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.
The GXR camera body holds no great surprises for anyone who's familiar with is predecessors. It's particularly similar to the GX200 and GR Digital III, for example, and has the same excellent VGA screen. As Ricoh is pretty stingy with picture file compatibility in its cameras, we weren't able to test the screen with our sensor, as the GXR wouldn't display any of our test shots.
Other familiar features include the control dial and the ADJ thumb wheel, which can be clicked to bring up the quick menu. Plus, there's a four-way controller, two customisable Fn keys and a new Direct Menu button.
The menus are dense and can seem rather complicated at first, but there are plenty of options for customising the camera and your settings can be saved in thee custom modes. In this field, at least, the GXR is up there with expert SLRs.
The camera's build feels similar to previous Ricoh compacts and is fairly sturdy on the whole, with rubber detail for excellent grip. Some features, however, (such as the mounting of the built-in flash) leave a little more to be desired. Modules slide into the camera body on runners and the system feels reassuringly robust and works well. It doesn't feel like the modules will fall off when you're using the camera. On the other hand, we were rather worried about the electronic connection between the camera body and the module: what if some dirt or a grain of sand got in between the pins? A flat connection (like between an SLR and its lenses) would have been more reassuring, not to mention easier to clean!
The 28-300 mm module basically has the same lens as the CX4 but its construction is slightly different, with two telescopic elements instead of three. This seems intended to improve control over the positioning of the elements by reducing movement when the lens is deployed. The downside, however, is that the GXR is bulkier than the CX4, and at 50 mm thick, it's larger than other expert compacts currently on the market.
ResponsivenessThe bad news is that the GXR is slow to start up, taking over two and a half seconds. That's a shame for a camera that's lined up to compete with compacts with interchangeable lenses, which are usually as fast to start up as SLRs, often taking under a second.
Once started up, the camera does its job well: it isn't quite as fast to focus as the best models out there, but it's still good enough. Saving photos is fast too, although the camera does take a little longer to turn itself around with RAW shots, taking a perfectly acceptable 1.7 seconds. The burst mode clocks up 5 fps for five shots in RAW or 20 Jpegs, which is excellent.
Picture QualityBasically, the P10 28-300 mm module is a Ricoh CX4 without the screen or grip handle. It's therefore no surprise to see that picture quality in the two models is very similar indeed. Noise is handled in exactly the same way up to 400 ISO, with sharp, clean pictures. Smoothing then starts to appear, and is a little more pronounced in the CX4: as the GXR is aimed at more advanced users, it takes shots that are naturally more grainy and thus more accurate. It's fair to say that 800 ISO is the maximum limit for an 8" x 10" print, and for a 4" x 6" print 1600 ISO is already problematic. You could, however, always switch to RAW (DNG format) for easier post-editing.
The 28-300 mm lens found in the P10 module is very similar to the lens used in the CX4. However, its limited retraction seems to improve accuracy, particularly in wide-angle mode. In our test shots, the GXR gave slightly better results than its compact counterpart, but at 200 mm, there's barely any difference at all. There's a slight loss in sharpness in the corners of shots at all focal lengths, and the lens is generally outdone by certain superzoom compacts, particularly Panasonic and Canon models.
The 1 cm macro mode is worth a mention, obviously for its impressive magnification, but also for its irritating blurriness. The depth of field is logically very short—around 1 mm—and the GXR will release the shutter as soon as one thing in the frame comes into focus, no matter what it may be. In our example (above), the background of the graphics card is sharp, but the surface of the component is clearly blurred—very annoying!
VideoIn the Ricoh GXR, the video mode changes from module to module. The P10 28-300 mm module films in 720p HD. The optical zoom can't be used and is instead replaced by a low-quality digital zoom. And while picture quality is pretty good in decent light, speckles and fuzz are a problem when filming indoors.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is the low-rate mono sound. As it's recorded at the rear of the camera, there's no chance it'll improve as new modules are released as the mics are built into the GXR camera body.