When we first heard what Ricoh was planning with the GXR we had to stifle a giggle. One of the things we like about using a DSLR is swapping components around to best suit your environment, but the idea of sliding off the front of the camera seemed a little odd to us.
But the Ricoh GXR system gives enthusiast photographers a degree of control over components that is missing from compact cameras. High-end compact units such as the Canon PowerShot G11 will let you add a flash, but you are restrained by the focal length on offer.
The Ricoh GXR goes up against Micro Four Thirds more directly, hitting not only a similar price point, but offering a similar principle of interchangeable lenses. The first Micro Four Thirds models we saw – the Panasonic Lumix G1 and GH1 – sit in a slightly different category with their mini DSLR appearance. But the recent Lumix GF1 and Olympus Pen models both compete in this compact enthusiast area.
Micro Four Thirds has a distinct advantage over the GXR, in that it uses a fairly conventional lens connection system, so you aren't depending on Panasonic or Olympus to launch a whole new range of lenses, as an adapter ring will give you access to existing system lenses.
One thing that Ricoh has in its corner is an existing range of compact cameras that reside in the higher end, so the GXR is likely to appeal to those who want a little more flexibility, but don't want the burden of a full DSLR rig.
The body of the camera measures 113.9 x 70.2 x 28.9mm excluding any protrusions. It won't compete in the pocketable stakes alongside many compact digital cameras, but it comes in smaller than the Micro Four Thirds options out there. The body, in effect, is the power and control for the camera.
Around the back is a 3-inch 920k-dot LCD display with the controls sitting to the right-hand side and across the top. At first glance it resembles Ricoh's GR models. The main controls fall under the right thumb without too many problems, although there isn't a great deal of space for your thumb to lie.
The grip is a decent size, however, and the first observation would be that depending on what lens you put on the front (and whether you add any accessories, such as a wide angle converter), the extent of your grip will change as the balance of the camera shifts.
So on to those lens units. On the front of the camera you'll find a release catch which will allow you to disengage the lens unit. It slides away easily, but the catch is plenty secure. When in place, there's no rattle or movement – it feels like a complete one-piece camera. Aligning a new lens unit for the first time takes a few goes, but once you have the action, you can switch lens in a matter of seconds. The tracks on the back stop you from getting it wrong, so it is relatively simple.
The electronic viewfinder is excellent quality, as we've seen previously from the likes of the Panasonic GH1. We still prefer using an optical viewfinder, but the high-resolution 920k-dot EVF does give a 100% field of view. It is also vari-angle, so you can tilt it up to make those low-angle shots easier to compose. It's a shame it costs £219 on top of the camera price.
One of the big elements that Ricoh is pushing with the GXR is its simple Direct menu, which gives you easy access to your most often used controls. Main shooting modes are controlled through the Mode dial on the top, however it doesn't have a movie mode on it, despite the camera offering movie recording (at variable quality depending on the attached lens).
We didn't have long with the camera, and Ricoh wouldn’t let us take it out of the briefing room, so we weren't really able to give it a thorough testing. However they were happy for us to take away the memory card with a few test shots, as long as we declared that the software wasn't final, so there will be tweaks before the camera comes to market.
The Ricoh GXR seemed easy enough to use, however the focusing did seem a little slow in our tests with the 24-72mm lens. The camera is happy enough to snap away indoors without resorting to the flash, with acceptable results in Auto mode in the few test shoots we took. We've included a test shot below shot using the teleconversion kit and hood, handheld at F/2.5, 1/30sec exposure, ISO 400 and there seems to be a good deal of punch to blues on the bottles, and sharp reflection detail.
We'll have to wait until we get our hands on the Ricoh GXR to evaluate the true performance and image quality in a full review. From what we've seen from our initial hands-on, however, the idea of changing lens units no longer seems so laughable.