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Conclusion - Pros

  • Very good detail and sharpness at base ISO
  • Good dynamic range with smooth highlight roll-off
  • Very good performance in low light, low noise levels and good retention of detail at the same time
  • Excellent build quality and handling
  • Compact dimensions (for a camera with an APS-C sensor)
  • Highly customizable and flexible user interface with a large number of external controls
  • Very nice 3.0 inch, 920,000 pixel TFT screen
  • Good operational speed (but AF slow in low light)
  • New Multi-P white balance mode for mixed lighting
  • Excellent lens with good corner-to-corner sharpness and only marginal distortion
  • Neat built-in lens hood
  • Useful 1/2 life-size macro focus mode (but very slow macro AF)
  • Electronic level
  • High-res optional electronic viewfinder
  • Comprehensive software package included

Conclusion - Cons

  • Contrast detect AF slow, hunting and occasionally unreliable in anything but good light
  • No image stabilization
  • Battery life not great
  • Comparatively low-spec video mode (720p but no manual controls, no focus, no external mic)
  • Fastest shutter speeds not available at largest apertures
  • Some minor glitches in the user interface (see operations and handling summary on live view page)
  • Tripod mount not in the center of the lens
  • Price

Overall conclusion

As we've mentioned previously in this review the Ricoh GXR's concept of interchangeable camera modules makes it a very unique proposition in today's digital camera world and therefore a little difficult to benchmark against other models. Viewed as a camera in its own right the Ricoh GXR with the A12 50mm camera module is a very capable, but at almost $1200 also very expensive, fixed-focal-length, large-sensor mirror-less camera that is slightly let down by its sometimes sluggish and occasionally unreliable contrast detect AF system.

However, that's not the end of the story. Rather than being just another new camera the GXR body is the core of a whole new camera system. This system is currently still small and the the only other currently available camera module (S10, $440) converts the GXR into something like a Panasonic LX3 or a Ricoh GX200 - just a lot bigger and a lot more expensive. If and how this system will develop in the future is at this point in time pretty much unknown but will largely depend on its commercial success (just before publication of this review Ricoh announded the development of two more units, the P10 28-300 mm F3.5-5.6 VC and the A12 28 mm F2.5).

The interchangeable lens module concept has undoubtedly got its technological benefits (completely sealed units, potential to optimize lens/sensor combinations) but whether those are enough to make consumers hand over a sizeable extra sum of cash - compared to some of the alternatives - remains to be seen. After all you can currently pocket yourself a Panasonic GF1 with a 20mm pancake lens and an LX3 for approximately $1300.

There is another point to consider. In the digital age lenses tend to have a much longer shelf-life than camera bodies. Many photographers who replace their digital SLR every two or three years still use lenses that were originally purchased in the 80s or 90s. By fixing the lens to the sensor unit Ricoh practically reduces the lens' useful life to the sensor's. The GXR macro lens is a very nice piece of optical equipment now, and still will be in five years time. However, at that point how many photographers will be interested in using it with what will doubtless by then be an outdated sensor?

As we've mentioned above a lot depends on how the system will evolve in the future and at this point of time we can only speculate who the users of the GXR system will be. Whatever the future holds for the GXR, Ricoh deserves an awful lot of credit for coming up with something really new and taking the risks that the larger manufacturers are so perpetually reluctant to take.

Image Quality

After spending weeks of shooting both in the studio and in the open with the GXR/A12 50mm F2.5 macro combination it's it's fair to say that the Ricoh produces very good quality image output in almost any situation. Images taken at base ISO show very good detail and pixel level sharpness. At default settings the colors and tonality of the images are natural, with both good shadow and highlight detail. The GXR's metering is generally on the cautious side, minimizing the blowing of highlights in high-contrast situations.

When shooting at higher sensitivities in low light the output is of equally good quality. Noise is well controlled up to the maximum ISO. There is (of course) visible grain but the visually unpleasing chroma noise is kept to a minimum while crucially a lot of fine detail is being retained in the image. This is some of the best high ISO output of any APS-C camera we've seen.

The A12 50mm's excellent lens contributes significantly to the camera's good overall image quality. It displays excellent corner-to-corner sharpness, almost from wide open. Distortion is just about measurable but virtually impossible to spot in a real-life image. If you look very closely at RAW files you'll find the tiniest amount of lateral chromatic aberrations towards the edges of the frame but this is being eliminated in image processing and is not visible in the JPGs.

All in all, the combination of the A12 50mm sensor, image processing and lens produces, pretty much in any light condition, image output that is on par with many mid-level DSLRs and arguably the best we've seen so far on any mirrorless camera.

Handling

The GXR with an attached A12 50mm camera module cannot really be slipped into anyone's shirt pocket but is still small enough to be occasionally carried without a dedicated camera bag. The Ricoh's relatively small dimensions (for an APS-C sensor camera) mean that you're simply more likely to carry the camera with you and that it can be used with a mini-tripod, no doubt opening up a whole new range of photographic opportunities for photographers who are not satisfied with the image quality of small-sensor compact cameras.

Despite its small dimensions the GXR handles very well. Rubberized surfaces ensure a tight grip and the camera is comfortably weighty. The build quality is equally reassuring. The Ricoh might not be the prettiest camera around but it's certainly got 'quality product' written all over it.

The control interface matches the construction. The Ricoh features one of the most customizable user interfaces we have seen. Virtually every button can be reassigned to suit your needs or shooting style. Initially the larger number of controls and customization options can be a little intimidating and maybe even confusing, but if you take the time to set up the camera (and occasionally have a look at the manual), you'll end up with a user interface that is as close to your requirements as it can get.

Having said that, we've found a few teething problems with the interface that we've detailed in the operations section of this review. Most of those could be easily fixed with a firmware update. Despite of this the GXR feels at all times remarkably good in the hand and with its well laid out and flexible control interface it beats most of its current mirrorless competitors and indeed quite a few DSLRs in the operations department.

The final word

The Ricoh GXR/A12 50mm F2.5 Macro combination's very good image quality, robust build quality and flexible user interface make it a very interesting option for those who want (semi-) professional image output and handling in a very portable package. The camera's only real negative is its sometimes slow and/or unreliable contrast detect AF. It's still very early days for the GXR system, and we don't know how it will develop or just how many other modules will be available in the future, but if you are an early adopter with the necessary cash to spare the GXR/A12 50mm F2.5 Macro is a camera that is fun to use and capable of producing great quality images.

Ricoh GXR A12 50mm F2.5 Macro
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Anyone wanting SLR image and build quality in a compact package
Not so good for
Anything needing fast focusing, especially in low light
Overall score
67%
The Ricoh GXR/A12 50mm F2.5 Macro offers excellent, DSLR-like image- and build quality in a fairly compact package. However, the camera is slightly let down by its sometimes slow and/or unreliable contrast detect AF.

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