Is “premium” really worth the money? Comparing the Ricoh GR1s and the Ricoh R1s

Here’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself before: “Is it really worth paying for a premium compact 35mm camera when a lesser-known, lower spec’d camera can produce a comparable result?” To answer it, I decided to see if my “premium” Ricoh GR1s and not-so-premium Ricoh R1s were really as different as the marketing and internet hype machine would lead you to believe: two cameras, two films and 36 identical scenes.

The test: The Ricoh GR1s vs Ricoh R1s
The test: The Ricoh GR1s vs Ricoh R1s

It’s not exactly a secret that premium compact 35mm cameras are selling like hotcakes these days and for the highest of the high-end, we’ve gotten to the point where buyers are now paying more for second hand Contax T3s than when they were brand new (~US$1000 retail in 2001 = ~US$1450 in 2019).

If I’d known this would be the case, I would have ordered a couple of pallets at wholesale when they first came out. C’est la vie.

In this article, I’ll be jumping through an abridged version of my personal history with Ricoh’s 35mm compact cameras before I get to a set of direct side-by-side frames taken with both the GR1s and R1s so you can see the differences and similarities for yourself.

Here’s what I cover in full, feel free to jump around.

That one time I swore off 35mm compacts

A little over three years ago I swore off 35mm point and shoot cameras for good. I owned a few at the time and the prize of my crop was a Ricoh GR1v Date. It had taken me ages to land on in amongst Contax T3s, T2s, Minolta TC-1s and Nikon TIs.

Those heady few years with the Ricoh were amazing. I was in awe of the camera’s lens, its ridiculously compact size and how nearly everything I needed could be manually set: manual ISO, exposure compensation, SNAP focus modes, manual apertures, persistent flash settings. The camera’s close focus mode was a thing of wonder and with my filter adapter and 30.5mm R72 filter, I was even shooting infrared film with it. Imagine that!

Allow me a little pause… Going through the process of selecting the images in the gallery above — which, by the way, was only supposed to include IR images to illustrate my previous point — I realise how much I enjoyed using that camera. I took it everywhere and I mean e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

But back to the main thread…

The GR1v was too easy. The camera was too good. The GR1v and its two younger siblings, the GR1 and GR1s are good almost to the point of cheating, especially with black and white film. I can see the effect of that in my final half a dozen rolls. I became lazy, snapping willy-nilly in the street, not bothering to frame, trying to be “fluid”.

Three things happened to come together at the same time: 1) my apparent laziness, 2) my concern about a sudden, irrecoverable failure and 3) a very buoyant second-hand market. They nagged me to a point where I found myself meeting a man at a train station in the dead of the night to trade the Ricoh for cold hard cash. 

I came away happy. I’d managed to get about 50% more than I’d paid for it and I’d also managed to shift my lens shade, filter adapter and set of 30.5mm filters. The money plus a bit more from selling some other gear went towards x0.85 Leica M6 TTL and I didn’t look back…until a year later.

You guessed it, I got “the itch” again

Yep, the point and shoot itch got me again. I managed to last only a year after selling the GR1v before it came and I suffered through another year before I just had to scratch it.

I got an Olympus MJU Zoom, then another, then another. The third was so quiet the designers put a “blink” mechanism into the viewfinder. It mimicked the mirror action on an SLR by dimming the viewfinder on every shot so that you knew the shutter had been tripped. In hindsight, this feature was probably more to sell consumers on the idea that this horrible piece of plastic was somehow similar to owning an SLR.

It wasn’t but never mind about that.

Some months after the third “blinky” Olympus, I found myself in Hong Kong with Dan K. While complaining / explaining to him about my GR1v, I found myself wondering if the laziness I experienced was all the camera’s fault. Was it me? Was I not giving it the right attention? Should get another?

Nope, no way.

These cameras were getting e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e and the GR1v especially was going for crazy money – $600-700 in “excellent condition” on eBay. Then there was the shadow of imminent irreparable failure. I decided it wasn’t meant to be but Dan, being a kindhearted soul, nudged me and suggested I take something from his collection that was almost as good, if not better than the original GR1 — the Ricoh R1s.

I was intrigued, so I did.

I shot a roll that night, then the following day, the day after…you get the idea. I loved using it but it sadly had a few problems and I soon found myself on eBay picking one up from a Japanese estate sale for about US$150 — boxed, case, original documents and battery. Brilliant.

A few months later, still very much in love with the R1s, I came across a boxed GR1s with documents, case and lens shade for US$350. Knowing a good deal when I see one, I snapped it up before the seller could say, “Make me an offer”. Here it is:

I’d broken my promise but who cares? Look at it! I continued to use both the GR1s and R1s: one or the other but never together, simply happy to grab whichever one I felt like shooting depending on my mood.

On more than one occasion I received rolls back from my lab and had to think hard about which came from which camera – luckily there was nearly always one panoramic frame on my R1s rolls which gave them away (more on that below).

…and that confusion is what got me thinking about doing this comparison back in Spring this year.

How does the Ricoh R1s stack up against the GR1s?

On the most basic level, the R1s is a good camera that could be a great camera in the right hands.

It doesn’t have the outward refinement or presence of the GR1 family, opting for a more rounded, somewhat “fun” look but it does the job more than admirably. If you’re looking for an analogy, consider its looks more Mazda MX-5 than Honda NSX Roadster but that’s ok, I’m more interested in what it does than delusions of having street cred.

Importantly, the R1s ticks some very big boxes for me:

  • Compact size
  • Quality lens
  • SNAP mode
  • Film “prewind”

And, aside from a few situations, it produces images that are identical in quality, or close to that of the GR1s — when sized for the web, at least.

If it’s not apparent from the galleries above, these cameras are compact, ULTRA compact, in fact. At just 25mm deep, the R1s slides in at 1.5mm shallower than the GR1s. They’re so compact, that excluding the grip, both cameras are thinner than a 35mm film cassette.

The GR1s’ persistent flash settings are missing from the R1s, as is exposure compensation and aperture priority mode but you have spot metering, SNAP shooting modes, low light, “infinity” and a bunch of other options which get it close enough in my opinion.

It does do something the GR1s or Ricoh’s premium cameras can’t…

The R1s lens’ split personality

R1s’ is lens is a bit longer and a bit slower than the GR1s (30mm f/3.5 vs 28mm f/2.8) and although not a coveted “GR lens”, it does what it needs to do plus something I didn’t anticipate: it can be switched between two configurations on the fly.

If you slide a switch on the back from “NORMAL” to “P” two plastic masks slide into place behind the lens to give you a cropped panorama – 24x36mm turns into 13×36.

Slide that same switch from “P” to “WIDE P” and the lens magically sets itself to 24mm and f/8, by reconfiguring itself from a 4 elements in 4 groups design to 6 in 6.

Here’s how the three modes stack up:

Now that’s a party trick.. A few more panoramic examples follow:

In my opinion, the R1s’ Wide Panorama alone is more than enough reason to buy one.

The Ricoh GR1s and R1s in pictures

In pictures, the GR1s and R1 are pretty close. The “GR DNA” is there: compact, well built, acceptable ergonomics, efficient user interface.

For speed-driven readers, both cameras will make you wait while loading film, as they prewind the unexposed film into the camera body. As you shoot, exposed frames are pulled back into the 135 cassette ensuring forgetful photographers don’t lose what they’ve shot if the bac is accidentally opened (this has saved me on more than one occasion!) Interestingly, the R1s finishes preloading film faster than the GR1s by around 8-10 seconds.

Value-driven readers will likely appreciate that the GR1s managed to PREwind 37 frames vs the R1’s paltry 36 on my test rolls of Fujifilm Fujicolor C200. +1 to the GR for film economy.

Where the GR1 loses — and something I didn’t expect — is that in use, the GR1 is louder in use than the R1s. The motor is almost annoyingly loud for such an otherwise stealthy camera. As others have mentioned before, this may be due to resonance with the camera’s magnesium body. Whatever the scientific explanation, it’s there if you listen to both side-by-side.

There’s more to say but as this is more a comparison of results than a review, I’ll just leave you with a table comparing the specifications of the GR1s and R1s and move on.

Camera nameRicoh GR1sRicoh R1s
Camera typeFully automatic 35mm autofocus ultra compact camera (with super wide panorama).Fully automatic 35mm autofocus ultra compact camera.
Format135 format film135 format film
Lens mountN/AN/A
LensMulticoated 28mm f/2.8 GR Lens (7 elements, 4 groups).Multicoated 30mm f/3.5 lens (4 elements, 4 groups)
...and multicoated 24mm f/8 (6 elements, 6 groups)
FocusingPassive AF with AF assist under low light

Single AF + fixed focus mode
Passive AF with AF assist under low light

Single AF + fixed focus mode
ViewfinderReverse Galilean 0.43x magnification and 83% field of view

LED flash indicator, over/underexposure warnings and (some) shutter speeds

In-finder LCD bright frame, focus point and parallax correction illumination
Reverse Galilean 0.43x magnification and 83% field of view - panorama mask appears in panorama mode

LED flash indicator, over/underexposure warnings and (some) shutter speeds

In-finder LCD bright frame, focus point and parallax correction illumination
ShutterProgrammed electronic shutter

2s - 1/500 sec in program mode (up to 1/500 at f/16)

Timed release mode
Programmed electronic shutter

2s - 1/400 sec in program mode

Self-timer: 10 second delay
MeteringDual SPD cell meter, center-weighted or spot modes

EV 2 - 17

ISO 25 - 3200 (DX coded films, ISO 100 for non DX films)

+/- 2 stops of exposure compensation
Dual SPD cell meter, center-weighted or spot modes

EV 2 - 15

ISO 50 - 3200 (DX coded films, ISO 100 for non DX films)
Film loadingRicoh Auto-Load System: film prewinds to the last frame when the back cover is closed

Countdown exposure counter
Ricoh Auto-Load System: film prewinds to the last frame when the back cover is closed.

Countdown exposure counter.
FlashBuilt-in, 5-second recycleBuilt-in, 5-second recycle
AccessoriesBayonet 30.5mm filter adapter

Bayonet lens shade

Wrist strap

Soft case
Wrist strap

Soft case

IR remote control
Power1x 3V CR2 battery (up-to 300 frames shot)

Power off appx 5 minutes after last operation.
1x 3V CR2 battery (up-to 300 frames shot)

Power off appx 1 minute after last operation.
Weight175g / 177g (non-Date vs Date model)

Both without battery

Without battery
117mm x 61mm x 26.5mm
(W x H X D)
117mm x 61mm x 25mm
(W x H X D)

Comparing the Ricoh GR1s and R1s lenses

Welcome to the meat of this article. I said at the top of this article that I wanted to find out if “it’s really worth paying for a premium compact 35mm camera when a lesser-known, lower spec’d camera can do the job to within 90% of it“. Here goes.

The spec sheet above tells just one half of the story. The two cameras’ sizes, weights and features are largely similar and one could argue technicalities until the cows come home. Sure, there’s no exposure compensation, aperture selection or persistent flash setting on the R1s and it has a slower lens but does this really matter when the results are all we care about?

To answer this question I loaded both cameras with fresh rolls of Fujicolor C200 and headed out with the idea of finishing both shooting the same 36 scenes at the same time — or at least within a few seconds of each other.

Twelve sample pairs from those rolls follow below, GR1s on the left, R1s on the right.

I start things off with a miss-focused shot of the GR1s taken by the R1s but promise they get better from there. You’ll also notice the R1s frame of the clothes hangars had the flash fire — something I tried to avoid. And finally, to the occasional light leaks: this is my fault. I’d hand-cut new sponge based on a template but as you can see from the “open back” photos above, it wasn’t a precision job.

Moving on to the direct comparisons. Grab and drag the double arrow icon over the center of the images to see how each camera fared:

Fujicolor C200, Ricoh GR1sFujicolor C200, Ricoh R1
Fujicolor C200, Ricoh GR1sFujicolor C200, Ricoh R1
Fujicolor C200, Ricoh GR1sFujicolor C200, Ricoh R1
Fujicolor C200, Ricoh GR1sFujicolor C200, Ricoh R1
Fujicolor C200, Ricoh GR1sFujicolor C200, Ricoh R1

My takeaway

It’s a tough call. The 28mm and 30mm lenses of the GR1s and R1s provide obvious differences in perspecive and it’s worth stating that, the GR1s will not fire at f/2.8 unless the aperture has been manually set (I left mine on the auto setting). The R1s seems to have no trouble firing at its maximum aperture, however.

One unexpected outcome was the difference in colour temperature. The GR1s provides a warmer result with more saturation, where the R1s generates a cooler tone and less saturation. This follows through to black and white film but can easily be remedied in development, scanning or Lightroom et al, if you want the extra “oomph” of the GR lens.

Now, to answer the question: “Is it really worth paying for a premium compact 35mm camera when a lesser-known, apparently lower spec’d camera can produce a comparable result?”

Results-wise, for these two cameras, my answer has to be no.

The GR1s is not worth the extra money if you’re happy snapping away and sharing the results on social media or by way of small prints. You’ll have to decide for yourself how much those extra features of the GR1s and other GR cameras is worth paying for. For me, paying an extra $200 for those “GR features” was totally worth it.

The R1s produces very good results, at least based on the above roll of consumer colour negative film. The GR1s still beats it most of the time but I’m not sure how much of that is down to the lens or its apparently better metering logic.

When it comes to black and white film, the waters get muddied, as you’d be hard-pressed — from my photography at least — to say what was shot with which most of the time.

All this talk might have you thinking that my R1s doesn’t get out much these days. In fact, in the 5 weeks since taking shooting these comparison rolls, it’s the GR1s that’s been sat in my dry cabinets.

So I guess it boils down to this: for someone looking for a fantastic lens on a compact, flexible, pocketable and — based on today’s market — relatively cheap 35mm point and shoot, get the R1s. You won’t be disappointed.

Maybe I should have said that 2,400 words ago… 😉

~ EM

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  1. Thank you for the great and detailed article! Now I want even more the R1s. I think it has really nice results, and even more comparing it with other super overrated and super expensive point & shoot cameras.
    I have to say I prefer the detailed image/color-tone/general appearance in the GR1, but for me it’s too risky having in count the same Harry said in the last comment. Let’s see if I have a good deal on eBay!

  2. Love the GR1s, mine just broke a couple of weeks ago and got it repaired in London by Seandean. They charged a lot but it’s now working very well. They also said that they could replace the LCD and viewfinder which sometimes don’t work very well.
    A big point for me is that the Ricoh GR1s can have the flash switched off. I hate other cameras where you have to turn the flash off every time you turn the camera on. That’s a deal breaker for me.
    Awesome article!

    • Interesting to hear there’s still somewhere that you can get a GR1s repaired. Mine has been in a box for 8 years as I understood they were irreparable. How much was yours to fix?

  3. Nice article. I’ve owned, loved and “lost” a few GR1s. Whoever spends so much money on these no-longer-rapairable cameras 25 years after they were made, should expect them to stop working at any time. That’s why there are so many “untested” / “as is” / “for parts” on ebay, The less you’ve paid, the less you’ve lost… A good point for the R1, IMO.

  4. You might have mentioned one key disadvantage of the Ricoh GR1s (and related GR models). Their electronics have a tendency to just fail for no apparent reason, and there is no way to get them fixed. As a result, paying a lot for them is very risky.

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