Hands-On Review of The Ricoh GXR Modular Camera System
Standing out from the crowd has long been a challenge in the camera biz, and considering how much technological cross-pollinating there is nowadays among camera manufacturers, making headlines ain’t so easy. For this reason alone you have to hand it to Ricoh for introducing a camera concept that, at the very least, makes you pause and take a closer look.
The very word “system” takes on a new dimension when discussing the Ricoh GXR, because unlike any other camera system with interchangeable lenses, when you swap lenses on the GXR you are essentially creating a new camera. Your choice of optics determines whether you’re shooting with an APS-C or smaller point-and-shoot sensor, not to mention a CCD or CMOS sensor. You with me so far? Wait… it gets better.
With Ricoh’s GXR, the “camera” part of the system resembles a camera with a hollowed-out facing that otherwise features a 3.0”, 920,000-dot LCD, battery and memory card slot, a pop-up flash, menus and function controls, AV and PC interfaces, Live View processing and image display.
The lens part of the camera, or as Ricoh calls it, the “camera unit,” contains the lens, imaging sensor, image stabilization control unit, RAW file processor (including the image buffer, noise control and AD conversion), the AF motor, the shutter and aperture. Both the camera body and camera units are made of magnesium alloy, with rubberized non-slip material placed on the grip and other strategic portions of the camera body. The camera unit slides easily onto the camera module and then snaps into place. And because each camera unit is thoroughly sealed, dust and dirt considerations are null and void.
To date, there are two fixed focal length and two zoom lenses available for the GXR. The two fixed camera units, a 28mm f/2.5 (actually 18.5mm) and 50mm f/2.5 Macro (actually a 33mm lens), are matched to APS-C format CMOS sensors—12.3MP and 12MP respectively.
The two zooms, a 24-72mm f/2.5-4.4 (actually 5.1-15.3mm) and a 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 (actually 4.9-52.5mm), are bundled with smaller imaging sensors—a 1/1.7” CCD and 1/2.3” Back- Illuminated CMOS sensor, respectively. Both zooms are also equipped with Ricoh’s VC (Vibration Control) technology, which allows for a three- to four-stop advantage when shooting under low lighting conditions, and all four lenses allow for full manual focus override. In addition to the Vibration Control technology built into the two zoom lenses, the ISO sensitivity levels of all four optics can be tweaked up to 3200 when shooting under low-light conditions.
Along with six levels of JPEG compression and RAW capture, the Ricoh GXR also captures video, and here too, it’s not what you’d call cut and dry. The 28mm, 50mm and 28-300mm zoom are each designed to capture HD 720p video. On the other hand, the 24-72mm zoom only captures VGA (640 x 480p) video. (According to Ricoh, the 24-72mm lens was designed early on, and well before HD video became the rage. Future camera units will, at the very least, feature HD 720p video capture).
If the idea of mixing and matching sensor sizes seems somewhat bizarre, the reasoning behind this unorthodox approach to camera design starts to make sense if you’ve ever used a long zoom on a FourThird or APS-C-format camera, including Sony’s NEX and Samsung’s NX-series cameras, each of which loses its size advantage as soon as you go beyond their respective pancake or short focal length lenses. Conversely, Ricoh’s GXR remains pocketable even when using the 28-300mm equivalent, 74° to 8.2° field-of-view zoom lens. Catching on yet?
Because of the range of differences between each of the camera units, each one has its own set of shooting characteristics. The most responsive of the lot is the 28mm wide-angle camera unit. It’s quick to focus, nails the shot and is good to go in a heartbeat. The 50mm macro is a tad slower at focusing, especially at closer focusing distances, which is not unusual for macro lenses regardless of camera format. Image qualities from both lenses were quite respectable.
When you slide either of the zoom lenses onto the GXR, the performance levels of the camera slow down a tad compared to the 28mm and 50mm camera units. The pictures are fine, though as one would suspect, not quite as snappy as the imagery afforded by the larger APS-C sensors found on the fixed focal length optics. Additionally, under lower lighting conditions the zooms occasionally exhibited a bit of lag time compared to the fixed focal length GXR lenses*. Zoom lag-times aside, each of our test lenses invariably snapped into sharp focus every time.
* A good workaround to this problem is the camera’s Snap Focus feature, which automatically focuses the lens to a pre-set distance (1m, 1.5m, 2m, 2.5m, 3m, 3.5m, 5m or infinity) which greatly reduces focus/shutter lag issues when shooting subjects at fixed distances from the camera position.
Close focusing with the Ricoh GXR is not limited to the 50mm macro lens. The 28mm lens also focuses down to half life size (albeit with a wider FOV), and both zooms can focus down to 1cm at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, which enables you to capture dramatic close-ups regardless of which lens you have mounted on the camera.
The GXR’s 3.0”, 920,000-dot LCD is bright, sharp and easy to view. If you prefer reflex viewing, you also have the option of slipping a Ricoh VF-2 electronic viewfinder onto the camera’s hot-shoe ($257), which makes shooting under bright lighting conditions far less of a chore. The VF-2, which offers the same 100% viewing area and 920,000-dot resolving power of the camera’s LCD, also tilts up to 90° upward for easier viewing at higher or lower angles, or when shooting on a copy stand or similarly challenging shooting angles.
For those into real-time exposure data referencing, the GXR has a DIRECT Screen button that displays all pertinent exposure data on the camera’s LCD in large, easy-to-read alphanumeric characters in four levels of transparency, which enables you to view the image while monitoring exposure data simultaneously. The GXR’s DIRECT Screen button is similarly functional with the VF-2 electronic viewfinder.
Other features designed into the Ricoh GXR include a Dynamic Range Double Shot mode (HDR), nine color mode settings (including B&W), Multi-pattern White Balance, which can neutralize the color balance in photographs containing multiple light sources such as daylight and fluorescent, daylight and tungsten, etc, “My Settings,” for storing commonly used presets, and an ADJ lever and two FN buttons for quickly changing a number of exposure parameters with minimal fuss.
Ricoh GXR Lens Comparison Chart
|Actual Focal Length||Imaging Sensor||Construction||Max Continuous Exposures (RAW)||Min Focus||Exposures-per-charge||Video||Filter Size|
|GR A12 28mm /f2.5||18.3 mm||12.3MP APS-C CMOS||9 Elements in 6 Groups (2 Aspheric Elements w/ 2 Surfaces)||4||20 cm||Approx 320||HD 720p||40.5 mm|
|GR A12 50mm /2.5 Macro||33 mm||12.3MP APS-C CMOS||9 Elements in 8 Groups||4||7 cm (1:2)||Approx 320||HD 720p||40.5 mm|
|S10 24-72m /f2.5-4.4||5.1 - 15.5 mm||10MP 1/1.7" CCD||11 Elements in 7 Groups||5||1 cm||Approx 410||VGA 640 x 480p||None|
|P10 28-300mm /3.5-5.6||4.9 - 52.5 mm||10MP 1/2.5" CMOS||10 Elements in 7 Groups (4 Aspheric Elements w/ 5 Surfaces)||5||1 cm||Approx 440||HD 720p||None|
By now you must agree the Ricoh GXR is not just another cookie-cutter camera system and using it takes a bit of mindset adjustment on the user’s part. But despite its oddities, it does take surprisingly fine photographs and video in a system that is one of the smallest, lightest and certainly the most easily pocketable camera systems money can buy. So if your idea of an ideal photo trek is one where you can capture detailed photos of subjects near and far using a camera system that can fit into the smallest camera bag you own—or your pockets, for that matter—the Ricoh GXR is well worth considering.