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Ricoh GR over the years


A few years ago, I had the honor of working at Red Hat‘s main office building in downtown Raleigh. The surrounding area is very walkable, and the people that I would see every day each seemed to have their own story lurking just below the surface. So I procured a small but capable camera that would allow me to capture what I saw to capture that slice of Raleigh in time. The Ricoh GR was perfect for this role.

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I used to see people leveraging team problem solving skills to figure out how to feed Raleigh’s parking meters, which have become almost legendary for their unintuitive interface.

The Ricoh was my constant companion, occupying a pocket in the front of my jeans. This hasn’t been good for the camera’s outside surface, especially its screen, but it still works fine. And almost every day, I would use my lunch break to walk around and capture the people I’d see outside. Sometimes I’d get to work early or stay late so that I could capture a different slice of Raleigh’s day.

I didn’t work for Red Hat very long (another story for a distant day). But when I resigned, that wonderful backdrop of downtown Raleigh went with the job. My next job was in Durham and honestly I wasn’t feeling the palpable electricity in the air when walking around Durham, so the “Durhamites” project never really got off the ground.

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An early attempt at street photography in Durham, for the Durhamites project that I never really felt was working.

The Ricoh mostly ended up sitting on a shelf for years. In my mind, this was a street photography camera and since I wasn’t doing street photography, it was more or less retired.

In 2015 I went on a total photography hiatus. I had some goals in life that my passion for photography was actually distracting me from. 2016 was a great year for getting my life in order, and 2017 is off to a great start.

My next bucket list item, you see, is world travel. I’ve never left the continent that I was born on. I’ve never had a passport. But over the Christmas 2016 holiday, I submitted my application. Two and a half weeks later, my passport arrived in the mail. I’ve already got my first trip booked, and when I come back I will book my second.

“What camera should I take?” This can be a vexing question for photographers. Like many enthusiasts, I’ve had a bit of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) over the years, so I’ve got quite an array of old film equipment around.

For background, my first international trip will be to Ireland. I’m renting a car and doing a road trip there, so I’m free to see any sights I want to see, stop as long as I want to stop to get the right photo.

I could take one of my 4×5 sheet film cameras, like the Graflex Crown Graphic. It’s a pretty tedious camera to use, and the processing of the film is a bit more work, I think, than roll film. But what comes out are these enormous, beautiful negatives with an almost three-dimensional depth of field.

But something tells me I won’t have enough film backs to take all of the pictures I should take when I’m in Ireland.

And this deliberation continued with my medium format cameras, 35mm rangefinders, and on to the DSLR.

Digital. Yes. I want to take a lot of photos, and not spend a week processing and scanning film when I get home. Moreover, I want to capture color and I don’t want to get into processing color film. So it’ll be a digital camera.

My Canon EOS 70D seems so big and clunky now. I wasn’t feeling it. No, this is not the right camera to take. I even thought about selling it, selling it all, and getting into a Fuji X system. And I still might do that, because Fuji has put together a really compelling platform. But not in time for this trip.

And there on my shelf sat the Ricoh GR. I picked it up and started noodling with it. The settings I had programmed in for street use were still in place, and not really appropriate for the kind of photos that I felt I might want to take while on holiday. But I kept playing with it. And I started carrying it again, and even remembering that I had it with me from time to time.

But that 28mm prime lens… it’s so wide. And while it’s perfect for taking compelling photos of unsuspecting strangers at arm’s length, how will it work as a system for capturing my vacation memories? I’ve been trying it out to see.

It’s more than just a street camera, and it certainly provides better images than my iPhone (which, contrary to the marketing hints, is no DSLR replacement). And yes, the 28mm lens does keep me from capturing things like distant wildlife. But if I see all of my potential images through the look given by this wide lens, it’s actually quite a capable camera.

Off to Ireland it goes.

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3 comments

  1. Love your GR photos. I own one as well and use it for Street Photography as well as travel. A few years back I switched from Nikon to m4/3 mirrorless and own all kinds of Olympus cams and lenses. When traveling in the real sense of traveling I bring my Oly cams, mainly my PEN-F these days. But when traveling on business where I have no idea if there will be an opportunity to shoot or not the Ricoh GR II is my front pocket companion. And love this camera dearly.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments. I’m going to go check out your own fine work. There’s something about street photography that gives me a rush. It’s very intimate. You’re right there, close enough for someone to take a swing at you, trying to capture a slice of their life without disrupting the outcome of the observation. And boy does the Ricoh let you get close. I’m still likely to invest in a Fuji system, if for no other reason to give me some other focal lengths to work with. But that Ricoh has found its way back into my heart (and never should have been put aside to begin with).

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