The high-end compact camera market has burgeoned in recent years. Ricoh’s ongoing GR Digital series, reviewed here in its latest GRD IV incarnation, is at the forefront of the fixed-lens, medium-size-sensor compact market.
It won’t be for everyone though: the 28mm (equivalent) lens is designed for optimum quality, so there’s no zoom to be found here. The 10-megapixel sensor, too, values a middling resolution and larger-than-average 1/1.7in size to produce top image quality above and beyond a standard compact.
But just how good is the Ricoh GRD IV and is it worth its £450 asking price?
Fixed Ways Of Working
The fixed-lens compact has seen a resurgence in recent years. The traditional focal lengths – whether 28mm, 35mm or 50mm – have all been released in prime, fixed-lens compact formats across various manufacturers.
In the case of the GRD IV it’s a 28mm (equivalent) with bright f/1.9 aperture – perfect for shallow depth of field shots with a pleasing blurred background. The lens has been constructed from eight elements in six groups, including two aspheric elements to counteract distortion.
Using such a lens entails a very specific way of working. As there’s no zoom, critical framing at this mid-to-wide-angle focal length is an essential that’s well suited to traditionalist snappers. Some will love the “restrictive” nature, while more casual users may find it a frustration. There is a 4x digital zoom that crops into the 10MP resolution, but we’d advise against using this for the sake of quality – instead it’s best to embrace the GRD IV’s fixed-lens concept with open arms.
The 10-megapixel, 1/1.7in sensor at the GRD IV’s core partners the quality lens. The shots we took resolved enough detail throughout the ISO range, despite some processing revealing painterly-like edges that don’t always hold bags of detail.
The ISO 80-3200 range is usable to at least some degree though. There’s also plenty of extra control on offer – the ISO auto range can be set to max-out at a user-defined sensitivity; image noise reduction can be adjusted between "off, weak, strong, max"; and it’s possible to engage noise reduction above a defined ISO sensitivity. For example: you may choose "weak" noise reduction, but only to activate above ISO 401, while also selecting ISO Auto with a 1600 maximum cap. There aren’t many compacts or even DSLR cameras with this level of control.
Sharpness is also good throughout the frame, though the image processing can counteract this at the mid-high ISO levels.
Using the GRD IV is a pleasure. It’s possible to jump between shooting modes – whether manual, auto, scene or custom saved modes - using the main top dial. There’s a front thumbwheel, complemented by a rear jog-dial-cum-button that makes for a more DSLR-type “way” of working. This rear jog dial, marked with "ADJ", can be pressed like a button to access five on-screen adjustments, including AF area, ISO, White Balance and more.
Bracketing also features in abundance: exposure, white balance, image setting, dynamic range and contrast can each be bracketed in shots of three.
A small pop-up flash can also be adjusted from full power all the way down to 1/64th power for more intricate control. This can be particularly useful in manual mode or for subtle fill flash.
A “snap focus” mode will fix at a given focus depth - auto, 1m, 1.5m, 2.5m, 5m or infinity - for immediate shutter release without the need to pre-focus. Settings can also be recalled when turning the camera on as to avoid the slow process of adjusting settings.
Although the standard focal length is from 30cm to infinity, a 1cm macro mode can focus extremely close to the subject.
The GRD IV’s autofocus area can be positioned anywhere around the camera’s screen, right to the very edges – uncommon in many other compacts, and distinctly useful.
The screen itself is also mighty impressive: the 1.2m-dot LCD panel is about as high resolution as they come and looks fantastic in playback and preview.
When it comes to autofocus, the system itself is reasonable and often fast, though can lag on occasion in dim lighting conditions. Autofocus modes are divided into multi, spot, subject tracking, manual, infinity, and the aforementioned snap. There’s plenty of choice, which is further expanded by the inclusion of continuous autofocus. Again the speed isn’t dazzling, but it’s workable.
The Ricoh GRD IV won’t appeal to all because of its fixed-focal-length 28mm lens, but if this is the type of camera you’re looking for then it ticks plenty of boxes.
The 10MP images are decent, further enhanced by the amount of user-defined image noise control on offer. Add to this RAW capture and the GRD IV more than caters for the high-end user, though the image processing means shots won’t rival a DSLR or compact system camera.
The Ricoh is also great to use and full of intricate modes that lead to a more fruitful experience. Overall there’s little bad to say about the camera, bar its high £450 price tag and that image quality does have its limitations. While it may not be for the casual photographer, the serious snapper will find this small and pocketable compact a great match.