Remembering the Ricoh GXR: The little camera that could

A long time ago, in a galaxy not far far away, I was buying and selling cameras because of G.A.S, Gear Aquisition Syndrome. Then I got the Ricoh GXR cameras, fell in love with them. Got one, and then another, and then…another. Yup I had like 3, if it wasn't 4…I don't remember. I credit these cameras for making me fall in love with photography. Beforehand I was a DLSR shooter, but everything changed when I got the GXR. I've long since moved on. Or at least I thought so…

A while back, I got my brother-in-law to get himself one. He still has in in a box. And every time I see him, I somehow always end up seeing the box with a GXR and a module in it. Every time I see this box, I get withdrawal symptoms. I am not kidding. I still want it after all of these years. There's only 2 cameras capable of making me go nuts: The Epson RD1 (I love the stoopid crank and needles) and the Ricoh GXR. Let's dive into a retrospective to this little camera I respect so much:

The uniqueness of the Ricoh GXR

The GXR is a special camera. I mean it. It's unlike any other camera in the market. Why? Because it was modular before “modular” was a popular buzz-word. The camera body had no sensor at all, it was just a slab with the controls, battery and screen:

See ma'? No sensor!

Why would anyone want this? Simple, it could become the camera you needed it to become on demand. I like to shoot my street photography small sensor. So I would slap the Ricoh S10 module and be on my way. If I had an assignment to do, I would remove it and I would put an A12 module in it. No other camera can do this, go from a small sensor camera to a large sensor.

You can get wild with this. At some point I wanted two S10 modules, one for regular photography, and the other for infrared. I absolutely LOVED the viewfinder with this. It looked stupid, put being able to flip it and look down when holding the camera was fantastic.

The best thing Ricoh ever did for the GXR was to release an M-mount module. I could stand it's own against the then-new Xpro-1 and Nex7. The focus peaking on the GXR made focusing an absolute breeze, and since there's a really nice grip on it, the whole experience was heavenly.

It never reached it's potential

Ricoh released a bunch of modules for it. Small sensor, large sensor, M-mount sensor…and while you can go wild with it, I just feel like the GXR never fully reached it's potential. At some point there were rumors of a module that could extend the lens module, so you would have a cable between the camera body and the module, perfect for macro. This was of course never released.

But still. That's playing small. I wanted a module that had a small hard drive in it. Imagine, you go out to shoot and your memory is full, and you remove the camera lens module and slap in a “Download” module. There's a drive in it, you simply select “move SD images to HDD” in the back of your camera and presto the images are being downloaded. You could also have a “backup SD images to hdd” so that you have 2 copies.

This hard drive module would also have a “view” function where you can see and edit your images on the screen. Once you go back home, simply plug the hard drive to your computer and you are done.

There's so much that could have been done. How about a projector module? Or a printer module. Just imagine, you are traveling in a foreign country. You finish shooting and you go to your hotel. Slap the hard drive module and backup your images. You edit a bit in the camera and then slap the printer module to print a few images that you liked to share with your subjects. Then you project the image on a wall to have a better idea of your day shooting.

Moreover, proof that it never reached it's potential is that there has never been refreshes of the hardware. There's only one GXR body, only one viewfinder. No upgraded one with touchscreen and wifi, just the basic one. Can you imagine getting a GXR II body, and then slapping an old A12 module and the screen is high resolution, and has all of the technical wiz-bang to make the original A12 image 3x better?

The modular problem

But, nuff dreamin'. Let's get back to reality. The problem with the GXR is the way they approached modularity. For example they had a 28mm module, a 50mm module and a slow zoom for it. They were ALL APSC sensors. This creates waste not only for Ricoh but also for the customer.

If you want all 3 of theses lenses you have to buy 3 sensors. Ricoh has to manufacture and factor in the cost of the sensors every time they wanted to put out a module. Now this makes sense if the sensor sizes are different. The P10 is different than the S10 then the A12. But if you had a 28mm and wanted the 50mm, there's a part of you that feels wasteful…you wonder why the heck do you need another sensor when it's probably the same darn thing inside.

They should have made a GXR mount from the get-go. Just like they did for the M-mount, capable of handling Leica M lenses. Because it's a though pill to swallow when you have to buy a module with a sensor attached, a sensor that you already have in another module.

The GXR M-mount really shows you what the GXR Could have been if there was an M-mount for GXR lenses. Since they got cozy with Pentax, they could have made a K mount too.

The Ricoh GXR II

Is there hope for the Ricoh GXR II? Maybe, maybe not. The GXR somewhat lives in the Ricoh GR, with it's large APSC sensor and 28mm focal length. But is there any chances of another GXR? The reason for no is, it would be too costly, the reason for yes is twofold. First the GR is a success, and second they can always crowdfund it.

No longer do companies need to spend time and money making a product only to have it flop, there's kickstarter now, and people can vote with their wallets. There's no need for anything big either at first. All you need is the GXR II Body to start. Better screen, wifi and other modern wizbang. Bring back the M-mount as-is first and bring it to modern standards with software (phones have been doing this for years). Then you can expand from there, M-mount II, Viewfinder II, GXR Mount… that would be awesome.

Ahead of it's time

Besides the handling of the modular components, the sad truth is, the Ricoh GXR was ahead of it's time. And that's not always a good thing. Don't be surprised if in a few years someone brings back the same concept and you go “The GXR did this YEARS ago”. Anyway, the GXR is an absolute steal nowadays. If you are looking for a street photography camera, consider it too. I've made some of my best images with the GXR (many ended up in this street photography course) and has a special place in my heart. I'll probably snatch another one if it falls on my lap. It's that great

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