After weeks of speculation and the accidental pre-announcement release of a demonstration video, the Ricoh GXR digital camera system has finally been officially announced. Not only is it claimed to be the smallest and lightest digital camera that allows lenses to be changed, but as the lens and sensor comprise one interchangeable unit, photographers can now choose different sensor/lens combinations for different photographic conditions.

Rumors of something special coming from Ricoh had been circulating for weeks but the company had managed to keep things more or less under wraps until the evening before the official announcement.

A video from the UK's consumer magazine Which demonstrating Ricoh's modular GXR was posted to YouTube and although only online for a few short moments, it was long enough for eagle-eyed camera lovers to spread the good news.

So what's all the fuss about?

The GXR is claimed to be the world's smallest and lightest digital camera with the ability to change lenses, a crown previously claimed by Olympus' Micro Four Thirds system. Unlike your typical digital camera, the 113.9 × 70.2 × 28.9 mm body of the GXR does not contain an image sensor or processing engine. The lens, sensor and engine are all contained in a separate unit which slides into the main body.

This effectively allows the photographer to choose to take shots using (at product release) a large 12Mp APS-C size CMOS sensor or a diminutive 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor at 10Mp. But the modular design doesn't stop there.

As well as framing shots on the 920,000 dot high resolution 3 inch LCD display at the body's rear, there's also the facility to add an external viewfinder in the hot shoe slot on the top which can be tilted for optimum comfort. Although there is an integrated flash, a GR DIGITAL III external flash is also available.

Lens unit specs

The A12 50 mm (equivalent) F2.5 MACRO camera unit uses a 23.6 x 15.7 mm CMOS sensor which offers just over 12MP. The unit measures 68.7 × 57.9 × 38.6 mm, has an ISO sensitivity of up to 3200 and supports 720p video at 24 frames per second. In normal mode the lens offers a focus range of approximately 30cm to infinity, whilst macro mode will give approximately 7cm to infinity.

The 10MP S10 24-72mm-equivalent f2.5-4.4 wide-angle lens unit uses the CCD-shift method of camera shake correction. It's housed in a similar sized unit and offers the same ISO3200 sensitivity as the A12. It features the Smooth Imaging Engine IV processing engine and a clever self-retaining lens cap, a teleconversion lens and a wide conversion lens can all be added as optional extras.

Adding it all up

Of course there is quite a heavy price to pay for all this relative freedom that the modular approach can offer - the overall cost. According to the now fully reinstated Which video (see below) the body will cost £420 (about US$700), the A12 macro lens £600 (about US$1000) and the S10 £300 (about US$500) when the system is released in December.

Other bodies and lens units are thought to be in the pipeline, visit the product page for more information.

The disappearing and reappearing Which overview of the GXR:

View gallery - 3 images