Ricoh has announced the GXR system, a brand-new and frankly barmy camera system. The GXR system offers interchangeable lenses, but they're not your dad's interchangeable lenses: instead, the Ricoh GXR system involves swapping modular lens units that also contain a sensor and processor in one sealed package.
Lens, image sensor and image-processing engine are in one module that slides into the GXR body. The body contains the 76mm (3-inch) 920,000-pixel LCD screen, SD-card slot and HDMI connection. Both body and lens unit pack a Ricoh Smooth Image Engine processor, with the lens unit capturing the image and the body turning data into a file.
The GXR is encased in a magnesium alloy die-cast body. It packs a built-in pop-up flash and hotshoe, into which you can plug an electronic viewfinder or external flash.
There are two lens units available at launch. The larger lens unit is the A12: a 50mm F2.5 macro lens with 12-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor. The A12 shoots 720p video at 24 frames per second. It costs £600.
The smaller unit is the S10: a collapsible 24-70mm, f2.5-4.4mm lens with a 1.175-inch, 10-megapixel CCD sensor. The S10 shoots VGA video at 30fps. It costs £330.
The Micro Four Thirds was the first to do away with the mirror. That system, used by Olympus and Panasonic, is an offshoot of the existing Four Thirds system, so it keeps the dSLR method of swapping lenses. The lens comes off, and the image sensor, processor and everything else stay in the body. Removing the lens exposes the image sensor to the elements. But the GXR system keeps the sensor locked away, safe from dust and grit.
Because the lens is packaged with the sensor, different sensors can be matched to the optimum sizes and types of lenses. A full-frame CCD sensor can be matched with a long zoom, or a smaller CMOS sensor to a video lens. Different lens units will have different continuous shooting rates, video frame rates and resolution.
You won't have the problems that bedevil older SLR systems, where newer lenses have image stabilisation but the body doesn't support it, or the newer body supports autofocus but the lens doesn't -- and vice versa.
We're blown away by this bonkers-barmy system. Sadly we're also blown in the opposite direction by the pricing. The GXR body costs £420. With the smaller S10 24-70mm unit, that's a minimum cost of £750. With the 50mm A12 lens unit, you're looking at £1,020. Hang on to your hats for the optional extras: the external flashgun will set you back £240 and the viewfinder £220.