Home Features Ricoh GR: A camera that has become a cult object

Ricoh GR: A camera that has become a cult object

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What is it about the Ricoh GR? It is an unprepossessing little body that could pass for a cheap point and shoot. It is little loved by its owners, Pentax, as demonstrated by the tiny presence it has at photography shows. It’s an also ran.

But the Ricoh GR is a cult camera among those who know about such things. It is the smallest APS-C camera on the market and, at rest, is smooth and pocketable. Despite its compact dimensions and toy-camera looks, it produces excellent results. It is even something of a past-master at black-and-white conversions. Who needs a Monochrom when they have a Ricoh GR in their jeans pocket?

Many people I know, including Fuji guru Bill Palmer, carry a Ricoh GR about with them as a matter of course. It’s a fall-back camera which I invariably back alongside larger, more expensive gear. It’s just there; and it invariably performs when needed.

  Eric and Cindy Kim with the Ricoh pocket rocket (Photo Eric Kim)
Eric and Cindy Kim with the Ricoh pocket rocket (Photo Eric Kim)

Others, such as the well-known internet street photographer (and sometime philosopher) Eric Kim, have adopted the GR as their sole photographic tool. He has just made it his “best camera of 2017”. Eric swears by the GR and he’s tried most of the opposition, including Leica. The GR just fits his style and it slips into his pocket. And we all know what they say about pockets and best cameras.

None of this convenience is worth a fig if the Ricoh didn’t take good photographs. But it does. It produces some wonderful stuff, pictures that belie the innocent and rather boring exterior. It possesses a great 28mm f/2.8 lens that is perfectly attuned to the sensor, yet the lens slides back into the body and sits there unobtrusively. It even covers itself with an automatic lens cap, rendering it safe from harm. Competitors, such as the Fuji X100 series have no such protection; and they are all larger than the Ricoh and not really pocketable as is the GR. What’s more, I do not think that the Fuji produces better pictures than the Ricoh; different, maybe, but it is hard to say that they are better.

  The Ricoh is a camera you can keep in your pocket for an evening out on the town, whether at home or on vacation. This Bavarian Schnaps-shot taken at ISO 4500 (Mike Evans)
The Ricoh is a camera you can keep in your pocket for an evening out on the town, whether at home or on vacation. This Bavarian Schnaps-shot taken at ISO 4500 (Mike Evans)

Over the years I’ve had some great experiences with the GR and, when I look back, I sometimes wonder why I bother with other cameras. True, a fixed-lens with a 28mm focal length isn’t everybody’s cup of tea; but then neither is it when mated with the Leica Q and that’s a camera that also has a cult following (albeit at about ten times the price of the Ricoh). I can definitely see Eric Kim’s point of view on this. It’s a lovely little device that just grows on you.

Sometimes I wonder if there is an alternatively out there, perhaps a camera that looks a bit more interesting than the Ricoh. I’ve looked at the Fuji X70 but, frankly, there isn’t much out there that combines such a large sensor with such a small body.

  Night shot at ISO 800 in Mykonos with the little Ricoh
Night shot at ISO 800 in Mykonos with the little Ricoh

The big disappointment about the Ricoh is that Pentax-Ricoh doesn’t accord it more TLC. To all intents and purposes the GR might not exist and, to be honest, I sometimes wonder how long it will be in production. If Fuji owned this camera it would be in a constant state of firmware update and its users would feel more cared for.

So, Ricoh, take more care of the GR. There is a huge enthusiast following out there. They are people who appreciate what a camera can do rather than what it looks like or how much it costs. In the GR you have a little belter, just be sure not to let it go.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Mike, you make a very good case for this iconic little camera yet fail to mention the dreaded dust problem and costly cures. I once owned the original version, just called GR and the result were brilliant and handling better than most contemporaries.

    I am not sure who owns the brand at present. Ricoh and Pentax merged then later Tokina became involved. I have since lost track, no longer owning one.

    In today’s world a built in viewfinder is essential and I cannot see myself buying any compact camera in the future without one. Although bigger, the current D Lux or X1 meet my needs in this sector, the former having a fine EVF..

    • You make a very good point, David. I am aware of the dust problem but, so far, it hasn’t happened to me (yet) and I didn’t think to mention it. On the question of the viewfinder, I generally agree with you. However I can make an exception for the GR because of its small size. It is basically the same size as a phone only thicker. Still, I suppose it is a matter of personal preference. I carry the Ricoh as a spare, something to add to whatever camera I’ve chosen.

  2. Mike, this is my first post to your site. While I have never used a Ricoh GR and thus have nothing to add to the commentary, I want to say that I think the top photo of the bather with the inner tube is stunningly beautiful! Great tone, great composition, great subject. Bravo!

    • Thank you, Eric. That picture was taken a couple of years ago in an art gallery on the island of Mykonos. And welcome to your first comment. We are always glad to get constructive comments and please feel free to comment again in future.

  3. Mike, when you say "It is even something of a past-master at black-and-white conversions", do you mean in camera or pp?
    (And by the way, a "Clear Viewer", which I have mentioned before, would be a very good solution with this camera for the "missing" viewfinder.

    • What I had in mind was that b&w conversions from the Ricoh raw files are attractive. The mono jpgs are also excellent from my experience. I still haven’t got round to ordering one of those viewers but it’s in the list!

  4. I have had a gr since the first film version and including the module grx – i just re- bought the GRIi as it’s now a bargain and still just as usefull. As one who spends a great deal of time in stations on the commute -Grand Central is a daily haunt- the pocket fills nicely with the GRIi

  5. Timely article. Today I had an appointment with my spine specialist (lumbar injections) and I took my GRII along in my pocket with no real expectation of making any photographs. As usual, the Ricoh came in handy for a couple of shots before and after the procedure. That’s one of the beauties of this camera–it can be there for you when you aren’t really looking for pictures.

    I fell in love with the B&W files from this camera–both simple JPEGs and monochrome conversions from Raw. I love the B&W so much I’ve sort of neglected the color settings. When I do shoot color, it’s very pleasing.

    Truthfully, I enjoy using my Fuji X-Pro1 and X100S more than the Ricoh. But those cameras don’t fit my pockets as well as the GRII.

    • Indeed. The great benefit of the GR is that it makes a perfect anytime camera, even for those occasions when you would not otherwise carry a camera. It is always there and, when needed, performs far better than it promises based on size and modest opinion. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the Ricoh GR is a modest camera that has nothing to be modest about.

  6. I absolutely love the Ricoh! It is my camera of choice and will be getting the GRIII whenever it comes out. Keeping the GR as a back up. I just hope low light focusing gets sorted with the GRIII but really more compliments than complaints. Its a great camera!

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