Monday, 14 May 2012

Ricoh GXR (S10, P10 and A16) Zoom Review

From left to right: S10, P10 and A16 modules

While prime lenses are nice, every camera system needs it's own kit zoom lense. While I am not a big fan of
zoom lenses, I do love the zoom lens on the Panasonic LC1 and it is one of the best lenses I have used.
Looking at the GXR, Ricoh has released three zoom modules for it and each is quite different from each other.

This review will cover all three of them and look at the performance of each, the main question though is which module does the best job as a kit lens. This is a short review of each module so I only go over the main points, I will point to previous reviews or previews which provide more information at times. As before this review will only cover the modules, for the review of the GXR body and controls look here.

Let's look at each of the modules covered and their main features before delving into the review.

The first to be released was the S10 module, it is a 24-72mm f2.5-4.4 IS zoom lens with a small 10MP 1/1.7" CCD sensor. In a lot of ways this is the successor to the GX200 so let's see if this is the GX300 people were waiting for.

The second zoom module to be released was the P10 superzoom module, it is a 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens with a small 10MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor. This is essentially a CX camera without the body but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The last zoom module to be released is a 24-85mm f3.5-f5.5 not image stabilized zoom lens with a 16MP APS sensor without AA filter. The large sensor in this module and the lens starting at 24mm were what got people very excited about it.

Now that I have introduced the modules let's have a look at how they perform.

NOTE: The below review will be updated with pictures taken with each module.



S10 24-72mm Zoom

The first module to be reviewed is the S10 module. As mentioned before, it is very similar to the GX200 I have reviewed here so a lot of the comments I made in the GX200 review still apply. Most of the accessories for the GX200 still work on the S10 module.
It is still a serious compact camera (module) with a very good 24-72mm lens but it's a lot less compact now when mounted on the slightly larger GXR body and the lens is still not very fast when compared to the competition from Panasonic (LX5), Olympus (ZX-1), Canon (S100) and Fuji (X10).

Landscapes and Long exposures at low ISO are a strong point of the S10 module.

The module itself is small and very light, since the lens retracts almost fully, it can easily fit in a small bag or even in a jacket pocket. Once fitted to the GXR body it feels very solid, even more than the GX100 and GX200 before, it feels like one unit. While it is bigger than the GX200, you also get a bigger screen (3" compared with 2.7") and improved controls on the back, not to mention the ability to swap modules. The lens assembly still wobbles slightly but much less so than the GX200 and I have not found it to be a problem.

Unlike the A12 modules, there are no controls on the module itself for focusing or zooming so you will be using the buttons on the GXR body for everything.

Colours come out great as with all Ricoh cameras.

In operation the camera is fast enough not to get in your way but never feels quick, turning it on takes a few seconds till it's ready to take the first picture and you have a delay of at least 0.5 seconds before being able to take the next picture if you shoot JPG+RAW. The AF is improved from the GX200, the screen does not freeze any more but it's still not as fast as the GX100 nor is it very accurate and tends to hunt in low light. The snap AF mode and Full-press AF together with the larger DOF offered by the smaller sensor help to compensate for the slower AF though and make it usable for street photography. It certainly is the slowest of the GXR modules in operation.

The bokeh is quite pleasant although the limited DR shows here.

Like all other small sensor Ricoh cameras the macro mode is excellent, the camera can focus very close and offers a good magnification at any focal length but is most usefully at 72mm where the camera can focus as close as 3cm in front of the lens.

Due to the silent shutter you can take candid pictures.

So how does the image quality stack up?
If you read my GX200 review you will remember that I was not impressed by the poor high-ISO performance which I described as the worst of any Ricoh camera. The S10 module has a lower MP sensor (10MP vs 12MP) and also a higher maximum ISO of 3200 (compared with ISO 1600 on the GX200) so what does this mean in real life? The good news first is that the high-ISO is indeed better and it even beats the GRD III because it does not suffer from the banding problem. The bad news is that the JPG engine is a disaster and everything over ISO 400 looks like an oil painting, if you use RAW however you get much better results and the images are usable even at ISO 1600 although I would reserve ISO 3200 for emergencies only.

This ISO 800 picture shows the watercolour effect you get from the poor JPG engine of the S10.

At low ISO however the image quality is very good considering the sensor size with nice colours, good dynamic range for a small sensor but even here you have to use RAW since the JPGs are very soft and smudgy due to the excessive NR Ricoh seems to be applying to the JPGs.

Street photography is always a strong suit of Ricoh cameras thanks to the Snap AF but also the intuitive handling and controls.

So while the S10 module is in parts a successor to the GX200, everyone will have to decide for them if it really is the GX300 they have been waiting for or want. As a serious compact camera with a bright lens and larger sensor it does not hold up as well enough against the competition as the previous GX cameras have done.

For more pictures taken with the S10 have a look here.

Continue reading if you want to find out if this is the kit-lens you should be considering for the GXR or if you are better off with one of the other two modules. Next on the list is the P10 module.

P10 28-300mm Zoom

As the S10 module is mostly a GX300 in module form, the P10 is any of the CX cameras squeezed into a module. This is actually very good news since I have been a big fan of the CX1 when I reviewed it but never found reason enough to own one alongside my other cameras.

Architecture shots works well with the P10.

Unlike the S10 module, this is less of a serious compact but more a superzoom p&s compact in a larger body but with the added benefit of RAW mode and 'manual' controls. Don't get too excited though, the manual controls are very limited and consist of aperture fully open or fully closed.

The JPGs while not fantastic are quite good and you can get even more out of them with a bit of processing.

Like the S10 module, the lens retracts fully and makes for a compact module when powered off. Strangely enough the P10 module is physically a bit larger than the S10 module and also a bit heavier. This comes as a surprise considering the CX cameras are smaller and lighter than the GX200 for example.

At times it's good to have a versatile zoom lens in such a small package around so you can get close enough to the subject.

You won't find any zoom of focus controls on the lens here but then you would not really expect either considering the base for this module was the CX line of cameras. With a solid base you get a solid module though and like the CX line, the P10 module is quite fast and responsive in operation. When set to JPG mode only, you will never have to wait for the camera and even in RAW mode it is fast an responsive without ever making you wait for it. The only time you will have to wait is when you use the scene modes and shoot a normal JPG alongside but this is true for all GXR modules and all other Ricoh cameras when using the scene modes.

Macros have always been a strong point of Ricoh cameras and the P10 does not disappoint.

The image quality of the P10 module is like I mentioned in my CX1 review very good, especially when shooting and processing the RAW files. But even the JPGs are usable with some minor tweaks, I recommend using Contrast +2, Sharpening -1 and Colour Depth -1 for the in-camera settings.
High-ISO here is as expected not great due to the small sensor limitations but is when using RAW not far behind the S10 module up to ISO 800 and in parts even ISO 1600. 
The image quality is overall very good for a small sensor superzoom and does not really stand behind the S10 module. Having the ability to shoot RAW is excellent and the RAW files allow to get the last bit out of the sensor.

Shooting RAW and with proper exposure makes ISO 1600 quite usable on the P10.

Although the P10 has the smallest sensor of the GXR modules it also has the biggest zoom range and is next to the S10 the smallest and lightest module. The performance is in line with the CX cameras so in otheer words very good and in line with other superzoom cameras but wth the added benefit of being able to shoot RAW. While you lose the size advantage over a CX or other superzoom camera, being able to transform the camera into an APS prime lens camera or a Leica M-mount camera makes up for the larger body. So unlike the S10 module, this holds up well against the competition.

Landscape pictures come out well and have quite a lot of detail considering the sensor size, you need to shoot RAW for this though.

For more pictures taken with the P10 have a look here.

Now that we have the small sensor kit-lens modules covered, let's look at how the A16 zoom performs and compares.

A16 24-85mm Zoom


When looking at the specs of this module it is clear that this is not based off any previous Ricoh cameras and is a new design. One could say that it is the S10 module but with a larger sensor and in some ways this is not too far off. You can read my preview of the A16 Zoom here for more impressions and things which I might not cover below.

The DR is great on the 16MP sensor used in the A16 Zoom module.

I would like to say that the GXR with this module is a serious compact with larger sensor but while it's serious and has a large sensor, it's very far off being anywhere near compact. As you can see from the pictures this lens is huge and looks disproportionate to the body. It is the biggest GXR module to date but it's also very light at the same time. This is achieved due to a mostly plastic build which does not feel very good but seems solid enough. Due to it being so light you can shoot all day and not notice you were carrying such a big module around.

Macro works very well with this module but due to the larger sensor you will get less DOF.

Unfortunately Ricoh has not provided any external controls at all so not only do you have to zoom using the buttons on the body but also have to focus using them, while this is acceptable for the S10 or P10 modules it is not acceptable for this module considering the size. The size also leads itself well to holding the lens with one hand while shooting but the lack of a zoom or focus ring is frustrating. The upside of this is that you can actually control the camera with only one hand.

While the A16 Zoom is not a sports camera it still allows to take pictures of fast moving action with a bit of anticipation and practice.

In operation the camera is quick enough and has a fast AF than the previous A12 modules but the AF seems to misfocus quite often. Zooming in is not very fast and the already big lens extends even more while zooming and is almost twice as long at 85mm.
The shot to shot time is not impressive and still has the 0.5 second delay in between shots so this seems to be a limitation with the body rather than the module itself. Unless you shoot sports, I would not think this will really be a problem to most but it would be nice to have a more responsive feeling camera.

The leaf shutter in the A16 module is very quiet and this is one of the advantages this has to other mirrorless cameras and their kit lenses.

When the lens specs were announced people were disappointed to see it is only f3.5-5.5 so not very fast despite the size. I was one of them but then expected at least a high quality lens given the size and slow speed. Overall the lens is good but not great and shows quite a bit of barrel distortion at wide angle and also the corners are not as sharp as I would expect, even for a non GR labelled lens.
Despite being quite slow, it still allows more control over depth of field than the S10 module thanks to the APS sensor and the fringing is well controlled even at 24mm and wide open. Some people have reported problems with de-centered lenses but my sample appeared fine, although as mentioned before the corners were not as sharp as they could/should have been.

High ISO is great on the sensor used in the A16 so it is puzzling why Ricoh limits the ISO at 3200 rather than allowing higher values to be used.

Speaking about the sensor, it is the best thing about the module and the best sensor Ricoh has used to date. The dynamic range is very good as is the high ISO, it beats the other modules hands down in both low and high ISO. Especially the high ISO is very good, which is even more puzzling as to why Ricoh had to limit the highest ISO at 3200. Here I hope Ricoh will increase this in a future firmware update because other cameras with the same sensor allow for higher ISO and having a slow lens also requires frequent use of higher ISO values.
The lack of AA filter is apparent in all pictures and all show a level of details you don't get from most cameras, the lens seems to somewhat limit the level of details you get when compared with the A12 Mount and some of the higher quality lenses. Here I hope to see this sensor in a future revision of the A12 Mount but having a sensor without AA filter is certainly the way to go.

Landscape photography would be a strong suit of this module thanks to the 24mm lens, high dynamic range and the lack of AA filter helps capture a lot of detail. Unfortunately the corners are soft at 24mm, here I would have expected more from Ricoh.

This module is a bit of a mixed bag, on the one hand we have the excellent sensor and great image quality thanks to the lack of AA filter and great high-ISO, on the other hand the module is really big and the lens is slow. Looking at the competition it becomes clear that this module holds up well in terms of image quality and leads by having a lens starting at 24mm but in terms of size it is far off something like the Ganon G1X or the m4/3 offerings, only the Sony NEX kit lenses are a similar size but here you get a smaller camera to go with it (both look equally disproportionate though).

The control of DOF is limited due to the slow lens but the bokeh is very nice if you are close enough.

For more pictures taken with the A16 have a look here.


Conclusion

So which module should you buy if you need a zoom to complement your A12 modules or maybe simply want a compact system camera with a zoom lens?

The overall winner for me is the P10 module because it's the smallest, offers the biggest zoom range, decent image quality and comes together with the body at a price not much more than just the body itself. It is also, like the CX cameras, fun to shoot with and the ability to shoot RAW does make a difference when it comes to the image quality.
Second is the A16 Zoom which while offering the best image quality comes with a hefty price to pay in terms of overall size and a slow lens. The S10 module is unfortunately no GX300 and does not offer anything over either the P10 or the A16 to make it a worthwhile purchase, it is a decent performer but does not have any outstanding features to really recommend it.

In the end neither module is perfect and all have their own advantages and disadvantages, you will need to decide which of these you can live and shoot with and which are deal breakers.
I think Ricoh has missed an opportunity here to release a compact module with a high quality and fast zoom lens and bigger sensor. maybe something like the Fuji X10 or the Canon G1X would have been much better as a module rather than what we currently have. Unless you want to use any of the excellent A12 modules on the GXR and need a zoom as a compliment, I can't see a reason to get the GXR just to use one of these modules on it.

14 comments:

  1. Nice review as always.
    For a long time the P10 was the only module I had, but I have to say I was very happy with it. Maybe looked upon as the poor relation compared to it's siblings but the auto macro facility is a joy to use and the zoom range covers most instances. If you need to travel light, it is a very good option.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Jason!

    The P10 is a very nice module and I really enjoyed shooting with it. If you want to travel light and need a zoom, this is the right module to get.

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  3. Thank you very much for this. It's very interesting, I made similar experiences with the A16. Excellent details, good high ISO behavior, but bulky, with slow writing times and lack of a zoom-ring. I totally agree with your conclusion. The A16 might be the perfect travel kit. But it's not unobtrusive like the GX200 is. In my style of shooting I learned to prefer prime lenses anyway. If I want to make it the easy way I stick to my GX200. We need a real Ricoh successor of this. But I know it never will happen, because of marketing reasons. Going through my pictures taken with the A16 I noticed, most of the pictures had the 35mm equiv. focus length. So, why no prime module here?

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  4. Thanks for your comment!

    Glad you like the review, the A16 is very nice but the bulk makes it difficult to take along and is more noticeable. A 35mm prime module has been requested quite often but I am not sure what Ricoh's plans are currently regarding the GXR system.

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  5. Thanks for your review! I'm intrested in the gxr for the a12s, but i would like a zoom module to use as a compact camera. The p10 seems pretty good!

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  6. Thanks for your comment!

    Glad you found the review helpful, the P10 is certainly a good choice, especially when bought together with the body as a kit.

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  7. Excellent review. I have a GXR with A12 50, A12 28, and P10. The A modules yield excellent image quality, but are slow to write RAW files. The A12 50 module is slow to focus. The A12 28 is the best of the lot because it has high image quality and fast focusing. The P10 module is compact, but its image quality is no more than acceptable. GXR batteries have a short life in camera; one should have two or three extra batteries. The EVF-2 electronic viewfinder should be on every GXR, even though as a viewfinder it's not state of the art. All in all, I like my GXR outfit and would buy a GXR 2 if Ricoh offers such a product.

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  8. I would love to see Ricoh make a wide zoom, like a 21-35. I think this would do well for most users, and if it was GR badged, you can be sure it would offer great IQ.

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  9. Thanks for your comment, I also hope Ricoh will release a wide angle zoom with GR lens.

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  10. Several people become interested in photography that's why they start looking for a good camera that they can use for their fashion and to take good shots.

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  11. I just don't like that the shutter of this Ricoh A12 50 because it's kinda lag but the focus assist is fast, so I could still take that. The skin tones are a bit off. High ISO performance though.

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  12. Thanks for your comment!

    The shutter response of the A12 50mm module has greatly improved with the new firmware updates but compared to more recent cameras it's no really competitive anymore, it helps to use Snap focus when possible.

    The WB and colours are actually pretty good but you need to process the RAW files for best results as the JPGs leave a lot to be desired.

    High ISO is a bit of a problem with the A12 sensors and here they do show their age, the A16 sensor is way better.

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  13. Is this worth it to buy? i plan to have a nice camera soon.

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  14. I read your blog.interested blog such as great blog Thanks......

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