Ricoh GXR, the piccolo Leica M240 and Monochrom

The Ricoh GXR is a remarkable camera. It is built by a unique concept, where changing a lens means you also change the sensor.

Ricoh Launched the GXR in november 2009. It was designed to be a Compact System Camera (CSC), which means it is a small camera and it featured exchangeable lenses. But Ricoh decided to not just manufacture exchangeable lenses, but incorporate lens and sensor in a single unit, called a ‘lensor’. The idea behind this was simple: different lenses could benefit from different sensor sizes.

The A12 GXR Mount lensor isn’t quite a lensor, in that it has no lens incorporated! Instead it has a Leica M mount in the unit that also houses an APS-C 12MP sensor.

They launched the Ricoh GXR with an APS-C sized lensor, the A12 2.5/50mm. That is to say, the lens is marked 33mm but effectively produces a 50mm image, and is 12.3MP on APS-C! That sure got everybody’s attention, it was a pretty revolutionary little camera and concept! The 24-72mm S10 (smaller sensor, 10MP) was a nice extra.

Over time, Ricoh extended the available lensor offering. In the end, the whole line-up of available lensors was: a 24-72mm S10, a 28mm A12, a 28-300 P10, a 50mm A12, a 24-85mm A16, and finally in September 2011, an A12 GXR Leica Mount unit. And with that last one, the GXR and lensor concept got interesting again. Boy, did it get interesting indeed!

This is what the Leica Mount unit looks like:

Ricoh GXR Mount Unit

The APS-C sensor has a 1.5x crop. Meaning a 50mm lens turns into a 75mm, but also meaning that a lens like the Voigtlander Super-wide Heliar 4.5/15mm will turn into a 4.5/23mm, which still is a pretty wide lens!

Here you can see some options on using vintage rangefinder lenses on the Ricoh GXR Mount unit:

Ricoh GXR Mount, VF-2 electronic viewfinder, Leitz M -> LTM adapter, Voigtländer Heliar 2.0/50mm LTM Nickel (2006), W-Nikkor 1.8/35mm LTM (1956)

All parts seperated: Camera unit, Mount unit, VF unit, adapter, lens

The Voigtländer Heliar 2.0/50mm LTM nickel (2006) mounted on the Mount unit with a Leitz adapter

A 1961 Leitz Summilux-M 1.4/50mm (version 1) mounted on the Mount unit

So, is the camera any good in using those older lenses? What about the viewfinder, will it allow you to focus accurately, even with a fast lens like the above Summilux-M? The answer to that question is YES. And a big yes for three reasons!

First of all, Ricoh included a feature that has come to be known as Enlargement. Other camera manufacturers use it too, and it means you can enlarge the center portion of the image and focus more critically. It’s a useful feature and you might be familiar with it. But secondly, Ricoh included Focus Assist in the GXR and that is something specifically Ricoh. How does it work? When you switch it on, the camera adds a kind of ‘white noise’ to the image. It appears where focus is at its best, i.e. where contrast is highest.

Have a look at this video, an example of what Focus Assist looks like is in the opening picture and you can see it in action at 2:20 mins:

As a result, if you combine both options to aid focus, you get a very useful little camera that can focus very accurately.

The third big benefit to get sharp pictures from the GXR Mount unit is free for you to enjoy and does not require any photographing skills: this little Mount unit does not have an Anti-Aliasing filter. While those filters have been utilized by camera manufacturers for over a decade to avoid all kinds of patterns in the subject matter (think patterns like clothing, wall paper, etc) going haywire, they also reduce image sharpness. And for that reason, increasingly more modern cameras are manufactured without them. So, the sensor in the Ricoh GXR Mount delivers sharpness as much as can be.

Now, if you have been looking into the Leica Monochrom, or the newly released Leica M (typ240) camera and have been put off by its price, you might want to consider the little Ricoh GXR with a Mount unit. It can be a combination of the two, without breaking the bank. You would have to put up with certain shortcomings but if you can, the GXR with Mount unit can be a great alternative for the expensive Leicas.

Shortcomings? Which are they? Well, first of all the GXR has no rangefinder. Now don’t go berserk on me, but you perfectly could do without one, the VF-2 viewfinder on the GXR being as good as it is. Secondly, there’s the crop factor of 1.5x but you knew that one already and you got until here reading, so I guess this is okay with you! 😉 Fourth, the GXR is okay with color until ISO 1600, but over that starts to show noise that can throw things off. OTOH, in B&W it is stellar until ISO 2500!

EDIT: I had the GXR’s video capabilities listed as a shortcoming here before but it was pointed out to me that it really isn’t one since the Mount module and the 50mm macro module actually can do 1280 HD video! Oh dear, the GXR-M just got even more interesting!

So, to set your GXR up to be a very useful kit for rangefinder lenses, you need to do a number of things. Here’s what you need:

(1) Switching your camera to a GXR Monochrom

Switch the camera to MY1 and set this user profile up for one lens first. If you like it, you can carry the settings over to MY2 and MY3.
To do so, choose the image of the four-way swivel button in the menu, then choose ‘Edit my settings’, then choose MY1
Set the file format to RAW + JPEG Normal.
Set Image Settings to Black & White.
You can also set ISO and shutter speed that the camera will switch to when you choose the MY1 setting on the top dial.
It’s also possible to have the ISO under the Adj. button at the back: choose the image of the four-way swivel button and scroll down until you see Adj. ISO direct control. Switch ‘on’
Switch Shooting Mode: set it to M for Manual
Set DISP. Mode to Indicators.
Now, you have a camera that will display the image on the LCD and in the viewfinder in Black & White. This greatly helps focusing already, it helps in finding lights and darks in your scene, and also allows you to see what the photograph you are about to take will look like in black and white! Better still, since it automatically switches to Manual Mode, you will have an exposure meter in the viewfinder and the moment you change either aperture or shutter, the image in the viewfinder or on the LCD will brighten or darken accordingly!

At the same time you are also still shooting RAW, so the image you see in black & white gets recorded in color! On the computer you can decide to keep the color image, or once more switch it to black & white.

(2) Setting up the focusing aides

Again, switch the camera to MY1, choose the four-way swivel button pictogram, ‘Edit my settings’, then choose MY1.
Set Fn1 button to Enlrg All
Set Fn2 button to Focus Assist
+/- Button Settings you can set to whatever you find comfortable to use. Mine are set to ‘Off’
Digital Zoom Image: set to Auto Resize

This will get you a camera that can have the center portion of the image enlarged to a full-frame image when you press Fn1 on the four-way swivel dial. It stays enlarged until you press the shutter button halfway, when you can see the whole image again. Or until you press Fn1 again, to cancel. Also when pressing Fn2, you get the Focus Assist feature that will enhance contrast in your image, again until you press the shutter button halfway or re-press Fn2 to cancel.

And, you can also have both the Enlargement and the Focus Assist function enabled at the same time should you desire so. I’ve found that in some occasions this is the best option, while in most you can do with either Enlargement or Focus Assist.

Any questions, you can always drop me a line through the contact form. Or check with the venerable Ricoh Forum!

Some photographs I shot with the GXR set to the above settings:

These photographs were all shot as black & white images, imported into Lightroom as RAW (so color) images, and there switched to black & White once again. It’s a real plus to have the opportunity to choose whether the photograph should be color or black & white, while you’ve had the benefit of seeing it as a black & white image in the first place.

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