My initial Ricoh GX200 impressions

2008, Photography

History
In the last year I have used the Ricoh GX100 very intensively as my main camera. I have been very pleased with the photographs from the GX100 and the way I could tread the RAW files in post processing. Yes, it was noisy. But the noise was mostly luminance noise, so there was no need for me to apply any noise reduction on my photographs. I rather call it character. It was no perfect camera either. Basically unuseful above ISO 400 (too noisy and loss of details), the autofocus became almost useless in the dark, and slower writing times of RAW files (around 6 seconds). It locked up once (had to remove the battery), and I had dust in the lens three times within a year!

I mention this in the past sentence, because Ricoh replaced my GX100 with the recently released GX200. It is basically the same camera, but some things changed. The GX200 uses a different sensor with two more megapixels (12 million pixels in total). Ricoh increased the buffer for faster RAW shooting. They added a third MY setting and a second function button. A larger screen, electronic level indicator, and flash compensation!

Ricoh GX200

Camera handling
How I use my camera? I shoot 3:2 RAW and set up my camera to save a B&W jpeg as well. I changed the B&W image settings with +2 contrast and +1 sharpness. I set the ISO to 100, -0.3 EV, auto white balance, multi AF, multi exposure metering, noise reduction off, step zoom on, electronic level setting off, no AF aux. light, and no image stabilization. I set up my camera in aperture mode with a standard aperture of f4.6. I set up MY1 with 24mm, MY2 with 28mm, and MY3 with 35mm. That way I could switch instantly between the different focal lengths.

I would say there is an improvement in the handling of the camera. I love the addition of the new MY3 custom setting, and the second function button. Before there was only one function button on top of the camera. It was on the left side and a bit hard to use. You had to use the left hand to press that button. I used that button on the GX100 for the AE lock. On the GX200 I used the new function button for AE lock. This button can be pressed with the thumb of the right hand and is really easy to use.

A new great feature is the target shift function, previously only available for macro, for AF and AE. I was absolutely not impressed by the electronic leveler. It was very distracting for me, and only useful when I had the camera on a tripod. It really slowed me down.

The autofocus didn’t feel slower than on the GX100, but I had more out of focus photographs as it had problems to keep up with the faster speed of capturing photographs. In dim light the AF had more problems to focus too than on the GX100 in my opinion.

I mentioned it before, but you can really work faster with the GX200, especially in RAW. In 3 blinks a 3:2 RAW file with a fine jpeg was captured. That is so much faster than the previous 8 to 9 blinks of the GX100 (using a Sandisk Extreme III 2Gb card). Ricoh did an outstanding job here.

I regard myself as an available light photographer. I try to minimize the usage of flash as much as possible. But since Ricoh finally added flash compensation to the GX200 I have used the flash more often in the last three weeks than that I used the flash of the GX100 in the last year. It is so much better in my opinion.

Ricoh GX200

Photographs
Enough talk about the camera. When it is good, I don’t try to think about it. For me it is all about the photographs, and the underlying question whether the GX200 is an improvement of the GX100. First the feature I will not use that much, the flash. I said before I used it more frequently than ever before. It performs so much better, and it is less a hit or miss.

So the GX200 does have a lot of differences, and improvements. At least on paper it does, but after over 1,200 photographs I have some serious concerns with the GX200. The noise is more obvious, and limits the usage of the RAW files in regard to my B&W conversion technique in Lightroom. I feel there is especially more noise in the blue channel. Since the noise is more apparent, there is some serious loss of details. Sharpening does not really improve this I think, the GX200 images remain quite soft. I don’t really want sharp photographs, but I like a particular bite.

Ricoh GX200

The funny thing is that the in-camera jpegs often look better know than the RAW files. Especially the sharpness and contrast is more pleasing in combination with the applied image settings. I wonder if I should really use it as a RAW camera, or as a jpeg camera, despite the faster writing times. The jpegs are not that bad in my opinion.

I also have some issues with bright light sources at night. They draw differently on the GX200. Maybe that is the result of the new sensor, and the slightly changed lens design to accommodate the new sensor.

Ricoh GX200

Initial impressions
I received the GX200 as an replacement for my GX100 which suffered dust problems for the third time recently. And I am almost sorry to say, but I feel it is not a real improvement of the GX100. Yes, it is faster and it handles slightly better. But I think there is a slight decrease in image quality. The GX100 was a fun camera from A to Z. The GX200 is fun from A to M, but when you post process the photographs the limitations of the new sensor unfortunately become pretty apparent. I could say I kind off miss my GX100.

Ricoh GX200

Now people will off course blame the increase in pixels from 10 to 12 million pixels for the decrease of image quality. But I think it has more to do with the fact it is a different sensor Ricoh uses for the GX200. If you don’t sell the amount of cameras like Canon, or Nikon you can’t force vendors to make specific sensors for you. It would just be too pricey. Instead you have to buy what the market offers you. And than you have to alter the hardware and software of your cameras, and unfortunately these can’t keep up with the previous cameras from Ricoh.

Secondly, I thought it might also have to do with Adobe Lightroom. Since the RAW files are Adobe DNG files Lightroom can process the photographs, but maybe doesn’t respond well to the new algorithms of the GX200. On the other hand I didn’t notice any differences in appearances between the same RAW files in Silkypix and Lightroom without noise reduction and sharpness applied.

Ricoh GX200

Recommendation
Now this is a tough one. When you already own a Ricoh GX100 I would suggest keeping the GX100, unless you think the camera improvements are very significant to you. When you want a serious compact camera it is still one of the best. I am not sure if the Canon G10 will beat it, but I think it will get very strong competition from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3.

What next?
Despite the fact that Ricoh sent me the new GX200 I recently got an e-mail from the Ricoh Service Team that my GX100 arrived at their Service Center. So maybe I will get my GX100 back too? Since my first impressions of the GX200 weren’t that good I might have more interest in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. And although I have a lot of doubts about the Sigma DP1, it is still a very intriguing camera.

But the most interesting news will probably be the releases of cameras from Olympus and Panasonic with their new micro Four Thirds system. More news to come from Panasonic in September 12 in Japan and on September 22 in Cologne. Olympus will probably wait until Photokina. Maybe Leica will have something interesting too on September 15.

In the meantime I will re-evaluate my photography and look for different purposes. It kind of feels like you have used a particular film for a long time and all of sudden you have to deal with a different film, because the old one is not in store anymore. I will try the jpegs more frequently, and I might also try the color jpegs for a chance. I do not really like to change my workflow, but it seems it is not appropriate for the GX200.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

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16 thoughts on “My initial Ricoh GX200 impressions

  1. Thanks Wouter, for this interesting read!
    It is not often that online I come across reviews, or let’s say, opinions, about a camera, that come from a photographers point of view.

    And even better, you are very honest on your experiences with the camera. The good and worse points are very well balanced, without a direction or goal in mind. (as so much is he case in ‘commerical reviews’.)

    It is a sign that whenever something is already good, the room for improvement becomes little and features are added to cameras to sell the new models. Bigger manufacturers do it often, but let’s face it, Ricoh is a company too and need to sell cameras. The bigger RAW speed would have been enough on the GX100 for you!?

    I hope that they also return your gx100!

  2. I would almost say the GX100 is enough for me without the faster RAW speed. The first results of this camera were different than expected. It seems I have to rethink my workflow too. I just don’t like that.

    Wouter

  3. Wouter, you seem to feel exactly like I did when I first got the GRD II. Compared with the old cameras the new sensors and internal processing just feel different. They also need a different workflow. I understand you fully but believe the GX200 will get you to see and process things in a different way. This can be a good thing or you will end up like me going back to the original for the day-to-day shooting and use the new model as a specialized camera for color work.

  4. You might be right Cristi. I seem to keep more photographs in color. I unfortunately don’t have the older GX100 like you still have your GRD (and backup GRD 😉 ).

  5. Wouter,

    First, thanks for your blog. The photos are wonderful,the commentary insightful, and the work flow suggestions very helpful. As a one-time “”genaturalisierde-Nederlander,” I especially value the ways your photographs capturie the geometry, expanses, skies and horizons of the Netherlands.

    Your present post was very timely for me. Two weeks ago I bought a GX200. I was enthralled by the controls (I still photograph with a Rolleiflex, a Toyo field camera, and manual Nikons and take “snapshots” and visual notes with a seven year old Coolpix 5000) but I was a bit disappointed with the degree of barrel distortion on the GX200 when oomed out to 24mm. The biggest letdown, however, came when I saw my results — JPEGs and RAWs looked lifeless. I returned the camera for a GRDII. The fixed lens on the GRDII offered better geometry but results seemed equally flat. A friend to whom I often email snaps of architectural details said that snapshots I’d taken with my cellphone camera seemed to have more of a personality of their own. I then returned the GRDII as well.

    This morning I contemplate a new purchase: either a GX100, a Panasonic LX2, or a DP-1. In a few days I’ll be off to a several-month stay in southeast Europe and the purchase of a digital camera to supplement my Rollei is essential. A question re: the GX100: Was the problem of dust in the lens a random one or have you heard of other cases of this? In the countries in which I spend most of my time when away from New York (Bulgaria and Turkey) there are no Ricoh service organizations and I can’t risk the camera being sidelined. Any advice or recommendations?

    Keep up the excellent photography and weblog.

    Stephen Lewis
    (www.bubkes.org; bubkes.org@gmail.com)

  6. Hi Stephen,

    Thank you for your lengthly comment. Since you consider the GX100 I unfortunately haven’t been the only user with dust problems. I know there have been more cases, and with some I have contact before.

    Since I started judging my photographs of the GX200 I am profound of the jpegs. I don’t pixelpeep, and I found the jpegs better to my taste. Unfortunately do I have to do more post processing in Photoshop instead of Lightroom.

    The Sigma DP1 is a very interesting camera. The photographs have something special unlike most compact cameras. Since you still work with manual controlled (, and most often slower paced) cameras you might not found the DP1 slow at all.

    I know a collague blogger uses the Panasonic LX2, but recently also purchased the GX100 and was really suprised by the handling and photographs.

    So what else to consider? The Ricoh GX100. Despite the fact that some (including me) had dust problems it remains an outstanding camera. Instead of the GRDII you could go for the older GRD instead. Many agree that the older GRD files have more character than the newer GRDII (just like the changes between the GX100 and the GX200 in my opinion). The Canon G9, although it lacks a real wide angle like the LX2 and the Ricohs. Or you could look at the new Panasonic LX3. At least on paper it seems to be the best small sensor camera on paper.

    Giving someone an advice or recommendation is always tough, but when you need a camera in a hurry. I would go for the Ricoh GRD. Since it is an older camera you can get it pretty cheap.

    Again many thanks and good luck.

    Cheers,
    Wouter

  7. I have noticed that you’re a what people say “a celebrity blogger” on GX100. I have been reading your posts since I contemplated purchasing a GX100 but finally got a GX200.

    Some background: I haven’t got any serious digital compacts before and is still taking photos with my film camera. I did toy with my friends’ GX100 and Canon G7 (I don’t really like its “strong/hard/sharp” taste of the photos) though.

    After having used the GX200 for a month, I am instead pleased with the, to steal the term from you, “character” of GX200’s results (in colour). When the photo quality is kept on normal and other setting being unchanged, the photos are a bit soft. But in my humble opinion they kind of represent the scene and the colour with good fidelity, not least when in good environment light. The soft character is quite sweet for potraits and pleasing for my eyes. The photos are homey, if I may say so, and not assuming.

    For flash photos, last night I took a photo of the same group of people a 1.5 metres across me in a room illuminated by normal indoor lightings + interal flash (soft lighting for GX100 and flash -EV1.0 for GX200)with the GX100 and GX200 on a tripod, with GX100 on ISO100 and GX200 on ISO154 (cos it was on Auto) and the same exposure combination (it was like F4.0? and 1/15? on 24mm), I found that the GX200’s result was more evenly lit and retained more details. Maybe I did not read the photos right?

    Otehrwise I turn the photo quality setting to my setting 1 :
    Contrast +1
    Sharpness +1
    Color Depth +2
    ISO Auto
    Exp Comp -0.7
    Spot/centre-weighted metering (for most photos)
    Shake reduction on
    The landscape photos taken under this setting is stronger in taste. I think, strong enough to make the photos appealling to most readers.

    The GX200 has some noise problem for sure. But it has not been much of a problem in most normal shooting situations as fas as I am concerned. Comparing the two GXs, I am more tempted to lay my hand on the 200. Its controlling is even much better than the Sony A200 that I was then chosing alongside with the GX200 (not really comparable models; but GX200 was on my list size-wise).

    LX3 is a good camera. Just that I wish it is as excellent in controlling as the GX200. And for a once-and-for-all serious digital compact, the zooming range of LX3 is kind of limiting to my taste.

    I have not tasted the barrel distortion. But the reviews have said the GX200 does a better job than GX100. Do you really find it fare worse than the GX100? After all, the GX200 has the distortion correction function.

    As an aside, sometimes people on the net (certainly not you) may comment that a camera like GX200 cannot produce sharp photos. I gather that some might have relied too much on shake reduction and been oblivious to the limit of the shutter speed in relation to the lens, resulting in slightly blurred photos in fact.

    Lastly, thank you for your informed posts.
    Nevin

  8. Hello Nevin.

    Many thanks for your extended comment and own experiences with the GX200. These kind of stories mean much more to me than any colorchart or brickwall review.

    For me it is all about photography and I happen to do so with a RIcoh camera. I am not gearhead and I don’t think a camera will produce better photographs.

    Thank you for sharing your personal settings with me. From your settings I see you mostly photograph in color. I have mostly shot B&W and in RAW mode with the Ricoh cameras, since I prefer B&W photography. But since my recent experiences with the GX200 I try to work more in jpeg. It is after all not the file format, but the photograph that matters. I try to practise more with jpegs and use the white balance compensation more often to create an in-camera look I like.

    Like you I am pretty happy with the flash results of the GX200. This is so much better than those of the GX100. Regarding the noise I loved the noise at ISO 100 of the GX100 (character). To my taste the noise is a bit different of the GX200 especially at ISO 200 and higher. I don’t mind noise in my photographs, but it can limit my adjustments in post processing. Therefore I am trying to get better results in jpeg instead.

    I haven’t looked at barrel distortion. Personally it really doesn’t matter to me. I do not really care about it. Since I don’t photograph brickwalls it is no problem for me.

    I agree with you about the shake reduction. Work on your own technique instead to improve the results.

    Again, many thanks and I am interested in your experiences with the GX200.

    Cheers,
    Wouter

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