Ricoh GXR compact digital camera – a novel interchangeable lens camera system

Written by Gary on November 10th, 2009

Ricoh has just unveiled their GXR compact digital camera with a unique novel interchangeable lens camera system.

Ricoh is touting it as the smallest and lightest digital camera with interchangeable lenses – as it is a touch smaller and lighter than the Micro Four Thirds system, but no where near as versatile, and it’s not cheap either!

The unique design stems from an interchangeable lens system which has a sensor and image processing engine integrated into the lens itself.

GXR system

Thus at present Ricoh has announced two lens/sensor options:

  • a GR lens A12 – 12 megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor (1.5x crop compared to 35mm full frame) integrated with a 33mm f/2.5 macro lens which gives 50mm focal length in 35mm terms and f/3.8 in comparative depth of field. It weighs 263g and results in a camera size of 113.9 mm x 70.2 mm x 77.1 mm weighing 423g excuding battery. Burst rate is 3fps in full resolution.
  • a Ricoh lens S10 – 10 megapixel 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor (4.7x crop factor compared to 35mm full frame) with sensor-based image stabiliser and integrated with a lens which is 24-72mm f/2.5-4.4 in 35mm terms but with point and shoot like depth of field given the tiny sensor – ie. f/12-21 comparative DOF. It results in a camera size of 113.9 mm x 70.2 mm x 44.4 mm weighing 325g excl. battery. It can only do VGA movies and its fastest shutter is 1/2000th sec instead of 1/3200th on the macro lens. Burst rate is only 1.6fps in full resolution.

The body sports a nice 920K dot LCD screen although it is fixed, and gives the options of external detachable EVF, hotshoe TTL flash.

See Ricoh’s website for images

I guess Ricoh is to be congratulated in trying something different but I just can’t see why anyone would really bother paying this much money for a system such as this.

Granted it is small, and the integrated sensor and lens means dust is not such a problem when changing lenses, and theoretically it allows the sensor-sensor filters-lens design to be optimised, but really, the cons of a system like this seem to me to be substantial and far outweigh the benefits:

  • who wants to spend so much on a macro lens which has very limited portrait capability – a 50mm f/3.8 lens is not that exciting!
  • who wants to spend so much and have a bigger 3x zoom point and shoot size sensor lens? why not just buy a smaller, cheaper point and shoot?
  • the main point of having interchangeable lenses is to give one versatility and also not have all their money spent on great quality lenses at risk of rapid depreciation due to integration with rapidly changing technology such as sensors and camera bodies – this system goes against both of these concepts.
  • unlike the Micro Four Thirds system, you cannot use almost any other lens ever made but in this case are forced to ONLY use whatever lens Ricoh comes out with, and worse, that lens will be integrated with a specific sensor.
  • the high price will mean that few would really bother with it unless Ricoh comes up with something uniquely useful.

It does have a few interesting modes such as a continuous shooting mode which will shoot 15-30fps depending on lens and mode but at much reduced resolution (eg. 2mp on the macro lens and VGA size on the zoom lens – hardly an exciting resolution!), and then combine all these images into one MP file, and from this a single frame can be extracted as a jpeg image in camera. Like the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2, it has an electronic spirit level or tilt indicator. A colour bracketing mode allows simultaneous B&W, and tinted monochrome images to be recorded – this could be really handy for IR work. The camera can remember settings for each lens unit.

The macro lens unit allows 720p 24fps HD Open DML Motion JPEG compliant AVI movies but the zoom lens only allows VGA movies.

The camera body itself without lens unit measures 113.9 mm x 70.2 mm x 28.9 mm which is only marginally smaller than the Olympus E-P2 which measures 121mm (W) x 70mm (H) x 36mm (D) and weighs half the weight of the E-P2 body at 160g.

I do like the fact it takes SD/SDHC memory cards and that its uses the DNG RAW format, and hopefully it may have a silent shutter – why can’t Panasonic and Olympus do this too?

Now if they offered an APS-C size sensor with IS and a high quality 50mm f/1.4 lens, and an APS-C size sensor with IS and a high quality 25mm f/1.4 lens, then we would have a decent camera, but would still have to be paying for 2 APS-C sized sensors, 2 IS systems and then in 3 years time when sensor technology has dramatically improved, throw the whole kit away and buy some new lenses with new technology sensors.

I just don’t think this makes fiscal sense for the consumer – although if Ricoh somehow gets sales of these, it would end up with an endless stream of revenue from users continuously having to buy new lenses and sensors as technology continues to improve.

Almost certainly, you would get better photographic results for not much bigger with an Olympus E-P2 + M.ZD 14-42mm zoom + M.ZD 50mm f/2 macro when it comes out (assuming that’s what it will be), especially if you then combine it with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7.

Or, you would get similar results with a Panasonic GF-1 with Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 macro OIS and a Canon G11 which would give similar options to the Ricoh zoom module.

Now of course Ricoh could really shake the market place up if they created sensor modules with a lens mount.

They could offer a Four Thirds sensor plus lens mount module which would take all Four Thirds lenses, and a Micro Four Thirds sensor plus mount module which would take all Micro Four Thirds lenses, and a Nikon DX-size sensor plus lens mount module which will take all Nikon F mount lenses, and a Canon APS-C-size sensor plus lens mount module which will take all Canon EOS mount lenses, etc.

To really add salt in, there is no reason why they couldn’t add sensor based image stabilisation to the module to make all those Canon and Nikon lenses image stabilised, and furthermore, they could add infrared capable versions of each of these sensor modules.

And if Ricoh could keep the AF and aperture control functionality of all these lenses then they would be on a winner, attracting photographers from all camps, and we would all have a universal camera system where we can just
upgrade the sensor module as technology improves and use any lens we like.

I can’t see them heading down that path not only because of licensing issues, but because they would not be able to sell their own lens modules as people would just use other system lenses.


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