Goodbye Ricoh GR1 (or, why you shouldn’t buy one)
TLDR: My GR1 broke one too many times, learn from my mistake.
I bought my GR1 specifically with the aim of having a small camera I could take anywhere, to take full-frame 35mm pictures with. It was amazing, I bought one got it repaired and took it on holiday – then wrote a review about how much I loved it.
I sold what I am calling its ‘corpse’ a few weeks ago. The story of its demise is a good reminder of the dangers of buying old cameras – especially electric point and shoot cameras.
So what went wrong? Well the critical part of the first paragraph here is ‘got it repaired’. As noted in my first review, its almost impossible to get hold of a fully working GR1, and that you should factor repair into the cost of purchase. I paid a fair amount to get the LCD and film advance mechanism on my camera repaired, and thought I was good at that point. What I wish I had done is asked myself one question before I bought: Ricoh isn’t making these cameras anymore, they are not repairing these cameras anymore, so where do the parts come from?
The only answer, which now seems completely logical, but which I completely missed in the excitement of a new toy, is that the parts come from other broken GR1s. Repairs of this, and most other old cameras, are always going to rely on an ever decreasing set of parts cannibalized from other cameras. This is why these repairs are so costly, because you are paying for a small chunk of another camera.
I am far from the first person to have this issue – especially with a camera like the GR1, prone to issues with small electrical parts, the rotation of working/repairable/repair donor cameras is more noticeable than with most.
With my camera, it was working as well as could be expected (LCD semi-working, everything else good). I put it away for about six months whilst a global pandemic took hold (which was actually a prompt to take out my big EOS 5), and when I took it back out of the cupboard again, the shutter would no longer fire, and it semi-frequently didn’t turn on. No knocks, no dropping, no slow decline, just a few attempts to replace the battery to make sure, then acceptance that it wasn’t working.
I had a choice, did I accept another expensive repair, which is the route I would have taken if I had not read about other peoples similar repair experiences, or did I let it go. And off it went into the ether of ebay for someone else to (probably) take apart and use to repair their own GR1.
So I was basically back to square one, and looking for a replacement. I knew that whatever happens I am accepting that by buying an old camera, reliability is never going to be as good as if I was getting something new – but I did have a few options in terms of approach:
Accept repairs: I have painted a slightly bleak picture of the repair options with these cameras. But its important to note that this really applies to these small electrical cameras. For larger SLRs, there are far more parts around, and once you get into the really rarefied air of Leicas etc. the costs of repairs are nominal compared to value of the camera. So option one was to go with another GR1 or similar, accepting that I’d have to set aside some money for repairs down the line, and enjoy whatever I bought whilst it lasted.
Buy your own donors: The next option is to do a bit of research on price points for working/non-working cameras. With the GR1, where there are a couple of things that consistently go wrong, prices of broken cameras are still pretty high, but for some cameras you can pick up a good example for a fair price, and then pick up a broken camera for next to nothing. Here, if you find something with a broken lens (for instance), but working electrics, you can be confident that you can reduce the cost of any future repairs with your donor camera – always useful to have that insurance policy in your cupboard.
Compromise: As noted, these repair issues are much less prevalent with fully manual cameras without the delicate electronics. These cameras also tend to be larger SLR cameras which are so common that repairs are much more affordable, or even (given that you can change your lens) replaceable for less.
The money from the GR1 ultimately stretched to not one, but three replacement cameras (another reason to reconsider a GR1 purchase, they might be slightly over priced at this point). There was one overarching thing that tied these purchases together – a lot of research. The main thing I wanted to do was make sure I didn’t buy anything without first knowing what I was getting into in terms of reliability, usability, build, longevity.
This meant not just reading reviews from when the camera was new, but also the (probably) ten to fifteen years of other peoples experiences with the camera. I have said this before, but it is worth reiterating – one of the best things about film photography is that very little is completely ‘new’, and even for the least widely used stuff, there is usually at least a few people talking on forums about their experiences. I paid attention to these this time, and I hope, ended up with some good stuff.Follow twhittlesea.com on WordPress.com