The Ricoh GR1s

This is my Ricoh GR. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

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Selfie Time at a Café in Kopenhagen (Kodak Gold? Can’t remember)

After more than a year of love, hate, regret, despair and utter admiration, I feel like I am finally able to describe my relationship with my Ricoh GR1s. After being an absolute fanboy of the digital Ricoh GR series AND being a sucker for the constant documentation of my life – Severin Koller-style – I, or say my wallet finally snapped, and I started the serious hunt for a Ricoh GR1. Back at the end of 2014 I didn’t really care which Ricoh I would get. The choice to go for the GR1’s came out of a mix of the (partially regretful) demand to not rob my bank account entirely and pure luck of actually finding a camera IN Germany for a reasonable price. In hindsight a GR1v would have been much more to my liking (due to the incredibly useful feature to override the ISO), but even now the jump in price is just too hard to justify. I also could have gone for the nearly indestructible Contax T series. And I should have. But those delicious 28mm were too good to pass. Trust me when I say: I’m so, so happy with my choice.

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London highrise (Fuji Superia 200 I think)

But let’s start from the top. When I finally got my package from the incredibly talented Rokas Jankus, I was not only excited, but almost freaking out. You know that Nintendo 64 kid? That was basically me. I ripped the package apart and there it was, with its slight scuffs and bruises, its natural wear and tear. Before getting it, I was kind of concerned about that. The looks of the camera freaked me out. After reading countless reviews, especially the exceedingly detailed reports by Hamish, I was scared to death that the camera might actually just not work anymore because it was in a postal-package for more than four hours. At least, that’s how sensitive the camera appeared on paper. I was not totally wrong. Even before I payed the seller, he told me, that the flash wouldn’t work, and that the camera would just chomp through batteries like there was no tomorrow.

He wasn’t lying. The flash simply won’t charge. From time to time, I would find the camera in some sort of “half on” mode, where only the LCD was turned on, but the lens wasn’t extended. Maybe I half-pressed the on- button or something. I really don’t know. But if I didn’t check if the camera was in standby, I was guaranteed to find it with a dead battery the next time I would try to catch that Daido-moment. But our liaison was young and nothing could stop me, from taking the GR everywhere. I was even intrigued to write one of those premature first impressions hands-on reviews. Admittedly I would have been blinded by the light.

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In the woods of Amrum (exp. Fuji Provia 50)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my purchase at all. But the feeling that I made a wrong choice creeped up faster, than I could buy fresh CR2 batteries. Until this day I have not found a rechargeable variant of the CR2 battery and I would say that the hunt for one might never come to a satisfactory ending. (If you know something, let me know. Please!) After tons of batteries and hours filled with disbelief about my choices I make in life, I started to ask myself why I was still holding on to the Ricoh. In the end you could say, that it brought me more pain than happiness, right?

It did, but like a parent with a screaming child we had these moments. Moments where it tried to make up for all the pain it gave me. It were those occasions, when you pulled out the developed film out of the tank and already saw those beautiful, contrasty and sharp images. When you took that sneaky “street” shot, and it was so quiet, you had to check the LCD to see if you actually took a picture. The way how responsive it became, when you turned it into Snap-Focus mode. How clear it rendered details. How it made me feel safe, because it pre-spooled the film so every exposed frame was save in the container. How it would easily fit in my jacket or even my jeans pocket. How people would just not give a fuck about me, invading their private space.

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Just Paris things (Kodak T-Max 400)

The Ricoh’s qualities were not as in your face, as a person like me, suffering from occasional G.A.S., would have liked them to be. But as I used it more and more, on and off, it’s anomalies became part of it, and it’s qualities revealed themselves.

For one: The Ricoh feels great in the Hand. It’s not only nice to the touch, but unlike the bulky 80s compacts, the Ricoh feels much more like a serious tool. The weird little exposure comp dial is a bit quirky. But at the same time you won’t ever accidentally turn it. The aperture dial feels firm and clicky. The only weird thing might be actual shutter button, as it feels a bit flimsy, but that might be just my particular model.

But nothing compares to the glass. That glorious, multi-coated, 28mm GR Lens. It is nice and sharp, it has tons of contrast and depth. At the same time the lens manages to retain that character that made it so famous around the world. To check my sanity I got myself a 24mm Zuiko Lens for my Olympus. It’s not even close to comparable. It ain’t the measurable quality, but the character, that sets the Ricoh worlds apart from its competition. In later models, like the GR21, they always kept the same glass but only refined it to give it that certain required standard of its time. Maybe also to justify its very high price. Show me 5 black and white 28mm pictures, and I’m pretty sure I can point out the one taken with the GR Lens (Please don’t I’m probably full of shit).

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Merle on Amrum (exp. Fuji Provia 50)

So let us get to the good part: Should you buy one? Probably not. As sexy the GR might be, as delicate it is to a drop. I heard too many Stories about a bump to the GRs body gone bad. Electronics failing instantly, without warning or reason. Repairs being incredibly expensive IF so you can find a Person who will or even can repair the Ricoh . As far as build quality and bang, for your buck goes, you’re probably better off with a Contax T2. But if you’re like me, a little weird and just can’t life without those delicious 28mmm, maybe you should just go for it.

This may sound weird, but I actually think the GR1s, cured my G.A.S. It was just the camera I needed. It does what I want it to do. It doesn’t stand in the way. It’s ready to take the shot and then slip back into my pocket.
It took me some time to realize this, but as unobtrusive the GR1s is, as unapparent it was to be the answer to all my camera needs.

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A pond at the north end of Amrum (exp. Fuji Provia 50)

Maybe this isn’t a review of the camera at all. Maybe this is the story of how I finally found calm in documentary photography. Maybe I needed to spend 150 Euros on a basically broken camera.

What’s next? I really would like to repair the GR1s (weird again, right?). But at the same time I’m kind of afraid of it starting to fail on every other end. What if the shutter freezes. What if the LCD fails. What if the whole camera just dies, right the second I pick it up from the repair shop (wich is actually right here in Hamburg).

This camera became very precious to me and although it might be like many others…

This one is mine.


78 thoughts on “The Ricoh GR1s

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