Raw recording and a superb EVF are standout points....
At some point in any photographic magazine you are going to read the perennial advice ‘always carry your camera with you, so you never miss a shot’. It’s something we all aspire to do, but face it, on some days you just don’t want to carry a DSLR and the requisite accrual of equipment (because you never know what you’ll need) with you. Compacts offer a neat solution in that they are small and pocketable, but they are somewhat limited in scope for the enthusiast. Ricoh aims to address this with the GX200 – a compact with Raw recording and manual control.
The GX200 follows 2007’s GX100 model, with the sensor now packing 12 million pixels, albeit on a small 1/1.7in CCD. There’s also an eminently useful 24-72mm (35mm equivalent) lens with optional 19mm and 135mm converters available. Even better, the camera has an optional viewfinder that attaches to the hotshoe and provides the best EVF experience I’ve yet encountered. This is matched by the 2.7in LCD with 460,000 dots providing a screen resolution that outclasses most DSLRs.
There’s also an on-board electronic spirit level that flashes green when the camera is horizontally or vertically true, as well as options to shoot in 3:2 and 1:1 formats (at reduced resolution) apart from the standard 4:3 format. Ricoh has also boosted the buffer memory from the GX100, now allowing up to five continuous Raw files to be shot at around 1fps.
On paper the camera ticks all the boxes, and its design is sure to elicit approval from purists. The controls are well laid out and, unusually for a compact, are easy to access in manual mode thanks to a front control wheel and back thumb wheel. This back wheel also accesses the quick functions such as white balance, ISO and so forth. The yellow-and-white-on-black menu system is easy to read but can be a bit laborious when switching through three shooting menus and five set-up menus.
If you use the EVF, which I recommend, then the camera performs like a charm. The easy-to-use control wheel lets you change settings without taking the camera from your eye and its reasonably quick frame rate allows you to shoot quickly. The camera’s shutter response is good too. It’s not a DSLR by any means, but it’s better than other compacts.
At low ISOs and in good light the GX200 produces the goods. Colour and tone are punchy and pleasant and there’s plenty of sharp detail. The small sensor is a limitation though, especially when it’s packed with so many pixels – improvements to the previous 8MP sensor/processor combination would, I think, have been a better investment of Ricoh’s development time, especially given the large volumes of noise inherent in high ISO images.
Over ISO 400, image noise becomes problematic. ISO 400 is usable but gritty, while 800 and 1600 are pretty terrible when viewed at 100%. Chroma noise is the main culprit with coloured speckles resembling a Monet or Damien Hirst’s spotty pictures. The noise reduction feature does help to improve the quality of JPEGs, but not by much.
There’s so much going for this camera. Great design and handling, and a real understanding from Ricoh of photographers’ requirements, make this a pleasure to use. It would have been better, though, if instead of following the pixel trail, Ricoh had concentrated on improving the image quality and keeping the pixel count smaller. Otherwise, it performs well and is capable of delivering great results.