On this page, I collect experiences with my Ricoh GXR regarding overall and autofocus speed. I report on the initial state before firmware update 1.17, and also on the effects of two firmware updates, 1.17 and 1.29, that attempted to increase AF speed - and indeed improved matters considerably.
I was asked regarding complaints about the review and zoom speed of the GXR. While there is a short, noticeable delay before an image appears on the screen, it's fast enough for me. I also do not have any complaints regarding zooming and panning speeds.
Shooting speed has still to be investigated. As it depends on autofocus speed, there are some delays due to slow autofocus (particularly in macro mode, and when restarting after a miss). Initially, the A12-50 camera unit seemed to be slower than the S10 (before firmware update 1.17). This may have changed after the firmware updates 1.17 and 1.29, but I never investigated this and therefore cannot make any comments on this.
I also tested the speed of continuous shooting and found a speed of about 3 images per second for auto as well as manual focus - that is exactly what the specs promise.
When testing both camera units that were initially available, the S10 and the A12-50, I found that the S10 was slightly faster than the A12-50 when focusing automatically. It took two-and-a-half "goes" before focus "locked in", and the unit made a high-pitched noise when focusing. The A12-50 sounded nicer, but the AF was somewhat slower, restarted sometimes, and on rare occasions missed the target completely. (Professional testers have probably provided us with exact timing data...)
As expected, macro AF was and still is slower than normal focus for both units. The S10 seemed to focus faster than my GX200 in macro mode (the CX1 was definitely faster). The A12-50 could also be very slow in macro mode, depending on the subject.
In March 2010, Ricoh published the long awaited first function enhancing firmware update for the body and the two 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 of a hack to becalm GXR users. Not only improved update 1.29 AF speed and accuracy, it also did away with the two 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.
All in all, the second firmware enhancing update 1.29 transformed the GXR into a new camera - the one that it should have been from the beginning. But the GXR is still not a speed demon regarding autofocus (and sometimes accuracy, at least for the A12-50 camera unit in macro mode).