Ricoh GXR Mirrorless Camera Review

Ricoh GXR Mirrorless Camera Review

The Ricoh GXR is an oddball. It’s different than any other mirrorless camera out there -- with the GXR, you use the same base body, but switch out sensor/lens combinations. This format has some serious advantages and disadvantages compared to its competition.

The Good Stuff:

The Ricoh is revolutionary in the sense that no one has ever built a camera quite like this -- not on the small format, anyway. When companies make modular cameras, they make the lens separate from the body and sensor unit. Or they make all three (lens, body, and sensor) separate units. With the GXR, Ricoh allows you to use the same body while changing a combined lens+sensor unit. And this is good for two reasons.

One, you won’t have to learn a new camera to get different quality results (i.e. to upgrade). Hypothetically, you can have any kind of lens+sensor come out in the future and still use the same basic camera body. Currently, sensors range from standard, small digital sensor-sized to fairly large, ASP-C-sized -- there’s even a Leica M-mount adapter with just the sensor and shutter built into it.

Second, mirrorless cameras have one slight disadvantage: when the lens is off the camera, they sensor is completely exposed. This means that if dust gets in there, it has direct access to the sensor. Luckily, with the GXR, the sensor and lens in front of it never become separated. So the sensor is completely sealed from any outside elements, which makes the entire system incredibly durable and robust.

Speaking of robust, this is by far one of the best-feeling cameras in my hands that I’ve reviewed so far. The GXR feels like one solid, sturdy camera. It’s still small, nothing about it feels flimsy. I love it! Even the rubberized texture on the right side doesn’t slip after 45 minutes of handholding, after which anyone’s hands would be sweaty. I feel completely confident taking this camera anywhere.

The controls are great, too, with one exception: I don’t know why the adjustment switch for shutter speed (in manual mode) on the back of the camera is a spring-loaded toggle switch as opposed to a scrolling dial, as is the aperture adjustment dial on the front of the camera. It seems unintuitive.

Aside from that, however, the controls really are fantastic. The simple quick menu that pops up by pressing the ‘Direct’ button above the screen is simple enough to read and adjust quickly -- it’s extremely handy. And all the buttons feel as sturdy as the rest of the body.

The Not-So-Good Stuff:

Interchangeability is great. But there is a major drawback: spending money on lenses doesn’t let you invest in a system that will transform into something better in the future. You can’t use these lenses with newer-technology sensors. You’ll have to buy a new unit when new sensors come out instead -- maybe that unit will have the same lens, even, but that won’t matter because that lens is attached to the same old sensor.

As robust as the camera is, I would only get it if that’s what you need out of it. For durability, I can’t imagine the camera being anything short of fantastic. But if you want to be able to get a system that has lenses that you can use on future, upgraded bodies, this won’t be the one for you.

Additionally, with each new lens+sensor combination comes different performance characteristics. The GR lens Camera Unit 4 that I tested -- the 18mm (28mm equivalent) f2.5 lens with a 12MP APS-C sensor -- was much slower than the smaller 1/1.7” 10MP sensor unit with the 24-70mm f2.5-4.4 VC lens that comes as the standard GXR S10 kit. The sensor and overall files are much smaller in the kit, so naturally, those files will be easier to process. But step up to Camera Unit 4 and you’ll notice everything slows down a bit.

The good news is that photos are captured as soon as you press the shutter release (I spoke earlier about liking that in small cameras). But afterwards, you have to wait a couple seconds for the image to be processed and saved.

NOTE: Do update your firmware to the most recent versions. Ricoh is great about listening to its customers, and they’ve updated a bunch of things that really needed to be updated (including the ability to shoot only raw DNGs and not have to shoot JPEG+DNG if you wanted raw files at all).

Image Quality:

Here, there is something to be desired. It stands to reason that the smaller 1/1.7” sensor would perform about as well as any small point and shoot camera. But if we’re saving room by not including a mirror (Hello! Mirrorless!) in these cameras, then why do we want smaller sensors? Yes, the lens is smaller, then. But why don’t we just use our phones if we want something compact with decent-but-not-stellar quality? The S10 kit did not perform well. Even at ISO 100, the image is soft and JPEG ‘artifacts’ seem to creep up in areas of detail. ISO 800 images (and higher) were shockingly noise-ridden, too.


ISO 100 crop in broad daylight with S10 1/1.7" sensor kit.
ISO 800 full image exposed for sky. Look for any detail in the sky or near the lights as they fade to the darkness...
ISO 1600 image at an earlier time of day. Still early evening and somewhat dark, but the noise still takes over the entire image...
ISO 3200 image. Practically unusable.

The image quality from this camera puts me in a touch position in terms of what to recommend. On one hand, it’s still ‘fine.’ I’m comparing these cameras to DSLR and Leica images -- and that might be unfair. On the other hand, the reason that I’m doing this is because I don’t see much of a reason anymore for digital cameras separate from the ones in your phone unless the image quality can compete with those higher-end systems. Why else invest in a separate camera system?

So while the camera is incredibly robust and I loved using it (again, it really does feel great in your hands despite still being a somewhat compact camera), I have to say save your money if you’re expecting great photographic results.

Overall:

And that’s the final note: this camera is expensive. The body itself is reasonable. But by the time you add a lens+sensor unit, you’re looking at $500 minimum. That’s not unreasonable, but if you want to add another lens (and therefore another sensor), that’ll set you back at least a few hundred more. Want the quality ASP-C sensors? Then you’re looking at over $1000. I’m just not convinced it’s worth it...

Note: I’m surprised about the image quality, to be honest. Maybe I’m missing something, but in all honesty I’m interested in real-world performance here, not test chart performance. However, If anyone has any tests they want me to run, I still have the camera for a few days, so let me know in the comments below.

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4 Comments

RUSS's picture

The modular idea they are going with, sounds neat. :-)
but I'd wait and see what they do to improve this in the near future.

Adam's picture

Maybe. It seems as though they're pretty invested in the current setup. What would interest me is a truly high-end sensor with above-par performance at a somewhat reasonable price...

Benicio Murray's picture

Yet another new camera that just isnt ticking the boxes for me

The GXR isn't new, but it certainly is a "new" idea.

Absolutely agree with the reviewer on the build quality of the Ricoh GXR and related modules. When assembled as a unit they feel like they are carved out of a block of solid (but light) metal. I've been carrying one everywhere for a  year with zero issues. Invest in a screen protector for the back though.

The more recently released A16 24-85mm Camera Unit uses a more modern Sony sensor in it.  You'll find better high ISO performance there.

The Mount A12 module you mentioned has what is probably the same slightly older sensor in it that the 28mm unit you evaluated has. But that Mount A12 module also has other magic pixie dust which makes it truly worth looking at for M lens users. It, like the very expensive Nikon D800E, doesn't have an anti-alias filter in front of the sensor. That and other characteristics makes the module is specifically designed to support the demanding requirements of virtually all rangefinder lenses, which include some of the best and most expensive 135 format glass in the world. But yes, the Mount A12 also could use a more modern sensor in order to access better performance at higher ISO sensitivities. 

However when used in its sweet spot, there is no other camera available for M lenses that can touch it except for buying a Leica digital M for thousands more.

The hope is that Ricoh updates the most popular lensor and Mount units in the near future but we may be waiting until Feb/March to hear anything on this. They are also digesting their acquisition of Pentax; hopefully in the new year we'll see some fruit borne from that new tree.