The Bronica RF645 Review: The Last Bronica

Good day awesome war torn camera geeks and if I haven’t said so already Happy New Year 2022!! I hope your New Year is going to be the best so far.

Note: This post was obviously started earlier in the month but just posted yesterday! I should have said Happy Belated New Year! 😍

As many of you readers know, I’m quite a nostalgic fellow. Even as a younger man I had always thought fondly of good times and memories in my past. Now as I grow older the nostalgia has gotten more intense, if anything.

Where is this leading to? Well, it’s leading to today’s Camera Legend, the Bronica RF645.

THE BRONICA RF645

The Bronica RF645 is an interchangeable lens, medium format rangefinder camera manufactured by Bronica of Japan. It came to market in the year 2000 and was discontinued in 2005.

The amazing Bronica RF645 and 65mm f/4 Zenzanon. The last Bronica Camera Legend.

At the time of the Bronica RF645’s production, Tamron had already taken over Bronica since 1998.

Tamron is a Japanese manufacturer known mostly for their production of 35mm lenses which they made for a multitude of camera mounts, including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, and more. They were and are known as a third party manufacturer and supplier of lenses and accessories.

The RF645 shoots 6×4.5 images on 120 film. The lenses available for the camera were the 45mm f/4, the 65mm f/4, the 100mm f/4.5, and the 135mm f/4.5 lenses.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

For a more dynamic experience check out my Bronica RF645 YouTube review. To spice it up, there are some sample photos on the video that are not here and vice versa. If nothing else, check out the “Image Analysis” segment. It will show you what you cannot see, or might miss when viewing sample images straight on 😎📸👍🏻

SAMPLES

Most of the samples here are from my early days with the RF645, circa 2010-2015. The latter images are from last month, December 2021. All images taken with the Bronica RF645 and 65mm f/4 Zenzanon RF. Due to a mix up, some scans may be lower in quality than they should be and due to the time constraints of trying to post the video and publish the article at the same time, I haven’t been able to update it.

Please check my YouTube video for a couple of color samples, a double exposure, and most importantly the geeky “Image Analysis” segment. That, you don’t want to miss! 😍

BRONICA RF645 ESSENTIALS

The Bronica RF645 is a manual focus rangefinder medium format camera that takes 6×4.5cm images on 120 film.

The Bronica RF645 is at its heart an electronic camera and it runs on two CR2 batteries.

There are four lenses made for the camera. The 45mm f/4, the 65mm f/4, the 100mm f/4.5, and the 135mm f/4.5 Zenzanon RF lenses.

The RF645 has a dedicated flash unit, the RF20 flash.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE RF645

I first came across the Bronica RF645 in 2010. It was not actually a camera on my radar of cameras to get but I had seen some great photos from a photographer friend who spoke highly of it.

I had also read many great threads on this camera on rangefinderforum.com a very nice and close knit community for rangefinder photography enthusiasts.

As always, I was more of a lurker than a contributor. I love looking at the photos and soaking in the knowledge of the great photographers there!

I was too shy really to contribute. I may have once or twice, I can’t remember but I was not a prolific poster. Some of the folks there are prolific! I could mention a bunch of names but I don’t want to out anyone 😍

They must be shy too though. I’ve never had an rangefinder forum member comment here or on my videos, at least not that I know of. Don’t be shy guys and girls! You cats on RFF are da bomb! You own this genre. Open up and say hi! 😎📸👍🏻

Anyway I ended up buying a Bronica RF645 body and 65mm lens kit used for $700 in 2010.

I DID NOT EXPECT TO LIKE IT BUT…

Although I first bought the RF645 in 2010, I didn’t expect to like it. Why wouldn’t I like it? Well I was not too keen on the vertical format although I figured I’d get used to it. It’s not that I don’t like vertical shots, I mean portraits are mostly vertical. It’s that as someone used to 35mm where horizontal framing is the norm, it may take some getting used to.

I was also concerned about the slowish f/4 to f/4.5 lenses. Also knowing the 6×4.5 is not all that much larger than 35mm, relatively speaking, well that also gave me reason to pause.

In 2010, I was really into the bokeh phase of my photography. I had been a bokeh whore for years already with lenses like the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AIS, the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, but the Canon 50mm f/0.95 “Dream Lens” that I got in 2009 really set me off!

But isn’t the Bronica RF a medium format camera? Shouldn’t it give better bokeh effect because of the larger film format you might ask?

Well, yes the Bronica is a medium format camera but not all medium format cameras were created equal or for the same purpose.

For one thing, remember the slowish f/4 and f/4.5 lenses which on 6×4.5 would translate to roughly f/2.5 and f/2.8 respectively as far as what you might get in shallow depth of field or its bokeh “look.” However you must remember that f/4 and f/4.5 is still f/4 and f/4.5 in its light gathering abilities.

Secondly, rangefinder cameras, whether 35mm or medium format never focus as closely as their SLR counterparts so you can’t recreate or enhance the bokeh effect by just getting closer like you can with many SLR lenses.

So why buy it in the first place? As I said, I saw some great images and my photographer friend, who I met on Rangefinder Forum, kind of pushed me over on it although I didn’t buy it from him. His wasn’t for sale!

As with most of my photographic purchases, I figured I could sell it if I didn’t like it.

So why did I end up liking the camera, or more correctly, loving the camera so much?

Well it’s the combination of really quite impeccable sharpness, contrast, and at times, even bokeh from the 65mm f/4 Zenzanon RF lens that won me over. And these virtues worked well for me, especially for portraits where the vertical orientation of the framing works perfectly.

WHAT THE BRONICA RF645 TAUGHT ME

The Bronica RF645 and especially its 65mm f/4 lens taught me how to better appreciate subtle bokeh.

2010. Bronica RF645 and 65mm f/4 Zenzanon RF on T-Max 400 developed in T-Max developer. Not the beautiful subtle bokeh and how the sand melts in the background.

Yes I’ve seen subtle bokeh from other lenses many times before but they always got overlooked especially if I’m using a camera where I can swap out the lens and use a fast 85-90mm portrait lens. But since I’ve only used the 65mm f/4 on the RF645, I don’t have any of its other lenses to swap out so I’m stuck analyzing every frame. That’s how I came to appreciate the qualities of the 65mm Zenzanon RF more.

2021. Note the uniform blur on the Christmas lights. The 65mm f/4 Zenzanon is not a character lens such as the Canon 50mm f/0.95 “Dream Lens.” Instead it has just enough of a beautiful soft background blur that allows the subject to shine through.

My two favorite forms of photography are portrait and street. The RF645 is an excellent camera for both! Just as long as you understand, the 65mm is not going to give you the classic head and shoulders portrait. The best you can get is a half or full body. It’s great for environmental portraits of people in their surroundings, which in turn makes it a great lens for street portraits.

When you’ve used lenses like the Canon 50mm f/0.95, the 85mm f/1.2L, the Leica Summilux 80mm f/1.4, or the Hasselblad 110mm f/2, you get really spoiled with that “in your face” bokeh look.

You’re not going to get that with the 65mm f/4 Zenzanon. What you get is subtle bokeh that accentuates and complements the subject rather than overtake the subject.

For a lot of the bokeh lenses I mentioned, ie, the Canon 50mm f/0.95, many times the “look” created by the unique characteristic of the lens becomes the subject. In other words, people are drawn to the look created by the Dream Lens first, then to the actual subject second.

The Bronica 65mm with its much more subtle bokeh helps to draw the viewers to the main subject first.

Sometimes people worry that this means the lens itself has no character but that really depends on the viewer and how one sees it.

For me, the Bronica 65mm f/4 Zenzanon RF, especially with a film like Tmax 400 gives me images with the kind of character I like!

It mixes excellent “modern” sharpness from a lens built in the late 90s or early 2000s with just the right amount of contrast that gives me a kind of look I like. Images can look vintage and modern at the same time.

I can’t pinpoint it but black and white images from the 65mm Zenzanon reminds me of black and whites from the Twilight Zone tv series but at the same time, not! Confusing ain’t it? 😂

Don’t be confused, it’s all in the eye of the beholder 😍👍🏻

BRONICA RF645 PROS

1. Portability. The biggest pro for the Bronica RF645 would probably be portability. It’s not a small camera by today’s standards but it is portable for a medium format camera. It will fit nicely into most camera bags that could hold a DSLR and lens.

It is hefty but light enough to carry around all day without feeling its weight too much.

2. More Shots Per Roll. Another pro is the fact that 6×4.5 gives you more shots per roll. What the RF645 loses in negative size, it makes up for in shots per roll and you’ll get about 16 shots

3. Handling & Ergonomics

I find the RF645 to have excellent handling and ergonomics. The viewfinder is nice and bright and the viewfinder lcd display is green and easy to read.

The controls are well placed. The shutter speed dial has nice, distinctive clicks and doesn’t move out of place too easily. The shutter speed range is 1/500 to Bulb.

The camera has a very competent set of controls on its back door, which includes the ISO settings, a self timer, and multiple exposure capabilities. Please check my YouTube video for a closer look.

Before I get to the Cons, here’s a quick look at the lenses…

BRONICA RF645 LENSES

Although I can only speak to the 65mm f/4 because it’s the only lens I’ve used on the RF645, I can say that if the other three lenses are consistent with the 65mm, then you can be assured of top notch optical performance.

The 65mm f/4 has a field of view equivalent to 39 or 40mm on 35mm film cameras.

The 45mm f/4 is a wide angle that has a field of view equivalent to roughly a 28mm (27.9 to be exact) on 35mm film. There is no frame lines for it on the RF645 so you either have to use the optional external finder or do without the finder.

The 100mm f/4.5 is usually seen as a telephoto but it corresponds to roughly 60mm on 35mm film making it more like a longer “normal” rather than a telephoto lens.

The 135mm f/4.5 is roughly 80mm on 35mm film which puts it in the classic portrait category.

As far as I know, the 135mm is very hard to achieve precise critical focus due to the RF645’s short rangefinder base.

Early RF645 cameras came with the viewfinder mask in the finder for the 135mm but apparently Bronica offered a free upgrade to anyone wanting to send the camera in for the 100mm viewfinder mask “upgrade.” Apparently they had heard complaints of focusing difficulty with the 135mm and tried to shift customers towards the 100mm.

CONS

1. Repairability. The main con of the Bronica RF645 is the possibility of expensive or hard to find repair service should your camera need servicing.

The film winder is a potential weak point. I have heard of people breaking the winders when used over enthusiastically. Mine has never broken in the five years that I had it but I always wind the film gently because the winder always had a bit of a fragile feel to it.

Another commonly reported problem is an out of alignment rangefinder window.

Now both of these problems could probably be fixed by a competent camera repair man but the problem really comes from availability of parts, or lack thereof.

Also one must remember that at its heart, the RF645 relies on electronics and as with all things electronic things are bound to fail as age and time takes its toll.

2. Increasing Prices. Another con for the RF645 is the increasing prices on this beautiful camera and its lenses.

Just like all the great Camera Legend cameras of yesteryear, prices have been increasing steadily over the past few years.

It’s still not as bad as the price increases on other legends such as the Mamiya 6 or 7, or the Leica film cameras but it’s getting there!

Keeping all these cons in mind, should you still decide to get one I can say that it is a great camera system that will produce exceptional results!

PRICES & AVAILABILITY

The Bronica RF645 and its lenses can still be easily found especially on eBay. The bodies come and go on sites like Keh or UsedPhotoPro.

If you are looking for the RF645, prices are trending at $1000-1500 USD for the body in good to excellent condition.

The 45mm and 65mm Zenzanon are easiest to find and trending at $500-750 for the 45mm and $450-650 for the 65mm.

The 100mm and 135mm are harder to find and prices are trending at $900-1400 for the 100mm and $1600-2000 plus for the elusive 135mm.

Some people think the 135mm is a unicorn because they have never seen it for sale but I have seen it on eBay and more recently on Keh where they were asking $1700 plus for it in Excellent condition. It was on their site for a couple of weeks.

I’d love to try one but the price for the 135mm was way too much for something I know I’d use once or twice.

I nearly bit the bullet on the 100mm many times but didn’t. Only a year ago I saw the 100mm in the $600-800 range. Now it’s probably too late for me to buy one because I’m not willing to spend over $1000 for it. Remember my favorite quote that I borrowed (stole!) from Steve Windwood? “While you see a chance, take it!” Well sometimes I don’t take my own advice and now it’s too late for me 😢

Everyone has different needs but for me, honestly, the 65mm is probably the only lens I need for the RF645. It’s a very sharp, high resolution lens that’s perfect for environmental portraits and street work. Check the “Image Analysis” segment of my YouTube video for a clear demonstration of its resolving power.

CONCLUSION

The Bronica RF645 is an amazingly brilliant camera that puts great handling and sharp optics into a highly portable package.

Brought to market in the year 2000, it represents the best of what can happen when a lens legend like Tamron and a Camera Legend like Bronica work together.

It also represents the climatic end of Bronica. A great camera manufacturer that started out trying to compete against medium format giants like Hasselblad and Rollei only to find themselves always underrated and underestimated.

Pros and enthusiasts always knew how great Bronica cameras and lenses were but it’s hard to compete when you’re up against not only Hasselblad and Rollei, but also Mamiya Fujifilm and Pentax, all of which have greater name recognition from the general public.

The RF645 was their last medium format camera and in terms of ease of usability, perhaps their best.

It also didn’t help that the RF645 was introduced during the dawn of the digital era. Had it been introduced a decade earlier, say around 1990, perhaps it would have stayed on the market longer than five years, which in all honesty is already longer than you might have expected!

Anyway that’s all pure conjecture now. The Bronica RF645’s story is history but this Camera Legend lives on in the hearts, minds, and eyes of photographers like myself and many others. In my opinion, it’s the most fun 645 camera I’ve ever used and more importantly, it produces consistent results that I love!

IS IT WORTH IT? IS IT FOR YOU?

Due to increasing prices and possible repairability issues, I would say NO for most people.

But for you HARDCORE camera geeks, I’d say YES!! Get it now before prices go beyond its worth!

What is a HARDCORE camera geek? Camera Legend definition: A camera geek who knows the risks but is willing to take it 😍👍🏻

“My Rolleiflex Life” A Short Film 😍

Good morning you awesome camera geeks! Happy New Year 2022!

No article today. I’m just sharing our latest YouTube video which is my attempted “cinematic” lol video which is actually a tribute to the Rolleiflex cameras 😍📸👍🏻

Some people had asked me for video samples from my EOS RP and vintage 50mm f/0.95 Canon Dream Lens and so this was shot with a combination of the Dream Lens and the RF 24-105mm kit lens.

Please note, I do not endorse or advocate smoking or vaping. My Dad died of lung cancer eleven years ago and I quit “analog” cigarettes then. I switched to vaping and I haven’t been able to quit that.

I only put the smoking/vaping in there to recreate the old Hollywood movies that I’m a big fan of! Smoking in black and white always looked cinematic somehow, at least to me!

Thanks for checking it out! I wish each and every one of you good health and happiness and continued success this year. Thanks for your support as always!! 😍📸👍🏻

The Yashica 35CC Review

Good day you awesome war torn camera geeks!

Over the past few months, and indeed over the years some of you have reached out to me here, on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube asking me basically something that sounds like this:

“Sam I really want a Contax T2, or a Konica Hexar, or a Nikon 35ti, or a Ricoh GR1 but the prices on those cameras are insanely high. Can you recommend a low cost alternative that delivers the goods?”

Now if you’re one of those people who asked, or if you echo those same sentiments then I would ask you…why do you want those cameras?

For some, it’s most likely because those premium cameras are among the most wanted on the YouTube playlist. In fact, the YouTube reviews by young millennials might be the driving force to why these cameras have skyrocketed in price. Kendall Jenner was just a catalyst with the T2 but the YouTube reviews thereafter took the prices into the atmosphere!

Now for you guys who are really into photography, you may have wanted one of those premium cameras for street photography. By and large, the premiums like the T2, Hexar, 35ti and of course the Ricoh GR1 have a deservedly good reputation as street cameras.

But the insanity of the high prices on those cameras keeps the thinking man from jumping in. Can you really get comparable quality from cheaper cameras?

Today I have an alternative for you that I believe is an excellent choice, and at perhaps at 1/10th the price of most premiums.

And that camera is the Yashica 35CC. It is a camera I believe to be Yashica’s hidden gem.

INTRODUCTION

The Yashica 35CC/CCN is a compact, 35mm rangefinder with a 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon fixed lens.

The camera has a shutter speed range of 8 seconds to 1/250 and a flash synch of 1/30th of a second. The camera runs on one 6 volt 544 or equivalent battery.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

For those who are interested in this camera, this video review may have the answers to your questions. It’s a pretty deep dive into this camera!

IMPRESSIONS OF THE ELECTRO 35CC AND IN USE

While I’ve used several Yashica Electro models over the years, the 35CC was a late addition to my collection and I got it around 2018-2019.

My first impression is that the camera is much smaller than more well known models like the Yashica Electro GS/GSN.

According to the Camera-Wiki, the Yashica Electro 35CC is “wrongly” thought by some to be part of the Yashica Electro family. However as I show on my YouTube video, you can’t blame people for “wrongly” thinking that when it actually says “Electro 35CC” on the top of the camera! 😀

But the thing that stands out right away and the thing that is indeed the star feature of the Electro 35CC/CCN. It is that bright 35mm f/1.8 lens!

Traditionally, rangefinders from this era have fixed lenses in the 40-45mm range. Think the Olympus SP, the Canonets, or even the aforementioned Yashica Electro GSN.

And even premium compacts like the Contax T2 has a 38mm f/2.8 lens. So the lens on the Electro 35CC at f/1.8 is a stop faster than the 2.8 on the Contax T2, Nikon 35ti, Leica Minilux, and marginally faster than the Konica Hexar’s 35mm f/2.

What does that extra speed buy you? The ability to shoot in lower light conditions and hopefully getting a good shot. And even though the 35mm focal length has never been known as a bokeh monster, the extra fast f/1.8 might help coax out that extra bit of bokeh.

What doesn’t it have that the premium compacts mentioned above does? It doesn’t have autofocus for one thing. It doesn’t have a Carl Zeiss lens or a Ricoh GR lens but without those brand labels, the prices can be kept low. That’s a positive thing!

IN USE

The Yashica Electro 35CC is small and compact and feels good in the hand. It’s a little on the thick side so it’s not exactly pocketable for the usual pant pockets.

The rangefinder patch on my copy is nice and contrasty making it easy to focus. There are dual focus tabs on the lens which is a nice touch.

The controls are sparse. The camera is basically aperture priority. You select the aperture via the markings on the lens and the camera selects the shutter speed. The shutter speed range is a whopping 8 seconds to 1/250th for the top speed.

The camera gives no indication of what speed it chooses. The only indication is a + or – for over or underexposure.

On my particular camera that indicator no longer works. I can’t see anything indicating over or underexposure. The battery check on my camera is also not working. However, that did not stop the camera from producing mostly well exposed images.

If you run out of batteries there is a default mechanical speed. Some sites say it’s 1/250th but others say it’s 1/30th. In my opinion, based on usage, it seems the default shutter speed without a battery is 1/30th.

SAMPLE PICS

All images below were taken with the Yashica Electro 35CC and Kentmere 400 film developed in Xtol.

Based on my own tests, I believe the 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon DX lens to be excellent.

In the above images, I can see that the lens is really only held back by the film (Kentmere 400) and/or my developer Xtol.

At f/1.8 there is a touch of softness (as are most lenses wide open) but it’s actually sharper at f/1.8 than I expected so I’m perfectly fine with its performance.

From f/4 to f/11 you can expect excellent sharpness and good contrast, assuming the camera chooses a fast enough shutter speed.

PRICES, AVAILABILITY & WHERE TO BUY

The prices for the Yashica Electro 35CC are trending from $80-130 USD.

I’ve read that this camera is hard to find but I don’t think it’s that hard to find. I got mine from KEH in 2018 or 2019 for around $100.

In fact, while working on this article I saw one last week, again at KEH for $133 in EX condition.

It is true that you don’t see them too often from USA dealers. However they are plentiful on eBay, from sellers in Japan.

As mentioned before, I have bought many times from Japan without issues. However, you must do your research on the seller, as always, no matter what country it comes from.

BOTTOM LINE

The Yashica Electro 35CC is a hidden gem! It may not be as well known or as desirable as say a Contax T2 or Nikon 35ti, but especially for street photography I find the images it produces just as satisfying.

And the fact that you can find these cameras for about $100 USD on average, well, that adds incredible value and enjoyment to using this camera!

The Yashica Electro 35CC/CCN may never go down on its own as a true Camera Legend (but it might!), but there is no doubt that the Yashica Electro series as a whole are Camera Legends that have made memories for people for decades.

In my opinion, the Yashica Electro 35CC is one of the best that you can get from this series, even if Camera-Wiki doesn’t consider it part of the Electro family 😀

If you see one at the prices I mentioned, buy it! And tell ‘em Sam sent you 😎📸👍🏻

YouTube Shorts Playlist

Good morning you awesome camera geeks! Today for your Throwback Thursday I’m just sharing with you a YouTube “Shorts” playlist.

Now in case you don’t know, YouTube recently rolled out a feature called “Shorts” in which users can put out videos that are 60 seconds or less, in vertical format.

I’m not sure if YouTube ever mentioned this but it seems obvious that this was done to counter videos by rival Tik-Tok.

Anyway, I started using it for fun and also as a way to give a little spotlight to cameras and lenses I own or have owned, but have yet to fully review.

If you haven’t seen these already, the items spotlighted so far are: the Leica R8, Minolta TC-1, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L which I referred to as my “most unused lens,” Topcon Super D, Canon Dream Lens and EOS RP, and my famous or “infamous” $20 dollar Vivitar PS-20 point and shoot and maybe others I don’t remember off the top of my head!

Why don’t just make full video reviews of these items? Well, I’d love to, and some are half done but time constraints from work and family prevents me from finishing these projects sooner. I don’t make any money on YouTube yet so I need to give priority to my real job 😍

Plus, now with a little YouTube experience, I can sense that while a camera like the Topcon Super D or Graflex Norita may appeal to a small cult, they will be largely ignored by my viewers until I have a larger subscription base so I’ll save them until they can be properly appreciated.

Nothing worse than putting a lot of time into videos that will get little views! But yes, I know it’s better to post something than nothing at all so I’ll keep trying 😎😍😎👍🏻

FUNNY PHOTO OF THE DAY

I love an app called Snapchat! The girls think I’m getting old because it’s an “old” app. Is time moving so fast that a five or six year old app is old?! All I can say is…I still love it! 😍❤️😍

Photo Of The Day: “High Rise” Nikon DF

Good morning you awesome and beautiful camera geeks! Well 2020 will go down as the year Covid-19 came into the world and left a path of death and destruction.

Therefore I hate to say that, by God’s good grace, I prospered during that year.

As many of you know, my other job besides Camera Legend is in health care where I work as a physical therapist.

This photo was shot with a Nikon DF and 50mm f/1.8 Special Edition Nikkor. It’s a dream camera I’ve wanted since its introduction in 2013.

Just like many of you, my first thoughts during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 was that I wasn’t going to buy any more cameras and lenses.

I saw what the virus did to people and to the economy and it scared the heck out of me.

When I saw my first Covid-19 patients last year, I have to admit I was scared shitless! I seriously thought of quitting. But I didn’t.

The more patients I saw, the more I realized these people needed me. In those early days a COVID patient was almost like a leper. I remember that same attitude towards HIV patients.

So I took on more hours as my coworkers had to quarantine from contracting COVID. Some even quit and were enjoying life on unemployment.

It got to a point where I said you know what, if I’m going to die from this thing I might as well go out with a bang!

I am grateful and really very lucky to have not tested positive for COVID thus far 🙏🏻🙏🏻

So with the extra money I made I picked up a few of the cameras and lenses on my bucket list and the Nikon DF was one of them. It also helped that prices on high end cameras were unusually low at the start of the pandemic.

Anyway I’ll tell you guys more about my experiences with the DF in future articles and videos!

I know of the negative economic impact COVID has made on so many people so I am not writing this article to brag about getting a cool camera. In fact, my sensitivity to this point is why I’ve waited so long to reveal it to you.

And even though I feel guilty for treating myself, please remember that I did WORK for it! I went into those rooms with COVID patients while some took off, quit, or enjoyed that extra $600 in unemployment money.

Anyway the Nikon DF is a fantastic camera but there are some things that I didn’t like about it. But hey that’s a topic for another day! Stay safe, stay healthy. That virus is still raging even with the vaccines. Have a blessed day my fellow camera geeks! 😍📸👍🏻

Photo Of The Day: “Fourteen” 😍 Rolleiflex 2.8F

Good morning you awesome war torn camera geeks! Recently I found this photo and it’s quite timely because this week, the little baby in the photo is turning fourteen! I can hardly believe it!

This image was a self portrait taken in 2007 with a Rolleiflex 2.8F with the 80mm f/2.8 Planar lens. Film unrecorded but I’d bet it’s either Tri-X or T-Max. When it comes to film choices, I’m nothing if predictable 😍

I don’t think I’ve used a self timer before or since on a TLR!! Have you?

Friend, as you know there’s always a healthy dose of nostalgia on my pages and it’s not without reason. This weekend the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks came to pass. Twenty years in the blink of an eye.

Same here with this photo. 2007 was a year that changed my life and yet every year it is seemingly passing by ever faster, becoming a fading memory. I’m not sure how other people deal with the passage of time but I’m just a sentimental fool I guess. My Dad was like that, I guess it runs in the family!

I cannot stop time but I can record it through photographs. I suggest you do the same because in the end memories are all we’ve got. Have a beautiful week good peeps! And thanks😍🙏🏻👍🏻

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Photo Of The Day: “Twenty Years Later”

Good morning you awesome and beautiful war torn camera geeks! Well even though I started on an upbeat note, today’s topic is anything but upbeat.

The Freedom Tower, 2019. Yashica Electro 35CC, Kentmere 400 developed in Xtol.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 terror attacks that changed America forever it is bittersweet to see how the world today, specifically Afghanistan, is seemingly back to its pre 9/11 state.

As a New Yorker, I remember the events of that day very well. I remember the sadness afterwards. I remember the unity of the country. And I remember the pledge to “Never Forget.” Sadly, it seems like a lot of people have forgotten and/or have already moved on.

Just like many of you, the events of last month, August 2021, caught me a little off guard. Looking at it now it’s clear that while certain events may have taken the US government off guard, the bigger picture is no surprise to them.

That “bigger picture” is having the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan.

Now I do not wish to make this a political column. If there is any blame, I would say all administrations, all the US presidents of the past twenty years are to blame.

You could blame George W. Bush for bringing us into Afghanistan by taking Osama Bin Laden’s bait. But then again, after your country has been attacked in such a dramatic fashion what else could he have done?

You could blame Barack Obama for doing pretty much nothing that I can remember with Afghanistan during his tenure. Oh wait, during his tenure he did get Osama Bin Laden so I gotta give him some credit for that.

You could blame Donald Trump for making a deal with the Taliban (supposedly we don’t deal with terrorists) in the first place and you could blame Joe Biden for not taking presidential leadership to change some of Trump’s plans when he got the data that the Taliban were making substantial gains.

You could also say that Afghanistan is, sadly, a war torn country in every sense of the word. A country with beautiful and tough people but with a very complex mix of religious and cultural influences that could never be overcome by the influences of another country. Russia tried for ten years. They failed. Now the USA has left after twenty years with really nothing to show for it.

What irks me is the notion given by the media, who ultimately got their information from the government that everything was going great in Afghanistan and thus the world felt safer for a while.

Today the same people who sheltered Al Quaeda in 2001, the Taliban, are back in power.

Apparently in their agreement with the US government, the Taliban pledged not to harbor terrorists. The problem is they have shown time and again that their word means almost nothing. Whether or not they keep their word remains to be seen.

On one hand maybe we should have stayed and reshaped the country for the better. On the other hand, Afghanistan is not our country to reshape. And for the US government, there is no oil, no treasures to be had. If there were I’d bet the plans would be different.

Anyway this is not the forum for politics so I’ll leave it at that but as you can see Afghanistan is complicated! It’s not an easy topic.

Oh by the way, the above photo was taken with a Yashica Electro 35CC and Kentmere 400 film.

What is your opinion? I’d love to hear it! Keep it civil though. As I said this is not the place for politics.

My Latest YouTube Shorts!

YouTube now has a feature called “Shorts” and it’s perfect for me because while I enjoy sharing with my fellow camera lovers, I don’t necessarily enjoy making long videos that nobody watches 🙂

I’ve done a few of them already and they are lots of fun! And perhaps they may lead to full length videos in the future, who knows. Anyway, today’s shorts features is a sort of “old Canon meets new Canon.” It’s the EOS RP with the vintage Canon 50mm f/0.95 Dream Lens. Check it out!

The 1985 Method For 35mm Film Beginners 😎

Good morning you awesome camera geeks! Over the years, I’ve catered to camera and photography lovers of every kind.

Perhaps because I’m a collector myself, I’ve written a lot for camera collectors. I’ve tried to do both film and digital reviews because I love both but there’s one group I’ve not done a lot for. That group are the humble beginners.

I actually did a video on YouTube a couple of years ago called “The Benefits Of A Cheap Camera” in which I talked about the Vivitar V3800n, a cheap and affordable 35mm slr and although I tried to give some useful advice in the video, I don’t think a lot of people liked or understood my lighthearted approach and humor 😀

So today I will try to be more gentle and serious (if that’s possible!) in my approach

YouTube Video

The bulk of my advice today will be on my YouTube video. The young film beginner today is more likely to watch a video rather than read an article. For the rest of this article I will concentrate more on things I didn’t touch on in the video.

People can be funny sometimes. I’m sure a some people might say “Ah he’s just pushing his video!”

And the funny thing is, if the video is on Camera Legend YouTube and this is the Camera Legend blog, shouldn’t I be doing that?! It would be unwise of me not to 😍

But as you’ll see, this article touches on a lot that’s not on the video so consider it an addendum to the video.

Big Beginner Mistake

As beginners we all make mistakes. Heck even when not a beginner we make mistakes! At least I do still today 😀

To me though one of the biggest mistakes I see the beginner in 35mm film photography make is the notion that they have to be an expert camera operator first.

It’s not the beginners fault really. It’s perhaps all the “super photographers” they read about or see on YouTube but it seems to me they feel the need to learn aperture, shutter speeds, lighting, flash, everything all at once!

And yes it IS important to learn those fundamentals of photography but the truth of the matter is mastering these things take time and lots of practice.

Obsessing about learning camera function so much can make you overlook perhaps the most important aspect of photography: the actual picture. Taking the picture. Learning to focus the lens. Learning to compose. Developing an eye for a good picture.

So you say Sam, if I don’t know how to operate the aperture and shutter speeds then how am I going to take good pictures?!

Fear not! Let me introduce to something I call “The 1985 Method” 😀

The 1985 Method

No this isn’t actually a “method” I came up with but it’s how I developed a love for photography.

Back in the 80s as a youngster starting out, I usually shot sight unseen. Before I really got into photography, the camera was just a way of capturing my family, my friends, my world.

All I did was shoot and shoot. I knew nothing about aperture or shutter speeds. I knew nothing about composition or the rules of photography. I learned by discovery. And that still shapes a lot of how I approach things today.

Circa 1986. A selfie of two wannabe rockstars 😂 Shot with a Minolta X-700 and 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. I knew nothing about aperture and shutter speeds but those early days of photography experimentation are the ones I cherish most.

The knowledge of light, aperture, shutter speeds, composition, that came later as I started buying books and magazines. You could say I started out photography the wrong way! Yet, some of those early photographs are the ones I cherish most.

It was photography in its purest form in my opinion before it became the “game.” A game of “you should do it this way or that way.” You should use this camera, buy this lens, etc, etc. I guess you could liken the experience to the innocence of a child before the realities of the world corrupts them.

As mentioned on these pages before, I dabbled in photography in the early 80s with my parents cameras with mixed results. It wasn’t until 1985 when Mom bought us a Minolta X-700 that I started getting (to me) great results, certainly better than I was getting previously. I’ve always considered the Minolta X-700 that I got in 1985 my first “serious” camera.

The Minolta X-700 was my first “serious” camera and served me well as my only SLR from 1985-1994 by giving me consistently well exposed images.

Even as a teen, I was getting roll after roll of consistently good results. As I got older, many of the photographers I met encouraged me to go back to all manual camera like the Pentax K1000, Nikon FM or Olympus OM-1. They told me I should do more “serious” photography. I did try those cameras and I loved them but I didn’t always get consistently good results like I got with my old Minolta.

This photo from 2009 is probably my last shot taken on my original X-700. The lens used is the 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens and the film was Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max Developer. Twelve years already?! My how time flies.

With time and a lot of practice, I started getting results as good or better than the Minolta. I found out why…

It was because I often used the X-700 in the green P or Program mode. In this mode, the camera figured out the exposures for me and it mostly got it right most of the time! The Minolta was doing most of the hard work for me!

I was getting good pictures consistently and that inspired me to continue doing photography. And I have the Minolta X-700 and its great Program mode to thank for it!

Doing It The “WrongWay!

You see it all the time. Many photographers recommending a beginner start out with an all manual camera such as the Pentax K1000 or Olympus OM-1. Heck I’m a big pusher of that “hardcore” method 😂

So it may be a surprise to hear me say that for the beginning 35mm film photographer today I am not recommending they start out with an all manual camera any more. Even though in this YouTube generation things are easier than ever, I now advocate the beginner to start with a little bit of automation.

If you’re a beginner at 35mm film photography, I recommend you get a camera with a Program mode like the Minolta X-700 and I want you to use it! In addition, your first camera should also have an aperture priority or manual mode. I’ll explain more later.

My dusty and war torn Minolta X-700 from 1985 with its legendary Program mode.

I’m not the first person to advocate using the Program mode and I won’t be the last. And although the old “hardcore” method of having the beginner start out with an all manual camera is still near and dear to my heart, I realize it is actually a little bit of a “cruel” thing to do to a beginner 😍

A True Story

As a good example, back in the late 1970s my parents had a good friend who was really into photography. He had the great cameras like the Canon F-1 and A-1.

He was especially fond of his multimode A-1 and always got these great shots. He was always showing us slides and projections of his work.

I think I’ve mentioned before that this family friend was probably more responsible than anyone else for my interest in photography, cameras and lenses!

Anyway seeing all his great work, my parents asked his advice on getting a camera. He helped them choose the Canon AT-1. That’s right folks. Not the AE-1 or AE-1 Program but the no frills, manual mode only AT-1.

Guess what? My parents knowing nothing about aperture and shutter speeds, never bothered to shoot with the camera. It was never used until it was stolen from our apartment in 1982.

To this day, I wonder why our dear family friend, God Bless his soul, I wonder why he would recommend this camera to them and not proactively try to help them use it?

But as I said that was then. Today, young beginners can find everything they need to know online!

And since I’m in a kinder “ask what I can do for you” mood I am not going to be cruel and have them start on an all manual camera the way our friend did to my parents 😍

That may change though! 😂 And yes, it will change once we get into medium and large format cameras where automation is much less available.

The World Has Changed For 35mm Film Beginners

The main reason though why I no longer recommended the all manual camera “hardcore” method is because many different dynamics have changed. But one factor above all is a game changer. I’ll explain…

Back in the late 80s and all throughout the 1990s until perhaps the mid 2000s, I had one distinct advantage that film photography beginners today don’t. And that is something we took for granted called the “One Hour Photo.”

One Hour Photo?

What is a one hour photo? There was a movie starring Robin Williams called “One Hour Photo” but that’s not what I’m talking about 😀

A few of my “one hour photo” packets. The one hour photo developers have all but disappeared in today’s world. I still have a ton of old photos that I haven’t scanned but I know it’s a treasure trove of memories.

I’m talking about the places that develop your film in about an hour. At its climax, they were everywhere in nearly every country. You remember, don’t you? Well old school photographers will remember it well but kids born after the year 2000 may have no clue.

Basically, before digital came around and shattered everything, film photography had developed to its highest point of convenience where in the USA stores like Costco, CVS, Walgreens, and even local camera shops and pharmacies offered to develop your color print films in about an hour or so. Many times it took longer than the advertised “hour” but you’d still get your prints back rather quickly.

Companies like Fujifilm and Konica often supplied the machines necessary to do this.

So if I were trying out a manual camera, I could theoretically finish the roll and get the results back the same day and I did so, often!

But as digital began to put a stranglehold on film in the mid 2000s, these one hour photo labs began to fold. Many were gone years earlier when they saw the writing on the wall.

Today, you would have to send your film to a dedicated lab. The usual time for you to get your results back is around two to three weeks for most labs. Costco stopped developing or sending out film for most of their stores but CVS and Walgreens will still send your film out for development. Sadly, a few years ago they began this bizarre policy of not returning your negatives so if you have them send out your film, the negatives are gone forever.

The disappearance of the one hour photo labs is perhaps the main reason I relearned to do my own black and white development. I couldn’t stand the wait!

For the budding beginner in 35mm film photography, it is unlikely that they would be developing their own photos and so they must wait.

Why Great Results Fast?

We live in a world where we want and usually get everything fast. I can’t just blame today’s kids for being impatient because I myself have been spoiled by the convenience of it all.

Before the internet, and even as recently as the late 1990s when there was some internet, you’d sometimes have to wait weeks for an order to arrive. Today, I get most of my online orders in two days! That’s a game changer and no one wants to go back.

But in the world of film photography, sadly 35mm film development (as far as the wait goes) has gone back to something worse than it was when it was at its best in the late 90s and early 2000s.

It is my feeling that waiting two to three weeks just to get back lousy results from that first roll of film will do nothing but curb the enthusiasm of all but the most determined beginner photographers.

So I recommend the beginner start out with the much maligned Program mode, get some good maybe even great results right away and get excited about 35mm film photography.

Yes you should know the Program mode is not foolproof. Most old cameras have center weighted metering that can be easily fooled by bright light sources. However I’m willing to bet that the Program mode is going to yield a better percentage of results than if one were going in blind or trying to remember what they read or saw in a tutorial.

Shoot in Program mode. At the same time watch some good YouTube tutorials, read a book and take notes. After a few rolls in Program mode, then start experimenting by gently going out of the Program mode.

Recommendations

In my video I recommend and do a mini review on three cameras; the Nikon FG, the Ricoh XRX 3PF, and the Minolta X-700.

All three I have used and they all have a Program mode as well as manual mode.

I went into a lot of detail in the video so for the sake of time, I’ll just leave the details there for those interested. I also make recommendations on what to get for your first lens and also recommendations for film.

The photos below are extra samples from the humble 50mm lenses that I recommend a beginner start with.

By “humble” I’m talking about the 50mm f/1.8 or f/2 from any manufacturer and 50mm f/1.7 from some manufacturers.

The first shot was scanned with an Epson flatbed in 2010. The other two were crude iPhone X scans so they may not show the true nature of the images.

My Epson flatbed has gone caput and I’m trying to decide whether to go with a mid level scanner or a high end one. In addition to devoting time to YouTube, this one of the reasons you haven’t seen my work here. I’d really hate to continue giving you guys low quality scans! Y’all deserve the best 😍

This shot from 2010 was taken with a Nikon F3HP and 50mm f/1.8 Series E Nikkor. I am a big advocate for the good old and cheap nifty fifty. Scanned with Epson flatbed scanner in 2010.
“Dark Horse” 😀 Circa 2010. Nikon FG, 50mm f/1.8 Series E Nikkor. Film unrecorded. Scanned using iPhone X.
This image was shot with the Ricoh XRX 3PF and 50mm f/2 Rikenon stopped down to roughly f/4-5.6 With the humble 50mm you could shoot wide open to blur the background or stop down mid aperture for more subtle bokeh such as this. Scanned with an iPhone X.

As mentioned this article is an addendum to the YouTube video. Most of what’s on the video is not here and most of what’s here is not on the video. I’m not pushing you to the video for the sake of views. If that were the case I’d be making videos like crazy but I’m not. Note how long this article already is! 😀👍🏻

I figure those interested will check it out and those who don’t won’t.

Another point I didn’t touch on enough in the video is that it doesn’t have to be Nikon, Ricoh, or Minolta. You could get a Pentax Super Program if you like Pentax or Canon AE-1 Program if you like Canon. Any camera with a Program mode and a manual mode will do!

The main point is to get a camera with a good Program mode to start getting good results right away.

No Autofocus!

I however am NOT recommending that the beginner gets an autofocus film slr for their first film camera at this time. If you start with an autofocus camera and autofocus lenses then in my opinion you’re probably better off shooting with a DSLR.

I want you to have the Program mode for automatic exposures because exposures are probably the trickiest part for a beginner to understand, but I’d still want you to learn the “art” or the craft by learning to focus and compose. Get great results, get excited, and the rest will come to you with time, practice, and experience!

Conclusion

I can’t believe it took me all that space and time to basically say: Start out in the Program mode, get good to great results, get pumped about photography and work your way through the rest! You’ll be more interested in learning the camera when you start getting good results! 😀

Anyway this was the most I could put in one article but in future articles and videos we’ll work our way out of the Program mode so that you can work the camera and feel like a “real” photographer even though the Program mode will deliver 80-90 percent of the time! 😎

What is your opinion? Do you agree? Disagree? How did you learn 35mm photography? Leave a comment I’d love to hear it! In the end though, it’s just one man’s view so take it with a grain of salt and have a great day folks! 😍📸👍🏻

Contax G1 & 16mm f/8 Hologon Impressions & Images

Good day you awesome and war torn camera geeks! If you have seen any of my YouTube videos you will hear me often say that the reason you don’t know what the next Camera Legend will be is because I don’t know and that is no truer than today!

In this posting I will give you my images and impressions on the Contax G1 and the legendary 16mm f/8 Carl Zeiss Hologon ultra-wide angle lens. But first a little bit of my experiences…

THE CONTAX G1

The Contax G1 is the original Contax G legend introduced by Kyocera in 1994. It is a high end rangefinder-styled (not a true rangefinder) autofocus, interchangeable lens camera. The camera is handsomely finished in titanium and oozed appeal from nearly all camera lovers for its luxurious looks as well as for the superb line up of Carl Zeiss lenses made for it.

The G1 was followed up in 1996 by the Contax G2 which improvements and refinements such as a higher top shutter speed. The G1’s top shutter speed is 1/2000 while the G2 is 1/6000 but the most noticeable difference between the two cameras is the improved autofocus performance of the G2.

MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE G1

I lusted for the Contax G1 the first time I saw it in the photography magazines in the 1990s but I did not get my first copy till 2005. As with most people, my first lens for it was the superb 45mm f/2 Planar. I used that combo for about a year and loved the results. However, as I do too often, I sold the outfit to buy other equipment. Don’t forget the mid 2000’s were an incredible time for digital camera development and I was bit hard by the digital bug then!

I eventually got another G1 and also a G2, and I got these when the tide was low and prices were super low on film bodies.

While the main complaint about the G1 seemed to be on its autofocus performance, I never really felt it was an issue for me. Yes, the G2 has better AF but I could live with the G1 mostly adequate autofocus and its smaller size. I mostly used the G1 with the 28mm f/2.8 Biogon and the 35mm f/2 Planar.

The 16mm Hologon was never a consideration really due to its price and rather restrictive specs. It really seemed like a specialty lens.

YouTube Video

For those of you who prefer a more dynamic experience here it is! As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m not a videographer but I’m trying to improve the video production as you’ll see. It’s still low budget, don’t get me wrong, but I’m trying! 😍

The “Mystery” Of The Hologon

The 16mm f/8 Hologon is no mystery really. It’s out there and every hardcore Contax G user knows about it.

Where it is a “mystery” is the fact that while it’s a lens Contax G users know, it’s also the lens that few G users own. At least in my circles!

None of the Contax G users that I know personally has one. And if you go online in the forums you can also decipher that not many G users there have them either.

Why? Perhaps the same reasons I had. As mentioned before, it is the most expensive G lens and it’s also got a very specific and restrictive specs. That is, it’s very wide at 16mm and it has a fixed aperture of f/8.

That slow fixed aperture is not only hard on night photography but as I learned in my YouTube video, it’s also restrictive for bright daylight. As a person used to fast lenses and low light, I found myself overexposing shots. Trying to master this lens I feel will help me become a better photographer!

I bet most hardcore Contax G users had these same thoughts: They probably said to themselves (like I did) hmmm, I sure would love to get my hands on the Hologon! Then reason sets in and they might have said…well it’s too expensive and/or what am I going to do with a 16mm f/8 lens?

The Contax G users I know as well as the ones online usually stick with the popular and affordable G lenses such as the 45mm f/2 Planar and if they want wide they usually go for either the 28mm f/2.8 or 21mm f/2.8 Biogon. Both faster and more affordable lenses. Plus all three lenses I mentioned are much more suitable to traditional street photography.

So why did I get this lens? Because I got it for an insane deal at half price!!

Yes once in a while you find a rare deal and if you see it, and you got the funds, don’t forget as I always say in my videos (which I got from Steve Winwood!) “While You See A Chance…Take it!” 😎👍🏻

Sample Pics On Film

Here are some samples from my first roll. The film was Tri-X 400 and the developer was X-Tol. Keep in mind that this was the first time I ever used this lens so these photos are not going to be the best Hologon pics ever! I also just finished another roll but knowing the way I work, it would take another month for me to complete the video if I added those pics in. Plus it would make the video too insanely long! I’ll do another post here with those pics 😎📸👍🏻

Samples On Digital

Here are some samples taken with a Sony A7s and adapter. Be careful to make sure you do not damage your camera should you want to try this as the protruding rear element of the Hologon may hit the sensor in some camera models. As always, do your research! For comparison, I’ve also included images from the iPhone X which is around 28mm at its widest.

Price & Availability

The Carl Zeiss 16mm f/8 Hologon is still relatively easy to find and the prices are trending from $1000-1400.

It is the most expensive lens in the Contax G line, the only G lens made in Germany and the showpiece of the Contax G lens system.

The prices are very much dependent on whether or not the lens comes with the finder and/or the 4x Gradation Filter. I found both necessary but at the very least get the finder if you plan to use it on film.

Bottom Line

What can I say? The 16mm f/8 Hologon is one of finest, most legendary lenses I’ve ever had the honor of using. I am a mere mortal. This lens is a Legend!

The 16mm Hologon is one of the few lenses that I really get excited about! Yet at the same time, it also proved to be one of the hardest lenses for me to master. Because of its wideness I had to change the way I think when it came to composing. I also had to learn how to deal with the fixed f/8 aperture.

This lens is not your every day lens! However after using it for the past few months I’ve come to appreciate even more what Contax and Carl Zeiss gave us in the 1990s and that is superb optics at the very highest levels.

If you like wide angles and think you can live with its limitations then I can recommend the Carl Zeiss 16mm f/8 Hologon as a Legend of a lens that you will cherish to have in your collection and better yet, as a lens you’ll really want to shoot!

Alternatives

If you can’t find the 16mm f/8 Hologon for a price you like, you are fortunate today to live in a world with many great alternatives! Here are some. Buying from these links help support this site and helps me to create more content for you. Thank you!

Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Wide Heliar
The Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 is a spectacular ultra wide angle that I have personally used. Not only is it sharp but it is also marginally wider and a lot faster than the 16mm f/8 Hologon. You can get the lens in Leica M or Leica screwmount so there’s no need for mount coversion like the Hologon.

Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar

Going even wider is the 12mm f/5.6 Ultra Wide Heliar. I have not used this lens but have always lusted for it. Images I have seen are stunning.

Voightlander 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide
If you are REALLY a wide angle freak the 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide has your ticket! This might be my next wide angle!

Continue reading

A Look Back At The Original Ricoh GR Digital In 2021

Good day you war torn hardcore camera geeks! My apologies for the long transit time between reviews. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I am concentrating on building up our YouTube channel. I think if and when I hit 1000 subscribers I will return to posting articles here full time 🙂

Hopefully, the length of this article will make it up to you somewhat. Hopefully, it’s all the information you will need on this classic digital camera.

If I may, I’d like to ask you a few questions before I begin. Do you still listen to CDs in your CD player? Is John Paul II still the Pope? Is George W. Bush still President of the United States? Do you still use your original Ricoh GR Digital? Yes, I’m asking you about the GRD 8.1 megapixels!

This reminds me of those comments people leave for old music videos which might go something like this: “Anyone still paying attention in 2021?”

Is it just me or does time seem to be flying by at a breakneck pace? Man, in my mind 2005 wasn’t all that long ago and yet here we are 16 years later in 2021!

Where is this all leading to? Let’s get to it!

THE RICOH GR DIGITAL

The Ricoh GR Digital is an 8.1 megapixel compact digital camera introduced by Ricoh Corporation of Japan in 2005. It sports a 5.9mm (28mm in 35mm equivalent) f/2.4 GR lens with a 1/1.8″ CCD sensor. It is the first direct digital descendant of the Ricoh GR1 film camera.

In subsequent years, Ricoh introduced the GR Digital II 10mp, GR Digital III 10mp, and GR Digital IV 10mp. All had incremental advances.

In 2013 Ricoh released the Ricoh GR, dropping the “Digital” from the name. This camera offered significant advances, most notably the inclusion of a new 16 megapixel APS-C sized sensor. The latest of which is the GR III introduced in 2019. This model sports a 24mp APS-C sensor.

While I will make some references to newer models, please note that this review’s primary focus will be on the original 8.1mp Ricoh GR Digital model.

IN RETROSPECT

Hindsight is an invaluable thing. So in hindsight, when I wrote my first review on the GR Digital I called it a point and shoot camera, and even though one can use it as such, it may be more accurate to call it an advanced compact camera because you can do more with the camera than just point and shoot. You have control over the aperture and shutter speed and various other settings. And even though the lens is fixed, you can increase its versatility through the addition of add on lenses.

I also implied that its color images were just ok. In reality, the camera takes very good color images particularly at low ISO values. But the reason I said that was because it was and still is my opinion that the black and white files from this camera overshadows its color output.

The GR Digital was and still is very popular with its cult of fanatics, but it’s not all that popular or well known to the masses so when I wrote my article in 2014 I sought to take a fresh look at this digital classic. Prior to this, the only real review on this camera was the DPReview article way back in 2006.

I like to proudly and humbly say that in 2014 we brought this camera and its filmic b&w back into the spotlight. Continue reading, I have some facts to back this up!

YOUTUBE VIDEO

It took me many years to write this review update as well as put up a video on this camera, despite the fact that it remains one of the most consistently popular articles on Camera Legend and a camera people have asked me to do a video on. Why did it take so long?

Here’s the GR Digital 8.1mp Video :

In this video, not only do we look back on the GR Digital 8.1mp in hindsight, we also look at a compressed view of fifteen years of the original GRD, and I give you my settings to help you get the best black and white images out of this digital camera classic!

WHY IT TOOK ME SO LONG TO MAKE THE VIDEO

Well, I apologize for the delay but here’s why I took my sweet time with this! Ok, so in 2014 when I wrote my original article I had no idea that the camera was still as popular as it was. I mean, this is a cult camera in that it has a loyal following among its fans but the vast majority of the general public probably has no clue about it.

So I wrote my article and thought nothing more of it. The problem came when I was looking around to buy another one. Keep in mind I already had three, yes three, because I liked them so much! The first one I got back in 2006 in which I paid several hundred dollars, but the other two were bought at really low prices like $30-50! At that time I think the prices were trending at $50-80 USD.

Ok so a few weeks after I wrote my article, I looked for another one and I was dismayed to see the prices of the camera going for around $150-200. I said, hey what’s going on?!

So I took to Google to do a search and see if there was anything causing this spike. To my surprise, MY review showed up in the top spot of the Google search! At the same time, I noticed through the stats that WordPress provides me, that the GR Digital article was my most viewed article. I started putting two and two together…

Ok ok, before I get ahead of myself I just want to say I take no credit for the price increases on the original GRD! I’ve read criticisms of other reviewers from geeks on places like the DPReview forums with people saying stuff like: “Oh this guy must think he’s hot shit if he thinks that he can raise the prices based on his reviews” or “This guy must be an arrogant son of a bitch!” Those were actually comments on other camera reviewers about other cameras but I don’t want that kind of ire.

I personally think it was just coincidence, but…what a coincidence! 🙂

Anyway, I stopped doing articles on this camera because, and I’m making a confession here: I was HOARDING them! Yes that’s right. By 2017, I had about five of them! All of them were the same 8.1mp model. I love the camera that much!

I figure, if I helped raise the prices in any way through my article then I don’t want to do it again. Not just for me but for my fellow GRD 8.1mp lovers!

Today, I’m down to three. I have one for color, one for black and white with the wide angle attachment making it a poor man’s GR21 in digital form. And I keep one in the drawer in case one or both of the other two break.

As I recall, my original GR Digital article was in the Google top spot for a couple of years then fell down the list as others started to review this camera. However, as of tonight the Camera Legend article appears to be back in the top spot. It sounds great but it doesn’t really matter much. Remember, this is a cult camera. It’s not like a Sony A7III or Nikon Z7 or EOS R where the whole world is looking for reviews.

SAMPLE PICS

Below are selected photos from fifteen years of GR Digital images, all from the Original 8.1mp model.

TIMELESS BUT DATED

Personally, for me the original Ricoh GR Digital’s b&w implementation is timeless. It looked great in 2005 and it looks great today. It has been said by me and many others that the b&w files from this camera have a look that resembles Tri-X film. But one of the reasons I am doing this article now is because I believe that finally, its time has come and gone for most except for its hardest of hardcore fanatics like me.

Why? Because in 2005 and indeed even in 2014 when I wrote my first article, its digital b&w files were uncommon and hard to emulate in-camera by any other camera save for the Leica Monochrom. Today, in 2021, many more cameras are able to produce similar film-like digital b&w files.

Another factor for the decreased interest in this camera is that today we live in a 20-50mp world. Eight megapixels just seem way too low for the modern crowd, let alone an eight megapixel camera with a tiny sensor. But that’s fine, let them think that way!

To me, one of the ingredients in the original GRD’s secret sauce is its “low” 8.1mp count! Yes, just as I mentioned in my Contax N Digital 6mp review, I find that cameras with lower not higher megapixels produces files more reminiscent of scanned 35mm film.

While its siblings like the 16 or 24mp GR cameras produce sharper, more noise free images, those qualities also make the files from those cameras more digital in appearance, in my opinion. I have the 16mp GR and I still to this day prefer the b&w files from the 8.1mp original because its files are noisier, grittier, grainier. That’s what gives it that “film-like” look.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

If you’re seeking the original 8.1mp GR Digital, the good news is that the camera is still easily found but mostly on eBay and usually from dealers in Japan. The prices are trending at $100-150 which to any point and shoot from the 2005 era would seem really high but for the GRD I think it’s a fair price for an amazing camera for black and white photography.

BOTTOM LINE

The original Ricoh GR Digital 8.1mp has remained one of my favorite cameras since I got my first copy in 2006. And it also remains one of my most frequently used. Coming from a dedicated gear head who has gone through countless cameras I think that says a lot about how much I love this camera!

However, I concede that it’s not for everyone. If you’re not a fan of black and white photography, this camera is not for you. If you are anti digital and will accept only black and white images from film then this camera is not for you.

But for anyone who loves black and white photography, especially black and white street photography the original GRD remains a compelling and low cost choice for b&w work.

Today in 2021, the original GR Digital may seem very basic in comparison to its 16 and 24 megapixel GR siblings but in my opinion its black and white files will still give the newer cameras a run for their money while putting more money in your pocket!

The original Ricoh GR Digital 8.1mp has been a constant companion during the last 16 years and it is one of my most loved Camera Legend cameras of all time. If you love black and white photography, get it!

ALTERNATIVES Ricoh GR III Leica M10 Monochrom Fuji X-T4 Olympus Pen F