I have had the Leica D-Lux range for quite some time having cycled through the D-Lux 3, 4 and now 5. It’s a fantastic camera and has given me many a keeper over the years. It’s funny though, I have had this small compact for quite some time although have never really taken to carrying it daily… I’m not 100% sure why, perhaps I haven’t been as dedicated as I seem to be now but still, it tends to stay home unless I am going somewhere where my M9 would be out of place and, or, I can’t be bothered to take it. In any event, this has meant that the only camera I reliably have with me is my iPhone which has been getting regular usage for a while now. I love iPhoneography and feel the quality and practicality make it a viable alternative to a compact camera. Even though the usage of the iPhone (Hipstamatic app mostly) has been creatively liberating, I have always felt the need for a truly take anywhere camera which would give me 20X24″ print quality (if needs be).
I came across a Ricoh GRD III on ebay who’s price I couldn’t resist. I have followed the GR range of Ricoh cameras for a few years and was always curious, however had always felt somewhat restricted by the fixed 28mm (21mm earlier film cameras) focal range of these cameras. For whatever reason I decided to bid. I won the auction for a ridiculous price in the early hours of a weekday. I received the camera and my first reaction was, “wow, this really is a well built little camera…” The next couple of days saw me taking 2-300 shots with this little guy and I was pretty sure it was a keeper after day 1.
Nope, not a keeper… I bought a GRD IV a couple of days later after some research on the improved focusing and general improved speed, not that the III needed it, but more that I could afford the sale of the III and the “little” more for the purchase of the IV. After all, these are definitely not Leica prices I have had to save for, years and years on end to be able to afford…
Having received my GRD IV, I could absolutely tell a real world difference between them. Focusing is definitely quicker despite the fact that I mostly use snap focusing, but mostly, there was an evident advantage in Hi-ISO noise (perhaps a stop but certainly 1/2 stop) even though other reviews have not focused on this… The IV seems to be usable at 2000 ISO plus. I don’t mind grain (although I do prefer film grain to digital) however, the GRD IV has proved so far to have very usable, semi film like noise – grain…
Through research I read that the GRD I, the very first GR Digital, had grain and sharpness none of the newer versions of the Ricoh GRD’s could come close to in nature!!! Users mentioned how film like the noise seemed and how close to Tri-X film the GRD I at 400ISO seemed to be. Some “research” later, the GRD I seemed to indeed have a unique signature compared to version III. I became curious as an avid 35mm Leica film shooter. A couple of days later, I purchased a well used GRD I on ebay for less than a meal out with my wife…
100′s of GRD IV shots later (I carry it with me to work daily), the GR Digital arrived. It didn’t look half as good as on the ebay photos. In any event, as a results driven photographer, I set out on an evening walk with the classic GRD in hand set at f2.4, Jpg only. Reviewing the shots in Lightroom, I could definitely see a uniqueness the other GRD’s seemed not to be able to demonstrate so effortlessly. I was impressed. Unfortunately the used GRD I also had a CCD problem (a line of non-functioning sensors). Little did I know that whilst this was indeed a fault, it would force me to do a test with all 3 GRD’s I happened to have at the same time… I wanted to know once and for all whether I should continue looking for another GR Digital due to its “special rendering qualities” or simply return this faulty camera.
Having never done any scientific photographic tests, I set out to “challenge” the differences between the GRD I, III and IV (I also included the Leica D-Lux 5 and Leica M9 as part of the same test just for fun:). I was mostly interested in the differences at higher ISO speeds to see if there really was any major difference in grain type and or redering between the Ricoh’s and also differences in redering to the Leica D-Lux 5. The M9 was thrown in just for fun.
Leica M9 28mm Elmarit 2.8 v3 (ISO 160, f2.4 RAW file, converted to B&W)
The following crops (approximate similar crop sizes due to differences in megapixels and sensors) were taken with the Ricoh’s GR Digital, III, IV, Leica D-Lux 5 @28mm setting and finally the Leica M9 . All shots from all cameras except the Ricoh GR Digital were shot in Raw and converted to B&W, no post processing at all on any of them…
I have grouped the shots by ISO for comparison purposes.
Some Observations & The Conclusion
In my subjective opinion, whilst there may be some differences in rendering and grain “quality” between the original GR Digital and the latter versions, I was equally pleased with what I saw in the GRD IV rendering. At 400 ISO whilst I do like the original GR Digitals rendering the most, the IV’s rendering is also pleasing and to my eyes shows more dynamic range than both the I and III. I was also impressed with the Ricoh’s less digital rendering compared to the Leica D-Lux 5.
As a street shooter I like discrete, responsive and easy to use cameras. The Ricoh GRD IV has all these qualities however could be further improved in one area. Raw recording speeds. Whilst it is a huge improvement to the original and version II, I still find myself unable to take 2 or 3 shots in succession fast enough and have missed some opportunities because of this.
The GRD IV is able to capture some of the best small sensor RAW files I have ever seen. There is tremendous latitude for adjustment in the files and I really enjoy what I can get from it in B&W at times more so than any other camera I own including my film cameras and Leica M9. Also, the GRD IV colour and WB is amongst the most accurate I have seen in this category of camera and actually better than my M9. This together with the amazing handling qualities means that I have found an ideal everyday carry along camera which I have been using non stop since the day I received it.
I have returned the GRD I and sold the III and am very happy to have kept the “best” IMO, to date, version of the GR Digital range, the GRD IV.
Bring on version V.