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

Respectful and peaceful

2009, Photography

Today’s post is certainly different from all previous posts. Yesterday, a package arrived from Paris with a camera I can use for some time. Not a Ricoh camera, but a Sigma DP1 with the VF-11 optical viewfinder and a spare battery. Last year I tried this camera for just one day, but now I will be able to get a much better understanding of this camera.

The camera arrived just five minutes before I had to leave for an appointment in the city of Nijmegen. After the meeting I went to the small town of Groesbeek near the German border.

This area was an important strategic location during the end campaign of the Allied forces in 1944 and 1945 of World War II. It was a drop and landing zone in September 1944 for the eventually failed Operation Market Garden. And from here the Allied started the Battle on the Rhineland on February 8, 1945, the so-called  and took nearly a month before victory was declared.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
Just outside the town is a Canadian War Cemetery located on a hill top with a view over the valley to the North and East into Germany. This cemetery was established in February 1945 and officially unveilled in November 1946.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
In total 2,617 soldiers are burried here including 2,338 Canadians. These soldiers didn’t die in the Netherlands, but died in nearby Germany during battles in the Rhineland. It is said that all fallen Canadian soldiers were burried outside Germany.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
Most of these soldiers were young men in their twenties. Still boys when they left home and became men in just a few day’s. They never saw their loved ones again.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
Young men like private soldier R.F. Pringlemeir, age 21, from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada who died on the 15th of March 1945. A photograph of him and a soldier friend in front of his grave keeps the lost memories alive.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
There are more Commonwealth cemeteries in the Netherlands, but no other contains so many Canadian war dead. The location is peaceful and all graves are treated very well.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
Beautiful oak trees with with lovely red colored maple leaves as a remembrance of their homeland.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma

Their name liveth for evermore

Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
Their name liveth for evermore“, a phrase by English writer Rudyard Kipling whose son died in 1915 in World War I. Partly in response to this tragedry he joined Sir Fabian Ware’s Imperial War Graves Commission that we know now as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This group is responsible for the war graves were Commonwealth troops lie burried.
Canadian War Cemetery by Wouter Brandsma
All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

For those interested in my impressions of the Sigma DP1 I will continuously make notes and write about my learning process with this camera. Yesterday was a very interesting experience photographing with this camera and using the optical viewfinder. Unlike with my Ricoh camera I didn’t use the LCD screen for framing or judging the exposure. I only used it to set the exposure and that was it. I would suggest Sigma to update the firmware and give the camera a screen view just like with a dSLR, since it is a joy using the viewfinder. I am not going to judge the speed of the camera and the writing times. It felt all very appropriate yesterday for the scene and type of photographing.

And some quick notes with regard to the post processing. I used both Sigma Photo Pro by Sigma and Adobe Lightroom for editing the RAW photographs. And Lightroom just doesn’t handle the photographs in the same way as SPP.  The highlight and shadow recovery is impressive in SPP, and the fill light option can be very intriguing. For the photograph of the maple leaves I could get so many different and beautiful looking photographs with just changing the fill light amount. I think I will use this photograph in a later post to give some examples of this option in SPP.

And many have mentioned the sharpness of the photographs from the DP1. but man, these photographs are so incredibly sharp and I am glad that they added negative sharpness in SPP. I often went as far as minus 1 to desharpen the photographs and they still looked good.

I leave my first thoughts of the DP1 here. Last year I was very much in doubt about this camera and I now really want to dig into this. From last day it felt like a very organic photographing experiece.