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Ricoh GXR, 50mm & 24-72mm - Ricoh have taken a totally new and radical approach to the design of their GXR: the digital sensor is built into the lens. Very innovative indeed but is it any good, and more importantly who is going to buy it?
When the 50mm lens is attached, the camera looks like a GRD with a large lens on the front.
ePHOTOzine tester, Matt Grayson tests the innovative GXR system from Ricoh.
The Ricoh GXR compact boasts a radical design using an interchangeable lens system with the sensor is built-in to the lens instead of the body. Priced at £750 with the 24-72mm f/2.5-4.4, the GXR is not cheap and you could buy a quality DSLR for the same money so you have to ask, what's the point?
Ricoh GXR: Features
Once the lens has been fitted to the body, the GXR resembles the other models in the 'G' range such as the GRD III which we reviewed in August 2009. The obvious benefit of the GXR is if you want a zoom lens, you can have one and like-wise if you want a prime lens. At the moment, any two lenses are offered.
The interesting part is that Ricoh have decided to put the sensor on the lens section of the kit instead of in the body. This should mean that the sensor is optimised for the lens it's married to. The 50mm f/2.5 has a 12Mp APS-C CMOS sensor and is aimed at macro photographers, while the general purpose 24-72mm f/2.5-4.4 has a 10Mp 1/1.7in CCD and image stabilisation.
The idea behind the GXR is that you get the adaptability of a DSLR in a small camera. You could argue that the camera is aimed at candid and street photographers who need high image quality along with discretion. In this context, it is a much, much cheaper option compared with the five grand Leica M9.
The mode dial on top of the camera is the same as the GR series of compacts.
The large screen can be used or an optional electronic viewfinder.
Despite the similarity to a DSLR with the interchangeable lens, the rest of the system has been geared towards compact users which is why you have to use the screen on the back to take pictures. An optional electronic viewfinder is available if you prefer to use one and has an amazing resolution of 920,000dot (307,000px). It's priced a little high at £220 and doesn't come in a kit at the moment.
Ricoh GXR: Handling
With a magnesium alloy skeleton, the GXR is exceptionally well made. It feels really solid in the hands and a lot of work has been put into the two main unique areas of this camera. When slotting the lens onto the body, the lens unit must be perfectly flat and there are a number of grooves and runners to ensure that it can't be put on the body at an angle.
Because of the sealed elements, dust is less of a problem as the sensor isn't exposed while changing lenses. The low-pass filter has been redesigned for each sensor for full optimisation.
Above: The 50mm camera unit houses an APS-C sensor.
Right: With the 50mm and EVF fitted, the compact resembles a DSLR.
As well as the viewfinder, the screen has a resolution of 920,000dot (307,000px) which is the same resolution as the top DSLRs such as the Nikon D300 and Canon EOS 50D. The GRD III also featured a screen at this resolution. It still seems to over sharpen the images when reviewing them straight after taking them which is pretty misleading.
Ricoh GXR: Performance
The camera was put through its paces in a variety of conditions and tests. All pictures were taken in Raw. Raw images were used for the test and were converted in Adobe CameraRaw.
Because each lens has a different sensor, each one has been tested, although this isn't a comparison test, so images may not be side by side comparable.
Ricoh cameras are an awkward bunch. During a preview of an image you've just taken, it shows an ultra sharp image with lots of contrast in all the right places, but I sometimes think that Ricoh have programmed the camera to show you what you could have won. Even images I took where the focusing was off showed as sharp on the preview only to be disappointed in playback.
Dealing with contrasty side-lighting isn't a problem for the GXR, it handles sunsets and sunrises with ease although in bright daylight I got some burn out on leaves that are glossy, such as Ivy and it's a problem that both the 50mm and 24-72mm lens suffer from.
In direct sunlight, both lenses stop down the aperture appropriately, but allow the sky to burn out to a degree in order to keep some detail in the ground and shadow areas. I got faint spots of lens flare but nothing anywhere near what the screen was telling me I was going to get. On the screen, big bands of purple streaked from side to side, but this doesn't record on the picture.
With pale or white subjects, the 24-72mm lens burned out highlights even on gloomy days which was unfortunate. Luckily, the 50mm manages to save the day and retains detail even on pure white areas.
As I walked along the canal for part of the test, two swans came gliding along the water towards me. I got the camera ready for them to get near enough. One initial problem is the lack of a long zoom lens in this new system, but I expect it'll come in time.
Focusing is slow and lumbering. A lot of the time, I couldn't catch focus unless I put the camera into macro mode even with the subjects some distance away. With the Swans, they were moving and the camera had to hunt through the entire range before settling on the birds which had passed me by this stage, forcing me to walk after them.
On stationary subjects, focusing is sharp enough from both lenses so I have no complaints about that bit but it appears that there are some compact camera traits in the GXR.
In controlled lighting, the 50mm lens records lovely colours in Raw format and primary blue especially is saturated. Reds come out a little diluted, but not enough to grumble about it. Yellow comes out especially bright too and while I'm ok with how the APS-C sensor in the 50mm unit records browns, they're not perfect.
|Ricoh GXR & 50mm||Ricoh GXR & 24-72mm lens|
Ricoh GXR & 50mm colour test
Ricoh GXR & 24-72mm colour test
Ricoh GXR & 50mm blue sky.
Ricoh GXR & 24-72mm blue sky
Flesh tones are great on both cameras although the 24-72mm does seem to warm more than the other. I got a mixture of shots, some sharp, some not.
|Ricoh GXR & 50mm||Ricoh GXR & 24-72mm lens|
Skin tones are great with the camera handling contrast gently.
A slightly darker image than the 50mm camera unit but still exposed well.
The 24-72mm lens has a sensor geared more towards the everyday user, which is unusual given the combination of the body and lens costs £750. Raw files from this unit come out a lot more saturated than the JPEG equivalent which appears pale in comparison. I think this is down to automatic dynamic range compensation because the camera doesn't have a DR option. Reds are deeper in Raw, as are blues and purples.
Looking at the noise results from the 50mm lens and I'm absolutely blown away. Thanks go, in part, to the APS-C sized sensor but the amount of noise that comes in even at ISO3200 outperforms most DSLRs. Out in the real world and there's a distinct amount of image breakdown in low-key areas, but the performance is still exceptional.
Switching to the CCD sensor and there's a definite difference in quality. Low settings such as ISO100 are lovely and smooth. Noise starts creeping in even at ISO200 and it looks as though Ricoh have used the same sensor that they use on all the compacts. Mild blotches of coloured noise appear in low-key areas from ISO400 onwards but it's not until ISO1600 that bright blue dots speckle the image all over. However, this only happens in controlled lighting. Out in the open, the blue dots disappear and they're replaced by purple blotches which can only be seen in shadow.
It just goes to show that a large sensor is the way forward and if these results are anything to go by, Ricoh need to get rid of the tiny CCD and fit the APS-C sensor to the rest of their cameras. It's a nice thought at least, even if it's not a viable one.
White-balance isn't the strong point of the Ricoh GX system. On both lenses, the camera can't handle strong light casts such as tungsten and fluorescent although it does quite well with the lighter casts such as daylight, cloud or shade. Interestingly, there's no flash setting which is annoying because that's the most difficult one to set. The way that the GXR sets white-balance is by pressing the Display button on the back of the camera while pointing it at something white.
I gave the Lithium Ion battery a full charge before going out with the camera and by the end of the test it was showing as ¾ full. I'm impressed with this, I used the screen on the back more than the electronic viewfinder (EVF).
With the 50mm lens, Ricoh say that you should be able to get 320 shots from a full charge while the 24-72mm will give you around 410 shots in total. I took around 200 shots in total which sounds about right to me.
There are three continuous shooting options on the Ricoh GXR for standard continuous which is more like a burst mode, It took three photographs in Raw mode in under a second but then had to stop to download and took a further 12sec to do it. In JPEG, the camera took 18 frames in a ten second period, It ran at 3fps for around 4sec before it gradually slowed to 1fps by the 8sec period.
The other two options don't allow continuous shooting in Raw, so it's annoying that the option remains highlighted. Continuous-Hi drops the resolution to 1Mp and will simply run continuously until you stop pressing the button but won't record anything until you do. It records at 24fps and saves the last second when you released the shutter. This is a great idea for sports photographers who maybe don't have the best reactions. If you require a larger image, you can sacrifice speed for quality and opt for the Continuous-Lo mode which will take 15 large images in the final five seconds of holding the button down.
Ricoh have optimised each camera unit so that the lens is set up for the sensor that's in it, so we should be seeing something altogether wonderful from each unit.
Thanks to the large sensor on the 50mm camera unit, there's some lovely depth of field although it has to be set at the widest aperture to benefit. The 50mm camera unit is a macro lens but it does still work normally. At f/2.5 the lens is very sharp in the centre and as the edges are out of the focal plane, they start to blur although not as much as I expected. As more of the image gets sharper by stopping down the aperture, it becomes more clear that the wider aperture shows some problems at the edges with blurring that's more than just depth-of-field.
At f/22, the whole image shows a significant amount of softness from centre to edge but it's a steady amount across the field and there's still a decent amount of detail retained in the images at this setting. The 50mm does suffer from chromatic aberration on high contrast areas although I found the contrast level had to be very high; nearly black on pure white. It comes out as a thin orange line around the subject which is unappealing but it is only thin, so shouldn't cause much of a nuisance.
At full zoom, there's a significant drop in sharpness with the 24-72mm camera unit. The smallest aperture of f/16 is blurry all over and comparing the images brings them closer into focus with the sharpest settings between f/5.6 and f/7.9 apertures.
At a mid-range setting of around 43mm (64.5mm) you have a range of f/3.2 to f/11 with f/5.7 giving the sharpest result. At wide-angle, the range is f/2.5-8.1 and it follows a similar pattern with f/5.7 being the sharpest.
Chromatic aberration isn't as prevalent on the zoom lens and shows up as a soft yellow line on the left side of high contrast areas which gradually turns to orange on the top then blue on the right side.
Neither lens comes with a hood in the box which, in terms of a DSLR is a bit unusual, but not from the perspective of a compact and that's the approach that Ricoh have taken. There's an optional lens hood (Ricoh lens hood adapter HA-3) which costs around £50 from Warehouse Express and comes with an extension tube so it works when the lens is out. The tube also provides a 43mm filter thread for filter use and is attached to the camera by removing the lens bezel.
Ricoh GXR: Verdict
As an innovation, the Ricoh GXR is right up there. Some people may see the inclusion of a separate sensor in each lens/camera unit as plain bonkers, but the fundamental idea behind it isn't without merit. Dust is less likely to attack your photographs and each lens can be optimised for the sensor inside the body. The downside is that a sensor is expensive and to have a different one in each unit will keep the price high. It's the price that I think will be the main hurdle for Ricoh to overcome.
Ultimately, despite the fact I think it is a good idea the price needs to fall, although it's not too dissimilar to the Micro FourThirds series of cameras. The E-P2 with a standard zoom lens costs around £899 while the Panasonic GF1 costs less at £589. At the price it's at now, I wouldn't buy it. If it came down to the same as the MFT cameras listed above, I'd find the 50mm APS-C camera unit appealing.
Ricoh GXR: Pros
|Camera body||50mm camera unit||24-72mm camera unit|
|Compact size||APS-C sensor||Great dynamic range|
|Easy-to-use||Excellent noise control||Good colour|
|Very well built||Nice colour rendition||Thin construction|
Ricoh GXR: Cons
|Camera body||50mm camera unit||24-72mm camera unit|
|Screen is too sharp||Slow focusing||Slow focusing|
|Lack of white-balance||Trouble with white-balance||Trouble with white-balance|
|Expensive||Suffered noise early|
|Camera body||50mm Camera unit||24-72mm camera unit|
Ricoh GXR: Specification
|Ricoh GXR body||50mm f/2.5||24-72mm f/2.5-4.4|
|Max. image size||4228x2848||3648x2736|
|Aspect ratio||4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1||4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1|
|Focusing system||Contrast detect||CCD-based|
|Focus type||Multi, spot, manual, Snap, infinity||Multi, spot, manual, Snap, infinity|
|Lens mount||GX mount||GX mount||GX mount|
|File types||Raw (DNG), JPEG||Raw (DNG), JPEG||Raw (DNG), JPEG|
|Metering system||TTL-Multi segment||TTL-CCD multi-metering|
|Metering types||256-segment, centre-weighted, spot||256-segment, centre-weighted, spot|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 4EV in 1/3 or 1/2 step increments||+/- 4EV in 1/3 or 1/2 step increments|
|Frames-per-second||3fps at max image size||1.6fps at max image size|
|Flash sync speed|
|Image stabilisation||No||Yes, sensor shift type|
|Viewfinder||Optional electronic VF-2|
|Interface||USB 2.0, HDMI|
|Weight||160g (body only)||263g (lens unit only)||161g (lens unit only)|
The Ricoh GXR body costs £399.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Ricoh GXR body
The Ricoh 50mm Camera unit costs £599.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Ricoh 50mm Camera unit
The Ricoh 24-72mm Camera unit costs £324.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Ricoh 24-72mm Camera unit