Saturday, 30 January 2010

Off-topic Breaking News: Almost there with GXR

^The video was apparently taken soon after the building collapsed as some videos taken later showed that the area was cordoned off.

A tenement building around 50 y.o. was reduced into rubbles in Tokwawan (not Hung Hom), Hong Kong yesterday, killing several residents and leaving some missing. The tragedy was really horrible as it happened on the main street of this old area. When I was testing the GXR, I was two blocks away from this scene. I walked under many of like buildings then.

An AFP report quoted a witness as saying, "I saw bits and pieces of earth and tiles sliding down the wall at the beginning. A woman was trying to climb out through the window. About 15 seconds later, the building fell like dominoes."

An English news report can be watched here and read here.


Friday, 29 January 2010

GXR and Aesthetics of Japanese Movies

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While I am working on the post about the A12 module, let me take a break and share my impression on the 16:9 format of the GXR.

RIMG0589 (Medium)4:3 format versus 16:9 format. The 16:9 image stretches the width and crops the height a bit.

RIMG0588 (Medium) I like the 16:9 format by the GXR a lot. It must have something to do with the characters of the images by the A12 (and S10 too for that matter) which are traditional to the Ricoh cameras. I will talk about these characters in the upcoming A12 post.

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There is an unexplainable reason to me that the A12's/ A10's 16:9 format awakes reminiscences of the aesthetics of Japanese movies which to me represent a mixture of some vague concepts including romance, cleanliness, modern classic and contemplation.

RIMG0708 (Medium)^The open-air wet markets in HK offer the best shooting chances

RIMG0718 (Medium)^Petitioning on a bustling street, which is an attraction to the Mainland Chinese visitors. How deplorable!

RIMG0683 (Medium)^The skyline of Central (HK's CBD) at night

I love it so much that I have primarily switched the format to 16:9 with both the A12 and S10.

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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Clearing Doubts Surrounding the GXR

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I believe that not a few photographers looking for serious compacts are deterred and puzzled by the GXR for its concept about the lensor module rather than its performance.  That's why this field report series has been focusing on making clear of the concept.  (Of course, we will go deeper into the camera body and the two lensors later.  If you're wondering about the IQ, the previous A12-full-size-photo post is here.)

For that matter, following the full-size-photo post, we came close to an answer to the question "how do we position this camera" yesterday.  I reasoned that we R0011590 (Medium) photographers needed cameras to be compact not just for the matter of size.  More importantly, we actually need compact cameras to be convenient in all aspects of its operations.  Compactness is only one of the dimensions.

Does the GXR win in all the dimensions of convenience being a compact camera?

The GXR is more compact than the GF-1, check.  It benefits users with the carefree slide-in module design for on-the-move shooting -- slide in, slide out, drop it in the bag and shoot and repeat this as you wish, check.  Sometimes, I've found myself keep changing the modules just for the sake of being amused by the convenience.  The GXR inherits and expands the flexibility of the GRDIII shooting functions (you can check out our GRDIII review posts here), check.  The shooting functions are so very customisable that I as an advanced photographers will need quite a period of time to outgrow it.

Talking about outgrowing it, I stand little chance to succeed because the GXR is an organic system.  "Organic" is the answer to the question mentioned above, which was already hinted nearing the end of yesterday's post.

Why and How Organic

By the word organic, I mean a camera will grow in usability and functionality as time wears on.

That the GXR is an organic system may not be obvious to gxr-mountmost of us because of the lack of choice of modules at present.  Let's fast forward and imagine (well, this is not the reality yet) Ricoh materialises its promises to make more modules for the GXR.  So:

What if the GXR is combined with a remote module so that the A12 can be handheld at any position to shoot in a wireless fashion like a wireless slave flash?  What if the GXR is combined with a multiple-remote module so that two or more S10/ A12 units can shoot a single scene concurrently to make a 3D HDR shot?  What if…?

These scenarios will be exciting.  And this is my definite answer to the question "how do we position the GXR": With its highly customisable functionality and unlimited expansion possibilities, the GXR can grow with the user's photographic skills.

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In this sense, the GXR is a worthy long-term investment.  Time will tell. 

Legitimate Doubts

But rewind to reality.

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Lots of photographers have put forward some very cogent arguments against the GXR, like: How about the sensor or lens component will be wasted if either of them wears sooner than the other? I doubt whether the percentage of either the sensor or lens component wears sooner will be high in reality.  Fact is, a lot of us won't live long enough to see the decease of a sensor/ lens if we use it with care.

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The crux of the doubt hidden in this question is two-fold: first, the GXR system deprives the photographers the heritage of old lenses over time which stand the test of time better than the sensors -- this I agree; second, if the lens is still good but the sensor doesn't perform on a par to the newer standard, the owners have to buy a new lensor for the price of both the sensor and the lens.

For the first part, it is difficult to answer. After all, we can't have the cake and eat it. I can only say that the GXR has its own advantages in the expansion of usability and functionality in a charming compact body. 

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For the second part, I doubt in the end how big a difference in money term this will make.  We are photographers and therefore we are spenders for new cameras or lenses.   We have a budget and we spend it (if we don't have any, of course we don't and it does not have anything to do with any system).  We will use up the funds anyway.  Money doesn't spend on a new GXR module will be spent on a Nikkor lens, for example.

To enjoy the full advantage of the GXR system, you have to shell out the money to invest in more than one module because that's the idea behind the system.  That brings us to the modules now available.

We will continue the discussion tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The GXR Argument: Worth a Buy or...

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We left a question unanswered yesterday: How does the GXR system compare with the MFT system?

In a sense, well, it is not necessarily useful to compare the GXR (with A12) system to the MFT system.  Let me explain why.

R1220576 (Medium) There are several areas which cannot be compared directly between the GXR and MFT systems. Size-wise, the GXR is more in the class of serious compact. It weights one pound with either the A12 or S10 module but, probably for reason of weight distribution, feels like way less than a pound (The GF-1 weights one pound with the pancake and 1.5 pounds with the kit zoom lens). Ergonomics-wise, the GXR  is superior which we have to leave to a separate post. As regards the sensor, GXR A12's is not just bigger but integrated in an optimal construction factoring in the Low Pass Filter, flange back distance and back focal length. Ricoh achieves a good result as some review has found the GXR A12 outperforms even the Nikon D90 with the superb AF-S DX/NIKKOR 35mm/f1.8 G in image quality (it is a printed review; no proof here and you've got to trust tester).

Simply put, the GXR is great in some ways that, say, the GF-1 is not and vice versa.

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In fact, having tried the GF-1 and the GXR A12, I don't really see a big difference in image quality, with the caveat that the APS-C sensor surely performs a bit better than the relatively smaller MFT sensor in rendering the details and the dynamic range.  Again, you may make your own conclusion by checking out again the full-size photos I uploaded yesterday (click here and here).

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The Argument

But, no, these strengthens or weaknesses have no bearing on the argument here.  Taken the IQ alone, the A12 lensor as a combination of a supreme GR lens and an APS-C sensor is worth a buy.  If the concern is the available choice of lenses, the GF-1 is more tempting.  The comparison of cameras, in fact, boils down to one conclusion: do you have the money to burn for it?

So, our question should be rephrased from "how the GXR compares..." to "how do we position this camera".  Without making sense of its position, we can't admire the GXR system even if a technical test result proves it to be the Editor's Choice  or Best Buy.  The GXR is a novel concept, which is so revolutionary that a photographer has to acknowledge the concept before accepting the system per se.

I get a clue of the answer to this "how we position the GXR" question from how I feel about the GXR.

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The Clue

In my hand, the GXR feels solid.  The non-slip "pear-skin" baked finish gives me a good grip of it in addition to an unassuming look to the camera body.  The solid feel also comes from the slide-in design.  The tiny S10 and even A12 module rightly fit between my index and middle fingers while my thumb is able to tightly grip the camera body.  The integration approach makes the A12 module much smaller than Pany's MFT pancake plus the thickness of the GF-1 body.  The GXR mounted with the lensor is like a stone clutched in my palm.  To start with, the holding alone gives me a fresh idea about what a newthink camera can be like.

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It doesn't mean that the GF-1 is without a solid feel.  But its slippery finish and the regular lens mount deterred me from holding it casually, which was complicated by the mediocre lockless docking for the EVF to be knocked off accidentally at any moment.  To me, the GF-1 felt like just another DSLR but at a reduced size.

The biggest draw of GXR is that it works in such a different way that suits a photographer just better.  I walked and shot and changed the modules and casually dropped it in the bag and shot again.  It was quick.

Having taken pictures with a SLR for so many years, I am still frustrated by the clumsiness in swapping lenses:  To grasp the shooting chance, I have to be quick but careful not to scratch the back of the lens in the hand while capping it at both ends.  At the same time, I must mind the other lens in another hand which I am uncapping.  I also need to keep an eye on the subject anticipating its moment while checking with the other eye the mounting position to get the lens mounted correctly.  Oh, did I say that I put back the dismounted lens in the backpack or where?

Honestly, I hate this.  With the GF-1, the experience of changing lenses doesn't improve.  The small size of the lenses does't make much of a difference here.

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GXR is an Organic System

This pet peeve of changing lens made me think: why do photographers need a camera to be shrunk?  Among other things, we modern men have not much patience left for getting what we want in over a second.  We need it and need it this second!  This sounds pathetic.  We are.

Photographers requires these cameras to be compact not just for the matter of size but more for improved convenience in shooting.  In this sense, GXR works differently and successfully which is unparalleled so far.

How convenient can the GXR be?  Why does the subheading say "organic", which provides some hint on how to position the GXR system?  Tomorrow, we will clear up these questions and be more prepared to go into the good and bad of the, first up, A12 module.

We will come back to the topic and proceed ahead in the next post.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Full-Size Files: GXR versus GF-1

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Yesterday, we discussed the rationale behind the birth of the GXR system, namely, in short, optimising optical performance, creating a system covering both the compact camera and SLR markets, catering for the needs of a new generation of camera users and giving unlimited expandability to the system.

While these mission statements are somewhat philosophically distant, there is one basic and practical issue which lots of fellow photographers are musing: How does the GXR compare to the direct competitors? Pending the sale of Samsung's NX10, the direct competitor now is the MFT system.

GXR A12 vs GF-1 kit zoom lens

While I am penning my thoughts about the issue, hopefully to be published in the next post, let the images speak for themselves. No, we are not following the beaten track to pixel-peep the images for you. The meaning of tediously comparing these two systems for the IQ is not obvious to me. With the larger sensors, both systems can shot photos of a quality good enough to most users. Moreover, as different cameras have their own image characteristics, you will somehow prefer this camera's images to another's. It is more a matter of taste. So, no pixel-peeping for you.

That said, looking at the images at full-size or screen size gives you an impression of how you'd like them. And comparing them for the high ISO results, you know what to anticipate and whether you can use the camera to suit your photographic styles. Unless you are absolutely concerned about how the IQ of "the third leaf on the forth branch of the fifth tree in the grove at the hilly background some 200 metres away from the subject in the image" compare, check out the following photos to get an overall impression.

So, for that matter, the images are

- shot at ISO800 for the same scenes at roughly the same location; and - with roughly the same exposure combo (you can't use a standard combo anyway) and focal lengths.

Don't be fooled by the colour presented by the Jpegs because in-camera colour teawking is possible. RAW files offer you a truer IQ performance of the cameras.

Click here for full-size JPEGs --- Click here for full-size RAWs

This GXR field report is to be continued.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Transformer: Introduction to GXR Field Report

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^(Clockwise) The GXR body, GF-1 the flashgun,  DW-6 the wide-converter, GR Lens A12 50mm f/2.5 Marco and S10 24-72mm f2.5-4.4 VC
Since Ricoh's launch of the GXR and the detachable modules, photographers have been as wonderstruck as puzzled by it. As the sensor is bundled with the lens in a single module, or dubbed as "Lensor", is the hollow camera body worthy of the admission price? What if the users wish to get a new lens without paying a dear price for the coupled sensor? What if the lens is damaged but the sensor is working like new? What if the sensor technology is dated but the lens works like new?  There are lots of questions to ask. 
History has proven that evolution and revolution take time to complete. And in the marketing sense, timing is very important. Does Ricoh do it at an opportune time? Should users buy the idea and therefore the camera components instead of the other faddy photographic novelties?
4107528649_79e059e23c_o ^Ricoh's roadmap to let the GXR system to cover the SLR turf.  This may sound unconvincing now.  We have to wait and see until there are more modules available.
The Advantages for Ricoh

The last question first.  For GXR is a newthink, considering purchasing it or not in comparison to the likes of GF-1 is useless. Figuratively speaking, it is like deciding on buying a Porsche coupe or a BMW MPV by comparing them for their strengths and weaknesses. They work differently for not the same purposes. The only common thing is maybe that they are both expensive.
4108296044_9c4bd26f38_o^Well, I have guessed it here. 

So what is the good about the module design? For Ricoh, it can bring down the costs for research and development. Simply put, it is like the concept of pre-cast modules for construction works. Theoretically, modifications can be made to the framework at a lower cost within a short time. Maybe the GXR looks limited in choice to shine with flying colours now. But when the choice of modules multiplies, the GXR will be a photographic transformer to creatively suit your particular need. Fact is, at the launch of the camera, Ricoh already revealed its intention to beef up the system in various ways.
4108299958_ce6e772b6f_o^Some preview modules are here.
The GXR is not a coincidence.  It is Ricoh's brainchild upon reasoning the reality of the camera market which is clearly put in the illustration following immediately.   Ricoh believes the GXR system can capture that specific segment of the market better while expanding the system to meet the needs of the general photographers.  The recent frenzy of the MFT and NX10 attests that the market is at a turning point to the next level.  Previously, Ricoh almost monopolised the niche market for 1/1.7" compacts with a 24mm lens.  Now that this edge has gone, Ricoh is grasping this opening chance to create another niche market which it thinks can better cater for the more general camera market too.
Advantage for Users
According to Ricoh, as most of us have heard about it, the biggest advantage of the Lensor design is two-fold.  First, and obviously so, the module is effectively dust proof. 
Second, it is about the image quality.  Allow me quote Ricoh's illustration and argument here:
In interchangeable lens camera systems up to now, the distance from the mount and the back of the lens to the sensor image plane was subject to requirements for flange back distance and back focal length.... Eliminating the lens mount, however, means that the back focal length can be freely defined for the GXR, enabling the new system to use the most optically efficient lens designs and giving it excellent potential for future expansion....
There is another technological benefit enabled by this Lensor.  By way of the combination, Ricoh can tailor-make the Low Pass Filter on account of the optical characteristics of the specific lens.  This can effectively prevent the Low Pass Filter from exerting too strong an effect on the lens whereby the optical quality can be fully optimised.
The issue of cost aside (it is expensive for sure), the Lensor is practically a clever design.  As far as I am concerned, changing lenses is a bliss.  It can be done without me minding the mounting point for the mounted lens or the back cover for the dismounted.  I just clicked in one Lensor and dropped the dismounted in the bag or even my coat pocket.  It's, so to speak, a piece of cake!
It is highly probable that Ricoh is going to market another Lensor this year.  Rumour has it that the next one will be an equivalent to the CX2.  I am quite sure that it will be a telephoto Lensor.  How about the water-resistant Lensor?  Then the next?  I know they will not be cheap.  But innovation has never been cheap.  The users will be enjoying a revolutionary system (with the caveat that revolution and martyrs can be correlated).
As for the question about the future possibility of a sensor of old technology in a module with the lens functioning like new, Ricoh's idea about the GXR has clearly taken this into account.  Ricoh is doing a fine balance between the above advantages and the need to upgrade IMO.  To me, the reasoning is clear which I see it fit to put in the conclusive remarks later.
This field report series is to be continued.
(Kudos to Laikok for loaning GX GARNERINGS the GXR system.  Thank also euyoung for the permission for using the illustrations.)