A year ago I was looking for the “ultimate film compact camera”, the Ricoh GR1 series, but I was somewhat afraid of what I’ve read on many websites: they’re fragile, they can’t be repaired (or at least, not easily and cheap), and I was scared of wasting more than 600€ that I could invest in film and chemicals instead of a future paperweight. So, I looked for an alternative
I’m a “stray shooter” (similar to a “street photographer”, but that’s for another day), I’m from Barcelona, Spain, and I shoot A LOT daily. Even though I have a little collection of cameras of different sizes, formats — Leica and Rolleiflex included — I’m personally a fan of 135 film compact wide-angle cameras, they fit perfectly into what I do: shooting in streets, wandering without disturbing or being seen, going light, getting closer…
In my searches I’ve come across to the “younger siblings” of the GR1 series, the R1 (reviewed recently by EM and very promising for me) and something very, very interesting: The Ricoh GR10
The discreet star
If some articles on the internet are very insistent that the GR10 is a “hidden gem, underlooked sibling” kind of camera. While the R1 series cameras were the “prototype DNA” for the GR film series and completely user-friendly cameras with some cool features, the GR10 seems more like a stripped-down GR1, a camera aimed at the consumer/amateur, or in my opinion, a spare second camera to hardcore GR1 users.
On paper, it looks awesome. Some of the technical specs ticked many boxes on my personal list. Do you remember in some action movies or series, that one kind of guy that was silent, always behind everybody, just doing things…but when it came down to business, was one of the most lethal and powerful members of the team? (but not as powerful as the main star, of course)
Well, think of the GR10 as someone like that. Let’s see what we have here, (marked in cursive is according to CameraPedia wiki). If you want to see a summary of pros and cons, skip to the end. If you like to read like me, just keep on going 😉
- Released in April 1998. A year after the GR1s.
- COLOURS: Black (my favourite) or alluminium silver (looks more like a “grandma’s camera”, but that can be very good…and they are cheaper).
- LENS: “Ricoh GR lens 28mm F/2.8 with 7 elements in 4 groups.” Very probably the same coated lenses than GR1s/v version, it’s quite hard to make it flare, at least, in my experience.
- FOCUSING: “3 point passive autofocus; no AF assist light.” It has also a “hidden Snap Focus” feature, more on that later.
- SHUTTER SPEEDS: “Programed mode Approx 2 to 1/500 second.”
- VIEWFINDER: “Reverse Galilean finder with bright lines, 3 AF point confirmation, distance indication, parallax lines.” Maybe the most “so-so” thing for me, at least in my sample, the lines are too faint to see sometimes, but hey, it’s a 28mm. Just aim and let the lens do the magic.
- BODY FINISH: Different construction, seems like aluminium, but I’m not sure. Some sources say that its magnesium.
- FILM PRE-WINDING: Something characteristic to Ricoh cameras. The film is wound into the body first and is pulled into the film canister frame-by-frame. The film counter starts with the number of available frames and goes down to zero. This can save your photos if something goes wrong, or the camera door opens. Double press the winding button to leave the tip of film out for use in another camera. Also, the camera gives you mathematically one extra frame ALWAYS (With 36 exposures film you will have perfect 37 photos. With 24 exposures film you will have 25) so, your contact sheets will always look the same except if you take the film out.
- Not compatible with GR1 series filters/hood. The lens doesn’t have the mount for putting accessories. So, if you plan to re-use them with this, you will probably be a little disappointed.
- No illuminated LCD. Just like the first GR1 camera, the LCD is NOT retro-illuminated.
- According to some people I’ve talked with (but NOT CONFIRMED, beware), the film and lens motor seems to be more reliable and break less than the GR1 series, in my opinion, this is maybe because they have been used a lot less than their older siblings…or they are not as complicated as the GR1’s, who knows. Either way, if they break (they will, they are film compacts, remember), they don’t hurt as much as a GR1v and it’s cheaper to replace.
Some enhancements over GR1 series are:
- ALL models have the Date function (remember to disable it if you don’t like it. Personally I love this feature). There is no “date/no date” versions, like GR1 series.
CR123 battery. More shots per charge, with and without flash.
- Lighter weight due to different construction.
- No crappy eyepiece. In GR1 series it breaks apart, but if you wear glasses like me, be aware that CAN scratch yours if not careful. But at least, it’s solid metal that doesn’t fall apart.
- Remote control IR for tripod shooting. Very useful if you like to do some landscape or long exposure with the “T” mode (where the camera just keeps the shutter open and only closes when you press the shutter again).
- More silent motor operation. No jokes, I can shoot in streets without concern of dragging sound motors, it’s not completely silent, but enough discreet to shoot very close and don’t warning people, and the shutter, instead of making a strange “KGRRR” sound like the GR1 series, it makes a pleasing “tick!” leaf shutter sound. Maybe it’s the resonance qualities of the metal body?
And the best of it: right now (late 2019) the GR10 can be found for between 200€ (rare bargains like the one I acquired) and 380€ (in Japan, without international taxes and TOP MINT condition with papers and boxes).
Much cheaper than the GR1 “pro” series. I just hope that this article doesn’t increase the price of these little gems!
[EM: too late]
Finally in my hands
I was lucky enough to buy a complete bargain GR10 from a friend on a well known Spanish forum at just 200€. Once in my hands, I loaded a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS at box speed, and the second I pushed it to 3200 (scratching the DX code and fooling the reader on the camera).
Just look at the first test rolls I made:
What about some colour? Well, I’m not in technical colour profiling or rendition. In fact, at first I was just buying cheap colour film and converting it to black and white (I stopped doing that once I began developing film at home, BTW) but here you are, some samples in colour film as well, and with a bit of bokeh too 🙂
Compared to the Ricoh GR1 series
Recently I could save some money to buy a GR1s “DATE” camera. I just wanted to try it, even if it was risky and expensive. Finally found a “bargain” for 470€, shipping included, and bit the bullet. The camera is currently used in the same manner as the GR10. Love them both.
The GR1s looks like a more “pro” camera, it’s more responsive, especially the AF and shutter button, which performs flawlessly in most situations and quite fast. On the other hand, the GR10 shutter button gets somewhat “mushy” and harder to press with time, and its AF performance…let’s be honest: at least in my camera, it sucks with poor/medium light, maybe because it doesn’t have AF lamp assist.
For good AF response, you NEED to be in a sunny outdoor location or in shoot places with a powerful light source. Of course, with a wide-angle lens there is a lot of chance that you will nail the focus because you have a lot of depth of field, but if you want absolute precision, be careful and use center focus and patience.
Sometimes I even try to focus and recompose the shot, but because of the “mushy” button, when I press, it retracts as if I stopped focusing, so I have to press harder but careful to not shoot yet. It needs training and patience, but it’s possible if your sample has this issue.
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The GR1s has also the famous “Snap Mode” by Ricoh, which focuses at a fixed distance (2m or 2.5m I think…) and just shoots with no lag. Perfect for street shooting with high ISO film. The GR10 apparently doesn’t have this feature but just like the GR1 series, IT DOES HAVE IT, just with another name and somewhat hidden. It’s called “fixed focus mode” and it’s in all GR film cameras.
To activate it, both in GR1 series and GR10, just put the center focus mode (one single press on “Mode” button), focus holding the shutter button on an object at a concrete distance (preferably 2m approx) and then, keep holding the shutter button and the “Mode” button, then wait for the center indicator of the LCD screen to blink (if your screen is dead, wait for 3 seconds approx), and then release the “Mode” button first and the shutter button second.
The focus distance will be fixed at THAT distance and you can snap away like an automatic pistol, with no worries and concerns. Seems more complicated than it really is, and you will love it. Also, you can fix the distance closer or longer.
Exposure seems to me perfect in both cameras, and I have a very hard time to say if a film was shot in one or the other (I catalog them very exhaustly with metadata, notes on film sheets, scanned file names, etc.), that’s because they are the very same GR lens. With black and white film I ALWAYS have good results. With colour film I have a good dynamic range and depending on the film/scanner combo, the colours are pretty good. I need to try Kodak Portra 160 or Fuji Provia/Velvia with a Fujifilm Frontier Scanner. But I’m sure that the results will be, at least, good enough.
Some shots from both cameras mixed together to make my point…
The GR1s remembers settings if you turn off (but will forget if you change the film. Why? Dunno…). However — and maybe it’s my fears from articles I’ve read — but I feel it to be more “fragile” sometimes, and it costs much more than it should due to actual price rises in the compact film camera market.
The lens rendition, as previously stated, it’s…well, just the same for both cameras. You can’t easily say what camera was used except if you cheat like me and write down the camera used in the film canister 🙂
Conclusion: pros and cons
So, how does the GR10 compare with its older, more professional siblings?
In my very honest personal opinion, you DON’T need a GR1 camera for doing street photography or whatever you need. Hell, in the end, you can do it with ANY kind of camera, that’s my main idea, that the camera doesn’t matter after all. But we are talking about cameras that were specifically designed for this type of photography and are more comfortable to use than a cheap Kodak/ILFORD disposable, or a heavy LF press camera.
My final conclusion is that if you have a GR10, you are lusting for a GR1/s/v series and you are comfortable with said GR10, you can chill out, you are NOT missing anything, and any exclusive function that has the GR1 can be translated and replicated into the GR10, except remembering the settings once it’s turned off.
But paying more than 200€ (if you are lucky) for this feat is a bit insane right now. And for pushing film just hack the DX code and save the 400/600 additional Euros that the GR1v costs and buy some boxes of your favourite film…or an enlarger/printing setup, or a good scanner: something useful.
With the GR10 you have a very capable camera able to do whatever the GR1 series can actually do without standing behind them, and even being equally good with image quality with professional colour/slide film thanks to the GR lens. Hell, it even has some of the same defects of the GR1 series, like that crappy dying LCD/framelines in the viewfinder! 😉
If you are a street photographer, a fan of Daido Moriyama or the many 日本の写真家 (Japanese photographers) work, this camera may be the right one for you without costing you a kidney and part of a lung.
- The same GR Lens than 1/s/v series. I suspect that it’s also the COATED version, but I don’t care if it’s not. It’s just awesome.
- Snap focus mode. Just a bit more fiddly to set up, but once done, you just leave the camera like that and just blast away a full roll in less than a minute if you are like me. I personally leave the camera on while I’m shooting and when I’m at home or resting in a coffee shop, THEN I turn it off. The camera sets in sleep mode by itself at 5 minutes and has a more powerful battery, and also I always bring up with me spare batteries. Just be careful don’t hit the lens! 😉
- Silent motor. It’s the MOST SILENT COMPACT CAMERA I have ever used. Not as silent as my Rolleiflex K4b (but that camera is BIGGER), or maybe my Leica M6 (a different beast), or even my crappy disposable Lomography camera that can be actually refilled, but it’s much much more silent than the “Robocop-like” MJU cameras, which I find them really noisy focusing and shooting. There are probably more silent compact electronic cameras out there, but I haven’t found them (if you know them, tell me, please).
- Much cheaper, but equally capable camera, as previously said. You will not miss 90% of GR1 exclusive features.
- Almost the same cons of GR1 series. But these are exclusive to this model.
- “Cheaper” feel than GR1. If you are not like me, you will feel that the camera feels “cheaper”. It’s metal, but not feels as “pro” as the GR1 series. Also, the R1 feels even cheaper being plastic.
- “Muddy Shutter Button” curse. The shutter button gets harder to press and more unresponsive with time. However, this is only true with the AF mode. With “Snap-fixed” focus mode it works most of the time. Just press a bit harder to make it shoot!
- Crappy autofocus. The worse of the GR10 for me, the AF it’s sometimes a bit unresponsive or can’t focus properly with some contrast scenes or medium light situations, but for me, this camera is for shooting like a revolver in far west, and many times, shooting with normal AF it was perfectly in focus thanks to the depth of field.
- LCD death (for sure). When it happens, you will have some issues with viewfinder lines/focus points viewing. In my case it has miraculously resurrected, probably due to coming cold and making the circuitry tighter inside. Hope will last more time!
- Electronic compact cameras will die for sure. Although this camera SEEMS more reliable than GR1 series (and that could be way exaggerated due to a bit of alarmism) this camera will fail someday, and repairs are almost and odyssey. Just enjoy them while they last!
Tiny viewfinder. Need to say more? Especially if you wear glasses, but not a big concern for me, I still use it.
- Loud and slow pre-winding film. Same with ALL GR/R1 series.
And that’s all you need to know about it! I hope you will want to try this little “piggy in the middle” camera between the cheap R1 (worth as a spare cheap Ricoh camera) and the GR1 series.
Thank you for reading!