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Ricoh GR Digital IV Review

by Bob Atkins, September 2012 (updated March 2013)


With quick reflexes ideally suited to the snapshooter, the Ricoh GR Digital IV, (compare prices) (10MP, 1/1.7 inch CCD, 28/1.9 fixed lens) is a genuine classic that feels like it was designed by and for serious, enthusiastic photographers. With a user-friendly interface and sensible external controls, it’s also well suited to beginners. Special features feel like the influence of an innovative “Can do” team rather than a too-conservative “Can’t do” committee. The White Edition is frosting on an already delicious cake.

Main Features

  • 10MP 1/1.7" CCD sensor
  • Fixed lens equivalent to a 28mm f1.9 lens in 35mm full frame terms
  • Sensor shift image stabilization
  • 3" 1.23 million dot LCD
  • Fast Hybrid AF system
  • Available in black or white finish

Build quality, fit and finish show excellent attention to detail. Note the return of a feature missing since the original GRD – the oblong window top center, just above the lens. That’s the phase detect external autofocus window so prized by fans of the original GRD, missing from the GRD II and III. It’s back and it works very well for some scenarios, particularly when following moving subjects at fairly close range such as in a room, even in dim light. It doesn’t work so well for true macro (due to parallax error) or for long distance use. It can be disabled internally to conserve battery power.

Ricoh GR Digital IV White Edition with included white metal lens cap. The ring at lower left is the protective ring that mates with the bayonet type accessory collar around the lens. It’s normally left on the camera unless the lens cap is used. Two gold plated spring loaded contacts on the lens cap mesh with contacts on the bayonet type accessory mount around the lens – this disables the power and prevents unintentionally extending the lens while the cap is mounted. (Extra cost options to fit the bayonet mount include wide angle conversion lenses, lens shades and adapters to accommodate 43mm filters.)

The Ricoh GR Digital IV may be the hippest digital camera around at any price. It’s the camera equivalent to The Most Interesting Man In The World, confident enough to be the same as he ever was without bending to the whim of fashion, gregarious enough to offer a sincere invitation to join his table, insouciant enough to be unconcerned and take no offense if you decline. He’ll be too busy mingling with a diverse group of celebrities, journalists, hipsters, street photographers and vaguely disreputable friends to notice. And he looks damned good in a tropical white suit.

Ergonomics:

Very good to excellent. If you have sausage fingers you’ll probably find the power on/off switch difficult and the oblong shutter release button less than ideal. Otherwise the layout is well designed, sensible with good feel. The palm swell grip and rubbery thumb rest on the back make it easy to carry securely and discretely in the hand. The standard black nylon wrist strap is lightweight and won’t interfere with any operation when attached to the bottom right corner. The top lugs are best reserved for the two-point neck strap.

Menu:

Generally good. Sensible and intuitive if you’ve owned almost any digital camera before. Most of the important stuff is easy to find. Some features in the three major sub-menus seem arbitrarily placed. Others aren’t intuitive, such as the option to copy photos stored in the camera’s own memory to an inserted SD card. The Scene Mode menus will probably require the most study.

Rear LCD screen:

The Ricoh GR Digital IV was reportedly the first to use the Sony manufactured 3" 1.2M dot WhiteMagic LCD display (http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/News/Press/201108/11-086E/index.html). Large, crisp and bright enough for daylight use, it still may be difficult to see from some angles, particularly when I was shooting into the low angle sun or with the sun directly at my back glaring onto the screen. With polarizing sunglasses, the screen cannot be viewed in vertical orientation. (Andrew Kochanowski mentioned this problem with the Pentax K-01 in his review for The Online Photographer.) Easy to clean, seems resistant to scuffs and scratches. Photographers accustomed to LCD-only composing will probably be pleased. Those of us who prefer optical finders will still consider it a compromise.

Lack of built in optical viewfinder:
A common bit of advice says: “Why not just learn to shoot with the LCD instead of worrying about a viewfinder?”

I’ve tried that many times. It just doesn’t work well for some techniques. I do a lot of snapshots – literally, lift camera and snap, taking very little time to compose. Lacking an optical finder for framing, the only technique that works for me is to look over the top of the camera. With a little practice it was remarkably easy to get the desired composition, although tilted horizons were more common than I’d get with an optical finder. I also tried a plastic peep-sight type finder I already had, but compositions were consistently off center because the GRD4’s hotshoe/accessory shoe is off center.

The devoted candid photographer who demands both speed and accurate framing and level horizons will prefer an accessory shoe optical finder.

Sensor size:

1/1.7" CCD, 7.6mm x 5.7mm, 9.5mm diagonal, 43.3mm area, 4.55x crop factor. (Compare with “CX” 13.2mm x 8.8mm “one-inch” sensor in Nikon 1 J1 and V1 and upcoming Sony RX100. 15.86mm diagonal, 116mm area, 2.72x crop factor.) Combined with the wide angle lens it’s well suited to techniques that rely on deep depth of field – zone focused snapshots, wide vista scenics, tight interiors. But it’s not ideal for photographers who prefer shallow DOF to isolate subjects from busy surroundings, or for traditional frame-filling tight head and shoulders portraiture.

Lens:

I almost feel guilty for nitpicking this otherwise excellent lens. The 28mm (equivalent – actually 6mm) f/1.9 Ricoh lens is excellent – sharp, well corrected, with moderate barrel distortion. Some edge softness persists even stopped down, but falloff/vignetting clears up by f/2.8. But I’d rather have a 35mm (equivalent) f/1.4. Maybe I’m just comfortable with the 35mm framing. It’s what I like about the 35-105mm f/1.8-2.6 Zuiko on my Olympus C-3040Z, and the 35-70/2.8D AF Nikkor on my film Nikons. It’s close to the 40mm focal length so common on those non-interchangeable lens rangefinders of the 1960s-‘80s. It just feels right. The 28mm takes me out of my comfort zone. I find myself favoring the Ricoh’s 1:1 square aspect ratio built-in crop because it seems to approximate the way I see things.

But the 28mm prime became the lens of the 1990s Golden Age of sophisticated compact 35mm film cameras and it does offer advantages for the all-around photographer who enjoys landscapes, scenics, tight urban cityscapes and indoor venues.

Speed:

“Fast camera? You’ve never heard of the GRD4? It’s the camera that snapped the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. It’s fast enough for you, old man.” —Lex Solo

This isn’t a sports camera for rapid fire continuous high frame rates, although it can do that at a limited resolution. But its reflexes for single, quick, autofocused or pre-focused (zone focused) shots nearly matches my D2H, which was bred as a photojournalist’s tool. Only a slightly too-stiff and mushy second stage shutter release feel hindered an otherwise satisfactory sensation of catlike response – and Ricoh offers a custom service to adjust the shutter release to the owner’s preferences. I’d prefer a second stage takeup and release equal to the fairly light first stage feel, and a more distinctly palpable “snick” to confirm the shutter release.

Continuous shooting:

Limited to five consecutive maximum resolution shots in raw/JPEG, approximately 20 in JPEG only. Screen essentially useless after first raw/JPEG shot until buffer clears, so the next four shots are spray and pray unless you use an optical finder or practice the look-over-the-top technique.AF tracks remarkably well in continuous shooting, due to the Pre-AF external phase detect window which provides continuous autofocus.

Unfortunately auto-exposure does not fare so well in continuous shooting – AE fails to detect and adjust even to significant changes in lighting, so in extreme lighting conditions you’ll have a number of over/underexposed frames. The only option appears to be to lift pressure from the shutter release button and re-engage.
Compared with my Nikon D2H, this swaps one characteristic for another. In continuous shooting the D2H adjusts rapidly to exposure conditions but not to focus range. With the D2H it was always necessary to stop shooting momentarily then re-engage AF via the AF-ON or shutter release button to reacquire focus.
Continuous shooting in situations with reasonably consistent lighting but rapidly shifting subject distances will be the GRD4’s forte. Think: Fairly well/evenly lit indoor parties; crowds at outdoor fairs and street scenes in daylight.

When shooting in Continuous Mode (Continuous or AF-Cont), if you lift your finger from the shutter release button before the buffer fills, the camera needs time to clear the buffer before you can resume shooting. At around four seconds per frame when shooting raw/JPEG simultaneously, or around three seconds per raw capture only, this can cause significant delays before the camera is ready to use again when shooting in maximum image quality settings. I found the GRD4 more responsive in Continuous and AF-Cont modes when shooting JPEG only, since the buffer clears in a couple of seconds when shooting bursts of a few frames at a time. The GRD4’s Continuous Mode is most responsive in JPEG-only Normal resolution. I counted over 50 continuous frames in JPEG-only Normal resolution without any buffer lag, and if I lifted my finger between shots the buffer cleared in less than a second before I could resume shooting. As an alternative to my heavy, bulky D2H, I’d consider this an acceptable compromise if I were shooting hectic events for output to web resolution only or for 4×6 snapshots.

Shutter release:

Overall good two-stage feel. Take-up stage is fine; second stage is just slightly mushy for my taste. The oblong configuration of the shutter release button – a design signature of the entire GR series – didn’t quite suit my fingertips. I found it difficult to consistently press the shutter release button without also jiggling the camera. I’d prefer a rounded button comparable to the Olympus C-3040Z. However a slightly lighter second stage with crisper release would resolve my concerns about the overall shutter release feel. Ricoh offers service to adjust the shutter release to suit the user.

Metering:

Outstanding! Accurate and consistent. Even strong backlighting barely ruffles the GRD4’s feathers. It fared well throughout informal tests while taking snapshots around downtown where late afternoon light is very contrasty and often peeks through buildings directly into the frame. And it handled a simple indoor test against a white wall with a lamp placed to one side of the frame. This test produced a 1/3 EV difference with the GRD4 in Multi Exposure Metering mode. (NOTE: The increased shutter speed from 1/48th to 1/68th can be attributed in part to the reflection of light from a nearby shelf holding a beige PC setup, and may not be an error at all but an accurate indication of the actual metered reflected light.) The same test produced a two-stop error with my Olympus C-3040Z ESP metering mode, and a stunning four-stop error with my D2H in Matrix metering mode. I’d never actually tested the D2H before but in casual real world use it usually didn’t produce such drastic underexposure with backlighting, and actually handled TTL flash very well outdoors with backlighting.

The Ricoh GR Digital IV metering isn’t easily fooled by strong point light directly in the frame, whether from sunlight or room lights. “Flash On” (compulsory auto flash) isn’t fooled either. This is remarkably accurate performance that rivals the excellent Nikon iTTL flash combination of my D2H and SB-800.

I’ve long been impressed with the Olympus C-3040Z ESP metering, enough so that I seldom used the spot or multi-spot-with-averaging options (a nifty holdover from the OM-4T). But the GRD4’s Multi exposure mode is in an entirely different class of sophistication and accuracy. This is a big deal if you want accurately exposed quick snaps under a variety of conditions, especially if you use an accessory shoe viewfinder or, like me, just use the no-look or peek-over methods.

The very few metering errors I experienced were traced to waking the camera from sleep and not giving it a split second to meter the scene. If you use a sleep mode setting to conserve battery power, give the shutter release a quick tap to wake the camera before a second half-way press to meter and focus.

A popular manual metering mode trick remains from the earlier GRD series: a quick press of the rocker switch zips to the appropriate shutter speed. Saves time over the slewing/jog type “Adj” thumbwheel.

Autofocus:

Faster and quieter than any compact digicam I’ve tried. Even in dim indoor lighting it’s nearly as quick as my D2H with a comparable wide angle lens, and even quieter than AFS Nikkors (other than subject tracking AF, which emits little clicking sounds). The subject tracking feature beats my D2H, no problem. It’s the type of tracking feature I wanted with Nikon’s then-top tier dSLR, but didn’t get it. (Reportedly the Nikon Series 1 J1/V1 also excels at subject tracking AF.) Subject tracking works best in relatively bright lighting – EV 7 or better – and can be fooled by fluorescent light flicker. AF performance overall is simply astonishing for this class. But it’s not quite perfect. Multi-AF is designed to lock onto the closest subject but in EV 5 or dimmer light it tends to lock onto the brightest area. The AF assist lamp may not turn on if a bright lamp is visible in frame in an otherwise dim room. So in tricky lighting Spot AF tends to be more reliable. Even without the AF assist lamp AF is very good in dim lighting. I rarely found it necessary to use the AF assist lamp, even in dim lighting, and normally shut it off to conserve the battery.

Manual focus:

Of limited use, primarily for closeups where AF may be fooled. Magnified inset screen coarse and very low resolution. Manual focus adjustments fidgety. It’s primarily useful for presetting zone focus closer than 1 meter (the minimum snap focus distance) or between 5 meters-Infinity. Since there’s a preset for Infinity focus, this is quicker for avoiding AF hunting in impossible lighting situations such as photographing UFOs at night.

Pre-AF:

GRD fans had lamented the absence of the phase detect autofocus option via the external window just above and to the side of the lens. It’s back with the GRD4 and optionally available via the Pre-AF (continuous AF) menu selection. Handy at typical snapshot range but hinders some specific situations. Doesn’t work well with Subject Tracking (tends to wander off the desired target) and, due to parallax error, with macro. In EV 4 or dimmer lighting seemed to focus beyond intended subject, despite green brackets appearing to lock onto intended closer subjects. Parallax error and subject contrast may be factors here.

Snap mode:

Snap mode has been a key feature of the GR series dating back to the original GR1 35mm film camera. It presets focus to the desired zone. Combined with an appropriate aperture for the desired depth of field or hyperfocal distance, snap mode helps ensure adequate focus and sharpness even in dim light and without any AF delay. The GRD4 offers several preset zones – 1 meter, 1.5m, 2.5m, 5m and infinity – and plenty of options to help the photographer quickly decide whether to use snap mode simply by pressing the shutter release. With Full Press Snap, a single quick full press defaults to the predetermined snap mode. A more deliberate half-press of the first stage of the shutter release button allows the camera to autofocus normally, with a follow through press to complete the exposure. It takes some practice to see how it works but it does work very well.

My initial impression, ultimately mistaken, was that while the various pre-focus settings are handy – 1m, 1.5m, 2.5m, etc. – they’re almost superfluous for a tiny sensor camera stopped down. Other than when focused on objects within a few feet with the lens wide open, everything should appear to be reasonably sharp depending on print size.

However, as I adjusted to no-look composing, just peering over the top of the camera, and experimented more with snap mode indoors, I found the 1m and 1.5m presets consistently delivered significant differences shooting wide open at f/1.9. At dinner table distances there’s a definite difference between the 1m and 1.5m snap settings with the fast f/1.9 lens wide open. So these user selectable settings are not redundant.

Outdoors in daylight or indoors in brighter light stopped down to f/2.5 or so, the hyperfocal distance made the snap mode setting less critical. I tended to switch between 1.5m and 2.5m depending on anticipated proximity to people when I was taking no-look snapshots.

Video:

Video is good but nothing special – 640×480 maximum avi/mpeg with small compression artifacts around edges but no distracting blocky compression artifacts. Overall resolution and low light sensitivity fair to good but you won’t want this as a serious all-purpose still/video camera.

Some diehard fans of niche cameras like this are quite assertive that they don’t even want video as an option – which makes little sense since the same technology needed to make some still photo options work better lends itself naturally to video. But that’s the market, right or wrong.

Audio is quite good: monaural .wav, 512 KBPS, 32 KHz sample rate. Despite proximity to finger grip, microphone is reasonably resistant to handling noise and sounds to rear of camera. If video could be disabled to save storage space it would make a good mono audio recorder for interviews.

Four short sample video clips can be found here – note the audio quality in response to impact noises at the construction site and reverberations inside the “Vortex” sculpture at the Modern Art Museum. The monaural audio is surprisingly good:

ISO:

The full range of ISO 80 to 3200 is user accessible in 1 full EV and 1/3 EV increments, but not in all modes. Some options, such as Dynamic Range Compensation, will limit the upper and lower ISO range. Auto-Hi ISO settings will influence the automatically selected ISO in conjunction with the user-specified preferred lower shutter speed limit. I usually set it at 1/60th second minimum since this is the slowest I can reliably hold in quick snapshots. Photographers with steadier hands may choose a slower shutter speed limit which will bias the auto-exposure toward a lower, less noisy ISO whenever possible. Overall I found the Auto-Hi ISO option consistently chose an appropriate compromise between shutter speeds fast enough to minimize motion blur and ISO’s low enough to minimize noise. It tended to default to the f/1.9 maximum aperture until scene lighting was fairly bright, around EV 8 or so, at which point the intelligently designed autoexposure system would choose smaller apertures. This is type of exposure bias is sensible for a tiny sensor digital camera for which f/2.8 is adequate for the hyperfocal setting.

As several GRD4 owners have mentioned online, the “Auto” ISO setting offers a very limited range between ISO 80-154. This should be used only in bright light or with a tripod or other support when the photographer wants some ISO flexibility while also minimizing noise. In actual practice, I found no use for this ISO option and used “Auto-HI” ISO almost exclusively, since it offers an excellent compromise between minimizing the risk of motion blur and high ISO noise.

Optional Noise Reduction:

The three optional noise reduction choices are generally too strong for JPEGs below ISO 800. The default NR already eliminates chrominance noise and imposes a little too much luminance NR up to ISO 1600. Unfortunately there appears to be no way to completely disable this default NR for JPEGs, which is not needed below ISO 200. While Ricoh may have felt stung by harsh criticism of noise in the original GR Digital, it should consider easing up off the luminance NR below 200. At high ISOs the optional additional NR can reduce maze artifacts, or create smoother textures or a painterly effect, which might be an asset for low light photos of people, or as a special effect to deliberately smooth out fine details. The default NR for 1600-3200 resembles a combination of excessive luminance smoothing and detail boosting, resulting in some odd squarish or cross-shaped maze artifacts and elongated black specks. Adding a little optional extra NR helps smooth out these artifacts and specks.

Overall Image Quality:

What I came to appreciate more gradually was how good the in-camera JPEGs looked. (http://photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=1032829) Even when I’d shoot raw and JPEGs simultaneously, I often preferred the look of the Ricoh JPEGs over my own post processing. Yes, the in-camera JPEGs came at the cost of some fine detail – a slight smearing of subtle textures, grass and foliage, hair and fur in portraits of people and pets – no different from most small sensor high megapixel in-camera JPEGs. But overall the in-camera JPEGs looked great in 8.5″×11″ prints using my Epson Stylus Photo R200 printer. If you’re using the GRD4 for traditional scenics or plan larger prints, just shoot raw and do your own post processing with minimal JPEG compression to retain full detail in grass, foliage, hair and other tricky scenarios that tend to fool most in-camera JPEG settings.

IQ is entirely subjective and my opinions will be no different. The GRD4 is like two cameras in one, so my impressions will touch on each. Over decades in film photography, mostly b&w, I’ve tended to vary between two stylistic extremes:

A fine art approach to landscapes, scenics and still lifes, using slow speed film, carefully exposed and processed for fine grain and high resolution. While I’m not quite a Zone System adherent, I approach this style with great respect for good technique in metering, exposure, processing and printing.
Candid handheld photography in low light, often push processing film with little regard to grain and contrast – all that matters to me is capturing the moment, not mundane textbook rules. Pushing T-Max 400 to 6400? Yup, I’ve done it and would do it again to get a photograph that distills down to the essence of mood, light and gesture for a candid street, documentary or live performance photo.

With that in mind, I was pleased to see the GRD4 can satisfy both of the photographers inhabiting my brain. At ISO 80-200, results approach (but don’t quite meet) anything I could accomplish with favorite 35mm films like T-Max 100 and Fuji Reala for prints up to 8.5”x11”. The GRD’s raw/DNG files provide enough detail, healthy dynamic range and practically non-existent noise to satisfy any photographer who has realistic expectations of miniature format films or digital sensors. Ricoh’s straight-from-the-camera JPEGs in standard and vivid colors modes made for excellent prints at 8.5″×11″ (the largest I tried with my Epson R200). If I anticipated printing larger, especially from photos at or above ISO 200, raw/DNG would provide the best possible results.

I was curious to compare the fine details in the utility wires, grass, building texture and subtle gradations in the clouds and blue sky. Surprisingly, using Lightroom 4 to process the DNG version, I found it difficult to beat the in-camera JPEG. I showed the prints from the in-camera JPEG and LR processed DNG to viewers without telling them which was which. They all chose the in-camera JPEG over the LR-processed DNG. While I could see some subtle loss of fine detail in the grass and building textures nobody else noticed or cared. And the in-camera JPEG actually resolved the fine individual strands of wire more naturally than my efforts with the DNG in Lightroom.

One caution regarding in-camera JPEGs, even at ISO 80: The GRD4 does very well at resolving fine details such as single hairs, distant power lines and fine tree branches or foliage. However I noticed a tendency for in-camera JPEGs to smoosh together hair, fur, grass blades and similar masses of adjacent fine strands into less well defined masses. To be fair, this is a problem with many small sensor digital camera JPEGs. This appears to be due to a combination of default JPEG compression and luminance noise reduction. For demanding applications where the photographer wants the best possible resolution of fine details in landscapes or portraiture, you’ll want to shoot raw/DNG and do your own JPEG conversion.

The GRD4 also satisfied my other inner photographer, the more spontaneous guy who’s less concerned about grain or noise but demands quick reflexes and quiet operation. The little Ricoh is very quick, silent and produces remarkably good quality low noise photos up to ISO 1600. I wouldn’t (and didn’t) hesitate to combine the Auto-Hi ISO option with program exposure mode, allowing the camera to automagically choose the most appropriate combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Most of the time it chose well. In unpredictable lighting situations the camera freed me to react to the moment and not worry about exposure, motion blur or whether the higher ISO photos would make for good looking prints or online JPEGs.

And even after a few weeks with the GRD4, I felt I hadn’t quite matched my own reflexes to the capabilities of the camera for spontaneous photography. I found myself admiring the GRD4 photos taken by better street photographers and wishing not for a better camera, but for a better eye and reflexes. The GRD4 is an outstanding tool for the enthusiastic snapshooter.

IQ is entirely subjective and my opinions will be no different. The GRD4 is like two cameras in one, so my impressions will touch on each. Over decades in film photography, mostly b&w, I’ve tended to vary between two stylistic extremes:


  1. A fine art approach to landscapes, scenics and still lifes, using slow speed film, carefully exposed and processed for fine grain and high resolution. While I’m not quite a Zone System adherent, I approach this style with great respect for good technique in metering, exposure, processing and printing.
  2. Candid handheld photography in low light, often push processing film with little regard to grain and contrast – all that matters to me is capturing the moment, not mundane textbook rules. Pushing T-Max 400 to 6400? Yup, I’ve done it and would do it again to get a photograph that distills down to the essence of mood, light and gesture for a candid street, documentary or live performance photo.

Bokeh?

Ricoh claims 7-blade diaphragm should help. The only way to test with a wide angle lens on a small sensor camera is with closeups or in macro mode. Seems pleasant enough wide open or nearly so (f/2.2) in closeups with OOF backgrounds – rounded highlights, nothing harsh or unpleasant. But to be realistic the vaunted 7-blade rounded diaphragm shape will never be a factor stopped down, where virtually everything will be in focus. Optical design is more a factor than diaphragm shape, and the Ricoh lens is as good as Ricoh and fans claim.

“Film-like images”?

That comparison is commonly made by Ricoh GRD users. Is it accurate? Arguably, yes. I’m a longtime b&w film shooter and darkroom hobbyist and have a few favorite looks I’d like to emulate digitally. The GRD4 in-camera JPEGs come pretty close to delivering what I like.

Up to ISO 800, the GRD4 generally avoids those telltale signs that persnickety film buffs criticize in digital photos. GRD4 in-camera JPEGs don’t have the plasticky look that often results from excessive smoothing of textures in some digital camera processing. The tiny bit of luminance noise that does become visible above ISO 400 seems closer to film grain than noise – smaller, more randomly distributed. And the “Hi-Contrast B&W” setting incorporates a very convincing looking film grain effect that masks any digital noise even at high ISOs. The standard and sepia toning effect b&w JPEGs are reminiscent of C-41 process monochrome films like Ilford XP2 Super and Kodak T400CN. If you’ve ever had a minilab print your XP2 Super or T400CN negatives on color paper (typically Fuji Crystal Archive), you’re familiar with the slight tints. The Ricoh’s sepia toning effect at minimum or near minimum saturation will seem familiar.

In-camera JPEGs:

For standard and vivid color modes of standard subjects – landscapes, scenics, vacation photos – most picky photographers would probably be satisfied with in-camera JPEGs up to ISO 400. Above ISO 400 you’d probably want to shoot raw/DNG to retain fine detail.

At ISO 400 and higher, processing seems good other than smoothing of fine details in hair, animal fur and some foliage, presumably from default noise reduction. There doesn’t seem to be any way to completely turn off NR. Beyond ISO 200 this default NR begins to hinder resolution of fine detail and limits the rescue work you can do on under/over-exposed photos. JPEG compression artifacts and, above ISO 800, cross-hatching NR artifacts will become more apparent onscreen and in prints larger than 8×10, especially with higher contrast/sharpness in-camera settings. Ideally I’d like to see a little less JPEG compression and default NR, at least in the Vivid and Standard color and standard b&w image settings.

Custom image settings are another matter. These should be chosen because you like the effect, not because you expect preservation of fine detail, low noise or accurate color. Some image settings are JPEG-only so be sure you’re satisfied with the effect before committing photos to Hi-Contrast B&W, Bleach Bypass, etc.

By the way, if you shoot at high ISOs – 1600 to 3200 – I strongly suggest shooting raw/DNG and JPEG simultaneously. Like me, you may find it difficult to do better in Lightroom, Raw Therapee or other editors than Ricoh has already done with the GRD4’s in camera JPEG processing and noise reduction. At ISO 1600 JPEGs are remarkably good, especially with a little added optional NR; and ISO 3200 photos are usable and even good depending on subject matter and personal aesthetics. It’s far better than my Nikon D2H at high ISOs.

Raw/DNG only:

Don’t want to bother with JPEGs at all? The GRD4 offers a raw-only option (Setup menu). The default view for the preview thumbnail is “Standard color”, per the in-camera EXIF icon. At higher ISOs you may find it difficult to evaluate apparent sharpness without the default edits, NR and sharpening, but for ISO 80-200 photos in ample light when you want only maximum quality scenics, DNG-only may be an attractive option for some owners. (Note: Some earlier reports indicated DNG-only wasn’t an option. This may have been true with earlier GRD’s or before a firmware upgrade, but raw-only is an option with the GRD4. The review screen/LCD will show an embedded JPEG that appears to match the GRD4’s “standard” color processing mode.)

Raw and in-camera JPEG characteristics:

The GRD4’s in-camera JPEGs are generally excellent up to ISO 400 and very good to ISO 1600. While it’s nice to have raw/DNG to work from when desired, I found it difficult to top the Ricoh’s in-camera JPEGs for most photos.

Above ISO 400 hints of squarish or maze artifacts begin to appear. Appearance depends significantly on in-camera contrast and sharpness choices. With strong contrast and sharpness settings artifacts may begin to appear just above ISO 400; with moderate contrast/sharpness settings artifacts remain low until ISO 800. These can become intrusive by ISO 1600. In-camera optional noise reduction reduces these artifacts at higher ISOs with some smoothing of textures and fine details while retaining a generally pleasing overall look. This appears to distinguish the GRD4 from other tiny sensor digicams that impose heavier default noise reduction.

I noticed significant differences in demosaicing between Lightroom 4, Picasa and Irfanview, which could influence getting the best possible results from raw files above ISO 200. A few trials with Raw Therapee confirmed this by switching between various demosaicing algorithms. Choice of raw converter will have a significant effect on minimizing maze artifacts with high ISO GRD4 files. But expect to invest some time trying to get sharper results than in-camera JPEGs without introducing maze and zippering artifacts.

Picky photographers will probably consider ISO 3200 a salvage and rescue operation. Shooting raw will allow options for compromises between noise reduction, artifact appearance and preservation of texture and detail.

Again, you’ll find it challenging to top the GRD4’s in-camera JPEGs and optional noise reduction. And with JPEG-only custom Image Settings, tweaking optional in-camera contrast, sharpness, noise reduction and dynamic range settings will be the only solutions – and worth the effort if you like the Bleach Bypass and B&W Hi-Contrast JPEGs as much as I did.

High ISO noise:

The GRD4’s high ISO noise seems more randomly distributed than other digital camera noise. Perhaps this is deliberate to avoid the common complaint that digital noise is too regular and doesn’t resemble true film grain. In high ISO in-camera JPEGs, without additional option in-camera noise reduction, black and white horizontal and vertical cross-hatch specks begin to appear above ISO 500 and are most noticeable with high contrast/sharpness image settings. To minimize this, keep in-camera contrast/sharpness lower than 7. However in 8.5″×11″ prints up to ISO 800, apparent noise was negligible and fine detail was very good.

The odd cross-hatching and elongated specks appear to be due to default noise reduction, which cannot be disabled. Using optional in-camera NR reduces the appearance of these artifacts. However this may come at the expense of apparent sharpness, and the artifacts may not be noticeable in 8×10 or smaller prints – they’re barely visible in my 8.5×11 prints.

And for the adventurous experimental photographer, it’s worth considering whether the distinctive cross-hatched artifacts might be deliberately used as part of a personal aesthetic. While unusual, the effect is not unpleasant and might be considered comparable to the fluffy popcorn grain of Delta 3200, or deliberate use of reticulation or other techniques to “damage” negative and print emulsions.

Grain:

Does the GRD4 actually produce authentic looking film grain? I’d say, yes, it’s capable of it at some settings. In standard B&W mode with contrast and sharpness at 7 or lower, and ISO 800 or lower, the subtle texture does indeed resemble my own results from T-Max 400 pushed up to 1600 in Microphen, and even TMY at 400 in Rodinal. The overall impression I get is closer to Kodak’s tabular grain or Ilford’s Delta film epitaxial grain, than it is to older style emulsions like early Tri-X, Ilford HP-5+ or various Efke films I’ve used.

Beyond ISO 800 in standard B&W and color modes, especially with contrast and sharpness at 7 or higher, a peculiarly “digitalish” cross-hatching emerges that looks nothing like film grain – unless the emulsion was damaged by reticulation. But the high ISO noise didn’t bother me in the 8.5×11 prints I made, either. The noise is more pleasant – or at least less unpleasant – than noise I get from my older digital cameras. I get the impression Ricoh has used some processing tricks to randomize the noise, giving a subtle, almost subconscious impression of a film based photo.

In Hi-Contrast B&W mode, Ricoh seems to be pulling some sort of magic that minimizes the mazing, cross-hatching effect and emphasizes the b&w film grain mimicry. Even at ISO 1600 the effect is reminiscent of my efforts with Tri-X and Delta 3200 in Diafine – very apparent “grain”, some murkiness in midtones, but overall a very film-like effect compared with high ISOs in the GRD4’s other image setting modes. Beyond ISO 800 or so, the effect is betrayed only by the lack of subtlety in transitions to high contrast areas, such as lights in dimly lit areas, where the soot and chalk effect resembles posterizing. To put this look into perspective for experienced b&w film folks who’ve printed in the darkroom and scanned their own hard-pushed negatives, the look is very comparable to scans of push processed negatives.

I’d like to see an even lower contrast option, -3 or so, a compromise between the snap of the higher contrast while retaining more highlight detail with smoother tonal transitions between adjacent high contrast zones, and the same faux-grain, at least above ISO 400. This may seem like nitpicking, but Ricoh is onto something here with this Hi-Contrast B&W Image Setting and it’s worth further… umm… development. Ideally, Ricoh would find some way to shoot this mode, Bleach Bypass and the other JPEG-only custom image settings along with raw/DNG simultaneously. And perhaps a choice of another style of grain, although the grain in the Hi-Contrast mode is very appealing in the right photos.

B&W image setting (standard):

Good in the right light, but tended to be a bit flat. No in-camera setting quite resembled one of my personal favorites, T-Max 100, which I’d hoped for at ISO 80-100 where the GRD4 is virtually noiseless. Overall it’s closer to Ilford XP2 Super, probably best in contrasty lighting or with direct flash. You may prefer to shoot raw and do your own monochrome conversions.

B&W TE (Toning Effect):

The sepia toning setting can produce a look similar to subtle warm toned paper/developer with selenium toning when Vividness is set to 3 or less. Combining maximum contrast with Dynamic Range Compensation produced an appealing balance in dim indoor lighting scenarios.

- B&W sepia toning effect set to 2 produces a subtle warmth comparable to a b&w print on warmtone paper with warmtone developer and my personal favorite Paterson Acutone selenium toner.

Flash:

Unfortunately I didn’t really wring out the GRD4’s flash capabilities early in the testing process. It turned out to be much better than I’d anticipated, but I don’t have any really aesthetically interesting photos to show. For that, check Terry Richardson’s blog – he uses the GRD III extensively for candids and has hundreds of flash snaps of celebrities and models. (Note: Some are NSFW and his style may not appeal to everyone. Think Irving Klaw era cheesecake/pinup photos of Bettie Page.)

Flash output? Ricoh’s manual lists the Guide Number at 5.4 (based on approximately 3m/ISO 100). I measured nearly 20 at full power and 14 at the default 1/2 power with my Minolta Autometer IIIF, which surprised me, so I double checked manually and it does indeed seem to be closer to 14-20 (ISO 100 at 10 feet), which a Ricoh representative confirmed in reply to my email inquiry. That’s pretty good pop for a tiny pop up flash. Coverage seems very good for the 28mm (equivalent/6mm actual) lens, with no significant falloff in white wall tests. Auto/TTL flash works pretty well for general flash snaps.

Sometimes auto flash won’t cooperate for daylight fill flash, so forced auto or manual flash with flash exposure compensation may be necessary. One of my gripes about full auto flash in P&S type cameras – uncooperative with daylight fill flash in strongly backlit situations. The compulsory auto flash solves that problem, while also taking into account ambient lighting and allowing for +2.0/-2.0 EV compensation. What Ricoh calls “Auto Flash” is “maybe flash”, and don’t count on it to trigger in daylight for fill flash or even indoors with bright room lights in the frame. If you anticipate needing flash, use “Flash-On” auto flash, which works very well even with tricky backlighting.

Flash also works well in macro. The EV comp in auto mode and full manual control offer plenty of leeway for balancing flash and ambient light.

Auto flash doesn’t work well for pet photography – the preflash and anti-red-eye reduction will make ‘em blink. Try manual flash in snap mode – at half power or less it’s nearly instantaneous, especially in snap mode. Manual flash at minimum output can be useful for triggering a remote/slave flash – I tried this with the Quantary MS-1 and Nikon SB-800 (in SU-4 mode). However this trick will often result in red-eye or pet-eye with some animals.

TTL or auto flash and anti-red-eye flash tricks make Siamese cats blink, so you’ll never get their blue eyes open. Direct manual flash like this, without preflash, causes red-eye, but at least it’s quick enough to catch ‘em with their eyes open. With my Nikon D2H and SB-800 in bounce auto TTL mode, it’s easy to photograph Siamese cats with their eyes open and get that lovely blue color. With the Ricoh GRD4 I had to resort to manual flash.

By the way, the GRD4 works great in auto, Flash-On auto and manual modes to trigger my off-camera Nikon SB-800 flash in SU-4 mode (in which the SB-800 behaves as an optically triggered slave – not radio “wireless” per se but useful if no one else around is using flash). As with other auto-flash cameras I’ve tried this way, a single pre-flash won’t prematurely trigger the SB-800 as long as it’s used with lower than 1:1 full manual output. This, plus the adjustable output, is a big advantage over ordinary “peanut” slaves, which will trigger prematurely with any pre-flash. For even more subtle effects the camera’s built in or pop up flash can be diffused or blocked with a card or any improvised method. As long as the SB-800 can “see” the triggering flash, even reflected off walls or ceilings, it’ll work.

Anti-Shake:

While it does work as a substitute for a tripod in a pinch, it’s not as effective as the Nikon VR dSLR lenses I’ve used. The anti shake system is based on sensor shift, not optical lens stabilization. It takes real concentration to use effectively, with very careful attention to shutter release pressure and follow through. Works down to 1 second shutter speed, disabled with slower shutter speeds, or when using any continuous mode. For some reason anti-shake worked best for me with a one-hand, arm-extended hold and a two-hand, elbows tucked, arms close to the body hold. The least steady was the two-hand, arms extended hold. I suspect it was throwing my balance off. With the one-hand hold, I probably was unconsciously compensating with my left arm to maintain balance.

Format/sensor size considerations:

For the candid photographer whose style involves quick snaps and hyperfocal setting or zone focusing and DOF, the small sensor may offer distinct advantages over the larger formats.

Let’s take a typical scenario in my hometown, Fort Worth. On a typical afternoon, “deep” downtown – Main Street, Sundance Square and thereabouts – is open shade, EV 11-12. That’s pretty typical for any urban area with high rises and a clear sky. With overcast skies or heavy smog, that may drop to EV 9-10. Even aside from contrast and dynamic range considerations, that’s a real challenge to candid photography. Looking over the EXIF data for my street snaps with the Nikon D2H, I typically shoot at f/8 (for a hyperfocal distance of around 7 feet* at 18mm actual focal length, or 28mm equivalent) and 1/250-1/500 to offset my own shaky hand motion blur. If I use auto-ISO, which I often do, it varies from 400-1600 depending on conditions.

With the smaller sensor GRD4 and its 6mm lens (28mm equivalent) I can set the aperture to f/2.8 for the same 7 feet hyperfocal distance, and same 1/250-1/500 shutter speed to minimize my own motion blur as I quickly raise the camera, rough-frame and snap. Auto-ISO varies from 100-400. So in actual practice, noise and overall IQ are approximately equal. If anything, advantage goes to the GRD4 which has roughly equivalent inherent noise to my D2H and much lower actual noise after default in-camera NR.

Even when comparing against a more comparable (in terms of form factor – mirrorless, less bulky, quieter shutter) contemporary APS-C camera like the Ricoh GXR with A12 M-mount and 18-19mm lens, the GRD4 would still be very appealing for this style of, literally, snapshooting style candid photography. For my style of candid photography, a larger sensor would be an advantage only when I’d shoot wide open and could take a full 2-3 seconds to compose, ensure accurate focus and click the shutter. If you don’t routinely literally use the “snapshot” technique and zone focusing, you might prefer a larger sensor and fast AF.

Other facts and Features

Interval Composite Mode:

The GRD4’s Interval Composite Mode (found under the Scene Mode option) makes it easy. The camera automagically created a single final image from a series of multiple exposures (approximately every 2-3 seconds) over a 20 minute period. I chose ISO 200 and low dynamic range compression because it had provided good results with low noise in high contrast daylight tests, and I need the extra speed – otherwise the test would have taken much longer at ISO 80-100. To save on file space I didn’t save the interim shots – only the final composited image was saved. The camera offers those choices.

Most of these stars were invisible to my eye – all but the brightest three at center – due to typical urban light pollution. So the final image was quite a revelation. The dashed white line, just above the treeline roughly parallel to the utility lines, was a jet flying southbound, then gradually heading east toward Dallas – note the apparent shortening of the lines toward the right margin. The little Ricoh is fun in this mode – I could actually watch the trails slowly develop on the rear screen refreshes, as I sipped a beer while sitting outside on a very pleasant spring night. The only potential drawback – possibly unrelated – was that a single stuck pixel appeared in the lower left corner after this interval composite test. I’m not sure whether this mode overheats the sensor – the rear LCD did get warm.

Neutral Density Filter:

Auto shooting mode only, reads as f/9-f/11. Likely to be used only in very limited situations: shooting directly into sun for sunrise/sunset photos; extreme glare off water or glass with higher ISOs and shutter speeds.

Advanced user modes:

Default controls seem logically configured for quick manual adjustments, and the two Fn (Function 1 and 2) buttons and other user assignable configurations offer plenty of room for tweaking the camera to your liking. With a little practice I found it easy to switch quickly between all-auto operation, Snap, specific vs auto ISO and other tweaks. Very handy as I walked between brightly and dimly lit situations in Bass Performance Hall where the light can range from around EV 3 to daylight-bright. Alternate presets for the Fn buttons let you quickly switch to favorite JPEG presets, although to some extent these alternate Fn settings may not be much more convenient than navigating the menu.

Skew correction (Scene mode):

This will come in handy for your espionage endeavors in copying secret plans, photographing other people’s artwork to claim as your own and posting those hilarious bulletin board rants and refrigerator notes on Facebook to ensure thoroughly irritating your last few friends.

Battery:

Supplied rechargeable DB-65 (3.6v) or two AAA alkaline or NiMH batteries. Ricoh claims 390 shots per charge, (based on CIPA Standard testing). In actual practice I got about 2/3 of that… probably because I couldn’t resist admiring the gorgeous 3" WhiteMagic LCD. Other GRD4 owners report getting good use per charge, especially with less power intensive options. I’d need a spare battery, based on my personal practices. The DB-65 recharges reasonably quickly with the supplied charger, approximately two hours – not quite as quickly as my Nikon D2H EN-EL4 recharger.

EXIF data:

All basic EXIF data is easily accessible. Unfortunately no currently available metadata utility reads complete EXIF data, so certain custom Image Settings and other options are not shown in any metadata reader I tried, a shortcoming confirmed by the Ricoh distributor in the U.S. Image Settings such as Bleach Bypass, focus modes, flash options and other details can be read only in the camera. I tried several popular EXIF viewers to confirm this.

Carry straps:

Takes the thread-thin loop-through straps. Probably a good idea to check these frequently for wear and replace them occasionally. I like the longer single-point neck strap, which can be knotted up to make a wrist strap.

Software installation:

No CD. Just plug in camera via supplied mini-USB to regular USB cord, or any commonly available substitute. But the embedded MediaBrowser software is merely functional. You’ll want to use your own favorite photo editing software and utility for importing photos. I tried Picasa (which includes an easy photo importing utility), Irfanview, Lightroom 3.x and 4.x, Raw Therapee and Photo Mechanic 4.6, all of which handled the GRD4 JPEGs and raw/DNG files just fine. (Note: Lightroom defaults for the GRD4 raw/DNG files were not appealing – harsh with excessive artifacts. Be sure to set LR defaults to zero and work up your own preferred baseline for the GRD4’s raw files.)

Inconsistent features, quirks:

Some features are unavailable in some modes. For example, Hi-Contrast B&W not available in Continuous or AF-Continuous modes. Regular B&W and other special art filter effects are available.

Tripod socket centered under camera body but not under lens – might be a problem to photographers wanting to do nodal point panoramics.

In-camera vignetting is much more pronounced with Bleach Bypass than other image settings (B&W Hi-Contrast, Cross Processing, Positive Film). It’s a very appealing effect for the right types of photos. Vignetting is enhanced by using the lens wide open, where natural light falloff at the corner enhances vignetting effect.

Be sure to check the instruction manual to avoid disappointments that some in-camera effects may not be available in some modes. For example, B&W Hi-Contrast and Bleach Bypass appear to be JPEG only – if raw (DNG) and JPEG are selected, the GRD4 defaulted to Standard color mode for the attached JPEG. No problem. Real photographers commit to “the look”. If you’re not afraid to commit 36 exposures to “the look” of Delta 3200 pushed to 6400 in Microphen or 24 exposures of cross processed color film, then don’t be afraid to commit a few exposures to JPEG-only 1:1 bleach bypass cool tone with heavy circular vignetting, or soot and chalk grainy Hi-Contrast B&W. Because you’re just that kind of fearless photographer.

Other modes intended to extend dynamic range are puzzlingly located in the “Scene Mode”, which also includes video and interval composites. “Scene Mode” is JPEG only. Continuous sequence mode saves up to 16 photos, each in separate files accessible in the camera – which might be handy for short animated GIFs – but there appears to be no way to take advantage of this outside the camera. For now it’s necessary to cut/crop out each frame from the 16-shot series, save it as a file, then assemble all the desired files into the animated GIF.

Menus: The AF Auxiliary Light is under the Setup menu; Power Button Lamp under the Key Custom Options menu. There are a few other such features that, to me, seem ill placed. On the plus side, most commonly used features are under the top Shooting menu.

Flash adjustment: Auto flash exposure compensation and manual flash adjustment (from full to 1/64) are two separate adjustments, each requiring its own ADJ Lever Setting (I used 4 for auto flash comp, 5 for manual flash adjustment). Since each is a 12-step adjustment, seems it would make better sense to assign one ADJ Lever Setting to control both, with the user selection for auto or manual flash determining which the single ADJ Lever Setting controlled. (Note that the flash mode can be selected only when the flash is actually popped up.)

Glitches:

1. Often, changing AF modes (Spot to Multi, Subject Tracking to other, etc.) didn’t seem to work. In particular the camera couldn’t be returned to Multi-AF after activating the movable spot for AF (with or without AE). Turning camera off/on fixed it. This problem was consistent throughout the testing period.

2. Some users report intermittent battery contact. The DB-65 fits perfectly in this sample GRD4, but AAA alkalines were a very snug fit (lengthwise), requiring more pressure to shut and latch the door. It’s possible there are some variations in internal spring pressure in the GRD4 battery contacts to compensate for this issue.

CONCLUSIONS & IMPRESSIONS:

PROS:

  • For small sensor class, excellent raw/DNG and JPEG to ISO 400, very good to ISO 1600.
  • Superb build quality: magnesium shell, fit, finish and design reveal extensive attention to detail.
  • Generally outstanding ergonomics. Just the right balance between external controls and menu options.
  • Unusually flexible control customization without complicating basic operation.
  • Very fast autofocus, even in dim light. Consistently accurate in Spot AF.
  • Very quick shutter response.
  • Remarkably accurate Multi, center weighted and spot metering and autoexposure.
  • Excellent flash in Flash-On “forced” auto and manual modes. Manual flash extremely quick, virtually eliminates blinkies with sensitive pet/people eyes.
  • Well designed Auto-Hi ISO minimizes risk of motion blur in dim lighting.
  • Appealing custom Scene Modes and in-camera JPEG Image Settings.
  • Good monaural audio recording quality.
  • Generally excellent Sony WhiteMagic rear color LCD for preview/review.
  • Sharp 28mm lens (equivalence in 35mm film/full frame; 6mm actual).
  • LCD can be disabled for discretion or to conserve battery, with or without accessory viewfinder.
    *Level indicator.
    The White Edition includes a matching white metal lens/body cap with contacts that prevent turning on the camera and damaging the extending lens; a white metal protective lens collar ring (the camera can be operated normally without it); an embossed white leather wrist strap; and a white slip-in hotshoe/accessory shoe cover.

CONS:

  • Unexciting video capability.
  • Unnecessarily aggressive smoothing of ISO 80-200 in-camera JPEGs can hinder resolution of fine detail in hair, fur and foliage.
  • Multi-AF tends to lock onto the wrong target in EV 5 or dimmer light (typical indoor household nighttime light).
  • LCD virtually invisible if you’re wearing polarizing sunglasses while holding the camera in vertical/portrait orientation.
  • LCD preview disappointing for manual focusing – no better than older style LCDs. Manual focusing for macro subjects only a rough approximation.
  • Some custom in-camera Image Settings JPEG only, no raw/DNG backup.
  • Full Auto flash easily fooled by bright lights, including room lights, won’t fire when desired for fill flash. Better to use “Flash On” auto flash.
  • AF assist lamp also easily fooled by interior lights, won’t activate when desirable for tricky subjects (think: black cat/dog under typical indoor nighttime home lighting).
  • Full auto flash not quite quick enough to eliminate blinkies in sensitive pets/people.
  • Telescoping lens barrels project farther than expected for a 28mm equivalent (6mm actual) prime.
  • Some EXIF data can be read only in camera, not with any current external metadata viewer (confirmed by Ricoh).
  • A few minor glitches require turning camera off/on to clear up.

Meh – can take it or leave it:

  • Second stage of shutter release button a little mushy on the tested sample. Ricoh offers custom service to adjust this to owner preferences. Combined with the odd but longstanding GR signature oblong shaped shutter release button (a little too narrow, even for my long but thin fingers), this was my only real disappointment with the GRD4.
  • Pre-AF. While the return of the exterior phase detect window is a welcome feature, it’s of limited use in real world applications. The standard AF is quick and works really well without the extra battery drain of the continuous Pre-AF. Save it for continuous shooting with AF for well lighted parties, street fairs.
  • Somewhat shorter than expected battery life per charge. For my style of shooting, leaving camera on all day, I’d need a spare battery.
  • The rear LCD for snapshot photography. Good as the vaunted WhiteMagic display is – and it is excellent for carefully composed scenarios – I can’t adapt to using a rear LCD screen for my style of quick snapshot photography. Lacking an optical finder, I just lifted the camera to face level, peeked over the top and quickly snapped. With practice and a bit of luck, this worked. But, hey… chimping and showing off pix to friends is a treat on this display.

The GRD seems to reflect the concept of wabi-sabi. It’s a responsive tool for the demanding snapshooter while acknowledging the influence of objet petit a, that obscure object of desire in contemporary nostalgic longings as reflected by cameras like the Lomo, La Sardina, Holga and Digital Harinezumi, as well as in pseudo-retro digital effects that mimic the vignetting, fading and color shifts of those old photos from our family’s albums. Interviews with photographers and artists found on Ricoh’s “GRist” blog seem to confirm this philosophy, even through the fog of Google translation from Japanese to English.

Ricoh seems to grok both traditionalists who favored the 1990s era luxury 35mm film P&S, as well as the current vibe in retro photo looks and a hankering for artfully flawed photos by younger photographers longing for nostalgia by proxy. The built in Image Settings for high contrast b&w, bleach bypass, cross processing and other offbeat looks match anything I’ve seen from Instagram, Hipstamatic and Snapseed. For shutterbugs who dig the retro vibe but prefer a “real” camera over a phonecam, the GRD4 delivers.

Clearly Ricoh understands its own intent. The design is essentially the same as it’s been since the mid-1990s R1 and GR1. Introduced during the Golden Era of high zoot compact 35mm cameras like the Nikon 35Ti and Minolta TC-1, Ricoh alone has persevered in retaining the essence of that design through the digital era. Narratives by Ricoh engineers and designers reveal a company that pays careful attention t customer comments. Despite a fairly limited distribution network, the GR Digital seems to have earned a cultlike status among aficionados.

If you don’t need that slight edge in AF/shutter response, if your candid shooting style isn’t hampered by waiting an extra split second, the GRD4 probably won’t appeal to you when other, slightly slower, cameras offer comparable image quality. If those types of cameras seem overpriced and pointless to you, chances are the GRD4 won’t appeal to you either.

With the upcoming Sony RX100 in the compact class with much higher spec sensor, the GRD4 is up against tough competition. Whether the GRD4’s vaunted quickness and handling advantages continue to secure its niche in this market may depend on subjective impressions of how well the RX100 handles.

Would I buy a Ricoh GR Digital IV, even knowing the Sony RX100 will be a game changer? Yeah, I probably would. It provides most of the features I’d want in a discrete snapshot camera. It’s quiet. It’s quick and responsive when the appropriate settings are selected. The JPEGs look great right out of the camera.

For one thing, the smaller sensor suits my style because I prefer fairly deep depth of field for snapshots of people. I regard the surroundings as part of the stage, essential to the milieu, not a distraction to be blurred out. Even wide open at f/1.9, the GRD4 ensures almost everything will be reasonably sharp, and stopping down to f/2.8 puts it in the sweet spot for the hyperfocal setting. I can use a faster shutter speed and keep the ISO at or below 800. In contrast, with my D2H I usually choose the “f/8 and be there” approach, stopping down to get enough DOF and coping with the higher ISO noise forced by my need for a faster shutter speed to offset my shaky mitts.

For another thing, I really like the ergonomics. The palm swell/finger grip is perfect for my hands, and the rubbery grip surface on the back is appropriately located for my thumb. The controls make sense, work well and just feel right. I can quickly switch among favorite adjustments using the ADJ wheel and two programmable Fn1 and Fn2 buttons. While the menus could be improved a bit with more logical (to me) layout, the physical controls feel nearly perfect. The single exception is the shutter release, for which I’d prefer a lighter, crisper second stage release. Ricoh offers custom service to adjust that to the owner’s taste. Overall the design, control layout, ergonomics and quality are so good I’m seriously considering the GXR (A12 M mount) rather than other less unconventional mid-size sensor mirrorless models, just to retain the excellent feel of the GRD4.

Finally, I like the in-camera JPEG quality. That’s essential to me. While I enjoy the traditional wet darkroom I’ve often found the digital darkroom a tedious chore. The GRD4 delivered 8.5×11 prints that look great, even at ISO 800. High ISO noise above 1600 looks much less distracting in print than onscreen. The Standard color mode is clean and natural looking. Vivid color mode has a nice punch without being cartoonish. Auto white balance works great in most lighting and the manual WB tweak is quick, easy and reliable. Basic b&w has a very nice, neutral appearance reminiscent of a C-41 chromogenic monochrome film like Ilford XP2 Super or Kodak T400CN. The Hi-Contrast b&w mode is appealing for some purposes but demands more testing and tweaking to strike a balance between soot-and-chalk and aesthetically appealing grit. Fortunately the noise reduction and dynamic range compensation tweaks help with that. And I’m absolutely infatuated with the Bleach Bypass modes. I love that cinematic look of movies like “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Saving Private Ryan”, and with a little tweaking and attention to light, it’s possible to emulate a wide range of bleach bypass effects. The Cross Processing, Positive Film and B&W Toning Effect modes didn’t quite grab me the same way, but I’ve seen some very appealing photos by other GRD owners using the Cross Processing effect, so in the right hands these are all useful effects.

So, did the GRD4 actually lack anything niche fans wanted? Or is it just the reality that there is a very limited market for this type of camera and relatively few reviewers felt compelled to write more than “This is what Ricoh has added since the GRD I, II and III”? To some extent the same was true of the Ricoh GR-series film cameras. They were pricey new and still fetch a hefty price on the used market.

I could pick a few nits. As much as I like the GRD4, it’s not quite perfect.

For one thing, it could use face recognition to take maximum advantage of the generally fast autofocus. While the Multi AF mode is very quick, it’s not always precise in locking onto the nearest desired subject. Too often, in lighting dimmer than EV 5, Multi AF tended to lock onto something other than the desired target. While it could quickly be tweaked with another halfway press of the shutter release button, that’s not ideal for capturing that perfect unposed candid photo.

For the spot AF/AE option, a touch sensitive screen would be nice. As it is, moving the cursor/bracket around via the paddle controller is a little sluggish for candid situations.

While the external Pre-AF focus sensor is useful it occasionally seems to result in focusing on the wrong area. Whether this is due to parallax error or giving too much priority to the external sensor, I can’t tell. It’s certainly an advantage to reacquiring focus in Continuous AF mode in EV 5 or brighter lighting. But be sure to test this in various situations before relying too heavily on it. In typical household lighting situations and with busy surroundings it seems to be easily fooled. And at the close ranges usually encountered indoors at parties and gatherings, the f/1.9 aperture will produce shallow enough DOF to make focus errors obvious.

Who is it for?

You. If you’ve read this entire review, or skipped to the bottom just for this opinion, you’re probably the type of photographer Ricoh had in mind from the mid-1990s when it first offered the R1 and GR1 35mm film cameras. You’re equal parts enthusiastic candid snapshooter who craves a nimble machine, and a serious photographer who demands good image quality for those carefully composed scenics and once-in-a-lifetime vacation photos. And you don’t mind paying a premium for a finely crafted camera like the Ricoh GR Digital IV, (compare prices) that simply feels right and fits into a pocket.

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What makes it so hip? For one thing, it’s the sole survivor of the 1990s Golden Age of high zoot, luxury model compact 35mm film cameras sporting fast wide angle primes, an era that saw such tempting fare as the Minolta TC-1, Leica Minilux, Nikon 28Ti/35Ti, Contax T2 and the Ricoh GR1, and the everyman equivalents like the Yashica T4, Pentax UC-1 and Olympus Stylus. Cult classics, every one. The Ricoh GR Digital alone carries on in that peculiar niche. It’s not retro chic or nouveau nostalgic. It’s the real deal, true to its roots. It just naturally is what the Digital Harinezumi, Lomo Sardina and apps like Hipstamatic and Snapseed wannabe.

Terry Richardson uses a GRD. So does Daido Moriyama. So does Reuters Foreign Correspondent Graham Holliday. So does Zun Lee, whose documentary work was recently featured in the New York Times Lens blog.

But what do we make of the Ricoh GR Digital IV White Edition?

- Megan with Ricoh GR Digital IV White Edition and wrist strap.

Bling? Neck candy? Pretentious, even ostentatious? Call it what you want. When a camera manufacturer issues not only a white camera with white accessories but tacks “edition” onto the name, they’re sending a message.

So, what is the message Ricoh is sending with the White Edition GR Digital IV?

Cool. Offhand cool like Mark Twain’s trademark “don’t give a damn” white suit. Elegant, studied cool like Katherine Hepburn in her man-cut suits.

To grok the GRD4 – white or black – it seems we’d have to grok the culture from which the current version of a nearly 20-year-old paradigm evolved. To do that, I pored over Ricoh’s GRist blog – well, as much as I could via Google translate (http://www.grblog.jp/egrist/). What I came away with was an impression of wabi-sabi. Oh, Ricoh doesn’t actually use that term. They’re not pretentious enough to indulge in a term that, like bokeh, seems to fascinate and mystify us more than it does them.

But this quest didn’t start out that way. Nope, it began in the usual way: taking careful (read “boring”) test photos of brick walls and cityscapes with utility lines and architectural textures, evaluating same, concluding the GRD4 image quality is excellent within its niche among small sensor 10mp digicams. And struggling to adapt to the vagaries of unfamiliar (to me) ergonomics and menus. And asking family and friends “What do you think of this camera?”

My friend Margot sniffed at the new Ricoh GR Digital IV White Edition and said, “What, they’re selling toys?”

Margot has good taste. She takes me to the ballet and opera. She reads Jane Austen and knows economics is not just a science but a very human art. She doesn’t watch TV. She likes Siamese cats. So I trust her judgment in all things tasteful. But I think she may be wrong about the GRD4 White Edition. It’s no toy.

- Self portrait. This is no toy. It’s a manly man’s camera. For a man. The manly band aid where my cat bit me proves it.

Well, it is. But a really, really cool toy. And, with a little familiarization and practice, an intuitive tool that doesn’t get in your way or fight you while you snag the image that grabbed your imagination.

Ricoh boasts the GRD4 has “the reflexes of a professional photographer.” Does the hype match reality? In short, a qualified but enthusiastic “Yes”. It feels like a camera designed by and for enthusiastic photographers, not by engineers, programmers and marketing wonks. Even the few quirks in the menu structure feel like the result of someone at Ricoh suggesting, “Hey, can we add this feature?” and the rest of the team saying “Sure! Great idea! Let’s see… we don’t have an ideal place for it right now, but let’s stick it in here and see if the users like it.”

It’s the antithesis of the staid, conservative Nikon paradigm:
“Maybe users might enjoy creative JPEGs from the Nikon Series 1. Why not ask the folks at Nik Software if…”

“No! Why would anyone want interesting JPEGs from their camera? We don’t want that. Everyone shoots raw and does their own post processing.”

“Umm… did we do any market research on this? Also, could we redesign these handy external buttons to serve as shortcuts rather than digging through the menu…”

“No! We don’t need market research. Everyone knows this is how a camera should be used.”

Nikon makes outstanding dSLRs, but when it comes to compact cameras they just don’t seem to quite get it. Ricoh gets it. So do a lot of serious photographers who choose the GRD, even if they also use dSLRs or larger sensor mirrorless system cameras.

Graham Holliday, Reuters Foreign Correspondent for Rwanda, uses a GRD III for Kigali Wire, his Rwanda documentary blog and personal photography (“noodlepie”;; on Flickr). Terry Richardson uses, among other cameras, a GRD III for many of his street and backstage candids of Lady Gaga, and some studio work (celebrity models not included with GRD4 White Edition – although it’d look really good on Lady Gaga’s wrist). Daido Moriyama has used the GR film camera series and more recently the GR Digital. The GRD4 B&W Hi-Contrast Image Setting seems to be a nod to the gritty, contrasty b&w photography seen in some of Moriyama’s street and documentary photography (Shinjuku streets not included). Documentary photography Zun Lee has used the GRD III and IV on his projects, as well as the Nikon D700 and, more recently, the Olympus OM-D EM-5. (See the recent New York Times Lens blog feature on Lee’s documentary project – http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/15/exploring-african-american-fatherhood/)

Pricey? Sure it is, for a compact point and shoot digital camera with a non-interchangeable wide angle prime – not even a superzoom – that lists for about what you could spend on an entry level interchangeable lens mirrorless system camera. Even if you consider the MSRP is close to the same price as the original 1996 GR1 35mm film version – making the GRD4 a better value now in adjusted dollars – the compact digicam market is ultra competitive (and on the verge of being flipped on its tail with the upcoming Sony RX100). On paper – and, for some photographers, in practice – the Olympus XZ-1 and Canon S100 seem to offer more bang for the buck in roughly the same price class of upper tier small sensor digicams.

But you gotta figure, since Ricoh has committed to this design for almost two decades, from the 35mm film era through the fourth iteration of the GR Digital… they must be doing something right. Right?

One thing they’re doing right is appealing to a diehard core of fans who love this little camera for… what, exactly? To find out, I spent hours perusing a lot of discussions and snapping a lot of photos.

- Snapshot while walking without pausing, Sundance Square area, downtown Fort Worth, Texas. (“Positive Film” in-camera JPEG image setting, which boosts red saturation and somewhat resembles films like Kodak 400UC color negative film and some early-2000s era Kodak consumer grade slide films. It doesn’t resemble any Fuji slide film.)

What it seems to boil down to is how nimble the little Ricoh GRD4 is. That appeals to me because, with the exception of my Nikon D2H, every digital camera I’ve owned is too sluggish for most snapshot style candid photography, as are most non-dSLR digicams I’ve tried. By “snapshot” I mean literally: lift camera; point; snap. Sometimes I don’t even stop walking while snapping. (To get a sense of the technique, look for the Bill Moyers documentary about Garry Winogrand on YouTube.) The GRD4 handles this eccentric style very well.

- Doing my best to mimic the Garry Winogrand-style walking and snapping technique. Street crossing near Bass Performance Hall, downtown Fort Worth.

With the GRD4, Ricoh has addressed many of the complaints even fans of the GRD series had: AF speed (for photographers who don’t want to rely on “snap” mode and DOF); raw recording speed; JPEG quality; rear LCD quality; high ISO noise.

The result is a camera capable of recording a sequence of raw files at reasonable speeds, JPEGs in very quick succession…


So, how quick is quick? Since I do a lot of one-hand shooting I tried the Bug toss test. “Bug” is my Siamese cat’s favorite toy, a ladybug beanbag. Nothing scientific or too difficult for a camera with decent response. This tests only shutter response time, not autofocus speed or accuracy. I stood 1 meter away from a wall on which I’ve taped a “trigger mark” (a sheet of paper), and, with camera in the right hand, tossed “Bug” toward the ceiling and tried to snap it as it drops. I just estimate the framing. The reaction time is roughly equivalent to seeing a fleeting glimpse on a person’s face and catching it before the expression fades or congeals into a pose.

My standard for this test is the Nikon D2H, still a lightning quick camera and plenty fast enough for most photographers. If I do my part, it’ll catch a tossed toy or bandana in every frame, every time. No need to partially depress the shutter or use any special technique – just mash the button.

My old Olympus C-3040Z compact digicam fails this test – miserably. The C-3040Z is still a good reliable performer but not a speed demon by any standard.

With the Ricoh GRD4 in snap mode, without flash and with manual flash, I was able to match the D2H performance. Not that it felt quite as quick as the D2H, but it reacted quickly enough to pass this test easily in snap mode or AF mode (with the shutter release button’s first stage pre-pressed).

For me, that’s good enough to ensure it can capture genuinely candid moments, peak expressions rather than fading expressions or those frozen rictus grins and self-conscious poses.

Auto flash, including “forced” auto flash, imposed a significant enough delay to slow down the GRD4 to about the same sluggishness of the Olympus C-3040Z. For quickest response use manual flash and stick with snap mode, or pre-press the shutter release in AF mode. However, even in fully auto mode including auto flash, the GRD4 is still quick enough for most situations.

- Auto-everything flash snap of my friend Margot. I dialed in -1.0 EV flash exposure compensation in compulsory auto-flash mode. The GRD4 handles this difficult backlighting remarkably well. There were no indoor lights on and the room lighting was around EV 6, against strong backlighting from the window. The GRD4’s only significant flash shortcoming: in full auto mode, the flash may not fire when it sees strong backlighting. Forced or compulsory auto-flash mode handles these situations neatly.

But it’s not just the GRD4’s nimble reflexes. What I quickly appreciated was the accurate metering and autoexposure capability. It seems to work well in any light and in any mode. When set to auto-everything, including auto-ISO, it chooses sensible exposure settings that tend toward faster shutter speeds for more blur-free photos.

- Walking-and-snapping. The GRD4 auto ISO/exposure chose ISO 80, 1/250th @ f/4, a good compromise for this tricky late afternoon scene with the low angle sun just outside the frame. (“Positive Film” in-camera JPEG image setting.)

Good looking JPEG-only Image Settings:

– Inside the Vortex, Richard Serra sculpture at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. GRD4’s in-camera B&W High Contrast image setting, which is a JPEG-only option. ISO 92, 1/60th @ f/2.8, Contrast -2 (lowest for this image setting), Sharpness=9 (maximum), Vignetting=High.

Rather than seeming like gimmicky novelties, I found some of the in-camera JPEG image settings – bleach bypass, cross processing, positive film, b&w – encouraged me to think differently about how to approach certain photos. The mindset is comparable to pushing b&w film or cross-processing color film. You commit to that look ahead of time, knowing it’s risky but confident that the finished photo was worth the risk.

For example, when visiting a favorite local museum – the Amon Carter, which houses an outstanding photography collection – I’d often photographed the shadows and shapes formed on the walls and floors by the lights illuminating the artwork. But I’d rarely been satisfied with the results unless I did a lot of post work. On a recent visit with the GRD4 I decided to use the bleach bypass cool hue extensively on the shadows. With this review in mind I boosted the contrast, sharpness and vignetting to maximum to better illustrate the effect in small web sized JPEGs. I liked the effect well enough that even after trying the bleach bypass warm and normal hue options I returned to the cool, blue hue for the remainder of that series of photos. It suited the look I’d been missing in my previous efforts at capturing these shadows. I was so enthralled I didn’t even realize until later that I’d neglected to shoot backups in raw (unfortunately the GRD4 doesn’t accommodate simultaneous raw/JPEG for certain image settings such as Bleach Bypass and Hi-Contrast B&W)… and I don’t feel I missed anything. These JPEGs are perfect for what I wanted.

- Wall shadows, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. Bleach Bypass cool hue image setting with maximum vignetting, a JPEG-only option.

– Sculpture shadows, Bleach Bypass cool hue.
ISO 1903, Bleach Bypass warm hue with maximum contrast and sharpness which can exaggerate noise. However an 8.5”x11” print of this photo from my Epson R200 looks great. Noise artifacts in print are not as apparent as on the monitor.
– In-camera multiple exposure mode. Three images combined in-camera: (1) bronze statuettes; (2) bamboo pattern lampshade; (3) clay pot with cracked glazing.
– Cross-processing yellow hue (Bass Performance Hall).
– Cross-processing magenta hue.

DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
The GR Digital is the same as it ever was, only better. For fans, it’s a very good thing. But if you weren’t thrilled with the original GRD1 concept in 2005 – “The sensor is too small!”, “No zoom? No, thanks!” – expect to be underwhelmed with the GRD4. It’s still a fixed 6mm lens (equivalent to 28mm in 35mm film/full frame digital). It’s still a tiny sensor. It’s still ideally suited to a certain style of candid photography that makes good use of deep DOF rather than isolating subjects against a blurred out background. Now it’s even better than its predecessors for scenics. It’s a better camera all around, with incremental improvements over the GRD2 and GRD3. If you loved those cameras, you’ll love the GRD4.

Green = Great!
Basic operation without reading instructions is fairly easy. Menu layout seems logical and accessible. Set it to Auto-ISO in daylight or Auto-Hi indoors or in dim lighting, full auto “green” mode, Multi-AF, Multi-metering and fire away. The GRD4 consistently chooses the most appropriate compromise for a shutter speed fast enough to prevent motion blur and an ISO low enough to minimize noise. My personal setting was usually Auto-Hi with 1/60th baseline before ISO bump, and Multi-P Auto WB. Full auto operation makes it easy enough for a rookie while choosing appropriate settings often enough under most conditions to suit an experienced photographer. The GRD4’s Multi metering and various exposure modes worked at least as well as my familiar Nikon D2H and often better in strong backlighting situations.

– Another tricky scenario the Ricoh GRD4 handled gracefully. This is inside “The Vortex”, the Richard Serra sculpture outside the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Some waggish folks call it The Giant Twizzler, but it’s really a beautiful and awe inspiring thing, especially from inside where it’s designed to produce reverberations and echoes. On a typical sunny day there’s extreme contrast between inside and outside. For this photo I set the in-camera dynamic range compensation to 3 (strongest) and rested the camera on my knee while I was sitting, approximating the framing as best I could. The GRD4 lacks a tilting LCD but I could see the green leveling indicators. I let automagic exposure do the rest. The camera chose ISO 192, 1/60th @ f/2.8. Nearly all of the dozen or so snaps I took inside here were appropriately exposed.


Dynamic range – DNG/raw files:

DNG/raw improves odds for recovering highlights. In this photo of kids and man in wheelchair in open shade at the Fort Worth Water Gardens, with Sheraton Hotel in sunlight in the background, the hotel was blown out in the JPEGs but the raw files offered plenty of data to recover those hightlight details.

– Scene dynamic range was too much for in-camera JPEGs.
– A quick tweak of the DNG/raw file in Lightroom 4 showed the potential for highlight recovery. I was a Lightroom rookie here – a more experienced hand with LR was able to wring out better highlight detail (thanks, Simon!).
– This monochrome version of the Lightroom DNG is getting closer to what I want (adjusted in Snapseed, an easy and effective editor in the Hipstamatic/Instagram vein).

Dynamic range – in-camera JPEGs:

Built-in dynamic range tweaks are remarkably subtle and effective. If only the default noise reduction and sharpening were as subtle and adjustable. Unfortunately DR tweaks are limited to certain ISO ranges, from 125 for weak to 200 for strong, but can be used with raw/DNG. The Scene Mode Dynamic Range option appears limited to JPEG only (no option to simultaneously record untweaked raw), but does allow maximum resolution JPEG, unlike certain other scene mode options.

– B&W Sepia Tone Effect with high contrast & dynamic range compensation. High contrast scenario, black cat sunning in brightly sunlit window.
– Same cat and settings, but without dynamic range compensation.
– In-camera dynamic range compensation subtly preserves foreground shadow detail and cloud highlights with a minimal increase in blue sky noise at ISO 200, and no significant noise at lower ISOs.
– Test scene without in-camera dynamic range compensation.
– Same test scene with in-camera dynamic range compensation.


- Ricoh GRD4 bokeh at f/1.9, near-macro range.

– Ricoh GRD4 bokeh at f/2.8, tight closeup range. Beyond this distance or stopped down, bokeh won’t be a factor since almost everything in the photo will be in resolved fairly clearly.
– Faux flutterby, f/1.9, Bleach Bypass warm hue.
!! 15859437!! – Faux flutterby, f/2.2, Bleach Bypass cool hue. Note the slight difference in appearance of the defocused blob of light along the right border.
– Flower closeup, f/1.9, vivid color image setting. Out of focus foliage and grass is a tough test for a wide angle macro lens. The Ricoh GRD4 lens is pleasantly free of nisen-bokeh, that harsh doubling effect often seen in some of my sharpest Nikkors and my Vivitar Series 1 70-210/2.8-4.
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- Standard (neutral) B&W in-camera JPEG, maximum contrast and sharpness (9 of 9). The GRD4’s multi metering handles tricky backlighting like this remarkably well. However, I should have set the contrast lower, around 5-7, to avoid blown highlights. Fortunately, the simultaneous raw/DNG file has plenty of highlight detail.

– B&W sepia toning effect, saturation=2 (of 9), contrast=7, sharpness=7. I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and the typical results I get from Ilford XP2 Super or Kodak T400CN processed and printed by a minilab on color paper. It’s a good look where low to moderate contrast is desirable and flattering for photos of people.
– B&W sepia toning effect, saturation=2 (of 9), contrast=7, sharpness=5.
– High Contrast B&W in-camera JPEG setting, ISO 176. This image setting adds a film grain look and overall contrast and tonality reminiscent of my own efforts with pushing Kodak T-Max 400 and Tri-X.

The standard color mode could pass for a familiar color negative film like Fuji Reala and Superia X-tra or Kodak Gold. Vivid color mode in daylight was reminiscent of Fuji Provia 100. The “Positive Film” Image Setting is reminiscent of Kodak 400UC’s saturated reds.

– Ricoh GR Digital IV, ISO 80, 1/1740 sec. @ f/4, vivid color mode. I’ve photographed the Bass Performance Hall exterior many times over the years and this compares favorably with my earlier efforts using Fuji Provia 100.
– Same exterior view (although on a different day), ISO 400, 1/1070 sec. @ f/11, vivid color mode. Other than hints of slight noise artifacts in the sky, it’s still remarkably similar to my color slide film photos of this same exterior view.


Customer service:

I had a couple of technical questions about the GRD4, regarding EXIF data and the flash guide number. I emailed Ricoh USA on a Thursday evening. The next day I received a reply from a real human to let me know my question had been forwarded to a Ricoh product specialist and promised I’d hear a reply by Monday. Sure enough, Monday I received a very informative reply from Mark Davis, Product Specialist at Pentax Ricoh Imaging Americas Corporation. He gave me the correct information about the flash guide number (I’d mistakenly interpreted the 5.4 GN as unusually low, but the actual GN is approximately 17.7 at ISO 100/10 feet). And he told me he too had tried unsuccessfully to find an EXIF viewer that revealed the complete Image Setting metadata outside the camera. As of now, the only way to be sure of the Image Settings (Bleach Bypass, etc.) and specifics about the flash settings, etc., is in the camera. However the prompt and helpful replies were encouraging about PRIAC’s commitment to Ricoh in the US.


- Grain effect is visible in mid-tones in this ISO 160 photo. (High Contrast B&W in-camera JPEG image setting.)

– High Contrast B&W image setting, ISO 200.
– High Contrast B&W in-camera JPEG image setting, ISO 418. Again, reminiscent of my own results with pushed T-Max 400 that was exposed in contrasty daylight.
– High Contrast B&W in-camera JPEG image setting, ISO 1600. A bit too soot-and-chalk for my taste in this contrasty lighting scenario, reminiscent of b&w film pushed too hard in the wrong developer.
– High Contrast B&W, ISO 1600. The film grain effect of this image setting seems to mask digital luminance noise. The overall effect is a bit muddy in this very dim theater lighting.

I found a couple of tricks that helped smooth out the highlight transitions, using optional in-camera noise reduction and dynamic range compensation. While the use of noise reduction with the B&W Hi-Contrast mode is not officially acknowledged in the EXIF data, there is a subtle but repeatable effect on highlights which provides just a hint of tone via the addition of a grain-like texture.

EXIF data does acknowledge the combination of B&W Hi-Contrast image setting and dynamic range compensation, and there is a definite noticeable effect that adds tone and texture to highlight areas that would otherwise be chalky white. Keep in mind DR comes at a cost to accessible ISO range. With each incremental boost in DR the lower and upper ISO limits are reduced, so that with maximum DR (“Strong”) the ISO range is limited to 200-1250. However in actual practice this may be an acceptable compromise since the highest contrast scenes are likely to be in brighter lighting where ISO 1250-1600 may be adequate.

The NR setting has a more subtle effect on adding tone to highlight areas and does not limit the full ISO range of 80-3200.


Because the effects of noise reduction on fine detail can be properly evaluated only in maximum resolution JPEGs, samples at ISO 3200 are available on my Flickr page:
1. Here’s a copy of a DNG at ISO 3200 with no noise reduction – copied from DNG to JPEG in Lightroom. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/27861231@N04/7155294669/in/set-72157630055573800)
2. In-camera JPEG at ISO 3200 with no additional optional noise reduction. Some NR is applied by default and is not user-controllable. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/27861231@N04/7340500506/in/set-72157630055573800)
3. In-camera JPEG at ISO 3200 with maximum optional noise reduction. Note that while smoothing creates a watercolor type effect on grass and foliage, the additional NR actually improves the legibility and appearance of some parts of the photo. It may be useful in some circumstances where it’s necessary to shoot at high ISOs. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/27861231@N04/7340497654/in/set-72157630055573800)


- Some cats are much easier to photograph with flash. Unlike my Siamese, Ziva has less sensitive green eyes and doesn’t blink so readily. Here I used the Ricoh GRD4 with manual flash, at the 1/64th minimum output at short range, to eliminate preflash blinkies. I think Ziva was trying to bring me some blue masking tape she’d found.


Stuck pixel:

A single stuck pixel appeared on 5/27/12, perhaps coincidentally immediately after having used the interval composite mode on star trails. The stuck pixel appears in the lower left corner, and first appeared that same night in a high ISO photo at the same location where the star trail photo was taken.


Text and photos © 2013 Bob Atkins.

Article revised March 2013.