As well as a high degree of control, the other thing serious photographers want is good performance, and here too the GX100 delivers. It starts up in under two seconds, and thanks to an exceptionally quick AF system in single-shot mode it can maintain a rate of a shot a second, even with focusing between shots. In continuous mode it shoots the first couple of frames at about three shots a second, but for longer sequences it averages at just under two frames a second, which is still pretty impressive. Low-light focusing is somewhat slower, with a tendency to hunt around, but the built-in AF assist lamp means that it will focus in the dark up at a range of a few metres. Like most Ricoh cameras, the GX100 doesn’t go about its business quietly. The zoom and AF motors are very noisy, with and operate with a loud mechanical whirring sound. This can be a bit disconcerting for anyone used to the whisper-quiet operation of most modern digital cameras, but you soon get used to it.
The final criterion is of course image quality, and here is where the GX100 runs into a problem. For all its versatility and performance, it still has a small, overpowered sensor, and is heir to all the woes that brings. The 24-72mm lens is very sharp right across the frame, and produces surprisingly little distortion for such a wide-angle lens. Images are very detailed, but there is a noticeable lack of colour depth and dynamic range. The exposure system seems to be set for shadow detail by default, and as a result it burns out highlights in high-contrast shots. Image noise is also a big problem at all but the lowest ISO settings, with pictures above 400 ISO effectively unusable fro anything but the smallest prints. Despite this, when working within the camera’s limitations it is capable of producing stunning results, and landscape photographers especially will love the highly detailed panoramic shots that are possible thanks to the excellent wide-angle lens. The 72mm telephoto isn’t that useful, since it’s barely long enough for a decent portrait shot, but the GZ100 does have a bayonet fitting mount hidden under its lens bezel, so hopefully a teleconverter will become available at some point. The add-on lenses for the GR Digital do not fit the GX100.
The Ricoh GX100 is an exceptional camera in many ways. It offers a level of control and versatility that keen photographers will love, and a unique range of features and options. Overall performance is excellent, and while image quality isn’t perfect, it’s good enough for most serious hobby photography, and the RAW mode allows for a wide range of picture adjustment. The only real downside to the GX100 is its high price. With entry-level DSLRs starting at around £350, it’s hard to justify spending nearly that much on a compact.