Making light.. My short walk around with the Ricoh GXR

(Wouter: I decided to merge two posts together to keep this post a short, but ongoing impression of the Ricoh GXR.)

Tuesday, 15 December
Today a package from Slovakia (thank you Pavel Kudrys from the Ricoh Forum) arrived with the previously announced mystery camera. Ricoh Europe was so kind to provide three photographers, including me, a new Ricoh GXR with an A12 lens unit (50mm equivalent  f/2.5 macro lens with APS-C sized sensor). Now I like Ricoh cameras, but have no commercial connection to Ricoh. I will be able to try and write about this camera and it will continue it’s journey on Saturday in the hands of Cristian Sorega.

My first impression in general is very positive. The camera feels and works like every Ricoh camera. Great user interface and very intuitive handling. The electronic viewfinder is bright with very good resolution and is very usable in low light.

The A12 lens unit feels very comfortable and works well balanced with the GXR body. As expected, and also written about by other reviewers, is the auto focus not really fast. It is a macro lens and there is some considerable weight to be moved around. In low light my first impression is that it is not quite accurate and I preferred to use the manual focusing. Thankfully you can use the front lens ring for focusing. And in combination with pressing the OK button you get a magnified view that enables you to focus carefully.

Because it is a macro lens you need to twist the front ring a long way for focusing. A bit too long for my taste. And for zone focusing you need to use the LCD screen or the EVF, because there are no markings on the lens, unfortunately.

Overall I was quite impressed with the camera and the lens unit. Even though I would personally have preferred Ricoh to start this system with a fast 40mm lens. More will follow.

Wednesday, 16 December

While using the Ricoh GXR I realize how little time I have until the camera moves over to Cristian. Thankfully no mail posting, but an arranged exchange in Amsterdam upcoming Saturday so that will give me some extra time in the morning before he takes the camera back to Düsseldorf in Germany.

I am now mainly focused at shooting as much as possible. No brick walls, no ISO comparisons or what ever. I want to find out how I can use this camera for my photography. I tried some color yesterday, but since we have a kind of winter entry here the colors are all very mute. And since I mostly shoot B&W anyway I will continue with B&W through my entire test. And I really like the Ricoh B&W jpegs coming from the much larger sensor by the way. Unlike with the small sensor Ricohs, the A12 lens unit seems to capture quite a lot of mid tones and give a pleasing glow.

I mentioned the banding before at ISO 3200 and it seems that ISO 1600 is much more usable. I also updated the firmware tonight. Maybe I notice some differences between the previous version and the latest 1.06 version and hope to post about that tomorrow or Friday. I am still quite impressed by the rapid changes they are making with their firmware releases though.

The autofocus seems comparable to me with the Ricoh GRD3. Not blistering fast, but not Sigma slow either. Just good enough, even at night. With nearby subject (less then 2 meters) with little to medium contrast the autofocus doesn’t seem to keep up and in my case I found manual focusing to be much faster and more precisely. Even for more decisive moments I would personally prefer manual focusing.

Saturday I also hope to compare this camera to the Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm lens. And even though Ricoh doesn’t want to compare their new system to options like the MFT cameras from Panasonic and Olympus, it is still what everybody else does seem to matter.

See here for my first impressions of the Ricoh GXR with the A12 lens unit (or module) and check here for Pavel’s first testing last week.

Thursday, 17 December

It was all about snowfall today and the Ricoh GXR performed without any problems. Only for nearby subjects (with or without falling snow) the autofocus seems to need a lot of time. Even after I updated the firmware to version 1.06.

And speaking of the new firmware version. I haven’t seen or noticed any differences between the previous and newer version. The banding at ISO 3200 is still there. But workable you know. It is there in the blacks, but making the black darker solves this problem mostly.

I mentioned before that I personally really like the B&W jpegs with contrast set to 9 and sharpness at 5. When it comes to the processing the DNG’s I found both Lightroom 3 beta and Capture One 5 doing an excellent job. And thanks to the provided GXR profile from Paris based photographer Benjamin I could instantly get good looking colors in Capture One as a starter.

I don’t know under what circumstances Ricoh tested this camera, but I can tell you that the camera had no problems in the freezing cold and the snow today.

Saturday, 19 December

Here follows the final installment of my first and very short impression of the Ricoh GXR with the 50mm macro lens. This day I would give the camera to Cristian Sorega and we set up an appointment in Amsterdam together with my friend Björn Utpott.

Amsterdam means for me different kind of photography. More street and that also sets different requirements for the camera. Less shutter lag, fast autofocus or zone focusing.

And particular for street photography I found the GXR with the 50mm lens a completely different camera. When you anticipate a shot and prefocus with the autofocus it all works quite nicely. But I found zone focusing the A12 not as accurate. With an aperture of f/5.6 and prefocused on 2 or 3 meters I often noticed that the background was in perfect focus, but the zone I focused for was out of focus.

I also noticed a shutter lag, mostly the result of the not so fast autofocus I think. And the screen does freeze shortly will half pressing the shutter. That could and did result in missing some opportunities.

And with fast moving subjects or panning the camera there is a very definite notion of the CMOS related rolling shutter. This will probably also have an affect on HD video from this lens unit. So that is something the photographer/filmer should be aware off.

Despite the harsh light conditions in the morning the camera was metering very reliable. The one thing I could think of for a firmware update is the option to automatically magnify the screen when manual focusing. Just like Panasonic and Olympus do with their own lenses.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma