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Ricoh Launches GXR Interchangeable Camera Unit

Gordon Kelly


Ricoh Launches GXR Interchangeable Camera Unit

And now - as Monty Python would say - for something completely different...

Ricoh has today formally announced the 'GXR', a compact DSLR alternative which eschews the micro four thirds system in favour of an "interchangeable unit camera system". Or in short: a camera where you swap out the entire lens and sensor!

While initially very strange to look at, the GXR does make a lot of sense. For one, the body and lens unit are both completely sealed meaning they eliminate the threat of dust and for other, body and lenses snap together very easily and quickly making it faster than changing a standalone lens.

Furthermore, while the GXR body contains its own image engine, Ricoh claims the dedicated processing chips in each lens unit means the two can be perfectly paired every time to guarantee image results. Clever stuff. From launch two lens units will be available: the 12.3 megapixel GR A12 50mm F2.5 Macro with CMOS sensor and the 10 megapixel S10 24-72mm F2.5-4.4 VC with CCD sensor. Initially Ricoh will be the sole manufacturer of all GXR lenses, but it hasn't ruled out the option of licensing the technology should other parties express interest.

Away from this, users will also find an ultra high resolution 3in 920k-dot screen at the back of the GXR body, integrated flash (though dedicated flash can be fitted) and HDMI output.

Predictably, such technical wizardry won't come cheap. Ricoh is charging £419 for the GXR body, £219 for the optional optical viewfinder and lenses start from £300 meaning enthusiasts can top a grand without blinking.

So do we think the GXR will be a success?

It certainly has the potential to be, but the real question is likely to be whether it is too radical for its target audience of enthusiasts and professionals. After all, many already have an extensive collection of lenses (the real cost with DSLRs) and only buy new cameras which are already interoperable with this. The Ricoh GXR means you will need to start again. That said, innovation never has come cheap and here we have a genuinely impressive, practical and more compact alternative to the Olympus PEN E-P1 and E-P2...


Ricoh GXR Product Page


November 10, 2009, 6:36 pm

Very sharp corners on the body, I thought it looked like something from a 1920s film.

Ironic given how 'advanced' it's supposed to be.


November 10, 2009, 6:47 pm

Okay, so the upsides are that it's faster to replace a "lens unit" and that each lens has a specially fitted sensor. I guess the former could also be accomplished by using a new lens mount system, there's no law saying lenses need to screw in, but anyway. I don't know if the latter has a lot of merit. Did anybody ever want replaceable sensor hardware in a DSLR? I'm not sure about the relative benefits of CCD vs CMOS, but apart from that I figured people were pretty happy to get as big a sensor as possible for low noise levels and that's that. I'm sure there are software adjustments you can make for different lenses, but there are other, less redundant ways of implementing this; ie. by having a database of lenses in the camera firmware which processes the image data depending on the lens identifier.

Due to the fact that you pay for an expensive sensor with every lens unit -- not to mention the fact that for the moment this is a one-manufacturer tech --, this is certainly going to be much more expensive than the alternatives for the time being. I'm sure this will hamper deployment among enthusiasts.


November 10, 2009, 7:06 pm

Haha - April fools right?! That's the most ridiculous proprietary system i've ever seen, with absolutely no practical benefits at all. Here's my prediction - it'll be dead and buried within 18 months.


November 10, 2009, 7:24 pm

@lifethroughalens - "absolutely no practical benefits at all"? I think you need to go back to the beginning and actually read the article this time ;)

@Frank - much like the Olympus PEN E-P1 styling which mimicked the original PEN from 1959. Retro-styling is all the rage atm.


November 10, 2009, 7:29 pm

I need to win the lottery NOW! :)


November 10, 2009, 8:12 pm

I suppose there's nothing stopping Ricoh (or a third party) making adaptor modules which would contain the same sort of un-paired versatile chip as a normal DSLR, combined with a lens thread which you could attach canon/nikon/whatever lenses onto.


November 10, 2009, 8:13 pm

I did read it thoroughly - And nope, I still don't see any 'advantages' at all. I don't include changes lenses quicker and having a sensor in every lens as having any practical advantage and I dispute that it's quicker to change this set up that it is to change an SLR's lens. Any we are talking SLR's here - because this thing is also ridiculously priced!

Now- ironically - if they had gone yet one step further and made the system even more modular by separating the lens from the sensor compartment (ie an SLR mount) - That would have some serious benefits.

Being able to chose your sensor type and size and also your lens independently of the sensor and body, would be fantastic. As it is though, i just don't see any advantage (but many disadvantages) of having a sealed in sensor in every lens. Dust is not that much of an issue! Maybe I have just missed the point?

Hans Gruber

November 10, 2009, 8:58 pm

"I thought it looked like something from a 1920s film." Me too, Frankenstein's monster came to mind. Still, the camera is in a pre-production beta phase.

The idea seems to be in marrying the GX and GR ranges. The GRs had fast prime lenses but at 28mm (the A12 is 50mm macro half life sized prime) whilst the GX 100/200 had the 24-72mm (35mm equivalent) zoom paired with a 10MP 1/1.75 CCD.

I think it's all about producing a compact modular system that really minimises the bulk of attached lenses when you consider how the S10 (24-72mm) lens module only has a 1/1.7" CCD sensor. The fixed faster 50mm prime of the A12 module can afford to use a larger APS-C sensor, though yes, I agree it is something of a waste that that sensor cannot be further removed from the lens and fitted (modular style) to another compatible lens.

So Ricoh are going for two target markets in a sense, the GXs traditional must-have-a-zoom (24-72mm useful 3x range) and people who appreciate fast primes (GR), but this time with a lens that offers both a standard 50mm fast prime and limited macro ability (it's not 1:1 but half that magnification). I don't think it's been designed to tackle dust but the idea does currently look half baked to me. If the sensor dies (or rather when it does) the lens will be dead too (and in need of expensive servicing for replacement sensor).

It would be better if the sensor could be modulised too, then with its closed to the elements design maybe then the likes of Canon and Nikon would sit up. Why not attach the sensor to the back of the lens and shove the whole thing into the camera body? You'd be doing away with the mirror of course and so it would become a different kind of system. Lots of knock on effects of course and plenty to think about. But I still prefer the micro 4/3rds approach to compact interchangeable lens design if ever I wanted to lose the weight of SLR design.


November 10, 2009, 9:10 pm

@lifethroughalens: What disadvantages do you see?, apart from cost as something new is always expensive.

Here's my thought on how it might be useful.

Been able to upgrade to higher sensor type in the future without having to buy a whole new camera with processing/flash/viewfinder/etc. Also maybe using a lower megapixel sensor for fast / or low light conditions / or even a sensor specifically designed for HD video recording, etc etc.

Also dust might not be a huge problem, but it still can be an issue.

And as @piesforyou pointed out you could maybe get a version without a lens that you could then attach standard lenses onto.


November 10, 2009, 9:23 pm

@red: If the sensor dies (or rather when it does) the lens will be dead too (and in need of expensive servicing for replacement sensor).

How is that any worse than the sensor dying inside the SLR Body?, also how many sensors have you known die?

@red: It would be better if the sensor could be modulised too

Isn't that like what @piesforyou suggested.


November 10, 2009, 9:28 pm

On the subject of size, yes I want a smaller camera (I have a nikon D60)to fit in my pocket; & before someone leaps from the sky to shout at me that the D60 is a small camera, you don't know which lens I use!)

Dust, I've had that & it was a real pain, with black blobs over pictures which, ok I can photoshop out but it would be easier not to have them.

This is a novel way to deal with several problems. It seems to me to be a pricey way to go, but it's certainly different!

What I do like is that different manufacturers are trying to change the camera. Not all will work, but some bits of their developments will stick & eventually something good will come of it.

Martin Daler

November 10, 2009, 9:33 pm

Now perhaps is the time to drop the reference to focal length of lenses, and start using angle of view. After all, we see an angle of view, we don't see a focal length, and with all the different sensor sizes the focal length can no longer serve as a proxy for angle of view, like it did in the good old 35mm days.


November 10, 2009, 10:23 pm

@lifethroughalens: What disadvantages do you see?, apart from cost as something new is always expensive.

There are so many it's just crazy. This whole system is just nuts.

The major expense in any set up is the often the glass not the camera (ie processor and sensor) . You invest in glass which rarely has any significant improvement over time, save for IS / VR technology. We've just about reached the limits of resolution with fluoride glass. You want the lenses you purchase to be able to be used on as many systems as possible, both over time on the evolving platform you've bought into and also on to competitors bodies via adapter rings. (I often use Nikon lenses on my Canon 5DMK2)

Today if I have any issue with one of my lenses or bodies - I can just interchange them till the issue is solved. My lenses tend to take a fair bit of battering occasionally, much more than the body would - so the idea of my sensor being in the lens doesn't sit right.

Even with a 100% sealed lens / sensor set up - what happens if a nasty bit of dust or a hair or anything else does get on to the sensor over time - your stuffed, no cleaning possible so back to the manufacturer to fix at great cost AND you lose you lens at the same time! Also if either the lens or the sensor plays up - you'll lose both!

Also as the technology moves on and bigger processors are required to push bigger images and higher quality video around you will need to buy a new body to upgrade processors. And as improved, lower voltage, more sensitive, better designed sensors are developed, as they are being at a rapid level, what are you going to do with your 2 year old lens and old sensor combo? You;ll have to sell it or send it back to get the sensor upgraded...if possible.

Then there's the issue of support both in the sense of software / firmware and ongoing commitment to the physical format. This is a new idea...you can guarantee that in 2 years time a completely new proprietary format will be churned out after the manufacturer says all it's PR splurge about 'building on the original' and 'vastly superior this and that...' which basically means the end of the road for all the kit you've bought.

Then there's the completely unessential costs involved in placing sensors into every single lens. And the question of consistency in production quality and colour / image reproduction. It's a mine field!

This concept does have legs as I said earlier on, and i'm sure that Canon and Nikon have many working prototypes in a modular design - if the camera's sensor / processor is made modular too then this really starts to make sense (AKA RED cameras)- but I think it will take the adoption of the professional SLR market, to market this concept to push the idea forward and make it economically viable (ie Not like RED!).

As it is though today, a sealed lens and sensor - just doesn't make any photographic / financial / practical sense to me. But...it's great to see someone pushing the boundaries and we'll have to lose that pesky mirror sooner or later! :)

Hans Gruber

November 11, 2009, 12:02 am

@Keith - "@red: It would be better if the sensor could be modulised too

Isn't that like what @piesforyou suggested."

Yes it is, and it's also what lifethroughalens said. Was it so wrong for me to mention my thoughts also?

"@red: If the sensor dies (or rather when it does) the lens will be dead too (and in need of expensive servicing for replacement sensor).

lifethroughalens has now provided many sound arguments about adding possible points of redundancy to otherwise usable lenses, further points of failure, and explaining clearly why lenses tend to be what most photographers invest in (not lenses AND sensors). When technology moves forward enough, you buy a better camera with better image processing capability. Camera bodies might fail and you either try to get it fixed (if economical) or you buy another. With the pace of sensor design and advance in image processing why would you want to keep a ten year old sensor permanently fixed to your lens? (Sensors develop more dead/failing pixels over time too). Hence why I echoed that it'd be nice to have an enclosed modular form sensor as others speculated on too.

You seemed quite defensive so I'll add I am not totally against this concept at all, I wouldn't have bothered finding out a bit more about it if I did. I do see practical uses for it but these are limited. It's certainly not a system I'd wish to invest in myself (to the extent of buying 4 or 5+ lenses for) though I really applaud Ricoh for their innovation. It's less conservative than the micro 4/3rds system and quite a radical departure from the norm. I hope other camera manufacturers follow suit in experimental re-design even if not so radical (as lifethroughalens noted also). Such innovation is a gamble though and it's nice to see but I won't be buying into anything like that until I can see real advantages and practical advancement in the way we do things today (SLR FTW). ;)


November 11, 2009, 1:19 am

@lifethroughalens - A advantage this system has, is over keeping the system as compact as possible. So with a zoom lens the sensor will be small to keep the size of the lens down. Something the new micro systems have a problem with without affecting the ergonomics/handling. But then with a prime lens the sensor can be much larger, increasing the IQ. Or another option could be a low light sensor and lens combo. All the time keeping the size of the system as small as possible.

I don't imagine Ricoh are attempting to replace the whole DSLR system but they are providing a new one that I think will appeal to travel photographers? It's too costly for me, but then again the people I know who have Ricoh products will pay for a high quality compact system (they have the gx200 with the different lens options and EVF) so I think it will find it's place in the market :D

One last thing, Ricoh don't tend to stop the support for their cameras quickly, so I wouldn't be too worried even if they had no choice but to drop the system down the line.


November 11, 2009, 2:55 am

I think the saying is "Bodies come and go, glass lasts forever". Tying your glass to a particular sensor might be good now, but in a couple of years when sensor technology has moved on?


November 11, 2009, 11:48 am

I dunno. Sounds interesting to me. I can see some advantages to this method.

The price has to be right though.


November 11, 2009, 3:07 pm

@lifethroughalens: I can see by your 9 sentence ramble you won't be getting one :), and I assume the idea of having a sensor only option didn't register, as this would allow all that glass you collected to still be used.


November 11, 2009, 3:53 pm


No, absolutely not! And I assume that you haven't read any of this thread since it was I who suggested the seperate sensor module would be a great idea (posted at the same time as Piesforyou). In fact it would be the only saving grace.

That's my whole point- the sensor only option doesn't exist, It's just pie in the sky, which as it stands, makes this system a waste of money IMO :)

(This sort of modular system would make a lot more sense to me on medium format equipment than compacts.)


November 11, 2009, 4:40 pm


Then we agree, and surely your initial comment "That's the most ridiculous proprietary system i've ever seen" was a tad harsh?


November 11, 2009, 5:48 pm

I'm sorry Keith, we must be singing from different hymn sheets here! This system, as it stands is the most ridiculous proprietary system I've ever seen. All my reasons are listed above and you'd have to be real sucker to invest in it, in it's current form.

As I keep on saying - if you remove the sensor from the lens (silly idea IMO) and make a modular sensor with an SLR type mount - then you have a product that's interesting AND has longevity. At the end of the day most Ricoh products are bought by amateurs with more money than sense or Pro's who appreciate the build & quality - so this fits the bill perfectly.

One of the 'advantages' listed by the manufacturer is that 'the lenses can be designed for specialist applications'. Why would you use a compact body for specialist applications? You wouldn't....you would use a DSLR and its myriad of lenses and superior image quality with added flexibility & functionality - especially when the prices for the body and lenses is in the same area as a top quality SLR.

And if you need compactness, then there's plenty of better suited cameras. I'm sure that this will find a small niche market (in it's current sealed lens / sensor format) - It will be interesting to see if it takes off with other manufacturers in different forms that are more practical than Ricoh's system.


November 11, 2009, 6:19 pm

"you'd have to be a real sucker to invest in it"

"At the end of the day most Ricoh products are bought by amateurs with more money than sense"

Once somebody feels the need to come out with crass statements I kinda lose interest in the rest of their arguement however good some of their points are..


November 11, 2009, 6:30 pm

@lifethroughahlens: I'm sorry Keith, we must be singing from different hymn sheets here!

looks that way. Well I kind of like the idea of been able to change the sensor type. You think it's crazing fair do's. Like @piesforyou pointed out what's to stop canon/nikon etc making a version without a lens, "as it stands is the most ridiculous proprietary system I've ever seen" seems very short sighted to me. Maybe I just like the term "Thinking outside the box". Anyway, no point in discussing any further, as you of course know best.


November 11, 2009, 8:20 pm

@joose and Keith- I feel that you're rather missing the whole point. I have outlined my reasons for making those statements...they are not crass, and as has been confirmed over the years, I definitely do not know best! This is just my opinion as a professional photographer and photography enthusiast.

I can only assume from you rattled replies, that you took personal offence from my comments - which was not intended. At the end of the day you can vote with your wallets.


November 11, 2009, 10:02 pm

@lifethroughalens - I'm not missing your points, indeed I think you have several good ones. However, my point was is once you start making comments based on your opinion of what a typical Ricoh user is or anybody who is thinking of buying into this is a 'sucker' people will tend to take your points with a hefty pinch of salt as you seem to be the one becoming rattled and those comments are crass regardless of what you say. Your other points may have been confirmed over the years but I don't think these ones have ;)

I can appreciate your experience which has come across in many of the other good posts you have made. However, you are dismissing out of hand a new concept/way of doing things because you can't personally see the benefits in a space of two days which seems strange.

Henry Ford once said 'if i'd asked the public what they wanted they would of said faster horses' :)

My original comment about this method having a advantage in keeping the system small, perhaps for a traveller I think still stands. And yes the market will decide if this will be around in a few years but I'm glad there are still companies out there trying new things/ideas rather than just increasing the spec sheet all the time.

Personally I'm on the fence at the moment. I can see plus and negative points but I don't need a new camera yet. Maybe in a years time we (I) will be in a more informed position to make that decision.

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