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Brand Loyalty: A love affair with the Ricoh GR and its 28mm field of view

Brand loyalty is something that Leica aficionados know all about. Many readers of Macfilos would never look at another brand, let alone buy an alien camera. But the Ricoh GR range inspires similar loyalty, as Jean Perenet tells us….

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Brand loyalty has always been important to me, especially when it comes to photography. Apart from my Leica CL, back in film days, I used Yashica/Contax cameras for some 20 years before turning to Leica and Ricoh GR cameras only. I had a couple of experiences with Sony and Panasonic that were rather short-lived, and neither more than half a year. But how come I went for Ricoh rather than any other camera brand? 

When I bought the Leica M8, which was to be my last rangefinder camera, I needed a backup. Enter the Ricoh GRD III. You may blame it on BBC news. Way back in time, I read an excellent article about the Hutu prisoners following the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda back in the 1990s.

Apart from the exceptional correspondent photographer’s images, I was impressed by the camera’s capabilities. I did read a few reviews, went down to my usual camera dealer and ordered a GRD III. A few days later, I held the camera in my hands. Yet at first, I was anything but confident.

Ricoh GR and that 28mm FOV

The 28mm field of view was something I was not used to, as I had shot anything between 35 and 50mm for the past 30 years. I could not get what I wanted at first and did not know how to compose with such a relatively wide-angle lens. As a result, my first forays into that focal length were far from successful, and the camera remained for some time in the abyss of my camera bag. 

Fortunately, my students saved me to some extent. When I took them to Scotland (see my articles Visiting the Fishing Harbours and Southern Scotland Over 30 Years), I didn’t wish to carry the M8 all the time. The GRD III then started to started grow on me as I became more and more familiar with the controls and that 28mm lens. 

My interest in the GR range blossomed. I bought a GXR with the 28mm module, a GR, A GRD IV, a GR II. And added an original GRD for one of my daughters. As a result, the Ricoh cameras in their many guises have been my trusted companions for the past 17 years. 

Rather than presenting images you’ve already seen in my previous articles, I rummaged in my archives. I decided to concentrate on later images and black and white conversions, which are a strong point of all the Ricoh digital cameras.

In England with the Ricoh GRD III using black and white high contrast preset

When travelling from Normandy to visit our daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law in Devon, Lyme Regis is one of our favourite stops on the way between Portsmouth and Exeter. I got to know Lyme Regis when I read John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I saw the film starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons with its astonishing first scene on the Cobb. This is also the place where Mary Anning found the first remnant of dinosaurs on England’s Jurassic coast. If you’d like to know more about Mary Anning, try Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures. It is also somewhere to see great photography. 

When staying in Devon, we enjoy visiting Exmoor National Park in south-west England. The park, which was created in 1954, takes its name from the River Exe, which has it source there. It covers almost 270 square miles. Just as on Dartmoor, it’s always a pleasure to walk the moors and it’s easy to get lost on the road without the satnav. 

I particularly like the black and white output of this small CCD sensor. Indeed, it gets quite close to the former 400 ASA Tri-X Kodak film. Although I have tried many cameras over the years, none has emulated better that filmic look than the early GRD models. Despite a strong contrast that people may not like, the images have a certain substance, at least to my eyes, that the images from today’s more refined cameras lack. 

The GR range since 2005

ModelYearLens Actual35mm equiv.Max apertureSensor sizeM. PixIBIS
GRD20055.9mm 28mmf/2.4CCD 1/1.88No
GRD II20075.9mm  28mmf/2.4CCD 1/1.7510No
GRD III20096mm 28mmf/1.9CCD 1/1.710No
GXR system2009See noteSee noteSee noteSee noteSee noteNo
GRD IV20116mm 28mmf/1.9CCD 1/1.710Yes
GR201318.3mm 28mmf/2.8CMOS/APS-C16No
GRII201518.3mm 28mmf/2.8CMOS/APS-C16No
GR III201918.3mm28mmf/2.8CMOS/APS-C24Yes
GR IIIx202126.1mm40mmf/2.8CMOS/APS-C24Yes
The GXR system was a unique series of camera body and lens/sensor modules in 28mm, 33mm macro, 24-85mm, 24-72mm and 200-300. Some features CMOS and some CCD sensors. The A12M module, with APS-C CMOS sensor, allowed the fitting of Leica M lenses. For more information on the GXR, see the author’s earlier article.

The Ricoh GXR with the 28mm module

The GXR system has long been abandoned by Ricoh. At the time of the Ricoh M module, the GXR was frequently referred to as the poor man’s Leica. Despite its age, more akin to the dinosaur era than a vintage camera, the GXR is usually one of the two cameras I pick when going to town or by the sea with no precise ideas in mind. The other is the Ricoh GRD IV. I hate going out without a camera and often curse myself when a photo opportunity presents itself and I have no camera with me. The GXR with its 28mm lens is so light that you can carry it all day long without ever tiring.

Once you have accepted the camera limitations, such as RAW files that take a couple of seconds to write or the rather erratic autofocus, the camera is a delight to use. The RAW files are a pleasure to work with, and the black and white conversions have a nice rendering. If not relying on autofocus, you can always use the snap focus mode, which works similarly to zone focus on a Leica M rangefinder.

Over the past 20 years, the top west end of Cotentin on the northern tip of Normandy about 150 miles from home has been one of our favourite weekend short-holiday breaks. It provides amazing photo opportunities, and it is a good place to experience black and white conversion. I particularly like the depth and volume of the GXR files. Although they display much cooler colours than Leica, they are pretty similar to what you can get with the Leica X series cameras with the B&W preset. 

Heading for a walk

The GXR is the camera I usually pick up when heading for a walk along the limestone cliffs near home or just to snap along the sea front or downtown in Le Havre. The camera is a great tool to capture landscape or simply document life around. With its lens and lens-hood, the GXR may not be as unobtrusive as the GR, but people hardly notice the camera. Despite its poor rear screen, you can be pretty sure of the results you will get when pressing the shutter. Despite its low MP count (12 MP, just like the Leica X1) I have rarely been disappointed by the camera since started using it more than a decade ago. 

Time to add a dash of colour, which is what summer is about. One of the great pleasures of living by the sea is the ability to walk and go for a swim any day in the summer. There’s always a camera in the bathing bag just to record what’s happening on the beach. The small GXR (same size as the original Leica X1) is just perfect to capture moments at random. There’s always a tinge of serendipity when just snapping while walking. 

The Ricoh small cameras, as well as my now-dead Leica X2, have made me more confident with street photography. I rarely fear getting close to people, so unobtrusive are these little cameras. To the uninitiated, they look like toy point-and-shoot devices held by a harmless guy who wouldn’t know one end of a website from the other. Result, acceptance.

And you, what camera do you really bond with? What is your everyday tool that you always carry with you in a bag, around your neck or in your coat pocket? 


More on the Ricoh GXR modular system


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23 COMMENTS

  1. While my GR III will never be my favorite camera in my possession, it will always be part of my kit, it’s just too damn practical, convenient and well-performing. Being able to take a camera of it’s image quality literally anywhere is so so useful. Also, I find it to be the best camera for up close street photography because people either don’t notice it or if they do, they aren’t perturbed by it’s presence. Also brilliant for daily snapshots of life, holidays etc. 28mm can certainly be challenging but when executed correctly is my favorite focal length.

  2. Great black and white work, well done. I have a love/hate relationship with the Ricoh and the main challenge I have is with the lack of viewfinder and the fixed focal length. The latter is of course also very liberating in certain situations, it frees you from thinking about possible focal lengths and you just work with what you have. I bought the GR IIIx as I do adore the 40mm equivalent FOV. I have been playing with a M4/3 camera which is a bit bigger than the GR but does allow me to switch lenses. I will still only carry one lens with it but depending on where I go, I can adjust it which I quite like.

    • Thanks Erwin for your kind comment. I guess 28mm has grown on me over the years. Once you accept its limitations it’s a convenient focal length. I did use the 20mm panasonic lens a lot and it is a really good focal length. When I had my analog CL I used the 40mm and 28mm most of the time. It covered all my needs. The GRiii imaging is excellent. Pity I don’t like the handling and new menus as I’m pretty sure the camera would end up in my camera bag. I really like these small cameras and am reluctant to use anything else as they are so easy to carry.
      Enjoy Christmas time

  3. Thanks Kathy for the kind comment. Framing with the screen is an habit. I’m so used to doing it now. I also enjoy framing with the tilting viewfinder of the XVario which I use as a Rolleiflex 99% of the time. The Ricohs B&W are exactly what I’m looking for and I truly enjoy using my tuned presets.
    Enjoy Christmas

  4. Thanks for posting this. B&W is above my head, so I followed the links to your earlier Scotland posts. The seaside I’d already seen and greatly enjoyed. The historical commentary on the rise and decline of the Scots abbeys was truly engaging, but the photos of the ruins were evocative and added an entire emotional dimension.

    My vision won’t allow me to use LCD or phone framing/focusing, but I don’t think that’s the point here: it’s the skill and feeling for the subject that shine.

  5. Thank you fo a superb article and a good question. Although I use it only rarely now, The camera I have most bonded with is/was the Leica D-Lux 4. Size and IQ all in its favour.

    • Thanks John for the kind comment. I’ve often thought of the D-Lux 4 but used copies on the 2ndhand market are often in a poor state. I just like any small camera that fits in a pocket with a fixed focal length.
      Have a nice Christmas
      Jean

  6. A nice weekend read Jean, with lovely images. Ricoh is still a brand I’ve not tried using on my travels, perhaps one day I’ll give it a go.

    • Thanks Dave for the kind comment. If you ever cross the Channel with your camper van you could try quite a few models here.
      Have a nice Christmas with family
      Jean

  7. Jean
    Thank you for posting an engaging article with splendid atmospheric photographs. You certainly have an eye for composition. My brand loyalty is Minolta/Sony. My little RX100 Mk 6 goes with me everywhere and photographic opportunities arise unexpectedly, which is a real pleasure.
    Of your 33 photographs only 12 click to enlarge. Is this an issue with my setup? I would like to see your photographs of the cliffs at Etretat (Normandy) enlarged. I have fond memories of visiting that very coastline.
    Chris

    • Thanks Chris for the kind comment. I’d be curious to try the full frame A99 Sony cameras with the dedicated Zeiss lenses like the Planar 50mm f1.4. I still own the 1.7 equivalent which is a stunning lens. I did try the A7 camera but it was not for me.
      Enjoy Christmas with family
      Jean

  8. A great review with excellent images! This series of small cameras deserves any praise. I have a GR IIIx which I used for a very interesting travel setup, feel free to read about it here on Macfilos. The cameras, lenses, sensors are all great. The only downsides are the tiny buttons and the lack of a viewfinder. The latter is responsible for me not using this beautiful camera more often. I just don’t like to hold the camera on an outstretched arm. I simply take better images when the camera is more part of my body. But this is a question of preferences and habitudes. I can thoroughly recommend the Ricohs to anyone in search for best image quality at minimal camera size!

    • Thanks Jörg-Peter for your kind comment. I did try the GR III which my camera dealer lent me for a week to try but I think I’ll skip that one. I was pretty unsettled with the change in the menus which had been similar since the original GRD up to the GRII. I agree with you about the handling which I found uncomfortable. I don’t know why they chose to have such a large screen with nothing to rest for fingers on but I guess this is personal taste. The Quality of the files are better but I don’t need more MP for what I’m doing. I love old cameras and still use the 2006 Leica C-Lux2 which is a brilliant machine with only 7MP but the rendering is really good. Unlike you I don’t mind the lack of a viewfinder. Shooting through the rear screen allows you to see the environment and once you admit that limitation it’s a great way to frame images.
      Have a great Christmas time with family and friends.
      Jean

  9. I have both GRIII and GRIIIx, the GRIII is the camera I use the most even though historically I’ve been a 50mm guy. It replaced a Sony RX1RII despite having a massive megapixel disadvantage and lack of EVF, simply because of the compact take-everywhere practicality.

    The GRIII and GRIIIx are very hard to get at the moment because the influencer craze for the Fuji X100V moved on to the GR, but Ricoh is teasing an imminent announcement, so anyone considering a GRIII might want to hold off just yet for a GRIV.

    • Thanks Majid for your comment. The small size of the camera is a great advantage. I took the GRD IV no later than this afternoon and these small Ricohs are wonderful to shoot with.
      Have a nice Christmas.

  10. Thanks Jean,
    As the old saying goes you have proven again that size doesn’t matter. You have given us some lovely images that any of us would be proud of.

    I like your comment about the GRIII and street photography. Not everyone has the personality to take the step into that space where you have close interaction with your subjects. If the GRIII helps then it’s definitely worth considering on those grounds alone.

    As we approach the Holidays I have “Management” reminding me of the “One in, one out” rule, but a GRIII would be awfully tempting and I’m sure it doesn’t count in legalese terms as “One” but is closer to a “Third”. Would that pass the test?

    • Thanks John for your kind comment. It looks like the Ricog are unavailable in the States at the moment. They’ve started reappearing recently in Europe. When getting close people to photograph them your sixth sense tell you when you can take a picture and when you should abstain. The Ricohs are so small that people don’t even notice you. If you feel uncomfotable once you know your camera you can shoot with confidence from the hip and then fix the rest in whatever softaware you use.
      Have a nice Christmas

  11. Your article on Cambodia with the picture of the temple heads and Mikes praises of his is why I bought my 2 Ricohs GR2 and GRD4. They are great little cameras too bad Ricoh screwed up GR111 and X. All your articles on Eicoh are highly prized by me, thank you.

    • Thanks John for your kind comment. The GRs and GRDs are great cameras. I’m not sure they screwed up with the GRIII and GRIIIX. They designed a different and more up-to-date camera. After trying a GRIII for a week I knew it was not for me but I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. One thing I’m certain is that I prefer the haptics of the original GRI and GRII.
      Enjoy Christmas with family
      Jean

    • I’ve been using Ricoh GRs since the late 90s, when I went to a now long gone shop in an arcade off of Picadilly (anybody remember that?) to replace my Minox ML, and had an original GR recommended to me instead. Since then, I’ve owned several film GRs, two GRDs, GR (stolen) and GRII. Always astonishingly good cameras. I was put off from the GRIII by forum negativity, but eventually acquired one. That, and the IIIx, are in my experience the best yet. The form factor is perfect, the IBIS fantastic, and despite years of familiarity I very soon got passed the Who Moved My Cheese moment. Did I really need a dedicated AF/MF switch? Nope. The “shooting envelope” of the III is so much expanded thanks to IBIS that I am baffled by anybody who prefers to retreat to earlier models. The II (which thanks to influencer insanity I sold at almost new price) looked like a clumsy monster next to the III. None of the scary stories about overheating etc have hit me. I appreciate that some people prefer some of the JPG styles of earlier models, but it doesn’t bother me 🙂

      The III is basically a Ricoh GR refined down to the Essentials. Hey, that sounds like a great marketing slogan!

      Exactly how Ricoh can significantly improve this camera I don’t know.

      • Thanks David for the kind comment. My pocket analog cameras were my departed Contax T2 (not much bigger than the GR) and the olympus mju:ii which I still enjoy using. I did not get the GRIII after trying it for a week. The image quality is absolutely excellent but I found the camera too small for my hands. I didn’t like the huge back screen which left no room for my hand. The menu system is also quite different from the preceding GRs and GRDs which had kept the same layout since the first GRD. A GR IV might not be far away. I hope they will go back to the original GRII handling. I find the fn buttons so on the old GRs so useful that the GRIII threw me a bit off balance.
        The most important however is to go out and shoot whatever camera fits your need.
        Enjoy Christmas

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