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Field Report: Ricoh GX100
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Field Report: Ricoh GX100

Does this posh compact have the smarts to survive on the street?

When it was introduced in 2006, the Ricoh GX100 broke new ground in the digital compact camera field with its revolutionary removable VF-1 electronic viewfinder.






Overview

While the camera was recently supplanted by the GX200 in the Ricoh line, most features are essentially the same, and at under $520 (with the viewfinder) the GX100’s current price is roughly $200 less than its introductory cost, it’s worth a closer look while it is still available. (The GX200's sensor is more densely packed with pixels, boasting 12MP to the GX100's 10, and offers a few modern amenities under the hood, such as claimed enhanced noise reduction. But it costs $600 without the viewfinder and around $750 with it.)

The GX100 aspires to be a favorite of more experienced photographers and to take the place of bulky DSLRs in situations where something more compact and less obtrusive would be warranted. The camera is engineered with the look and feel of a posh film camera, with many digital twists thrown in.

Let's see how it did when we took it out to shoot street photography on the unforgiving streets of New York City.

Caveat: Adorama Camera is the exclusive U.S. retailer for Ricoh digital cameras.

Ricoh GX100 at a glance



Key Features
  • 24-72mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.5-4.4 lens
  • Easy manual controls
  • 10 megapixel CCD sensor
  • 35mm, square aspect ratio options
  • ISO 80-1600
  • Anti-Shake
  • Custom settings
  • Hot shoe


System options:

Best Suited For:
  • Street photography
  • Action photography
  • Outdoor/Travel photography
  • Photojournalism
  • General snapshooting
Not recommended for:
  • Far-away subjects
  • Studio photography
  • Low light photography
Cost: $519 with viewfinder


Handling, Features, and Ergonomics

I took the GX100 on several photographic journeys see what it was capable of, and was impressed its compactness and logical control layout. Control knobs and wheels give the camera a familiar feel for long-time photographers, but the electronics add utility that make this camera so appealing.

Pop the top: Unique removable electronic viewfinder clicks onto camera via hot shoe and data port. Downside? No add-on flash possible when EVF is attached.





The viewfinder is a traffic stopper. Although the GX100 (and now the GX200) is available without the EVF finder, I think buying one without the other to save a hundred bucks is a false economy. Putting your eye to the finder promotes better camera-holding habits than the typical LCD-monitor-only, hold-at-arms-length approach, which can promote shakiness, despite anti-shake technology. Hold the camera to your eye and you are able to brace the camera against shake. One pleasant surprise I found about the finder is that it tilts up! You can flip it up as much as 90 degrees (and anywhere in between) and shoot while looking down.

One of the strengths of the GX100 is that it is customizable. There are two custom modes that you access via the control dial next to the shutter release, labeled MY1 and MY2. To set them go through the various camera menu options, choose the combination of settings you plan to work with often, then burrow into the setup menu until you see "Reg. My settings" (it's the 5th item down) and follow the prompts to assign your settings to one of the two custom options.


Hip to be square: 1:1 aspect ratio photography is available on the GX100. Check out that barrel distortion!

So, if your favorite combination of settings is, say, Black and White in 3:2 aspect ratio with flash off and only at ISO 80 using manual focus, assign that to MY1. If your second favorite combination is Action mode with vivid color at ISO 400, you can assign it to MY2. Then just move the dial to either setting to get there fast.

Of course, the GX100 has all the standard P, A, M, Auto, and movie modes, as well as some interesting "scene modes." To get there, turn the dial to Scene and press the Mode button (the top button in the circular array of buttons on the back of the camera). My favorite is the SKEW COR MODE (translation: skew correction mode), which automatically fixes oblique images of shots of printed materials with words. It works! (Just for fun, I tried applying this mode to a building shot at an oblique angle to see if it would automatically correct perspective. No dice).


Before and after: I shot this sign from above and to the side (left), then applied the “skew correction” feature (right).

Using the thumb-operated adjust knob and forefinger controls is incredibly easy. Press the ajdust knob to access EV compensation or white balance settings, ISO, and AF/MF options, then use the forefinger wheel to make the respective adjustments. Those are the defaults, but if you burrow into the Setup menu you can change which camera features you want to control. In manual exposure mode, adjust the shutter speed via the adjust knob and the aperture via the forefinger wheel. You can check your setting status in either the EVF finder or LCD screen.

The right touch: Front finger wheel (shown), in conjunction with thumb control knob in back jointly control most frequently used features.






The only issue I had with the control array was focus, which was achieved by pressing the up/down buttons in the circular array on the back of the camera. Each button press would change the focus, but where the focus point landed on each press was not consistent. Other than this one problem, overall I was impressed with the straightforward user experience.

Performance

On the streets of Manhattan, where split-second timing is an essential to capture candids of passersby, the GX100, like the GR-Digital and GR-Digital II, performed admirably. Lag time was minimal, even in autofocus--a big plus--and almost instantaneous when shooting in manual focus and exposure mode.

Image quality

At ISO 80 and 100, image quality was good, with some digital noise that likely won't be visible unless you're making a larger print. At 8x10 it should not be apparent. However, the GX100's pixel density works against it when you shoot at higher ISO settings, with digital noise starting to appear in dark areas by ISO 200 and throughout the image by ISO 400.

Here are a couple of example photos…



Street photography success: I was able to work quietly, quickly, and unobtrusively with the GX100. Image quality at ISO 100 was excellent: Almost no digital noise, and very good shadow detail while bright highlights aren’t overly blown out. Shot at 3:2 aspect ratio. Photo by Mason Resnick.

Wink, wink: At 100 percent, details are still nice and sharp!



Now, the bad news: Despite its pro aspirations, the GX100’s high ISO image quality was typical for a compact digital camera. Even reduced to screen size, at ISO 800 digital noise (grain) is apparent in this street shot. Photo by Mason Resnick.

The eyes don’t have it: 100 percent detail shot shows unacceptable noise. Ricoh claims the GX200 is less noisy.


Unless you only plan to make small prints, I do not recommend this camera for low-light, flashless photography unless you shoot at a low speed with the camera mounted on a tripod and anti-shake turned off.

Conclusion

The GX100 (and likely the GX200) offers an elegant user interface that is easy to learn and use, and can be quickly customized. It is small and unobtrusive, has a quiet shutter release and is quite responsive in the field—more so than most compact cameras. With a metal chassis, the camera is a bit heavier feels solid. Its only limit is image quality at higher ISOs—an issue the GX200 claims to address. If you want a solid picture-taking tool that looks and feels like a serious traditional camera and has a feature set to match its aspirations, the GX100 is worth serious consideration.



© 2008 Adorama Camera, Inc.

 

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