“In your opinion, what is the best digital camera ever made? I mean, if you could only have one camera what would it be?”
“The Ricoh GRD4.”
“You mean the new one? The large sensor one? I think that is the GR..”
“No. I mean the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
That kinda went in a direction I wasn’t expecting.
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.
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.
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.
In the daytime most everything is in focus anyway so there is never much need to worry about things being in focus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And if you have a GRD4 for sale even better 😉