Ricoh GR1 Review – The Path to Enlightenment

By Hamish Gill

The Ricoh GR1 was a real eye opener for me! My return to compact cameras started at the end of 2012 with a Yashica T5 (more on that another time – part 1), I had feared somewhat that having extra controls such as exposure compo might ruin the ‘point & shoot’ fun I had been having. My fears were ill founded! From the second you hold a GR1 you realise what all the fuss is about! The headline feature is of course the wonderful 28mm f2.8 lens, but more on that later.

Ricoh GR1 date

The camera fits in the hand perfectly! One of my big quibbles with the Yashica T5 is the position of the lens when holding the camera comfortably; I often found my finger interfering with the lens. The Ricoh is a different beast altogether! The large grip allows your fingers to hold on to the camera without excessive grip and without them coming into contact with the lens.
The camera initially feels light weight, almost disconcerting, but with a little time with the camera this becomes a positive factor. My missis did comment though that it felt and looked like a cheap toy … I disagree, but this might be why some prefer the black version over the silver one! Either colour, I think the camera feels great in the hand, the choice to build it out of whatever fancy alloy it is made of was definitely a good one in my mind.

Ricoh GR1 date

The version I spent some time with was the first version, the later ‘s’ and ‘v’ models have some additional features which I can’t really comment on. The first version has a simple but very effective feature set. The iso is set automatically via dx coding and has no manual override (the gr1v does have dx override). Some amount of manual control can be achieved with the 2ev+/- control on the top left (as you hold it) of the camera.

Ricoh GR1 date

There is a nice bright VF, which although good, is not perfect … but we are talking about a compact camera here, very few have anything more than “good” viewfinders. There are further buttons and switches for flash modes, various focus modes (single, “snap” and infinity – snap sets the camera at 2m for snap shooting). The red button in the on/off and the timer button sets for self timer and ‘T’.

The other major feature is of course the aperture priority control, a feature I quickly became very keen on! One of the things I quickly found with the GR1 was that even given lower light situations on ‘P’ (program) mode, it would often favour lower shutter speed over wider apertures. I have since read that this is a common trait in film cameras of its era, as smaller apertures would tend to lead to sharper results due to the lens performing at its optimum stopped down slightly and the increased dof helping less than perfect autofocus function. I found this a little frustrating, as in low light situations I would often find the camera choosing 1/30th on program, yet when setting it to 2.8 it would give me 1/60th. Not that there is any real issue with shooting a 28mm camera at 1/30th for the huge majority of photographers and situations, but introduce an under-two-year-old daughter (in fact pretty much any human being) and I’m more comfortable at 1/60th.

Pancake day
‘Pancake Day’ – Taken with the GR1 at 2.8 and not 1/30th and the usual choice of Ilford XP2.

This issue with the camera choosing smaller apertures and slower shutter speeds is of course a minor one. If there was no aperture priority it may present more of an issue, but there is, so a little experience of the camera and you get over it quickly.

My biggest bugbare was the camera’s inability to show me what shutter speed I was going to shoot at if below 1/30th. It just blinks 1/30th at you. There is a thought process that tells me this wasn’t a problem, and that had I known i was shooting at 1/8th on an odd occasion I may not have taken the shot. Experience tells me to press the button on my Fuji Klasse W (or any other camera) even if it does show a slow speed if there is no other option. Getting the shot is much more important than some overrated smattering sharpness after all!

Inside the Tate Modern
‘Inside the Tate Modern’ – XP2 – with some motion blur in the subject (my Hannah).

Which in a round about way, brings me to the flash – the last ditch option (for me). I don’t use the flash much on any of my cameras, but given a complete lack of other option I will switch it on. An undying habit of mine is to key in a bit of underexposure when using flash. I can’t stand bright white faces and lost backgrounds … Is this a good idea? Not sure, I never tried the flash without doing this! Here is an example

30th birthday out
“My 30th out” XP2, -1ev

So what about picture quality? In the time I had it I shot with two types of film, XP2 and Portra 160. Both lead to wonderful results in almost all appropriate situations. I’m not going to technically analyse the lens other than to give a few passing observations.
The lens is sharp! I didn’t find any results from any aperture disappointing. Results display a good amount of contrast – XP2 does give contrasty results which is why I use it – Straight scans are usually pleasing. This camera played on that pleasing nature well, contrast but not to much. There is a touch of vignetting on some images, but thats not a bad think in my book either really.

The Shard
‘The Shard’ – XP2

I found the cameras ability to choose an appropriate value for exposure very good indeed. I cant think of an occasion that it let me down. This was an occasion I was particularly pleased. Whilst the woman’s coat is very dark the detail in the wall is all there for me.

A smoke by the river
‘A smoke by the river’ – XP2

Even with considerable backlighting and a higher contrast film I couldn’t have been more happy with the result here. This image also shows something I love about XP2… Just look at the way the tones of the floor are rendered. I love it!

In detroits
‘In Detroits’ – XP2

It is possibly fair to say the snow did catch it out a bit, but what camera isn’t?

Worcester Cathedral
‘Worcester Cathedral’ XP2

The results with portra 160 … Just lovely. My beautiful daughter a few months back …

Portra Connie

Isn’t she pretty?! 🙂

Portra Connie

And my good pal Tom


Here are another few favorites taken with the XP2 for you to judge for yourself.

Inside the Tate Modern
‘Inside the Tate Modern’ – XP2

Inside the Tate Modern
‘Inside the Tate Modern’ – XP2

Diglis basin in the fog
‘Diglis Basin in the Fog’ – XP2

So, why did I sell it? And why is this post called “The Path to enlightenment”? Well, it firmly fixed in my mind that 35mm compact cameras were the right path for me for the foreseeable future, it showed me that I could cope with a few features like exposure compo, but it also showed me that I wanted manual iso overrides. I thought the GR1v was the obvious answer, but then I remembered the Fuji Klasse W … A camera that I am still getting to grips with but feel was the right choice for me (especially as I could but one new!).

The one thing I do miss is it’s size, the Klasse is larger camera … Time will tell if I feel this is a real issue, for now it isn’t!

The extent of my publised images fromt the GR1 can be found here on my flickr

Updated feb 17 2014:

Since writing this article I have published a few more about the this camera, as well as the later ‘s’ and ‘v’ versions:

Quick fix for the viewfinder surround
Some photos from a “lost weekend”

I have also written two more posts about the Ricoh GR1 series of cameras

The saga of the Ricoh GR1 series camera – A tale of woe
The Ricoh GR1v – My Final thoughts

In short, the GR1v remains one of my favorite cameras, but it’s not been a particular smooth relationship!
Thanks for reading


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About The Author

By Hamish Gill
I started taking photos at the age of 9. Since then I've taken photos for a hobby, sold cameras for a living, and for a little more than decade I've been a professional photographer and, of course, weekly contributor to 35mmc.
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In your bag No: 587 – Hamish Gill | Japan Camera Hunter on Ricoh GR1 Review – The Path to Enlightenment

Comment posted: 28/07/2013

[...] basically because I trust it, I had one before and we got on very well! My thoughts on the Ricoh can be found here should you be interested [...]

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Martin Hugh Henley on Ricoh GR1 Review – The Path to Enlightenment

Comment posted: 09/10/2016

Fabulous review, Hamish. Given my thoughts on the general build of quality Ricohs, I've avoided them like the plague. Indeed, as I type this I'm fingering my newly acquired Contax T2 60th Anniversary Bling Version, marvelling at the phenomenally high standard of construction. Will the T2 satisfy my GAS & keep me away from the dreaded Ricoh GRs? - NOT IF YOU CONTINUE TO POST PHOTOS OF THAT QUALITY!!! All I can say is "Jesus, it looks like I'm going to have to find another 300-400 quid from somewhere for a Ricoh GR1/S/V that's likely to fall apart at any moment! But, seriously, the photos are incredible, especially the colour ones. Thanks for the review. Take care.

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Hamish Gill replied:

Comment posted: 09/10/2016

I've just given up... mine died in the end. I must admit, I out and out warn people off them now... which for so many reasons is such a shame!


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The Ricoh GR10 - A Diamond Wrapped in Coal - By Edward Chang - 35mmc on Ricoh GR1 Review – The Path to Enlightenment

Comment posted: 28/03/2019

[…] a cult following since its introduction in 1997 in the form of the debut model, simply called the GR1. I didn’t even know Ricoh made cameras when I was introduced to the series (don’t they make […]

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