Many street photographers might claim that the Leica M series is the best street photography camera. While they are not wrong, necessarily, I think the Ricoh GR Digital IV offers more flexibility and value.
The Ricoh GR Digital IV is not a new camera. In fact, it was released 2011, making this year its 10th anniversary. Indeed, there is much to celebrate when it comes to this cult classic. If one merely looks at the specs of the camera, they will seem underwhelming in a 2021 environment. For example, the camera sports a 1/1.7 10MP sensor. As I said, nothing impressive. However, the real gold lies in what the camera is able to do with that little sensor.
Many photographers today believe that a huge sensor is the ultimate feature of a great camera. This is not true. Sure, in some situations, bigger is actually better. I think portrait photography would be a good example, as would landscape work. But on the street, bigger is not necessarily better, as a large sensor slows down the focusing and can rob you of depth of field. Using a small sensor allows you to achieve more depth of field (a necessity in street photography) at a wider range of stops. This should be a priority over a larger sensor, as most street photographs are shot in decent light (outdoors) and will not be printed at billboard size. If we put the conversation into analog terms, this is like using a compact 35mm camera over a view camera for street or documentary work. When put this way, most people can immediately understand the advantage. Small sensors coupled with slow lenses can be an issue, however, but not to worry, the Ricoh GR Digital IV has you covered. The lens on this amazing camera is an impressive 28mm f/1.9.
Speed is also a necessity on the streets. Put differently, shutter lag is your enemy. This is where the Ricoh GR Digital IV model really shines and even stands apart from older and newer models in the GR lineup. The IV model uses a unique hybrid focusing system that couples contrast autofocus with an external autofocus sensor on the camera's body. This setup, which is unique to the Ricoh GRD IV, is pure gold for street photographers, as it allows the "snap focus" system to not only eliminate shutter lag but also to auto-detect your shooting distance. Put another way, not only do you not have to wait for an autofocus system, but you don't even have to pre-focus the lens to a set distance! Utterly amazing stuff. The end result is the ability to take photographs in a fraction of a second without making any manual adjustments. This is where the Ricoh beats the Leica M series.
Some may feel that the resulting image quality is not good enough to warrant giving the Oscar to the Ricoh GR Digital IV. Fine. We are all entitled to our own opinions. However, think about this for a moment. In the analog era, street and documentary photographers used all kinds of simple (low-res) cameras to make their photos. Whether or not something was high resolution, or even perfectly in focus, was not an issue. Go to the press museum in Washington, DC and look at all the famous press photographs from the 20th century. Most are not in focus, and nearly all are shot on 35mm film (the analog equivalent to a small sensor). Getting the subject matter was paramount, and the incredible speed of the Ricoh GRD IV allows you to get your subject every time.
I have been shooting with the Ricoh GRD for ten years, ever since the model hit the market. I also own all the other models of Ricoh GR cameras (even the 35mm versions), as well as a Leica M. Nothing compares to this one specific model. It is king. But, just like the Concorde and speedy snail mail, technology has actually regressed with the newer Rioch GR models. Gone is the hybrid focus system. Everyone whined and complained for bigger and bigger sensors, and Ricoh complied. With each sensor upgrade came a slower and slower camera. The end result is that we can now shoot photos that can be printed to fit on the side of a building but at the expense of sometimes missing the shot (or getting the shot and having it be totally out of focus, which is even worse).
All this pining for larger sensor cameras has made the Ricoh GRD IV a real gem on the used market. No one much wants this model anymore, as they see it as out of date. This camera model can now be had for about $250-300 in near-mint condition. The only downside is that most ship from Japan and may incur import fees and taxes, etc. If you are going to buy one (and I highly recommend that you do if you shoot street), then be patient and wait for one that ships from the USA. I also recommend getting the 28mm viewfinder for the hot shoe.The Ricoh GRD IV and the Ricoh GV-1 viewfinder make a winning street shooting combo. Oh, and don't let the naysayers below discourage you from trying this camera, as I can promise you one thing: anyone who crap-talks this camera has obviously never used one (despite the fact that they will claim to have done so). To use a Ricoh GRD IV is to love it. Pure and simple.