The Ricoh GR series of cameras are great, but what are the differences?

This is something that I get asked an awful lot, so I thought I would put together this little guide for you. It should give you an idea about the differences and what to look for.

The Ricoh GR series of cameras has to be one of my favorite. There is hardly a more iconic compact camera than the Ricoh. The design is so simple, yet so effective and it has influenced the design of the modern series of GR Digital cameras from Ricoh.
The GR was originally released in 1996 and was the recipient of the TIPA award for best compact camera the following year. I like to refer to this time as the ‘compact wars’ as Ricoh, Contax, Minolta and Nikon battled it out to make the best compact camera of the age.
While I like to think there is no clear winner apart from the customer, I am not alone in thinking that Ricoh managed to produce a camera that has become a semi-icon in the modern camera age.
The GR1
When the original GR1 was released it marked a big leap in the idea of a compact camera. The camera features a 28mm f2.8 lens, display readout with the settings and the film counter, Multi subject autofocus and a 1/500th top speed. All this in a magnesium body that weighs only 175g. This was the idea camera for slipping into your pocket and shooting whenever you needed, but not having to compromise with a poor quality lens.
The GR1 has become harder to find over the years and now to find a mint one you are looking at about $400, sometimes more.

The GR1s
The next evolution in the series was the GR1s, which was introduced in 1997. The differences are so minor that you could be forgiven for not even noticing them, but they are there. The lens was given an uprated coating and a mount was fitted on the front of the lens so that you could use Ricoh filters. The display was also given an illumination feature, which was a huge improvement. Apart from this nothing changed, as it seems that they pretty much got it right the first time around. Same lens, same body and same sleek lines. The prices are about the same too.

The GR1v
This is the one that everyone asks me about. What is the difference between the GR1s and the GR1v, because they look the same. Well, they may look the same, but they are not the same. The GR1v was given some subtle but significant improvements over its little brother. Chiefly among them is the ability to set your iso manually (DX override). This is huge, as before you would have to mess around and tamper with the DX code on the film if you wanted to push or pull, but now you can select in camera.
Another improvement was the changed to the manual focus mode, giving you more control over the camera. Now you can set 1m, 2m, 3m, 5m and infinity. This is a big improvement and helps the photographer get more out of the camera. The final improvement is the auto bracketing mode that was added. This is not a deal breaker for me, but for some photographers it is a big deal.
So, this is why this camera is more expensive, usually around $600 for a clean one.

The GR21
Now this is the big one, the daddy, the final incarnation of the GR film line. The GR21 is a different animal from the rest of them. This camera was the first compact camera in the world to have a 21mm wide angle lens. The lens is an aspherical 21mm f3.5 multicoated piece of perfection, so good that they made it into an M-mount lens. You can tell a GR21 from a distance, because the lens sticks out even when the camera is switched off. All of the features that were developed on the previous models were included in this model. The camera is a little bit bigger than the GR1 due in part to that stunning lens.
Supposedly only 4000 or so of these cameras ever made it into production, and they are reputed to be hard to find. But I can and do find them pretty often. The average price for one of these beauties is going to make you weep though…at least $1000 and that is if you are lucky.

Ricoh GR issues
Like any camera, the GR is prone to faults and does need to be taken care of. They are hardy little cameras and can take a bit of a beating, but you should still make sure you are using a wrist strap and not dropping it down the toilet or something.
There are some problems that are specific to the camera and can be noticed pretty easily.
The LCD has a habit of breaking. But, this is not always the end of the world. If the numbers are faded, switch on the camera and leave it switched on for about 20-30 minutes. This sometimes fixes the problem and the screen comes back to life. If this doesn’t work then you are going to need to get the screen replaced (more about that later).
The motor on these cameras is not all that strong and it doesn’t last forever. You can usually tell if it is on the way out by the noise. If the camera is clicking or it is very noisy then the chances are that your motor is going to conk sooner rather than later.
The eyepiece is a simple rubber piece that is screwed on to the body of the camera. Over time this piece becomes worn and sometimes falls off. You can find replacements on junk cameras or you can have them replaced properly.
Another common one. The foam baffle on the film window inside the camera wears out. Well, it is a piece of foam, what do you expect. If you are savvy with crafts you can replace it yourself, or you can have it replaced by the pros.


*UPDATE* As of mid 2014 Ricoh ceased all service for these cameras. I am afraid there is no longer a service option for them. Sorry for the inconvenience. Consequently I no longer source these cameras as I don’t want to find someone a lemon. Thanks for your understanding. 
Don’t forget to comment, tell me what you like about the Ricoh GR, or what you don’t like, but please comment.