Ricoh GR Digital IV at a glance

  • 10-million-pixel CMOS sensor
  • ISO 80-3200 (equivalent)
  • 1.23-million-dot
  • LCD screen
  • Hybrid AF system
  • expansion mode
  • 28mm (equivalent) f/1.9 lens
  • Street price around £450

Famed for its high-quality lenses, the Ricoh GR series of 35mm compact cameras has been extremely popular with enthusiast photographers since the release of the GR1 in 1996. The GR’s slim design makes it truly pocketable, but it is the camera’s aperture priority and fixed 28mm f/2.8 AF lens that has made it the compact of choice for many discerning photographers.

There have been various revisions of the original GR1 camera, each introducing a new advanced feature, including EV compensation, manual focus and bracketing. In 2005, Ricoh released the first GR Digital model. This 8.13-million-pixel camera owes much of its design to its film predecessors. Two revisions have followed in the form of the 10.01-million-pixel GR Digital II and 10.4-million-pixel GR Digital III. The latter featured a new f/1.9 lens constructed from eight elements in six groups, and it is this lens that forms the basis of the latest in the series, the GR Digital IV.

Ricoh GR Digital IV Features

The basic design of the GR Digital IV is the same as its predecessor, as is its 10-million-pixel, 1/1.7in (approx 7.6×5.7mm or 43mm2) CCD sensor. There have been some improvements to the image processing, though, with the introduction of the new Ricoh GR Engine IV. The company claims this new system has improved colour noise reduction, particularly at higher sensitivities, which has led to an increase in the maximum sensitivity from ISO 1600 in the GR Digital III to ISO 3200 in the GR Digital IV.

There is a wealth of features in the GR Digital IV, and its menu system hosts what must be one of the most comprehensive range of settings found on any compact camera. Among these are full manual, aperture and shutter priority and program exposure modes, DNG raw capture, EV compensation, multiple exposure mode and dynamic range compensation. However, like all other GR compact cameras, it is the lens that is the GR Digital IV’s most defining feature. The fixed 6mm (28mm equivalent) f/1.9 optic has a lot to live up to, but if it performs anything like its predecessors it should be very sharp.

New features to the GR Digital range are image sensor stabilisation, a dual-axis in-camera level and a highly specified, 1.23-million-dot, VGA LCD screen. There is also a new series of auto-bracketing options, but the most intriguing feature is an external AF sensor that works in collaboration with the more conventional contrast-detection AF. More details to come later in this test.

Ricoh GR Digital IV Build and handling

The magnesium body of the GR Digital IV is virtually identical to its predecessor, with the small AF sensor, just above and to the left of the lens, being the only noticeable difference. While the camera’s small size isn’t quite as extreme next to other digital models as the GR1 35mm camera is compared to other film cameras, it is still slim and well contoured. It fits comfortably in a pocket and, with a wealth of different buttons on the back and a control dial just above the front handgrip, it is easy to access and change settings and features.

The live view shooting screen has a huge amount of detailed information about the different modes that are being used. This can be minimised by using the DISP button, but for the most part it is fairly unobtrusive. While the in-camera level isn’t a new feature, it now has the ability to detect front and back tilt, as well as the more conventional side to side.

If I have any complaint about the handling of the camera it is that the menu could benefit from being broken down into more subcategories, and that some of the settings could be grouped together and reordered a little more conveniently. However, there is a My Settings custom menu, which has an extensive set of options to choose from. Once you have decided which options to include in the menu, it is easy to access them by pressing the ADJ button on the rear of the camera.

The rocker switch, which is also on the rear of the camera, is somewhat confusing. This type of button is usually reserved for controlling a zoom lens, and I did find myself, on one occasion, instinctively pressing the button to zoom. Perhaps this is more the case of me nitpicking and having tested a lot of compact cameras, but for a camera without a zoom, the rocker switch is an odd choice of control.

Overall, the Ricoh GR Digital IV handles like a real photographers’ camera, in the same way as its film and digital predecessors. Its design is quite stark and understated, and its menus are as basic-looking as they are comprehensive, so it definitely isn’t a flashy consumer camera.


The most talked about feature of the Ricoh GR Digital IV is its new phase-detection AF sensors, although these aren’t actually new because they were originally found on the Ricoh GR compact cameras and the first GR Digital model. However, the feature was lost in the GR Digital II and III, as apparently the phase-detection sensor was produced by a third party and production stopped.

Now, though, it has reappeared in the Ricoh GR Digital IV and CX5, presumably because the company has now been able to source the part elsewhere and successfully incorporate it into these models. The phase-detection sensors work in conjunction with the sensors’ contrast detection.

Between these two methods Ricoh claims a focusing time of just 0.2secs, with the phase-detection sensors working out a rough focus area before the contrast-detection mode takes over and fine-tunes the focusing even further.

With the two working together, I found that autofocus is fast, making the camera ideal for street photography, where split-second timing may be necessary.

If you have more time, a half-press of the shutter button will allow very accurate contrast-detection focusing. But there is so much more to the GR Digital IV’s AF settings, particularly for street photographers.

Pre-AF begins focusing before a button on the camera is even pressed, again helping to make sure that the lens is ready for action as soon as the shutter is fired.

Similarly, the snap-focus distance option allows a preset focus distance to be set. When the shutter is fully pressed, the lens focuses to the preset distance and takes a picture. For street photographers, setting the snap-focus distance to 2.5m and the aperture to f/4 should create a depth of field large enough for a photographer to keep snapping away.

However, the options don’t stop there. Single or multi-point AF modes, as well as a subject-focus tracking mode, are also available. The subject-focus tracking is among the best I have tested on a compact camera. Manual focus is also available, although, as is the case with most other compact cameras, it is a little fiddly to use. Finally, infinity focus is available as well, which just sets the focus to infinity with no override options.


Much like the rest of the camera, the GR Digital IV’s metering system behaves as I would expect it to. By this I mean that when in its multi-metering mode, it exposes images for highlights, often rendering the foreground in a landscape as completely in shadow. Of course, this is less of a concern when shooting travel or street images, but for many photographers it may be worth considering switching to centreweighted metering for some subjects.

Spot metering is a further option, and exposure compensation can be easily applied via the aforementioned rocker control switch on the rear of the camera.


Images:  There is a good amount of detail that can be retrieved from the shadows of raw files . Image left: JPEG, Image right: Raw edited

Dynamic range

Image:  The 28mm equivalent lens is very sharp from edge to edge, with a lot of detail capable of being recovered from the DNG raw files

Don’t be fooled by the appearance of images on the GR Digital IV’s live view screen. The live view preview shows that most highlights are blown out and devoid of any detail. The reviewed image isn’t much better. However, JPEG files contain more highlight detail than the screen would have you believe, and raw files even more so.

The dynamic range is good, without being superb. Ricoh has tried to squeeze as much information and detail as it can from what is now a somewhat ageing 10-million-pixel sensor.

I found that for best results, images should be underexposed and raw images edited to bring out highlight detail. At low sensitivities, the level of noise is low enough that this can be done without degrading the image too much. JPEG shooters should use the camera’s dynamic range compensation, which has weak, strong and max settings. This goes some way to helping to lift shadow areas and pull back highlights.

White balance and colour

There is a wealth of different colour settings in the GR Digital IV, each with its own customisation options, plus two custom settings. Among my favourite settings are the high-contrast black & white mode and the bleach bypass mode, both of which are great for producing striking images straight from the camera.

On the whole, the camera handles colours well, and the various white balance settings are effective. As with the other modes, it is worth spending some time fine-tuning each of the colour settings to your own particular taste to get the most from the camera.

Ricoh GR Digital IV Noise resolution and sensitivity

Of all the 10-million-pixel compact cameras we have tested, the Ricoh GR Digital IV stands out as one of the best in terms of resolution. Having a fixed lens that is designed specifically for the sensor (and vice versa) means that images are sharp, even at the edges. At the lowest ISO 80-400 sensitivities, images have a great deal of detail, although there is a hint of luminance noise above ISO 200 and colour noise is visible in shadow areas if these areas are lightened.

I wasn’t too impressed with the in-camera JPEGs, but I would recommend to those photographers who shoot JPEGs that they turn the noise reduction to at least its lowest setting, and ideally switch it off completely and stick to ISO 80-200. Reducing colour noise from the DNG raw files is straightforward, and adding a hint of luminance noise reduction and careful edge sharpening can help higher-sensitivity images.

The maximum sensitivities are what you would expect from a compact camera. They really are too extreme to be of any use for detailed images. Instead, use the luminance noise to your advance by switching to black & white or the bleach bypass mode and be creative with your images – you will still have the raw files should you wish to attempt to edit the images further.


Resolution, Noise & Dynamic Range: These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the fixed 28mm equivalent lens . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.

Viewfinder, LCD, live view and video

Another new addition to the features of the GR Digital range is the camera’s 3in, 1.23-million-dot LCD screen. This screen uses white pixels as well as RGB pixels, which is claimed to improve the brightness and colour rendition of the images, although I didn’t notice much of an improvement over a standard RGB screen.

An optional optical viewfinder is available, and some users may find this useful. I find the screen a more discreet way of taking images, although in bright sunshine it may be of use to some photographers.

Unfortunately, with Ricoh concentrating so heavily on making the GR Digital IV a true enthusiast photographer’s camera, little attention has been paid to the video mode, which is only 640×480 pixels in resolution.

Ricoh GR Digital IV Verdict

There is a lot to like about the Ricoh GR Digital IV. With careful exposure settings and post-capture editing, the images it produces are among the most detailed I have seen from a compact digital camera.

Those who shoot documentary and travel-type images will enjoy the compact and discreet camera body but, more than this, the various AF features mean that there is virtually no AF delay or shutter lag. Nevertheless, it is the lens that steals the show. Once again, it is very sharp from edge to edge and resolves a lot of detail.

The GR Digital IV is not for novice photographers. It can take some time to go through and understand how to get the most from the camera in various situations, but once this is understood it has the ability to match the image quality from many other compacts, but for how long?