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Until recently Ricoh was small fry in the digital camera business (although the company itself is huge), specialising mostly in higher-end compacts and forging its own way in the CSC sector with its unique GXR. Now it’s in charge of Pentax’s imaging operations which pretty much turns it into one of the major players so who knows what lies ahead given that two brands together have fingers in most pies.

However, the GR Digital IV is a distinctly Ricoh product with its roots back in the GR-series of high-end 35mm compacts that gained a cult following during the 1990s. The GRD-series models have also attracted small, but immensely loyal bands of users, particularly as these were pretty much the first fixed-lens digital compact cameras specifically targeted at professionals and enthusiasts.

Of course, now there’s quite a lot of competition in this area – not to mention the interchangeable lens compact camera offerings – but Ricoh has still stuck to the basic principles of the GR line
with the Mark IV model. This means it’s exceptionally compact – much smaller than the GXR, for instance – and fitted with a very high quality prime lens rather than a zoom. Additionally, the sensor’s resolution remains pegged at 10 megapixels (effective) so the photosites still deliver a reasonable signal-to-noise ratio with the attendant benefits in terms of dynamic range.

There’s a new-generation processor – designated the GR Engine IV – designed to extract a little more performance from this sensor via, for example, new noise reduction algorithms which enable the sensitivity range to be extended to ISO 3200. The minimum sensitivity setting is now ISO 80 (up one-third of a stop from ISO 64).

A significant upgrade is the provision of image stabilisation via ultra- high speed sensor shifting using a design Ricoh says it has developed itself. The quoted ‘safety’ increase for hand-held shooting is a useful 3.2 stops which further enhances the camera’s low-light shooting capabilities given the 6.0mm prime lens has a super-fast maximum aperture of f1.9. The effective focal length in 35mm terms is 28mm which is very good ‘all rounder’ in terms of the applications to which it is suited.

Faster Focusing
Another significant upgrade is the adoption of Ricoh’s so-called ‘Hybrid AF’ autofocusing system which was introduced on the CX5. This system employs a dedicated area-type AF sensor which determines subject distances via the phase-difference detection method.

This sensor – which has 190 focusing points – is located on the front of the camera just adjacent to the lens so it obviously doesn’t make TTL measurements which precludes its use for macro focusing (due to the parallax error being too great). However, with the subjects that are within range it allows for much faster autofocusing than using the contrast-detection method (which is still used for fine-tuning). As with the CX5, Ricoh claims the autofocusing time with the Hybrid AF system is as short as 0.2 seconds. However, Ricoh says the GR Digital IV’s new processor also allows for much faster contrast-detection autofocusing.