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

2009, Photography

(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

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37 thoughts on “Making light.. My short walk around with the Ricoh GXR

  1. Great start Wouter! I’m glad the package safely arrived and that you were able to take some initial photos. I agree with you about 40mm lens. It would be also my preferred choice of first GXR lensor. Give me a 40mm/f2 non-macro lens and I’m perfectly happy 😉

    And I agree about AF speed and somewhat long way of manual focus. I already suggested Ricoh some kind of focus limiter known from other lenses. This may eventually help both with slow AF and manual focus?

    1. I will compare the AF between the 1.05 and the 1.06 firmware and will also look if the newer firmware helps with the banding at higher ISO’s (in particular ISO 3200). I still think the AF can’t be made faster, simply because of the weight.

  2. It seems like a great tool , but the rivals are working hard though , my ricoh grd3 is broken ! , it didn´t switch on one morning … now is at the Ricoh emergency technical service … I´ll let you know what happened when she is back … snif ..

  3. Wouter,

    I look forward to your review and the final decision which is would you buy one if you were looking for a new camera or is it too expensive for the features it has?

    1. Thank you Bruce, but to be fair and honest. At most four days of photographing with this camera is too short to get a good impression of this camera and lens unit.

      In terms of features this camera is like any other top Ricoh camera. Well equipped and very customizable. For my taste the camera and lens unit is too expensive, but then that is a pure subjective opinion. A decent dSLR with a 50mm macro lens is probably quite comparable in price I think.

  4. I particularly like the white dress in the window Wouter,beautiful.I dont need the macro or video,this lens with quicker manual focus would be perfect if the electronic finder is acceptable.I got the impression that the finder surprised you a little ,shame you had so little time with the camera,best to you….Neil.

  5. Thanks Wouter for your review.

    I share all your comments. The IQ with the A12 is really pleasing and the lens rendering is a joy especially out of focus elements, Ricoh really made a nice job with this lens…I prefer this lens compared with my Zeiss ZF 50mm f1.4 used on my D3 (of course the Zeiss is much faster but non macro). Nice tones, nice highlights rendering, soft and sharp (when dng are processed), just what I like.

    When I want to point and shoot without thinking about the focus at all, I set the aperture at f4 and set my manual focus distance with the help of DOF indicator at 4 meters or 6 meters (depending on how close I can be from the subject) it gives me enough DOF and Rock and Roll ;-)…I got used with the viewfinder and I can feel the focus without the help of the magnifier unless for macro shooting and for very difficult subject, otherwise whith light and contrast subject the AF is helpful.

    About the banding at 3200iso I think there is some slight banding even with the new firmware (this need to be confirmed) but not really an issue IMHO because it appears in the black so you can always make the black blacker, and I am not sure it will appear when pictures are print (of course it depends on the size of the print).

    Really nice pictures by the way, I admit I got bored taking test pictures with GXR sample I still have, I need to make pictures for myself now.

    Now I expect new prime lens modules, I will deal with the 50 equ. for the moment.

    Enjoy your GXR experience.

    1. Thank you Benjamin. Your and Cam’s first hand experiences with the GXR really excited me to get a chance to try it too. Like you I like the rendering of the lens. Mid tones appear lighter and have a nice contrast. Both the DNG’s can be processed really well in Capture One (thanks to your profile) and Lightroom 3 beta.

      But for me the best surprise is the quality of the jpegs. Not in term of sharpenss and all those criteria, but more the jpeg engine processes it. I use the B&W setting with contrast set to 9 and sharpness to 5 and it is just perfect for me.

      And although the banding at ISO 3200 becomes quite apparent with the DNG’s it is very workable with the jpegs.

      I hope to give the 50 a good workout Saturday in Amsterdam. And will take your points on zone focusing and preferred aperture with me to the city.

      Cheers,
      Wouter

      1. I need to try your jpeg settings with B&W ASAP, if what you showed to us are direct B&W jpegs I buy it ;)… Yes I must admit the jpegs in color are very nice, it is the first digital camera I havec ever had to produce jpegs I like, I think it will be important for some people to have clean jpegs at all isos.

        For zone focusing with my settings if you have no problem to evaluate distance it should be no problem… Anyway you can have look at : http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html
        it may help you to anticipate.

        I will continue to have a look at your pictures and review for sure. 🙂

        Cheers

        Benjamin

        1. Like Cam I am mostly a B&W photographer. With the GX100 I mostly used B&W jpeg from the camera. Since the GX200 I moved to DNG (jpegs were not up to my taste), but since I now have the GRDI I am back to the B&W jpeg. But in case of the B&W jpegs from A12, these can be processed really well. Just some little tweaking with contrast, high light recovery (sometimes) and sharpness (if necessary).

          Thank you for the link.

          1. Thanks.

            I will follow your advice, since my GRD I died 2 months ago I leave B&W photography, but I will give a new chance… I am quite old school with B&W as I loved B&W films. But when I see your and Cam results I will try again with the GXR.

            1. i will be back in a bat of an eyelash (the 22nd) and force you, Benjamin, to rediscover b&W!

              and, Wouter, ah, you know now all i was trying to say…

  6. The portrait of your child is just breathtaking. Love the forest shot too especially.

    You really give GXR a good work out here Wouter.

    Ricoh may owe you because I believe many people will get GXR after seeing these pictures.

    Take care and be well.

  7. Your impressions are very useful, Wouter.

    What I really like though is that even your test ‘snaps’ are such good pictures – in the aesthetic sense.

    1. Thank you Geza. My aim with test snaps is to see how fast I can adjust to a camera and make it work for me. The best for me is to do the things that are familiar to me. Brick walls and ISO charts are not part of that.

  8. Like Geza, I must also commend you on the photographs, Wouter. The portfolio of “test” images made me lose sight of the fact that you were actually reviewing the GXR.

    Let’s hope Ricoh releases more APS-C lensors in 2010. a 40mm or 28mm equivalent would be ideal.

    1. I really hope so too that they will release more APS-C lensors. I personally have doubts for a 28mm, although I would love to see one too. But in line with the 50mm a 40 or 35mm would make a lot of sense. I just hope the AF will be really fast and that they can do something about the freezing LCD or EVF when half pressing the shutter.

  9. I cannot help but chuckle a bit Wouter….so many posts about it not being about gear and then this great review about a new piece of gear.

    😉

    Of course, the plethora of pictures you have uploaded just goes to prove it really isn’t about the gear as they are as wonderful as ever.

    Simply put, you’re brilliant.

  10. Thanks for a fantastic photography day yesterday, Wouter. You have some superb photos, as usual. In the case of yesterday’s photos, my favorite is the “espresso” shot. The light of the shop front draws my eye into the photo, just before it takes a journey down the alley.

  11. Hi Wouter,

    Very nice pictures as always, it is a true pleasure to see your work whatever the camera used. 😉

    You said : “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 must say that I was very surprised because I did not notice such issue with the GXR and A12 sample I still have. Whatever I decided to try with the same values you did with manual focus : prefocus on 2 to 3 meters and f5.6 and I got no issue at all was in focus, let’s say 90-95% of the time (mistakes can always happen) which is more than acceptable.

    I have also noticed on some rare occasions, because I do not use AF very often on the A12, a screen/EVF freeze for a very short time, but I do not have explanation as I can not reproduce it when I want to.

    One thing that could be helpful if you shoot with AF and do not want to wait until the camera focuses (let’s say the lens, because S10 module is much faster and I expect faster with wider non macro prime lenses with APS-C sensor) is that you have an option wich is called “Full press Snap” that allows you to override the AF with a full press and use the Snap mode instead, when you are in AF mode the Snap distance you set is displayed on the screen to remind you. Of course you can change the Snap distance easyly while pressing the macro mode button and turn the front wheel.

    One last thing I did not really understand because of my english is : “And with fast moving subjects or panning the camera there is a very definite notion of the CMOS related rolling shutter”. Can you explain me in other words.

    Thanks

    Cheers

    Benjamin

    1. I was surprised to Benjamin. Since you told me you had good experience with it. But every time the focus point was off. Maybe it is this particular lens. I unfortunately had no time anymore to do some better testing.

      A good description of rolling shutter can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yz8tywv. It is a phenomenon first seen by videographers.

      1. Thanks Wouter for the link… I understand better, but I don’t think it would be an issue for me.

        For your zone focusing issue, maybe Cristian will have a further look, maybe it is only a failure with the sample you were provided.

        1. It wouldn’t be an issue for me either, but it will likely be an issue for those who intent to use HD video mode.

          I hope Cristian can conduct more testing, but he should be on a train now to Düsseldorf (if he is not hindered by the snow).

  12. Thanks not only for a clear and concise review of this camera/lens combo, but also such a great selection of images.

    I’m looking forward to seeing some comparisons with the GF1. I guess for many of us, the GXR needs a fast standard lens (hopefully of the pancake sized variety) with decent autofocus (my aspirations are fairly low in this area as I currently have DP1/DP2!). The results so far are very encouraging.

  13. One last thing I did not really understand because of my english is : “And with fast moving subjects or panning the camera there is a very definite notion of the CMOS related rolling shutter”. Can you explain me in other words.

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