My impressions of the Ricoh GXR

2010, Photography

For a long time I intended to write an extensive impression article about the new Ricoh GXR. I had a first chance to try this camera with the A12 33mm macro lens (50mm equivalent) in December and wrote down my impressions in a diary style that same month. Since early February I got a new opportunity to try the same camera lens unit combination for a longer time, but now Ricoh also supplied their first S10 lens unit with the 24-72mm focal lengths.

In December I wrote that I was impressed with the image quality and loved the look and texture of the jpegs. It did and still does have some banding at ISO3200, but thankfully hardly any chroma noise. The camera handles similar to any Ricoh camera and seems like a natural upgrade for those who want better image quality and the familiarity of the Ricoh cameras. What however remains is the AF speed (or slowness) of the A12 lens unit and the difficulties of accurate manual focusing. Since these negative aspects had been mentioned all over the place I had hoped Ricoh would have fixed it with a firmware update. There is unfortunately still no new firmware available since than.

The current and only S10 lens unit has a 24-72mm lens with the same sensor as the GR Digital III. This combination with the GXR body is the replacement of the GX200. Unlike the GX200, the body is now slightly larger and heavier, but also much more customizable. Also the EVF is a huge improvement. The GX200 was a real base ISO camera and this new combination is certainly an improvement. It has better image quality and could be used well up to ISO 400 in my opinion. The higher ISO (above ISO 400) jpegs looked like Van Gogh paintings to me and there is a lot of smearing going on as result of the noise reduction. That still surprises me. It has been criticized by so many, but Ricoh seems unwilling to return to the much praised characteristics of the GR Digital I image engine. Maybe the Japanese customers like painterly photographs?

Since the S10 lens unit shares the same sensor as the GR Digital III many people indicated or thought that this lens unit would perform similar to the GRDIII. But in my opinion it is nowhere near the performance of the GRDIII with the exception of base ISO. At higher ISO the GRDIII is just so much better with less noise reduced jpegs and better RAW photographs with finer noise. The S10 delivers very blotchy noise at high ISO.

And that brings me back to the A12 macro lens. I have finally been able to try the HD video capability of this lens unit. Probably restricted to the sensor the camera can record 720p video at 24 frames per second. I liked it for the fact that it is capable of 24 fps for a more pleasing film look (it is unfortunately not 23.976 fps which is considered the optimum frame rate for cinematic video). When shooting at higher frame rates you get sharper and more pristine looking video similar to video cameras. Slower frame rates however causes more motion blur which is for many more pleasing to look at and reminds many of watching an analogue film. There is unfortunately no manual control while filming. You can’t control the shutter speed for instance and manual focusing while filming is even harder, because of the very long lens ring travel. And like I mentioned before in December the rolling shutter is really awkward. I would certainly hope that Ricoh adds some manual control features to the GXR for better film capabilities.

So where does this bring me and what do I really think about the GXR? First I have to say that it is typically Ricoh in my opinion to produce a very distinctive camera system for a niche market. I do really appreciate that approach. We all like to compare, but I do believe that it was not at all Ricoh’s intention to produce a competitive camera system to compete with others. More so they intended to produce something special and new for Ricoh owners in particular. And now I wonder where these Ricoh owners life. Look, I don’t mind a 50mm lens, although I would have preferred a 40mm lens instead, but I don’t understand why it should be a macro lens. There seems to be a modest 50mm renaissance going on. These lenses are usually quite small and pretty fast at f/1.8 or even faster. Unless you love to photograph macro a photographer normally would pick up a normal 50mm lens, so I was surprised to see the first lens being a 50mm macro lens at only f/2.5.

Than there is the S10 lens unit that should replace the GX200. Yes, it has better image quality and gets some of the great features of the GR Digital III. However, the camera is also larger and heavier. And than there is the price tag for the GXR and S10 combination. Of course, unlike the GX200, you can now also combine it with different lens units, but at a pretty serious price when you are only interested in the S10 lens unit. Remember that the GX200, or the Panasonic LX3 for instance are just modestly larger than the S10 lens unit and can be easily tucked inside a pocket.

Eventually all this rambling brings me to the possible near feature of this system. Many people, including me, requested for a lens unit road map. Ricoh just recently announced that it will introduce two new lens units this year. First the P10 28-300mm with a back-illuminated CMOS sensor (similar to the CX3) and at the end of 2010 an A12 28mm equivalent f/2.5 lens unit. Now it becomes all dassling for many, but A12 means 12 megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor, S10 is a 10 megapixel small CCD sensor, and P10 means a 10 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor. With these new lens units I have personally been wondering what Ricoh is really up too. Since the P10 lens unit is similar to the CX3 does this mean that they will drop the CX series (they already dropped the GX200)? Who wants to pay a premium price for a CX3 anyway? And even though the A12 28mm will have a much larger sensor than the GR Digital III, it will basically be an upgraded high performance GRD with fantastic image quality even though Ricoh wants to keep the GRD their top of the line camera. To me this is all quite confusing. While Ricoh probably figured a 2010 road map might give people some expectancy and assurance for the near future, it did however create more uncertainty for their other cameras in the line up.

The thing is that for me the Ricoh GXR misses desirability. Those who have a Ricoh knows it is special, but those who haven’t, think it is an ought and future uncertain product. Many much rather want a Leica X1 or a Panasonic GF1 even though these cameras are not at all comparable. Maybe it will be special with the A12 28mm lens, but that could also really harm the sells of the GRD. What makes the GXR special though, and this should really not be ignored in my opinion, is that you can change lens units with different kind of sensors and always keep the same and familiar camera handling and user interface.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

27 thoughts on “My impressions of the Ricoh GXR

  1. Hi Wouter, great summary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You should buy a video camera! I like your little video clip. Very nice!

    The real question is which problem does the GXR system solve for the photographer that no other current system design can do?

    Unfortunately, the answer is none and at that price tag it has no future. You might say: changing lenses without getting dust on the sensor and keeping the same user interface. In real life these points are a non-issue.

    If Ricoh came up with a truly modular system where you can change the body, sensor unit, lens unit independently that would make sense but marrying the most short-lived part (sensor) with the most long-lived one (lens) is either marketing genius or a design mistake.

    I will get beaten up for this statement by Ricoh users but I had to write it 🙂 . Btw, I used to own the GX200 and it was a great (B&W) camera.

    1. I personally don’t even think it was Ricoh’s real intention to solve any problem, other than actually developing a camera system that is just distinctively different from anything else on the market. Therefore I just don’t feel the need to actually tell what I think the GXR is.

      For those who like the minimalist approach with likely one the best handling cameras on the market might really like the GXR. Especially later this year when the 28mm lens unit is added to the system.

      And no, I don’t want to have a video camera. Unless you start to use expensive 35mm lens adapters I really don’t like the look of video cameras. The Canon DSLR as a matter of fact seem much more interesting to me, it is just the price that stops me from doing it.

  2. Interesting analysis and perspective Wouter. I appreciate your candidness. I agree with you that the GXR is somehow missing the boat. I tried and was disappointed in the S10 unit. The current A12 AF issues are more and more frustrating every day. I think the camera is a distraction for Ricoh. They are off chasing random unit concepts for the GXR when I believe they need to return to their core focus on great, compact, fun to use cameras.

    The GRD3 is divine. If only they could make large sensor versions, or at least focus on the GXR as a large sensor removable unit camera.

  3. Hi Wouter, I am one of the “few” early adopters of the GXR. This after having owned all GRDs. The camera fulfills almost all my expectations of quality of build and picture but few as AF speed or better said precision. annoying hunting in low light with the 50 macro.
    I do not agree that it is not precise in MF, in fact the display is very precise.
    Still I hope in a firmware update.
    The possibilities of the system are great, on dpreview there is a link to a japanese website where some prototypes of modules with hasselblad and leica lenses are shown. Very interesting project (a niche in the niche) but still interesting. Any use for it?
    The handling of the camera is phenomenal, the build quality also.
    I use it almost daily and have never been disappointed by the picture quality, shouldn’t this be the ultimate goal?
    You are right, size is on the borderline and therefore I still keep a GRD and a fantastic little DLUX4 Leica.
    But all in one kudos to Ricoh for this daring project. It will never compete with more popular systems but time will hopefully show there is a place for the GXR. In my opinion an instant cult. Take care, Alex

    1. Regularly I had back focusing problems (AF and MF) and since I did quite a lot of portraits that really bothered me, when you want to hit the focus on the eye. Like you, I too give all the kudos to Ricoh for just doing it.
      Enjoy it, Wouter

  4. Hi Wouter , congrats for the new look , I like to see your photos in this way , I´m not using much the grd3 lately due to some different photowork I´m doing so basically using the old 5d , I wish I had the money for the new one , can´t wait to start doing some video footage .
    Keep up the good work

  5. Thank-you Wouter for such a realistic and knowledgeable review of GXR. You have had substantial time now with different versions and have provided a complete perspective including GXR in context with other Ricoh products. I had very first introduction to Ricoh about six months ago and acquired a new GX200. It has been a positive introduction to Ricoh and well worth its cost. Current GXR now has me very concerned and dubious about further Ricoh involvement. Moving to GXR S10 (from GX200) makes no economic sense. GRD III is a large question mark given new GXR lens module plans. CX has sped thru several models so quickly and now GXR plans raise concerns for it as well. Kudos to Ricoh for the dramatic GXR concept, but probably well into 2011 before a clear picture of its real potential is clear (for me). You are a most positive source for trustworthy information and are much appreciated.
    Very best regards.

    1. Hi Tom, Don’t be concerned about Ricoh’s further involvement. To me it does make absolutely no sense to replace a GX200 for a GXR+S10 combo. I think 2011 will be their year. More modules, different sensors, and showing any willingness for further dedication to the GR Digital. For now I will be enjoying my GRD1 and I hope you will take your GX200 on many occasions to some of the most beautiful places in Utah for many months or years to come.


  6. I think the GXR concept would be very popular with a lot people.

    I’m in an introduction to RAW class at the local community center and of the 8 DSLR cameras in the class, two have dust issues, with dusk clearly visible on the pictures. That seems to me to be a huge percentage.

    Cost is an issue, but most of the people in this class have $1000 DSLRs. The lecturer knows many of them from the previous session’s JPEG class, so that gives you an idea of the average skills level of the class.

    I think most serious amateurs (if not necessarily skilled amateurs) invest in a camera with the expectation that they will grow into it over many years. We don’t change cameras every year like you guys! 🙂

    The trouble with the GXR is that it too ‘wet’. Perhaps Ricoh saw that 2010 was going to be the year of the mirrorless, large sensor camera and rushed the GXR out the door early, so it wouldn’t be lost in the crowd. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the commercial reality of it.

    I really like the concept. The ease of changing lens appeals, as does the sealed nature of the lens. I’ve no doubt, after using my GX100, that the UI is great. The only thing is – I look at cameras as ‘toys’. For me to buy a $1000 plus camera, I have to expect a really good user experience. I’m really not sure the GXR in its current state would provide that.

    1. Of course this completely new system will have more solid background and credibility, but likely only for the Japanese market. It always surprises me that Ricoh wants to be an established brand outside Japan, but almost always produces products that are more focused to the Japanese market.

      I neither like to change cameras every year, but unfortunately have been doing so since 2007. I hope to settle for a longer time now and the GXR won’t be part of that. I just like my Canon dSLR too much.

  7. Hi Wouter,

    Unfortunately my own experience with the GXR system was very similar to yours. The combination of the slow, inaccurate AF system with the freezing screen and resulting shutter lag simply killed it for me, the same as it did with the GRD2.

    There’s no way to recapture what is lost to GXR’s very poor focusing system and I don’t find anything special about GXR’s overall IQ or concept to warrant living with such a major flaw either. Had I not been such a big GRD/GRD3 fan I probably would have never even tried the GXR…

    1. Thanks David for joining the commentary. Haven’t seen your comments for a while at Getdpi, even though I haven’t been really active there myself. You are right. It kind of looks special, you want it to be special too, but when you start using the GXR it looses these expectations very quickly in my opinion.

      I do think that they just used the technique they are familiar with for small sensors, but for larger sensors you need a lot more accuracy.

      1. I couldn’t resist joining after seeing your beautiful pictures Wouter, that’s what attracted me first then I was impressed with the no nonsense approach of your review.

        As far as getdpi goes, I left when the supermoderator started too act a little too super for my taste…

  8. Last year I hoped that Ricoh will put an APS-C into an GX200. I hoped it and I would have paid up to 800 Euros for that. Now I use the Ricoh GX200, may be I will buy the CX3 but all in all I will use the Sigma DP1s as an addition to the GX200. I am dissapointed by Ricoh. For example an Nikon D5000 with a good 17-50 F2,8 you can buy for 800 Euros.

    1. Why be disappointed? Did Nikon ever made an attempt to produce a GX200 similar camera with an APS-C sensor? And did they do that for 800 Euros? Nope! Even an E-P1 or GF1 with zoom lens costs more and doesn’t have the same size as the GX200. Lets be realistic. A Leica X1 with a 35mm prime lens is pretty small, but it is a prime lens and not a zoom lens. The zoom lens combination will make it substantially larger in my opinion.

  9. Wouter,

    Your conclusions about the two sensor modules matched my own experience. There are some other issues such as the white balance being off on the JPGs that you didn’t mention.

    With the advent of the supersonic filter for dust removal, I think Dust ceased to be the issue it was before. Granted not all vendors are offering this feature but they should be. Unless a sealed unit is really tightly environmentally sealed it will sooner or later get dust. Then what do you do? It is very evident that when it comes to an APS-C size sensor, their lens design ability is limited. So why not make a sensor module that could take some other readily available lenses and use them, such as the M lenses or Carl Zeiss or Nikon. If they really wanted to be daring they would have offered a FF sensor. The only problem they would have had then is manufacturing the fast enough to keep up with demand.

    A niche company has to capture market share while the larger better financed companies are unaware of the market and before they come charging in. At one lens (large sensor) per year it isn’t going to happen for Ricoh. The big boys will blow right by them. They will then have to hope that the big boys do a bad job which could happen due to sudden hast to get in to the market and constraints created by caution to not cannibalize existing product lines. Ricoh doesn’t have these constraints and needs to use it to advantage.

    1. I have no real idea what they are up to. I do have contact with Ricoh Europe, but unfortunately with no one in Japan. It all surprises me too, John. They want to be niche, but do not even seem to get close to the Leica game.

  10. First of all, I agree with you Wouter that Ricoh has produced a very distinctive camera system for a niche market. Hats off to Ricoh for being innovative. However, like you I wonder if the two first units were the right ones.

    The first thing that Panasonic did when they announced the chunky, plastic G1 (the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera) was give an indication which lenses would be developed next. Right from those early days, we knew that 2 intriguing lenses would be added to the system. One of those was a true normal, general purpose, bright, 40mm equivalent pancake, the other an ambitious wide angle zoom lens.

    Now while Panasonic’s camera bodies are nowhere near as sophisticated in terms of handling as Ricoh’s are, some of the earliest Panasonic lenses are obviously geared to the more serious photographer. This is what I don’t understand about the Ricoh GXR system: for this price I would have expected lens units to drool over. Certainly a bright, general purpose, walk-around lens somewhere in the 35-40mm range would have been a more versatile offering than a 50mm macro. Also I don’t see the point of a fairly unadventurous 24-70mm zoom coupled with a small sensor. If you’re going to use a small sensor and charge a lot, why not have a truly unique zoom range, like 20-60mm or if is 24-70, then make that a constant f/2.8. If it’s a little larger, so what – the whole GXR system is larger than a GX200 anyway.

    I like Ricoh cameras and I was trying to find sufficient reason to buy a GXR. But I couldn’t…

  11. Thanks very much, Wouter, for sharing your experience with the GXR! I bought it with the 50mm A12-Modul rather spontaneously once I had it in my hands, whereas initially I intended to get a GF1 with the pancake. I’m not very much interested in the S10 since I own a GX200 already, it is the 50mm that I was looking fore.

    Some of your critical statements seems exaggerated to me. Firstly, it’s a matter of taste if you prefer 40mm to 50mm, or if you want a macro lens or not. For me, 50mm fits better than 40mm since I want to shoot portraits often. The image quality of the A12 in nothing less than superb, all the way up to very usable ISO 3200 (and I can compare it with my EOS 5D).

    The AF speed is somehow slow at times, you are right. I many cases it works just fine, though. I did not experience back focus problems, so for me it appears slow at times, but not inaccurate. Wether the AF is too slow or not, depends on what you’re shooting. You can also switch from AF to MF once the AF has found its target and your object remains at the same distance. So there are ways to get around the slowish AF in many situations. Of course it remains frustrating if you have moving objects, e.g. whent you want to do a snapshot portrait and the people are not waiting until the AF has “snapped into place”.

    I don’t quite understand why I would need a fast AF for macro work.

    Of course, you can’t compare the AF speed and responsiveness of this camera with that of a DSLR, but I didn’t expect that in the first place.

    For me 50mm in a small camera with high IQ is just right. I don’t see any other camera that can deliver that combination in the same way at the moment. Plus the great interface. Plus the option to change modules, and I am looking forward to seeing a 28mm module. Plus high resolution LCD and a very good EVF. Plus at least a usable video mode (the proof of which is your cute little video). The X1 misses a lot of these points in comparison, and it’s not faster and it’s even more expensive. A Leica M8 or 9 is much, much more expensive. So I don’t understand why the Ricoh receives such bad critique at times.

    Just my 2 cents,

    1. Like you I love shooting portraits too and I think the 50 rocks for that, but (and this is likely where we disagree) I don’t like to use a macro lens for just that. I am not into macro photography either, so I don’t need the capabilities of such lenses. I want a fast (read not AF) lens, at least f/1.8 to be used well at low light. I love candid situations and I like cameras that are suitable for just that. And now I had to deal with some of the cons of such lenses too.

      I know that you can switch to MF for critical focusing, but I find it ought to mention it as a solution when the lens is still in it’s essence an AF lens. That sounds to me like many of the DP1/DP2 owners who defend the mediocre AF performance with the well implemented MF option of the camera. But I wouldn’t mind MF, but just don’t like the focus-by-wire lens ring. It gives me no direct feeling, but feel free to differ.

      Like you don’t understand why you would need fast AF for a macro lens. I just don’t understand why those who don’t care about macro photography should stick with a macro lens which is heavier and has more glass than a normal and fast 50mm lens. I personally think it is smarter to start a new system with some general lenses and not with audience specific options.

      So let me be clear. The tested GXR is not my camera, it is a loaner from Ricoh Europe and I will happily sent it back. I don’t have to defend it as my purchase, neither need I defend Ricoh’s decisions concerning the GXR. I like Ricoh camera for what they are (or in my opinion have been), photographer’s cameras. But the GXR is not the kind of camera I want, despite the fantastic IQ of the A12 lens unit.

  12. Dear Wouter, I agree with the points you made in general and of course you have much more experience and expertise. But I wouldn’t leave the impression that the A12 is not well suited for low-light candid shots (which I like too). Due to very usable ISO 3200 and quite fast 2.5 there is still plenty of room for AL-photography in my understanding. During a concert I shot mostly around 1/45-1/70 at ISO 3200 and f2.5, so you can imaging the low level of light there. The photos are absolutely usable (from a technical IQ point of view). And the AF worked too (although I often switch to MF once the AF locked and the camera has got the distance). Of course it’s not on the level of the direct response used from a DSLR.

    I also like some of the little, but very practical features in daily use. For example, in manual metering mode (M) you just press the AEL button and the camera sets the right aperture and shutter speed, from where you can do the manuel adjustment. Don’t have to turn the aperture and speed wheels to get the basic metering right. And in the setup menu you can further define the behaviour of the camera when you press that button (shall it adjust just the aperture, or the shutter speed, or both?). I don’t know if other cameras provide that, but these are things that really help in practice.

    You mention the DP1/DP2. Do you want to imply that the AF-performance and overall speed of the GXR/A12 is on the same level as these? I have no first-hand experience. May be you could comment on this. Would be interesting.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. The latest firmware update makes the A12 slightly faster, but I thought it was quite close to the DP1 in terms of performance and usability.

      At f/2.5 it is quite fast, but the lens is not at all a light maker. The differences to f/2.8 is too small and hardly noticeable, f/2.0 or f/1.8 however would be noticed.

      The customizability of the GXR is a great selling point and I really that, just like with the GRDIII. But I personally prefer much simpler cameras without all the bells and whistles.

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