Inside Story

Outstanding high definition compact digital camera Why is there so much excitement surrounding the launch of the GR DIGITAL?

What are the “legend” and “tradition” of GR?

Before Ricoh started developing this new product, existing GR users had already started creating their own mental images of how the product would look. How many products are there that can create such excitement in the world today? The GR DIGITAL, which went on sale on October 21st 2005, is one of those few, unique products. As news of the GR DIGITAL release date was announced, there were cries of “GR is going digital!!!” from ecstatic fans, and news entitled “GR Digitization” also appeared. But why are the words “legend” and “tradition” used to describe GR?

The answer to that question begins 10 years ago. Ricoh has been established as a highly respected and well-established camera manufacturer since pre-war times, when of course, the cameras being produced were all film cameras. As cameras grew in popularity in the post-war period, Ricoh established itself as a market leader with the “Ricoh Flex III” (1950), and the many more distinguished models that followed. Then in 1996, Ricoh launched its new pocket-sized camera, the “GR1”, which despite its small size boasted the ability to take the same high quality pictures as a regular SLR camera. With the GR1 on the market, many photographers realized that thanks to this superb quality small camera, they need never miss another perfect photograph moment. The GR1's exceptional reputation spread like wildfire.

photo - Tomohiro Noguchi
The combination of high image quality
and compact design are hallmarks of the
“GR” cameras. (Tomohiro Noguchi)

The GR1 is equipped with the “GR lens” which is constructed of 7 aperture blades, has a wide angle of 28mm, F2.8*, high performance which surpasses that of SLR cameras, and achieves bright, crisp image quality even in the periphery. Even though the camera is loaded with 35mm film, it is constructed to a mere 26.5mm thickness, and it was this amazing thinness that made the GR1 the most talked about camera at that time. So much so that “GR1” actually became a synonym for high quality compact cameras. Despite the fact that the GR1 was initially positioned as a “sub-camera” to SLR cameras, the number of users that favored it as their main camera continued to increase, and photograph collections entitled “Photographed with a GR1” began being published. “GR” had evolved into a brand name.

  • *F number = a number that shows the brightness of the lens. A small F number indicates a brighter lens, whereas a large F number indicates a darker lens.

Now, the GR DIGITAL has arrived, which has inherited all of the traditions of its predecessor, and as one would expect, the degree of anticipation and excitement is extremely high. But the enthusiasm and energy injected into the development of the GR DIGITAL by the staff involved is also extremely high. One member of the team that was involved in GR DIGITAL product development was Tomohiro Noguchi. He said, “The current high level of technical innovation that enables us to obtain high quality digital images, coupled with the present level of growth in the digital camera market, and the fact there is a clear demand for this kind of digital camera from existing digital camera users, were all factors that enabled us to develop the GR DIGITAL”.

GR DIGITAL --Born from the heat of opportunity

photo - Hiroyuki Higuchi
The development team also regards the
GR1 very highly. (Hiroyuki Higuchi)

Hiroyuki Higuchi is another member of the development team, who worked alongside Mr. Noguchi on the GR DIGITAL project. “Even though Ricoh digital cameras have 10 years worth of DC1 tradition supporting them, as the quality of digital camera pictures increased, so did the number of opinions wanting to see a digital version of the DC1,” noted Mr. Higuchi. When digital cameras were first brought onto the market, the number of pixels reached about 4.1 million, and the fact that the cameras and technology were “digital” was of highest importance. However, as the number of pixels began to rise and rise, focus of importance shifted from “digital” to “large numbers of pixels”. Following that, “versatility” or the number and variety of functions available on digital cameras were also strong selling points for a time. However, users nowadays seem to be focused more on getting high quality pictures. Mr. Higuchi said “we can tell people are now demanding higher quality pictures, due to the recent market interest in digital SLR cameras, and other signs that indicate many current digital camera users are now placing greater importance on image quality”.

Mr. Higuchi said, “When digital cameras first came on the market, the quality of printed digital pictures was greatly inferior to those of a regular film camera. But thanks to technical innovation and huge increases in the quality of digital images over the past 4 or 5 years, the difference between digital and film photographs has greatly reduced. It was around that time that the issue of “Digitizing GR1” came up within our team. Well, I say “issue”; perhaps “request” would be a more fitting word to use. We had also thought about the possibility of digitizing the GR1 sometime in the future.” So why do both the people that use the GR1, and the people that develop the GR1 all regard it so highly? What kind of camera is the “Digital camera that inherits the GR tradition”?

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