Ricoh GXR VF-2, the missing piece in the puzzle
I’ve written several posts in the last couple of years about my Ricoh GXR camera and although it’s now quite an old design I still find it one of the best cameras I’ve ever used for configurability and usability. The one thing that’s made it awkward to use however, and made the difference between taking it with me or leaving it at home has been the rear screen LCD. Great though the LCD is, it suffers from the same problem that all cameras with LCDs suffer from – you can’t see them in sunlight.
Well, after owning the camera for a couple of years I’ve finally been able to find a reasonably priced VF-2 electronic viewfinder (EVF) to add to the kit and remove the problem of trying to compose pictures in bright sunlight with the LCD.
Ricoh VF-2 review
The unit itself is quite small and extremely light, measuring only about an inch square and an inch and a quarter long. It sits in the flash socket on the GXR and directly connects to a small socket underneath. Obviously the camera looses some of it’s pocket-ability with the EVF fitted, but it is supplied with a small leather pouch which can be attached to the camera strap so it can be fitted as required. In fact, if I were taking the camera anywhere I would probably just have the viewfinder with me and attach it when required because I would be worried it could get damaged sitting on top of the body.
There is a small control on the top of the viewfinder and this controls the diopter adjustment. I found it had a lot of adjustment range and was fine for my eyes and I normally wear glasses for reading and close work. As well as being able to be used in the horizontal orientation, the viewfinder can be adjusted to be any angle up to completely vertical which gives lots of options if you need to get low down to take a shot.
The eyepiece itself is comfortable to use and has a large outer ring of soft rubber which is effective at keeping stray light out.
The camera body has a button to switch the display between the back panel LCD or the EVF, and this setting is remembered after the camera is switched off. When the EVF is attached to the camera body and selected, all the picture taking functionality which would normally appear on the back panel LCD is transferred to the viewfinder, so all the menus, on screen display information etc will appear, but oddly enough if the image view button is pressed the image display appears on the LCD. You can press the VF/LCD button and they will transfer to the viewfinder but the next time you press the view button they will be back on the LCD. It’s not something that would bother me too much, but I’d rather the button applied to both picture taking and picture viewing mode.
Before I took delivery of the VF-2 I read a few contemporary reviews and something that concerned me a little bit was the fact that a couple of reviews said the image in the viewfinder was quite small and not very good resolution. That concerned me because this technology is about 6 years old, so if it was considered a bit poor then it would be really poor by today’s standards.
Well I’m happy to say I don’t agree with those assessments at all. I find it to be really good quality and nicely crisp and focussed. I’d actually find it hard to choose between my Nex 6 and this viewfinder, which is saying something since the Nex 6 viewfinder has more than twice the resolution.
I’ve not witnessed any ‘tearing’ of the display when I’ve been using the camera with the viewfinder attached and I’ve tried some quite violent swinging about to see if I could initiate it.
Using the VF-2
The most obvious advantage of using the VF-2 is the fact that you can plainly see the image in bright conditions when the back screen LCD is obscured by sunlight. That alone makes the viewfinder worthwhile because, I personally found the camera unusable under those circumstances.
There are other advantages however.
I find I am much less self conscious using the camera with the viewfinder attached than I am trying to compose pictures holding the camera far enough away from me to use the rear screen. I’m talking really about using a camera in populated areas like when trying street photography. I feel that I can blend into the background more with the camera held to my eye, than I can with it at arms length. I think this may be because I’m not distracted by seeing people out of the corner of my eye looking at me.
It’s also true that it’s much easier to hold the camera steady with it held up against your face than it is with the camera at arms length. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a less stable position for taking pictures than holding the camera out 2 feet in front of you to compose a picture.
As an example, if you look at the two pictures below you can see this. Both were taken at 1/2 sec shutter speed and cropped to a small square to show the same image. One was using the vf-2 and held against my face, the other was held at arms length but with my arms bent and trying to support the camera as much as possible. Although neither is sharp, there is a clear difference between the shake recorded on the two pictures.
Obviously the case above is a bit extreme and I wouldn’t routinely try to take pictures at 1/2 sec hand held, but I think the extra support it gives you probably adds a stop or two of shutter speed which you could successfully hand hold at.
In conclusion I think the VF-2 is a worthwhile addition for any Ricoh GXR user and makes the camera a great mirrorless alternative to carrying a large DSLR. Of course, today the GXR is old technology and doesn’t really compete with the latest offerings from the big manufacturers, but if you can get one second hand I think they are a really good buy.