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Ricoh Caplio GX100 review
Using the Ricoh Caplio GX100
We've had a Ricoh GX100 for a while to try out.
Keith normally shoots with an 11MP 1Ds and was keen to try out this small tidy looking camera as something to slip in the pocket for occasions where the big SLR might be a bit of overkill ;-)
Please do note that this review is -not- a detailed technical test/evaluation of the GX100 - it is deliberately quite subjective in areas.
There are full technical specs at the end, and links to other more detailed reviews if you are curious.
Keith is, as ever, happy to answer questions about the review.
Unfortunately the camera had to go back to Ricoh UK :-(
Update October 08
We've a review of the 12MP GX200
As someone who uses a big brick of a camera like the 1Ds for my day to day work, my first impressions on picking up the GX100 was that it felt solid - small, but solidly built.
I popped the Lithium battery into the charger and had a quick scan through the manual. I try to do this at least once for any camera, and the wait for the battery to charge is a convenient point... ;-)
I'll readily admit that I only explored a sub-set of what the camera can do while I had it. This isn't a DPReview type of article :-) and most definitely not a collection of my finest photographs (I've picked ones to show various technical points)
I've also collected together some real technical reviews and collections of nice GX100 images at the end of the article
I've put the full specifications later, but the main features are:
I do believe the camera has 'digital zoom' available as well, but since no-one outside of camera marketing departments has ever come up with any genuine use for this 'feature', it is safely left deactivated for normal use :-)
A few features quickly stood out (to me) as worthy of more immediate examination:
I'll cover some of these aspects when I'm showing some examples later, but one aspect of the GX100 that is unique (I believe) is the optional viewfinder
The viewfinder contains a small LCD screen, which displays what you can normally see on the back LCD.
You can switch between viewing modes without removing the viewfinder.
The rear eye-cup rotates to allow you to focus the display, although there is no default setting indicated. This would be useful when someone else uses the camera and has adjusted it for their own eyesight.
Move your mouse pointer over the image to the right to get an idea of what the camera looks like with the viewfinder attached.
The viewfinder has one other trick up its sleeve, you can tilt it up.
This is great for using the very close macro focusing of the GX100.
Move your mouse pointer over the picture below, to see how the finder tilts. You can also see the VF/LCD button for switching viewing modes.
One minor problem is that you can't use the built in flash if you tilt the viewfinder (if you didn't spot it earlier, move your mouse over the first picture of the camera above to see the flash pop up)
I've used image stabilised lenses regularly and was happy to have the IS system turned on all the time.
One area that is refreshingly unlike most small cameras is the use of dials and buttons for changing settings.
There is a lot of capacity to customise these, and it allows you to a lot of quick control over what the camera is going to do, without wading through screens of menus.
One example would be, which options you choose for the ADJ button/wheel (you can just see it at the right hand side of the image above).
I found the combination of live histogram and exposure compensation control really useful and had this as a quick option.
Rather than have pages of menu shots and the like - I've found a few good references to these in other reviews, that I'll refer to in the notes at the end of this article.
I don't use flash very much in my day to day work, but here's my 550 EX attached to the camera - it worked very well with the flash in manual mode.
The hot shoe connection is a simple one, with no dedicated controls.
I also used the camera with a wireless flash control system connected up to the GX100, and the results were very effective (GX100 on slow sync worked well for fill in, while forced flash and manual control gave an -almost- studio feel ;-)
White balance control is a bit hit and miss, so if you are going to use an external flash, you might want to look at tungsten and fluorescent compensation gels for your flash.
I took the GX100 with me on several jobs, and generally while travelling around. The handy lens cap cord ensured that when the camera went back to Ricoh, it had still got the cap (I regularly lose them).
I took photos in both JPEG and RAW modes, however the ~5 second cycle time for RAW file writing meant that casual shots were more often taken as JPEGs than I'd have liked (I never use JPEGs in my day to day work - see my article on Why use RAW for some reasons).
When you look at the images below, do remember that you are looking at reduced resolution, lower quality web images.
I've got some virtually untouched 100% crops in the conclusions section, but all the other images have had slight processing to try and convey more of how I felt the full size images looked on my screen and as prints.
First of all, walking down to the pub...
This shot brings out one of the key benefits of the wide angle lens, when taking pictures of buildings.
1/30, f/2.5, 5.1mm (24mm eqv.) ISO 218 (auto)
By cropping part of a wider image, where the camera is pointed horizontally (i.e. not tilted up or down) I can ensure that verticals are truly vertical.
The whole frame shows what I've done.
As part of my work, I also teach Real Estate agents to take better house photographs, and I'll certainly be including the GX100 in my suggestions, when asked what to consider buying.
Down the bar, I was interested in seeing how the camera handled low overall lighting levels and whether bright highlights would cause any problems.
These two images are from RAW files.
The camera saves RAW files in the open DNG format (well done Ricoh, the world doesn't need any more proprietary RAW formats)
The images are processed using Adobe camera raw and Photoshop CS2, since the supplied raw conversion software only works on PCs, and I've got Macs...
The autofocus worked well for the glass, although I used manual focusing for the candle shot.
You can zoom the displayed image on the screen and also change focus points.
All features that you'll find easily enough in the manual...
I did also record a 640x480 movie of my friend Mike playing the piano, but I'm not hosting video files on this site :-)
It was however, of very good quality and the sound was pretty good too.
If I want to get into video I'll get a camcorder, but the GX100 is not at all bad for recording short clips.
Glass/Candle 1/5s, f/2.5. 5.1mm, ISO 400 RAW
Glass 1/2s, f/2.5, 5.1mm, ISO 400 RAW
Bar picture 1/8s, f/2.5, 5.1mm, ISO 154 (auto) JPEG
On Camera Flash
It took a bit of experimenting, but even normal (built in) flash pictures were not too difficult (I -really- don't use flash much at all in my 'paying work' :-)
The combination of white top and black tee-shirt are a tough test of any built-in flash setup
For this being a problem, think weddings, another area of professional photography I avoid assiduously ;-)
Karen and Adam noticing my difficulties when not using a £5000 camera down the pub... :-)
Black and White
Slow flash - the flash has caught the detail, while the longer exposure has blurred some of the brighter parts of the image.
1s, f/3.5, 10.5mm, ISO 400
Converted to B/W from a colour JPEG using DxO Film Pack and printed at A3 size.
The actual print has had Tri-X film grain added, which looks much nicer than the digital noise ;-)
If you really must, then there is a black and white mode for the camera... However I much prefer the flexibility you get in choosing your style of black and white conversion after you've taken the photo.
The small sensor sizes in cameras like this will always show much more noise at higher ISO (sensitivity) settings, so some care is needed in handling the images.
A few days later I went round a nearby church.
This first shot gives a good idea of just how much coverage a 24mm lens gives.
One other feature some may like is the option to have the zoom operate in a 'step' mode.
Effectively it matches 24, 28, 35, 50, and 72 focal lengths. Not a feature of any personal interest, but a nice touch (you could, for example, use an old clip on viewfinder from a film rangefinder camera).
If you are new to using wide angle lenses then be prepared to do a lot of experimentation.
That lamp post doesn't really lean like that. By using a wide lens and not having to point upwards too much, the spire doesn't look as if it's about to fall backwards.
If you are taking JPEG files then do be careful to keep an eye on the exposure.
Having a live Histogram display helps stop burning out highlights, although don't hope to pull too much detail out of the shadows at anything other than the slowest ISO settings (80 or 100)
St. Mary de Castro, Leicester
The image to the right is not very straight shot of an old doorway.
Move your mouse over the image to see a 100% crop detail
The image virtually 'as taken' and shows how easy it is to get slight over exposure if you are not used to all the different exposure modes available, and how they react to different conditions.
The lens of the GX100 is very good, but does exhibit a bit of barrel distortion at wider angles (easily fixed in Photoshop)
The viewfinder can be set to display grid lines (and a whole load more information as well) before you take the picture.
I use a gridded focusing screen most of the time with my 1Ds - it's particularly useful for my interior and architectural work.
The aspect ratio of the picture captured can be changed if you like, I didn't try this out since I invariably crop many of my images slightly before printing (I don't have a standard size for my prints, since I don't take many of my pictures in standard ratios ;-)
The view of the church below shows a clipped sky, resulting from an attempt to expose the heavily shadowed areas.
Even after some adjustments to darken some of the highlights, the blue part of the sky shows too much shift in hue.
A RAW file might have given better results here, but I forgot to change the settings (another reason I always leave my 1Ds set for RAW)
If you need to get a shot like this, then seriously consider a variant of the HDR approach I've got in the example below.
1/750, f/2.5, 5.1mm, ISO 80 - JPEG image
Two different shots below, of the carvings above the door - each converted from a colour JPEG file and printed at A3
The two faces were exposed so as to just clip highlights and allow some detail to be brought out of the shadows.
These images were printed on Warmtone FibaPrint paper, which gives lovely deep rich shadows (with more detail in the shadows than you can perhaps see in these web images)
Around the side of church I took this photo of a flower.
At the time I had the camera set to auto ISO (high) -- 1/250, f/6.3, 15.3mm, ISO 322 (auto)
The plus side of this is that I got a short shutter speed and no camera shake (it was windy).
Mouse over the image to see a 100% crop and some visible noise.
To get the best results from the camera you need to understand the various trade-offs made when using different settings. This is just as true with my Canon 1Ds - £5000 just gets a wider range of options ;-)
The view below shows a night time view of my kitchen, taken from the conservatory outside.
The camera can make exposures up to 180 seconds. It is noticeable that when I did a 15 second exposure, the camera took some considerable time to process the image (about the same as the exposure?) Not having a stopwatch to hand I couldn't be certain, but I suspect the camera is doing a dark frame subtraction to reduce noise. This is where you record a second image (just noise) with the shutter closed, to subtract it from the image just captured.
You can either capture the view inside at a quarter of a second exposure, or you can expose for 15 seconds to get the room I'm in.
By combining 5 RAW files, each of a different exposure, I was able to create a HDR (High Dynamic Range) image in Photoshop.
The image below is produced from the HDR file
You -could- do this with JPEG files, but it's a lot easier and better quality from RAW images. HDR images often don't look quite right ... it takes some care in the conversion to give a view that gives the feel for how the scene looked. The table really is very dimly lit compared to the kitchen, but your eyes adapt very quickly to scenes like this and the resulting image works well (from a technical lighting point of view ;-)
I used Adobe Camera Raw for all the testing here - I did try Lightroom as well, and it worked fine too. It's good to see Ricoh supporting the DNG file format for RAW images, so that any raw converter supporting DNG can be used.
If I had one of these cameras to use all the time I'd love to see how a specialist converter like DxO Optics Pro could handle the RAW files and get the best from the good lens, unfortunately DxO only currently supports a few non SLR cameras. It can process JPEG files and did a good job in removing chromatic aberation and purple fringing from images, while the lighting controls opened up images quite nicely.
A great little camera, one of the first of it's size that didn't continually annoy me and make me wish I had a 'real' camera with me :-)
I found the external viewfinder a bit of a disappointment in use, in that as I moved my eyes I could sometimes see an appreciable flicker and colour fringing. It was interesting to use, but I kept finding myself using the screen on the back. In bright light the viewfinder helped, but I guess I'm too used to the big bright viewfinder in my Canon 1Ds.
I liked the ways you could customise settings and quickly change modes to match shooting conditions. Manual focus, or the quick (hyperfocal) setting meant that I didn't have to wait around for the AF system to make its mind up in dim lighting. I could also switch off the annoying AF assist lamp that tells people when you are about to take a shot...
I found myself almost always choosing to slightly under expose images outdoors, since complete auto mode showed itself a bit too keen to clip highlights (not quite so bad with raw images, but not what I want for JPEGs). A lot of your choices with the GX100 will depend on the types of photography you want to do - I'm comfortable with using my big DSLR for almost anything, but the GX100 offers enough flexibility that I can see it appealing to people who like using small film rangefinder cameras too.
The shutter responds quickly, and I rarely ever found myself muttering "In your own time..." after pressing the shutter button (unlike one or two other small cameras of this size I've had to use :-)
10 megapixels are a lot to fit into an small imaging chip, and you do suffer in terms of noise at higher ISO speeds. If you look at some of the reviews I've mentioned at the bottom of this article, then you can see lots of 100% crops of images showing the different noise levels.
I've just got a few examples here to give you a flavour of what the images are like
Here's a bath towel drying in my conservatory.
The image was captured in both JPEG and RAW (DNG) formats
1/30, f/5.1, 15.3mm, ISO 80
The image below shows a 100% crop of the raw version, from Adobe Camera Raw (PS CS2)
Note that for this example, I've not used any sharpening or noise reduction with the Camera Raw version.
Using Noise Ninja and Focus Magic in Photoshop I was able to make a better looking image than the basic JPEG, but it took some work.
The RAW files were however much easier to correct for lighting and exposure problems in other images, such as the glass of beer shown above.
Just in case you were wondering how bad things get at 1600 ISO, here are two (RAW file) crops. The second is after applying Noise Ninja (auto profiled). In camera processed JPEGs fall between the two
1/620, f/5.1, 15.3mm, ISO 1600
Web images and small prints might just be OK (for some) at 1600, but if I was using a GX100 I'd probably stick to 400 ISO maximum, and use 80/100 as much as possible.
Buying the Ricoh GX100/200
We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying a camera, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon.
It won't cost any more (nor less we're afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.
Amazon.fr - GX200
Amazon.de - GX200
After looking at lots of images I took (I deliberately tried lots of different settings - auto and semi auto) I'd try and use apertures a stop or so off fully open.
The image stabilisation (IS) seemed to work well, with hand held shots under a third of a second being pretty sharp. Do remember though that IS doesn't stop blur from moving objects.
The black and white image of the sax player is currently being used in some promotional posters, and the two prints of the stone carvings quickly found a new home...
When it came down to it though, the real clincher for me was having that 24mm wide angle view. Making good use of it will require some real practice, if you've only used 'normal' cameras before. The Shingle Street black and white picture on the front page of this site, for example, was taken with a 24mm lens.
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Compact 10MP camera that feels comfortable to use and has lots of design features to appeal to more serious photographers.
Wide angle 24-72mm (equiv.) lens is a first in this category of cameras and it stands out from the crowd in that respect alone
RAW image file support is useful for shooting in less helpful conditions, although the 4-5 second wait for writing a RAW file to card is limiting for some work.
Excellent quality images, although rather too noisy at higher ISO settings.
At ~£350 (without external viewfinder) it isn't cheap, but if you are used to using wide angle lenses then it's the only show in town (without going for the bulk of a DSLR)
Note - Sept 2008 the GX100 is now under £300 with the VF unit (see the Amazon link above for a guide to current prices)
The camera was supplied by Ricoh UK
Update October 08 - We've a review of the 12MP GX200
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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