Nice discussion about the Ricoh GXR yesterday—lots of interesting thoughts. I've asked for a loaner. I've never used a Ricoh, so I thought trying one might usefully further my education.
The thought that I keep coming back to is that the system only makes sense if there's some combination of modules that a) you want and b) isn't redundant. If you want a full two-lens prime set (the 50mm-e and the 28mm-e), you're buying an extra sensor you don't need. It's only if you want the option of different sensors with your different lenses that the system really makes sense—say, one zoom with a small CCD, one prime with a large CMOS.
Lots of commenters were adamant about the notion that tying a lens to the sensor would make the lenses the opposite of future-proof—that is, to get a newer or different sensor, they'd have to re-buy the lens part of the module in the future.
That's just a different sort of worry about redundancy—having to buy the same lens twice doesn't appeal to people any more than having to buy the same sensor twice.
I don't personally have much concern about redundancy because I've never tended to amass a "collection" of lenses in any system. For any given camera, I tend to use one or two lenses, and I tend to use any particular lens or pair of lenses only for a handful of years at the most. I know that some photographers do "invest" in large collections of lenses that they'd like to keep using for as long as possible as they update bodies within the same system, but I'd suggest that for those people, something like the Ricoh GXR simply wouldn't be the right choice—it's not actually a system camera, and it's probably a mistake to imagine it as one.
What it is is a customizable camera. You can build it to suit yourself...
...Hypothetically, at least. It seems to me that to be a really successful product, the system would have to offer an embarrassment of choices so as to be easily customizable for each customer. That thought must give Ricoh the willies—it's a scary thought to imagine investing in the development and manufacture of lots of product options just on the hope that demand might be created thereby. What if you threw your expensive party and no one came?
The other way to make it into a successful product, as several commenters mentioned, would be to detach the sensor from the lens, so you could buy the body shell and the sensor and the lenses all separately. That unfortunately eliminates some of the technical advantages of doing it the way Ricoh's done it so far, and some of the compatibility between various lenses and sensor sizes, but it would allow for truer customization by each customer. Of course, the rumored "M module"—a sensor with a Leica M bayonet mount and no lens—promises to do just that.
If I were in the shoes of Ricoh's product managers, I'd make sure that there wasn't just one M module, but rather, several choices. What the choices would be is up to the imagination, at least from where I sit (I don't know what's actually technically feasible, or fundable). They could go with a couple of different sizes of sensor, such as one full-frame and one APS-C; or a choice of resolutions; or a choice, perhaps, between a sensor optimized for high ISO and one optimized for high DR; or perhaps specialized sensors like an IR one and/or a B&W-only one. But if Ricoh were to introduce, say, three M-modules at launch, with the promise of three more to come a year later, I would imagine that the GXR would go from being a quirky fringe product with a few passionate adherents to being a hot-selling and popular product.
Of course, other problems arise in this scenario, like the unfortunate fact that M-mount lenses are manual-focus. I've used M-mount lenses on my GF1 with an adapter, and all I have to say to that is no thanks. But as long as we're just speculating, all those inconveniences can just be shunted aside for the time being. (It's so easy to know what should be done when you're not the one paying for it, or taking responsibility for it, or doing the actual engineering.)
Even after thinking about it and reading a lot about the GXR on the web yesterday, my thoughts have tended to warp and woof like this: Ricoh is really on the trail of something big here, only they haven't quite really found it yet, and they really are on the trail of it....
MikeP.S. William Wragg suggested in the Comments to this post that another option would be to have several M-modules optimized for WA, normal, and tele M-mount lenses.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.