One Step Closer to a Modular Digital Camera: The Ricoh GXR

by Miserere

  

Ricoh GXR

I’ve been advocating for modular DLSRs for a while now (some of you are probably bored of hearing me), but I had never thought of what Ricoh have come up with: marrying lenses to sensors. The logic? have a single camera body that can take a number of different sensor+lens blocks. Do you want to use a superzoom with 28-300mm reach today, but don’t want to haul around a large lens? No problem! Use a small zoom lens attached to a small sensor. What if you want low light capability or want to shoot portraits? Use a wide-aperture prime lens with a larger sensor.

There has been no official announcement, just leaks, but this seems to be the real deal. Ricoh has produced a mirrorless body with pop-up flash and accessory EVF (Electronic View Finder), the Ricoh GXR, and will initially release two lenses+sensor blocks: a 24-75mm f/2.5-4.4 lens with a 10MP CCD sensor and a 50mm f/2.5 macro lens with a 12MP CMOS sensor. In neither case do we know the size of the sensor, but I suspect the focal lengths are 35mm-equiv. If I had to guess sensor sizes, given the focal lengths, apertures and apparent physical size in the photos, the 24-75mm lens is attached to a 1/1.7″ sensor like that on the Canon S90, while the 50mm is attached to either a 4/3-sized sensor, or an APS-C—I bet on the latter. Interestingly enough, Sony produce both a 1/1.7″ 10MP CCD and an APS-C 12MP CMOS, and it would make sense for Ricoh to source all its sensors from a single manufacturer to obtain bulk discounts, hence my bet on the sensor sizes.

Another possibility is the appearance of several different bodies. For now we are only seeing a μ4/3-style body (like the Olympus E-P1 or the Panasonic GF1) but Ricoh could develop a larger body with an integrated EVF (such as the Panasonic GH1) or even a DSLR-style body if they release larger lenses (but always with an EVF, as I don’t see how they’d stick a mirror and prism on top of the sensor and make it affordable).

My opinion: I think the idea is novel, and I applaud innovation and newthink. However, I don’t see this system being economical. The two most expensive components of a camera (if we are to believe camera makers) are the lens and the sensor. The Ricoh puts both of these together, and forces you to buy both every time you want to take a different kind of photo. While they might be able to keep prices down with blocks containing a 1/1.7″ CCD, those with APS-C sensors will be much more expensive. It’s true Ricoh can probably buy the sensors at a lower price because they’ll be buying more of them, but I don’t see those costs being significant enough. If they manage to price APS-C blocks only slightly above the APS-C lenses of their competitors, then one has to wonder what corners they cut in the lens in order to make it cheaper.

There is no official information on prices yet, but I can assure you the success or failure of this Ricoh system will depend on its prices. While this is far from the modular DSLR I envisage for the future, I hope Ricoh do well in the suddenly-competitive niche of mirrorless, large sensor cameras.

First-look video courtesy of Which magazine (a still of which is the photo at the beginning of this article):

  

UPDATE: It’s official now, read about it on DPReview. I was correct about the sensor sizes—do I get a prize for that? :-) Sample images from the two lens-sensor combos are available here. Samples look pretty good, but then I don’t expect any company to put out a camera in this day and age that produces really bad images. By the way, big kudos go to Ricoh for having the cameras shoot RAW in Adobe’s open DNG format.

As far as prices are concerned, Amazon.com is now accepting preorders in the U.S. and is asking:

  • GXR body: $550
  • 12mp APS-C 50mm-equiv. f2.5 macro unit: $830
  • 10mp 1/1.7″ 24-75mm-equiv zoom unit: $440
  • GF1 external flash: $280
  • VF2 viewfinder: $257
  • DB-90 Li-Ion battery: $47

The (unconfirmed) British prices I’ve seen are £420 for the body, £600 for the 50mm-equiv. and £300 for the 24-75mm-equiv.

Given these numbers, which appear to be street prices, I predict this camera system will be a flop. I just paid $427 for my Canon S90, which has the same sensor, and possibly better lens, as the 24-75mm-equiv. zoom unit, which Ricoh is asking $990 for (body+sensor+lens). The S90 is smaller too.

You can see a size comparison of the GXR vs the Panasonic GF1 here. Spoiler: The GXR wins by a small margin.

Amateur Photographer has a piece about it here.

About these ads

6 Responses to “One Step Closer to a Modular Digital Camera: The Ricoh GXR”

  1. In 2 words: bad idea!

    This kind of design means that a “lens” will become obsolete as soon as the sensor is old… So much for using your old lenses (Pentax or Leica users are able to shoot with 50 year old lenses on their digital bodies).

    So this is not modular at all, it is exactly the contrary. With this design you cannot invest on lenses.

    From a manufacturer perspective it is interesting though: as soon as a new sensor comes out, your customers will feel the urge to upgrade all their lenses! Great deal ;)

    Paul

  2. Yep, I agree with what Paul wrote. I don’t like it.

  3. It’s Dead Dave!

    In 20years this might be a practical concept, but today with the way the technology is still changing… it’s a very bad idea. The pricing of the body reflects no substantial savings, and the lenses of course are more. With almost zero chance of being about to buy lenses from anyone else, or adapting existing lenses there is just not enough gain for the pain.

    They should work on bringing down the price of the GRDIII and getting more lenses on it.

  4. To understand this system thoroughly, you will need to understand Ricoh history and Ricoh position in the market.

    Ricoh produces high-end compact cameras and optics. Its cameras’ build quality are excellent. User interface of Ricoh professional line are very well designed and they really keep how photographer works in their mind.

    Most of complaints I read in the internet are about price. But if you research carefully, it actually not bad considering the value you will get with the system.

    Consider this:
    Panasonic GF1 and Leica 45mm macro = approx: $1500
    Leica X1, compact camera with fixed lens and APS-C sensor = $1999
    Mid-range DSLR with a decent macro lens = around $1500

    Ricoh GRX with 50mm f/2.5 macro : $1380
    24-75mm module : $440

    However, if you only want to use one module, you will pay premium price as you stated above. Yet, I believe many people will still getting one because they want to get the benefit or Ricoh’s user interface and build quality.

    About obsolescence, everything related to technology will be out of date anyway. Every year, manufacturers update their camera body and lenses too. Looking at the current development of image sensor in general, I will say that the development to the future will be slowing down. Megapixel race has been stalled, and many cameras are able to produces very clean images in high ISO (1600).

    Now, many people don’t print their photos regularly, instead they share their pics through the web, which do not demand that much of megapixel or super fine images. The funny thing is, Ricoh users usually love noise/grain and many shoots Black and White images.

    By separating body and the module, we can use and keep camera body for a long time. The main benefit of that is you don’t have to learn a new interface every time you buy a new camera. In the same time, you save money.

    This system is also very versatile and compact. When you need a large depth of field, you can use small sensor, and if you need shallow depth of field, you can use big sensor module. It will also have other modules like storage, wireless connector that will expand your photographic opportunity.

    There are also some conveniences that many would appreciate such as the ease of changing modules, and you don’t have to worry about dust either. It has quieter shutter relative to DSLR or micro four thirds cameras too.

    Traditionally, to achieve the best of both world, you will need to carry your bulky DSLR and lenses, compact camera and a laptop for backup/storage. That is not convenience.

    The build quality, user interface, versatility and compactness are way ahead of other system that I can think of, and it is hard to put a price on that.

    Of course Ricoh GRX won’t be reaping market share like Canon or Nikon beginner DSLR or compact cameras because they don’t intend to compete in that market, but I predict they will be a hit in photo high-end enthusiasts market.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful post, Radiantlite. I believe innovation is good, but only if it improves what already exists. The Ricoh GRX has to prove it is a better option than other cameras out there, and I’m afraid that people will not be willing to take the plunge given the asking price. Now, if Canon or Nikon released a similar product…I’m sure people would be all over it. Am I being too cynical? In any case, let’s wait and see what happens. Personally, I’d love to try this system out.

  5. When the next GF1 (will it called GF2? hahahaha) comes out and it has 1080p HD and has stereo recording, that’s when it will beat everything else out there. I’ll wait until then.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: