Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Ricoh GX200 Review – Part 8


Read on for the conclusion and to find a link to more sample images.

Looking for a serious compact is not easy, all cameras have their strengths and weaknesses and none is good at everything so you always have to make some compromises. The question is what these compromises are. If you have read the full review and have looked at the samples in Part 2 and the different comparisons you have probably made up your mind already if the GX200 is the right camera for you.

For me it is a difficult to fully recommend the GX200.
On the one hand it is the most customizable camera you can find and the handling is excellent. Like the GRDs and the R10 it is a camera that feels good in your hand and that inspires you to go out and take pictures. The controls are the best you will find in any compact camera, the build is very good and it has one of the best lenses you will find in compact cameras, only the prime lenses on the GRDs and the DP1 are better. The lens has only little distortion, almost no visible chromatic aberrations and no problems with flare at any focal length. The EVF is great and works very well, it can also be tilted to 90° and better to use than any OVF I have seen in digital compact cameras. The 19mm lens is also a welcome addition and very good for landscapes and architecture shots although it has due to the extreme wide angle more distortion.
So the hardware is great and there is nothing to complain about. One could maybe argue that the wobbly lens does not inspire confidence but it is no problem at all and is a design decision and not a fault.
The operation works very well, everything can easily be accessed and changed and the camera remembers literally everything you want. The 3 My Settings are a big help in quickly adjusting the settings to match your requirements. The step zoom feature on Ricoh cameras is very good and allows you to use external optical viewfinders without problems. The improved RAW buffer is a welcome addition and makes the camera much more responsive. The white balance is pretty accurate and only struggles indoors and when using a high ISO, it is more accurate when using low ISO indoors.
The image quality using RAW and when keeping under ISO 800 is very good and only lacks a bit of dynamic range to be better than the GRD II. Using the GX200 for long exposures also gives you great quality in both RAW and JPG.

On the other hand, the camera has a few problems you can not ignore.
The biggest problem is the screen freeze when focusing, this for me almost rules this camera out completely for any action shots. You can compensate a bit for this by using Snap or manual focus but I expect better from a serious compact and can not ignore it as I did on the R10. Don't get me wrong, the DP1 and GRD II have exactly the same problem but it does not excuse it and is for me the main area that needs improvement. This is especially bad when considering that even the old GX and up to the GX100 do not suffer from this problem and focus faster.
Another area where the camera falls short is the image quality in JPG mode and especially when going over ISO 400. The noise reduction is too strong and smears details away, this is clearly visible when you compare it to the GX100 which has a better JPG processing. The noise reduction and JPG processing is another area where Ricoh needs to improve their cameras, what is strange is that they already had very good JPG engines in their cameras. I don't understand why it's not possible to add a true 'NR Off' option in firmware. This should be easy enough to do and would prevent Ricoh getting the same reputation Panasonic had for smeared pictures.
Going for a 12MP sensor might be nice if you keep the ISO low and shoot in good light but in low light and using high ISO the sensor shows all the issues associated with a high MP count. The IQ drops considerably, there is a color shift, a lot of noise and even more smudging going on up to the point where the colors become desaturated. ISO 1600 is really bad in this camera and worse than any other Ricoh camera I compared it to, it is basically unusable. Your only chance to use ISO 800 and to an extent ISO 1600 is to underexpose the image by one stop and use the b&w mode or process the RAW files and try to remove the noise as much as possible.

So is this a camera you should buy? If you want the camera with the best controls and handling and don't usually go over ISO 400 then yes, it is a fantastic camera and one of the best compact cameras at the moment. You need to be prepared to shoot RAW to get the best image quality. It also has some unique features not found on other cameras like the removable EVF, the step zoom, AAA battery support and the electronic leveler. But if you need a camera for low light and action shots it is not recommendable due to the bad high ISO performance and the screen freeze issue will make it difficult to use AF for moving subjects.

There is no perfect camera available and although the GX200 comes very close in many respects it falls short in other areas. If you already have a GX100 there is no real need to update unless you need the faster RAW mode or the electronic leveler but are prepared to sacrifice image quality at high ISO and in JPG mode.

You can find more full-size samples in the gallery here.
The comparison pictures will be provided on request.

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