Saturday, 27 February 2010

GXR Review: Final Remarks

(Postscript: a post linking all the GXR review posts is here.)

RIMG0746 (Medium)

Reviewing a camera requires some tedious forward planning for the test items, where and what to shoot, the points of interest about the camera, what to compare with which cameras, organisation and presentation of your ideas, so on and so forth. The more cameras one has played with, the more numbed his senses will be. So, testing one camera after the other makes me admire the regular camera testers who write with gusto apart from giving the technical details.

In this philosophical monologue, I collected the GXR set for evaluating and wrote a number of review posts. This is the post for some afterthoughts. The links to all the GXR review posts can be seen here.

The Yardstick

To me, there are several key criteria to judge a serious compact camera.

- Does it feature great ergonomics? - Is it reliable in locking focus at a reasonable fast speed? - Does it take some years for the user to outgrow the camera? - Does it give out images with good image quality?

The more positive replies to these questions, the higher grade the camera is.

So, does the GXR system score a good mark?

RIMG0836 (Medium)

Lensor Design

The GXR is real fun, probably unmatched by the mirror-less compacts with interchangeable lenses. After playing with it for a few minutes, I was swapping the S10 and A12 units without looking. If you have been in RIMG0747 (Medium) photography for long enough, you must have suffered from the clumsiness of an ill-timed need to change lenses with a DSLR or SLR: dismount the lens and cap the front and back of it, uncap the other lens and mount it while clinging the camera and the camera bag around the body with both hands full of lenses. If you're lucky, your subject would still be there when the lens is changed.

The GXR's compact modules work in a much easier fashion: slide in, slide out and mindlessly drop the dismounted module in the bag. This design alone should endear the GXR system to photographers, especially those who call themselves street photographers.

Ricoh touts one of the advantages of this cartridge design as giving a fully dusk-proof seal to the sensor. It is true that during the test, no weather conditions were deterring enough to stop me from changing the modules. But I think the swift module-swapping is the greater advantage here. This is the key selling point for GXR in relation to ergonomics.

RIMG0668 (Medium)In comparison, Pany's GF-1 which I tested some months ago is lacklustre in this area. While the GF-1 is as small as the GXR, the smallness of serious compacts is not just for smallness' sake. It is to turn the camera into a handy piece of equipment. The same mounting-dismounting mechanism for GF-1's lenses is contrary to this mentality.

Surely, the GXR's binding "lensor" design has caused animated debates among the photography community. While those adoring fans and young photographers yet without investment in lenses would readily welcome the design, many cast RIMG0684 (Medium) doubts on it, which I think can be somewhat dispelled by money: lowering the price of the modules or the GXR body.

Handling

As discussed in the post about the ergonomics of GXR, the camera inherits the menu system of Ricoh's GX200 and GRD III. You've got to try Ricoh's non-P&S cameras to realise how well their engineers have catered the controls for photographers' need. Specifically, the front wheel and the back lever are the centrepieces of the commendable handling of the GXR. Apart from providing shortcuts for direct setting changes through activating a customisable quick menu, the wheel and lever can swap functions while browsing images and tweaking exposure combos.

When working in tandem with the three customisable My Settings and six customisable My Setting Box which give photographers instant access to their specific technical settings, the wheel-and-lever control cuts down the need to dive in the menus.

RIMG8311 (Medium)

For the GXR, Ricoh further enhances this area by adding a Direct button for activating a DSLR-like menu for quick tuning of the most critical functions. When activated, the menu is superimposed on the screen in a 4-level density. On the forth level, the Direct menu is translucently superimposed on the LCD display, allowing users to check the image and various settings at a glance.

The quick menu and Direct menu give photographers swift control over the photographic settings without resorting to the regular menus. This menu implementation is downright smart.

There is a four-way button at the back of the GXR which is common to many cameras. What is specific to the GXR's is that it can activate a favourite function of mine: one-press metering. By way of this function which is inherited from the GX and GRD systems, the camera adjusts the exposure combo to the "right" value. Users can dictate whether the adjustment is made in shutter- or aperture-priority. When used with the manual exposure mode, this function allows users to come up with the preferred exposure combo almost in an instant.

RIMG0969 (Medium)

High-grade Viewfinder

I'm an advocate for external viewfinders for serious compact cameras. Once you've use it, you'll probably agree that such a viewfinder can make you compose a shot better, visualise the exposure result better and use a shooting angle more flexibly. It bestows an added advantage in operation on a camera.

The viewfinder VF-2 for GXR is way brighter and sharper than the VF-1 designed for the previous Ricoh cameras. It is the EVF with the highest resolution available on the market at present. In fact, its resolution is the same as the LCD. A point which is not known to many is that the EVF does not seem to display images at the highest resolution when used with the S10.

RIMG0927 (Medium)

Despite my preference for an external viewfinder, I'm suggest you be picky about the one you're planning to buy. In the GF-1 review, I said its EVF would be knocked off with just a slight push. This won't happen to the GXR's. Although the docking on the camera body is lockless like the GF-1's, the EVF sits securely atop it. The built is of high quality.

The diopter wheel is located on top of the EVF and can be adjusted in steps. You'll never turn it accidentally like in the case of the GF-1's. This EVF also tilts up and down in steps, an improvement over the previous VF-1 which can be moved by accident when in use.

Outgrowing the Camera

When looking for a camera, you'll be better off if you buy one which lets you experiment your techniques. In this regards, the GXR system will take the user a long period to outgrow it because of its customisability, most notably the My Settings, individual colour settings for each colour (orange, green, sky blue, red, and magenta; hue and saturation can be set at five levels) and white balance compensation.

imageBetter still, the GXR can outgrow the users. When the GXR set first arrived on my hand, the word "organic" immediately sprung to mind in the sense that it could grow into different possibilities (like, wireless dual-module/ underwater shooting). This camera is surely in its own class. But no rose is without thorns. Unlike lenses which can be used for other camera system by way of adaptor rings, the modules acquired by the users will bond them and the GXR system together.

Image Quality

The images taken with the A12 are solid. The lens is not called GR for no reason. It has good resolution. The edge-to-edge sharpness is good as evidenced by the full-size photos previously uploaded here, here and here. I have no complaint about its image quality. Frankly, for amateur photographers, images taken with a MFT or a APS-C sensor are very decent irrespective of which brand the camera belongs to.

R0011589 (Medium)As for high ISO images, I have no problem in using the ISO 800 images taken with the A12. Although the higher ISO ones are not as reassuring, they work fine on normal-size prints.

Regarding the S10, it should be compared with the GX200. The S10 images are one step better than the GX200's. The ISO 400 images by S10 are comparable to the ISO 200 images by GX200. As the S10 is fitted with a tiny 1/1.7" sensor, I have no complaint about its images up to ISO 800.

Focusing

As in the case of GF-1, focusing is a problem for the A12 in situations where light is low, the objects are less contrasty or at too close a distance from the lens. But the A12 is more burdened by the macro-focusing mechanism which further slows down its AF speed in those situations.

R0011558 (Medium)

When the macro-focusing is on, the lens goes through all the focusing range to find the right focusing spot, then retracts completely and moves out to lock the focus. Sometimes it fails after such a process. It doesn't happen all the time. But this just makes the issue worse because the user can never guess when it will behave like this.

The remedy is to turn off macro-focusing, which is turned on by default (i.e. the lens automatically switches to macro-focusing if it detects that the subject is needy of such focusing). Also, switch the focusing mode to Multi-AF or, if suitable, infinity rather than Spot-AF. This will improve the focusing speed by much in all situations. Of course, you can use manual focusing. But, mark you, the image doesn't magnify automatically during manual focusing. Users have to activate it manually. Not a good idea.

RIMG0751 (Medium)

Final Verdict

This is how I'd mark the GXR on the four criteria mentioned above: (full score: 5 stars)

- Does it feature great ergonomics? 4½ (A10 and S12) - Is it reliable in locking focus at a reasonable fast speed? 2½ (A12) 4 (S10) - Does it take some years for the user to outgrow the camera? 4½ (both) - Does it give out images with good image quality? 4 (both)

A point should be added here that the saving grace for the A12 in relation to its slow focusing speed is: it does not represent the performance of the GXR. At press time, Ricoh has introduced another APS-C lensor. We shall see if the issue has been tackled on the new module.

RIMG0797 (Medium)

The GXR system is a novelty. It is more a new idea than a new camera, as revolutionary as challenging to photographers. So Ricoh's task is first to sell the idea that it is worth the dear admission price. Before photographers' attention is attracted to the camera itself, efforts have to be made to substantiate the "lensor" concept by a more substantial choice of modules at a reduced pricing level.

RIMG0849 (Medium)

Therefore, to drum up for the system, Ricoh has to rigorously preach this concept and convince the photographic community. Apart from publicity efforts, the best sermon is action: beef up the GXR system with a wider range of modules in a year or two.

For those who worry about the life cycle of the GXR body. Well, I think the body should be able to cater for the photographers' need in a good many years. The body sports a LCD display with a resolution level much higher than the present market norm for small compact cameras. After all, we don't really need a more extreme one to make the images look better than on a computer screen, do we? For the menu system, I wonder if users wish to adjust to a new menu system from time to time. For button disposition, the GXR body is good enough in this area. So the only problem for the GXR body is its price. It certainly adds an unnecessary overhead cost to the modules which actually take photos.

Again, pricing is a concern for this organic system to grow in its market share. The drawbacks of price and the focusing speed in certain unfavourable situations for A12 aside, the GXR system is a very enjoyable system offering great ergonomics and superb (A12) to good (S10) image quality.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Why Hong Kong Wet Market?

R0018570 (Medium)

Open-air wet markets in Hong Kong are mixtures of the old and new, the East and West. Oldness is found in the way the vendors shout for the shoppers' attendtion, apparently an ancient way of hawking as can be read in the Chinese poems written in the imperial times. Novelties are aplenty simply at a glimpse of the new varities of products and produces from around the world.

R0018573 (Medium)

If you travel to the countries in this part of the world, chances are that you will bump into a number of like markets in the open. That's why the local open-air wet markets represent the way of shopping in the East. But in one area the local ones stand out among those in other eastern countries -- cleaniness. The experience in a wet market in Bali which was infested by flies is hard to forget. Fact is, Hong Kong is no match in cleaniness if compared with Japan and Singapore. After all, being too clean is not Hong Kong's character. To Hongkongers, clean enough is enough.

R0018572 (Medium)

This mentality is also manifested in the local wet markets. They are clean but never squeaky clean. They are orderly but not without spontaneities in arrangements. I went to some like markets in Paris. They were similar to Hong Kong's but just too orderly. The local versions of such markets aptly mix the features of the East and the West.

All these combine to give the wet markets here the unique atmosphere: nosiy at times and quiet in some sections (especially the lanes shaded by awnings behind the roadside kiosks), criss-crossed with activities seemingly going on in order, bustling with pedestrains but bored to the vendors (see their body language) not doing well. But the unexpected scenes dotted with colours there are the most enticing to photographers for a visit.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Literally All Walks of Life

I half squatted with my GX200 pointing to the awnings as the backdrop, waiting for passers-by to be my subjects and ending up with these photos which I like.

R0017480 (Medium)

R0017481 (Medium) R0017477 (Medium)

R0017478 (Medium)

R0017479 (Medium)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Heaven Knows

R1229266 (Medium)
^This bowl-like container is a typical sort of shrine the local people put in front of their shops and homes for worshipping the deities.  The Chinese characters say, "Blessings from the Heavens"

Why does Ricoh develop the P10 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VC, one of the two new modules for the GXR?  If GXR users are after such a focal length, won't they be more interested in one with a APS-C sensor?  Otherwise, they would buy a CX3 of which the sensor is said to share the same back-illuminated technology (probably the same sensor too) because chances are that the P10, even with the same sensor size, will be sold at a dearer price than the CX3.  The CX3 has a better resale value after all.

Is Ricoh duplicating its product line of compact cameras for the GXR system?

As for the other new module A12 28mm f/2.5, it apparently doesn't have any vibration correction capability.  That's not what I've expected.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

GXR: Two New Modules

Due for sale in Summer 2010 will be the P10 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VC unit that will include a compact sensor with a resolution of 10 million pixels. The CMOS sensor will be back-illuminated, as with the unit used in the new CX3 camera, which will reduce the impact of noise in low light situations.
A GR Lens A12 28mm f/2.5 is due for launch in winter 2010 and will be fitted with a 12 million pixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor.
Full text at Amateur Photography.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Sony's EVIL has a Name and More Musings

image
Source: a Chinese site here 

It is named NEX according to sonyalpharumours which has posted several links about the camera here.  This is way better than EVIL, and aptly named for the market it targets.  Sony has also revealed that Zeiss lenses will be available for the NEX system.

We really hope that the final product will look nicer too.  Judging from the lack of a hot-shoe, and the video ad by Sony, we can safely guess that the mock-up is fairly conceptual.  This says something too: First, Sony is finally (just now?) waking up to the potentials of this segment of the market.  Second, since Sony feels the pressing need to share the market as evidenced by sharing just mock-ups without a sales schedule at the press conference, it may come up with an aggressive pricing as it did to the full-frame market with its A850.

Regarding the size of the APS sensor for the NEX system, does this mean that it is a APS-C size sensor?

image

If you're interested, here is a video from imaging-resource recorded at the Sony press conference:

 

Lastly, Sony issued a press release several hours ago.  The relevant paragraph:

In 2010 Sony will introduce a new ultra-compact camera with interchangeable lenses that teams “any time, anywhere” convenience with DSLR picture quality. Exhibited in early concept mock-up form at PMA, the camera features a newly-developed Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor. It will also support HD video recording using the efficient AVCHD format. Shown in mock-up form alongside the compact, easy-to-use new camera is a selection of compatible interchangeable lenses.

Links and Musings: Sony's Mirrorless EVIL System

EVIL
This morning the internet is awash with news about Sony's official announcement to join in the fold of large-sensor compact cameras with interchangeable lenses. The system is dubbed EVIL (bad taste!), standing for the self-explanatory term Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens.
 
This development is no surprise at all. If you walk on a busy street here in Hong Kong, a fair bet is that you'll come across a dozen of young and lady photographers carrying a GF-1 within half an hour. These compact cameras have increasingly captured the market of young and lady photographers, a.k.a the future market (that's why the EVIL cameras are so colourful; hey, will it have a black body version?). So, it's also a fair bet that Cannon will slip in when the market is more developed (more dizzily jam-packed?) to slice off a lion's share with its versions (certainly for the China's market with the zillion of Cannon fans in the country).
 
Only mock-ups (ugly down pat!) were shown at Sony's press conference. The new system is believed to hit the store shelves this year (Sony's shy of a timetable). The camera will use a new Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, which is probably to be fitted in the successor to the Sony A700 (Who will want the A700 when the A850 is not expensive at all and the EVIL uses the same sensor?). The sensor will be bigger than the MFT's (but by how much, Sony?). Whether this will give Sony's EVIL system better image quality and high ISO performance is remained to be seen. And how about the focusing speed, which is still somewhat an issue for these compact interchangeable-lens cameras?
 
But one thing is sure, prices will drop as the competition turns keen. Oh, another thing which is sure too: the EVIL system will come in pink sooner or later (please don't!)
 
More photos about the EVIL system here. To follow up the rumours, click here.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Power of Hope...

R0014105 (Medium)

... manifests itself here in causing a pause to earning money for a chance of winning money. Kudos to the men, the fine British cultural heritage has been successfully carried forward – betting on horse racing.

This is Sunday. Have a hopeful day!