On this page, I collect further Ricoh GXR experiences. In particular, I report on two firmware updates (1.17 and 1.29) that attempted to improve AF speed. For the convenience of the readers, some of them may be redundant with my initial impressions.
In March 2010, Ricoh published the long awaited first function enhancing firmware update for the body and the two then available camera units A12-50 and S10 (version 1.17). Among others, this update addressed the A12-50 autofocus speed issues and introduced a new "quick" autofocus mode for the A12-50:
In the setup menu, AF speed options became available (A12-50 only). You could choose between QK-AF or FR-AF - here is Ricoh's explanation of both modes:
That is, in the "quick" mode the screen froze during focusing, while it did not in "normal" mode. Under good lighting conditions and for static objects, I barely noticed the screen freeze or even did not notice it at all. However, when you moved the camera while focusing, you would realize a "dropout" and the image would "jump" after focusing has finished. In addition, I found that even in "normal" mode, the screen image "jumped" a little bit shortly before the image was taken.
Quick autofocus was indeed a lot faster than normal autofocus. But autofocus speed was inconsistent, and there was no indication of whether the camera switched from QK-AF to FR-AF when focusing takes longer. Therefore, is was hard to make any conclusive statements regarding the speed of quick autofocus.
The difference between the two autofocus modes was much more evident when you shot macros: When using normal autofocus, you could observe how the image changed during focusing, which could take one or two seconds, and sometimes a lot more. This allowed you at least a little to compensate for camera shake and keep the section stable.
When using "quick" mode, however, the view froze during focusing and often "jumped" to a new section afterwards, because you moved the camera during focusing. Thus, the jump should not happen if the camera was mounted on a tripod, but I never verified this. The "jump" could be quite disturbing and annoying, because, depending on your shakiness, the section could have changed completely, and your initial composition was be lost. In such a case, you had to recompose the scene and sometimes even to refocus. All in all, for macro shots quick autofocus was only appropriate if you put the camera on a tripod or could hold it stable using some support.
Firmware update 1.29, the second function enhancing firmware update was published in October 2010 and addressed the AF issues of the (now two available) A12 camera units more seriously than update 1.17. In hindsight, the first function enhancing firmware update was more sort of a hack to becalm GXR users. Not only improved update 1.29 AF speed and accuracy, it also did away with the to AF modes, in particular, the Quick AF mode, which was faster but caused a screen freeze. The new state of affairs is really what the GXR should have been from the beginning. Regrettably, the initial state of the GXR AF spawned a lot of negative reviews of the camera. Hopefully, the GXR will recover from this launch failure. Macro AF has also been improved and since the update I have never experienced that the A12-50 unit could not find macro focus at all. However, this does not mean that there are still occasions in which the AF struggles, particularly with the new A12-28 unit, which is reported to focus faster (I did not check this...). But I do not expect miracles from a contrast AF system. All in all, this second firmware enhancing update transformed the GXR into a new camera - the one that it should have been from the beginning.
The GXR A12-50 camera units has a macro function that allows photos up to 1:2 enlargement (7cm distance). The S10 also allows macro photos, starting with a distance of 1cm at a focal length of 24mm equiv. and thus offering higher magnifications. However, I never felt much tempted to use it for macro shots (the same applied to my GX100/200...) because I prefer larger distances (tele macros) to the objects (which also provide lower DOF). The P10 unit , on the other hand, also starts at 1cm at the wide end but is quite useful at the tele end as well: The minimum distance is still 10cm at 200mm equiv. Thus, for a while, I took most of my macros with the then new P10 unit.
The problem, or my problem, with the A12-50 camera unit is, however, the low success rate. I have to confess that my success rate was also low with my DSRL and the Tamron 90mm macro lens. The reasons for the failures are more or less the same: the low depth of field. With the A12-50, there is an additional complication that I already mentioned elsewhere: The camera does not provide a view at full aperture in the viewfinder (and on the LCD screen). Thus, often you believe that the object is sharp, only to find out that it is not afterwards. The briefly appearing review image is of little help here, but at least clearly reveals that often the depth of field in the final image is much lower than it was in the viewfinder.
The next annoyance was autofocus but this has much improved since firmware update 1.29. Here is a brief recap of the state before this update: Often, I observed that the camera found focus only on the first shot and never again (on some occasions it found focus again after a couple of trials). I had to turn the camera off and on for a new trial... With firmware update 1.17, quick autofocus (QK-AF) was introduced, which caused the image to freeze during focusing. This was usually not an issue with "normal" shots, but with macros the freeze could last for seconds. After the freeze, the image usually "jumped" to a new position because I could not hold the camera stable during focusing and needed to reframe or even refocus. As a consequence, I set the focus to FR-AF for macro shots so that I could observe the focusing process and keep the image section stable.
What can be done to increase the success rate with macro shots? I developed a number of hypotheses, most of which were wrong, because I had misunderstood the functioning of the GXR. After some experimentation, my current recommendations for macro shots are as follows:
All in all, applying these guidelines allowed me to catch a May beetle - with autofocus another one had escaped me...
In September 2010 (Sep 20), my GXR with attached P10 camera unit and LC-2 lens cap survived a drop with only a few minor scratches remaining (now, I can't sell it anymore…) during a mountain hike in Southern France on Mount Meygal (Pay de Suc, Haute Loire).
The neckstrap got loose on one side, and the camera fell down on the rocks (perhaps about 1m) and rumbled further uphill for about 2m. As the rock was oblique, the bounce was probably watered down. Luckily, the camera was off, and thus the lens protected.
I was completely shocked for the whole evening (only a few glasses of red wine helped a little)! Anyway, both the body and the P10, are still going strong!
Here is about the location, where the camera dropped (Mount Meygal):
And this is the view from the Meygal that I had before the drop:
It seems as if I do not learn from my mistakes... In April 2011, my GXR with attached P10 unit and LC-2 lens cap fell a second time to the ground - this time during a walk at home. With a loud noise, it fell on the asphalt (from about 1m) hitting heavily the right bottom corner. Again, it survived, but this time with more "injuries":
Once again, the neckstrap got loose on one side, and again, the camera was off, and thus the lens protected.
This time, I exchanged body parts (which also "healed" the battery compartment). See below for the results.
The following photo indicates what happened (click image for German version):
This photo indicates that there is a small issue with fixing the neck strap to the body (click image for German version):
Here is a "prototypical" proposal for a fix - a stopper that is attached to both ends of the neck strap (click image for German version):
As the body and P10 camera unit still worked well, I used the camera after Easter and sent both the body and the P10 to Pirmasens for repair/check in mid May. I sent both on a Monday and got the P10 back the next Friday - not bad! For the body, two cover parts had to be exchanged, which were not in stock. So I had to wait until June 1st before the body was returned to me. Not too bad! And all this for a flat rate of 45 Euros - no reason to complain, either.
My RICOH contact Mr. Wutzke offered me a loan body for the time that mine was in repair. First, I hesitated, but when it looked as if I would have to wait longer, I asked him to send me one. He did so, but in the meantime the cover parts also arrived at Pirmasens, and loan body and my own body arrived on the same day.
In the meantime, the loan body is on its way back to Mr. Wutzke who supported me all the time. Thanks a lot!