The Ricoh GR: this series of cameras has had 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 copiers or something?) but once I started looking down this rabbit hole, I slowly learned how deep its expertise in crafting cameras went.
Many models have followed the GR1, including several digital iterations which all share many of the same unique traits which were introduced by the original model: a low profile, tack-sharp 28mm (equivalent) lens, and performance fast enough to earn the camera a spot in virtually every modern street shooter’s pocket at one point of their lives.
Unfortunately, like the many other compact film cameras which have caught fire in recent years, the film GR cameras have skyrocketed in price. For a cool $600 CAD, you too can own a camera that’s infamous for breaking down for the most asinine reasons. Yes, that’s more than the later APS-C digital cameras can go for. I still don’t know what the Kardashians do, but I do know that they are indirectly one of the reasons I’ll never be able to afford one of these gems of a camera.
Reeling from this realization, I was searching around for a cheaper option on a late night of eBaying. The Ricoh R1 popped up and caught my eye as a potential substitute. With a totally different lens and body design, it was advertised as “almost as good”; the “poor man’s GR1”. I did a bit more searching around when out of the corner of a webpage, another model caught my eye: the GR10. It looked similar to the legendary GR1, had the exact same lens, all at less than a third of the price. While it lacked the manual controls and high-grade build of the GR1, the lens and the promise of a capable compact camera guided me to the “Buy” button the instance I saw a reasonable price.
A few weeks later, and it arrived at the post office. Lifting up the package, I worried that they forgot to pack the camera as it felt like the box had nothing but air. Once I opened it up and felt the camera in the flesh, I couldn’t take my hands off it…
Literally; the plastic grip was kinda sticky, as the original materials congealed into some nasty tar-like substance, so I had to cover it up in Gaffer tape before I could use it. Once I could inspect it properly though, it felt like a toy despite its aluminum body. The aforementioned lightness, the tiny buttons, and the flimsy film door provided a poor first impression.
As for manual controls, there’s the option to switch to single point AF, infinity focus mode, flash controls, and that’s it. No exposure compensation, aperture, or any of the GR1’s famous ‘snap focus’ modes to speak of.
The pink-tinted viewfinder (potentially only for my Ricoh GR10) didn’t help the impression. On the bright side, it would help me see the world with rose-tinted glasses I guess.
I wasn’t here for the build though. I was here for the lens. While some compact cameras are meticulously designed to captivate, the Ricoh GR series were famously designed to fade away. Rather than cradling this, I was excited to use it.
And use it I did. One roll later and I was blown away by the contrast, sharpness, and the metering accuracy the Ricoh GR10 achieved.
Despite being a fully automated camera, I learned to forget my fears and trust the Ricoh GR10. While it doesn’t have a full distance scale like my Contax G1, I found that the focus points and subject scale in the viewfinder generally did a good job telling me when I had to refocus.
The compactness and discreetness really made me felt like I could take the Ricoh GR10 anywhere; I could toss it in any bag in a little pouch or even a coat pocket, and not worry about where I brought it out. Compared to the Contax G1, this looks significantly less ‘stealable’, looking more like a cheap digital point and shoot rather than a high-performance film camera.
In fact, those factors made me leave my Contax behind (previously my go-to travel film camera) and throw the GR10 in for my trip around Asia instead. While I was in Hong Kong, I visited the Showa Film & Camera to get a roll developed, and was even more astounded at the camera’s performance thanks to Showa’s expert technicians and beautiful scans.
The images challenged my love for the G1 and the 28mm f/2.8 Biogon lens in good light; I was just blown away. The edge-to-edge sharpness, minimal distortion, and that bite of contrast left me awestruck.
What impressed me most was the lack of effort I had to put in to take a beautiful photo. My photography has always been about capturing spontaneous moments around me, and there’s no better camera I’ve used for this use case than the Ricoh GR10.
As the skies darkened however, the pities of a compact camera’s limitations showed their ugly heads. The nature of the lens designs make them prone to field curvature, meaning that wide open, the lens will often exhibit low corner sharpness. The focus also seemed to struggle in lower light, but regardless of these setbacks, each shot continued to impress me.
I only wish that there was also some indication of what shutter speed the camera selected, so that I could better brace my shaky hands in preparation for those situations.
If all you want in a compact camera is something that delivers predictably beautiful images, a 28mm lens, and something that wouldn’t force you to take out a second mortgage to own, the Ricoh GR10 is your camera. If you need any semblance of manual controls however, you may have to look elsewhere. For my use case though, there isn’t a better camera on the market.
Thanks for reading, and if you’d like to see more of my photos, feel free to follow me on Instagram at @edwardchang.
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