Ricoh Caplio GX100 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution, fairly good corner sharpness even at 24mm equiv.
- Unusual and creatively versatile 24-72mm equiv. zoom range
- Low distortion for such a wide lens
- Fast F2.5 maximum aperture at wide end of zoom
- Dual control dials and customizable interface
- Superb user interface for manual controls and overrides
- Program shift
- Pretty effective Image Stabilization (nowhere near as good as an optical system, however)
- 19mm lens option
- Excellent screen
- Generally fast operation
- Raw mode
- Hot shoe for external flash
- Useful range of photographic features
- Snap focus mode very fast indeed - perfect for street photography
- High quality construction
- Slim, pocketable design
- Decent battery life
- Excellent macro mode
Conclusion - Cons
- Noise and noise reduction issues at all sensitivity settings over ISO 80 - ISO 400 and up pretty much unusable for anything beyond a small print
- JPEG output a little soft, especially at smaller apertures
- Default settings produce rather 'over processed' results, with strong saturation and sharpening
- (Very) mild Auto white balance problems
- Screen can be hard to see in very bright light
- Add on viewfinder isn't great, also not brilliant in bright light
- No dedicated flash, no flash white balance preset (limits usefulness of hot shoe).
- Can't use flash with viewfinder tilted up
- Highlight clipping a serious issue in bright conditions
- 5.5 seconds to save a raw file still too long for quick snaps
- F4.4 maximum aperture at 72mm slower than we'd like
- Very slow focus in macro mode and at long end of zoom in low light
- Supplied raw converter doesn't produce great results
You've got to admire Ricoh, one of the oldest names in the photo market, for taking the kind of risks bigger players aren't able - or willing - to take, producing niche products that are designed by people who obviously understand photography and the needs of the serious photographer. Unfortunately it then does its outright best to stop anyone buying them, with an 'afterthought' approach to cameras on its website, lack of availability in huge markets like the USA and shoestring marketing in the areas they are sold. It's ironic that a company known these days for faceless printer technologies is actually one of the few innovators in digital cameras - and one with an undeservedly meagre market share.
The GX100 is typical of this 'photographer led' approach and - on paper - offers a compelling mix of features in a well designed slim body, and, like the GR-D, it gets as near to 'SLR-like' control as you'll find in a compact camera. Throw in a decent level of customization and the option to shoot raw (albeit at a rather leisurely pace) and you've got what appears to be the perfect solution for those wanting a pocketable alternative to a bulky SLR or with a specific requirement for a wider-than-normal lens.
But of course it's easy to design a camera that ticks all the right boxes on paper; producing something that delivers in the real world is a different kettle of fish altogether. So does the GX100 succeed in delivering on its promise? The answer, inevitably, isn't a simple 'yes' or 'no'. From a 'camera' point of view it's hard to fault the GX100; handling and control is excellent, and as a wideangle lover I can't stress enough how creatively liberating it is to have a 24mm equivalent lens on such a compact camera; by comparison the 35mm-ish wideangle found on most small compacts feels blinkered and restrictive.
That said, you do of course lose out at the other end of the zoom; 72mm equiv. is only just long enough for a head and shoulders portrait, and the F4.4 maximum aperture is a good stop slower than the equivalent focal length on most competitors. But then no one is going to buy the GX100 for its telephoto capabilities, and the CCD-shift stabilization takes some of the sting out of the slow lens by giving you a stop or so back.
And the GX100 - aside from the focus hunting in low light and particularly in macro mode - feels fast and responsive too; by cutting the 'pre focus' step out of picture taking it's possible to get a shutter/focus lag of as little as 0.3 seconds; well into DLSR territory (though without pre-focus there is a slight drop in focus accuracy and you lose the ability to check the camera has picked the right thing to lock onto). Raw shooting is a lot slower, but the 5.5 seconds or so it takes to save each file is a big improvement on the GR-D, and for leisurely landscape photography is less of an issue than you may think.
I didn't personally get on very well with the electronic viewfinder, though the fact it can be tilted up through 90° does make it handy for macro shots, and for the price difference it's probably worth getting the VF kit. The screen is lovely and only gave me serious issues in direct sunlight (when a good old optical viewfinder would have been very welcome).
Whilst the camera and its operation get a big thumbs up, the results produce a far more mixed response. On the one hand resolution is excellent and corner to corner detail and distortion are far better than we expected from a lens with such a short wideangle. On the other there are some serious issues with noise and noise reduction at anything over ISO 80, white balance isn't 100% reliable, and highlight clipping/overexposure problems are way too common. We lay most of these issues firmly at the feet of that over-stuffed 10MP sensor, but some of this is stuff Ricoh could fix fairly easily. When everything comes together the output can be superb - and shooting raw gives you the ability to overcome some of the issues we found - but this is not a camera you can trust to 'just work' when you use it as a point and shooter.
And I guess that's what defines the GX100 - it's a camera that only really shines in the hands of someone with the photographic experience to overcome its limitations, to make the most of the almost peerless access to controls, and to be prepared to put the work in both at the shooting stage and quite possibly in post processing.
And let's not forget that this is the only camera in the world that currently offers this feature set, and - though it has more than its share of flaws - it has something increasingly rare in the homogenized world of little silver P&S cameras; the ability to give you a different view on the world and to put some of the craft of picture taking back into the hands of the photographer.
To sum up, the GX100 isn't quite as good a camera as it thinks it is, because great features and handling cannot make up for a noisy sensor and questionable processing. It is also certainly not a camera I'd recommend for everyone - unless you want the 24mm equiv. lens and manual controls there are plenty of better options at not much more than half the price. But for the SLR user wanting a 'carry anywhere' pocket camera for mainly scenic work it has much to offer, and - despite our misgivings about some aspects of its performance - it is a camera we enjoyed using very much.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||9.0|
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