Ricoh GR III - The cult continues
GR III - Could this be my next Ricoh?
Ricoh recently announced that they are developing the third version of the GR line, with a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor. This may be tempting if they solve the dust problem of the previous two versions. Since the first GR (not to be confused with previous GRD versions) was announced in 2013 I was quite interested. After all, this is a super compact camera with a large APS-C sensor and an excellent lens. Why didn't I buy it then? At the time I was working in Angola, in very dusty environments. And when began to appear the first reports that this camera had serious problems of dust accumulating in the sensor, I realized that this could be an issue for me.
In 2015 they released the GR II, with wi-fi and some other improvements. But the camera was pretty much the same and, unfortunately, with the same dust problem on the sensor. So I passed again. So I'll wait for the first impressions about this GR III because, having had several Ricoh cameras in the past, this may very well turn out to be my next camera.
So why did these cameras achieved a cult status and have a loyal following of followers? Well, this is no longer new and comes from the original GR series of film cameras (GR1, GR1s and GR1v), followed by the compact digital camera series (GRD I ~ GRD IV) and finally the GR series with APS-C sensor. And the reasons are many:
The format remained practically unchanged from the beginning;
It's quite small and easy to carry anywhere, even in the pants pocket;
It has a discreet appearance, quite simple, that does not draw attention. It is for this reason one of the favourites for street photographers;
It has a 28mm fixed and bright lens (or equivalent to 28mm in digital versions);
Although tiny, the lens is extremely sharp, easily rivaling larger and more complex DSLR lenses;
The snap focus mode, perfect for street photographers to get the "decisive moment". It consists in pre focusing for a certain distance and locking the aperture, giving a depth of field from 1 or 1.5 meters to infinity, so there is no need to wait for the auto-focus, you just point and shoot.
Beyond all that, there is another reason why the Ricoh GR series became so popular. Among other cameras, the Street Photography legend Daido Moriyama used a Ricoh GR1v.
So now let me tell you a bit of my story with Ricoh's compact cameras.
Although it was the last film compact produced by Ricoh in 2002, it was my first experience with Ricoh. The color is a light gold, painted on a very bad plastic. Believe me, really cheap and weak plastic. When picking up the camera, it has almost no weight, it creaks when holding in the hand, denoting a very poor build quality and materials. The shutter sound is fairly quiet but after each shot the film advance noise is so loud that it attracts all the attention to you, so it's not the best option for Street Photography. It's not just loud, it's weird, as if some screw was barely tightened inside and it was going to break at any moment.
Although mine worked, a lot of people reported that the lcd screen was no longer visible. That said, did this camera have anything good?? Yes, the 30mm f/3.5 lens was magnificent and that's the reason why this camera is worth it. Super sharp and contrasted. A true gem inside this cheap plastic box.
I bought it very cheap at an auction, and when I started shooting more digital and letting go some of my film cameras, I sold it also very cheap. These days they are extremely difficult to find and if you are lucky enough to find one, it will certainly cost more than €100.
Despite the fantastic lens of the Ricoh R10, I wanted something a little better. And so I went looking for it and bought the Ricoh R1. Despite being a slightly more advanced camera, it was released in 1994, thus 8 years older than the R10.
At first glance it seems to look a lot better, but once you pick it up you notice it has a totally plastic construction, only with an aluminum front cover for a more "premium" look.
The lens is a super sharp 30mm f/3.5 like the R10, but with a surprise: with the touch of a switch, it becomes a 24mm! That's really amazing, a 24mm lens on a compact film camera! The downside is that when in the 24mm mode, there are 2 small pieces of plastic that mask the frame making it look like a panorama mode. Some owners disable these 2 curtains in order to get the full frame exposed, but the images get darkened corners.
At the time I paid €50 which was a nice price considering the very good condition of the camera, very clean, without any marks or scratches (mine was not the one shown in the pictures). I shot only one or two rolls with it and, visiting a friend that was interested in this camera, I sold for the same €50 as I still had the R10. Currently these cameras are being sold for €150 ~ €200 and if they're not working they sell them for €100! What???
Some time later he told me that the camera broke down. A shame, but typical in Ricoh.
A few months later, I knew that a friend of mine and a very talented photographer was selling his Ricoh GR1s. I didn't miss the opportunity because the GR line has nothing to do with R1 or R10. As soon as I got it and held it for the first time, I knew this was a fantastic camera. It fits perfectly in the hand and everything is in place ready to use. It has the legendary 28mm f/2.8 GR lens and works at aperture priority, choosing from f/2.8 to f/22. It also has an exposure compensation dial from -2 to +2, which many people used to push or pull the film.
The differences between the original GR1 (1996), GR1s (1997) and GR1v (2001) are minimal but useful. For example, the GR1s adds lighting in the LCD, additional coatings on the lens elements and the ability to attach Ricoh filters. In addition to all this, GR1v adds manual ISO setting and enhanced manual/snap focus.
Despite its lightness (around 175g) it's made from 2 solid pieces of metal, giving it a luxurious feel and confidence when holding it. So it should be as robust as a rock, right? Wrong! The camera may well break apart just by looking at it and has the reliability of an Alfa Romeo. These cameras, any of the GR1 series, are known to have buttons and dials easy to break, the LCD stops working and electronics can die at any time. Still, I used it a lot and even took it with me to Angola, as it was so easy to carry and had an outstanding image quality.
For street photographers: it's not a quiet camera when advancing the film after pressing the shutter, but it's a lot better than the R10. And like all the others (R1, R10), when we insert a new roll, the camera pulls the entire film and then coils into the roll as you shoot, counting how many frames are left to shoot. This is very interesting and useful because if something happens and the back of the camera opens, the exposed frames are protected from light.
If you are interested to know, these cameras are being sold on eBay for a price between €350 and €600, according to their cosmetic condition, working order, accessories, with or with the original box and manuals. It's crazy, given that they can die at any moment, even in the middle of the first roll!
A couple of years later the camera returned to the original owner as he would give it a much better use than I :)
Unfortunately, this camera also died shortly afterwards.
So now I have to wait for the first feedback about the GR III because they are fantastic devices with lots of reasons for being cult cameras. Since the first GR1 the design has not changed much, which is a good sign, it's because it works. Unlike other brands, Ricoh didn't bother to make beautiful cameras, but ergonomic, user-friendly, stripping of buttons and superfluous functions. The users forget they have them on their hands and can focus all their attention on photography. And in the end, that's the most important, the results and not the camera.