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Smaller companies often take a different and braver route in satisfying demand for digital cameras. This particular bunch of boxes is Ricoh’s answer to the need for more compact, versatile, yet more powerful digital capture devices.
Described as ‘the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable lens camera system’ the Ricoh GXR unit integrates lens, image sensor and image processing engine into a single interchangeable unit: when you change the lens, you also change the sensor, shutter, aperture, processing engine plus the motors to drive auto focus and zoom (if needed).
The basic unit holds little more than the LCD screen, card slot, camera controls and flash.
A different lens module can have a different sensor size and type (CCD or CMOS?). The whole structure is dictated by the lens, not the body. A true interchangeable system.
Taking the GXR body in my left hand I slid the A12 module leftwards across the camera body to attach it. The VF-2 viewfinder (AUD299) simply slid into the accessory shoe. I then had a faux DSLR with two viewing options.
The A12 is a 33mm lens, equivalent to 50mm in 35 SLR terms, imaging to a 23.6×15.7mm CMOS with 12.3 million pixels. Apparently a highly corrected optic, it protrudes from the body by 45mm … a pancake lens it’s not! But it could well serve as a portrait or macro lens with the latter benefiting from its manual focus capability.
Another module, the S10 is based on a more general use 3x optical zoom and a 10.0 megapixel CCD. Two more are expected early this year.
The viewfinder is worth a mention: you alternate the rear screen/viewfinder view by tapping a button on the camera body but it has a useful ability to tilt through 90 degrees, effectively making it a waist level finder.
Stabiliser? Thought you’d never ask! The A12 portrait/macro combo has none. The S10 3x zoom combo however uses an image sensor shift arrangement, which would benefit from a fine correlation between lens and sensor… something other makers don’t enjoy.
Until you use it, you don’t realise how useful the viewfinder tilt display is: you’ll never shoot another picture with even a smidge of tilt in it.
The target selection mode can be used to set focus and exposure for off-centre subjects without moving the camera — ideal for tripod work.
The 3x zoom also enjoys a Pre-AF function that accelerates focusing speed by adjusting the focus to match subject movement. When shooting up close, the camera auto switches to macro mode.
Things get a little muddy when we get to movie shooting.
The A12 unit can capture video at a maximum and useful HD setting of 1280×720 pixels, recorded at the cinema rate of 24 fps.
However, the S10 is limited to 640×480 or 320×240 pixels at 30 fps.
I found this odd, because the more general-use S10 lens combo with its 3x zoom would seem to be the more general-purpose unit but is severely hobbled in the movie department. Strange!
The whole approach is a controversial one: begin with a basic body, then add lens modules to it. So each time you buy another lens you shell out for another CCD or CMOS, plus shutter, variable aperture section, processing engine and the motors to drive auto focus and zoom! The upside is that, when changing lenses there is no risk of dust entering the camera, unlike DSLRs … and each lens/sensor combo can be finely tailored to a specific task.
Picture quality: above average.
Why you would buy the GXR: you want to explore an entirely new camera style.
Why you wouldn’t: you don’t need more complexity.