Ricoh GXR System
A radical new camera system in which lens-plus-sensor modules are changed via a slide-in mounting.Ricoh has unleased a design revolution with its new GXR system. It’s the first camera body that accepts interchangeable sensor-plus-lens modules, allowing buyers to choose the body/lens combination that suits them and providing a camera system with great flexibility for upgrading and expansion. . . [more]
Ricoh has unleashed a design revolution with its new GXR system. It’s the first camera body that accepts interchangeable sensor-plus-lens modules, allowing buyers to choose the body/lens combination that suits them and providing a camera system with great flexibility for upgrading and expansion.
The basic body module comes without an image sensor and has a slide-in mounting that accepts the ‘camera units’, which consist of sensor and lens modules. Because the sensor, lens and image processor are integrated into each camera unit, it is possible to match all three components to provide the best possible performance/price ratio.
The two parts of the GXR system are shown in this illustration. The body unit on the left contains a dock into which the camera unit (on the right) is fitted. (Source: Ricoh.)
The flexibility of this design has enabled Ricoh to produce the first compact digital camera unit with an APS-C sized sensor in the form of the GR Lens A12 50mm f/2.5 Macro camera unit. This unit slides into the camera body to create what Ricoh claims is the smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens camera with a large image sensor in the current market.
Sliding a camera unit into the GXR body is as easy as changing a memory card. (Source: Ricoh.)
The size and weight of the lens you fit dictates the weight of the camera you have to carry and the camera units for the GXR can make it either lighter or heavier than its rivals, depending on which one you fit. It also sets the price you will pay for the body and camera unit.
The GRX body module is based on Ricoh’s successful GR and GX series of compact digital cameras and boasts the same slim styling. It also sports the same 3-inch, high-resolution (920,000-dot) monitor as the GR Digital III. Many of the controls are the same in both cameras and most are located in the same (or similar) positions. The illustrations below show the similarities between the new GXR body and the GR and GX camera bodies.
Front views of the GRX body module with S10 camera module (left) and the GR Digital III body (right). (Source: Ricoh.)
Front views of the GRX body module with S10 camera module (left) and the GX200 body (right). (Source: Ricoh.)
Back views of the GRX body module (left) and the GR Digital III body (right). (Source: Ricoh.)
Top views of the GRX body module (left) with no camera unit fitted and the GR Digital III body (right). (Source: Ricoh.)
There are some obvious advantages to Ricoh’s approach in developing the GXR system. For starters, it provides a platform for future development without making an existing camera body (and all the technology it contains) obsolete. It also allows the camera designers to match lenses with sensors and image processors. Each component can be finely tuned to match the capabilities of the other components and deliver optimal performance.
Providing a separate lens/sensor/processor module enables photographers to upgrade these three crucial components whenever new developments in technology occur – or when they require capabilities not provided with their existing system. Furthermore, because the sensor is contained within the camera module and never exposed to the air, dust becomes a non-issue and there is no need for a dust removal system (and its added production costs).
Design and Ergonomics
The GXR body unit has a die-cast magnesium chassis with a smart, black textured cladding that is similar to the GR Digital III and GX200. The grip has a deeper moulding than either of these cameras and a latch for detaching the camera units is located just above it. Just right of the camera unit release lever is an AF-assist light, while at the opposite end of the front panel is a microphone hole for recording audio when shooting video clips.
The metal chassis of the GXR body unit. (Source: Ricoh.)
The GXR body unit, showing the moulded grip, latch button and mounting plate for the camera modules. (Source: Ricoh.)
The camera units slide into the body on two rails, which are located in the mounting plate. Spring-loaded clips, which hold the camera unit securely in place, are released by the latch.
Like the GR Digital III, the GXR body carries two control dials, an ‘up-down’ dial in front of the shutter button and an ‘Adj. lever’ on the rear panel, just above the quick review button. These dials can be used in place of the arrow pad buttons when navigating the camera’s menus – or viewing images. They are also used to adjust apertures and shutter speeds in the P, A, S and M shooting modes.
This diagram, copied from the GXR camera body’s User Guide, shows the location of the two control dials.
Almost two thirds of the rear panel is covered by the 3-inch LCD monitor, which is fixed in place. Above this monitor are three buttons, none of which is found on the other cameras.
The rear panel of the GXR body showing the location of the main controls. (Source: Ricoh.)
Pressing the Direct button displays the current shooting settings. This screen can be used directly to change camera settings by toggling with the arrow pad buttons or Adj. lever.
Current camera settings are displayed by pressing the Direct button above the LCD monitor. (Source: Ricoh.)
The Open button pops up the built-in flash, while the VF/LCD button switches between the viewfinder and monitor displays. Right of the monitor is a standard arrow pad with a central Menu/OK button. A dedicated Macro button has been provided on the rear panel, relieving the arrow pad from handling this function.
Instead, the horizontal ‘buttons’ on the arrow pad access the two Function (Fn) menus while the vertical buttons move the cursor up and down. The Fn buttons provide direct access to frequently-used functions and photographers can pre-select and register their preferences.
Users can also assign up to four frequently-used functions to the Adj. lever for quick access in the full auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes. These functions can be selected from: white balance, ISO, picture quality, image setting, white balance compensation, focus, metering, continuous shooting, bracketing, flash compensation and adjustment and exposure compensation. In Scene mode, only white balance and exposure compensation are available, while exposure compensation is not available with Movie mode.
The remaining buttons on the rear panel are the same as on the GR Digital III, with self-timer/delete and Display buttons below the arrow pad and a zoom rocker in the top right corner.
The mode dial on the top panel is identical to the dial on the GR Digital III and comes with a locking button to prevent accidental re-setting. It carries settings for full auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes, a Scene preset sub-menu position and three My Settings modes where photographers can store groups of frequently-used settings for quick retrieval. Up to six sets can be defined and stored.
The top panel of the GXR body. (Source: Ricoh.)
This diagram, copied from the GXR camera body’s User Guide, shows the different shooting modes provided by the camera body.
Ricoh has made a couple of nice changes to the other top panel controls, improving both appearance and functionality. The on/off switch is now a slider and less likely to be switches on accidentally when removing the camera from a bag. The shutter button is now circular and raised to the level of the mode dial, making it more comfortable to operate.
The memory card slot, which accepts SD and SDHC cards, shares a compartment with the battery in the body unit’s base. A lift-up cover on the side panel protects the USB (mini-B jack supporting Hi-Speed USB 2.0), AV and HDMI connectors. A standard tripod socket is located between the edge of the base panel and the battery/card compartment.
The GXR body provides most of the same controls as the GR Digital III and uses a similar menu system with three sections: Shooting Menu, Key Custom Options and Setup. The menu uses the same white on black display and the font size is rather small. (We found the small font size in the GR Digital III’s menus to be difficult to read in bright conditions.)
The first page of the shooting menu in the S10 camera module.
Items available in the shooting menu depend on the shooting mode selected but all modes provide access to focusing and white balance adjustments. The GXR body supports five focusing modes: Multi AF, Spot AF, manual focus, Snap and Infinity. In Manual focus mode, a distance scale is displayed on the left side of the monitor and the up-down dial is used to set focus – unless the camera unit has a focusing ring on its lens. A depth-of-field indicator is provided in some shooting modes.
Pressing the Adj. level allows users to select the AF target (shown with cross hairs), while the arrow pad is used to shift the target around the screen. The Fn buttons can be used for focus target selection in Macro mode. Holding down the Menu/OK button enlarges the centre of the frame for focus checking.
When Snap focus is selected, the focus distance can be pre-set to one of eight distances, ranging from one metre to infinity. When Snap is selected for Focus or Full Press Snap is on, the snap focus distance can also be selected by rotating the up-down dial while pressing the Macro button.
If Pre-AF is set to On in Multi AF or Spot AF modes, the camera will continue to focus without the shutter-release button being half-pressed, although the focus range is narrower than for normal focus. This setting can reduce focusing times to improve shutter responsiveness.
Metering options include the standard Multi, Centre-weighted and Spot settings, with the first using a 265-segment sensor. When Centre or Spot is selected, an icon indicates the selected mode on the monitor display. When Auto Aperture Shift is set to On, the camera will automatically adjust the aperture setting to prevent overexposure in the aperture priority mode.
White balance settings are the same as the GR Digital III, with the standard Auto, Outdoors, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent and manual settings. The Multi-pattern Auto mode, which adjusts colours for differences in lighting across the subject, and the White Balance Detail fine-tuning are also provided.
Like most modern digital cameras, the GXR provides a suite of Image Settings that enable users to adjust images to achieve certain effects. Options include Vivid, Standard, Natural, Black and White, B&W TE (Toning Effect) plus two settings for storing customised adjustments to hue, saturation, contrast and sharpness. With settings other than Standard (the default), an icon indicates the selected mode on the monitor display.
The Key Custom Options tab is the same as in the GR Digital III. The illustration below shows the first page in this sub-menu and settings can be saved via the Reg. My Settings tab. They can then be stored in one of the MY modes and an alphanumeric ‘Name’ display is provided for entering names for the registered selections.
The Key Custom Options sub-menu.
The Scene mode sub-menu contains only six entries: Movie, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Nightscape and Skew Correct mode. The latter is a regular addition to Ricoh’s Scene settings and is used for perspective correction when photographing rectangular subjects like message boards and business cards. The camera includes a Distortion Correction function that is similar to the Skew Correction Scene mode. It can only be applied to JPEG shots and may not be available with some camera units.
Sensitivity is largely dictated by the camera unit, although the body supports Auto and Auto-Hi (high-sensitivity auto) as well as allowing users to choose from a range of ISO settings. The selected mode is shown on the monitor. Shutter speeds are also controlled by the camera unit, as is the camera shake correction function, which relies on image sensor shift.
The GXR body supports the two continuous shooting modes: Continuous and M-Cont Plus. Image sizes and frame rates depend on the installed camera unit. Continuous mode is the only one to record full-sized images. In the M (memory reversal) Cont Plus mode, the camera memorises the scene when you half-press the shutter button. When the shutter button is released the previous second or two of shots are saved as a single MP file.
Auto bracketing is also supported for exposure, white balance and colour. In this mode, the camera records two or three copies of the image with variations in exposure, white balance or colour, the latter offering B&W, colour and tinted monochrome. Exposure compensation of +/- 4 EV in 1/2 or 1/3 EV steps is also available.
Six flash mode settings are provided and all can be applied with the built-in flash and any accessory flash unit that is attached via the hot shoe. Options include Flash On, Flash Off, Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Flash Synchro and Manual Flash.
Flash Synchro mode includes two settings: 1st curtain and 2nd Curtain, while Manual Flash allows users to control the flash output across the following steps: Full, 1/1.4, 1/2, 1/2.8, 1/4, 1/5.6, 1/8, 1/11, 1/16, 1/22, 1/32 and 1/64 (note the correspondence with aperture settings). Users can also adjust flash output by +/- 2EV in 1/2 or 1/3 EV steps by selecting Flash Exposure Compensation in the shooting menu.
High ISO Noise Reduction processing is also provided for JPEG capture (but not for DNG.RAW files). Users can choose between Weak and Strong processing and set the minimum ISO at which the processing will be applied. Long exposure noise reduction is not supported.
In addition to the standard two- or 10-second delay self-timer, the GXR provides a custom setting that lets users set their own delay intervals. The camera also supports interval shooting with a timer covering intervals from five seconds to one hour in 5-second steps. This shooting mode is incompatible with the Scene and Continuous shooting modes.
Shooting dates can be imprinted on JPEG images if the Date Imprint mode is selected and users can choose between year/month/day and date and time. The date is permanently recorded in the image file.
For still images the GXR body supports both raw and JPEG capture, using the open DNG.RAW format for raw files. Raw files are uncompressed and, therefore, relatively large. JPEG copies are created when raw files are recorded and the camera displays only the JPEG copy in playback mode.
Two compression ratios are offered for larger JPEG sizes. Actual image sizes depend on the camera unit fitted. The table below shows the options provided.
16:9, 4:3, 3:2, 1:1
16:9, 4:3, 3:2, 1:1
16:9, 4:3, 3:2, 1:1
DNG.RAW files can be viewed and edited on a computer using the supplied Irodio Photo & Video Studio Software (Windows only) or third-party applications that support the DNG format, such as Adobe’s Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. Some functions in the shooting menu are not available for shooting raw images. The buffer capacity for raw files depends on the camera unit and shooting menu settings.
The GXR can also record movie clips with sound and clips are stored as AVI files. Movie resolutions and frame rates depend on the camera unit fitted, with the A12 camera unit supporting HD movie capture at 1280 x 720 pixels (16:9 aspect ratio) and 24 frames/second, while the S10 camera unit tops out at VGA resolution (4;3 aspect ratio) and 30 fps.
Movie clips can run for up to 90 minutes of 4GB, depending on the capacity and speed of the memory card used. Focus is established with the first frame and doesn’t change while shooting is in progress. Multi AF is the only setting available, apart from Snap focus with a pre-set distance of 2.5 metres.
Playback and Software
Playback functions are similar to the GR Digital III and include the usual single, index and slideshow modes plus auto rotation and DPOF tagging for automated printing. Direct printing via PictBridge is also supported.
Movies can be played on the LCD monitor and the standard advance/rewind, pause/resume and volume adjustments are provided. MP files recorded in the M-Cont Plus mode can be played back as individual shots or displayed as a thumbnail index.
Trimming, resizing, level (brightness and contrast) and white balance compensation can be applied in playback mode. Users can register up to 20 frequently-viewed image files to the Flag Function Setting and recall them via the Flag Function Display. Users can also copy files from the internal memory to a memory card.
The GXR body also includes a Recover File setting in the playback menu, which enables users to restore deleted files. It only works with images that have received no post-capture adjustments and becomes ineffective if the camera is switched off after the shot was taken and then switched back on.
The body unit is supplied with DL-10, an application for copying images from the camera to a computer; Irodio Photo & Video Studio for viewing, managing, editing and converting raw files and PDF version of the User Manual. We’ve already covered this application in our review of the GR Digital II.
These applications are Windows-based; users of other operating systems will find the camera body is listed as a removable drive when it is connected to a computer via a USB cable.
With a clear intention to expand the GRX system, Ricoh is launching a generous range of accessories with the new body and camera units. It’s likely to be a while before a full range of extender lenses is available for the A12 camera unit but some pre-existing accessories for the GX200 can be used with the S10 camera unit.
Accessories that will be offered with the GXR. (Source: Ricoh.)
Brand-new accessories developed specifically for the GXR include the GF-1 external TTL flash and the VF-2 LCD viewfinder. The HA-3 hood and adapter and the CA-1 cable switch are also new, along with two soft cases and a neck strap.
The GXR with the optional VF-2 LCD viewfinder slowing its adjustability. (Source: Ricoh.)
The GXR’s optional electronic viewfinder is attached via the hot-shoe and is, therefore, powered by the camera’s battery. This reflective CMOS and ferroelectric LCD screen provides the same 920,000 resolution as the main screen and it has potential to provide a sharp and colour-accurate view of subjects. The eyepiece lens consists of three elements (one of them aspherical) in separate groups.
Providing 100% frame coverage with a 5mm diameter exit pupil, it is quite comfortable to use. A dial on the top panel provides dioptric adjustment while a hinge on the leading edge (shown above) allows it to be tilted up through 90 degrees for low-angle viewing. The VF-2 is supplied in a neat leatherette pouch with Velcro closure and strap loop.
Viewing quality is partially dictated by the lens, with the A12 camera unit appearing to provide a slightly faster frame rate than the S10 camera unit. However, both suffer from the typical colour tearing effects of CMOS rolling shutters when you’re following fast-moving subjects or panning.
The GXR with the optional GF-1 external TTL flash. (Source: Ricoh.)
Existing accessories that can be used with the S10 camera unit include the DB-90 battery and charger, DW-6 wide conversion lens and TC-1 tele-conversion lens plus the LC-2 self-retaining lens cap. Pictures of the camera with some of these accessories are shown below.
The GXR with the DW-6 wide-angle conversion lens and VF-2 LCD viewfinder. (Source: Ricoh.)
The GXR with the TC-1 tele-conversion lens. (Source: Ricoh.)
Because performance can only be evaluated when a camera unit is attached to the GXR body we have reviewed the two currently-available camera units separately. Imatest graphs and sample images can be found with each review.
Type: Interchangeable sensor/lens unit camera system
Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.21), DNG.RAW; Movies – AVI (Open DML Motion JPEG compliant)
Shooting modes: Auto, program shift, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, Scene (movie, portrait, sports, landscape, nightscape, skew correction), MY Settings
Self-timer: 2 or 10 second delay plus custom setting; interval timer (5 sec to 1 hour in 5-sec. steps)
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
Storage Media: Approx. 86MB of internal memory plus SD/SDHC expansion slot
Flash: Built-in pop-up flash with auto, red-eye reduction, on, slow sync, manual (12 steps) and off modes; +/- 2 EV of flash compensation in 1/2 EV or 1/3 EV steps
Viewfinder: Optional LCD
LCD monitor: 3-inch transparent LCD with approx. 920,000 pixels
Playback functions: Auto image rotation (when camera unit attached); multi-frame playback, playback zoom (up to 16x), resize
Interface terminals: USB 2.0 High-Speed (mini B0; AV out (PAL/NTSC), HDMI Type C mini jack
Power supply: DB-90 rechargeable battery (3.6V); AC adapter
Dimensions (wxhxd): 113.9 x 70.2 x 28.9 mm
Weight: 160 grams (camera body only); battery, neck strap and connector cap = 66 grams
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