HandlingThe name GXR will sound fairly familiar to most people who've used a Ricoh compact. The GX and GR ranges are the brand's classic expert compacts, often held up as examples of fantastic handling among experienced users.
For more information about the GXR body, please go to our review of the GXR with P10 28-300 mm module. Basically though, it's an expert compact camera body as we like them, with plenty of settings, an excellent screen and advanced customisation options (you can pick which options go in the ADJ menu and save custom settings in three different modes). The body can seem a little harsh-looking to general users, but anyone looking to customise their camera body—almost as much as an expert SLR—will be able to look past the design.
The A12 28 mm module has an electronic focusing ring. It's more bulky than the P10 28-300 mm module (which has a compact camera sensor), but when equipped with this module, the GXR is comparable in size to the average compact camera with interchangeable lenses when equipped with a 'pancake' type lens (e.g. Olympus Pen E-PL1 + 17 mm lens, Sony Alpha NEX-5 + 16 mm lens). The Panasonic 14 mm lens, for example, has the same field of view (equivalent to 28 mm) as micro four-thirds cameras.
This is the second GXR module we've tested, on the same basic camera body as the P10 28-300 mm module. Switching modules brought to light a specific characteristic of the GXR system: the camera's image settings take priority over the physical characteristics of the sensor. After being set to 10 Megapixels in the micro four-thirds format for the 28-300 mm module (its native format), the GXR carried on taking pictures in this aspect ratio when we hooked up the 28 mm module, which has a 3:2-format sensor.
Therefore, the field covered is not the same. While in 3:2 format, the module is a 28 mm equivalent, in 4:3 format the edges are trimmed to make a 31 mm equivalent and pictures are taken in 10.7 Megapixels instead of 12.2 Megapixels. Conversely, if you set the camera to 3:2 to use a module with an APS sensor, when you switch back to the P10 28-300 mm module, you'll end up with an 8.9-Megapixel camera with a zoom equivalent to 29-312 mm.
ResponsivenessThis is one field in which the GXR A12 28 mm doesn't do quite as well as compacts with interchangeable lenses. It's slow to start up, taking over two seconds for the camera to be ready to take a picture. While that's just about acceptable with the 28-300 mm module, which is basically equivalent to a compact camera, it's no match for this module's competitors, which start up in under a second.
The autofocus isn't the fastest out there, especially in low light. Here too, its performances are worthy of a compact, while Panasonic, Sony or Samsung compacts with interchangeable lenses all have faster systems.
However, the GXR does have a 'snapshot' function, which allows you to pre-set the camera to focus at a given distance. Then, by pressing the shutter release button all the way down, you can take a shot almost instantly at this focal length. Pushing it half the way down activates the autofocus, taking a photo more slowly but at any distance away. We like this feature.
Picture QualityRicoh doesn't really go in for image processing in as big a way as some other brands. In equivalent models with equivalent-generation sensors, Ricoh compacts have always lagged behind the competition a little in this field. So will the GXR be able to get the best out of this 'large-format' 12-Megapixel CMOS that's been widely used in SLRs for two years already?
Ricoh doesn't do a bad job, taking Jpeg pictures that are sharp, accurate and hardly grainy at all up to 1600 ISO. At 3200 ISO there's a fair bit more noise, but the shots can still feasibly be used. Interestingly, those are the exact same reasons why we liked the Nikon D90, the first camera we tested with this sensor, almost two years ago.
The thing is that since then, other manufacturers have been constantly improving their cameras' internal workings to bring out the very best in this sensor's abilities. In particular, the Pentax K-r has raised the bar at least one notch higher for the current competition. In any case, the Ricoh still holds its own, and the RAW mode will allow the more demanding among you to go up to 3200 ISO without a second thought (or even to underexpose by one stop then tweak the colours to give the impression of 6400 ISO). As usual, though, other models out-perform the Ricoh on Jpeg photos.
If there's one field in which Ricoh should be able to deliver it's lens quality. After all, as the lens is directly integrated into a module with the sensor, the GXR system doesn't have to deal with the same restrictions as cameras with interchangeable lenses. In particular, the space between the sensor and the lens can be optimised in each module.
On the whole, the lens is pretty good. Although there's a slight loss of sharpness in the edges of frames, this remains moderate, even at f/2.5, and you'll have to look hard to notice it on a 8'' x 12'' print. At f/5.6, quality is very good over the whole of the frame, with hardly any distortion of any kind. Chromatic aberration is hardly visible at all even when viewing shots at 100% (equivalent to a 12'' x 18'' paper print). On the whole then, the A12 28 mm module has a good lens.
VideoAs Ricoh hasn't standardised video modes in the GXR system, these actually vary from one module to the next. The A12 28 mm module films 720p HD video at 24 fps in the Mjpeg format (a basic, but not very high-performance codec). The picture is typically sharp in good light but noisy in low light. Sound isn't recorded by the module but by the GXR camera body itself so, as with the P10 28-300 mm module, it's low-quality mono sound that lacks sharpness and detail. For example, voices can sometimes be difficult to hear if there's background noise to contend with.
- Great handling, plenty of settings
- Excellent lens quality acrosss the frame
- Noise handled well
- Plenty of customisation options
- Original modular design
- Not as responsive as certain compacts with interchangeable lenses
- No optical stabilisation
- Harsh design and complicated menus
- Can't change the lens alone
- Poor-quality sound
The Ricoh GXR + A12 28 mm module is lined up to compete with compact cameras with interchangeable lenses—typically those equipped with a wide-angle pancake lens. Picture quality is excellent in all conditions and the good range of settings and options will delight expert users. It's just a shame it's so slow to start up!