A high-end 10MP compact with a wideangle zoom and the world's first removable electronic viewfinder
It goes without saying that we like new cameras, but the ones we get most excited about are those that are genuinely ‘fresh’, rather than tweaked upgrades of existing models. The Ricoh GX100 lands firmly in the former category, with its removable electronic viewfinder giving it a truly unique selling point in the high-end compact camera market. Let’s just hope the rest of it doesn’t disappoint…
The specification of the GX100 could easily be mistaken for that of a digital SLR, with its 10MP CCD featuring a ‘shift’ system to counter the effects of camera shake from the fast (f/2.5-4.4) 24-72mm equivalent zoom. Images can be produced up to 3648×2736 pixels in size (giving a 12x9in print at 300ppi) and these can be saved in both Raw and JPEG formats. Just one of the camera’s great features is the Raw option, which not only produces DNG files but also automatically provides an accompanying JPEG.
In terms of image capture, there are Aperture Priority and Manual modes on hand, while Auto, Program and eight scene modes will help those photographers who are less digital-savvy. A choice of centreweighted, spot and 256-segment multi-area metering options take care of exposure decisions, with an expansive ISO 80-1600 range covering most lighting conditions. Throw in automatic, manual and spot focus, a macro mode that will focus as close as 1cm and a hotshoe for flash and there isn’t much that the GX100 lacks.
With a design reminiscent of the company’s GR Digital, the GX100 certainly looks purposeful in its matt black and rubber trim. It sits comfortably in the hand too, with easy finger access to the top-mounted control wheel and the adjustment and zoom switches falling readily to the thumb. The adjustment control is particularly interesting because it can be customised to activate up to four settings you’re likely to regularly want to change. In addition, there’s also an ‘Fn’ (Function) button which can also be customised to give instant access to a single set of options, be it white balance, ISO, image quality or other.
However, the GX100’s most unusual design trait is the removable electronic viewfinder (EVF), which slides into the hotshoe to provide 100% coverage with parallax correction. Essentially, this is like using a bridge camera with an EVF, but it also turns upwards through 90° so it can be used as an angle-finder for low-level shooting. Yet as versatile as it is, it’s a little too small for our liking and most of the time the bright and crisp 2.5in LCD screen on the back proved the better option during this test, with the EVF only needing to be used in the brightest conditions.
The GX100 doesn’t have the fastest start-up time, but there’s minimal delay when it comes to taking pictures thanks to a respectable AF system and negligible shutter-lag. Shooting Raw files will tie up the camera considerably (expect a wait of 10 seconds or so while it processes the image), but given that it’s dealing with both a Raw file and a 10MP JPEG at the same time this is not unexpected. Raw is also more likely to be used for ‘considered’ photos rather than snapshots, so again the delay can be forgiven.
We do have an issue with the menu system though, which isn’t the most intuitive we’ve seen. Luckily, when you get the settings you want you can save them as ‘My Setting’ so they can be quickly recalled. There’s also the benefit of the adjustment/function controls noted above, which, as they can be customised, help to make trips to the menu few and far between.
Throughout the ISO range noise is evident, though A4 prints up to ISO 400 aren’t visibly affected. At the maximum ISO 1600 however, the camera is clearly stretched, with high noise levels disrupting midtone areas and limiting print sizes. Having said that, images remain pleasantly sharp-edged thanks to gentle noise-reduction processing, and the level of fine detail retained is remarkable. To maximise this, shooting Raw has a definite advantage over JPEG capture, as it allows you to balance the amount of noise/noise reduction to your taste. Its consistent exposures, reliable auto white balance and negligible fringing make it – for me – the best camera in its class.
Value For Money
Early shipments of the GX100 were supplied with the electronic viewfinder at a list price of £399, although you can now save £50 of the current price by buying the camera on its own. Despite being at the high end of the compact camera market, both options offer great value given what you get for your money.
The thing that’s disappointed us with most high-end compact cameras is the lack of Raw capture for the more demanding user. If you’re spending £350-£400 on a compact – possibly to back up your DSLR – this is an important feature. The Ricoh GX100 has Raw shooting, along with a great wideangle lens and one of the most well-rounded specifications I have seen to date. That, together with its unique removable electronic viewfinder and its decent picture quality, makes the GX100 the best high-end compact on the market in 2007.