Since this morning, I’m the proud owner of a Ricoh GR1. I’ve really longed to try this camera out, so I thought I would try to give a day by day report or review of my early experiences with it, and how it compares to my current carry everywhere Olympus XA2
This morning I took a slight detour to fetch the Ricoh GR1 from the local parcel station. Mind you, it was freezing heavily, minus 7°C, so you can imagine how eager I was to lay my hands on this thing. At the office (what better place…) I opened the parcel, fearing the worst as always with purchases from eBay. I had exchanged some emails with the seller to make sure the camera was OK which is apparently not always evident with the Ricoh GRs. So I opened the parcel and there it was, well packaged, my new Ricoh GR – exactly as described, with its little pouch and manual.
First thought…. what a gorgeous camera! It means business, really, it’s got the look. I take it up, turn it on and with a little whirrrr the lens extends. Everything looks clean and tidy, even the small dent that the seller had described scrupulously in his listing. A quick checkup discloses nothing special. Focus seems to work as does the flash. The top LCD screen with shooting information is just fine… no complaint.
But then it’s time for work… yeah, nasty stuff that happens between all the good time you could have.
I have to wait until noon to load a film (HP5+ of course) and hear the little motor wind all the film onto the spool. Yes, a strange beast that GR1! It first empties the film canister, counts the frames up to 37 or 38 and then counts down when you shoot. A great idea, because if ever you happen to accidentally open the back of the camera, all the frames you already shot will be safe in the canister – 10 points for Ricoh!
It’s very cold today, but dry with a splendid winter sun – the 400ISO film will be overexposed I guess but Ilford’s HP5+ is VERY tolerant in this department, so I don’t worry. I go for a brisk walk in the city and man hope that camera just screams to be used.
It’s a joy to shoot one-handed, nobody notices that small black brick in your hand. I bring it to my eye and shoot away, I shoot from the hip, the camera dangling in my hand…. wonderful!
There are two I noticed from the start. First, the shutter button does not have a very pronounced half-press-point, so I released the shutter by mistake a couple of times. Annoying, but something I might adapt to in time. Of course, it’s contender, the XA2 has no half-press shutter button at all – it’s all or nothing with it.
Second thing I regret a bit is the viewfinder information which is complete, with approximate shutter speed and focus distance and confirmation, but the displayed information is quite dim. It might be just my camera as I heard that this can be a problem with the GR1 but I have no possibility to compare it to another for the moment.
Size? Yeah, the GR1 is slim, extremely so! It’s slimmer than the XA2 (with the lens retracted), same height but a bit longer… So it fits any pocket, like the XA2, in unobtrusive and highly portable.
There’s 18 frames remaining on the roll… so I leave you until tomorrow when I’ll finish and develop the film and with a bit of luck I can show you some nice results. For now, the GR1 is just great – I like it at least as much as my XA2 (sorry old pal, but you know I really love you too). I was afraid that the motor noise would be too loud, but though not as quiet as my Contax Tvs (and certainly no way as noiseless as the XA2), it’s OK for me.
Just in from the cold! As cold as yesterday and no sun today. Just the normal Luxembourgish winterly grayness. The Ricoh did not let me down, though I don’t know if the battery is new or years old – anyways the camera does not complain yet, so I guess it’s happy.
The one who could do some complaining is my Olympus XA2…. I’m starting to seriously bond with the GR1, despite the niggles about the shutter button and viewfinder.
The wrist strap is a tad too long… I’ll have to adjust it a bit as I like them tight. Not a real problem. And the winding sound is audible, even outside in the streets – could attract some unwanted attention, but then there’s always a bright smile and a courteous ‘thank you’ for my subject.
As for the yesterday’s other complaints, I am adapting to them. The shutter button needs a thoughtful half-press and the viewfinder information is… well it’s there, you just have to look better.
All things taken into account and being conscious that nothing is perfect, I can say that this camera is a real treat. Just let me develop that roll tonight and I’ll give you my conclusion for today.
Part of the scans are done, but I’m tired now – going to bed.
Treated some to a quick dose of Lightroom and here are the first results:
At last, I’m done scanning the rest of the film! I have to say that of 37 exposures, I found about a small dozen worthy of further consideration. Not bad really – imagine your digital shots… do you get such a success ratio? Not that I’m saying that the photographs are outstanding. Of course they are not – they are mine after all. But I like them and enjoyed tweaking them further.
Flare, sure it has some, not too much but in this shot right into the sun it’s obvious but adds a bit to the picture.
There’s even one I like a lot, which I could have used in my ‘From The Darkroom Floor’ post I wrote some week ago or two:
Sometimes a blurry photograph tells a story after all!
All told, I love the results. Autofocus is good, apart from the frames when I was too much in a hurry. That seems a problem with this camera. It looks and feels so stealthy that I am tempted to really act too stealthy and whisk the camera away after a shot…. producing a nice blur.
But the good stuff is really good, as in sharp and well exposed.
Of course I’ll need more time with his great camera. But I feel we will bond nicely and hopefully for a long time.
I did not go into the specifics of the Ricoh GR cameras as for example the Snap Focus which is great, but just wanted to tell you about my experience.
And here we come to the main problem! The Ricoh GR1 is not considered the most reliable camera. Of course, it is old – near 20 years now, and Ricoh apparently did not use the best stuff. The magnesium chassis of the camera and the general feel are not at fault of course. The camera looks and feels solid. It’s the small stuff that is bound to give up the ghost sooner or later – the LED screen on top, the winding motor, the viewfinder display, even the lens motor are said to stop working very often.
But then, my Olympus XA2 is bound to fail one day too…
Will I enjoy this camera for a long time? Not sure, though I tend to treat my gear cautiously. I guess I’ll use it as long as it will last, knowing that there is no more such a beautiful film camera in production!
Thanks for reading and this time, I’ll urge you to try the Ricoh GR1! The GR1 is the ‘cheapest’ of the bunch, the GR1s and v models being much more sought after, aka more expensive. But the first one, the GR1 does all you need.
A truly pocketable, enjoyable full frame (film) camera! Sorry XA2 but I guess you’ll have to stay home more often.
One Month / 5 Rolls Later, a true account
It’s been exactly one month today since I received my Ricoh GR1. I am sad to say that I have very bad news!
I shot 5 rolls with the camera during the past weeks, without a hitch. Great pictures, all in focus (except when I was shaking the thing around too much), all perfectly exposed. I let the camera rest on my shelf for some days, a well deserved holiday for it. Then one evening I fancied to load another roll for the next day. I took it down, pressed the power button just to hear it’s happily whirring lens motor and….. nothing!
Not a sound, no lens extending, nothing!
A small chill runs down my spine. Are those rumors about Unreliable Ricoh true after all? Ah, OK, must be the battery! I have a new one and load it into the camera, close the battery door and the Ricoh wakes up. Cool! I load my film, it winds it to the end of the roll and says it’s ready to rumble. I turn the camera off, and on an afterthought I try to turn it on again…. NOTHING, AGAIN!
Panic strikes then. Wtf is happening? Battery out, battery in, works. Camera off, doesn’t work! Holy moly, the Gremlins have got it I guess.
I rewind the film with the ’emergency rewind button’, of course the leader disappears into the canister…. crap, but that’s for later.
I try everything, but once the GR1 is off it stays so, unless I take out the battery or, as I found out, unless I briefly toggle the film door latch.
Can it be fixed? Hmm, Hamish says try to clean the power button contacts. I open the top and bottom covers, blow out in-existing dust, try to wiggle those thingamagicks inside gently, apply a hint of alcohol (well I applied a hint of alcohol to myself too…). No luck!
I contact the eBay seller (No blaming, the camera was OK when I got it after all) because he said it was checked by a pro some years back. He’s a great guy and gives my his contacts. He even says he will try to find out something on his side. I call the repair person, an ex-Ricoh tech in Germany and he gently tried to convey the idea to me to expect the camera to expire slowly. His verdict is that the electronics are definitely on their way out feet first. Nothing to be done except trying to get a spare camera for parts that might work or not. Trying to source the parts (not much hope there). All that at a cost of about the amount I paid for the camera.
So all I can do for now is try to sell the camera for parts on eBay (it’s listed), try to get over my loss and above all give a warning to you! These cameras are great but they are old. They never were the most reliable things and THEY WILL BREAK! That’s certain! Take it from me!
They are expensive, even the initial GR1 like mine, and they cannot be repaired! So unless you have really too much money keep your fingers off them, great as they might be. Even if all the Daido Moriyama’s of this world worked with them, DON’T BUY ONE! First, they will not make a first rate street photographer out of you by magic and second, you will lose your money sooner or later.