Point & Shoot

The Ricoh GR10 – A Diamond Wrapped in Coal – By Edward Chang

Ricoh GR10

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.

Ricoh GR10
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.

Ricoh GR10

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.

The viewfinder will show three distances: infinity, medium distance, and close-up.

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.

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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.

Compared to the Contax G1 + 21mm f/2.8 Biogon.

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.

Taken with the built-in flash.

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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14 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Robert Gambill
    March 28, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    So excited to see someone finally reviewing this camera! My experience was pretty much like yours; looking for a compact 35mm, checked out the R1, then stumbled on to the GR10 and decided to take a chance. It’s been a constant fixture of my jacket pocket ever since. Between the lens and the fact that it has a dedicated flash off switch rather than toggling through flash modes on the LCD screen, this is pretty much my ideal compact. I recently took it on a trip to Japan in January along with my X-PRO 2 and ended up shooting this way more. I really can’t say enough in praise of this camera for meeting my specific needs and it makes me really happy to see someone else out there singing it’s praises!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      edwardchang
      March 29, 2019 at 3:05 am

      So happy you enjoyed it, Robert! I saw a few of your shots with your GR10 and loved them! I think we’ve got the exact same needs for a compact camera, and it’s wonderful to hear that you’ve been enjoying yours as much as I’ve enjoyed mine. Looking forward to seeing where you capture with yours next!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Robert Gambill
        March 30, 2019 at 2:26 pm

        Thanks, Edward; same to you! Really enjoyed your feed and this article. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your shots, with the GR10 and otherwise!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Peter Wright
    March 28, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Great read, thanks. The runner in the mist is wonderful!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    MarkB
    March 28, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    You created a fone set of images with this little camera. I must load my Contax T2 again…..

    • Avatar
      Reply
      edwardchang
      March 29, 2019 at 3:07 am

      Thanks so much, Mark! Little cameras are the best since they’re the ones you’ll always have with you 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Josh
    March 29, 2019 at 2:32 am

    These are rad. Straight from the scanner? What film did you use??

    • Avatar
      Reply
      edwardchang
      March 29, 2019 at 3:08 am

      Thanks so much, Josh! I used Fuji Superia 400 and 200 for most shots, and I scanned them from a Plustek 8100 with some light editing in Lightroom.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Jamesnorthcote
    March 29, 2019 at 8:04 am

    Great shots! You are so right that sometimes control is overrated! Beautiful stuff

  • Reply
    Recommended Reading 3/29/19 - mike eckman dot com
    March 29, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    […] a Cameras of the Dead article.  So it was with great fascination (and a bit of envy) that I read Edward Chang’s take on the Ricoh GR10.  It’s considered by many to be the little brother of the highly desirable GR1, but what do […]

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    Reply
    Johan
    April 1, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Really loved the pictures mate.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      edwardchang
      April 2, 2019 at 5:43 am

      Thanks a bunch, Johan! Having something so small really helps to get photos where I’d otherwise leave my camera behind

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Evan
    July 12, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Great pictures dude!! The camera does have a snap function. While in single focus mode, half press the shutter button and hold mode for 2 seconds. The single focus icon will start blinking and it will keep that focus spot until you hit the mode button again. There’s also a bulb mode hidden in there too.

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