Vintage Digital: Ricoh GX / GX8

Here in Vintage Digital we celebrate digital cameras that were once innovative and outstanding, but somehow didn’t get the popularity they deserved, were ignored by the big crowd and long forgotten ever since.

Now relegated to the digital camera graveyard, they shall nevertheless stand proud as true digital classics.

Vintage Digital is my tribute to these true heroes from days past, and this time around I’m going to introduce two little beauties named Ricoh GX and Ricoh GX8.

I. Ricoh’s advanced compact cameras

Back in the days, Ricoh already had a tradition of advanced compact cameras, the RDC-5000 and subsequent RDC-5300 (launched in 1999 and 2000, respectively) being good examples.

Ricoh RDC-5300: with optical viewfinder and a rubber grip.

Just by their no-nonsense appearance, you could see these were cameras NOT for the casual consumer. But things on Ricoh’s side further evolved and there was much to come!

II. Ricoh GX

Fast forward to 2004 and Ricoh announced the GX, now taking this very same concept to the next level.

The Ricoh GX was clearly a camera for the serious photographer, the one who is looking for a small and portable camera, yet still looking for a decent amount of control and quality.

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Ricoh GX: for the serious photographer

While this may sound trivial as of 2019, we need to understand this was before the mirrorless revolution took off.

Moreover, back in 2004 smartphone photography was nowhere near where we are now, so the market had a demand for dumb point & shoot cameras. Camera manufacturers reacted accordingly, so the usual camera store was full of junk from all type of brands you can think of.

Yet the Ricoh GX was different from the crowd. It was a small camera, but far from being a dumb point & shoot.

Among others, it had a 28 – 85mm zoom lens with variable f/2.5 – 4.3 aperture.

Zoom lenses were everywhere those days, however most of them started with 35mm at the wide end. The Ricoh GX was quite unique in this sense, as it offered the flexibility of a true 28mm wide angle lens.

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Look at all those buttons and controls. 

Furthermore, it offered lots of controls and several other pro-oriented features that made it stand the part: aperture priority and manual exposure modes; exposure compensation; manual focus; you name it.

And I’m just mentioning a few. This all came in a nice black rugged paint body that was solid as a rock. And a very useful grip with a rubberised finish. In other words, pro level stuff.

III. Ricoh GX8

Ricoh wasted no time updating the GX and in 2005 they announced its successor: the Ricoh GX8.

The GX8 with Ricoh’s dedicated hood attached.

The GX8 was basically the GX with a new 8.2 megapixel sensor and at the time Ricoh claimed it was the highest resolution compact on the market.

Highest resolution or not, the Ricoh GX8 kept the main features of its predecessor, including that useful zoom lens with 28mm at the wide end.

Expandability

Another unique feature the GX8 inherited from the GX was the ability to expand with a bunch of accessories from Ricoh that allowed its user to beef-up the camera.

The Ricoh GX8 was effectively a system camera.

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 Genuine accessories from Ricoh included wide and tele lens converters, an external flash, external optical viewfinder, lens hood, lens filters and even a shutter release cable!

Frankly, such an ample list of accessories was unique not only in 2005. Even nowadays you will hardly find a small camera with so many genuine and useful add-ons made by the original manufacturer itself!

At that time I was looking for a small and portable travel camera and the Ricoh GX8 fit my needs perfectly. So I bought one, which I’m still keeping it today because it truly is a classic.

With this post in mind, I decided to take my GX8 out for a run. It stayed in the dry box for God knows how many years. I didn’t bother charging the battery. Just put in two AAs and it turned on with no issues after all these years of hibernation.

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Try doing this with a recent camera… AA batteries, 256MB SD card.

Funny enough, getting a compatible SD card was the real challenge. All my recent ones were reported unreadable by the camera. After 14 years, even SD card technology evolved. I somehow found an old 256 MB (!) card that worked perfectly.

Below are some photos coming out of this sleeping beauty.

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Now obviously we are not supposed to compare the image quality to current standards. But then again, this camera is 14 years old now and the photos are still pretty solid.

IV. How did it sell?

Apparently, not that well. I don’t have any figures to support the case, I’m just judging by the fact I seldom saw Ricoh GX or GX8 in camera stores. As a matter of fact, I don’t even recall seeing anybody carrying these cameras apart from myself!

I guess one plausible explanation is that the Ricoh GX8 was truly ahead of its time. It was still early days for small sensor technology, so serious photographers were mostly into DSLRs with APS size sensors.

Hence, the concept of a small digital camera with advanced features was not that marketable in those days, and the Ricoh GX8 was very much a niche product.

Small sensor technology was surely not up to the standard the GX series deserved. Things could be very different indeed if at that time Ricoh had the current crop of 1-inch sensors on hand.

Moreover, both Canon and Nikon had their own lines of serious compacts. Particularly, Canon had the G series which was quite popular and, to some extent, it still is to these days.

Canon and Nikon probably absorbed potential customers who could objectively be better served by the Ricoh GX8’s unique specs. Brand value, prestige and popularity speak louder and, like it or not, from that angle Ricoh was never in the same league as Canon or Nikon.

V. Legacy

Nevertheless, Ricoh kept its own path and further down the line they launched the GX100 and then the GX200, now with 24mm at the wide end and an external EVF.

Announced in 2008, the GX200 was the last of the GX series, after which Ricoh embarked on a new venture with the wild GXR “lens + sensor” modular concept.

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GX200: last member from the GX series

While Ricoh extinguished the GX series, they kept the GR running till now. The latest model will be available March 2019.

In case you never heard about it, the Ricoh GR is the cousin of the GX, born in 2005 with the same family genes, but a fixed 28mm large aperture lens.

The GR grew to become a classic in its own right, with a sort of cult following from users who praise its fixed 28mm f/2.8 lens, solid image quality, portability and inconspicuous looks as perfect qualities for street photography.

True to its legacy, Ricoh kept refining the GR over the years and now it sports a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor.

It just makes you wonder what would have been if Ricoh kept refining the GX series as well, and upgraded it with an APS-C sensor.

VI. Conclusion

The Ricoh GX and GX8 were probably too good for the time. To some extent, they came out a bit too early: it feels like Ricoh predicted there was a market for small and advanced cameras, yet things only really took off many years later with the mirrorless revolution.

Still, kudos to Ricoh as they had the balls to walk a different path. The GX and GX8 are excellent cameras that were different from the crowd and far better than the common point & shoots of that era.

Just because of this, they deserve this homage here at Vintage Digital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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