I mostly shoot with Leica M’s and my Canon SLR. Sometimes it’s nice though to have something even more compact (and automatic) than an M. I have a couple of crap focus free cameras that somewhat fit the bill, but ultimately having no control of the image taking process can be frustrating. Those cameras often only have one shutter speed and no aperture, so you are stuck shooting pictures in broad daylight.
The obvious thing to do nowadays is to buy an ultra compact digital. I did that. It’s great for throwaway pictures and portability, but everything else is seriously lacking for my tastes. Unresponsive, crummy quality at any ISO other than the lowest. Perfect for posting pictures for sales on eBay though. I actually gave that away to my mom a year or so ago, so she could take pictures for eBay. Nowadays, for an ultra portable convenience camera, I just use my phone.
So I bought a Olympus Stylus Epic. It’s been a fun camera, but unfortunately it doesn’t advance the film quite correctly which can make cutting the negatives and scanning them a pain. 35 mm is a good focal length for an all around lens, though I tend to prefer 28 mm. At least the Epic was cheap ($35) and ‘all-weather,’ which provides a sense of reassurance when you just throw it in a coat pocket and don’t worry if it gets banged around.
All of this is good and fine, but what I really wanted but could never justify was one of the classic luxury point and shoots from the mid to late ’90s. A Minolta TC-1 or a Nikon 28Ti. Or the cheaper Ricoh GR1.
There were three GR1’s, the original, the GR1s, and the GR1v. The latter two are essentially updates to the original GR1 that add some nice but not essential features. The only problem with these cameras is that they never seemed to appear in the spur-of-the-moment purchase price range. Sometimes I’d see a GR1 for a decent price, but never, never the GR1v. I kind of wanted a GR1v if for no other reason to have the most recently made version, which is comforting in this day of companies no longer supporting film cameras.1 Though the added ability to manually select your ISO is nice.
The other year, I finally saw a GR1v for a very good price on Rangefinder Forum, so I jumped on it.
It’s a pretty small camera, measuring 4.6’’ × 2.4’’ × 1.0’’. Small enough to put in your pants pocket. It’s the perfect size for me to throw in a pocket, jacket or pants, and not even notice that I’m carrying a camera. I can literally carry it around all the time, which means I do. It’s kind of amazing that its essentially thinner than a roll of film, except for the tiny hand grip section.
The camera is constructed out of magnesium, so it’s pretty hardy. However, the lens extending mechanism is probably fragile, and I’d hate to ruin that or the aperture selection dial—they probably can’t take too much abuse. So, it’s sturdy enough, but it’s not quite as protected as the Olympus Stylus Epic with it’s sliding lens cover, nor as cheap to replace. It definitely is built nicer though.
For power, it takes one CR2 battery. I don’t know what the battery life is, so I have a spare in each of my bags. These batteries are expensive in the store, so you’ll do yourself a big favor if you order them in bulk online. I do the same with the batteries for my Leica M’s. It gets the price down to $1–2 per battery.
Mine came with a little crappy hood which I’ll probably never use and a very tight fitting case. I bought a Zing pouch which is a little larger but offers more protection.
The most frustrating thing with this camera is its focusing. Who knows where it chooses. It has three focus areas clustered in the center of the frame and it gives you feedback as to which one it selects, however, it will sometimes lock onto something in the background when you thought it chose your subject’s face. Of course, this is life with an auto focus compact, so get used to it. I’m exaggerating here; for the most part, it’s pretty accurate.
The Snap Mode is very useful, where the focus is fixed at 2 meters. In good lighting, you can select smaller aperture and not have to worry about focusing at all. There are several other focus modes, including infinity, other fixed distances, single point auto focus, and manual focus (1, 2, 3, or 5 meters, and infinity).
There’s a nice exposure compensation dial on the top, a switch to turn the flash on and off, and a mode dial that lets you select the aperture, put the camera in Program mode, and set the ISO.
When you first load a roll of film, the camera winds out the whole roll, and you shoot through the roll backwards. So if you happen to open the camera at any point, all of your already taken photos will be protected. Kind of cool.
For more about operation of the camera, check out the manual or this website where there is a nice short write up about the camera’s features.
It’s really a wonderful little camera. I’m glad I managed to pick mine up for a good price. I often keep it in my bag when I go to work, take it as a backup camera on trips, or as a ’non-camera’ when I don’t really feel like packing a larger camera. I tend to take a decent amount of flash photos with it, since it has a flash and I tend to have it with me in non-ideal photo situations.
To illustrate the previous point, I offer the following photo. I was at a conference in Japan, and one of the other conference goers really wanted to take us to Roppongi for some reason. So we went. Totally not my scene. We were hanging out in this one bar and this dude just sat in the back the whole time, toking on his cigar. I wasn’t really thinking ‘photography’ that evening, but I had the GR1v on me, so I snapped his photo.
All in all, a very cool camera for those of us who still like to shoot film. You get most of the convenience and size of a compact digital camera with enough manual features to retain some modicum of control, and you can still load Tri-X in it.
The reason I’ve yet to purchase a Konica Hexar RF. If that thing ever broke, say good-bye. ↩︎