photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

My other camera is a Ricoh

a confession

in Ricoh , Friday, December 09, 2011

Well, one of my other cameras is a Ricoh. Actually 3 of them are…

I’ve written quite a lot of stuff here about the Olympus E-System cameras I use, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my long-standing relationship with Ricoh. Since I’ve been using my Ricoh GR film and digital cameras for something close to 15 years, I thought it was time to redress the situation.

I first encountered Ricoh cameras back in 1998 when I was looking for a replacement for my broken-down Minox 35GT to take on a trip to Venezuela. The shop I went to, a Minox / Leica specialist, recommended I look at the new Ricoh GR-1 instead. The GR was a beautifully built camera, in a magnesium shell, with a fixed focal f2.8 28mm lens, and full manual control. I bought it on the spot, and never regretted it. In fact in marked a turning point for me in photography, as it really opened my eyes to what difference a quality lens can make. And the Ricoh GR lens was up with the best - so much that it was recast as a limited edition and very sought after Leica SM-mount lens.

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The GR-1S doing what’s it better than me at: street photography

If the GR-1 had a downside it was, at least for me, reliability. My GR-1’s autofocus module broke and had to be replaced out of warranty. It wasn’t cheap. I later added a GR-1S as a backup: the main difference between the 1 and 1S was a threaded lens ring to which filters and a lens hood could be added. Again, I got great results from it, but again it failed, this time the film transport giving up. Ricoh also released a GR-1V, which had a sort of manual focus option and, at last, manual ISO setting. Later they also released the GR-21, with the same body but a fabulous 21mm GR lens. Unfortunately the price of the GR-21 was stratospheric, and it arrived too late on the market to hold its own against the digital tide.

Roll on several years, and Ricoh finally responded to calls from the GR user community and released a digital version, the GR Digital, or “GRD”. The GRD carried on the GR philosophy, in a similar but slightly smaller body, but with an 8Mpx digital sensor, and, unfortunately, no optical viewfinder. The GR lens was reborn as a 28mm equivalent, f2.4. The optical viewfinder issue was sort of solved with a rather expensive external viewfinder, but since this displays no shooting information, it is a bit of a compromise. The biggest problem with the GRD was the excessive time between captures, at least when recording RAW (and honestly, I can’t really understand why anybody in the market for such a specialist camera would be shooting exclusively JPEG).

A year or so later the GR Digital 2 solved several of these issues, and also came in a “creative kit” with a 21mm adapter and a new, smaller optical viewfinder. The pixel count increased to 10Mpx. After some hesitation between this and the equally attractive, but different, Ricoh GX-200, I decided it was time to take the plunge. The GRD2 has been with me for a while now. It’s as much a pleasure to use as it’s film ancestor, and Ricoh have carried across their unparalleled attention to the user experience to the digital domain. The camera has probably the best menu system on the market, across all classes, and beautifully designed features like the adjust lever and other manual controls, and the high level of customisation make it apparent that this camera was designed by people who take photographs and understand photographers. Added to this Ricoh was one of the few manufacturers to adopt the DNG format for Raw files, making software incompatibilities largely vanish.

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A sort of thematically linked shot from the GRD2

If the GRD2 has one downside, it is, once again, reliability. Maybe I’m unlucky, or maybe I’m careless, but for some reason my GRD2 has become quite reluctant to start up. On power up, the lens extends, and the camera is ready to go. Except when it isn’t. Mine starts up, extends then lens, and then quite often hunts a bit, and then gives up. It can take several attempts to coax it into life, by which time the opportunity is usually miles away.

The GRD2 also has an excellent macro mode, allowing focussing down to 1cm, really taking advantage of the fantastic lens.

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A macro shot from the GRD2

Many people use the GRDs for black & white work. There’s a whole Flickr gallery devoted to this, and probably others. Apparently the GRD1 was particularly good for this, the later models slightly less so. Anyway the GRD2 has worked for me.

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Somewhere in California: a black & white conversion from the GRD2

It’s also an interesting infrared camera, just about hand-holdable at ISO200 in strong sunlight.

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Somewhere on an island: an infrared capture, b&w conversion from the GRD2

The GRD3 came along some time later, with an improved f1.9 lens, an improved, but still, thankfully, a 10Mpx sensor, Ricoh being one of the first companies to opt out of the pointless and counterproductive megapixel war. However, there wasn’t really enough here for me to be tempted to upgrade. A nice thing about all these upgrades is that Ricoh kept them very anonymous. All 3 versions simply have “GR Digital” written on the front, and “Ricoh” on the back. Nothing else. Only a GRD owner could tell them apart, and even then not without a careful look. Ricoh certainly are not making their customers pay to buy a mobile advertising banner, unlike the vast majority of other camera manufacturers.

Ricoh’s introduction of the totally bonkers GXR system, looking a lot like a GRD on steroids, only with interchangeable lens/sensor modules, made many fear that the GRD, and the GX for that matter, had reached the end of the road. GX + GR = GXR. However, a GRD4 has in fact recently seen the light, and in carries on in the tradition of it’s predecessors in looking pretty much exactly the same, and carrying just the label “GR digital”. The new stuff this time around is pretty interesting: stabilisation, new hybrid autofocus, a new state of the art LCD, even better menu system and even more customisation. These, combined with the GRD3’s updates, makes the GRD4 seem a worthy update over the GRD2, even if unfortunately due to the different lens housing the GRD2’s 21mm and lens hood adaptors don’t fit.

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Up close: a macro shot from the GRD4

Ricoh cameras, especially the GRs, have that mysterious factor which attracts a devoted following. For some reason there also seems to be high correlation between GR fans and Olympus owners - I don’t know why, it’s just an observation. There’s a Ricoh forum, which is largely dedicated to the GR, although the GX and GXR get a share of activity. There’s plenty of GR goodness on Wouter Brandsma’s blog. Sean Reid’s review at Reid Reviews (subscription required, but well worth it) starts off with the thought “why doesn’t every serious photography have this camera ?”.

Indeed… well, provided you enjoy a 28mm field of view!



Hi there David…First of all, a well written personal review. Covers quite a lot of ground there, and certainly fills in a lot of the details known about these great little cameras. Nice positive feel to it also…..My experience with Ricoh has been fairly short, about 2 years with my GRD1. Had minor focusing problem after a few weeks but fixed within a week by Ricoh Australia.Since then no problems at all. I use it for infrared, street and general B&W. It’s almost inseperable from my person. I don’t use it for RAW at all(too slow as you mentioned), but the results gotten from the jpegs is just brilliant, and the sharpness awesome. Purchased a GX200 early this year…..great for low iso colour and B&W, but I feel just it’s just not in the same league!..guite ugly grain….Maybe an upgrade to a III or a IV one day, but till this little gem dies, it’ll be with me always!...Thanx again for an interesting read….Sincerely, Marcus.

By Marcus Eyre, on December 09, 2011

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