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Review: Ricoh GXR with A12 Leica M Mount Module

by Chris Gampat on 09/05/2011

After showing off pure and unedited image samples from the Ricoh GXR with the A12 Leica M Mount Module, the full review is now complete. As one of the well reviewed mirrorless cameras, the interchangeable mount system isn’t as popular as others. So does this one have what it takes to take Ricoh to the top?

For clarification: I used the Leica 50mm f2 Summicron natively. With use of an adapter, I used the Leica 50mm f2 Summicron collapsible, Voigtlander 12mm f5.6, and Leica 35mm f3.5. You may see the links at the end of this article to know exactly what I’m talking about.

You may also want to take a look at Eric Kim‘s Review of the GRIII for us.

Contents

Tech Specs   *   Ergonomics   *   Video Tour   *   Movie Mode   *   Focusing   *   Metering   *   Image Quality   *   Dynamic Range   *   High ISO  *   Ease of Use   *   Conclusions

Tech Specs

Tech specs borrowed from Ricoh’s Listing of the unit

Item Specifications
Effective pixels Approximately 12.30 million
Image sensor 23.6 mm × 15.7 mm CMOS sensor (total pixels: approx. 12.90 million pixels)
Zoom Digital zoom: 4.0x (3.6x for movies)
Auto resize zoom: Approx. 5.9x (VGA)
Focus Mode Manual focus
Shutter speed Photographs 1/4000 – 180 s, bulb, time (upper and lower limits vary according to shooting and flash modes)
Maximum flash sync shutter speed: 1/180 s
Movies 1/2000 – 1/30 s
Exposure control Metering TTL metering in multi (256-segment), center-weighted, and spot metering (TTL metering with auto exposure lock)
Mode Aperture priority AE, manual exposure
Exposure compensation Manual (+4.0 to -4.0 EV in increments of 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV), auto bracketing (-2 EV to +2 EV in increments of 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV)
Exposure range
(auto mode, center-weighted metering)
Using standard lens (F2.5): 1.2 EV to 13.2 EV
(Exposure range for auto ISO calculated using values for ISO 100.)
ISO sensitivity
(standard output sensitivity)
Auto, Auto-Hi, ISO-Lo, ISO 200, ISO 250, ISO 320, ISO 400, ISO 500, ISO 640, ISO 800, ISO 1000, ISO 1250, ISO 1600, ISO 2000, ISO 2500, ISO 3200
White balance Auto / Multi-P AUTO / Outdoors / Cloudy / Incandescent Lamp 1 / Incandescent Lamp 2 / Fluorescent Lamp / Manual Settings / Detail; white balance bracketing
Flash Method TTL, manual, external auto (external flash GF-1 function)
Flash mode Auto, Anti Red-eye, Flash On, Flash Synchro, Manual, Flash Off
Guide number 9.6 (ISO 200 equivalent), 6.8 (ISO 100 equivalent)
Illumination angle 24 mm (35 mm film camera equivalent)
Firing timing 1st/2nd curtain sync
Other External flash GF-1 compatibility
Shooting mode Auto / Program Shift / Aperture Priority / Shutter Priority / Manual / Scene (Movie, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Nightscape, Skew Correction, Miniaturize, High Contrast B&W, Soft Focus, Cross Process, Toy Camera, Electronic Shutter) / My Settings
Continuous mode Number of pictures shot
in Continuous (Picture Size: RAW)
Noise Reduction on weak or off: 4 pictures
Noise Reduction on strong: 3 pictures
Noise Reduction on MAX: 3 pictures
Number of pictures shot
in M-Cont Plus (1 set)
HI (1280 × 856): 30 pictures (24 frames/sec.)
LO (4288 × 2848): 15 pictures (2.2 frames/sec.)
Compression ratio*1 FINE, NORMAL, RAW (DNG)*2
Image size (pixels) Photographs 16:9 4288×2416, 3456×1944
4:3 3776×2832, 3072×2304, 2592×1944, 2048×1536, 1280×960, 640×480
3:2 4288×2848, 3456×2304
1:1 2848×2848, 2304×2304
Movies 1280×720, 640×480, 320×240
File size (approx.) RAW 16:9 NORMAL: 17,800 KB/frame, FINE: 19,515 KB/frame, VGA: 15,587 KB/frame
4:3 NORMAL: 18,387 KB/frame, FINE: 20,157 KB/frame, VGA: 16,124 KB/frame
3:2 NORMAL: 20,946 KB/frame, FINE: 22,967 KB/frame, VGA: 18,337 KB/frame
1:1 NORMAL: 13,991 KB/frame, FINE: 15,333 KB/frame, VGA: 12,273 KB/frame
L 16:9 NORMAL: 2,222 KB/frame, FINE: 3,816 KB/frame
4:3 NORMAL: 2,315 KB/frame, FINE: 3,960 KB/frame
3:2 NORMAL: 2,615 KB/frame, FINE: 4,493 KB/frame
1:1 NORMAL: 1,761 KB/frame, FINE: 3,009 KB/frame
M 16:9 NORMAL: 1,475 KB/frame, FINE: 2,509 KB/frame
4:3 NORMAL: 1,574 KB/frame, FINE: 2,662 KB/frame
3:2 NORMAL: 1,744 KB/frame, FINE: 2,968 KB/frame
1:1 NORMAL: 1,186 KB/frame, FINE: 2,003 KB/frame
5M 4:3 FINE: 2,287 KB/frame
3M 4:3 FINE: 1,474 KB/frame
1M 4:3 FINE: 812 KB/frame
VGA 4:3 FINE: 197 KB/frame
Battery life Based on CIPA standard DB-90: approx. 330 shots*3
Dimensions (W × H × D) Lens mount unit only: 79.1 mm × 60.9 mm × 40.5 mm
(according to CIPA guidelines)
When mounted on the GXR body: 120.0 mm × 70.2 mm × 45.7 mm
(according to CIPA guidelines)
Flange back: 27.8 mm
Weight (approx.) Lens mount unit only: Approx. 170 g
When mounted on camera body: Approx. 370 g (battery and SD memory card included)
Operating temperature 0 °C to 40 °C
Operating humidity 90% or less
Storage temperature –20 °C to 60 °C
  • *1The compression ratios which can be set vary depending on the image size.
  • *2A JPEG file is also recorded (the JPEG file may be a FINE- or NORMAL-quality file with the same dimensions as the RAW file or a VGA file 640 × 480 pixels in size). RAW files use the standard DNG format promoted by Adobe Systems Incorporated.
  • *3For reference only; actual number of shots varies greatly according to how camera is used. We recommend that you carry spare batteries when in use for extended periods.

Compatible Lenses

From Ricoh’s Page

Lens Mount Results
Leica Elmar 50mm F2.8 Leica M possible
Elmar 90mm F4 Leica M possible
ELMARIT-M 28mm F2.8 Leica M possible
TELE-ELMARIT 90mm F2.8 Leica M possible
SuperAngulon 21mm F4 Leica M possible
SuperAngulon 21mm F3.4 Leica M possible
DR Summicron 5cm F2 Leica M possible
Summicron 90mm F2 Leica M possible
Summicron 50mm F2 Leica M possible
Summicron 35mm F2 Leica M possible
Summilux 35mm F1.4 Leica M possible
Summilux 50mm F1.4 Leica M possible
Hologon 15mm F8 Leica M not possible
Hektor 13.5cm F4.5 Leica M possible
Elmar 5cm F3.5 Leica L not possible
ELMARIT 90mm F2.8 Leica L possible
Summaron 3.5cm F3.5 Leica L possible
Summitar 5cm F2 Leica L possible
Summar 5cm F2 Leica L possible
Ricoh GR28 28mm F2.8 Leica L possible
GR21 21mm F3.5 Leica L possible

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Ergonomics

The Ricoh GXR is an elegant and well built camera. When you hold it, it feels as if you’re holding a premium point and shoot. It feels better than the Sony NEX cameras, much better than the Samsung NX cameras and about on par with the hardiest of the Micro Four Thirds line of cameras.

The top of the camera features the shutter dial, mode dial (that must be switched only by depressing the button in front of it), on/off switch, hot shoe, and pop up flash. For the most part, this is a very clean set up and none of it seems to get in the way of manipulating another setting.

The back of the camera features the LCD screen, zoom in/out button, adjustment dial for certain settings (mine is set to white balance) play back button, macro button, four way control buttons, delay shooting button/trash, display button, direct control button, pop-up flash button, and the viewfinder/LCD button.

The unit itself comes totally apart and can be replaced with other units as needed.

The camera has an HDMI out port and a USB port—and that’s it.

Video Tour

Movie Mode

To access the movie mode on the camera, you’ll need to go to Scene mode and then select the movie mode accordingly. My problem with the camera is that while you’re recording I could not figure out a way to change the exposure settings (except the lens’s aperture) and there was no focusing peaking.

This was a very quick test with the lens and camera combo. Shot on the Vanguard tripod for mirrorless cameras.

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Focusing

In this photo, I focused on the outlines of the Jack O Lantern's mouth and eyes

Focusing lenses on this camera is done by enabling the peaking mode. There are two different types with one being totally greyscale and the other being a simple overlay on what the sensor sees. You’ll need to play around a bit with the focusing to see exactly how to get the area you want tack sharp. By that I mean focus forward, backward, etc. It’s a slow process, and even slower when you shoot wide open.

For the most part, the peaking mode works quite well but can be hard to use. I really wish that Ricoh enabled the user to also magnify an area the way that Micro Four Thirds cameras can. If this is allowed, I could not figure out how to do it.

In thsi photo, I focused on the eyes of the statue on the left

To be fair, photographers that use the hyperfocal length style of shooting will probably be happy with the results. Sometimes, this is my preferred style with this camera.

This image was shot with the Voigtlander. It said everything was in focus.

Also note that when I attached the Voigtlander 12mm f5.6 onto the camera, nearly everything seemed to be in focus according to the focusing system. When I took the photos, they indeed were not.

When shooting portraits, you’ll need to try to make sure that the eyes are in focus. Even when it tells you that they are, they may not be. In the case of the photo above, the camera told me that I was focused on Gabe’s eyes. However, his beard actually ended up being in focus.

Exercise caution, and stop the lens down. For the absolute best results, shoot your portraits in manual mode.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: holding down the menu button and setting the magnification ratio in the menus accordingly will magnify the focus screen to enable better absolute focusing. With wider focal lengths though, it is still quite tough. In use, this may not always be super helpful in street photography. for static images, it is essential.

Update again: I have used the magnification function a more today. At certain magnification levels and with different lenses, it all works differently. Overall though, I find that the peaking isn’t as effective when magnified. Sometimes, you can’t see it in all areas.

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Metering

The metering for this camera was judged by a simple Sunny 16 test. Why? Because that is how metering has been judged for years by many experienced pros. Seriously, try to look at a scene and meter it yourself without the use of a camera’s meter or a hand held light meter and you’ll see just how much you’ll learn.

The scene up above was being hit by direct and bright sunlight. I was set to f16, ISO 400 and 1/400th of a second. According to the camera’s meter, I was underexposed by around 1/3rd of a stop.

Due to the significant shade, this scene was metered to ISO 400, 1/400th sec and f5.6. Still, the camera’s meter was underexposed a bit.

The same test was repeated and I received the same results.

My conclusion on the camera’s metering is that it will underexpose by around 1/3rd of a stop. However, Canon and Sony’s does the same thing. In fact, some users believe that Canon underexposes even more. Either way, if you’re a Canon or Sony user, you’ll be right at home with this camera in your hand.

Also note that in Aperture priority, you’d be best off selecting your ISO manually to compensate for the reciprocal rule of shutter speeds and your equivalent focal length.

Update: One of the most important enhancements in Firmware 1.40 is the possibility to set up the minimum shutter speed before the camera increases the ISO level. In practice though, I’d rather just keep the ISO levels up and not touch or tamper with anything else. Why? The dynamic range and high ISO levels can handle it. Indeed, the high iso images from this camera are very clean. Thanks to Fabuchan for pointing this out.

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Image Quality

Gorgeous. Wonderful. The image quality from the Ricoh GXR A12’s sensor is absolutely amazing. In fact, I found it to render colors a lot like the Fuji X100 did during our review.

The sensor and lenses together both resolve lots of detail while still rendering breathtaking colors.

Unlike the Leica M9-P, you don’t need to get the metering absolutely totally right. This sensor acts more like negative film (which allows for broader editing) vs chrome film (which renders amazing colors but requires your metering to be perfect. With that said, I actually prefer the Leica’s colors a bit more although the Ricoh’s is still very good and allows me to have more versatility while editing.

Luckily, the GXR shoots raw files in DNG mode. That means that you don’t need to wait for an Adobe update to allow you to work in Lightroom 3.

The colors from this camera’s sensor are bright, punchy, and vibrant. For most users, they’ll be very satisfied with the results. The greens, blues and purples are all very good and overall color accuracy is very good.

When it comes to color accuracy, the camera can render images a bit too cool. But minor adjustments of color temperature can take care of that.

Skin tone rendering can be a bit warm and accentuate red undertones. For reference, I boosted the vibrance in this image above to get more out of the blues. Then I desaturated the red and magenta tones to try to fix Joseph’s skin.

Here are a couple of other image samples from the camera.

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Dynamic Range

Original

The image above was under exposed tremendously. In order to fix it, I tried to raise the exposure levels. But then the image looked terrible.

Edited

Converting the image over to a black and white made a great looking shot, but I’m a firm believer that if I don’t need to do this, then I won’t. As I’ve stated about dynamic range before: it really only means anything if you can meter correctly to begin with. Since I was way off this time, I couldn’t save the shot unless I processed it this way. Let’s try this again then with a different subject

Original: very blown out

What the camera metered as correct

My edit

By this test, I can see that the dynamic range is up to par with most cameras these days. But let’s try it one more time.

While shooting with the camera in aperture priority, I often found it shooting at 1/4000th of a second in typical backlit situations like this. As we can see, a lot of details is shrouded in the shadows, so to speak.

After boosting the fill light, sharpening and reducing the image noise, the details are extracted. Plus, I managed to save a bit more of the sky. But I won’t be able to get the details in that sun. Good luck trying with any camera.

With this said, I can confidently say that the Ricoh GXR’s dynamic range is pretty darn good. However, I feel that the the Sony NEX C3 that we reviewed before does a better job. If I had to rate it though, it would be better than the Olympus EP3’s. You can see the image quality test between that and the Olympus EP3 at the according links.

In the end, if you’re going to shoot with the Ricoh GXR, get the metering right.

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High ISO

For the high ISO test with the Ricoh GXR and A12, I took to the subways of NYC and shot mostly at ISO 3200. This is the max ISO setting for this module that I could get out of it.

In most of these images, I did no noise reduction. Indeed, there is little to no color noise but you do see grain.

Even when shooting at the higher ISO settings, you can see achieve very sharp image results without smudging of details. The text in this photo is tack sharp.

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Ease of Use

Is the Ricoh GXR easy to use? For the most part, yes. I’ve known that their previous models have faced quirkiness in controls and settings but I had absolutely no problem getting around this system. My only major complain was that the menus are very long and getting through them requires some time and figuring out how to access what you want quicker. That comes with use over time though.

For most users that will spring for this camera, you’ll be fine. For the beginner, keep your hands off.

If you’re shooting street photography, I recommend shooting in aperture mode.

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Conclusions

This is a long one, so grab some coffee. Also, a word of warning that this is my opinion.

The Ricoh GXR is quite an amazing camera when you stay out of the menus. The colors from the camera and the ability to use Leica M mount lenses is generally amazing. For the first time one can truly say that they’ve got a very good use for Non-Leica M mount lenses. This comes from years of people saying, “If you buy a Leica, get Leica lenses.”

The GXR takes that statement and flips it right on its head. Indeed, with any glass on this camera, you can create some really amazing images. The high ISO image quality, vividness of colors, fairly good dynamic range, and general color rendering is something to be considered by many that feel that the Fuji X100 is very limited by only having a fixed lens. With that said, I feel that Sony’s new sensors do a better job than what the GXR can put out.

The ergonomics are very good when shooting at the hyperfocal length and also when trying to focus the camera. A problem of mine though is that I wish the unit had a flip-up screen to enable shooting from the hip. The world has a much different perspective from down below. This is a camera that you can throw in your day bag and just go. It’s built so well, it’s small, unobtrusive, and in general it won’t alarm anyone. You will get looks when using it because people will be curious about it, but in general you’ll be fine. A good method that I used on the subway is putting the camera in my lap and just firing away. The peaking feature really helps with this, but I wish that there were also a magnification feature; and if there is one then I could not find it.

This camera is clearly targeted towards advanced amateurs, semi-professionals, street photographers, and travelers. Those that will make the most use of it are photographers with a collection of Leica M mount or screwmount glass.

When using the camera, you’ll probably want to keep it in aperture priority and manually set the ISO levels. The auto ISOs tend to go down super low and in effect may go down so low that they will prevent you from getting a steady and sharp exposure.

So do I like the Ricoh GXR? Heck yes. I really wish I could keep this one; but I need to return it. The ergonomics feel so great in my hand and the overall design looks like something that is very unobtrusive and yet serious. Ricoh has nailed it with this one. In comparison to other systems though:

– Sony has better sensors but wow do they need to work on their lenses. This will come in time though with the addition of third party lenses. Sony also needs to get rid of that stupid hot shoe that only accepts Sony proprietary units. Being as large as they are, the other companies should be shaking.

With their latest entry, the NEX 7, Sony may have created something akin to what the Contax G2 was back in the day. In fact, think of it as the Konica Hexar AF, but with interchangeable lenses.

Samsung NX needs better autofocusing that is much faster. To be fair, you don’t even autofocus with a unit like this Ricoh. Additionally, I hate it say this but no one has taken Samsung seriously yet. They have a lineup of great prime lenses, but they just need to work on their marketing.

While Samsung’s latest entry, the NX200, has great ergonomic controls, we still need to see how it does in terms of raw image quality.

– Micro Four Thirds needs to improve their sensors and Panasonic and Olympus need to stop fighting and work together to wipe the floor with the rest of the competitors. However, they rock in terms of lenses and build quality. While the EP3 is very good, the entire system would benefit with going back to the low megapixel E-1’s and E-510’s sensors but with large overhauls to increase dynamic range, color depth, and ISO limits.

Would I sell my EP2 to fund a Ricoh GXR? No, because I have an investment in lenses with adapters to Micro Four thirds and some of my favorites are native lenses that don’t need adapters. It would require me to purchase brand new adapters and sell most of my lenses. But the image quality from the GXR alone is very much worth it if I didn’t have to purchase new lenses.

Could it compliment my EP2? With my failing vision, (I’m literally going blind at 24 years old) I need autofocus. But peaking can help that. Overall though, I prefer autofocusing. And nothing will de-crown the Olympus EP3 in that respect.

So where does the Ricoh stand? I will take lots of backlash for saying this, but it stands as a replacement for a Leica in the same ways that the Fuji X100 does. It doesn’t have the Fuji’s stunning good looks, but it does have some very similar ergonomic control. In fact, I feel that the Ricoh GXR’s controls really put the settings that count where you need them. It also does this in a smaller package, and it has a significantly better manual focusing system. If you can’t afford the price of an M9-P, then you should consider Ricoh and get some Leica or M Mount glass. That’s not to diss Leica though. The M9’s strengths lie in its build quality and excellent image quality when you get the metering right. With this said, Ricoh’s meter is much better and much more like Sony’s; and in today’s economy, I simply cannot afford to shell out that kind of money.

In the end, the Ricoh GXR is a special entry into the fray of mirrorless cameras: consider it the poor man’s Leica. Edit: please note the focusing issues addendum earlier on in this post.

You can get the units at these locations by clicking the links below:

Ricoh GXR: B&H Amazon or eBay

A12 Module: B&H

Leica 50mm f2 Summicron: B&H or eBay

Voigtlander 12mm f5.6: eBay

Leica 50mm f2 collapsible: eBay

Leica 35mm f3.5: eBay

Leica screwmount to M mount adapter: eBay

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