged. I hope you enjoy the GRD IV as much as other GRD users out there. It's the only compact I stick in my pocket. Please feel free to share any experiences with the GRD or ask any questions if you want tips or advice or just help.



    11. Carl,
      Thanks for this review. I too read your GRD III review, and never have I read any review that so well combined needed info on technical points while conveying so effectively a really useful shooting experience! Yours are the kind of reviews that really influence my buying of a certain camera, or not. I have to agree with one commentor above who asks Ricoh for a 35mm (equivalent) lens option...or even a 40mm. What concerns me is this: when I take a look at your example shots, and those of others, I see the very slight "fish-eye" effect, especially with closer shots. I know from using Ricohs in the past that, IMHO their lens quality is simply unsurpassed by any camera manufacture at anywhere near the price. My question then is, am I overly concerned by this seeming contortion that would be less with 35mm or 40mm, is that a factor you feel too when using the GRD's...thanks so much for any answer and thoughts you can provide!
      Bill Corbett
      North Carolina

    12. Carl, I have to post this second comment after seeing your bottle shot and hopefully this one will identify me better.... this camera is making me want to upgrade from the lll. I am also guilty of Elliot's GRDlV purchase as I sent him your would not believe how long I have talked to him about Ricohs, persistence sometimes pays off. Best, Joel

    13. Carl, Any idea when the GRD IV will ship in the U.S. ? I pre-ordered some time ago at Adorama and they're still saying (on their site) "delivery in October."

    14. Not sure on the pre-order situation at Adorama. Have you by chance asked them what is going on? They would probably know better.

    15. I went ahead and asked Adorama anyways, because I'm curious too. I don't even see it listed on Amazon's site yet, which is a pity.

      I'll let you know what Adorama says.


    16. Reply from Adorama:

      Sorry but we still do not have an estimated date from Ricoh for when we will be receiving SKU# IRCGR4 - RICOH GR DIGITAL IV CAMERA in stock.
      If you add the item to your wishlist online you will be notified via email when it is available. Or if you place an order for it, it will just ship when it is available.

      Thank you for shopping with us we appreciate your business.


      R******a - Sales Representative

    17. Bill Corbett ( 9, 2011 at 8:08 AM

      Carl, I had asked a question in a comment above about whether the slight "fish-eye" effect of the 28mm excellent lens bothered anyone but me. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on this? I have always thought, given it's a fixed focal length lens, that maybe a 35mm or even 40mm would has less of this effect and be a little more useful, at least as an option. Is there a good reason for the limitation to 28mm? I must be missing something!

    18. Sorry Bill,

      That I didn't get back to you sooner. There is a bit of barrel distortion that is very common with the 28mm focal length. Each focal length has its pro's and con's, but I think 35mm is pretty much the ideal focal length for this camera. I think Ricoh would sell more of them if it were.

      You can always crop and remove the distortion in photoshop if needed.


    19. Bill Corbett ( 10, 2011 at 5:36 AM

      Thanks so much for getting back with me. I feel sometimes, because I have to crop in to get rid of that distortion (which admittedly probably bothers me more than most folks), that I lose some of the usefulness of the total sensor size. When I shot the formal group portraits of weddings for years, I had to be very careful of 24/28, indeed anything under 35 because of the distortion of folks on the sides. But then, what I do like is the ability to "shoot from the hip" as in street work on NYC subways, etc.! Guess, like you and others have said, no perfect camera for all of us, right. But I agree, Ricoh would sell many more if 35mm were at least an option. It would seem to be an easy thing for them to do! Maybe they will read your comments, as they seem to listen to us better than other companies. Thanks again,
      Bill Corbett
      North Carolina

    20. Hi Bill, you're certainly welcome. Ricoh do listen to feedback.

      In all my dealings with camera companies over the last few years I think Ricoh more than any company listens to user requests. I think right now with the GRD line that there have been more requests in total for wider angle than 35mm and Ricoh have to play to the majority.

      But that might have changed by now. The X100 has that focal length and people have been buying it up.

      Basically after you crop to 35mm you end up with about 8.5 megapixels which to me, is still quite excellent. Perhaps Ricoh could do simulation modes with/auto corrections for Jpegs at least in camera.

      As it is, you can zoom with the GRD IV, and have the camera remember that zoom position upon start up If I'm correct (double checking that), if not, its one touch on the zoom that brings it to 35mm equivalent I believe.

      Workarounds for sure, but at least theres a faster way than using photoshop.


    21. Here is a list of equivalent focal lengths in each zoom step:

      1.2x = 33.6 mm (8.3mp)
      1.4x = 39.2 mm
      1.6x = 44.8 mm (6.25mp)
      1.8x = 50.4 mm
      2.0x = 56.0 mm (5 mp)

      Hope this helps a bit.

      Oh and btw, Ricoh now allows a Raw only capture option on the GRD IV.


    22. Bill Corbett ( 10, 2011 at 3:42 PM

      Fantastic! How did I miss that? Thanks for pointing that out, about the zoom...that'll do the trick for me for now, and I agree about the res... anything over 6 mp is all I need for what I do. I guess this is lazy (or maybe just the real, old, photography), but I'd much, much rather be out shooting than in front of the computer. Great info, and thanks again for your site and taking the time to help me!

    23. Bill anytime, glad I could help this round. Love to see some pictures when you get around to it. I frequent the DPR Ricoh forums and you can post at (forums there for Ricoh too) if you choose.


    24. Nice short review. I've been photographing for 48 years and have FINALLY sold-off all of my SLR & DSLR gear (with the exception of my Contax N1 and Zeiss 24-85mm & 400/f4 lenses) so that I can return to my roots of B&W shooting, now on the street. After some good research on the net, I've decided to purchase a GRD IV and am very excited about re-visualizing my world via a 28mm lens. To me, this focal length makes great sense vs. the view from a 35mm perspective. A f1.9 lens with great sharpness allows me to use the myriad of options available on the IV, further enhancing the shooting experience. Nice....

    25. The focal length of the GRD IV is in my opinion it's greatest debate topic. There are time I love 28mm, other times I wish for 35-50mm. The great thing though is that cropping the image to those FL's will give you a very similar focal length area (dof and perspective are different than the real thing, but...), you can't do that if the reverse were true.

      To me the next generation GRD needs a zoom 24-50mm f/1.4-f/2.0 lens. That would be absolutely perfect for a camera like this. I think it would re-energize even more sales into this lovely little camera.


    26. Hi Carl, thanks for another helpful review. I always disable focus assist beams, cause they attract unwanted attention. Did you/can you try GRD IV's autofocus speed without the beam in low light? Would be much appreciated! Thanks, TP

    27. Do you think it is better to buy a GRD III second hand or a new GRD IV?
      Is the GRD IV really worth more than double the price of the GRD III?
      This will be my first GR camera.
      I have a Canon 400D and a handful of lenses and a Canon S90.

    28. Hi, thanks for your write up -

      I loved the GRD III and before that the GRD II - thinking about upgrading yet again. The big thing to me was noise on ISO 1600 on the GRD III. You state that the GRD IV's 1600 looks fantastic. I'd love to have a little more background on how the ISO 1600 looks in the GRD IV, particularly in B&W mode - maybe a side by side shot? Am I asking too much? :)

    29. The reason for the 1600 pics to look so good is that at 1600 iso, the GRD IV's real sensitivity equals 800 ISO. GRD III seems to choose exactly the same shutter speed and aperture at 800 ISO as the GRD IV does at 1600 ISO, when tested side by side. That's why in this review the GRD IV's 3200 ISO is considered to be just as good as the GRD's 1600 ISO results.

      What else could you expect from using the same sensor? In RAW, the III and IV perform the same in low light. Maybe in JPEG there is a slight difference in quality, since the IV is using a new 'engine'. However, using this new engine also made Ricoh decide to double 'displayed' ISO value for some reason. The real ISO sensitivity is exactly the same, since it is the same sensor. Just for your information if you're about to get the IV for 'improved ISO' performance.

    30. GRD's are great in terms of user interface, the lens and the general design of the camera, but the Achilles heel is the sensor. You are paying a premium for the camera body but getting a sensor which although good for a compact sensor, is still just a compact sensor. You will not get the tonality, dynamic range or high iso performance that an aps-c or larger sensor will give you. I love the GRDI and III that I have in terms of usability, but just wish small sensors had better micro contrast etc, results unless printed small just look so 'digital'. Anyone abandoning their DSLR gear may be ultimately disappointed in the GRD's performance. Only compact I've used that doesn't disappoint in terms of image quality is the Sigma DP1, although resolution and speed of operation were issues.

    31. I'd love to see a Ricoh Digital GRD V with APS-C Size Sensor, same build Quality / Size,
      and a faster F1.4 Lens with 35mm....that would be way great.


    32. Nice Blog. Thanks for sharing with us. keep sharing!!

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