Ricoh GR Digital IV: Thoughts, Trials, and Tests. But No Tribulations.

by davidbrommer

Dog is a much better skater than I.

Dog is a much better skater than I.

Ricoh and DPA (Digital Photo Academy) surprised me with a Ricoh GR Digital recently. My good buddy Gabe Biderman has always be a devotee and I knew it was a serious camera, but I never really gave it much thought. However, when UPS drops off a jewel such as the GR Digital IV at your doorstep, it merits giving it a shot or two, or three.

The original Film GR and the Digital GR D side by side. Brothers or Lovers?

The original Film GR and the Digital GR D side by side. Brothers or Lovers?

For those unfamiliar with this camera it is based on the Ricoh GR1, a high end point and shoot from 1996. The camera quickly achieved a cult like following, and pretty much was about as good as it got for its size. When the digital age arrived the high end point and shoot film cams pretty much went the way of the dodo bird and Ricoh took a big hit. In the US, they retreated from the camera market and had poor distribution. In 2005 they introduced the GR Digital, an updated yet surprisingly similar looking camera to its analog father. Once again, it attained a almost cult like following, but due to distribution issues, was still a bit of a hassle to find in the USA. A few years ago Ricoh decided that it was time to return to the US market enforce and attract more dealers thus making their cameras easier to find and purchase. This year, Ricoh attained Pentax corporation and this Japanese power horse is once again fully invested in world wide photography. The GR Digital is now in its fourth version, and a newer one is actually going to start shipping very soon. Enough history, lets get to the camera.

Ruinism in pointtilism

Ruinism in Pointillism

The Ricoh GR Digital 4 is a small compact digital point and shoot with a super sharp 28 mm f 1.9 prime lens. No zoom, and don’t even think about engaging the digital zoom feature. The Sensor is relatively small by todays standards at 1.7″ and 10 megapixel, however I wouldn’t be too concerned with that, considering the camera is actually very small. If the sensor was larger, so would the camera and you could forget about putting it in a jean or shirt pocket. After spending a day with the GR riding in my tight Levi 510 black jeans I opted to get the matching leather case and roll the cam on my belt like Batman would have it. For me, it’s either off the shoulder and I’m noticing it is there, or on the hip where I mostly don’t notice it, mostly. The GR has its own ergonomics, one designed in the mid 90’s. It’s a thin rectangle with a “bump” on the right side that acts as both grip and battery holder. The GR is housed in a magnesium shell reinforced with cushy rubber. For a cam of its size, it actually has a bit of heft, it feels well made and it is. The buttons and dials have solid clicks and are appealing in a tactile sense. When you turn the camera on the lens pops out and retracts on power off. Start up time I’d say is middling, not super fast, yet not terribly slow. From pocket to ready to shoot is about 1.2 seconds.

GR reacts swiftly and focuses fast close up.

GR reacts swiftly and focuses fast close up.

The camera has a bit of a sense of humor, where on a film camera you would have a sliding latch to open the film door, this camera uses a similar looking mechanism in the same place, but it pops the flash. The menu system is very MS DOS like, it’s not a pretty GUI, and you can’t assign specific wallpaper to it. There are three main menus, and they are fairly long. The camera does just about anything, from interval shooting, HDR bracketing, AE Bracketing, Raw Capture (but not RAW + Jpeg weird huh), passive and active AF (GR focuses fast and nice), a killer macro mode (1.7mm), a hot shoe, a nice bright 3″ LCD screen and to top it off with, a non-HD video mode (640) which says, “I’m a camera not a video camera thank you”. However, it does have HDMI out so go figure. Now this one little feature may just be completely unique, I have never seen anything like this before, when you turn the camera off it gives you a daily shot count. Yes, it tells you how many images in total you have made for that calender day. Its like having your Dad tell you to brush your teeth before you go sleep. I think this is a useful tool to understand how you photograph and to help you to shoot more or less by having a record.

Washing Windows in Contrasty Light

Washing Windows in Contrasty Light

On the negative side, don’t shoot over 400 ISO in color. This camera is not made for low light. The ISO does go to 3200 but its got noise the size of square marbles. The camera has all the modes you would expect such as Shift P, S, M and my favorite, A mode or Aperture priority. However since the sensor is so small, the camera inherently has a ton of depth of field, so no bukeh for you and a top aperture of F 9.0. I could also site as a negative, the price. The camera is not inexpensive at $550.00, but I must also recall my fathers favorite motto, “Good things are not cheap-cheap things are not good”. This is not a casual camera, it is a deliberate photographers tool. It’s not available in blue nor red, its matt black and business.

Look into those eyes... love the camera's 28 mm lens for an enviriomental portrait

Look into those eyes… love the camera’s 28 mm lens for an environmental portrait

The camera has 3 custom modes called MY1, MY2 and MY3. You can access these on the top master control. The menu system allows for control of many variables, from exposure modes, focus modes, style modes, ISO, file settings and such. The idea is to really master these three shooting preferences and toggle easily between them. I especially like the film sim modes, which include a nice submenu to customize the style. Say if you were to choose B&W, you can adjust the contrast, sharpness (remember that 28 mm 1.9 prime lens?…Oh yea its sharp), vignette strength, vividness (why not)?, and a very tightly adjusted sepia tone. If you follow my blog, you know that I am a huge fan of in camera stylistic choices, and the GR in this case not only gives them to you, it makes it easy to save them and use them when you need that particular look. I took most of my test image in Positive Film, a color saturated film similar to Fujifilm Provia. I also chose to use a heavy vignette, and I upped the saturation and contrast. This was MY3, MY1 was a contrasty sharp B&W, MY 2 P with a boost of vivid. The camera came with a letter from Pentax’s Jim Malcolm and in it, he wrote extensively describing what he had assigned his three “MY” settings. Asking your MY is akin to asking what film you have loaded. Sweet.

MY1: B&W Contrast & Sharpness Boost

MY1: B&W Contrast & Sharpness Boost

MY 2: Vivid, P Mode

MY 2: Vivid, P Mode

MY 3: Positive Film, boost Vivid, Sharpness, and light boost of Contrast.Vignetting High. P Mode

MY 3: Positive Film, boost Vivid, Sharpness, and light boost of Contrast.Vignetting High. P Mode

Which of MY settings do you prefer? Please comment.

Using these very specific style choices on Jpeg images will enhance the final result of both your photographic body of work and aid you in fine tuning  your own photographic voice.

MY 3 Tulips on acid shot

MY 3 Tulips on acid shot

The camera considering its price point is very oddly placed and if I was to be asked, would I spend $550 on this camera I would have to look deep into my cam-soul to answer that yes. It is a solid performing, prime lens shooting, well built, advanced camera. However, there are others in the market similar to the GR and dare I say better? One comes to mind, the Sony X100 which features a great 1″ 20 mp sensor for a hundred bucks more. However, there is still something very attractive to the GR. It might be the grip, or the familiar look to the design, or perhaps its just little nuances, such as when you turn the camera off, it gives you a shot count for that calendar day.  That last little tidbit has big consequences, I believe the more you shoot, the better a photographer you get. You will see compositions emerge from the tangle of complicated backgrounds. Subjects will appear more interesting if you master photography and one sure way to fast track to master is shoot a lot. How much is a lot? Well, this camera will tell you every darn time you turn it off. I like that. The GR digital is a photographers camera. A very particular photographer.

The camera makes cool images, the meter rocks, and the lens is a performer.

The camera makes cool images, the meter rocks, and the lens is a performer.

UPDATE 9/24/2013 :

this image was updated into a short post about the camera here.

Message Man in Chelsea

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