Ricoh GR Digital IV Review
|Dimensions:||4.3 x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
(109 x 60 x 33 mm)
|Weight:||7.7 oz (219 g)
Ricoh GR Digital IV Overview
Ricoh's GR Digital camera series debuted in late 2005, and draw on the heritage of the company's earlier GR-series film cameras. Popular with enthusiasts seeking good image quality and a compact body that's conducive to candid photography, the GR series forgoes consumer-friendly conveniences such as optical zoom. Now in its fourth generation, the Ricoh GR Digital IV retains much the same body design and control layout as in its immediate predecessors, as well as the same lens and sensor, but makes some important changes in other areas.
Perhaps most notably, the Ricoh GR Digital IV now features a hybrid autofocus system that supplements the typical contrast detection autofocus system found in most fixed-lens cameras with information from an external autofocus sensor. Developed in-house by Ricoh, the AF sensor has separate optics, and so can't be used for macro focusing due to parallax error. For subjects at an appropriate distance, though, the sensor offers 190 autofocus points and allows focusing in as little as 0.2 seconds, according to Ricoh. Even when relying solely on contrast-detection AF for nearby subjects, improved algorithms are said to have approximately doubled contrast detection autofocus speed. An interesting feature relying on the external AF sensor is that the GR Digital can now skip contrast detection autofocus altogether to reduce shutter lag if you fully depress the shutter button without waiting for AF operation to complete. In this Full Press Snap mode, the camera can choose from a selection of preset focus distances, including one, 1.5, 2.5, and five meters, and presumably sets the aperture appropriately to ensure sufficient depth of field to capture your subject sharply despite the rather coarse-grained focus steps. Also new to the GRD IV is tracking autofocus capability.
Another important difference is the addition of true mechanical image stabilization. Specifically, the Ricoh GR Digital IV mounts its 10 megapixel, 1/1.7-inch type CCD image sensor on a movable platter, which serves as a sensor shift stabilization mechanism. Ricoh says that using its own proprietary measurement methods, it believes the system to provide 3.2 stops of shake reduction. Given the relatively wide, fixed 35mm-equivalent focal length of 28mm, and the bright maximum aperture of f/1.9, the GR Digital IV looks set to provide good handheld shooting possibilities even in relatively low ambient lighting conditions. Although sensor resolution is unchanged, the GR Digital IV now has a sensitivity range of ISO 80 to 3,200 equivalents, rather than the 64 - 1,600 equivalent range of the preceding model.
The Ricoh GR Digital IV is also the first camera we've seen with an LCD display design featuring four dots per pixel, rather than the typical three dots. On top of the usual red, green, and blue subpixels, the GRD IV's 3.0-inch display includes a white subpixel that's used to increase brightness. It's a design featured in Sony's recently-announced WhiteMagic LCD panels, and while Ricoh doesn't identify its supplier, it's likely the part used here. (Four-dot-per-pixel panels do exist from other manufacturers, such as Sharp's RGBY Quad Pixel design seen in some of their high-def displays, but we're not aware of any competitors with an RGBW design, nor in this size.) Compared to existing RGB panels, Ricoh says the GR Digital IV's display offers 1.7x greater brightness. Presuming that this is indeed a WhiteMagic panel, that's reasonably close to Sony's claim that the design roughly doubles maximum brightness over an RGB panel; the company also states that WhiteMagic panels roughly half power consumption over that of a standard LCD panel with equal brightness. Total resolution of the Ricoh GRD IV's LCD is 1,230,000 dots, which approximates a VGA array (640 x 480 pixels).
Ricoh has made a number of other changes in its latest GR-series model. The GR Digital IV now offers Bulb and Time exposures to a maximum of 180 seconds, and also now offers both a dynamic range compensation function, and an interval composite mode which stacks multiple images while retaining the brightest value for any given pixel. This function acts similarly to stacking images in Photoshop using the Lighten blending mode, handy for making star trails and the like. There are also two new image settings modes--Positive Film and Bleach Bypass--and the GRD IV now provides a greater nine-step adjustment range for controls such as vividness and contrast.
Further firmware changes of note include an AF Continuous burst mode that attempts to retain focus between frames (the standard Continuous mode locks focus from the first frame), a Custom self-timer mode in place of the previous ten-second mode, more bracketing functions (contrast, dynamic range, and image settings), and a dual-axis electronic level function that now indicates not only side-to-side roll, but also front-back pitch. There's also a new 16:9 aspect shooting mode (3,648 x 2,048 pixels), and two fluorescent white balance modes rather than one.
Ricoh has also updated its connectivity options to include HDMI high-definition video output, and improved battery life slightly from 370 to 390 frames with the DB-65 proprietary lithium ion rechargeable battery. Images and movies are still stored on SD or SDHC cards, but the GR Digital IV now also offers Eye-Fi Connected compliance, meaning that it not only supports the popular WiFi-capable cards, but also allows in-camera configuration and display of transmission status. At the same time, EXIF compliance has been switched from v2.21 to v2.3 of the specification, and the available internal memory has fallen from 88MB to 40MB. Body-only weight has increased by a scant two grams, to 190 grams.
Pricing and availability for the Ricoh GR Digital IV haven't been disclosed at this time, but we do know that the company will be offering a limited-edition white variant of the camera, with only 10,000 units to be sold worldwide. This version will also include a special leather hand strap, and a metal lens cap which also locks the power button, preventing accidental power-up. (The lens cap will also be available as an optional extra.)
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