Being Complicit: The “Original” Ricoh GR Digital

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

“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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

“Why did you take my photo? Why?”

“Because I liked your earrings.”

“But..but I was yawning!”

“Sorry..I still like your earrings.”

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

“Why did you take my photo?”

“You reminded me of someone I knew when I was in Japan..”

“Oh.. really?”

“Yes..sorry”

“No..no.. does it look okay?”

“Just fine.. but.. could you look over here where my hand is?”

“Okay..”

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

Even forgot about the rain mostly. At least the rain that came at the beginning of the day.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

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.

April 2016.

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Seoul, South Korea. Ricoh GRD (original) 21mm Adapter.

30 thoughts on “Being Complicit: The “Original” Ricoh GR Digital

    • I have been for the most part. Although I was happy to have a chance to try this haha. Thanks for the compliment. Yeah, I think I’ve basically been sucking the last little while.

  1. “My apologies to those who came here for a review.”…..

    But that’s exactly why I like your reviews! Technical aspects are futile. The important thing is what you achieve with your camera, old, new or anything.

    I shot my daughter’s wedding last week with my son’s beat up Fuji X10 as I didn’t want to lug around my Canon A-1 and lenses for the whole evening, and I’m more than happy with the results.

    Shoot what makes you feel good!

  2. So good to see you back Josh ! I always enjoy your posts and your thoughts. No one inspires me to go out and shoot like you do. Keep it coming man , we missed you !

  3. This is a great review. Because you show what it can do with real pictures. Most reviews go shoot for half a day, at walls, flowers, at fences. at a bookshelf and the same friends. Good work. Now you are getting me thinking.

  4. Stunning work, Josh. One point: if you want “simple”, can you use the GRD-IV in very basic setup and achieve the same? And, can one use the 21mm adapter across models or to each their own? 21mm is a great focal length, I’m getting to exercise my brain to use one… difficult, you really have to fill the frame up close and personal as you do. Timid distances do not work!

    • I agree, that I could achieve something similar. I find though, that with the way the GRDIV works it tends to select f1.9 a little too often and there isn’t really a way to limit it aside from selecting the aperture myself. If I do that, I need to think about that as I go through different lighting situations. It isn’t a big deal, just I feel as though I have play with the settings a little more. Plus, and more importantly, the photos require much less attention after the fact. All I basically do to them is add a bit of sharpening and they are good to go.

    • Oh, and RE the 21mm. I quite like being close. I like people finding me out. It is funny, but the best moment for me was when the Japanese girl asked me about why I took her photo. And you’re right, from a distance, no good haha.

    • The original 21mm adapter (and a 40mm one that was only made for the first two models) only work on the GRD I and II. There is a different 21mm adapter that works on 3 and 4. And yet another one for the new APS GRs. The thread size is different and the filter adapter that is needed to fit it to the camera are different. You could hold the old adapter by hand in front of the new camera lens and it sort of works, but not that well.

  5. Thanks much for the inspiring and interesting post(s). Always happy to find a new really great combination of text and photos from you. Your look at the old camera with new eyes and the description of your experience is really worth reading! Many regards to Korea

  6. I really like your photography. I did not want to buy another camera, but who knows now. I shoot only in b&w mode, so I think it would work for me too. The problem with the old GR is that they get sometimes dust on their sensors.
    To me the grey scale looks a bit different, better on 8mp. You know when you work with grd iv you get sometimes unnatural skin look and you have to change it later on in post production.
    Also the adapter is doing it’s work, more light and you can get sometimes a nice lens flare & ghostlings . But I would like to see some picture without 21mm made by you.
    Your pictures don’t look like Trix, or they do look like a Trix with a different black and white filter added.
    GR cameras – simplicity, one pattern and consistency…

    • Honestly, I’ve had three of the new GRs and they are way more prone to dust than the older ones. All three of the new ones I’ve had had dust on the sensor within months. I don’t think I know someone who hasn’t had dust on their sensor. Everyone who tells me they don’t I ask then to take a photo of a wall at f10 and there it is, ha. None on my grd or grd4..

      The only post production is really do is in vsco on my phone. I will sharpen a bit or something of the sort. I do find the skin tones to be ‘whiter’ on the GRD 4. I never shoot raw, so I’m speaking specifically of the regular bw mode. I don’t use the high contrast one.

      I was speaking more to the focal length than the flare but as you can see I used that several times during these photos. I shot these in a short span of time so didn’t bother to take off the adapter. I have it this weekend without the adapter though.

      As I said, not looking like TriX is a good thing. I don’t like TriX in the least bit. I shoot primarily with tmax or sometimes hp5. And I was half kidding about the TriX in the post, as I have spent quite a bit of time shooting film I know the grd doesn’t really look too much like film.

      Anyway, thanks for you thoughtful comment. Always appreciated.

  7. Funny enough the author of ‘cameralegend’ blog in his review of Rigoh GR 8mp (https://cameralegend.com/2014/11/03/the-original-ricoh-gr-digital-a-look-back/) is also mentioning the Kodak Tri-X look…
    Years ago when I was using extensively Konica Minolta Z6 , also a small size sensor camera, I have learned that nothing will fix your photography if you will not make a good first layer, the moment when you press the shutter button is vital.
    I always see in your photos great use of the first moment, anything else later does not really matter. Cheers.

    • Thanks so much Robert. Interesting that, on the TriX. In any event, you’re right. Doesn’t matter much after the click. Ironically the other camera I still use most is an equally ancient leica x1. Whatever works I suppose.

  8. Great pictures and a good reading! You get a good reminder what photography is about when you simplify your tools, and just get out and shoot, instead of scrolling through endless menus or checking the sharpness on your highres lcd at 20x.

    If it looks like tri-x? Sometimes it might. Tri-x can look quite different, depending if its new or old stock, pushed or not, what developer is used, developing times etc.

    Anyway, I like the results from the grd a lot.

  9. Hello, awesome pics! I was wondering what you settings were for these shots. I have the same camera and I am having difficulty getting the contrast to where I would like it. Also what mode did you shoot on as well? Thank you

  10. Its been a white JT. Perusing your blog and I find this awesome and I’m floored with the imagery of this post. These images are so strong. I kept telling myself if this film or what. Very very nice set, I enjoyed them very much. The result coming out of the old timers do give a run for the money on these newer models. I look forward to catching up with your blog on my iPad. Cheers mate.

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