Monday, December 10, 2012

My perspectives on the Ricoh GXR with Leica M mount

I rented the Ricoh GXR with the Leica M mount front from over Thanksgiving 2012.  I also rented the electronic viewfinder, which fits in the hot shoe.  I used my father’s two Leica lenses on this camera:  The 35mm f/1.4 Sumilux and the 90mm f/2.0 Sumicron.  Both of these lenses are, of course, completely manual: manual focus and manual aperture. These lenses have outstanding reputations, and I know that my daddy took lots of great pictures with his 35mm film Leica M2.  He especially liked the 35mm Sumilux.

Note that the GXR is an APS-C sensor, so these lenses translate to the equivalent view of 52mm and 135mm on a 35mm, full-frame camera.


The camera is a great size and it feels great in my hand.  The shutter has a very satisfying click to it.  It responds quickly—no shutter lag that I could perceive (but see below).

The focus-assist is very good.  There are two ways this comes into play:
  1. There is a slider bar along the bottom that turns green when the camera thinks you are in focus.
  2.  There is a glittery effect in the image on the contrasty spots that are in focus.  This is particularly effective on eyes and carpet patterns.  (You can see a range of sparkly carpet patterns, which moves back and forth as you focus.  Often, this was the most effective way for me to get my subject (mostly my granddaughter) in focus: move that sparkly band back and forth until it coincided with where she was sitting on the carpet.)
The electronic viewfinder is really, really nice.  It shows exactly the same stuff as would be shown on the back screen, including the short review of the image that you just took.

The images from these Leica lenses were very good.


Despite the nice focus-assist mechanisms offered by the GXR, it was hard for me to get a good percentage of shots that were in focus.

The image review in the viewfinder was disconcerting!  It looks exactly like the image you were seeing as you snapped the picture (of course), but the subject keeps moving and this image stays frozen.  This was weird.  (I suppose this could be turned off, but I did not have time to figure this out.)  But what was worse was that you could not snap another picture until that review finished!  This was bad!

The 35mm Sumilux has a minimum focus distance of 1 meter.  This was not close enough for the sort of pictures I wanted to take.

The manual aperture, with this camera and (I suppose) with any other modern camera, is not useful.  You pretty much have to focus at maximum aperture and then stop it down prior to snapping the picture.  I could never get the hang of this operation (find the focus knob; get it focused; find the aperture knob; stop it down; snap; find the aperture knob again; open it up; repeat).

I discovered the problem with the 90mm Sumicron.  I had previously used it on Daddy’s Leica M2: none of the pictures were in focus.  I determined with the GXR that this lens has shifted by a little bit: infinity on the lens has a subject at 20 meters in focus; everything else is shifted by the same amount (e.g., lens at 10 meters puts a subject at 7 meters in focus).  I may have to take the lens apart and put it back together—maybe the problem will be obvious.


I doubt that this is the proper way for my photography gear to evolve.  This setup is too limited (for me)—Daddy’s Leica lenses are great and all, but the focusing is too hard, and the rapid-fire mode is pretty much non-existent.  If I took a lot of posed pictures (especially of things that don’t move), it might be useful.  But I don’t do that.

The image quality did not blow me away.  I was expecting stupendous IQ, what with no anti-aliasing filter and Leica lenses.  But I did not get a single picture that actually had blow-it-up-to-billboard-size IQ.

If this cost something like $400, it would be a tough decision.  But at close to $1000 ($930 with the discounts I usually see), I conclude that this is a bad way to spend my gear fund.

The question remains: How do I use my daddy’s Leica lenses?  If I don’t use them, I should probably sell them (but I just can’t bring myself to do that).  I am holding out hope that I will win a Sony NEX in a contest.

Update: 12/20/12
I got one of the pix with this camera posted in Fermi Today.  Here is a link to the issue, and here is the image:

Leica 35mm Sumilux at f/1.4, 1/800 sec at ISO 271 (The Ricoh chooses crazy ISO values like this all the time!) 

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