The Ricoh GRD4

Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

“In your opinion, what is the best digital camera ever made? I mean, if you could only have one camera what would it be?”

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

“The Ricoh GRD4.”

“You mean the new one? The large sensor one? I think that is the GR..”

“No. I mean the Ricoh GRD4.”

Iksan, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

Iksan, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

An excerpt from an interview I did recently. I wonder if it will make it into the final cut. I was being honest though. If I could have only one camera it would be the Ricoh GRD4. I’m not taking the piss. It is the best (digital) camera I have ever used.

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Suwon, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

I normally don’t like “5 reasons” kinda posts but I’m going to turn this into one because I think it is the best way to organize my thoughts on this matter.

Jeonju, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

Jeonju, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

So here are the 5 reasons I think the Ricoh GRD4 is the best camera I have ever used:

1. Small sensors are king for me

These days everyone rushes to get the big sensor camera. Even the guy interviewing me thought I was mistaken in saying the GRD4 and not the newer APS-C GR. Couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I much prefer small sensor cameras for a variety of reasons.

Let me explain.

Iksan, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

Iksan, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

I do almost entirely self-documentary style (street) photography. I don’t care much for background blur. A personal thing, I suppose. In 99 percent of the photos I take I would much prefer there to be as deep of a depth of field as possible. I want everything in focus. I don’t want to worry about making creative choices based on depth of field aside from hoping there is a lot of it. I love the fact that with the GRD4 I can shoot at f1.9 and get the look of f9 on a full frame camera. The light gathering is the same as f1.9 on any camera. For me, this is a real advantage.

Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

2. Noise isn’t my enemy

Most people worry about noise on small sensors. For me, it is kind of the opposite. I shoot in jpg all the time and turn off all the noise reduction. I don’t mind it at all. When I was using the Ricoh GR I always found the photos to be too clean and too dslr-like. I kind of felt they were shallow. I feel a similar thing about the Sony RX100 Mark III I have. I find the GRD4 (and to be honest the 3 is very similar) to be a much easier and more fluid workflow.

Suwon, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

Suwon, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

The photos come out of the camera looking much better to my eye and they take a lot less work to be exactly what I want. I get a lot more “keepers” from the 3 and 4 than I ever got from the GR.

3. Size

The GR is small for an APS-C camera, true. That being said, the GRD3/4 are smaller yet. Also, if anyone has owned both the new GR and the older GRDs they can probably attest to the fact that the older cameras seem to be built much better. I found the GR to be quite “hollow” feeling whereas the older cameras are more substantial. Also, I’ve owned three GRs all of which have ended their lives within the first 7 months. You can call me unlucky but somehow that seems a trend. I’ve never had a problem with any GRD camera I’ve owned aside from the grip being worn off my GRD4 from use.

Suwon, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3. March 2015.

Suwon, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3. March 2015.

I also find that more than any other camera I’ve ever owned the GRDs end up with me more of the time. They are truly a pocket camera. I don’t use a viewfinder with them. Just the screen. I used to be one of those fucking hipster dudes who would comment on blog posts saying “if it hasn’t got a viewfinder it isn’t a real camera” or “I can’t properly compose an image without a real viewfinder.” It’s all bullshit isn’t it? The screen is better than a viewfinder in 99 percent of situations. It doesn’t look as cool or “pro” if you compose with the LCD I suppose. One guy I remember in particular wrote on my blog saying “Daido Moriyama wouldn’t use an LCD.” Well, lots of videos of him with digital cameras show he only uses the LCD. Not that I think it matters. I’ve just yet to meet someone who could give me a convincing argument for the viewfinder aside from “bright sun.”

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Jeonju, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

That kinda went in a direction I wasn’t expecting.

My apologies.

4. Focus.

I don’t do macro photography. Not really, anyway. I do really enjoy getting close though. Actually, the reason I switched from Leica to an SLR when shooting film was because I wanted to be able to get closer.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

The GRD4 (and 3) focus down to 1cm. Yes, 1cm. The GR can’t even come close to that. Not much can. While it isn’t something I do all the time I love that normally (not in macro mode) it focuses quickly and closely without much effort.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

In terms of actual focus speeds the GRD4 is much faster than the GR. And one point that most people wouldn’t know unless they tested them together is that the GRD4 focuses much, much faster in low light. It never hunts whereas the GR hunts literally all the time.

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Iksan, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

In the daytime most everything is in focus anyway so there is never much need to worry about things being in focus.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

The snap focus mode that the GR cameras are famous for works even better on the small sensor cameras because so much is always in focus. The margin for error is much bigger.

5. Creative constraints.

This is probably the hardest of the reasons to explain. When using the GRD3 or 4 I don’t rely as much on the camera and I think a lot more about what I’m shooting. I pay more attention to things like light and shadow.

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Jeonju, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

It is a really strange combination of thinking less about things that matter less (like focus and depth of field) and more about things that do matter like light or framing. This certainly works for me.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

I could really go on and on about these cameras. I have had so many of them. For the longest time I would buy into the hype of a new one, try it, and inevitably go back to one of these. It happened with the GR, with RX100III and with the X100S/T.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

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Tokyo, Japan. Ricoh GRD3.

Don’t get me wrong, they are all great cameras in their own ways. I even liked the GR quite a bit aside from the fact I had three fall apart on me. But none of the cameras I mentioned gave me the satisfaction I get from the GRDs. It is certainly the reason I always have one and basically pick them up whenever I see them for sale.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

So, as I said to the interviewer who asked me about my favourite digital camera it is simple. The GRD4 is my favorite. More than any other digital camera the GRD has given me the most pleasure. After my latest GR died a couple of months ago I was pretty angry at Ricoh, ha. Then, last weekend I picked up my GRD4 and within minutes I realized why I can never forsake the brand. There is just something about the camera that sings to me.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

There is an immediacy to the camera that I love. Using it matches my mood. I take photos that match my mood with it. When I see something, feel something, I take a photograph. I don’t need to think much. I hate thinking about photos. I just take them.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD4.

So, in the end I guess the moral of the story is everyone has a camera that works best for them. For me, it’s this one. I love it. I will probably buy yours if you want to sell it.

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Suwon, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

On a slightly different note, I’m doing the 24 hour project next weekend in Seoul if anyone in and around the city wants to meet up. 7 of these photos were taken during last year’s project. It is basically a project where photographers globally take one photo every hour for 24 hours and post them to Instagram. It can be a real blast if people get into it. Anyway, I dig meeting new people so just drop me a line if you want to hang out next Friday night/ Saturday.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

And if you have a GRD4 for sale even better 😉

Night kids.

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On the way to Busan, South Korea. Ricoh GRD3.

36 thoughts on “The Ricoh GRD4

  1. I like my film, but i like my LX7 for some of the same points you make – small, hasn’t broken yet … until it does i’ll not buy another. LCD … its just another way of taking photos, its neither better nor worse. If anything the blur gets boring on my LX7 so i like that it has an aperture wheel i can dial up to 8. When you got various elements at different depths then shallow depth of field can discard what makes the shot great.
    A lot of people are loving their phones and tiny sensors for photography, why – same reason – depth and easy focus.
    For me SLR is about enjoying the distorted or altered look of the lens – like seeing the world through a different eye. When you’re shooting between 35 and 50mm i’d rather just use LCD or range-finder and get the shot while its there because you’re composing with your mind, or its just happening in front of you. With SLR you can end up feeling limited – but thats great if you are bored and wanting to see mundane things differently. With a small utility camera.

    Daido wouldn’t even listen to himself – why try to copy someone who was avoiding copying others?

  2. …and if I want to BUY one? What are my best chances? Thrilling post, Josh – you ignited my GAS big time. I looked into the new Fuji X70 but well, just another digicam.

    The GR /GRII are not that thrilling, and you are right, the small sensor cameras rule!

  3. Great post Josh . I have an old GRD2 and although im a Fuji man I still pick up the Ricoh and put it in my pocket if I want to travel very light. I have to say I do like a viewfinder , not due to any kind of snobbery , just how I like to shoot. I didnt want to spend a load of cash on a proper one though so I made one out of the plastic box a car electrical relay is in …. Gives me a near enough framing experience 🙂

    • haha, I was half kidding about the viewfinder thing. I’m just sick of my hipster friends talking about them like they are what makes a real camera. Sounds awesome though, the homemade version 😉

      • Ah the viewfinders…. That’s what keeping me from falling totally for a GR or Fuji X70 right now. I’m an old fashioned photog and I just THINK I need one…. Right now theres a GRD IV for sale around here and I’m just having a hard time to decide. Abyways, the GRD IV is 340€….. Apparently very clean. Is that price a rip off or is it acceptable?

      • Kinda expensive I would say.. Although they are holding their value compared to the newer ones. They sell here for around 250 Euro for the white and 270 for the black.. Or thereabouts

  4. Hi Josh
    I can see very much your line of thought, man, even if I only fell for Ricoh when it was “too late” and the GR(5) was by then the game in town. Can’t complain about that one, either, but I see the point of infinite depth of field in many circumstances!
    Most important though is the vision, and you got loads of that, as these images clearly show. Moriyama or not, you’re the man in Seoul!

  5. i’ve always been a fan of black and white photography and your blog is amazing! thank you for sharing these amazing photos with us! these photos are very raw and i like how they are mostly spontaneous not many are of people posing.

    • Haha, well, my favourite serious camera is still the omd em1. Don’t you have one? Basically for the same reasons I mentioned in the post about depth of field and such.

      • I have the EM5 mate, yes I totally get that DOF thing. It’s the thing that full frame guys don’t mention when talking about the small sensors, it’s a big advantage if you’re not in search of the ‘holy grail’ BOKEH!! 🙂

  6. Couldn’t agree with you more. I am on my fourth GRD now. My first GRD died couple of years ago. My second GRD is a bit quirky but still works after what, 6 years already? Now I mainly use a GRD3 and 4. When the new APS GR was announced I immediately went to buy one of the last GRD4’s still available new. I think they should have kept the same size, put a 1″ sensor in it and a fast lens. I felt no reason to get a much bigger sensor.
    For the first few years I used the viewfinder all the time, thinking it is the only proper way. For the past 3-4 years I have not bothered. In bright light you sometimes have to guess a bit but that is fine.
    I have occasionally considered jumping to the APS version but have not really felt the urge after holding it in my hands in the shop. I also considered the X70 but it is just so different. No reason to mess with something that works so well.

  7. I follow your blog from time to time and am a big fan of your style. I’ve been going thru a Ricoh GR phase myself the last 2-3 years, tried out a used GRD3 to get a taste for the GR range, then sold it and bought a GR2 to get serious about things. Went with the GR2 because I want to print my better shots over time and thought larger sensor = better print. I’ve printed 1 and very happy with it. Curious to know if you’ve printed any photos from your 3 or 4 and any comments on their quality.

    Anyway, I noticed a few weeks ago, and checked again today something in Sydney that might interest you. There’s a photography chain store here in Sydney called Paxtons (www.paxtons.com.au). Their 285 George Street store has a new (not shrink wrapped however) GR3 for AUD299 (they would do AUD265 they said but I don’t know how long they would hold that price). If I didn’t have my GR2, I probably would have bought it, being new and all that. You won’t find it on their website (because it’s so old I guess) but if you contact them on http://paxtons.com.au/stores.html maybe they would ship it? Good luck.

    • Hi, and thanks for the comment. The print doesn’t really rely much on sensor size so what you said doesn’t really make sense. What is true is the older GRDs have less megapixels so that might effect print size if you’re printing huge. Something like an 11 x 14 would never show a difference between the two if everything else is equal. I’ve printed quite large, had photos in books from both the 3/4 and aways looked fine. I printed a huge print from an 8 megapixel Sony from 2006 and it looked fine. I don’t worry about it too much with my style. I don’t shoot raw ever so I’m not so much interested in ‘getting the best out of my camera.’ Thanks for the tip on the Ricoh. It’s a bit pricey compared for what they sell for here, ha.

  8. Great article! Totally agree with you. I am a happy user of the GR V but I’m thinking about doing a downgrade to the GRIV as you said with these one you need some post production to get the look of a small sensor, and this look is the one i like most, really cool pictures in the article by the way. What ISO did you use in this photos?
    Regards
    Fran

    • I am aware how flashes work, thanks.You said they don’t have the chops, but in fact I think they do fine enough even without flash. One of my favourite photos taken with the grd3 is the one above of the girl on the bus holding her head. No flash and it was quite dark. I think it turned out fine. Then again, maybe I don’t care about the grain as much as others do.

  9. Oh, you can get keepers with the GRDs in low light, but the rate for me is considerably lower. One of my favorite shots was done at night with the GRD 1 at ISO 1600, which is the best setting on that camera. I was panning on the subject and got lucky. Otherwise, the entire image would been blurred, and not in a good way. The GRD IV has a nice grain, but it’s not as good as the GRD 1, IMO.

    • I haven’t used the original much. I had one but it died after a couple of weeks and I haven’t had the heart to buy another. I did fall in love with an old Sony point and shoot once (I wrote about it here a bit) that has the same sensor as the original grd (Sony made the sensor apparently). It had a good look as well even though the lens was quite different.

  10. They are all good…the GRDs…because they use CCD sensors. I wish Ricoh would go back to using them, but I doubt that will happen. Not that the apsc sensor in the GR is bad, it’s just different. The masses want clean, sterile, noiseless images. For those of us who don’t, we’re left to find older cameras like the GRDs.
    I used to have a Nikon D40…a 6 mp CCD sensor. I wish I still had it, and will probably buy another one.

  11. The Grd´s are the ones! Going for my 2nd now (i have the black sheep grd2, and i have bought a grd3 today). I’m mainly a videographer, i use to work with slr´s all my life since i have 12 years old, for professional reasons or not, i´m almost 30 now. My life has been all around art and image, 2 years ago i start to really get involved with photography, in the past it was something more forced, my dad had an home photography studio, and photography was always present because of that. That being said, i´m very used to work with “real cameras”, like nikons and canons, i still work with them for professional reasons as i said, but my way to do what i really like is with the ricohs….. I mean, they are fantastic, and i have the worst of them, but the image just fits me right, its not about quality its about the way they look. Even my father that is used to work with film all is life, was amazed about the look of the JPEG´S of this Ricohs, and i don’t use any filter at all, just high contrast black and white mode on the camera, and 1 stop down. Congrats for your blog, in my humble opinion is the best that i know in this field. Cheers from Portugal

  12. Found your blog only recently and been reading it from newer to older posts… enjoying you writing and especially your photos.

    I have a GR II and love it though you made me curious about the GRD IV.

    What B&W settings did you use in your Ricohs for JPGs? I shoot in high contrast B&W mode, but that’s only for the LCD view, as I PP the raws later. Sometimes I find it too extreme.

    Cheers and congrats.

  13. to be honest I think it’s image processing here is more important than the camera …. atmosphere with epson, fuji x100 any Ricoh. …….all the same looks…….but I still like it

  14. just bought my 1st digital camera, i’ve opted for the GRD3 (was about all my low budget could stretch to)

    Originally i was pretty gutted i couldn’t stretch to the GR, but after reading this i am very excited to get shooting with the GRD3.

    Really good photos!

    M.

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