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Design

LIke the GR-D the GX100 has a refeshingly austere design that is obviously intended to echo the materials and finishes of a high end SLR and to convey the impression that this is a serious photographic tool - a world apart from the ditzy world of 'pet modes', face detection and other such shiny fripperies. It's also very slim indeed - around 25mm thick (just over an inch) when powered down (the lens extends by around 27mm when you turn it on), though handling isn't totally compromised thanks to a non-slip surface on the slender grip. And although it doesn't have the indestructible feel of the flagship GR-D it does seem very solid and the fit and finish is pretty slick.

In your hand

Despite the none-slip finish I would have preferred a slightly bigger grip as the body is so slim that it doesn't feel particularly safe carried and used in one hand. The wrist strap helps here, but it feels a lot safer, and steadier, if you support the camera with both hands. Operationally the GX100 is as good as it gets in a compact, with twin control dials giving fast, fluid control over exposures.

Body elements

The GX100 ships with a rechargeable D-60 battery that's good enough for about 380 shots (CIPA standard). You can also use three AAA batteries, though we struggled to get more than 25 shots out of a set, so for emergencies only. The SD card slot is under the same hinged door, so no changing cards when the camera is on a tripod. There is a small 26MB internal memory.
The main mode dial sits on the top plate, just to the right of the shutter release. There are eight positions (auto, program, aperture priority, manual, scene, movie and two custom modes). On the top of the grip one of the two command dials and to the left of the shutter release is the main power (on/off) button.
The GX100's screen is superb; pin-sharp, fast and bright enough to see in all conditions bar direct sunlight (when frankly it's impossible). At 230,000 pixels it's also one of the higher resolution 2.5-inch screens on the market. Finally we should mention that the viewing angle (170°) is very wide indeed.
The built-in pop-up flash has a range of around 0.2 to 5.0m (W) or 3.0m (T) using auto ISO. The flash is activated by a small switch on the top of the camera (it doesn't pop up on its own).
Still a fairly unusual sight on a compact camera; a flash hot shoe for attaching external flashguns. Unlike the GR-D it's a 'dumb' shoe - there's no connections for any communication with a 'dedicated' flashgun. To the left of the hot shoe is a customizable function (Fn) button, to which you can assign one of various functions.
The flash shoe is also used to attach the optional electronic viewfinder. It's tempting to dismiss this as nothing more than a novelty (especially given that it isn't actually all that good). It's apparently got 201,000 pixels, but it doesn't look that sharp and you really have to press your eye up to it to see the whole frame. That said it's useful for 'low down' macro shots and is marginally better than the LCD screen in very bright light.
The 24-72mm zoom is a real treat, especially when compared to the 35-105mm type zooms found on most compact cameras. The added creative potential offered by the extra wide angle more than offsets the relatively short telephoto end, especially for scenic shots and interiors. The ring around the base of the lens can be removed to allow the attachment of the optional accessory lens (which takes it down to 19mm).
The four-way controller is used mainly for navigating menus (in record mode you tend to use the control dials to change most setting). Each arrow has a dedicated function when shooting too, most usefully giving you direct access to flash and macro modes. In this shot you can also see the play mode button, self-timer and the DISP button, used to change the amount of information displayed on-screen.
The second control wheel isn't a 'wheel' as such - it's a wheel-shaped rocker switch (though in use the difference isn't great unless you want to quickly whizz through shutter speeds). The zoom rocker switch is well placed to the right of the rubberised thumb grip.

Control and menus

Although you can't expect to get true SLR-style handling from such a compact camera, Ricoh has obviously put a lot of effort into giving users an interface designed to allow relatively fluid use of the manual controls. The use of external controls (including two control wheels) rather than menus and the high level of customization on offer make the GX100 one of the few compact cameras that can be used quickly and intuitively by experienced SLR photographers. Of course it's not perfect; there are a few foibles that I found annoying - and the screen can get confusingly crowded - but once you've mastered the controls the GX100 is considerably less frustrating for the user who likes to tweak settings than most other compacts.

As you'd expect there are several options available for the amount of information displayed on-screen - from a totally uncluttered 'live preview only' to full shooting information (including a histogram). This is the grid option. Note that the exposure settings (as shown here) don't appear until you half-press the shutter to activate the metering, though they do hang around for a few seconds afterwards (and they are 'live' - they change if the scene brightness changes). Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area(s) used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger. Note that in Program mode you can 'shift' the exposure (without changing the brightness) by turning the front control dial, which is a feature all serious compacts should have.
Once you start to use the various manual overrides the screen can get a little cluttered. Here we're in manual exposure mode, where the front dial changes apertures and the rear 'dial' changes shutter speeds. A simple 'needle' lets you know how far you are from the metered exposure. Note that you can use this mode without all the other screen clutter. There is a manual focus option, with a magnified preview if you want it. The other focus options are multi (chooses up to 5 from 17 AF points), spot (center), snap (fixed at the hyperfocal distance) and infinity. The latter options speed up shooting considerably.
The rear control dial is also a button; press it and you get a customizable set of quick menus for anything from AE compensation to white balance, ISO and metering. You can define up to four of these mini menus (using the setup menu), and the settings are selected using the command dials. It's fast and intuitive. In the shooting settings menu you'll find three pages of options covering everything from file size / quality to metering, ISO and white balance. There's also an interval timer and image parameters (contrast, sharpness, saturation). Many of the functions here can also be accessed using the control dials (see left).
In playback mode you can choose the level of information displayed, from none to full shooting information and histogram (as here). There is a nice option to scroll through images 'filmstrip' style.
Pressing the down button on the 'zoom' rocker lets you view a grid of 4x3 thumbnails.... ...and the up button lets you magnify saved images for a closer look.
The Playback Settings menu pretty basic; just a single page for options for slide shows, resizing, printing and copying plus (on page 2) a skew correction function (for copying documents, which we all do, right?). The 6 page setup menu is home to the usual camera options (screen brightness, date and time etc). There are also a fair amount of customization options in here, plus an unusual 'step zoom' setting. This makes the zoom move in 5 discrete steps (24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 72mm). This menu is also where you'll find the option to save your own custom mode.
Unusually for a camera of this type not only does the GX100 offer RAW+JPEG capture, but you can choose the size/quality of JPEG you want too. Nice. Last but not least there are a few scene modes including a couple of oddities (text and skew correction) obviously aimed at the business user.

 

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