Leica has done a wonderful job of developing an astonishingly powerful brand identity and creating a demand for products it does not make. Few would argue that the Leica M9 is one of the most coveted cameras of our time, but with a price that far exceeds the budget of most professional and amateur photographers, the vast majority of its potential market has been left to look elsewhere.

Panasonic could see the gap in the market, then created by the Leica M8, when it made a big deal of the M lens adapter, which it promoted heavily at the launch of the Lumix G series of micro four thirds cameras. ‘You might not be able to afford a Leica M camera, but if you want a small digital model to exercise your new or historic lenses you might want to look at the more keenly priced G1′ was the indirect message. Indeed, the G-series cameras, along with the streamlined GF models, make reasonably comfortable partners for M lenses whichever manufacturer they come from.

Ricoh’s new GXR Mount A12 is designed to do the same thing – fit M lenses to a small, more affordable body – but as it has a 12.3-million-pixel APS-C sensor built in, we might expect the image quality to be a step closer to what we’d really want.

Ricoh already has a collection of four lenses for the GXR – two APS-C, fixed-focal-length options and two zooms on smaller sensors – but as each lens in the GXR system has to have its own sensor, it isn’t quite so easy to introduce new ones. With the Mount A12 adapter, the system suddenly gets endless new optics.


The Ricoh GXR Mount A12 is a lensless unit for the GXR camera and is fitted with a 12.3-million-pixel, 23.6×15.7mm, APS-C CMOS sensor and a mount that accepts M-fit lenses. The unit offers both electronic and mechanical shutter operation so users can choose between the more accurate and the silent for their picture taking, with a shutter speed range that stretches from 180secs to 1/4000sec in mechanical mode, and 1sec to 1/8000sec in electronic mode. In each mode the maximum flash-sync speed remains 1/180sec.

The sensor allows ISO settings of 200-3200, plus a ‘Lo’ option that is presumably in line with ISO 100. Meanwhile, a 256-segment metering array can be tuned for multi-zone, centre and spot measurements.

As with all the GXR lens units, the Mount A12 can output files in JPEG and DNG raw formats, with a maximum image size of 4288×2848 pixels. Movies can be recorded in 1280×720-pixel resolution.

The unit adds just 170g to the weight of the GXR, but obviously the total weight of a usable system will depend on the lens you choose to mount. The mount-to-sensor distance is 27.8mm – as with Leica M cameras – and the mount is happy to accept M and L (via an extra adapter ring) lenses from any manufacturer.

Ricoh supplies a device for checking the compatibility of lenses to be fitted, as heavily retro-focus designs, and particularly collapsible lenses, may actually come into contact with the optical filter covering the sensor. I didn’t have any problems, but Ricoh reports the Leica Elmar 5cm f/3.5 and the Hologon 15mm f/8 as incompatible.


The GXR Mount A12 brings with it a number of interesting features that make operating with a manual-focus lens much easier. As you might expect, there is a magnify function for checking finer detail that can be used when finding focus, but as with other cameras that use such a feature, the process is a little slow and not especially suited to the kind of spontaneous photography for which you might expect to use a GXR.

One of two other focusing aids introduced by the company is Mode 1, which creates a heavily oversharpened edge to anything that is in focus while leaving the rest of the scene looking normal on the viewing screen. With a wide aperture you can observe the focus field sweeping across the frame and, even when closed down to a midway aperture, the method is very effective and quick to use.

The other focusing aid is Mode 2, which creates a bas-relief/high-pass effect across the frame, with normal edges showing in dark grey and focused edges in white. Again, the mode is quick to use, and the greyed-over screen disappears with a half-press of the shutter-release button.

Both options are most effective when the aperture is wide, as the shallower focus will deliver a more accurate centre of focus, but when closed down a good idea of depth of field can be gauged.

Ricoh, it seems, is uncertain of the quality of lenses with which you might choose to pollute its nice GXR module, and has accordingly built in a wide range of manual corrections to tackle vignetting, curvilinear distortions and colour shifts in the corners of the frame.

On the face of it, these corrections, with their ±4-step ranges, appear designed to deal with extensive problems, but in use their impact is much more subtle.

I found their existence somewhat surprising at first because, with the APS-C sensor, we are not engaging the extremities of the imaging circle produced by any mounted lens, and therefore we’d expect optical imperfections to be neatly sidestepped.

In the event I found no problems at all and never needed to use the shading and colour corrections in anger, although I did apply a ‘High’ barrel correction to my Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Super Wide Heliar lens.

For fun, I dialled in a healthy dose of vignetting for the ‘My Settings’ I applied to a Voigtländer 35mm f/1.7 lens that doesn’t need it. The module allows all the corrections to be stored for 12 lenses – the names of which can be typed in so they are recorded in the Exif data.

For any Photoshop users, the convenience of having a DNG raw file is priceless, and means that the JPEG settings can be played with in-camera while knowing there is a back-up that’s just as easy to access. And Ricoh has introduced plenty of play, including miniaturisation mode, cross-process effects and toy camera, although perhaps you won’t feel the urge to use them. Other standard shooting modes (landscape, and so on) exist, as does a nicely balanced black & white mode.

Image: The electronic shutter option renders the camera completely silent during the exposure


Fitting a lens to the GXR Mount A12 is as simple as can be expected, and as the mount is substantial enough to get a good grip of, screw lenses can be removed easily while leaving a L-to-M adapter ring in place.

I noted that when the camera is on the sensor is exposed, so I learned to practise turning the camera off when changing lenses – which is a good idea anyway, even with DSLRs.

Focusing with the built-in assistance modes takes a little while to get used to, but soon proved a quick-enough process. The method is a great improvement on what was offered before, even if it falls slightly short of the traditional double-image overlay we are used to in rangefinder models.

I suspect the greatest issue for direct-view rangefinder users will be that the camera’s screen blacks out as soon as a picture is taken. I turned off the image review to ensure the camera could return to usefulness as soon as possible, but in a scene that is slowly unfolding, taking one shot precludes taking another for about 11⁄2secs while the image is recorded and safely stored away.

Facing a black viewfinder when the action is still in progress is an uncomfortable experience. It can be solved in part by switching to the camera’s continuous mode, but spraying the scene in the style of a drive-by shooting seems a little out of step with a desire to pick a decisive moment from life’s continuum.

I got used to it in time, but really Ricoh needs to get that shot-to-shot black-out down to less than the time it took to wind to the next frame of film. It’s a problem all electronic viewfinder cameras suffer from at the moment.

Ricoh’s menu system is long and extensive, and now longer again with the new features. The logic of positioning a feature’s on/off options separately from the same feature’s variation options sometimes escapes me, but it really won’t take more than a week to become totally familiar with where everything is – logical or not.

My only disappointment is that the electronic shutter option comes as a scene mode, and rather restricts access to the other shooting controls. It would be much better as a main menu item.

Image:  Manual focus assist modes provide outlines on sharp objects, and disappear with a half-press of the shutter release

Image quality

Images: There is image noise at ISO 3200, but not nearly so much to make the setting unusable.  Minimal shutter lag helps when shooting moving subjects

Ricoh has achieved very good image quality with its APS-C sensors in the GXR and the 12.3-million-pixel model in the Mount A12 steps that up again.

There is no low-pass filter in this camera unit, so the potential for detail capture is higher than we might usually expect – as too is the potential for moiré patterning. In the event, though, the Mount A12 proves itself very well and has achieved some exceptional readings on our resolution chart.

Reaching 26 with a 12-million-pixel sensor is quite an achievement – Nikon’s D3100 managed 22 in JPEG mode, while the Olympus Pen E-PL3 peaks at 24. I found that in use, in both high- and low-contrast situations, plenty of detail can be drawn from any scene, with any patterning occurring only in rare conditions – and easily corrected in-camera in the JPEG processing and in software for DNG files.

There is a definite grid pattern to the unit’s JPEG files that only becomes visible when images are viewed at magnifications of 501% and upwards – but not at 500%!

I can only assume this is a function of there being no low-pass filter, and it actually has no impact on images day to day.

Something more pleasing is that noise is controlled in a much more defined way than I have become used to in Ricoh cameras. At ISO settings beyond 1000, noise does become part of the image, but actually the levels are well controlled and the noise is of the type that can be reduced effectively in software. With chroma noise gone we are left with a grain pattern not too unlike that which we enjoyed with film.

Colours are nicely controlled, and while contrast and saturation can be played with, I found the default settings moderate and well balanced. There is no one colour that jumps out and the contrast position seems set to ensure maximum use of the unit’s dynamic range.

Resolution, Noise & Dynamic Range:  These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Voigtländer Ultron 35mm f/1.7 Aspherical lens. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.  


It’s fair to say that Ricoh has had mixed fortunes in the digital market, with success and absolute image quality varying across the product range. In the GXR A12 lens units, the company seems to have got things right.

The GXR system is still awkward to understand, but with the introduction of the Mount A12 for M and L lenses the appeal should be much clearer. The mount will provide an incentive for existing lens users to invest in the system, and I’m certain most will be very happy with it. Inevitably, the AF lenses, the 28mm f/2.5 and the 50mm f/2.5 macro, will be follow-on purchases to give the manual focusing an occasional rest.

A system that once had just four lens choices now has masses, and while some may sniff at the 12.3-million-pixel sensor, its resolution far exceeds what one might expect, and what most need for street, travel and portrait photography.

At the launch of the GXR system in November 2009, I asked Mr Kazunobu Saiki, general manager of Ricoh’s global camera division, for a unit that would accept M and L lenses. He acknowledged it might be an idea, but I never thought the company would produce one. It’s been a while coming, but the Mount A12 is very good indeed. I’ve really enjoyed using it, but more than that, I’ve really enjoyed looking at the pictures it produces.