Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Ricoh GR and Leica X2 teeter on their perches

Ricoh GR and Leica X2 teeter on their perches

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Leica X2 nearer home in Normandy (Jean Peranet)

I am not by nature superstitious. But when two hitherto paragons of impeccable reliability fail within a week I could become a susceptible. There might actually be something in the Curse of Macfilos.

The paragons in question are the Leica X2 and the Ricoh GR (Mark I). Both these cameras (all three if you include the X1) have been extensively praised and featured in the columns of Macfilos over several years. They are very engaging cameras that have achieved something of a cult status among those who appreciate their many virtues and prefer not to have too many modern bells and whistles at their disposal.

The Ricoh GR is the most pocketable APS-C camera you can buy. It's always ready for a quick snap (Image Mike Evans)
The Ricoh GR is the most pocketable APS-C camera you can buy. It’s always ready for a quick snap (Image Mike Evans)

The X1/2 and Ricoh have been on countless expeditions in the hands of thousands of photographers and mostly they have never missed a beat. I can hardly think of simpler or more faithful photographic companions.

Until last month, that is, when two of my champs gave up the ghost, consecutively. It must be, I think, something in the air. We can perhaps blame global warming, the universal culprit.

No.1: The Ricoh mystery

The Ricoh was the victim in mystery number one. In isolation, the fault wouldn’t have been remarkable. But what followed made it especially so.

Ricoh GR is discreet, small and looks like a harmless point-and-shoot tourist camera. But it isn't. It packs quite a punch.
Ricoh GR is discreet, small and looks like a harmless point-and-shoot tourist camera. But it isn’t. It packs quite a punch.

The trouble started three weeks ago when I pulled out the GR, charged the battery using the USB cable, left it overnight to brew and then took the camera out for a photo walk the following day.

Shortly after leaving home, I switched on the camera as one does. Only it wouldn’t. Complete and utter deadness. I returned home to try all the usual remedies, including another battery and boost from the charger

Despite my best endeavours, the Ricoh remained stubbornly demised, passed on, ex, late. Just like Mr Praline’s parrot in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in fact.

My friends at one of London’s few remaining family camera stores, Chiswick Camera Centre, all had a good fiddle and we all came to the same conclusion. Dead parrot. They’d sold me the camera in the first place, so there was a vested interest in seeing it revived and perching productively once more.

Sadly, none of us could breathe a spark of life into the GR. The polly had passed, to coin a euphemism. Rather than sending it back to Ricoh Pentax, I asked CCC to pass it on to their own tame repairer. I reasoned that the camera is now so old that repairs, if necessary, would cost more than the camera is worth. But it was sensible to get a quote for a flat fee of £15.

A week later the GR came back with a note that the experts could find nothing wrong with it. We couldn’t quite believe this, after the trouble we’d all gone to before deciding to call in the heavies.

Jean Peranet has travelled throughout South East Asia and relied entirely on his little Ricoh GR.
Jean Peranet has travelled throughout South East Asia and relied entirely on his little Ricoh GR.

But, sure enough, the GR turned on, the little lens poked itself out and the screen lit up. Cute as ever. Again, it was the cheeky little chappie I’ve grown to love and trust over the years. Since then I’ve been switching him on and off frequently and, so far, all is well. The mystery remains, but what follows might just shed some light on the riddle.

Leica X2, left, with the Olympus EVF (cheaper than Leica but exactly the same) and the X1 with optical viewfinder (Image Wayne Gerlach)
Leica X2, left, with the Olympus EVF (cheaper than Leica-branded version but exactly the same in operation) and the earlier X1 with 35mm optical viewfinder (Image Wayne Gerlach)

No.2 The Leica mystery

The Ricoh having to all intents and purposes become deceased, I decided to use the trusty old Leica X2. However, as I pressed the clip to release the battery prior to charging, the clip and spring sprang out. Fortunately I was at home and I found the recalcitrant parts lying on the carpet, spring and all. Unfortunately the plastic lever had broken as it so often does. In fact, I suspect that it is the cracking of the lever that is the cause rather than the effect.

Leica X2 nearer home in Normandy (Jean Peranet)
Leica X2 nearer home in Normandy (Jean Peranet)

There’s actually nothing unusual in this. Although the X1 and X2 are ultra-reliable little cameras, that battery compartment latch is their Achilles’ heel. If you own one and haven’t had the latch spring out at the most inconvenient time, just you wait.

It has now happened to both my X1 and X2 and, I recollect, John Shingleton in Australia had the same trouble with his X1. Searches on the internet will show that many X1/2 owners are familiar with the fault. Dealers know all about it.

A quick trip to Leica in London’s Duke Street saw the X2 off to the in-house repair shop. It came back, fixed, within the week. No charge, which is nice of Leica and contrasts with what you might expect from other manufacturers when offered an eight-year-old bundle of electronic intricacy.

John Shingleton won a photo competition with this picture taken with his Leica X1. The proceeds enabled him to buy a Leica Q
John Shingleton won a photo competition with this excellent picture taken with his old Leica X1. The proceeds enabled him to buy a Leica Q, but he still tends to use the X1 most of the time

I slotted in the battery and SD card, walked out of the Leica Store and switched on the camera, a touch of street photography in mind. But it wouldn’t switch on. More dead parrot syndrome. With the Ricoh episode fresh in mind, I began to wonder what I had done to offend the gods of photography.

I realised, though, that this time I needed to do exhaustive testing before showing myself up yet again in front of the experts (which I subsequently did, nonetheless). Sometimes, instead of learning from our mistakes we are destined to repeat them.

We tried a new battery at the Leica Store but we couldn’t be sure that it had any charge, so long must it have been in stock. While I felt sure that the battery I’d brought with me was fully charged, I couldn’t be absolutely confident. So I took the X2 home and rechecked everything. All my eight batteries (don’t ask, but I’ve been into the Xs for a few years……) were full and all worked in the X1, but produced not one spark of life in the X2. This had all the hallmarks of my earlier experience with the Ricoh.

The Leica X2 makes a perfect little carry around camera and produces the goods every time
The Leica X2 makes a perfect little carry around camera and produces the goods every time

This meant another trip to Leica in Duke Street where practically every member of the staff twiddled the knobs and tried to coax life out of the poor old X2. Fortunately, all the compact cameras, including the Q can now be fettled in London rather than having to ship them back to Germany, so the camera was in the right place and it would be handed over to the tech team.

Mystery deepens

A few days later I got a call from the ever-helpful Jimmy at Leica to say he could find nothing wrong with the X2. What an idiot, he might have been thinking as he spoke, but then Jimmy would never be so crass. Fortunately, I was in the area at the time so I called round to collect the camera from his very hands. Sure enough, the X2 was working perfectly. Not that I would ever doubt Jimmy.

Time for a bit of sleuthing. Why should two cameras stop working, to the consternation of all the king’s men and all his horses, and then suddenly spring into life unexpectedly the second an expert hand touches the body?

We can perhaps take a clue from the great Sherlock Holmes: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

Leica X2, Jean Perenet
Leica X2, Jean Perenet

And what does remain? I conclude that neither camera has an internal electrical fault, nor a sticking power switch, nor anything else catastrophic. Must be something simple, if not quite so obvious, I reasoned.

All that remains, dear Watson, are the brass contacts in the camera’s battery compartment. Could it be that both the Ricoh and Leica had some sort of deposit on one of those battery terminals? Can we believe both had the same problem in the same week? Unlikely as it sounds, I can think of nothing else so it must be true.

Curse of Macfilos

I don’t suppose we will ever know for sure, unless the Curse of Macfilos strikes again and I can prove the theory by cleaning the terminals. But fingers X’d, I hope both the Leica and the Ricoh have many more years ahead of them. Meanwhile, we have shown that even some dead parrots can be revived. Mr Praline would have been mollified, if only fifty years late.

What can we take away from this little contretemps?

First, good and faithful old digital cameras are good and faithful only so long as the electronics hold together. Unlike a film camera, which can be repaired decades after its heyday, digitals are often not worth repairing if anything other than simple and obvious problems present themselves.

Our carefully tended Ricohs and Leica X1s and X2s could thus become expensive paperweights if anything major does go wrong. John Shingleton, I know, dreads this happening to his old X1 — surely the most lauded X1 in captivity.

These cameras are well out of warranty and I was lucky that Leica repaired the battery clip without cost. But anything serious, such as a catastrophic electronic failure, could cost far more to rectify than the camera is worth.

Side-by-side comparison. In this picture the Ricoh GR features the ugly lens hood proboscis while the Leica is equipped with the Leica Hand Grip and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder (Image Jean Perenet)
Side-by-side comparison. In this picture the Ricoh GR features the ugly lens hood proboscis while the Leica is equipped with the Leica Hand Grip and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder (Image Jean Perenet)

Human touch

Second, Leica’s service is quite remarkable. There is no other marque I am aware of where (certainly if you live in a big city) you can have personal contact and a quick solution. Indeed, it’s not often you even get to talk to a human being these days: “Press button two, then press hash to return to the main menu before calling back later when our operatives return from their tea break”. Leica retains the personal touch, something that is nowadays so hard to find.

Perhaps we can add a third takeaway: If this happens to your camera, grab a Q-tip, add a minute touch of alcohol to one end and gently clean the terminals inside the battery compartment. It might save you a red face at the repair shop.

I am now delighted to have both my old cameras back in harness and I can only hope that troubles do not come in threes on this occasion. These fixed-lens compacts are a joy to use and, up to now, I have thought them indestructible. I would be sad to see either of them fall off their perch for good.

Has this ever happened to one of your cameras and what was the solution?

Some more reading

20 COMMENTS

  1. I am convinced they talk to each other when you are not around, and this was their revenge for you shunning then while you dallied with, Q, CL, M10 . The battery door has only happened on one of X1, jury rigged it put case back on works, XE flash gone don’t care don’t use flash. Never had camera not work, and this Ricoh I just got what a jem, and gave me a whole le other subject to investigate, the Japanese movement in 60s called PROVOKE,and this one photographer who was in the middle of this cultural explosion is Daido Moriyama who uses Ricoh GR film and digital. To think I wouldn’t know, or still be ignorant, of photo world without finding John S X1 which led to MacFilos and all your great contributors, how much poorer would my retirement be, think you and John and probably Mr Fagan still have your digilux 1 , 2 around and you should revive them, probably lot more MacFilos peeps have them also.

    • John, so glad that Macfilos has improved your retirement! I hope we haven’t encouraged you to spend, but then it’s worthwhile if it gives you pleasure. I hope you enjoy the Ricoh, even lighter and more pocketable than the Leicas.

  2. I have had a similar experience with X2 but that time it was the fault of the on off switch that refused to ignite the camera no matter how many times I tried. Happily all was resolved by itself after a week in isolation on the shelf. My diagnosis – it has occurred only once since, is a loose connection between the switch and the electronics. I’m also sure that John W is right and that these pesky objects have their own reasons for acting up

    • Ah. So my carefully crafted conclusion is ill-founded. You could well be right, Tony, and I will reserve judgement until (if) it happens again.

  3. I reckon it is your animal magnetism Mike, quite clearly there are periods of the day where you emit more magnetic field which disrupts your kit. grrrrr..

  4. Hello Mike
    Did somebody throw a spell on your finger? as the monthy python would say
    “what do you do with witches?” “burn, burn”

  5. Hi, I keep a spray can of electrical contact cleaner on hand to clean battery contacts and inside switches on electronics. Those intermittent noisy volume rotary controls just need this spray into the switch and then move it back and forth a few times. Use this spray with no power source connected and let dry for a few hours. I am an electronics engineer. It solves the oxidation problem on contacts that do not have gold dots.

    • Good tip Brian. If my deduction is correct then your idea should work. Strange that I have not experienced anything like this before and then it happens twice in one week with different cameras.

    • Interesting! I have an X2 camera which is much loved but relatively unused nowadays as the battery spring and clip have broken, no longer holding the battery in place. I try to close the battery hatch to hold the power pack in place but this doesn’t always work. I didn’t realise that this was a common problem.
      It was interesting that you had someone repair it for you. Do you think I should approach the shop I bought it from all those years ago (Harrison Cameras, Sheffield) to see if they could do a local repair? Harrison’s are a local family firm. Any advice. I am not practical so DIY efforts are out of the question. I don’t want to lose the X2, it may be old but still produces lovely photos.

      • John, this is indeed a common problem and Harrison’s will definitely recognise it. They might have spares and might be able to fix it. When this happened to my X1 about three years ago it was fixed by Ivor Cooper at Red Dot Cameras. It is a fiddly job, however. When I took the X2 to him he said it would be better to take it to Leica in Duke Street, Mayfair. David Slater in Leica’s London repair shop is adept at fixing this problem as, indeed, proved the case.

        I suggest you try Harrison’s. If they don’t have the parts they are easily obtainable from Leica. If Harrison’s can’t mend it you might find someone with nimble fingers who can. No dismantling of the camera is necessary as far as I know. Let me know how you get on. At the very worst you can send it to Duke Street and offer to pay the return postage.

        • Many thanks Mike! When I return from holiday I will follow your suggestions. This is too nice a camera to send to scrap.

        • Mike I have just returned from my 1320 km fast driving road trip to find this on Macfilos. Very pertinent as the battery clip on my X Vario broke whilst i was using the camera yesterday. I managed a temporay fix-very temporary-using a serice station receipt as “filler”under the battery door. However I am not amused as I have now had my X1 battery clip break twice-both times repaired by Leica’s Australian repairer in Melbourne and now this is the second time the XV clip has broken. Surely it is not beyond Leica’s engineering expertise to make a little plastic clip which does not break every couple of years?
          I have heard the suggestion that the clips break due to fatigue because the battery “bounces” against the clip. A suggested cure is a thin film of foam under the battery door.
          This theory maybe valid as my cameras have a lot of use and the XV had just spent two days on the floor of a car with a lot of noise, vibration and harshness.
          Whatever I am not amused. Come on Leica -less limited editions, more customer care please.

  6. My Olympus PEN-F (..the electronic one..) died a day before its guarantee ran out. Off it went to Oly, and came back a week later with a new ON/OFF switch. No known reason why it failed.

    I got off the plane in Mexico, and my RX100 (dunno which version ..V maybe) was completely dead. Wouldn’t start. Full battery, but nothing would coax it back to life. Drove out to some city far away to stay in a little “boutique” hotel whose entry is through an antique shop. On the shelf; Contax IIIa kit with 50mm f1.5 (?), 135mm, 35 or 28mm, filters, release cable, flash converter cable (Contax to standard PC connector) and tailored leather holdall to hold it all. We-ell, when I’d checked that the shutter speeds worked, and the focus wheel, I bought it!

    Popped down to the local chemist and bought three ‘disposable’ Fuji one-time cameras with 800 ASA – whoops! ISO – film inside, wound back the films (one-shot cameras have the film already wound out, and they wind it back INTO the cassette with every frame you shoot) and used the Contax instead!

    Worked beautifully (..later bought a Contax 21mm to complete the set). Every cloud.. etc.

    [Greetings from sunny Greece!]

    • Ευχαριστώ, Νταβίντ. Απόλαυσε τον ήλιο στην Ελλάδα – αλλά εδω στο Λονδίνο και στο Ριτσμοντ είναι επίσης ηλιόλουστο. You’ve missed it! Ha!

  7. Jimmy is an unsung hero and has helped me out on at three or four occasions most recently with a very strange M10-P nervous ‘tic’ that sometimes and randomly takes a double exposure. We haven’t fathomed this one out yet but the camera may need to be repatriated for a health check…

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