Ricoh GXR camera + A12 Leica M-mount unit review

I was always curious to try out the Ricoh GXR system and with the announcement of the A12 Leica M-mount unit, I was able to borrow one and use it with my Leica lenses. Here is my quick review:

General

First, I have to say that this GXR A12 M-mount setup makes sense only if you already have Leica lenses and are looking for a backup or just want a smaller body. This combo may appear also to Leica M film shooters who are looking for a "cheaper" digital solution. The GXR body ($349) and the A-12 M-mount unit ($649) totals around $1000 which is more expensive than other mirrorless solutions for Leica M lenses with similar sensor, like the $600 Sony NEX-5n for example (there are several different M-mount adapters for Sony NEX).

Some basic specs of the Ricoh GXR A12 unit:

  • 12.3MP APS-C size CMOS sensor
  • ISO range: 200-3200 (including HI and LO)
  • 1280x720p HD movie recording capabilities
  • 1/4000 maximum shutter (1/8000 when electronic shutter is used in SCENE mode)
  • Maximum of 4fps RAW continuous shooting
  • No Anti-Aliasing (AA) filter
  • 3.0-inch 920k dots, anti-reflection coated, display
  • 86 MB internal memory
  • Magnesium alloy body
  • 1.5x crop factor

The Ricoh GXR system has good ergonomics and feels solid. Both the camera and the unit have magnesium alloy body which adds some weight: the body + unit combo weights about 13 oz | 370 g which is on the heavy side for a mirrorless camera.

Similar to Leica, Ricoh did not go for proprietary RAW format - the GXR system uses Adobe's DNG file standard. The DNG file size is around 16MB.

One of the reasons for the good image quality of the A12 unit is the lack of Anti-Aliasing (AA) filter. The sensor inside the Ricoh M-mount cartridge has optimized micro lenses that improve the image quality, especially in the corners when using wide angle lenses:

"Taking into account the use of lenses such as the symmetrical wide-angle lenses of the film era, this sensor optimizes on-chip micro-lens performance and suppresses peripheral light falloff and color balance changes."

This is how the Ricoh GXR camera looks with the A12 M-mount attached - the unit release lever is located on top of the grip:

The mode dial has a lock, which I found very useful - I think every small camera should have that:

On several occasions I accidentally hit the zoom buttons with my thumb (with the A12 unit, those buttons are used for exposure compensation by default):

The Ricoh GXR body has a small built-in flash:

Ricoh GXR flash

The GXR A12 unit contains also a "lens checker" that lets you test if some old wide angle lenses do not get too close to the sensor. You should check your lenses before using them with the A12 unit. You may also find this table of compatible Leica M lenses helpful.

Here is the Ricoh GXR + A12 camera with various Leica M lenses attached (Leica Elmarit 28mm/2.8 ASPH, Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH,  Summarit 90mm f/2.5 and Hektor 135mm f/4.5 lens):

What I don't like in the Ricoh GRX + A12 combo:

  • 12MP is enough for most situation, but the MP count is lower compared to the latest cameras with APS-C size sensor (Sony currently has 16MP and 24MP APS-C sensors). There are some unconfirmed reports that Ricoh can actually upgrade the sensor in the A12 unit with a newer 16MP version.
  • The GXR+A12 camera offers only 1280x720p HD movie recording. In HD you can get up to 15 minutes continuous video recording (the video file cannot go over 4GB).
  • Not a great battery life.
  • There is no image stabilization.
  • There is no sensor cleaning mechanism.
  • Use of wide angle lenses is limited because:
    1. There are not that many ultra-wide M-mount lenses (Leica currently makes the Super Elmar 18mm/3.8 and the Tri-Elmar 16-18-21/4 WA lenses, Zeis makes the Distagon T* 15mm/2.8 lens and Voigtlander has the Heliar Ultra Wide 12mm/5.6 lens). Consider the 1.5x crop factor when calculating the 35mm equivalent focal length.
    2. The design of the wide angle lenses brings the back lens element too close to the sensor (you must use the "lens checker" to confirm if you can use a given WA lens).

Menu

The Ricoh GXR camera's menu is clean and easy to navigate:

The DIRECT screen options gives quick access to the basic camera functionality (there is a dedicated DIRECT button):

Focusing

The Ricoh GXR + A12 system does not have auto focus but it provides two different ways to help you focus manually with M-mount lenses: focus peaking (very similar to the one in the Sony NEX cameras) and focus magnification. The focus peaking has two different modes. In Mode 1 the edges of the subject in focus will be highlighted:

Ricoh GXR A12 Leica M-Mount focusing

In Mode 2 you can see a high contrast, grey scale version of the subject where the areas in focus will also be highlighted:

Ricoh GXR A12 Leica M-Mount focusing

The second way to focus M-mount lenses on a Ricoh GXR camera is image magnification (by pressing and holding the menu button). You can select the magnification ratio by simultaneously pressing the self timer button. When using  focus magnification, you can still see the "highlighted edges" of the in-focus areas:

Ricoh GXR A12 Leica M-Mount focusing magnification

For faster access, the fn1 and fn2 buttons can be assigned for focus assist magnification.

In bright sunlight, it is difficult to use the focus assist functions, even with the grey scale option. This is where the optional EVF ($219) will probably come handy.

Of course you can also use the DOF markings on the M lens for zone focusing.

ISO performance

The ISO performance of the Ricoh A12 unit is on a par with today's APS-C size CMOS sensor used in a mirrorless camera. ISO levels of 800, even 1600 are usable. The next three samples were taken at ISO 1600 with a Leica Summilux 50mm lens at f/1.4 (click on image for larger view, full size JPG available on flickr, no post processing):

 

Next are 100% crops taken at different ISO settings with the Ricoh GXR+A13 unit and Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux lens wide open:

Ricoh GXR at ISO 200

Ricoh GXR at ISO 200

Ricoh GXR at ISO 400

Ricoh GXR at ISO 400

Ricoh GXR at ISO 800

Ricoh GXR at ISO 800

Ricoh GXR at ISO 1600

Ricoh GXR at ISO 1600

Ricoh GXR at ISO 3200

Ricoh GXR at ISO 3200

For comparison, this is how the Leica M9 looks at ISO 2500 with the same Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux lens wide open:

Leica M9 at ISO 2500

Leica M9 at ISO 2500

Sample images

Here are some more sample images taken with four different Leica lenses. I did not like the in-camera JPG processing - I got better results with Adobe Lightroom. The JPG files were produced straight from Lightroom from the original DNG files without any adjustments. The full size in-camera jpg files from the camera are available on flickr. My favorite Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux lens was also my preferred on the GXR system, even though the equivalent focal length is 75mm (because of the 1.5x crop factor):

 
 
 

Leica Elmarit 28mm/2.8 ASPH samples:

 

Leica Summarit 90mm f/2.5 samples:

 

With some luck in manual focusing, you can even try shooting wildlife with the Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5 lens from 1958:

Ricoh also offers an optional VF-2 external LCD viewfinder with 920,000 dots for the GXR system ($219), but I did not have a chance to try it out:

Additional Ricoh GXR accessories:

Ricoh also offers the following GXR lens units:

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  • jarda

    Very helpful review, thanks

    • Harold Ellis

      full frame or go home

  • richard

    The 18mm Super Elmar works really well with the GXR and am unsure why it is a negative on your comments !

    I have just got this camera as a replacement for a damaged M8 and I couldn’t be happier. A fantastic camera.

    • The 18mm Super Elmar was not listed as a supported lens on Ricoh’s website and the 35mm equivalent for that lens is 27mm – this is why I mentioned that this might be problem for some users.

  • I have been using GXR with an array of Leica and Zeiss glass, and have nothing but good things to say about the system.

    This system was released just in time – I was eyeing NEX-7, but when Thailand got flooded out, went for Ricoh. So far I have not had any desires to trade it up – I am quite happy with it.

    So far I have used it with 15mm VC, 21mm f4.5 Zeiss (Contarex mount, via adapter to M), 25mm Zeiss ZM, 28mm f2.8 asph, 50mm f2.5, 90mm f4 macro, 180mm r apo. I also tested out some of my wide R glass – 19mm and 21-35mm vario. They both work just fine, but at 21 I feel my Zeiss is sharper and smaller, so Vario is back in the drawer. 19mm is a close call quality wise, but size wise there is no contest. Again, 19mm is staying at home.

    180mm is a an excellent lens, but it could use a tripod or sensor based IS to be even more useful. Wide open I grab shot here and there, and with good light and steady hands I have a few successes. There is one: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Ts_tNCjosPU/Txhab7vkf9I/AAAAAAAAA44/uaSc-5AuaQs/s1600/_1023108.jpg

    Check out my blog for GXR (and leica in general) ramblings – http://agniusdigital.com/Agnius_Photography/Blog.html

    Best of luck and thank you for your review! GXR is a dynamite little system, and it deserves more fans based on its merit!

  • spence

    This little camera outperforms any other on the market when it comes to super wide and wide angle lenses. The Zeiss Biogon that gives the Nex system so many problems is a perfect companion for this camera, as is the 15mm Voigtlander Super Heliar. IMO. This is hands down the best system on the market for shooting Leica glass, nothing else comes close (except the M9). And the user interface…well, if you’ve never used it, you’re in for a real treat, especially if the Nex was your last camera.

    • Harold Ellis

      FYI, 15 is 23mm on this camera. How is this wide?

      • spence

        How is this not a wide angle?

        A wide angle is anything less than or equal to 35mm….so 23mm falls well into wide angle. Second, the lens itself is 15mm, so the lens itself is a wide-angle regardless of sensor crop.

        You might want to look at this:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-angle_lens

  • Huggs

    This post has definitely put the GXR /A12 combo in the running for me.

    • Bob

      Get it, its a good camera and does what its meant to do… Underrated because it’s not pretty or fancy pants. The 24-70 lens is a piece of crap but the M-mount is very good. I also recommend getting the view finder. Its not the best VF but MF works better with it (for me).

      Another positive is, you can bargain down your camera store because no one is buying it.

      Life’s too short to ponder. Buy it, shoot with it, enjoy it…

      Just my 2c…

  • I recently added the Ricoh A12 M Mount to my GXR at the beginning of this month, February. I’ve never owned anything Leica nor had I shot with a manual focus lens before. However, my first lens that I purchased for this setup was a Leitz Summicron-C 1:2/40mm lens I found at KEH. I already have the A12 28mm module with I’ve been shooting with since this past fall and was looking for something a little longer and so far the 40mm lens has been working out great.

    I currently doing a PAD project for 2012 and since Feb 3 all the photos posted on my blog are from the 40mm Leitz lens.

    http://blog.duanepandorf.com

    A couple days with this camera is not enough time to understand it. Most of the buttons and dials can be customized to your liking. Three complete different configurations can be saved to the My settings accessed from the Mode dial on top of the camera.

    Once you have the camera setup “your” way, you very seldom have to access the Main Menu for any feature.

    I travel every other week for my job and got tired of carrying my DSLR. I found the Ricoh product first through their GRD line that I used for a major hiking trip last spring. Then the GXR was a natural follow on for the APS-C sensor.

    For those that are pooh poohing this camera since its not FF is understandable, but then the camera would not be priced what it is. Some of us just don’t have the cash for the Leica flagship.

  • I have the GXR m-mount for some days and it is very very good especially with my old legacy Leica glas The Summitar 5 f2 which is quite cheap and can produce unique Images because of its swirly bokeh. With The M-Mount this old lens shines.

    You can look here for my pictures
    http://spiegellos.de

  • cosinaphile

    the gxr with the m mount outperforms the m 9 in iso , in useability in focus peaking and cost , i own one

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