RoadRUNNER Digital Rider

Is the Ricoh GXR a Duck-billed Platypus?

Feb 28, 2010 View Comments by

While dSLRs offer outstanding picture quality, they’re a bit lardy, and changing lenses on a dusty roadside may introduce specks of dust onto the imaging sensor. Ditto the newer, smaller, Interchangeable Lens Cameras – ILCs – that replace the bulk of an optical viewfinder and its associated parts for a Point & Shoot style display screen. Smaller than dSLRs? Yes. Still prone to dust? Yes. So besides point & shoots with small lenses and small sensors, are there other alternatives for the Digital Rider?

There is now. Ricoh is better known for copiers and office equipment in the US, but they have a rich tradition in photography and happen to make some good, sturdy little digital cameras with metal bodies and controls that mimic a dSLR’s. Their latest, the GXR, offers interchangeable lenses, but with a difference. With the GXR, the lenses are paired with a imaging sensor in a single unit, and these "modules" can be swapped quickly with no worries about dust entering the system. Two lens modules are currently available – a 24-72mm zoom using a smaller sensor and a 50mm macro using a larger APS-C size sensor normally found in dSLRs. More modules are planned – a wide angle and a super-zoom for starters. There’s even talk of a projector module that would allow you to share photos with a small audience.

It’s an interesting proposition, especially since the evolution of digital cameras is tied closely to the continued evolution of their imaging sensors. With current cameras, you have to replace the entire camera body to get the latest and greatest imaging sensor; with the Ricoh, you just have to purchase the new lens/imaging sensor module. And the GXR offers good image quality and interchangeable lenses in a tidy, dust-resistant package.

It’s not all roses, however. With the Ricoh, nice lenses can’t be matched to the latest imaging sensors as they become available – they’re stuck together. And then there’s price. The body alone is over $500 – there are some entry-level dSLRs and high-end compacts available at that price. And the current lenses are $440 for the zoom and $830 for the macro. That’s not chicken feed.

It remains to be seen whether the GXR is the shape of things to come or just an evolutionary oddity. Still, the camera offers some unique properties for the Digital Rider.

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About the author

You know that little boy who stares at you, mouth agape, as you ride by? That was me, thirty-plus years ago. I merged two of my passions, motorcycles and photography, when I became a contributor to RoadRUNNER.