The Ricoh GRD IV is now an 8 year old camera. While others have moved on, I still pretty much use my Ricoh GRD IV, and because of that I think I've used it more than anybody I know. So here's my experience with the camera during a period of 4 years.
How I got into the Ricoh GRDs
There was a time where I believed the Ricoh GXR was the best thing since slice bread. In hindsight I think it COULD have been if they continued with it. I was hyper about a possible hard drive module, a K mount module, etc.
It's a great could-have-been camera. But I digress. At one point I had 4 Ricoh GXRs for professional work, and then I wanted something I could carry everywhere, that's when I got the Ricoh GRD III.
For some reason that I don't remember, I sold it and felt an emptiness in my heart, I quickly got a Ricoh GRD IV and really worked it.
The camera killer
It's not obvious at firs, but the Ricoh GRD IV is a camera killer. The co-creator of Inspired Eye Don believes so too. It's subtle but I simply found myself using the Ricoh GRD IV more and more, up to a point where my other cameras were being sold. And ever since I had it, I have never had any other one as my main camera. Every single piece of gear I had from then on were relegated as Professional work camera, but for everything else it was the GRD IV.
The GRD IV never allowed any other rivals, it didn't matter what work camera I had, the GRD IV is the one who staid constantly. Other cameras came and went, the GRD IV staid in my hands.
What's so great about it anyway?
But that begs the question, what makes the camera so great? In a sense it's describable on paper: the pocketability, the gritty black and whites, the snap focus. etc. But in another sense it's indescribable, it's the emergence of the whole package that make it work, everything comes together beautifully in the camera.
Ever seen birds flying over the sky? When it looks like they all act as one? It's the same thing when there is a school of fish, and they all swim as if they are one unit (If you've seen finding nemo, it's in one scene), that's emergence. And that's what I believe is so great with the camera, the emergence of it…the fact that every part of it creates an overall experience that is enjoyable.
I can write a gush fest about every single part of the camera. Like how the ergonomics are probably the best I have ever seen in a camera, how the shortcuts work perfectly. How full press snap is right about the best thing ever for street photographers. But really it's all these elements rolled into one that make the camera so great.
Not for everyone
But that being said, I understand that the camera is not for everyone. It doesn't have a zoom, it doesn't have anything fancy, the video mode is a joke, etc. I've only met a few that don't understand the camera and simply stated, they hate it. But that's ok, this camera is not for those who want a camera that has everything or who want the cleanest images. It's for street shooters, those who know they will manipulate the images, the wide angle shooters. It's made for street photography, and for that it has no equal. And since I see everything as street photography, I also feel that this camera has no equal, period.
But, what about the other GRDs?
If my memory serves correctly, the GRD III and GRD IV are pretty much the same and interchangeable to a large extent. So much so that I tend to mix them up and say that I spent 5 years shooting the Ricoh GRD IV while one of those years I shot with the III. I don't have the original GRD but I have had a Ricoh GRD II.
It's really not the same thing. The good part with the II is that there is quite a nice feel to the grain in the JPGs, very organic looking. But that's about it, it doesn't feel like a GRD IV, the 2.5 lens feels slow compared to the IV's 1.9, the AF and frame per second is very slow compared to the IV, and it's biggest sin is the absence of full press snap. That magical option that allows you to half-press to autofocus or full press and focus at 1 meter (or other preset distance).
The Ricoh GX line, while nice is also not the same thing, I believed it was like a GRD with zoom but the handling and operation was different.
And the Ricoh GR?
Of course, after the GRD IV, I was expecting a GRD V. Actually I was drooling over it. The IV is actually a refresh of the III and the II was a refresh of the I, so I expected a real upgrde! And then it was announced but while I was excited, I noticed something. What was announced was not a new GRD but the Ricoh GR. The “D” was dropped, and I knew that the camera while a spiritual successor is not of the GRD line.
Everyone I know moved on to the Ricoh GR and are more than happy with it. Not me. I highly recommend it to everyone and I always get emails thanking me for opening them to the GR but it's simply not for me.
The feel is not the same, and the images are too nice for me. Here's this image I made in Haiti:
Just look at the sky, the guy's face……I have not found any other camera that can balance so much stretching of the RAW files while still giving the grit of the image. I just feel that the small sensor has a certain punch to it I haven't found anywhere else.
Nothing comes close
The problem with other cameras is that they are not the GRD IV. I've tried finding other alternatives, but I've tried enough ones to know that the GRD IV is unbeatable for me. The ad for the Ricoh GR said “Only a Ricoh GR can replace a Ricoh GR” and following that logic…only a Ricoh GRD can replace a GRD and the GRD line is dead. No use to expect a small sensor camera when the new baseline seems to be 1 inch sensors.
The one combo that made me feel the joy of the Ricoh GRD IV, but still of course gave me too clean images is the Fuji XE1 with the Voightlander 15mm. This combo was a joy to use. But it's really no comparison because the XE1 is a large sensor and not pocketable by any stretch of the imagination.
The truth about my GRD IV
The truth is, I've never found any other camera so freeing than the Ricoh GRD IV, when mine broke…. I was too. And then an awesome fan of mine (Merci encore!) sent me one as a gift, I was back on track. I've tried to move away from the camera many times but I instinctively gravitate towards the GRD IV, it's pull is simply too strong.
I made most of my work on the GRD IV, and my best work is on the GRD IV. I credit this camera for teaching me for real that one don't need much in terms of gear. I say teach me for real because it's fashionable nowadays to tell photographers that they don't need much gear to make great images. And while that is true, it's usually a hypocritical statement, for many of those who say so have some really fancy gear.
I on the other hand actually used the GRD IV as a main camera enough to say not only you don't need much for great images, but also this: If I wasn't a professional photographer, the only camera I would ever need is the Ricoh GRD IV.
There you have it, my feelings about the Ricoh GRD IV, what I consider MY best camera ever. I say MY because THE best camera doesn't exist, only the best camera for YOU. I hope you find the camera that speaks to your best as I have mine, that I named Gene after Eugene Smith. Ricoh outdid themselves with this one and I can only dream of a true Ricoh GRD V. Make it happen Ricoh, make it happen!