Friday, 12 February 2010

Ergonomics of GXR

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^GXR (upper) and GX200

Before penning the closing remarks on the GXR report, I wish to write a few things about the GXR body on ergonomics, which has always been the strong point of Ricoh.

Since I was attracted to digital serious compact cameras and bought the GX200 over a year ago, I have tested and played with a number of such cameras, namely, the G10, LX3, GRD II and III, GF-1 and GXR.  The engineers and designers have done an admirable job in drawing up well thought-out button arrangements over what little space left on the camera back, not least because the LCD display is growing bigger while the camera size smaller.

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If you use the G10, GF-1 and, to a lesser extent, LX3, you would surely be impressed by their ergonomics.  It is the area that these compacts undoubtedly out-shine some big DSLR, like the Nikon entry-level models.

Once you've used the G10 or GF-1, you would be too pre-occupied by the good ergonomics to find the difference offered by Ricoh.  But if you use Ricoh's compacts first, you are more likely to tell the best from the good in this area.  GXR is of no exception.

The twin-wheel design (actually a front wheel plus the back rocker) is the gem.  The wheel and rocker double as different function keys/ buttons.

Ricoh even makes it so flexible for users to customise them to a certain extent.

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The best thing about the rocker is its few presses to activate and tweak  the quick menu.  The quick menu is with four customisable function slots.

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I put manual flash output control in one of the function slot of the quick menu.  The activation and output selection can be made by pressing the rocker and scrolling the wheel.

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I highly recommend customising the White Balance Correction as a quick menu option.  This function colour the image as tinted filters, especially useful for evening out the adverse effect of coloured lighting.

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The only fixed option for the quick menu is the AE/AF function.  This function makes it possible for the user to specify the AE and/or AF area for a scene.  The following illustration shows green and blue focus boxes which lock the respective areas for the focus and exposure.

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With the quick menu, I seldom need to dive into the regular menu.  However, as if such flexibility is not enough, GXR has a unique DSLR-like menu which has four adjustable display level by which users can make the menu superimpose on the scene in a translucent way.

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The menu can be turned on and off with a press on the direct button above the LCD display.  This intuitive menu allows tweaking  be done in a blissfully quick fashion.  I absolutely like it.  If you check out the GRD III review, the points regarding its ergonomics do apply to the GXR.

R0011567 (Medium) A final note should be added that if you're familiar with Ricoh serious compacts and use the one-press M mode (i.e. one press on the arrow key to instantly fix the exposure combo to the "right" value), GXR allows user to customise whether the adjustment is made to the aperture or shutter speed or made as the program dictates.  This is way better than my GX200 which adjusts the shutter speed only when the one-press M mode is activated.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Shopping and Dropping

RIMG0884 (Medium)^Look real?  These vegetable lookalikes are made from paper.

There are lots to buy to prepare for the Chinese New Year (CNY) which is based on the lunar calendar.  No, we don't buy mooncakes.  Mooncakes are for the Mid-Autumn Festival.  For the CNY is a time to pay visits to friends and relatives, people flock to the supermarkets to buy eatable items  to be given as gifts during the visits.  Why eatable items?  Probably in the old days the Spring Festival is to herald a new year of farming.  Anyway, Chinese culture is preoccupied with eating.

RIMG0883 (Medium)^Soybean sheets, bean curds and bean cakes.  All are paper-made.

Floral decorations like cut flower arrangements and potted plants are the second thing to acquire from the market.  They are to decorate homes to greet visitors. RIMG0882 (Medium) ^The two young creators of these fake foodstuff.  They spent a week doing the work.

The third things are Chinese traditional sweets and other candies to treat visitors immediately after they have sat down and given a cup of tea.  The must-have are the various sorts of Nin Go, which are cakes made of turnip and cane sugar, to name a few, and to be fried for serving as breakfasts and lunches during the CNY period.

We'll return to the GXR stuff when the busyness abates a bit.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

New Year

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^A fierce tiger and the Chinese lions

The Chinese New Year (CNY) is coming on Sunday.  CNY is also known as the Spring Festival.  Here everyone is busying with the preparations, much the same as people would do for Christmas in, say, the UK.  It will be the Year of Tiger for the next Chinese year.  A common celebration is the lion dance which is mostly performed on the seventh or eighth day of the CNY since that is the time for business going back to normal.

So, a breather from the GXR stuff.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

GXR: External Flash and Viewfinder

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We are nearly the end of the GXR field report series.  I wish to talk about the external options for the GXR, namely, the flashgun and the viewfinder.

The external flash named, well, GF-1 can do TTL flash on Ricoh cameras with the flash interface as illustrated below, which Ricoh called Type R.  It can also be used on  other Ricoh cameras which have no TTL-flash capability like the GX200.

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When the TTL-A LED is on after the flash has been mounted and turned on, it is ready to do TTL flash.

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A few presses on the lower rectangular power level select button will light up the last two LEDs on the far right, activating the manual flash output via adjustment on the GXR.

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imageThe flashgun can turn upwards up to 90°for doing bounce flash but not sideways.  It can double as a wireless slave flash.  For that matter, it comes with a stand.  I have read through the instruction manual but can't find the clue as to whether in slave mode it will imageautomatically distribute the flash output between the main/ trigger flash and itself in a 3:2 ratio, which is the case for my Minolta flashgun.  However, in slave flash mode, the flashgun can be set at a pre-set flash output range or at manual output as illustrated on left.

The built-in flash on the GXR serves as the trigger.  It has to be turned on to work in conjunction with the slave.

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The smart designers have given the flashgun the built-in wide-angle diffuser and catch-light panels.  The wide-angel diffuser panel is to cater for a coverage angel equivalent to 18mm, which is 1mm wider than the wide-angel converter DW-6.

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I tried it on the GXR S10 mounted with the 19mm converter.  The flash coverage is sufficient and without casting any shadows on the corners.

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The GN number of the flashgun is not very impressive at ISO 100.  But the good about digital cameras is that the users can tweak the sensitivity to higher ISO values.  So, say, at ISO 400 the GN number is as high as 40 for 24mm and 60 for 105mm.  Now, that's impressive.

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I turned the camera to ISO 400 and fire the flash at full output, ending up with the following photo.

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Mind the road sign next to the right-hand column at the far end in the middle of the scene.  It was situated at about 100 metres away from the place I was standing.  The flash reached there as you can see that it reflected the light from the flash.

Next the external electronic viewfinder, VF-1.

RIMG8314 (Medium) The VF-2 is bigger in size than the previous model, VF-1.  Diopter adjustment can be done on the wheel on top of it while on the VF-1 the eyepiece can be turned to adjust diopter.  In both cases, the diopter switch actually can't be accidentally turned as in the case of GF-1's viewfinder.  The VF-2 can be turned upwards up to 90°.

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The VF-2 (right) has a different adaptor standard.  Therefore, it cannot be used on previous Ricoh cameras.

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The external viewfinder VF-1 has a 100% field-of-view coverage. Its resolution of 920 000 dots is the same as the LCD display.  For the sake of comparison, the LVF-1 for Pany's GF-1 has a resolution of 202 000 dots.  Scenes through the VF-2 are shown clearly and brightly.

The shooting information shown on the VF-2 and the LCD display are identical.

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A note before closing today's post should be added about the resolution.  When used with the S10, the VF-2 shows images less sharply than when used with the A12.  This is an observation which I have not read elsewhere (but maybe you have).

Monday, 8 February 2010

Shooting with GXR S10 plus TC-1 and DW-6

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Last week, we stopped at some technicalities about the S10.  Let's start this week with a post on what I feel about it in real shooting circumstances.

Wandering with the GXR S10 into an old area with buildings primarily of over half a century old, I was amazed by the the scene heaving into sight: a flyover sticking out from the narrow space between two rows of old residential buildings; and more so when a bus whizzed past a coach followed.

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Before the heavy vehicles appeared, I had stood at the scene with the TC-1 mounted on the S10 waiting for the shots.  If you don't know, Ricoh's telephoto converter TC-1 has a magnification of 1.88x to boost the GX100, 200 and S10's farthest focal length to 135mm.

To accentuate the apocalyptic feel for this scene, the shots were intended to be underexposed.  As often the case with my GX200, I also slightly zoomed the lens out a bit to show some vignetting on the corners to echo the feel.  The image setting was turned to Normal on the S10.  Although the colours in S10's images are more saturated than the GX200's, the colour in Normal setting still carries the unmistakeable pastel-shade character of Ricoh cameras' images.  I like this image character.  To me, the less contrasty feel more loyally represents the real scenes.

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Then I attached a B&W circular polariser to the TC-1 and turned the image setting to Vivid to photograph the fruit shop across the street, ending with the photo above and the one below.  The colours are very saturated due to the effects of the Vivid setting, which is also enriched by the polariser.

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Whether the Normal or Vivid image setting is more likeable is a matter of personal taste.  But you will definitely like this: the approximately 920,000 dots high-resolution VF-2 is the best as compared with the Ricoh's VF-1 and the Pany GF-1's.  Once again, I recommend any serious-compact user uses a viewfinder on the camera to compose a scene.   For one thing, it saves me the bother of avoiding the nosy passers-by who keep checking out what I am shooting, making me totally focused on the shots.  More importantly, the users can get a more accurate sense of how to tweak the best exposure combo, especially under the open sky in the daytime.

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^The street plate is of a British colonial style which is not to be found easily in a lot of places.

Then I mounted the DW-6 on the S10, which is Ricoh's wide conversion lens.  With the DW-6, the S10 was able to take some penetrating 19mm-equivalent images.  So I made my way further down the street towards the flyover.  Now the flyover loomed over where I was standing and blocked a large piece of the sky.

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While the better grip of the GXR allowed me to grip the camera steadier for the benefit of the telephoto shots with the TC-1, the same benefit was not obvious for the 19mm shots, if at all necessary.  There wasn't much difference between using the GXR S10 and my GX200.  The customisable Fn buttons and the quick menus are very familiar and equally useful on both machines.

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But for the scenes I photographed in black and white at ISO 200, the final images are visibly cleaner and smoother than the GX200's.  The details are more faithfully preserved.

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I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the old neighbourhood at this market.  The aged faces of the shoppers gives a clue to how old this place could be.  Some of them were curious about me, especially because I was using a "weird" camera. 

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Even two policemen coming along stole a peek at the GXR.  They even dogged me for some distance.  Or was I acting suspiciously for having checked in my bag repeatedly?

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Honestly, the cost factor aside, I enjoyed the GXR much better than the GF-1.  I took with me also the A12 module.  Again, the benefit for the photographer to be carefree in changing the modules whenever and wherever is something not to be underestimated.  In urgent cases, I shove the modules in the camera bag which I would not do to regular lenses.

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The understatement?  If you consider buying the GXR, and you don't have the GX200, get both the A12 and S10 modules to take full advantages of the design.  Cost is an issue, yes.  Taken together, the GXR, A12 and S10 cost as much as Sony's affordable full-frame A850.  But we can't have the cake and eat it too.  The A850 is a hefty big boy and the investment is made in a different way, which some may say more wisely.  I will say differently.  The joy is very different if you ask me.

The GXR field report series will continue.