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When Ricoh announced its GXR modular camera system--a lens/sensor module that slides into a housing that includes the rest of a point-and-shoot's pieces, including the LCD, controls, hot shoe, and flash--it sounded odd, but I withheld judgment. After all, a great implementation could trump oddity. Unfortunately, there's no trumping going on with the GXR+S10 24-72mm module. For instance, one of the rationales for the GXR architecture is to be able to create optimal pairings of lenses and sensors. But it seems as if Ricoh is just creating me-too versions of competitors, with no standout advantages. Why did Ricoh choose the same small sensor as all the compact competitors, most of which have bigger zoom ranges, rather than the larger APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensors in interchangeable lens and dSLR models? Why is the lens so slow? And why do the lens/sensor modules cost the same as an entire camera?
I can't answer any of those questions; all I can say is that despite shaping up to be a serviceable version of an enthusiast compact, there's nothing in the GXR+S10 configuration of the camera to merit buying over any of its competitors.
For example, I have really mixed feelings about the camera's photo quality. Overall, I think it's good, but it has a few significant weaknesses. It is strongest when taking photos at low ISO sensitivities and for macro shooting--but that's generally true not only for most of its competitors, but also for most cameras. It renders nicely accurate color in its Natural mode, though the default Standard setting tends to oversaturate greens and blues a bit, and the automatic white balance tends to be overly cyan in shadowy daylight.
Close and macro shots photos look sharp, and there's very little fringing; it tends to appear where you'd expect, on high-contrast edges near the corners of the frame. But beyond close-ups, there's a very point-and-shoot-like processed mushiness to the images, not just the JPEGs, but also to the raw files as well. At all ISO sensitivities, Ricoh seems overly aggressive with its blurring for noise reduction, and there's serious aliasing (jaggies) on some edges. I wouldn't recommend shooting JPEGs at anything higher than ISO 200. While shooting raw allows for better noise reduction, you can also see some of the native edge aliasing. In the latest firmware update, Ricoh added a Max noise reduction option, but as far as I can tell that just increases the blurring even more.
The GXR's in-camera distortion correction is relatively subtle, partly because there isn't much lens distortion, at either the wide or narrow ends of the lens. However, there's an odd white-balance difference between corrected and uncorrected photos, with the corrected versions looking noticeably cooler and darker. And though the lens is on the slow slide, it produces a relatively nice effect (bokeh) in out-of-focus areas.
Its performance is pretty middling as well: relatively average overall, with slow focus and shooting in dim light. It takes about 1.8 seconds to power on and shoot, with an adequate shot lag of 0.6 second in good light but a slowish 1 second in dim. Two shots in a row run about 1.9 seconds, and flash recycle time adds another 0.8 second to that. You can shoot continuously at 1.7 frames per second, which isn't bad; however, burst mode isn't terribly useful until you hit about 3fps. The camera has a faster sequential shooting mode, but it stores the images as a stack in a nonstandard file format.
The camera body feels a lot like similar models, such as Canon's G series or Panasonic's LX line; it's on the heavy side, but not onerously so, with a shallow but comfortable rubberized grip. Overall, I found the body design functional, albeit with some drawbacks imposed by the necessity to be more generic than most cameras. Ricoh offers an extra cost lens cap that's probably worth the money. It attaches to the bayonet mount on the lens, and uses an ingenious aperture design. It's a great alternative to the traditional use-it-and-lose-it detachable caps on other models.
Like the LX5, the GXR has an optional tilting electronic viewfinder that slides into the hot shoe. This not-so-cheap option comes in handy for a lot of shooting situations, including off-angle and bright daylight. The LCD is nice--large, high resolution and high contrast--but like all LCDs gets difficult to view in bright sunlight. Plus the EVF helps keep the camera steady; the image stabilization doesn't seem to stand out at even moderately slow shutter speeds (like 1/15 second).
|Canon PowerShot G11||Nikon Coolpix P7000||Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5||Ricoh GXR+S10 camera module|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 80 - ISO 3,200||ISO 100 - ISO 6,400||ISO 80 - ISO 3,200||ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)|
|Closest focus (inches)||0.4||0.8||0.4||0.4|
|Continuous shooting||1.1fps |
unlimited JPEG/5 raw
(tested to 1.7fps)
|Viewfinder||Optical||Optical||Optional OVF or EVF||Optional EVF|
|Metering||n/a||n/a||256-segment matrix ||n/a|
|Shutter||15-1/4000 sec||n/a||60-1/4000 sec||3 min-1/2000 sec|
|LCD||2.8-inch articulated |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|Image stabilization||Optical||Optical||Optical||Sensor shift|
|Video (best quality)||30fps VGA H.264 QuickTime MOV |
|720/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV |
|720/30p AVCHD Lite |
Motion JPEG AVI
|Manual aperture and shutter in video||No||n/a||Yes||No|
|Optical zoom while recording||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||390 shots||350 shots||400 shots||410 shots|
|Dimensions (WHD, inches)||4.4x3.0x2.0||4.1x2.4x1.2||4.3x2.6x1.7||4.5x2.8x1.7|
|Weight (ounces)||14.5||8.5 (est)||9.8 (est)||12.7|
($399 for S10 only)
|Availability||October 2009||September 2010||August 2010||July 2010|
Because it has to work with so many different variations of capabilities, the controls on the GXR body are fairly generic and simple. This works both for and against the camera's usability. For instance, Ricoh doesn't crowd the mode dial with scene modes--there's PASM, Auto, and a catch-all Scene--and it supports three sets of custom settings. On the back is a too-flat rocker switch for zooming; buttons for playback, macro, display options and self-timer; and a four-way-nav plus menu button, with the directions generically labeled Fn1 (left), Fn2 (right), + (up), and - (down). Because Ricoh can't really dedicate any of the controls to specific functions, everything is assigned within the menus--which will make it confusing for those who are more photographically than technically inclined.
Like most enthusiast cameras these days, the GXR has a Direct button that pulls up frequently needed shooting adjustments so you can easily change them. This is doubly important given the GXR's generic body design. My one complaint with the implementation is that unlike most others', the display doesn't go away when you tap the shutter button; you have to hit the Direct button a second time. That's annoying. The adjustment lever--actually the jog dial at the top back of the camera--can be configured to cycle through four frequently used setting options, such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, photo quality, and color setting. Like the Direct access screen, though, tapping the shutter button doesn't make it go away.
Manually focusing is kind of awkward; you hold down the macro button with your thumb while you scroll the distance with your forefinger using the top dial. Using the camera in general is like that overall. It's not difficult to use or badly designed--it's just...odd. But because of this design, the features on the camera aren't easily discovered. For instance, I didn't realize the camera even supported video capture until I looked at the specs and searched the manual for instructions. It's enabled as a scene mode. But it's pretty lame anyway. The only notable features are a self-timer time-lapse mode, which can shoot up to 10 shots at intervals of between 5 and 10 seconds apart as well as an intervalometer that can shoot at intervals of between 1 second and 2 hours in 1-second increments. It also has a date stamp, for those of you who need to document stuff.
With some cameras, you think all the photos look just OK, and then get hit with the "wow" when you view them on your computer display. This is not so with the Ricoh GXR+S10 24-72mm module. Many of my shots look great displayed at about 25 percent, which is why I was so disappointed when I zoomed to 100 percent or printed at 13x19. To me, that's one of the important differences between a merely decent enthusiast compact and a standout model.