by Helen K. Garber

I have been asked about a thousand times over the years: What is the best camera to have? My answer has always been the same – the one you have on your person, ready to capture that decisive moment.

I learned back in 1993 when modern film point and shoots were just becoming popular. My Nikon battery went south while on location (never leave home without a back up battery and card while we are at it) and I grabbed my Olympus stylus point and shoot to capture a once in a lifetime image.

Phoebe & Buster in the Poppies © 1993

The image was astounding and truly changed my life. It earned a grand prize in a national photo contest that paid me $3500.00 and gave me the confidence to pursue my dream. Back in 1993, it was enough money to put a first/last and security deposit on a studio lease, an essential tool to support my editorial portrait specialty of the first decade of my career.

It also sold a lot of Olympus stylus cameras to my friends and neighbors. At least a dozen. Who then wondered why the camera didn’t serve them as well as it had served me, but they still enjoyed the simplicity of the point and shoot, the speed of one hour photo service and the joy of sharing your photos by mail with friends when you got the two for one print special…

Granted, since the Olympus had a plastic lens, the image couldn’t be blown up large until years later when we were able to scan the negative. But, the image was so special that an 11 x 14 print was added at the last minute to the traveling exhibit, “A Thousand Hounds,” allowing the participation in my first museum exhibit at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach. The photo curator at the Norton now works at the Getty Center, so the moral of the story is that perhaps the term decisive moment is not as much about your split second decision to when to press the shutter release, but where that decision will lead you in the future.

I am a relatively small woman and never enjoyed schlepping around a shitload of equipment. But I do love a gorgeous image, which requires excellent lens optics. I am also attached to creating a surrealistic view, so was tremendously thrilled when Ricoh issued the first GR. A 35mm, film point and shoot with a German made 28mm lens and fully adjustable aperture and speed controls. It looked and felt perfect and went wherever I did.

Granted, this camera was a compromise as it didn’t take a cable release and I had to use self-timer for slow exposures. My compromise was to use faster film so I could capture night images at less than ten-second exposure; I believe the top length you were able to do with the camera without the bulb setting. Right now it is home in my closet with the battery outside the body, so I can’t really check to see if my memory serves me right.

So on nights when I actually set out to shoot specifically for my “Urban Noir” portfolio (left), I would carry my two Nikon bodies each holding one of my two favorite lenses…but any other time, the GR1 would be in my generally small purse (5.3-inch women look pretty silly carrying giant purses, and I never understood the need to bring a suitcase full of stuff while going out on a Saturday night.).

I started to play with more color when the first digital cameras came out. For those who never dealt with film, if you shot color and black and white on the same shoot, it meant you had to bring another camera body to hold the color transparency film so you could capture both. I traveled through South Africa that way as well as my first trips to Europe. One of the many joys of the digital camera is that you don’t have to make that extra decision while capturing the moment. You shoot in color all the time and have the luxury to decide later.

The first Ricoh GR Digital came out in 2006 just before we went to Italy and it was great fun to have during the daylight hours. Not having to change film as the light changed. Just press the button I preset for ISO to quickly go from one to another.

You only saw these cameras in the hands of professionals…they had been very hard to find, up until recently, only through Adorama in NY. The more popular camera in this price range ($800.00) was the Leica. I found it far less ergonomic with a cumbersome lens cover that dangled when you shot.

The GR-1 was practically useless at night, however as the algorithms for low light digital photography hadn’t been created yet. Night shooting was not as popular as it is today.

I traded in my 8 megapixel first generation GR Digital for the 10 mega pixel GR-2 which was a definite improvement, but still not much use for night. Although it had a raw setting, it was too slow. It had a video mode, which I hardly used or saved. Just the fireworks show at the 100th anniversary of the Santa Monica Pier. Which I probably will never look at again.

I heard about the GR-4 being issued in September 2011 and ordered it as soon as I could. I was early enough to get the first shipment from Thailand, before the flooding that held up later deliveries. I don’t believe there are any delivery problems now.

I love this camera even more than the earlier models. I didn’t wait to read the reviews, compare it to the Fuji or the Sony ….you can do that if you want to help you decide, I am one of those loyal Leos who stick to a brand that I am happy with. Faster lens, and larger screen on the back of the camera which is still the same size and gorgeous shape as the previous ones…kind of like a Porsche…keep it simple and elegant and we will keep trading one for another.

This fast 1.9 opening allows me to shoot from a moving car all I want with little blur, (below, left). In RAW with a fast card…. there is little lag time. I don’t mean pointing out in front of you while you are driving (please do not do that…it is stupid), I mean pointing 90-degree angles from the direction the car is going at 40 miles an hour (from the passenger seat, while my husband Stuart is driving). I am talking daytime unless you are in Times Square or Las Vegas.


I find myself shooting while walking now that I can see the preview screen so easily. And all sorts of strange angles (above, right) never attempted before. Night shooting is much improved, but I would still choose my Nikon DSLR over the Ricoh for any serious night shooting. The ISO goes to 3200 on the Ricoh, but I wouldn’t imagine I would want to go beyond 800 and absolutely no more than 1600. But, I must say, even at 800, the sensor sees so much better than I do at night, I was able to hand-hold the camera and capture images without a tripod or something to lean on and still managed to capture a shareable image.

And for posting on Facebook, online sharing, projections, and small photo book…this camera is fantastic.

You have to understand that I am not spoiled with an iPhone as of yet. This is the new slow way of shooting because you can’t share your image instantaneously, you actually have to download the images the old fashioned way of 24 months ago and then edit and play with in Photoshop or whatever imaging software you use. I am sure wifi will come with a later model….

Speaking of download, the only negative change in the camera is a newly designed sync cord that is not universal like the previous ones. I had to call Ricoh to find a resource to purchase a second one for my studio. This one also does not have a video mode. Which is perfectly fine with me, by the way.

So looking at the camera back, you have a bunch of adjustments you can play with. Aperture, Speed, Manual, three special settings you can program specifically and a scene mode. You can adjust the settings for exposure control, metering, snap-focus distance pre-AF, continuous mode, auto bracket, multiple exposure bracket…all the bells and whistles. Speaking of bells and whistles, you can adjust the sounds too. I never noticed any sounds, I just left it on default…but since I don’t like to attract any attention while I am shooting, I don’t want any sounds.

I am looking at it now as I only adjust one thing on the camera for most of the time. The ISO setting. I leave the rest to the camera to decide and it is a very good assistant. It is easy to program your settings. I set the file to be the largest: raw 4:3.

I programmed the automatic turn off to stay on 5 minutes, as I hate when the camera turns off right before you are about to take that life-changing image. And the ADJ button on the back can also be set for the menu order and I set ISO for #1. Sometimes I force the flash on, but most of the time I leave it off. Hardly needed with the 28mm 1.9 lens.

It is my point and shoot and I am happy to let it stay that way. I do all my artwork in post-production. I adjust every image as whoever created the algorithm for color and contrast has different taste than I do. But the camera captures what I need to make each image soar in Photoshop.

Don’t forget to buy that extra battery so you always have a fresh one. And an extra card in case you are heavy handed on the shutter release. And please edit your photos down to no more than 10 if you ever bump into me at a diner party. And only 5 if they include grandchildren or your point-of-view of your appendix surgery.


Speaking of pictures, since I have your attention, I might as well show you a couple of recent favs I took with my pocket camera (above), the Ricoh Gr-4 about $600 available in the US through B&H Camera, NY, NY. Oh, and for an extra $50.00 you can get the camera in white…. Very beautiful, I must say, but I am a Noirist and could use the $50.00 for other things.

To take a look at the camera, or to purchase, please go to B&H PhotoVideo.


  • rvm4

    Had quite a time trying to locate this camera @ B&H. It’s not called the Gr-4 (or the BR-4 like it says in the headline on the newsletter page). It’s the Ricoh GR Digital IV ( Real world reviews, like this one, are great to read (as opposed to the flowery garbage written by Amazon reviewers) but having a link to the product would make it so much nicer (and having the name correct, even nicer still).

  • Helen K. Garber

    Hello, it is 2014 and the Ricoh Digital Gr-V has been out about a year…I hear it is even better than the IV with an aps size sensor and 16 megapixels…will let you know asap