Anyone yearn for the good old days when ULTRAsomething was a photography site? I know some of you do, because up in the menu bar is a link to this site’s Contact Form, which several folks have wielded precisely to express such sentiment. Most recently, a friend and longtime reader sent an email in which he mentioned “those dim and distant days when you threw your photography crowd a bone or two.”
It got me thinking: Isn’t every article a bone? Isn’t every topic a festering feast of carrion, from which each and every photographer can pluck his or her own bone of choice and suckle at the marrow? Anyone who’s read ULTRAsomething for long enough to feel nostalgic for its past knows I don’t believe photography is about cameras, lenses or the mechanics of taking pictures. Photography is about life. It’s about how we experience our surroundings and how we filter them though our own unique cognitive maze. For me, photography is existentialism; not f-stops and DxO sensor ratings. To write about existentialism is to write about life, love, music, sociology, art, science, politics, religion, and even photography. All a reader needs to do is connect the dots.
If I connect a few dots of my own, I’m lead to believe it’s not so much a bone the photography crowd seeks as it is a chocolate covered tiramisu with a crème brûlée filling, soaked in cognac and garnished with a generous scoop of designer ice cream. I get it. You all want another gear review.
The problem with writing gear reviews is they require I actually possess something new. I don’t. And there are two reasons for this: One is that I can’t really afford to buy any new camera gear; and two is that I’m quite happy with the gear I have.
Technically, there are a couple work-arounds to the affordability problem. The first is to buy really cheap stuff, which is exactly what I did for my last gear article — a review of the Lomography Fisheye One toy camera. That little box of Tupperware set me back a whopping $20. Canadian. Which makes it the least expensive product ever reviewed on ULTRAsomething. Of the 70 articles dedicated to discussing photography gear on this site, it ranks 69th in popularity. Its follow-up article, Folding Time, is but a few spots shy of claiming the dubious distinction of being the least read article in this site’s 10-year history. For comparison, the most expensive product I’ve ever reviewed is the Leica Monochrom (Type 246) — which also happens to be the most read article in this site’s history. So “cheap gear” is obviously not quite the decadent dessert bar at which my readers hope to engorge.
Which brings me to the second possible workaround to the affordability problem: equipment loans. Most photography writers have only to ask manufacturers for review samples, and as fast as the UPS guy can pull up his brown shorts, there’s some fresh new loaner gear in the house. The problem with this solution is I seem to have written myself onto several company blacklists. Apparently, you must heap boundless praise upon a camera and use the phrase “game changer” a minimum of three times in the opening paragraph, or it’s no more cameras for you. The one exception has always been Leica — who are perfectly comfortable letting me write balanced and thoughtful reviews. Unfortunately, they seem to have a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” policy where I’m concerned. And since they haven’t called in awhile, that’s not really an option either.
My second impediment to new gear ownership — satisfaction with my current gear — is actually a very good problem to have. Being happy with my current gear means I can spend more time constructively blaming myself for lousy photos, and less time blaming the cameras and lenses. That’s not to say I don’t find myself yearning for a Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 M-mount lens or, most inexplicably, an Olympus M.Zuiko ED 300mm f/4. But neither of these are really anything more than daydreams…
So if I’m going to daydream, why not dream big? Why not dream up a product that doesn’t exist? Why not dream of a product that, if it did exist, would inspire me to go earn some easy cash at that dicey medical research center on the outskirts of town?
Dreaming up such a camera requires no creative enhancement of any kind; no Psyilocybin mushrooms; no need to brew a cup of DMT or drop the needle on some Jefferson Airplane. Nope. My fantasy camera is based on a camera that once existed in the film era — the Ricoh GR21.
In 1996, Ricoh created the 28mm GR1 compact film camera. It was soon followed by the 28mm GR1s in 1997 and, five years later, the 28mm GR1v and 21mm GR21. In 2013, Ricoh introduced the first digital version of the old 28mm Ricoh GR1 film camera worthy of being called its ‘successor.’ I bought that camera the instant it hit the stores, and it’s been my constant companion ever since. It may not be my “best” camera, but it’s the camera I carry when I’m not on any particular photo mission — which is most of the time.
We are now five years on from the release of the Ricoh GR, which (like the film series before it) has had but one minor refresh in the form of the GRII. If history tells us anything, it tells us that we’re due for a major update to the GR line. When I purchased the Ricoh GR, 28mm was my ‘standard’ focal length, as it had been for several years. In the decade prior to that I’d been a 35mm shooter, and in the decade before that, 50mm was my “thing.” Anyone quasi-adept at trend-line analysis could have predicted what happened next: I’ve gradually become a 21mm shooter.
So naturally, the camera of my dreams is a Ricoh GR21D — a digital (and hopefully more reliable) version of the old GR21 film camera.
Based on my status as the world’s most peculiar photography blogger, I fully expect Ricoh to green light this camera immediately. But before they do, I have a few more requests:
1) Cameras need viewfinders. If I wanted to hold a camera at arm’s length and squint at an LCD, I’d use my iPhone. So please replace the series’ useless built-in flash with a pop-up optical viewfinder.
2) We all know this is going to be a fairly expensive camera due to its relatively limited audience (me?). So go ahead and give that audience what it wants: a full-frame sensor with modern low light capabilities. If you do this, I won’t spend the next year grumbling about how good the camera could have been.
3) Repeat after me: “monochrome.” This might be controversial, but since you’re making this camera for me, consider increasing the fidelity by leaving out the Bayer filter and those silly software demosaicing algorithms. Feel free to add a color version to the lineup if you think it’ll increase sales — I’ll be buying the monochrome.
It’s not that far-fetched of a dream. There is historical precedent, and there’s nothing technology-wise that hasn’t already been done. The market for compacts has definitely taken a smart phone beating, but smart phones still don’t offer full frame sensors, optical viewfinders, impeccable wide angle optics, good ergonomics, or the fast handling speeds needed by certain types of photographers.
This is a camera I want so badly that I’m now carting around a Frankenstein approximation of it — a Ricoh GR with a clunky, bulbous monstrosity of a 21mm adapter snapped to its front, and a wart of a 21mm viewfinder slotted into its top. Pocketable, it is not. Front heavy, it is. Plus it disconcertingly rattles when I carry it. And even with these bolt-on carbuncles, it’s still not a full-frame, low-light sensor. It’s also still burdened with color, which I automatically strip out when I import the raw files into Lightroom. But even though I never actually see the color images, I do still see the image degradation caused by using a camera with a Bayer filter.
So how about it Ricoh? Isn’t it about time for a digital version of the GR21? You make it; I’ll find a way to buy it. Heck, I might even review it! But just to be clear, I still won’t use the “game changer” phrase.
And this, my bone-loving friends, is how you write an article about photography gear without having to actually acquire any photography gear. One doesn’t blog for 10 years without learning a trick or two…
©2018 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
What we have here is the result of the whole ‘carrying around a camera when I’m not expecting to take any photos’ situation. These are all simply photo “notes” that I take to remind myself of this thing or that thing. Maybe something amused me. Maybe I just like the geometry; or the light; or… whatever. In this case, the photos document two different non-photo-oriented strolls through the Vancouver Art Gallery, along with a stop in a downtown store whose domed glass roof looked more (to me) like art hanging in a gallery than the art hanging in the gallery. The first trip yielded “Gallery: Bones” and “Gallery: Not Gallery,” which were taken with the faux GR21 monstrosity. The second trip yielded “Gallery: Porn,” “Gallery: Bombhead” and “Gallery: Antigravity Exhibit.” These were shot, instead, with the Leica Monochrom (Type 246) and a 21mm Super-Elmar-M f/3.4 lens — a combination I had just realized wasn’t any larger (just heavier) than the Frankenstein GR… which coincides with the precise point I started to dream of a pocketable digital GR21.
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