Saturday, 6 February 2010

Yuo Gai with GXR S10

RIMG0803 (Medium)^I like using the S10 with Ricoh's wide-angle converter to give an exaggerated perspective to the images.

If you've been with GX GARENERINGS for some time, you've learned a number of Cantonese expressions.  While Mandarin or Putonghua is called the national language, Cantonese has a stronger links to the old Chinese culture as it retains a close tie with the ancient Chinese language.  We can talk more about this topic in some other posts.

A large part of the Chinese words is homophonic.  While "yuo" means "again" when pronounced in the sixth tone, it also means "travel" in the forth tone.  "Gai", as you've learnt, refers to "a street".

So, the post topic says, "travel (on the) street with GXR S10".

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Like the GX200, the 1/1.7" small sense makes the S10 better suit to street photography.  The improved high ISO performance allows the photographer to use as high as ISO 800 for images with reasonable IQ.

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The Chinese New Year is coming.  So the kiosks are covered in red because this is the auspicious colour for Chinese.   Tuning the White Balance Correction can either water down or boost the reddish tone.  This is really a great function to be included in a camera, especially when the user interface is so friendly. 

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Having used the GX200 for over a year, honestly, I am more used to the shallow DOF than the "regular" DOF given by like the APS-C sensor of the A12.  So I have found the S10 more familiar.  The GXR body does give the S10 an edge over the GX200 in ergonomics, not least because of the new VF-2 of a higher resolution mounted on the GXR I am using.

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Another reason why the S10 is a better choice for street photography is that it has vibration correction while the A12 has none.  I think for the new generation of photographers, a lens without shake correction capability is something they cannot forgive.

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Using the GXR S10 for street photography is fun but as a GX200 owner, the amazement does not come as great as using the A12.  For one thing, the A12 has ,unlike the GX200 or S10, a prime lens and requires the photographer to move to the right location rather than zooming the lens to an ideal focal length for the desirable angle.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Transformer GXR S10 Test Results

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The S10 module is considered an upgrade to the GX200 (rumours have it that the next module will be a telephoto version).  So, we'll speak of the S10 in the GX200 context.

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The specifications have not spelled out any difference in the lens unit as compared with the GX200's lens.  The new 24-72mm f/2.5-4.4 lens is suffixed by VC, meaning vibration correction.  Fact is, a shake correction mechanism is also provided to the GX200.

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While the GX200 uses the Smooth Imaging Engine III, the S10 employs the upgraded Smooth Imaging Engine IV, same as the CX2's imaging algorithm.

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A quick look at the MTF curve graph suggests that on paper, the new lens unit does a bit better than the old mate in image quality.  For your comparison between the quality of images by the S10 and GX200, some full-size photos taken at the same scene have been uploaded here.  It should be noted that instead of starting from ISO64 to ISO 1600 as the GX200, the sensitivity of S10 starts at ISO 100 but ends at ISO 3200.

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For high ISO shots by S10, the improvements are obvious overall.  I have no compliant about images up to ISO 400.  However, the ISO 800 images on hand show that details are visibly smudged if you really pixel-peep.    S10's ISO 1600 image feels like GX200's ISO 800 image, which are the thresholds to what is bearable to a reasonable human brain (unless the photos are taken in black and white so that the chorma noise is not much of a problem).   All in all, chroma noise is generally more controlled in the S10's high ISO images.

As an aside, we shall see if the CX3 will outdo the S10 in high ISO IQ performance given the fact that the CX3 uses GRDIII's noise reduction algorithm.

s10image setting^From top left clockwise: Vivid, natural, soft and black and white. 

The colour in the image is visibly milder than the A12's but stronger than the Gx200's.

The GX200 and S10 boost the same macro capability of doing a minimum focusing distance of 1 cm in wide angle and 4 cm in telephoto.

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In addition to the aspect ration settings previously available in GX200 (4:3, 3:2 and 1:1), the S10 adds in the 16:9 setting as the A12.

R0011594 (Medium)The lens cap LC-2 is of a sturdier built.  The curved planes closes tighter as compared with the LC-1's which have concerned some users for they believe dusts may get in through the tiny cracks.

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Next we'll take the GXR S10 to hang gai gai (walk around).

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Aspire to See the Future?

RIMG0820 (Medium)^What if the painter had known that he would succeed in nothing with his graffiti?

Those who are interested to foresee your future, please raise your hand.  There is one.  There is another.  Okay, I saw you.  Okay.  There you go.  Any more? Oh, you, yes.  Now, please put down your hands and lend me your ears.

Here is a tip from Nevin: don't you ever try to foresee your future.  Don't even peek.  If you do, you'll be suffocated.

RIMG0706 (Medium)^A smiling face anticipating a bright future?

If you know there is a very bright future waiting for you, do you start from this day making sure that in everything you do, you do it right to prepare for the bright future?  Or you don't care much about anything really because what is ahead of you is a bright future anyway?

RIMG0728 (Medium)^What if he had known that he would earn lots of money gambling on the equity market?

Otherwise, if you know troubles and bad lucks are in stock for you, and now that you've an advanced knowledge of them, do  you start from this very day doing all you can to avoid them?  Or you don't care much about anything really because when a life is doomed, it is doomed?

You'll be suffocated by the destination to which, in fact, the journey should be much more valued.  The destination of your life made known prematurely will just ruin your mood along the journey, suffocate your creativity and make every day unbearably long to you.

RIMG0727 (Medium)^What if he had known that in a second a bus would run over him? 

I'd say most of us who know our future, and in some point of time we can rightly reckon the future to a certain extent, will somehow lose the impetus pushing us ahead.  After all, when fate has spoken, what can you do to reply?

RIMG0707 (Medium)^Being old doesn't mean being at an age without future.  Imagination takes place in the minds of all people regardless of age.  Imagination pushes the future wider. 

We are not saying that don't look forward to the future.  To the contrary, plan for it.  Just don't jump to a conclusion or listen to the rumours about it.  It is an adventurous journey that gives a life fun.

So, with reference to cameras, we do need more camera makers who don't do business just by foreseeing the future (conclusion).  It is the adventurous out-of-the-box thinking that breathes life into something which may do a quantum leap in advancing the photographic technology.  Even if it falls, we have at least seen an imagination come true.

Imagine.  Don't foresee.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Yuo Hang Gai Gai with GXR

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Let's loiter with the GXR A12 before we continue to discuss the A10... later.

Yesterday, you've learned that Hang Gai Gai means walking with or without intent in Cantonese.  The "Yuo" in front of the phrase here is sort of an adverb in Cantonese meaning "Again".

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Honestly, I enjoy taking street shots and writing about them much more than discussing the details of a camera in a review.  Using a camera is way more educational than grilling it for its performance.

RIMG0791 (Medium)This time we take the GXR to the Hong Kong Island to walk up the Pottinger Street, more commonly known as Stone Slab Street in Cantonese to the local because of the stone stairway running the full length of it.

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The Hong Kong Island was where the British soldiers first went ashore and took control of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong Island was the citadel of the British viceroys and his forces in the early colonial rule covering the Island, then the Kowloon Peninsular and later the New Territories.

Therefore, glimpses into the old days of the ruling classes and the cream of the society can be seen mostly on the Hong Kong Island.  And it is where streets are predominantly named after the British colonial governors and top officials to Hong Kong.  Pottinger Street is thought to be one of the first streets in Hong Kong.  It is named after Hong Kong's first Governor, Sir Henry Pottinger (1843 - 1844), who was born in Ireland in 1789.

RIMG0815 (Medium)Pottinger Street is well known for its stone stairway. The street starts from Connaught Road and leads up to Hollywood Road. There are innumerable shopping stalls on the way selling clothes, groceries, and so on.

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Its steepness made it necessary for stone slab be paved on it, unevenly though, to facilitate walking and allow rainwater to flow down along either side.  In 1858, the government named it "Pottinger Street" to commemorate the first governor of Hong Kong. It is one of the few areas that still maintain the city look of the old Hong Kong.

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The atmospheric sloping street is flanked by old makeshift stalls interspersed by English bars and eateries.  The scene is totally different from the Ladies' Market which is so full of the Hong Kong core value of being street smart.  This Stone Slab Street is quieter in a sense, certainly less noisy. 

RIMG0819 (Medium)The best part is that the street looks almost the same as in the past.  I like history a lot.  The last time I was in Stratford-upon-Avon, I spent over three hours exploring the three houses related to the Shakespeareans  but did not have enough of it.

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^A scene of Pottinger Street in the 1950s and the official script describing it.

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^Pottinger Street in the 1960s and another official script

The Pottinger Street is a first-rated destination to anyone visiting Hong Kong.

For those who are interested in the first governor, an oral history about him can be heard here.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hang Gai Gai with GXR A12

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^ Click to enlarge the photo to see the vivid colours delivered by the A12 in Vivid image setting.  The neon-light signboard belongs to a Vietnamese restaurant.  Eateries offering some weirder cuisines are tucked away along both sides behind the kiosks at the Ladies' Market.

Hang Gai Gai in Cantonese literally means "Walk Street Street" and can be roughly interpreted as loitering with or without intent.

RIMG0712 (Medium)^Racks of fanciful dresses to allure visitors and locals alike 

Yesterday I mentioned the focusing sluggishness of the A12, notably in macro mode and less contrasty scenes.  In normal situations, as for the shots posted here, the A12 locks focuses in a speedy fashion.  For all the shots here, I came across not a single focusing problem.  The performance was roughly comparable to the GF-1.

RIMG0715 (Medium)^Hong Kong feet?  Nope.  Feet massage. 

Of course, it is not realistic to expect that either of them focuses as fast as a DSLR.

RIMG0714 (Medium)^The Ladies' Market is one of my favourite shooting field.  It is always action filled.  And the passers-by are always too busy with their shopping to bother with photographers shooting at will. 

But we are not shooting animals running on a wild field.  They were human objects going hither and thither to do shopping.

RIMG0713 (Medium)^Lots in Translation from top down: The world's smallest theme park of its kind in the red with the HK Government as the biggest shareholder; the famous gathering place for barflies in town featuring westernised bars in old southern Chinese-style tenement and terrace buildings; the huge manmade statute of Dali Lama...'s idol on top of a mountain on the same big island where the international airport is; the lifeline of the Kowloon peninsular.

This famous Ladies' Market is near to a street where the shops selling consumer electronics are.  On that very same street, rag-and-bone men for used electronic items are common sights.

RIMG0721 (Large)^Don't belittle rag-and-bone traders.  I know one of them who trades used cellphones and his business has been so good that he is now a chairman of a listed company selling, well, used cellphones.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Transformer GXR A12 Test Results

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During the period of testing, I was fairly impressed by the image quality of the A12 module which sports a 50mm prime GR lens with macro capability and an APS-C size CMOS sensor with a GR Engine III doing the arithmetic for the 12.3M pixel images.

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The reputable GR lens has a lens configuration of 8 groups and 9 ASPH. elements.  Owing to the module design, there is no need to accommodate the back focal length, which Ricoh says enables them to design the refractive capabilities of each element in a more efficient and practical manner.  Lab tests to prove such a theoretical claim can be read in lots of websites.   As usual, the Ricoh webpage displays a MTF curve graph for the new GR lens to show its more superior performance as compared with the old lenses.  But let's translate the gobbledegook into some layman languages.

Optical Performance

RIMG0842 (Medium)For over 500 shots I have taken so far with the GXR, the images show good edge-to-edge resolution (download the full-size photo here to check out).  I have not found any noticeable deterioration in sharpness at the corners or along the edges.  If you have a penchant for bokeh, be rest assured that the GR lens does a good job in this area.

Barrel distortion is not an issue, but the lens is just 50mm equiv.  and the effective in-camera distortion correction can be turned on anyway.

A big plus about the images by A12 is that they give a richer sense of layers and textures, as compared with the Panasonic GF-1's clear and smooth images which look bland after you study them for a while.  The previously uploaded photos may give some credence to this observation.  Likewise, you may check out the GF-1 review posts and the GXR posts.

Colours and Characters

Another good news about the A12 is that Ricoh retains the nice film-like character for the images.  This film-like character is most obvious in the black and white images.

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While Pany's GF-1 features some very playful My Colour settings, the A12 takes the usual Ricoh's strategy which is a big reason why I prefer Ricoh's serious compacts.

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^My favourite Ricoh camera function: Turn the front wheel of the camera body to move the dot around the matrix, ending up with the photos below (from top right clockwise) with a bluish, purplish, reddish or yellowish tint.
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With this usual strategy, the A12 not only lets photographers select from a range of image settings (vivid, standard, natural, black and white, black and white (toning effect) and two customisable settings), but also allows them to tinge the colour images to their taste by way of the White Balance Correction function.

For black and white images, users may try the toning effects (sepia, red, green, blue and purple) while tuning the vividness, contrast and sharpness of the images.

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^From left to right, top down: Images are set to vivid, standard, natural; black and white, sepia, purple; green, blue, red.

A note should be added that the the A12 gives stronger colours to the images as compared with the previous Ricoh cameras, including the GRDIII which was already given improvements in this area over the older models.

RIMG0594 (Medium)^This shot was done in black and white with contrast tuned to maximum.

I like the pure black and white best with the contrast tuned to the maximum.

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Focusing

As for focusing, some have complained about the previous Ricoh's camera models for the audible mechanical noise during focusing.  The issue carries over to the A12 module (the lens barrel zooms when the macro mode is activated) but in fact not as bad as the audible noise I mentioned about the GF-1 kit zoom lens.  So, it is not really an issue.

R0011555 (Medium)The focusing ring is situated on the lens and works smoothly.  Users can activate AF plus MF combination or simply MF  while using the focusing ring.  Unfortunately, as you've probably learnt that the LCD display doesn't magnify the focusing area automatically and the users have to turn on and off the magnification manually.

R0011572 (Medium)The A12 sounds very fine up to here.  But no roses are without thorns.  This A12 rose has a gigantic thorn.

The Thorn

When reviewing the GF-1's kit zoom lens, I wrote that it hunted like a fanatic for low-light and close-up shots.  This is also found in the A12 GR lens.  The biggest culprit is the macro mechanism.

R0011571 (Medium)There is an auto-macro detection mode with the A12 which I suggest users turn it off.  In most cases when the scene is dimly lit, or the subjects are less contrasty (like, to my puzzlement, when indoor lights fall on a person's face evenly and make it less shadowy) or at too close a distance from the lens, the GR lens will take the subject as one within a near-focus distance and switch to the macro mode automatically.

R0011557 (Medium)In this case, the lens extends to the maximum to search through all the focusing range to suss out the optimal focus spot, then retracts completely and moves out again to lock the focus.  The problem is, it locks the focus even when the focus is not found.  Generally, the process takes about two seconds to complete.

When I first discovered the issue, the first thing sprung to mind was to call up the distributor to see if the lens was defective.  But having confirmed it with a fellow tester, I confirmed that this focusing flaw was generic to the A12 module.

Fortunately, switching off the auto-macro detection mode can largely solve this problematic behaviour of the lens.  Of course, this behaviour occurs when the macro mode is turned on.

RIMG0991 (Medium)^This macro shot was done at the closest focusing distance possible (about 7 cm) between the lens and the knight figure which you will see in a photo below.

As for the general focusing speed, my impression is that under good lighting conditions the GR lens performs at a speed close to the GF-1 pancake/ kit zoom  lens.  However, for indoor shots, the GR lens is a wee bit slower in comparison.  But when using multi-AF, the GR lens focuses in a speedier fashion.

White Balance and ISO Values

Thanks to the larger sensor and the new GR Engine III arithmetic, the A12 can produce nice images up to ISO 1600.  Honestly, I have no hesitation in using its ISO 3200 images. I have uploaded the full-size photos done in all the available ISO values with the A12 in bright light and dim light situations.  Download those full-size photos here.

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The A12 inherits the array of white balance options from the CX2 and GRD III, namely, auto, multi-P auto, outdoors, cloudy, incandescent lamp, fluorescent lamp and manual settings.  Users can also do white balance bracketing for mixed lighting scenes.

During the testing I shot images under different lighting conditions.  I left the white balance on auto and multi-P auto (for more difficult lighting conditions).  The white balance is accurate unless for an occasion or two under some rather yellowish bulbs which made the A12 fail to switch to the right value.  But the same happened to the GF-1; so I would say that is acceptable.

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^Top down: White balance performance with auto and multi-p auto.  The scene was lit by a yellowish bulb and some white light bulbs while the toy cars in multiple colours complicated the white balance.

The auto and multi-P auto distinguishes the lighting differently, with the multi-p auto doing a better job.

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That's all for the A12 test results. The GXR field report series is to be continued.