Ricoh R1

The Ricoh R1 is unique in the world of point and shoot 35mm film cameras in that it packs two focal lengths, a flash, and several unusual features into one of the thinnest and most pocketable film cameras I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t discover this camera until recently because it’s not well-documented on the internet compared to other point-and-shoots. Despite being overshadowed by its more advanced and more expensive sibling, the GR1, on paper the R1 is impressive in its own right, especially considering its much lower price. 

Shot in 24mm mode with the panorama masks manually disabled. Notice the distortion and vignetting on the edges. Not a big deal to me. Portra 400.

What made the R1 stand out to me was its ability to shoot in 30mm and 24mm panoramic mode. Whereas other cameras with panoramic modes simply slipped a “mask” which partially obstructs the top and bottom of the frame to give the impression of a wider view, the R1 actually has a switch that changes the focal length of the lens. The R1 also has a mask as well, but there’s an easy (and reversible) modification to prevent it from covering the frame. 

As someone who prefers wider focal lengths, I thought this might become my “take anywhere” camera.

Shot in 30mm mode. Lomo 400

Aesthetics and Feel

I like small cameras, and the R1 is one of the smallest I own. It’s also the thinnest, making it easy to slip into pants pockets – a huge plus for me. It’s definitely the most pocketable, followed closely by the XA series. It fits well in my hand and the buttons are large and well placed.

Despite being over 20 years old now, the design is modern and sleek. It could easily pass for a digital P&S.

There are some caveats, however. While the R1 looks like a premium camera, it doesn’t feel as robust as I’d have hoped. It has a very plastic feel to it, maybe even fragile. I think it’s more at home in a purse or bag than in my jeans pocket accompanying me while traveling. The plastic that encases the camera isn’t as rigid as I’d like, and in fact there are places on mine where slight flexing has cracked the paint.

Shot in 24mm mode with mask on. Notice the light leak on the right – an easy fix. Lomo 400

Reliability

The LCD screens on these cameras wear out. My R1 has a non functioning LCD, but I owned one with a working screen as well. It’s not a deal breaker if the screen is broken because the camera is fully functional without it. 

The foam around the film window tends to go bad, resulting in light leaks along the right side of your frames (or left side after developed, since the image is reversed). I put black electrical tape over the window and have had no issues since.

Shot in 24mm mode. Lomo 400

Picture Quality

The ability to shoot in 24mm can’t be understated. On a camera this small, I’ll take it even if it can only shoot 24mm at f8. The lens itself isn’t great and when the masks are taken off, the degree of vignetting becomes apparent. Of course the camera wasn’t designed to be used without the masks, so I can’t fault it for that. The vignetting doesn’t bother me anyway – this is a point and shoot after all. One cool thing is that you can shoot in 24mm mode with the flash too, which helps overcome the slow lens if you’re shooting in low light. 

When in normal 30mm mode, the lens tops out at f3.5; still nothing to write home about, but perfectly adequate with a flash. Image quality with this lens is much better than when in 24mm mode. Better, but not amazing.

Shot in 30mm mode. Lomo 400

Operation

With LCD to display camera settings, it was a little confusing at first. After a while it became muscle memory: power on, flash button twice to turn off flash, press shutter. Obviously if I’m shooting in low light, I just power on and shoot. 

The R1 has one of the best viewfinders I’ve used. The framelines displayed change when the focal length is switched and they’re very easy to see.

I’ve never used any of the special settings but I’ve read they’re actually pretty useful. The examples I’ve seen didn’t impress me, so I never bothered trying them. The buttons don’t give an audible or tactile click when you press them, instead they kind of mush. I have the settings written on the back of the film door in case I want to use them, but for the most part I either use flash or don’t. 

Shot in 30mm mode. Portra 400

For me the biggest let down is the R1’s autofocus system. When the autofocus is accurate, the results are great. The images are clear and crisp, but are still ever so slightly less than my Mju I or Mju II. The autofocus seems to have trouble at close range in low light, particularly when taking selfies. It works best shooting anything beyond arms length and in adequate light, at least on my camera. In addition to this, there is a noticeable delay between the time when I press the shutter and when the camera takes the picture. It’s definitely slower than the Mju series, and therefore not good for action shots.

The power button is recessed into the back of the camera, which is good because it reduces the chance it might be accidentally pressed in my pocket, but it also means the camera is slower to operate when you want a quick shot. Lastly, the lens retracts into the camera when turned off, and just extend when turned on or when you change the focal length. Of course, this reduces the overall size of the camera too – a design decision which sacrificed speed and durability for size.

Shot in 24mm mode. Lomo 400

Conclusion

The Ricoh R1 is by no means a bad camera – in fact it has a number of impressive attributes, namely its small size and dual lens system. Where it let me down, however, was its slow operation, inconsistent autofocus and overall fragility. My search for the perfect (and reasonably priced) 35mm point and shoot continues…

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