Hands on: Ricoh GXR review

10th Nov 2009 | 18:00

Hands on: Ricoh GXR review

Can this cunning camera concept compete with the SLRs of the world?

Camera features

Ricoh may not be one of the figure-heads of the camera world in Europe but in its native country of Japan, the brand is a 'must-have' in a nation bursting with tech goodness.

While the company hasn't suffered too badly in a crowded European camera market-place, there's not been anything to raise eyebrow's and get the company's name on consumer's lips.

Enter the Ricoh GXR, a camera enthusiasts will be talking about for some time to come.

At first-look the Ricoh GXR is your normal run-of-the-mill compact camera. Its black, magnesium-alloy chassis is unassuming with more than a tinge of retro to its looks. This style is very much en vogue within camera circles at the moment, and it's all because of Olympus' digital re-boot of its Pen series.

And like the Olympus E-P1, the Ricoh GXR offers a substantial amount of professional imaging quality in what is a diminutive frame.

But this is where the similarities end, as Ricoh has shunned the Micro FourThirds system which has been wholeheartedly adopted by the likes of Panasonic and Olympus and decided to go out on its own with a proprietary format.

The new format not only means you can buy one camera body and switch lenses - but sensors and processing units too.

Ricoh gxr

Ricoh has developed something called an 'interchangeable unit camera system' which is far less clunkier than its awful moniker makes it out to be.

Essentially, each Ricoh GXR chassis comes without a camera sensor, lens or processing engine. All of this is added in the form of a 'unit' which you slot into the body by way of a slide-in mount system. This is instead of switching lenses as you would on a DSLR.

Ricoh believes that it "has created a system without constraints" and something that brings "SLR functionality to a compact body".

Ricoh gxr

When TechRadar tried the slide-mount system we have to admit that it was simple enough to use but the choices of lens/sensor units is currently very limited.

When the system is launched in December two 'units' will be available: a Lens A12 50 mm F2.5 Macro camera unit which features a 12.3MP CMOS sensor; and the Ricoh Lens S10 24-72 mm F2.5-4.4 VC camera unit which houses a 10MP CCD sensor.

Confusingly this means that you will be using two different sensors for your image-taking. The reason there was no 'one sensor' choice was because Ricoh chose "the most compatible sensors for the chosen lenses".

While this is a perfectly valid reason it does mean that in theory the camera will offer two varying types of image quality (something we could try out on our brief hands-on with the product).

Ricoh gxr

Handling and conclusion

When it comes to handling, the camera is heavier than expected but the extra weight is warranted due to the size of the lenses the small body is carrying.

Delve into the GXR's menu system and regular Ricoh users will find that there's an air of familiarity to proceedings.

In fact, the GXR is best looked at as a hybrid of the company's GX compact range and its XR DSLR range – swiping the body from the former and the imaging features of the latter.

The LCD on the back is an ultra-bright and responsive 920,000 VGA display and the amount of features available are varied enough – ranging from auto exposure tweaks to shutter priority, alongside myriad shooting modes.

Ricoh gxr

Will Ricoh's new interchangeable unit camera system be a game-changer? It's hard to tell. While first impressions of the GXR show promise, it doesn't seem to have as much scope for bringing DSLR capabilities to compacts as the MicroFour Thirds system does.

One of the main reasons for this is that Ricoh seems intent on making its new idea proprietary for the time-being, meaning it's Ricoh or nothing when you buy the GXR.

And while the 'unit' idea is inspired, bundling lenses with sensors could pose a problem in the long run depending how quickly the sensors are superseded. Ricoh is currently pricing the units between £329 and £599 – a big price to pay for something that is essential to the working of the camera.

Ricoh gxr

With the company hinting at making the device more a camera, however, there's definitely room for scope.

Think of it like this: you buy the camera kit, then Ricoh releases a projector add-on for the GXR's body, essentially turning the camera into a go-anywhere gadget for instantly projecting the high-quality photos you have been taking.

While this can be filed under 'rumour and speculation' at the moment, it does show that the GXR has the potential to become something very interesting indeed.

With a release date of December, the GXR body will cost £419. Depending on which lens/sensor unit suits you, the GR Lens will set you back £599 and the Ricoh Lens will cost £329.

Go to www.ricoh.co.uk for more details.

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