Ricoh R1

Don’t you just love thrift shops and surplus stores? I got this Ricoh R1 from a surplus store I spotted while driving south of Manila. It was on a shelf with some other old instamatics being sold “as-is” and dirt cheap. “Does this work?” I asked the clerk. “We don’t know. That’s why it’s priced that way. We have no batteries for it and no way of testing.”

Think I’d pass up a bet like that? C’mon. You can’t go wrong for (the equivalent of) US$7. I tried to haggle it down further (hah!) but the clerk just smirked at me, “For real?” I forked over the cash.

Went to the nearest mall and found a CR2 battery, which cost about half the price of the camera. That plus a roll of film came out to US$5. Pop the battery in, load the film and pray. Bam! A gift from Amaterasu. Everything worked, except the LCD screen which was a bit wonky. But it got better as the camera’s circuits started remembering how to work. Awe. Some.

Now what is it about the R1 that makes it so special? What makes it stand out from all the other point-and-shoots from the mid-90s?

Forget first that it’s a Ricoh, a camera brand that has established itself as a badge of hipster cool. What’s great about the R1 are its wide angle features. It swaps between two lenses,  depending on your panoramic mode, a 30mm f/3.5 and a 24mm f/8. As was de rigueur during this time (around when Advantix was being touted as the next big thing), camera manufacturers offered “panoramic” shots, which just masked the top and bottom of a frame to give the illusion that your 35mm frame was wider. The Ricoh R1 has the same thing. Which is a good thing, if you like hacking your cameras.

Switching to panoramic mode will deploy top and bottom masks, but some simple grokking and you can prevent that from happening. In panoramic 30mm, this does absolutely nothing (because the end result is exactly the same as normal 4:3 mode. In panoramic 24mm, however, the results will make you grin a panoramic grin.

This Ricoh’s 24mm lens wasn’t designed to be used full-frame. The masks were there to crop out the vignetting and loss of sharpness caused by the quality of the lens. With the masks out of the way, these “imperfections” shine through. You can read more about this, and how to do it yourself, here and here.

Tomorrow I’ll have the first roll back from the lab. I am crossing my fingers and praying once again to the gods of Nippon that they smile upon me, shower me with good shots and all that jazz. Will post shots soon.