One Step Closer to a Modular Digital Camera: The 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.