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).

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.

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. 

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.

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?

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:

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.

  • 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.

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.

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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:

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.

Ricoh GR1s and R1s technical comparison

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.

My takeaway

It’s a tough call. The 28mm and 30mm lenses of the GR1s and R1s provide obvious differences in perspective 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?”

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.

~ EM

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  1. I’m not sure that I would want a camera with a constant wide ngle, but I would much rather carry one with two lens options than one with only one.

  2. Hi EM
    After reading your article I got an R1s and I love the camera. First test roll was great with a couple of caveats. I had light leaks in some of the photos (similar than the light leaks that show on your sample photos). I bought a package of replacement light seals from Japan, its a nice cutout that fits both the R1s and the GR1. The light seal around the film viewing window turned into dust at touch, so I carefully removed all debris and replaced that one. I had also light leaks in other parts of the photos, so I put the optional frame light seal around the rear door. That should do the trick and I’m shooting a test roll. The only problem with the last light seal is the door feels a little tight now (before it had a little play and you could feel it move when holding it with your thumb. I hope my remedy is not worse than the original disease. The copy I bought seems to be in very good shape (excepting the light seal and the top screen that doesn’t work fully or properly – sometimes it shows the whole frame number, sometimes half the numbers blur out). Anyway. Loving the camera and the photos are much better than other p&s I have.

  3. Oh yes, it is worth.. Gr1/gr1s has just a better lens. It’s not only about the number of elements or even coating. The bokeh, the contrast, resolution, everything is better and is not that hard to notice

  4. Great article! I just pulled my R1s out of retirement after 3-4years and it’s been so much fun to shoot! wondering how you’re still going with yours? I mod’ed mine to shoot with the wide lens but full frame. Wondering if you tried that yourself… it does result in soft edges but its worth it for a compact a full frame 24mm lens 😀

    1. I have indeed, hah! I have 2x R1s’, one was a gift from a friend and the other a cheap purchase from eBay. Sadly, the former (not the copy used for this article!) has a nasty case of fungus/haze on one of the inner elements but it was also the one I removed the panoramic baffles on. The results are at best, “dreamy” and at worst fuzzy, grainy mush. I should really post some photos from it, as they’re not all that bad!

      If you’re interested in writing a quick post about your camera and the 24mm “mod”, I’d love to feature it!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

    1. 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?

    2. Hi Vinz, also interested that you got one fixed recently, could you give me an idea of cost I need my shutter repaired.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.