Ricoh has announced an interesting new camera today-- or rather, a new camera system. It's called the GRX and is truly one of the most unique products released into the digital camera market in the last ten years. It's also a bit of a head scratcher, from both a design and a marketing standpoint. I think this picture explains the concept pretty well:
What you're looking at is a camera system which divides the camera into two parts: the camera back, and an interchangeable lens/sensor module. Unlike a DSLR which puts the sensor permanently in the camera body, Ricoh has gone the opposite route and attached the sensor permanently to the lens. This is an unusual approach to camera design, to say the least, and Ricoh's logic seems to be this-- allowing interchangeable sensors means you can use different sensor sizes for different lenses. It also means that dust cannot get into the sensor module, so if dust is a concern for you (it isn't for me) this may be an important factor.
I think the biggest problem facing this system is cost. It's all quite expensive: $549 for the body, and $830 and $440 for the two modules available at launch. It's even worse when you consider that each lens will become obsolete at whatever point the sensor it's attached to becomes obsolete. This runs completely against conventional wisdom, which has always held that buying lenses is an investment that retains value over time, where as camera bodies (in particular digital camera bodies) depreciate as new and better cameras are released. We've also been told for years that the sensor was the most expensive element in the camera, so it seems impractical to buy a new sensor each time you buy a new lens. A better system would be one that's fully modular, where the body, sensor, and lens are all interchangeable.
Sorry Ricoh, but as is, I just don't think this system will succeed. You can find out more about about the Ricoh GRX at the Ricoh website, or check out the full preview (with some impressive sample images) at DPReview.
UPDATE: DPReview now has a full review of this camera.