Ricoh GXR: Huh?

March 2, 2010

DP Review’s first test of a Ricoh GXR module has alerted me that I’d misunderstood Ricoh’s naming scheme for their weird, unique lens/sensor units.

Ricoh GXR & lens/sensor module

Ricoh GXR, with APS-C "normal" lens/sensor module

In the GXR system nomenclature, “A12” refers just to the sensor’s size (APS-C), and 12-megapixel resolution. But in giving the name of the module, you also must include the lens focal length and f/ratio. (Well. That ought to roll off the tongue effortlessly.)

So the new Ricoh module announced during PMA is also called “A12.” It’s just a different one, with a wider lens. Got that?

What I did not understand is that Ricoh is expressing all these focal lengths in “35mm equivalents.” As I’ve ranted about before, this is a needlessly-confusing convention which perverts the actual meaning of the word “millimeters.”

Anyway. Ricoh’s currently available A12 module is the 50e, f/2.5 one. That is to say, it is an inexplicably-dim “normal” lens, although one with macro focusing capability. DP Review liked the image quality of the 50e/2.5 module; but they found its autofocus speed rather poor.

The GXR module coming up later this year will be a wide-angle 28e version, also f/2.5.

It’s the pricing of the GXR body+module system which makes no sense. You could pick up a Canon S90 and a Panasonic GF1 together for nearly the same money. The only possible justification would be if you were wildly in love with the GXR’s menu system, or its $250 auxiliary electronic viewfinder. The latter scenario is questionable, since Olympus’s VF-2 is generally rated the nicest one currently available.

Also, lens speeds of f/2.8 and f/2.5 are simply unacceptable in this price bracket (are you listening, Leica X1?) Panasonic’s pancake 20/1.7 lens proves that even a bright lens (where the moving glass elements must be heavier) can have fine autofocus performance.

Count me among the many who have said, “Ricoh, I just don’t get it.”


7 Responses to “Ricoh GXR: Huh?”

  1. robert e Says:

    To be fair, dpreview declared the A12/50’s image quality best-in-class, and applauded “some of the best high ISO output of any APS-C camera we’ve seen…on par with many mid-level DSLRs and arguably the best we’ve seen so far on any mirrorless camera.”

    I’m not sure how they can say this after the RAW results, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been confused by dpreview’s reviews. Anyway, my point is that, if we take dpreview’s verdict at face value, superior IQ should certainly qualify as a “possible justification” for spending an extra $200-300, and a more reasonable one than your somewhat sarcastic list of two; particularly for someone considering spending much more for an X1 (leaving aside questions of sanity).

  2. robert e Says:

    P.S. Obviously, better high-ISO output somewhat mitigates the lens speed issue as well.

    • petavoxel Says:

      The high-ISO advantage of an APS-C sensor is very real—I would never dispute that.

      The problem is that a Nikon D500 with a 35mm f/1.8 DX lens gets you the same low-noise performance, plus a lens an entire stop faster, for $745.

      Then the $430 you’ve saved gives you the choice of several versatile compacts that are much more pocket-friendly than the GXR system (with the Panasonic LX3 probably the tiniest).

      What the GXR system needs to offer is a really good reason to combine your high-ISO camera and your compact camera into a single chassis; and I’m not seeing what that is yet.

  3. robert e Says:

    “What the GXR system needs to offer is a really good reason to combine your high-ISO camera and your compact camera into a single chassis.”

    OK I see what you mean now–that we need a good reason to be dealing with two modules vs dealing with two cameras. I grant that GXR offers no good answer yet. I continue to think that the concept so far benefits development rather than use.

    But it’s early days for GXR and generally for big-sensor compacts (not counting Sigma, which seems to have gone dormant on the DP line). At this point, I think we can only judge the GXR as individual cameras rather than as a system, and for better or worse it will have to sink or swim on that basis for now.

    I suppose the half full part of the glass is the collective progress: GXR/A12 has pushed IQ well into DSLR territory; EPL-1 is the first attempt to lower the price point (where the X1 pushed it up?); in between lie the earlier attempts, which made various sets of compromises in order to appeal as widely as possible.

    Not quite there yet, but I look forward to what comes next.

    • petavoxel Says:

      I completely agree that these are “interesting times.” It’s one reason I began this blog.

      On the one hand, you see moves to improve compact cameras, like the Panasonic LX3 or the new Samsung TL500. On the other, you have various schemes for putting a DSLR-quality sensor into a smaller body. Eventually those trends will meet somewhere in the middle. It’s great that new approaches are being tried. What’s frustrating is that it ought not be that hard to solve the problem, yet no camera has perfectly hit the mark yet.

      People love their Ricoh GRDs’ handling; but the sensor is just too small to give a clean ISO 800. The smallest sensor that offers uncompromised high-ISO performance is probably the Panasonic GH1’s; but that body barely has a size advantage over a DSLR.

      (And Sigma is still announcing tweaks to the DP cameras; but it’s hard to see them surviving the EVIL onslaught.)

  4. petavoxel Says:

    There’s an interesting aside at the bottom of this page of DP Review’s test of the A12 module:

    ” …thanks to its tried and tested sensor (a very similar model is used on a variety of DSLRs and other cameras in the market)… “

    If you look at which other cameras match the 4288 x 2848 pixels of the Ricoh A12 module, two that turn up are the Nikon D5000 (known to use a Sony chip) and the Pentax K-x (also believed to use a similar/identical Sony chip).

    There may be differences in the read noise between different circuit designs. But it’s clear the Ricoh APS-C sensor is not in some different league from current DSLRs costing significantly less.

    You can buy two Pentax K-x’s for the price of the GXR/A12 combo.

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