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.