I think we photographers desire to always be inspired/motivated to make photos which give us deep joy. And in order to do that– we of course need a camera. But is there a perfect or ideal camera which will empower us to constantly be making new photos? A ‘perfect’ camera which maximizes our creative productivity? Also a camera which is affordable, a camera which is small, powerful, compact? If so — that is the RICOH GR II.
Currently the RICOH GR II is only $550 USD on Amazon. From that price-point; it is the most phenomenal deal in the field of photography.
I believe in democracy and open-access. I like the idea that everyone can afford the same (epic) tools — and that our ability to make great artwork is more predicated on our own personal effort and ingenuity, instead of how rich we are. Growing up poor/working-class, I know how it feels to be disempowered (“If I were only rich enough to afford [X] I’d be so much happier, more productive, and artistic.”). This certainly happens in the field of photography (this is why camera companies want you to be perpetually dissatisfied with your gear).
Generally speaking as photographers, we feel like our camera is never good enough. And we think:
“If I only bought camera [x] or lens [x] — I’d be so much happier and productive as a photographer.”
What if a RICOH GR II cost $10,000?
But this is the funny truth I discovered:
Just because a camera is more expensive doesn’t mean it is ‘better’ (“Veblen good” — when we perceive that more expensive things are of better quality).
And this is my current thought:
Even if the RICOH GR II cost $10,000 — I would still prefer the camera.
The camera you shoot with matters
As photographers, the camera we use is essential. Why? Without a camera we cannot make visual artwork (our photos).
For example, I would NOT desire to use an 8×10 view camera as my ‘everyday’ camera. Also, I wouldn’t desire to use an 5-year-old smartphone camera as my primary camera.
Of course there is no ultimate ‘best’ camera that applies to everyone. Similar to what my friend Bellamy Hunt (japancamerahunter.com) says:
“I’m trying to help you find your ‘camera zen'”
Camera zen is when you own a camera where you realize that it ain’t your camera which is holding your creative output back.
What I consider ‘perfect’
For myself, I consider a tool ‘perfect’ when there are no obvious flaws. I generally try to seek faults in any technological tool. But if there isn’t any obvious downsides, then I consider it perfect.
Why I consider the RICOH GR II ‘perfect’
- Fits in your front pocket or front jacket pocket: If your camera is small enough to always be with you, you will end up shooting more photos. And the more photos you shoot (on a daily basis), the better.
- Integrated flash: It seems that 90% of the time when you shoot any scene with a flash, the photo looks better. Even when you’re shooting during the day, photographing people, shooting landscapes, shooting nature, shooting food, etc– flash looks better.
- The best ergonomics of a point-and-shoot camera: The RICOH GR II is the optimal hand-size. It ain’t too big, nor too small. You can actually walk around all day with the RICOH GR II in your hand (using Eric Kim WIRST STRAP) without hand-cramping. I recently tested out the new RICOH GR III, but I prefer the slightly bigger size of the RICOH GR II. The Ricoh GR 3 feels a bit too small for my hands.
- Superior color JPEG: To be frank, the ‘positive film’ color preset seems to be the best in-camera processing for juicy colors. I think the Fujifilm JPEG’s for color are also great– but I haven’t been able to produce the same super-vivid look with a Fujifilm camera.
- Supreme monochrome: I have a very strong portfolio of monochrome photos shot on RICOH GR II with Eric Kim Monochrome Lightroom Preset. RAW on the Ricoh GR II with flash, and processed with my presets yield a phenomenal monochrome image. The only sensor which has been able to produce a more interesting monochrome image is the CCD-Leica M Monochrome (the older one from 2012), when shot with a flash (I really like the photos shot by Jacob Aue Sobol on it).
- Insanely sharp: We all geek over sharpness (I think sharpness is overrated). I think one of the greatest things about the RICOH GR II sensor is that it lacks an anti-aliasing filter — which means the photos are far sharper. Any sensor without an anti-aliasing filter will be sharper, and the photos will have stronger visual impact. Even if I compare photos shot with my Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH lens with my RICOH GR II — I cannot really tell much of a difference from a sharpness perspective.
- The camera looks cool: Matte-black on RICOH GR II looks dope. The camera just looks cool (‘all black everything’ aesthetic). Timeless aesthetics (The RICOH GR II looks quite similar to the old-school film RICOH GR1-series cameras). It is kind of like a Porsche — great designs iterate a little bit over time, but for the most part stay classic. Same goes with Rolex watches, and even Leica M-Rangefinder designs (ironic that the new Leica M10 looks almost exactly like the classic film Leica MP — even including the ISO dial which looks like the film rewinder).
- Easy exposure-compensation button: I shoot everything in ‘P’ mode on the RICOH GR II, and I use the + and – exposure-compensation buttons a lot. It works very well, is intuitive, and quick to change. Unfortunately with the new RICOH GR III, they got rid of this button-dial. Because the exposure-compensation dial is designed so well on the RICOH GR 2, I adjust my exposure a lot more often, which yields superior images.
- Macro functionality: Shooting macro opens up a totally new world of opportunities and possibilities! Even though I love the Leica M-rangefinder, the minimum focusing distance of a Leica is only .7 meters. Thus being able to shoot both macro + flash on a RICOH GR II has made super-interesting photos (especially when photographing textures, food, or my coffee).
- Perfect menu-system: Easy to read (yellow-black user-interface), is quick to change settings, and yet quite extensive in terms of what you can customize. The big reason I don’t like Sony cameras is because the user-interface sucks. Fujifilm’s biggest improvements have been in simplifying their menu system as well.
Once you have a ‘perfect’ something– then what?
Well– assuming you own a perfect camera, these are the consequences:
- You shoot all-day, every-day: We are very happy when we shoot a lot. And I think that we are happier when we shoot everyday (instead of only shooting when we travel to exotic places).
- You are less distracted: I will forever be interested in new technology, but 99% of the time almost all new technology is noise. Even if a new ‘revolutionary’ camera got announced– to be frank, at best the new camera might only be 5-15% ‘better’, which is generally not worth the price of distraction.
- Not feeling inadequate: The worst feeling we have as photographers is to have the nagging feeling that your equipment is inadequate. If you no longer have this nagging feeling– you just shoot more! You get less suckered by gear review websites and blogs.
- You save money: For myself, it is more fun to save money than to spend it. Furthermore, spending money on experiences (not stuff) seems to be a superior decision. No matter how good any tool/camera/fashion/house/city is — you will adapt to it (hedonic adaptation). I call this notion ‘Gear Adaptation Syndrome‘. However we adapt less to experiences (traveling to a new place, spending time with loved ones/friends, going to an art exhibit, going to a coffee shop, etc). So if you only spend $550 for a RICOH GR II, that is a lot more dollars to invest in experiences, or books.
How about the new RICOH GR III?
The new RICOH GR III is a very good camera. I played with it for a minute (thanks Anthony) and love it. The new menu, design, and image quality on the new RICOH GR 3 is fantastic. If you wanna buy it, I would recommend it.
So perhaps the optimal solution is to own BOTH the Ricoh GR II and the new Ricoh GR III. Personally, I feel like I’m paving some interesting ground with the older GR 2 (with the flash) — so I might delay on the Ricoh GR 3 for now.
But truth be told, it seems that the RICOH GR II has entered my personal list of ‘perfect’ cameras, which include:
I see a ‘perfect’ digital camera as being quite robust to the effects of time — even in 5-10 years (assuming the electronics are still good), these are good cameras.
More turbo thoughts to come.
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