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Ricoh start where the Dimage EX 1500 left off!

Tokyo, Japan, November 10, 2009 — Ricoh Co., Ltd. (president and CEO: Shiro Kondo) today announced the development and release of the GXR interchangeable unit camera system featuring the world’s smallest and lightest* digital camera with the ability to change lenses.

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The new GXR is an interchangeable unit camera system in which lenses are changed by using a slide-in mount system to attach camera units to the body. The lens, image sensor, and image processing engine are integrated into the camera units so the body itself does not contain an image sensor.

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With world-leading small size and low weight* enabling easy carrying, the GXR interchangeable unit camera system features a highly rigid magnesium alloy body and multiple camera units that can be changed to best fit the scene to be photographed. You can enjoy easy lens changes as well as amazing image quality and shooting flexibility. Concealing infinite possibilities in its small body, the GXR is a revolutionary camera system that pioneers a new realm of photography.

Distinctive characteristics:
1.    Lens, image sensor, and image processing engine comprise an integrated unit which can be changed to match the scene being photographed.
2.    World’s smallest and lightest* digital camera with interchangeable lenses
3.    System potential expanded through use of interchangeable units

Comment from David Kilpatrick:

Though the Ricoh system as revealed through this press release appears to show only a GR-size body with a zoom lens module suitable for a 2/3rds or slightly smaller imaging sensor, Ricoh has said that sensors right up to the size of APS-C will be built in to further lens modules. The ultra-wide angle version would have an APS-C sensor making similar to the Sigma DP-1. For similar reasons, high ISO and fast lens may be combined with a different size of sensor.

This is not the first time a digital camera has been designed with lens-sensor modules that could be changed. The Minolta Dimage EX 1500 accepted either a standard zoom module, or a wide-angle module. These included viewfinders (missing from the Ricoh concept, which relies entirely on the rear screen or electronic viewfinders) and had the unique ability to be removed from the camera on a 1.5m long Cable EX. This allowed users to position the wide-angle module inside scale models, doll’s houses and similar subjects to obtain realistic human-scale perspectives. It was only a 1.5 megapixel camera, and Minolta abandoned the concept before they had a chance to develop it further, whatever dPreview said ten years ago:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minolta1500/

The technology behind the Ricoh is not all that different from the way consumer digital cameras are constructed anyway. Lenses are already sold sealed to CCD/CMOS sensors, as a single unit. That is how the OEM sources of the lens-sensor modules market them. At photokina, you can see (every two years) a new crop of such modules with both the technical resolution specs of the optical unit and the megapixel count of the sensor, identifiable to this non-Chinese/Japanese reader in the middle of a description which is usually inb Chinese. In 2006, I tracked such a module from its maker to the first camera I could find which used it – a compact branded as Vivitar. The customisation consisted of building any body the maker chose to design, and putting a ring on the lens front labelling it is a high resolution Vivitar lens; actually, it was just a generic lens-sensor assembly from China.

Ricoh has also pioneered unusual digital designs in the past, including rotatable or detachable lens modules and one of the first viewfinder-less designs, where the viewing screen was intended to be used at waist-level rather than today’s habit of waving the camera in front of your face.

This differs from anything previously done in the power of the CPU unit in each lens module, and the control unit with display and card module in the host body. It should allow any reasonable pixel count and sensor size to be built in to future optical modules. If the accessories do eventually include dedicated APS-C lens-sensor sealed modules, ‘dust on sensor’ will be one clear benefit (or the lack of it will). A supertelephoto module is also planned which will use a sensor smaller than APS-C.

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