The design, build and layout of the Ricoh GXR are only too familiar—this is a GR Digital camera through and through. There's no point repeating ourselves too much in this part of the review, but basically, it's well designed, handling is honest and straight-forward, and the control layout should be held up as an exemplary model of man-and-machine interaction. The GXR camera back (the body) is well-made, well-assembled and has plenty of customisable controls. With a quick visit to the customisation menu, you can modify the function of the Fn buttons, the clickable Adj thumb wheel (for access to four settings), the +/- buttons and the zoom control.
However, the GXR is a plain, rather austere-looking camera that's quite technical. It's clearly not aimed at beginners—it's a camera for photography buffs who know what they're doing.
The GRX has a nice screen, with good viewing angles and a decent definition (VGA). Onscreen image quality is also accurate, with gamma at a stable 2.2, a slightly warm but very even colour temperature (5800 K), and good colour fidelity (average Delta E = 3).
So far, so good. But while the camera back is pretty much irreproachable (apart from its rather dreary design), the A12 module has a few issues, resulting directly from the fact that it uses a lens mount designed for rangefinder cameras, used in particular by Leica and Minolta. The main problem is that since M-mount lenses are entirely manual, when loaded with this module, the camera no longer takes full advantage of the GXR body's great design and control system. The diaphragm is adjusted via the lens ring, the Auto and P modes work just like the A mode (the thumb-wheels therefore have no use), the S mode effectively becomes an M mode (the front thumb-wheel controls speed, the rocker switch does nothing) and the macro button becomes useless.
Even if it means breaking with the standard Ricoh control layout (a thumb-wheel for shutter speed, a rocker switch for aperture), it would have been nice to be able to re-use some of these controls for other thing, like zooming in on an image (rather than having to hold down the Menu button for a second to get a magnification level pre-selected in the menu).
The start-up time of 2.6 seconds is slow, very slow, in fact. Plus, photo-to-photo turnaround is sluggish when saving RAW shots: a two-second wait can sometimes be genuinely penalising. And there's no point turning to the burst mode to save the day, as with RAW shots you only get four frames per second. However, the GXR A12 M Mount is reasonably responsive in Jpeg mode.
We can't evaluate the autofocus here because there isn't one! Focusing is controlled by the photographer and the photographer only, even if the camera does all it can to help (see sidebar, right).
This sensor is already well-known. It's the "good old" 12-Megapixel APS sensor that's been seen in some form or another in many a Nikon (D5000), Sony (Alpha 700), Pentax (K-r) and even Leica (X1) and Fuji (X100) camera.
Sensitivity is therefore as expected. The GXR A12 M Mount does a very good job up to 1600 ISO, but strong granularity kicks in at 3200 ISO. On the whole, the 16-Megapixel sensor that tends to equip more recent cameras does slightly better than this 12-Megapixel version. But even with this sensor, we've seen other cameras do better. Ultimately, though, the GXR A12 does a perfectly respectable job.
We tested the GXR A12 M Mount with a Voigtländer Ultron 28 mm f/2 lens. At full aperture, the results are quite insipid (even after we double-checked the focus), but once you close to f/4 quality improves over the whole frame. At f/8, sharpness levels are excellent, highlighting a slight flaw in Ricoh's image processing system—the GXR A12 M Mount is quite prone to moiré effects. Check out that red splodge on the black lines in the middle of the picture above.
Note too that Ricoh hasn't equipped this module with a stabilisation system. In fact, none of its APS modules are stabilised. This is a real handicap for Ricoh's cameras compared with Olympus interchangeable lens compacts, which have an adapter for connecting M-mount lenses as well as a mechanical stabilisation system that can be activated by manually entering the focal length of the lens.
Finally, M-mount lenses are usually quite bad in macro mode, as rangefinder cameras weren't designed to focus at less than 70 cm.
The GXR A12 M Mount isn't a camera that's designed for video. While sharpness levels are good when focused properly and exposure is perfectly satisfactory, it's practically impossible to readjust the focus while filming as the focus peaking function disappears as soon as you start recording (see sidebar, right). Video resolution is limited to 720p HD and sound is recorded via a mono mic with quality that's barely passable.
- Original concept, wide range of good-quality lenses available
- Handling and customisable controls
- Noise is controlled very well up to 1600 ISO
- Nicely designed peaking system with or without image preview
- Practicality is debatable: manual focusing with the camera held at arm's length (to see the screen) may not be that easy
- Some controls on the camera back are useless with this module
- Responsiveness could be better, slow in RAW mode, start-up is a bit sluggish
- Dreary design, dense menus
With the GXR A12 M Mount, Ricoh is clearly reaching out to advanced photographers who probably already have a few M-mount lenses and are somewhat nostalgic for the days of film photography. The camera's austere design fits the target audience pretty well and the resulting photos can be excellent. However, manual focusing while holding the camera at almost arm's length (to see the screen) can take some practice.