I don’t know when I suddenly turned into a “reviewer” of cameras. I guess it isn’t really much about the cameras. I’ve for the most part stopped buying cameras. New cameras, anyway. Cameras sort of find their way to me. Cameras of all different types.
Let me start by saying this:
I have stopped paying attention to the newer cameras. Somewhere along the line I’ve sort of realized any camera is probably “good enough” whether it be new or old.
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine said he had a camera I “must” try. He said he was surprised to hear I had never used the original Ricoh GR Digital.
Most people will now be thinking I’m talking about the GR from 2013. Nope, this is the original GR-Digital from 2006. 8 megapixels crammed into a tiny sensor. An f2.4 28mm lens with a menu that looks as though it camera from 1985 instead of 2006. It has literally none of the features of the Ricoh GRD3 and beyond, ha.
“This camera has the best, most film-like jpegs of any camera ever. Seriously.”
This is what my friend led with. Quite honestly, I hadn’t heard this. I figured it didn’t hurt to give it a try. Have had some worries of late so having a camera to concentrate on seemed like a welcome reprieve.
He gave me the camera with the 21mm adapter attached. “Just like that GR21 you always used to use” is what he said. I was pretty skeptical. Strange for me, I usually quite like old cameras but this one felt old beyond its actual age.
The first hour or so of shooting with the camera I basically had given up. The autofocus was useless, the battery died twice, the auto ISO was limited to 100-200. What a piece of sh#t was my first impression.
I didn’t even look at the photos. They were all bad. I stopped in a cafe to send a message to my friend that this wasn’t any fun. But then, I started to think about how I used to shoot with the old Sony DSC-W100 I had once found under the seat of my Aunt’s car. Ironically, that Sony had snap focus settings of .5 / 1 / 1.5 / 3.5 / infinity. This Ricoh, which is made supposedly by a company known for snap focus only had one vague snap focus setting of around 2.5 meters from what I could gather.
I decided to go back out and give it one more go. I set the ISO to 1600 (the highest possible) and turned on the snap focus.
I think this is when it started to make sense to me.
At 21mm with the tiny sensor basically everything is in focus. I needed to stop worrying about what would be or not be. I just went out and started to look for people instead of looking for ways to make the camera work.
I took this in the bathroom before I left to get a feel for the focus. Everything in focus. I think shooting with this camera in the hour or so to come I started to remember why I like small cameras in general.
Small cameras allow me to stop thinking. Small cameras allow me to take photos that more closely match my feeling at the time I’m taking them. There isn’t any need to think about settings or focus. I don’t take photos for that. I don’t take photos for the process of doing so.
I take photos because I selfishly want to create a self portrait of myself. I want to see myself in the photos. I want to remember the feeling I had when I took them. A camera that makes me think just gets in the way of that. I think enough – too much – as it is.
I love the 21mm focal length. Love it. I loved it on the GR21. I like being close. I like being close even when my composition is wide. I took the photo of the family above from a couple of meters away. The mom teased me after I showed them because she was looking away when I took it. Funny, that. I like the interaction.
I like feeling complicit. It’s selfish, I know. I don’t care much. I like the feeling of being part of the scene. I like it when people see me.
As for the camera I really started to get it after that first hour. It had nothing to do with the photos themselves. I hadn’t even looked at them by the point that I started to like shooting with it. The camera is nothing more than a way for me to get over my shyness.
“Why did you take my photo? Why?”
“Because I liked your earrings.”
“But..but I was yawning!”
“Sorry..I still like your earrings.”
“Why did you take my photo?”
“You reminded me of someone I knew when I was in Japan..”
“No..no.. does it look okay?”
“Just fine.. but.. could you look over here where my hand is?”
The camera is a gateway for me. A way to talk to people I might not otherwise talk to. It’s funny, but often when I shoot with other photographers they run away from people they try to photograph. They throw up their camera like they are some kind of a sniper in a video camera and then bolt.
This old Ricoh really brought me closer to that feeling of being complicit. I loved my couple of hours shooting with it. I loved the people I met and photographed. There is empathy and sympathy in photography. The girl I photographed whom reminded me of someone I knew in Japan felt that. In the end, she was trying to help me capture a moment. I think she understood it wasn’t about her.
I know I’m not talking much about the camera itself. I’m not sure what to say about it. It did a fine job. Do the photos look like film? I don’t know. Maybe they do. I’ve heard they look like TriX. I hate TriX so maybe that wouldn’t be such a good thing for me anyway.
What I can say is the camera didn’t get in the way. It simply reminded me of the feeling I love to have when taking photos. The simplicity of it was refreshing. The simplicity of shooting. I just sort of went with it. Went with my feeling. Rode the ebbs and flows.
Someone commented on one of my posts about the older Ricohs mentioning they can’t shoot in low light. I suppose that is somewhat true. That being said, I think they force me to find interesting bits of light. I quite enjoyed the creative restraint.
I guess the moral of this long and convoluted story is when you’re struggling with something the best way to forget about it is by doing something you love. The Ricoh, just happened to be the perfect camera to remind me of this. It was a camera that did nothing more than allow me to take photos without the need for thought.
Thinking is bad for the soul. I really believe that. I would rather not think as much. I wish I was taking more photos now instead of thinking about what to write.
In the end, I had a day where my biggest worry was the battery dying on my ancient camera. Not a big deal, I popped in a couple of AAAs and was good to go.
Even forgot about the rain mostly. At least the rain that came at the beginning of the day.
My apologies to those who came here for a review. I suppose at least you can take solace in the fact that all the photos came from the original GR Digital and the 21mm adapter.
Needless to say, I’ll continue to use this camera. It isn’t that it’s better than the Ricoh GRDIV I normally use. I’m not sure I get the file “magic” per say. I think the photos look similar to those of my other Ricoh compacts. One thing I do like better is the way the grain in the sky helps the highlights feel softer. Sounds weird but, it is something I noticed.
The main reason I’ll continue to use it is the 21mm adapter. I just loved framing with it. Loved getting close and working the angle I wanted. Really, had a great time with this camera.
That being said I think the fact that it is even simpler than the GRDIV appeals to me. With the GRDIV I usually switch back and forth between the “my” settings quite a bit depending on the situation. I kind of liked not worrying about it and just leaving the same settings on all day.
Literally whether I was in a dark subway car or in the rain or in the bright sun I kept the settings exactly the same. The only thing I noticed was having to be careful to keep steady in the subway when it was dark. Other than that, it just worked.
If you do want to know anything technical about the camera, feel free to ask in the comments or send me a message. I’m sorry for tricking you into reading this non-review.
I will do my best to answer any questions you may have. As long as not much thinking is involved.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel about that 😉
Seoul, South Korea.