Broken Camera, Rise Victorious!

Broken Camera, Rise Victorious!

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Following the magnificent twin revelations of the Ricoh GDR III and GX100, I inevitably looked further into Ricoh’s back catalogue, and found the GX100’s successor, the GX200.

On paper it’s not a radical overhaul, just a fractionally larger and higher spec’d sensor (12MP vs 10MP), bigger and greater resolution screen and an additional custom “MY” mode being the highlights. Oh and it writes RAW files much quicker than the GX100.

I was curious enough to seek one out and found an example for sale across the pond.

The price was reasonable, the postage was not, $70! I enquired and the seller agreed he could probably reduce it and after a bit of a haggle we agreed on a price of $150 overall, about £115.

Still not cheap, but considering it was listed as fully working, with spare batteries, SD card, and wide angle (19mm!) lens, it wasn’t bad.

The camera arrived a week later, and on powering up I was disappointed to find ugly markings across the screen.

Furthermore, the screen was strongly tinted purple, especially in the bottom corners.

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I hoped this was just the screen and not the lens or sensor so took a few pictures and uploaded to my MacBook.

The good news was the black marks were just on the screen and not on the photos.

The bad news was the purple was not just the screen, and presumably is some kind of degradation of the sensor.

Added to this, after another attempt in better outside light, I found that when examined at 100% the pictures seem to show a strange (to me!) horizontal banding. Having not seen these on pictured on my GRD III or GX100 I assume this is a further fault in the sensor.

Oh dear, the poor little GX200 was rather the worse for wear, and my wallet was feeling somewhat mugged. 

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Obviously, I was not happy, and the seller wasn’t helpful, just advising me to “adjust the settings”, then later “I’ll do you a deal on some accessories next time you buy from me!”.

But, I’m always keen to experiment within restricted parameters (for often this is when our creativity thrives most!)

So I looked again at the facts.

Yes the GX200 has ugly marks on the screen.

But these don’t affect the photos. And on b/w mode (which these cameras all seem born to shoot), it’s barely noticeable when shooting.

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Yes there are those strong purple tinges.

But again on b/w mode I can’t see these, and though the RAW files are of course in colour and show the purple, once converted to b/w they again disappear.

Yes that banding is a bit ugly up close.

But after further play it seems much worse at ISO400 (I don’t use anything above). So using the camera’s clever “Auto Hi” ISO mode, I can set the limit at ISO400 (or even 200 to improve things further still) and the camera will always use the lowest ISO possible.

Given that I use all of these cameras aperture priority and wide open as often as possible, the camera is most often at its base ISO64 in good light anyway, then it’s just the shutter speed that adjusts.

Plus, I’m not anticipating having huge prints made of these photographs, so it’s unlikely I, or anyone else, will much notice the banding. And did any Monet or Pollock fan ever worry about the fact that their paintings look a bit of an accident in a Dulux factory up close? Nope, they just stand back and admire.

Everything else on the camera appears to work as intended, and in use it’s just as instinctive, fun and rewarding to use as its siblings.

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Yes, I did pay way too much (about £115) for a “broken” camera.

But in the end, I believed I’ve greatly reduced if not entirely eliminated these issues. And I did get that wide angle lens plus the adapter you need to fit it on, which works on the GX200, GX100, and the GRD III, and I’ve seen these sell for £100+ on their own. And I’ve got two extra batteries that work in all three cameras and an extra decent SD card.

The morals of the story I would say are two-fold. 

First, if you buy enough on eBay, you’re going to eventually get burned (I’ve been incredibly lucky in the 15 years I’ve been active!).

Second, even if a camera at first appears broken, it might still have some life in it, so don’t write it off too soon.

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A further happy accident in this tale came when I was post processing the latest RAW files made with the GX200.

I had shot them as b/w and planned to process them as such, and they looked good that way.

But by accident, for one of them I clicked a different (colour) preset, and with a tiny bit of tweaking the images now look, to me, way beyond my initial expectations of the little GX200 that moment I first powered it up and saw the damaged screen and sensor…

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Is it different enough to my GX100 to warrant keeping? As yet the jury is out, but probably not. But it’s one of those cameras where the faults make it not worth selling.

And if can keep getting images like I have so far, I might just emulate what many do with film, have one camera always loaded with b/w, the another always loaded with colour.

The GX200 might just have to be my colour compact, as a companion to its beautiful b/w bros the GRD III and GX100.

Have you ever got unexpectedly pleasing results from what you initially thought was a broken camera? 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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All Hail The Dragon Slaying Ricoh Brothers

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.

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Adventures Of The Wide Eyed Wonder #1

My recent return to Pentax K mount has included the rediscovery of the excellent Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens.

I featured it as my latest love in the Lens Love series a little while back, and it fared very well against stiff competition from Pentax and Chinon in the recent five way PK 50mm shootout.

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In particular the Rikenon’s performance wide open at f/2 has delighted me.

So I got to thinking about a series of adventures and hopefully a few memorable photographs as a result, all shoot close up and wide open.

34389960045_6cd56b3b6c_bThese are the highlights of the first adventure. 

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All photographs in this post were made with my Sony NEX 3N with the Rikenon 50/2 at f/2, plus a LightRoom preset.

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More adventures of the Wide Eyed Wonder to follow…

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Lens Love #3 – Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 PK

Lens Love is an ongoing series of posts about the vintage lenses I’ve used and loved most.

The dry technical data and 100% corner crops of brick walls can be found elsewhere. What I’m more interested in is what specifically about a lens makes me love using it, and why I believe you should try one too.

Today’s lens –

Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 Pentax K Mount

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

When I first held a Rikenon 50/2 I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

A lot of plastic, “only” f/2, “only” full stops on the aperture ring, and a minimum focus of “only” 0.6m.

Against the likes of the lovely SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7 and almost as lovely Auto Chinon 50/1.7 – both of which are faster, better built (plus more metal) and focus to 0.45m – I didn’t expect the Rikenon to hang around long.

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But then I shot a roll of film with it.

And was highly impressed with the photographs.

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Pentax ME, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film 

Then I tried it on my NEX, and got a lucky “right place right time” shot of a robin with the Rikenon wide open at f/2 that remains one of my favourite ever images I’ve made.

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What initially seemed weaknesses turned into pluses.

The plastic aperture ring is actually the smoothest plastic aperture ring I’ve tried, way better than a Pentax-A 50mm. It’s perfectly usable, and always slots in reassuringly to the next stop.

Intentionally I think, and very cleverly, Ricoh enhanced the assured feel by making it only full stops.

Plastic aperture rings with half stops I’m often over shooting where I intended to turn the ring too then going back and forwards (you know like when you almost bump into someone, then both move one way, then both the other way, until finally four or five sways later, the improvised stranger dancing ends, and you pass your separate ways) before finding the right setting. Yes I’m talking to you again Pentax-A lenses!

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

The full stops actually make it lovely and simple to use (again I wonder if Ricoh intended this in the design).

I hardly ever use f/11 or smaller, so the most I have to click is four stops from f/2 to f/8 or vice versa. Meaning it’s very easy to remember where you are on the scale even if you’re not looking at it. My SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7, for example, needs eight clicks to go from wide open to f/8.

The expansive use of plastic make it very light – around 135g.

The smaller version (there are two sizes, to my knowledge) is very compact too, protruding less than 30mm from the camera when focused at infinity.

It’s approaching what you might call a Pancake, for a 50mm lens. The so called Pancake Pentax 40mm f/2.8 is only 25g lighter and 12mm flatter, and by all accounts is not a great performer.

That “slow” speed of f/2 virtually disappears as a barrier when it’s makes such pleasing photographs wide open.

The first photograph in this post, the robin photograph, and the tap shot below, were all shot wide open at f/2.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

I really, really like the bokeh of these lenses wide open, and the sharp areas are plenty crisp for my needs.

Most 50s need stopping down two or three stops before they really perform, negating their f/1.4 or f/1.7 advantage, and losing the shallow depth of field and round highlights you get shooting wide open.

Whilst the focus ring is not quite as smooth as a runny honey dripping from hot toast, it’s silky enough that you never think about it.

The short throw from minimum distance to infinity of around a third of a turn, will please some who like to adjust focus quickly.

Finally, for the skinflints like me, these Rikenons can be had for less than £20 all day long, if you’re patient, less than £10.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

Are there any downsides? 

That minimum focus of 0.6m is a bit disappointing for someone like myself who loves shooting up close.

But if you really need to shoot nearer than 0.6m, you could use close up filters, an extension ring or a macro reversing ring. I used the latter with a 50/1.7 Rikenon with excellent results, and have no doubt the 50/2 would be at least as good.

I’ve had four or five 50/2s and two 50/1.7s. The f/1.7s are very good, but the f/2s really stand out, and I’d much rather have one of these.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

Overall I’d highly recommend the Rikenon 50/2, not just if you’re looking for a Pentax K mount 50mm lens, but if you’re looking for any 50mm lens to adapt to digital too. 

Very light and compact, a simple to use and navigate aperture ring, and very good performance from wide open at f/2 onwards.

Plus as they’re Pentax K mount, the film and digital body options made by Pentax alone are vast. Widen the net to Pentax K mount film bodies by other brands (including Ricoh themselves) and digital options (Pentax DLSRs and others via adapters) and there’s a winning combination out there for all of us.

Don’t hesitate to add one to your collection if you have the chance!

Have you tried a Rikenon 50/2? What lens would you recommend in Pentax K mount?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Resurrection Of Razor Ric(oh)

The trouble with 80s plastic fantastic compacts is once the electronics die, they’re fit for nothing but the dustbin. Right? 

That’s what I thought until a recent and simple DIY experiment opened my eyes to the wonders of just one little compact that’s been given life after death and is thriving gloriously.

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It started when, wanting to thin down my compact collection to less than half a dozen, I browsed my old albums on Flickr to find the ones I liked best .

A handful of photographs that really caught my eye were taken with a Ricoh TF-900, an unassuming dark grey chunk of rubberised plastic from the late 80s.

Behind its synthetic yet ordinary veneer, the TF-900 proved to be not only full of the essential features the discerning enthusiastic amateur needs, but had a pretty sweet 35mm f/2.8 lens. Which also, at the press of a button, became a 70mm f/5.6 lens.

I sold this model on long ago in one of my great purges, but inspired by these “lost” photographs, set about finding another example.

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Off to the auctions, and after a quick haggle over price, I soon landed one in supposedly full working order.

When it arrived and I inserted the battery, all was not well, and it wouldn’t do anything it was supposed to.

After apologies and a full refund from the seller, I asked if they wanted the camera returned. They said not.

I was about to throw it in the bin, then remembered something about Hamish Gill having lenses extracted from old compact cameras sent away to Japan to be remounted for one of his Leicas.

So I wondered if the lens was salvageable from my otherwise next to useless TF-900.

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The removal of a dozen or so miniature screws later, and the tiny purple coated gem like lens was free.

Next, how to make a mount that would mean it was usable on a camera. 

When I’m not shooting film, I play around with a Sony NEX 3N, and have adapters so I can use and test my vintage 35mm film lenses on it.

One of these adapters, with the Ricoh lens stuck to the front, might do the trick.

First I tried a slim M39 adapter, plus some hastily sculpted blu-tack. The lens mounted fine but the focus was too far for what I wanted, some 10m away maybe.

So I needed to rethink, creating a mount that affixed the lens further away from the NEX’s sensor, and therefore allowed closer focus.

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An M42 > NEX adapter was up next, and again with a little creative reshaping with blu-tack, I mounted the lens and its immediate housing on to the adapter, then attached it to the NEX.

The focus was now approximately 0.25m away, ideal not only for the kind of close proximity shots I like, but also at such distance (and with the lens – minus the shutter behind it changing the aperture as it did in the TF-900 – being fixed at its maximum aperture of f/2.8) that would force a shallow depth of field.

Off I set to the local flora and fauna (ie, our back garden) to experiment.

The outcome I was pretty stunned by. 

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The humble little Ricoh 35/2.8, which measures barely a centimetre across, has produced impressive sharpness, lovely colours and delicious smooth bokeh, straight out of the camera.

It helps that with the NEX’s APS-C sensor being 75% the size of a frame of 35mm film (full frame), the central part of the lens is optimised, and any distortion at the outer edges you might experience when shooting film in the original TF-900 is in effect cropped out.

But even so, this miniature marvel, wide open at f/2.8 and shooting closer than it was ever designed for (around 0.25m compared with the minimum focus of around 0.9m of the TF-900) has delighted me.

The resurrection of this razor sharp Ricoh has proved to be an excellent idea.

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Now I’m wondering if there’s a way to adapt it somehow to shoot with a film SLR… Maybe an old broken SLR lens could be disassembled and the Ricoh lens inserted inside instead?

Whilst I further ponder that, in the meantime I’ve located another TF-900, hopefully fully working this time, and given the results from this lens salvaging project, I’m very excited at using the compact as it was originally designed in the next week or two.

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This is how the lens looks on my NEX. Note that I managed to mount the surrounding housing upside down, and, blu-tack sculpting perfected, I didn’t want to unstick it all again to flip it round!

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Though the camera and lens combo looks something of a Frankenstein’s monster, it’s super light and compact, and as you can see from the other photographs, very capable. I love the deep purple coating of the Ricoh glass too…

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Have you ever rescued a lens from a broken camera to use in another?

Disclaimer for the film diehards: Whilst this blog is mostly about my adventures with 35mm film cameras, all of the photographs above were taken with the rescued Ricoh lens and my Sony NEX 3N digital camera.

Despite them not being made with film, I wanted to share them here, along with this project, partly because I was so impressed with the lens and wanted to encourage others to try the same kind of resurrection of otherwise defunct old cameras. And partly because, as it’s a 35mm lens, from a 35mm film camera, I think it can squeeze inside the general remit of 35hunter.

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