All Hail The Dragon Slaying Ricoh Brothers

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Before we begin to this courageous tale of dragon vanquish, for context we require a brief update of my photographic hunting of the last decade –

Played with camera phones for a few years, got a “proper” phone, a Nikon CoolPix, loved it and shot thousands of images over seven months. Then discovered film via a Holga 120N for my birthday. Soon after, a Smena 8M became the first 35mm film camera I bought.

Something like 50 months and 100+ 35mm cameras later, I decided to try digital again.

Discovered the fantastic Pentax K10D DSLR, sold virtually all my SLR stuff except a couple of bodies and a dozen of my favourite K mount and M42 lenses – the two mounts I’d appreciated most of the ten or so I’d tried.

After that, the K10D, my Takumars and I lived happily ever after.

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Oh no, hang on, there’s more.

As wonderful as the K10D is, it’s a hefty fire breathing beast. With the option of 12 lenses.

Sometimes this size and weight and choice was the last thing I wanted, so for a while my iPhone seemed a more appealing option. Super pocketable, good enough lens for experimenting, focuses very close, and Hipstamatic app offers tons of control and funky processing options.

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But it’s a phone, not a camera. Meaning it’s pretty unrewarding in the touchy feely holdy squeezy department.

So the search continued.

Which brings us (back) to the Ricohs.

My history with Ricoh is very warm and happy.

An FF-3D AF Super I had from the early 80s looked ugly and awkward, but the handling was surprisingly good, in fact excellent, and as good as any AF compact of that era. Fabulous lens too, especially the colours.

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In Pentax K mount I’ve had a number of Rikenon 50/2 lenses, which are sleeping underdogs often overlooked in favour of the Pentax-M 50/1.7. But they’re excellent lenses, even wide open.

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One of the last three 35mm film compacts I have left is a Ricoh R1. This camera (and the very similar R10) – despite not having a working LED screen so I have to use it fully auto and guess how many exposures I have left – offers very slim design, satisfying ergonomics, and another pretty impressive (twin) lens(es) at 30mm and 24mm.

So, somehow in my hunting, I remembered Ricoh also made (and still make) digital compacts, the successors to the R1 (and more high end GR1) series.

A few days later, and with a final nudge from Mr Brandsma I was holding a GR Digital III. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s been a revelation.

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Since I’ve had the GRD III I think I’ve picked up the K10D once.

Then I remembered how heavy it was and put it down again.

The K10D with SMC Pentax-A 35-105/3.5 is a pretty stunning combo to use, and in the final image. But it weighs close to 1.5kg.

My Ricoh GX100 (more on that shortly) weighs under 250g. Yep the K10D plus zoom is six times the weight. And probably more than six times the volume.

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Guess which is the Ricoh GX100 and which is the DSLR?

I’ve not shot any photos (aside from family snaps) with my iPhone lately either.

And I’ve sold my Sony NEX I’ve had three years, that’s possibly had more lenses on it than I’ve shot rolls of film.

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Following my usual consumption pattern (more in this in a future post), I wondered what other little marvels Ricoh had conjured up in recent years.

Which led me to the GX100, pictured above staring down the K10D.

The GX100 is essentially a GRD (same sensor, controls, layout, handling) but with a 24-72mm zoom lens, rather than the GRD III’s 28mm prime.

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Regular readers, you will know I’ve not been a fan of SLR zoom lenses traditionally, but this year have warmed to them greatly.

With my K10D, yes I love and wouldn’t be without primes like my Takumar 28/3.5, 55/1.8, 105/2.8 and 135/3.5.

But something like the SMC Pentax-A 35-105/3.5 is a quite remarkable lens, and genuinely gives more than good enough performance in most situations to replace three or four primes within the same range.

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With the GX100, the comparison is similar – a very capable zoom lens to complement the excellent prime 28mm f/1.9 lens of the GRD III.

The performance is plenty good enough. What’s great about the camera (aside from about a hundred other things), is it has a “Step Zoom” mode you can switch on. So rather than a constant zoom until you let the button go, it zooms just to the next step – 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 72mm.

Even better, the GX100, like the GRD III, has two “MY” custom modes on the main mode dial.

I’ve set MY1 to Aperture Priority, ISO400, black and white (JPEG, you also get the full colour RAW, which I use – the b/w JPEG means I can compose and expose in b/w in real time on the screen), 3:2 aspect ratio, spot AF, and the step zoom at its widest, 24mm.

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I’ve set MY2 to exactly the same settings. But with the step zoom at 28mm.

So out in the field, I hardly need to touch anything except choose aperture (most of the time I stay at its widest as the lens is sharp wide open and this gives most shallow depth of field) and switch to either MY1 for a 24mm lens or MY2 for 28mm. Super simple!

I can still use the zoom buttons and it overrides and zooms to 35, 50 or 72mm (one step for each push of the zoom button) if I need it.

But a camera like this seems to beg to be shot at the widest angles possible.

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I also have a wide angle lens attachment which makes the step zoom 19mm, 22mm, 28mm, 40mm and 57mm!

So if I wanted I could leave that on, and set MY1 to 19mm and MY2 to 28mm, which would be like having the GRD III plus a super wide option when I needed it.

With the performance of the GX100 not far off the GRD III, it could be my one and only compact digital.

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After using these two for a few weeks now, I feel they do so much in such a small package.

Plus, and I may have mentioned this before, the user interface of these little Ricohs is simply the best and most intuitive I’ve used on any digital camera.

I’m not about to sell up my Pentax K10D (and the two Samsung branded siblings. Oh, well ok, maybe one of them, I don’t need three cameras essentially identical).

But between these two dragon slaying Ricoh brothers, I have a formidable arsenal.

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Yes my inner minimalist is screaming why couldn’t I stick with just the GRD III!

But when the GX100 has distinct enough differences – mostly the step zoom lens that ranges between 24 and 72mm, or 19 to 57mm with the wide angle attachment – for now it makes sense to rotate between the two and see which I want to keep longer term.

Likely both.

And whilst I may have invited these two new cameras into the fold, they’ve replaced the Sony NEX, my Nikon Coolpix (whose only real advantage over the Ricoh GRD III was a 24mm lens at its widest zoom), my iPhone and, much of the time, my three Pentax K DSLRs.

So the one camera one lens idealist within can feel optimistic that I’m probably closer than I’ve ever been to the impossible dream…

Have you ever tried such a compact camera (film or digital) that made you question every large(r) camera you own?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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24 thoughts on “All Hail The Dragon Slaying Ricoh Brothers”

  1. Nice post James, interesting that you are still looking. I have seen these Ricohs before and thought about them myself but despite also having warm memories of past Ricohs didn’t do in that direction.
    Similarly to one point you make I have recently switched to using black and white mode on my Olympus Pen-F digital so thought the viewfinder I am shooting in B&W and the JPEGS that come out are a nice rendering. The RAW files are untouched by this so I can use them to make colour versions should I need to; it seems to be working well for me.

    1. Yeh, obviously that’s not a feature unique to our cameras, but it is very useful. I have the contrast upped on the b/w mode of the GRD III (the GX100 you can’t adjust the b/w mode) and the resultant JPEGs aren’t bad at all, but I slightly prefer what I can get using the RAW file and a LightRoom preset. Very useful to be able to see on screen though nearly the exact same image and lighting and contrast you’ll get in the final photo.

      PS/ It’s Mr James to you… : )

      1. Ooops, sorry about that Mr James, I was typing on my phone and somehow made an error, humblest apologies.

      2. Ha ha no worries. Phones are amazing, but also drive me crazy. Probably talk about that more in my upcoming Instagram post.

        By the way your (online) name always reminds me of a BMX I had when I was young(er) called a Silver Fox. It was bright chrome (maybe aluminium) and very light and fast.

    1. Yeh, but it’s the heft of the K10D that for me adds to its reassuring feel and quality. If you’re going to use a DSLR, might as well make it a full on experience! It’s just that sometimes you don’t want or need that bulk and capability, and the Ricohs offer a huge amount of performance and creative control in a tiny package. Which is sometimes (increasingly so for me) exactly what you do want.

  2. Managed to find a GRD IV for just £75 so I bought it. Been loving its B&W images so far, though colour seems harder to use. It works well as a camera I always have in my pocket. Early days so far though.

    1. Sam, you did well there, what a bargain! Yes the Ricohs seem to excel at b/w. Do you use the b/w mode and use the JPEGs? I have found using the RAW file then a LightRoom preset plus maybe a tiny exposure tweak gives me more preferable results in b/w.

      For colour, yes the JPEGs are ok but nothing special. I came across a set of LightRoom presets on a site called XEquals. You get an unbelievable range. I’ve only used a handful so far, but have got some satisfying colour results so far, like these –

      The link is here if you’re interested – https://x-equals.com/product/xequals-bundle/

      I dislike spending ages in post processing, but these seem to give good results without endless tweaking, so get a big recommendation from me!

  3. Great photos!

    That post reminds me bitterly of my GR1 I bought a year ago. Wonderful camera, just the thing I wanted. Perfect for me and it would have replaced even my trusty XA2 if….

    Yes, if it would have worked after the fifth roll I shot with it. Dead! I could turn it on but impossible to turn it off. So I had to remove the battery and replace it each time I wanted to shut it off.

    Too bad, but I had been amply warned by Hamish (of 35mmc.com fame) on the Ricohs….

    Hope yours will stay healthy!

    1. Thanks Frank, ah yes I remember your sad tale with the GR1. I have an R1 still as I mentioned, with a screen so faint you can’t make out what mode it’s in or how many exposures are left. The AF and flash warning lights still work though, so I just power it up, point and shoot. If the red flash light comes on, I don’t shoot!

      I had looked into the GR (film) series a number of times, but reliability issues combined with escalating prices always put me off. Yes I’m hoping the Ricoh digitals I have, being considerably newer, have plenty of life in them yet!

  4. Ricoh eh I remember in Analogic Era an incredible Tls 401…and “motor drive rope” as clok for G, like my tiny rangerfinder Ricoh: gear for minimalist people that living in Market Kapitalismus (k as killer) a perfect blasphemy.
    And yes when the “tecnology” kill people (photographer sure) the only way to “save soul” is: less more “tecnology”. Hasta la victoria siempre.

    Man

    Ps. At end (remember it) the only images speaking for us

  5. I’ve had a Ricoh R10 for several years now. Pretty much as the above, but it’s 28mm to 200mm. Stepped zoom, of course. By the way, I’ve just taken delivery of a boxed Coolpix P300. I thought I’d try it after reading your piece. Not taken it out yet, but first impressions are favourable. Extremely impressed with the back lighting option… This camera was originally bought in Japan, so the manual is exclusively in Japanese. Bugger!!?!

    1. The R10 looks like a neat little compact. That stepped zoom idea is fantastic isn’t it! From pictures it seems to have the MY1 and MY2 customisable modes too?

      Do you have any pictures you’re made with it online?

      My old Coolpix P300 is a very capable camera, and looking back at some of the photographs I’ve got with it I’m still surprised at the quality. I love the high contrast b/w option within the Scene modes.

      Overall it’s pretty logical to use. Hopefully the in-camera menus aren’t set to Japanese too??

      The Ricohs just offer a different level of user experience for me, which I expect you know from your R10.

      By the way I had an R10 too, and was confused when you mentioned a zoom lens. Mine was a film R10, with a 30mm prime lens!

      1. Think about R8 too, great camera not that much changed to the R10, but easier to find and cheaper. Has the my1&2 Bolton’s too.

      2. Funny enough I was looking at a review of the R10 yesterday and it said it was very similar to the R8. Think it said the R10 was the first with the step zoom though, so I think I’d prefer it for that reason if nothing else.

        Probably wouldn’t mind an R8 though if it came up cheap enough!

  6. Michele, thanks for your comment, the TLS 401 looks quite a beast!

    I’m coming round to the idea that simple is best. With the Ricohs above, they manage to offer a vast range of control whilst remaining very simple to use.

  7. I’d not heard of the GX100, but it looks fantastic. I would love it if my Nikon compact digital had step zoom. It’s one of only a few things I’d change about it. Fantastic pictures as ever, too.

    1. Thanks Richard for your kind words.

      I’ve been looking at other Ricoh compacts lower down the range than the GR/GX series and it seems many of them have the step zoom. I think it’s a fantastic feature, I just like to know what focal length I’m at so I can get to know it better.

      I remember years ago when I used my Nikon Coolpix (with a zoom lens starting at 24mm) for taking pictures of camera items to sell on eBay. I always used it zoomed at its widest and wondered why up close all the straight lines bent so much.

      Then one day I played with the zoom, went in to I would guess now maybe 75mm, and the lines all looked kind of straight and normal. It was a revelation, though it took me another couple of years to understand that different focal lengths give different types and degrees of distortion – which is some situations can me used to dramatic effect.

  8. I have a GX200, the 100’s successor, that I use as my ‘glove compartment camera’ so that on the rare occasion I go out without a camera, I’m actually still not without a camera. Just in case…

    Three main reasons I chose the GX for this role: it was a Ricoh compact, so I knew I’d like (and feel familiar with) its ergonomics, lens and the B&W output; used, it’s cheap enough; and finally – and unusually these days – if the rechargeable battery dies, you can feed it with two AAs instead.

    That last feature makes it ideal as a camera to take anywhere, leave untouched for weeks at a time, and still be able to count on it when suddenly that unexpected something unfolds in front of me. I’ve been very happy with it 🙂

    1. Peter, many thanks for reading, and your comments.

      I wrote about my experience with a GX200 with multiple flaws – https://35hunter.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/broken-camera-rise-victorious/

      Soon after I decided to give it away, as with the GRD III and GX100, I had no need for a flawed third Ricoh. Fabulous cameras though!

      Oh about the batteries, mine came without the right adapter for the charger initially, and before I got one, I tried AA batteries. It absolutely devoured them! Not exaggerating to say I got about five shots before the camera died and showed the empty battery symbol. So I decided to stick with the proper batteries and they lasted much better, maybe a couple of hours.

      I’ve been looking at the GXR for a while too. Wondering if one of these with the 50mm lens and APS-C sensor could replace my DSLRs (also with APS-C sensors), keeping the GRD III for 28mm and the GX100 for 24mm… Do you have any experience with the GXR?

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