Home Features Mauritius with the Ricoh GXR: A riot of colour

Mauritius with the Ricoh GXR: A riot of colour

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Some eight years ago, a couple of friends managed to talk us into going to Mauritius. My wife and I weren’t too keen at first. We thought the island was more of a honeymoon destination with sandy beaches and thought no more about it.

Our friends insisted, telling us we’d love the colours and the people and there’s plenty to do. I’m happy to say they were right and our change of mind turned out to be one of our best moves.

It’s a small island, but looking back it was worth the trip. I packed my Ricoh GXR with the 28mm module. I still have the body but I’ve swapped the 28mm (when I bought the GR) for the 50mm macro lens which I still enjoy using.

The autofocus on this camera was not always reliable and you may experience some colourcast. But the camera seemed to have enjoyed the sunny atmosphere and colours of the island and did the job pretty well. One of the advantages of those modules is that they are not prone to dust because the body and the sensor are attached (unlike the GR with its collapsible lens) and can be taken anywhere with no qualms at all.

A bit of history

The island was first a Dutch colony around 1598. It was then French from 1715 until 1810. The British took over in 1814 up to independence in 1968. Such regime change led to a compelling mix of different people and cultures. The French brought black slaves to work in the sugarcane fields and the English welcomed a large number of Indian settlers, mainly Tamils. The Créole and Indian communities live peacefully together. They are a friendly people, always ready to start a conversation in French or English, the two languages spoken on the island. Christianity and Hinduism are the two mainstream religions on the island.

Food

This diversity of origin is amply reflected in the island’s food. You can enjoy Créole cooking, spicy chicken or fish as well as Indian curries and dals, samosas or a mix of both culinary cultures that awakes your taste buds to delicious and surprising flavours. The roadsides are full of small friendly food vendors where you can get excellent meals. We were lucky to have three of them near the place where we were staying and had many meals there.

Small shops

There were no supermarkets where we stayed. We were near small shops that sold all the basic things you might need. Despite the ads for globalised brands, the Oscars went to the local rum and beer. That’s the place where locals go for a drink of rum. Apart from the rum, which was excellent, what we liked were the colours of those small shops.

Temples

Apart from some churches, Hinduism is the main religion on the island. You can find temples where people go for their puja (Hindu act of worship) all over the island in almost every village. There is also a sacred lake with a huge Shiva statue where people go on pilgrimage. The statue boasts that it is the highest in the Indian ocean. The atmosphere is quiet and, unlike temples in India or Nepal, there’s no restricted access to these places of worship.

Jardin Pamplemousse

This is the national botanical garden. It is not too big by our western standards but houses many indigenous species and boasts beautiful ponds with lotus flowers and huge water lilies. The various hues of bright greens are truly wonderful. We spent a long time in the garden and truly enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the place. If my memory serves, this garden is mentioned in Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy of novels which concerns the British-Chinese opium wars of the middle 19th Century.

The beaches and the sea

This is what Mauritius is famous for. Many sandy beaches are lined with five-star hotels. Fortunately, there are plenty of places where you can avoid those places jam-packed with people. The local places are truly amazing and quiet. The colours of the Indian ocean are stunning at any time of the day and snorkelling inside the coral reef is a wonderful and “shark-free” experience. I just wish I had had a Leica X-U at the time to take pictures of the many-hued fish. It was probably better than a session with Disney’s Nemo.

Fishing

Every local beach harbours a small fishing fleet which goes to sea daily and sells its catch directly next to the beach. We particularly enjoyed the one in Cap Malheureux where we often bought fish, especially marlin (makaire) and tuna. They were fresh and delicious fried in coconut oil with a pinch of curry.

Transport

Apart from using bikes and motorbikes, the best way to go around the island is by trying the local buses. Bus routes provide good public transport all over the island. One of the oddities is in the way they drive their buses at breakneck speed between two stops only to brake furiously a few metres before the bus stop. Once you get used to it and grip the handrail in front of you at the right time, the trips are fast and reliable despite the potholes that send you jumping up from time to time.

Port-Louis vegetables and fruit market.

This the biggest market in the island capital and I was captivated by the explosion of colours. The market is in the centre of the old town of Port-Louis.

Chamarel national park.

This is an area of beauty. Mauritius is a volcanic island with huge craters and a few mountain peaks which are, in fact, extinct volcanoes. The volcanoes also created the earth with seven colours. This phenomenon seems to be due to the mixture of volcanic sand with iron oxide. The soil is fertile around these volcanoes and produces all sorts of fruit and vegetables, including pineapple, which you can buy all over the island. You can also spot disused salt marshes not far from the national park.

GXR System

The GXR system is no longer available. Apart from the two small-sensor zooms, plus a 16-85 16MP APS-C zoom, the system included three 12MP units, each housing a different lens — 50mm macro, a 28mm, and an M Mount module which was a cheap entry into the world of Leica because it accepted all the M mount lenses.

Performance, in general, was on par with the M8 sensor according to reviews. You can check a couple of reviews here: GXR-A12 Field Report and Ricoh GXR. The 28mm unit was my companion for a couple of years but the AF system and colour imaging was not the best.

I still own the 50mm module and use it for macro photography and portraiture despite its tendency to front and back focus while searching focus. It’s in no way a fast unit but the rendering is far better than that of the 28mm unit once you accept the limitations of the lens.

Read more colourful Macfilos articles by Jean Perenet

24 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a great little camera ..but with (nowadays) rather poor low-light capability (maximum ISO 3200 ..pretty much the same as film, really). [A compact wide angle (19mm equivalent) adaptor was available to fit on the optional short 24-72mm zoom, and the tiny 28-300mm (equivalent) zoom was so much smaller, lighter and more convenient than Canon’s huge, heavy full-frame 28-300mm monstrosity!]

    The GXR was an extremely versatile system, doing the same as – or more than! – any compact pocket film interchangeable-lens camera ..with the advantage that it didn’t just stop after 36 shots!

    What gorgeously colourful photos, Jean! ..Makes me feel I was right there with you!

  2. Thanks David from confined France. I still use the gxr and my wife enjoys using the 24-72 module that she carries everywhere we go (probably the same sensor as the GRD 4). If it were a 1 inch senor that would be a great kit lens. I still don’t understand why Ricoh stopped producing the camera. It feels sturdy, better-built and heavier than the GR. I don’t know why but I’m less prone to touch the EV compensation button than the GR one. The menu system once customized is child’s play. 12 MP is enough to print 20X30 inches. I’ve never tried it in low light so can’t comment on that, but not worse than my former M8 or M9.
    Keep safe
    Jean

  3. Again a wonderful time with wonderful photos as a bonus. Recently I read,can’t remember where a user had dust problem put tape usb door said no more dust. Gov NY just told people stay home only essential for safety go to work. No gatherings over 10 people etc, I am at camp in ADK having new stove put in only 3 people on whole road out of 16 residences. Love your gr (anyone of their photos) pls stay well and healthy, do they let you at least walk your dog?

  4. Thanks John. Confined at home, so I’m teaching via internet. It feels weird and gives you more work to respond to all the students e-mails. I’m an old one that wasn’t born with smartphones and internet and hasn’t found the way to install videoconferencing for teaching. For my GR, dust proofing has been done with sellotape on the microphone a small hole not far from it + hood. It certainly solved the dust issue in dusty Nepal. Looking back at the images from the GXR that still is a very good and able camera if you can live with missed focus at times with the 28 module and some not so accurate colour imaging. The sensor is the same as the Nikon D90. It’s a really enjoyable camera I use with the 50mm macro module and my wife with the small zoom 24-72 which gives brilliant results. I’ve reduced outing to walking the dog in the forest near home far from the crowd. Keep safe and stay inside.

  5. Thank you for sharing a past experience with us, Jean, and not feeling you have to be up-to date – event-wise or camera-wise! I always enjoy your travelogues and the pictures that go with them, where the viewer can almost smell what he is seeing!! I was very tempted by the GXR at the time, so am specially interested to hear about your experiences with it. I could see the point of the dust-proof fixed lens modules, but small sensor zooms with the ever present danger of dust ingress seemed to me to vitiate the point of the camera. Likewise a module for changing lenses. I never resolved these doubts before the GXR went out of production………… You mention the lush greens in Mauritius, but aren’t your photos just a bit too green sometimes? And people a bit underexposed? Not serious criticisms, just interest.

  6. Thanks John for your kind comment. As for the GXR here are my experiences with it. My presets are often vivid mode with enhanced sharpness, saturation and contrast. That’s the same for all my Ricoh cameras (GRD 4, Gxr with a12 50mm module and zoom lense 24-72 small sensor, Original GR APS-C, GR II and the GRD 3 that is gone to my son). There may be some colour cast but that can be easily fixed in post.
    The A12 28mm module does not always focus spot on and you have to play with DOF when recomposing the image but it’s a minor issue once you know it. No dust problem with that one.
    The A 12 50mm is a stellar lens once you accept the hunting for focus. It’s as slow as a tortoise but provides great results. No dust problem at all.
    I did not buy the leica M module but still considers it even now. I’d like to use either Leica or Voigtlander or Zeiss M or 7 Artisans glass on that sensor.
    The ricoh or pentax cameras raw files are a pleasure to work with in LR. (I still use version 5 although John S. almost talked me into investing in the new dematerialized version with the images he posted on The Rolling Road).
    The results of the two A 12 lenses are not far from my Leica X2 quality wise.
    I’ve never cared about the last camera gimmicks you can find nowadays. A camera is just a tool I have to be confident with, no matter how old it is. I like my Ricohs and Leica X2 menus and imagings. Not far from analog cameras with a bit more customization. For what I’m doing 28, 35 and 50 mm is all I need. I’ve never seen the point in investing in new systems except to replace cameras that don’t work anymore.
    Swapping modules is just like swapping lenses in my experience.
    As for the lush green they are Mauritius colours with an enhanced saturation, nothing more
    Keep safe in those times of Covid 19

    • Oops I forgot to say that from my last trip, my images of Nepal there was a red colour cast in many images. I presume any place in the world has its colours.

  7. Hi Jean,

    I hope your self isolation is going okay, and you and your family are well in the circumstances.

    What wonderfully colourful images, they set a scene that is like a tapestry of deeply rich hues. I love the colour of the sea, more so in the first image.

    That Ricoh did you proud, and it goes to show you dont always need the latest, and (in theory) greatest camera to get the best results.

    I hope all is well and you are safe this weekend.

    Dave

  8. Thanks Dave. It’s so good to hear from people when you are isolated at home apart from walking the dog. Did you invest in a new lens for your Nikon Df or did you stick to the 35 & 50 mm discipline?
    The X2 and my Ricohs cover all my photographic needs.
    Keep safe and away from the virus

    • I have a few things up my sleeve lens wise for the Df – but you will all have to wait and see what comes over the coming year – if we ever get out and do some shooting of course. lol.

      I am glad you are okay, and bearing up in the circumstances.

      It will be nice for us all to get our and enjoy our passion again.

      Dave

  9. You certainly have the ability to make magic happen with older cameras. Every picture here is a gem. The use of colour in the picture of the market, the women waiting at the bus stop, and the bicycles under the banyan tree is excellent. The waterfall is also spectacular. Thank you for sharing and stay well.

  10. Thank you for sharing these images Jean.
    Good composition added to the colour in many of them makes for a very pleasing way to start a quiet weekend.
    And, in times when supply chains are unable to stock supermarket shelves worldwide, I did like the irony in your text “small shops that sell all the basic things you might need”.

  11. Your photographs have caught the deep rich colour, the wet saturated earth very well. It looks like it could rain any moment. And I also get a sense from your photos that despite it being an idyllic destination the islanders life is hard. I like that you confined yourself to photographing the non-glitzy side of the island (or at least showing the other side here). The opening photograph deserves to be framed.

    • Thank you Farhiz. Glad you enjoyed the images. Life is indeed difficult for islanders but from what I saw at the time there was much solidarity between people and no people begging. Rain can be torrential but unlike monsoon but it lasts an hour at most.
      Kepp safe

  12. Hi Jean,

    I agree with Fahiz about the first picture, for me it is worthy of National Geographic. I enjoyed all your compositions and the colourful scenes. Thanks.

    The large supermarkets here have empty shelves but yesterday I bought fruit and vegetables from the market stall. Small shops with supply chains independent from the major stores seem to be doing quite well.

    I have driven through the beautiful forests in Normandy when staying with friends. Returning home after driving through the forest they noticed a small hole in the side of their car and then, on examination, another on the other side. A police firearms expert friend confirmed it was from a rifle bullet!

    • Dont laugh today, down to the last loo roll in the house – I cant do panic buying, I had to leave Seargeant towers and brave the germy outside world in search of loo roll.

      Like a primed hunter I bore down on the local high street, I am lucky, we have four supermarkets and other stores supplying all sorts of goods nearby. I inspected the bags of every person I passed looking for the holy grail of lavatory time. Bag after bag passed with nothing in it, I feared the worst, that no supplies had made it to the local supermarket shelves.

      I started to consider cutting up newspaper, except the shops hardly sell them now as we all read our news on e-devices – I winced at the thought of wiping on the corner of my IPad, or IPhone. its just not the same this modern living. I looked in craft shops for tracing paper, heck we used to have it our school toilets in the 1970’s, until it was outlawed by the human rights act.

      During the hunt, I bumped in to a long time friend, he is nearly 70, and has a list of medical ailments most of us couldn’t make up, including being the proud owner of five stents, a pace maker and diabetes. We call him stenty, and if he went camping he would live in a stent. He has lived a decent life, and doesnt want to be cooped up for what could be his final weeks. His scarf was wrapped across the lower half of his face, like it might save him. However I peered over the edge of his bag, loo rolls looked back at me.

      I contemplated mugging him, and running off, hardly worth it as he knows where I live, and has sizeable sons. I contemplated distracting him, and then running off with his loo rolls, again hardly a prize winning idea. And then I asked where did you get them? Poundland he proudly announced, while everyone else is going to Morrison, Tesco, Asda and the other places. He reckoned he had strolled in to a mountain of them, with a you can only buy one sign hanging ominously over the pile.

      Without thought, and desperate to fulfil my quest. I shot off, sprinting through traffic, commando rolling across two pedestrian crossings with tyres screeching all around me. I was oblivious to the risk, as I bowled the non-isolating elderly aside (should have stayed in, i shouted as they complained) I ran passed KFC with queues of people buying take away (you can no longer eat in). The land of the sacred bog roll appeared before me, Poundland. I fell on grazed knees, panting at the sight of its open doors.

      Once inside I searched the aisles, I cannot recall the last time I had been in poundland, but it was heaving with what felt like the underbelly of the world. And then I found it, a nine pack of 3 ply. yay. I snatched a pack from beneath the sign that says “1 per customer”, and found myself stood in the social distancing queue – large swathes of silver tape marked the box you are allowed to stand in while you patiently wait. I still didnt feel safe, shifty looking sets of eyes seemed to peer down at my 9 pack, even after I had paid, I hid them in a large black canvas bag in an attempt to disguise them as something other than 9 loo rolls.

      Anyway the morale of the story is this, next time I will either join the masses and panic buy, or order on line. There is no way I will get down to the last loo roll again. To make sure of that I convinced Mrs S to pop down after me and buy another 9 pack, so we have two weeks worth now. We joined the panic buying masses.

      Funniest moment of the experience, a really nice chap in the queue had not read the signs, and was trying to buy two four packs of 2 ply. He was told that he couldn’t do it. The lady offered to exchange them for a nine pack of 3 ply. He told her he wanted eight rolls.

      There are somethings in life you cannot make up.

      Enjoy the weekend folks. Happy grocery hunting.

      • Marvellous! Get’s my vote for ‘Macfilos comment of the year’. Perhaps Mike will award you a prize of a rarely seen roll of toilet paper. To be posted or could be left outside the gates of Macfilos Towers for you to collect.

        • Great post Dave. When all else fails we should never lose our sense of humour. Supply chains and customer discipline and a sense of humour are all working well so far on this side of the Irish Sea.

          Jean, your photos are wonderful, as ever, in recording life in a ‘different’ part of the world. So far, the C-19 has not reached many of the more remote parts of the world and we can only hope that, when it does, the people will have the resources to protect themselves. This is a major game changer for all parts of the world and already people are talking about the concepts of BC-19 and AC-19 and the changes that will come.

          I hope you continue to get good photos during the isolation period. My back garden is likely to get more photos than normal this year.

          William

          • Thanks William
            I guess I’m stuck at home now. They even have forbidden access to the forest next to home so photowise it’s very limited. Fortunately we’re not short of anything food and wine wise. I ‘ll send an SOS when we’re short of supplies
            Keep safe

  13. Thanks Kevin. I rarely go to supermarkets but from what I’ve seen shelves are empty here as well. Fortunately we have a market near home 3 times a week which allows us to get vegetables easily.
    Stay safe.

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