Ricoh R1s – A Pocket Storyteller

Ricoh R1s

Every year my family tries to do at least one vacation somewhere. On this adventure, we chose to head down to Charleston, South Carolina for a few days to explore the city and see the sights. Before each trip, I get excited about all the photo opportunities and always end up packing way too much gear.

I wanted to bring my new Holga wide pinhole camera to capture some medium format panorama shots of Charleston’s harbor views, but I had to rethink my grand photographic plans after testing everything. I found out that my only cable release didn’t fully open the shutter window on the Holga. Apparently, the needle of the cable release wasn’t long enough to articulate the plunger in the shutter button. Thankfully, I realized this before leaving!

Ricoh, Revisited

Since I now had shooting panorama’s on the brain, I reached for the small Ricoh R1s that I picked up from eBay two years earlier. Like many point-and-shoots from the 90s, it has the option to create a super-wide aspect ratio with your 35mm shots. I’ll chat more about these later on.

Initially, I bought the Ricoh because I’m always on the lookout for the perfect everyday camera. Something I can carry with me in a pocket to snap off a quick photo if I see something interesting. On several occasions, I’ve tried to keep it with me as my go-to shooter. (You know the drill- on your way out the door you grab your keys, your wallet, and your camera.) But after daily use and about 20 or so rolls, I eventually went back to carrying my beloved Olympus Infinity Twin, and the R1s just sat in my camera drawer mostly untouched. For me, the 30mm lens was just too wide.

Fast forward a few years and here I was again considering the Ricoh, this time as a companion for the trip. While the panorama option is initially what made me think about the Ricoh again, the decision to bring it on the trip was actually after considering its usefulness from a different perspective. Each time I would shoot with the R1s, I was hoping it would turn out to be my everyday carry, because of the compact size. However, the way I prefer to shoot most times is tightly framing or cropping in to feature my subject and eliminate distractions.

But what if I were to purposefully try shooting a bit differently? Instead of needing the Ricoh to fit how I shoot, I could instead try adapting to the strengths of the camera.

Also, thinking about the potential of packing very minimal and all of that gear I didn’t need to haul around was pretty inviting. So it was settled- the Ricoh would be my pocket-sized memory maker. A film diary and storyteller if you will, for this family trip to Charleston.


Fully Automatic, Plus A Few Things

Smaller than my phone, the Ricoh R1s is easily the most pocketable film camera that I own. Its size is arguably one of the best attributes of this camera, as it’s easily toted around and always ready for action.

Other features include a selectable date code and LCD info panels at the top and side of the camera, and LCD guides inside the viewfinder. I really like how there are guidelines that change inside the viewfinder when you select the different aspect ratios to help with your framing. Everything is powered by a single CR2 3v battery.

The lens on the R1s is a 30mm prime with selectable aspect ratios. You can choose between a 2:3 12x36mm image with options for 1:3 at 30mm and 24mm panorama wide options. There is a plastic mechanical curtain that engages and masks a portion of the frame to create the panorama effect. To achieve the 24mm focal length, the rear lens shifts back slightly to create a wide view, but it limits the aperture to F8.

If you’ve shot film for any length of time, you’ve most likely accidentally opened the back of the camera mid-roll, ruining some of your shots. This Ricoh has you covered though because it pre-winds the film when you load the camera, so as you take each shot it gets pulled into the canister. If you accidentally open the back before the roll is finished- any shot you’ve taken is safely stored back in the canister. A pretty cool safety feature for us forgetful types.

One of the extra little tricks that I love about the R1s is its ‘leader-out’ feature. When rewinding a roll you have the option to stop rewinding the film a few centimeters before the film leader is completely retracted into the canister. This is super handy if you develop your own film at home or want to re-expose the roll. There’s no need to fish the film back out of the canister.

A Few Snafus

When I initially purchased the camera from a seller in Japan I willingly paid a higher price hoping to receive a copy that was in better working condition. After all, these cameras were released in 1995 so it’s no surprise to hear tales of woe about LCD screens dying out or motors failing. Unfortunately, the first test roll I scanned in revealed that the light seals were bad. Nothing a little electrical tape cant handle.

More recently though, I noticed that the automatic lens shade that protects the front element was sticking partially closed after the camera was powered on and the lens extended. With a few light flicks from my finger, whatever obstruction was in there thankfully cleared out (probably pocket lint) and the shade began opening and closing properly again. This has only occurred once so far, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Other Specs and Info

Shutter: 2 sec – 1/400 sec
Weight: 4.9 oz (140g) empty, and 6.4 oz with a roll of film and battery installed
DX Code: 50-3200 iso, sets iso to 100 if the film canister is not coded

There are several versions of this Ricoh point and shoot that were released over the course of a few years. The original R1 debuted in 1994, followed by the R1s in 1995. An R1e version is also available that removes the 24mm wide option. These cameras are very similar to the famous GR series of cameras in size and form factor, but the GR series offers significantly more manual control over your exposure and a sturdier build.

My Final Thoughts

While I was disappointed with this camera when I first bought it, I think it’s finally found its place in my camera lineup. Once I stopped expecting it to be something it’s not, the Ricoh R1s became a wonderful camera to shoot with.

Alongside the GR series, these inconspicuous cameras are very popular with the street photography crowd, and I can understand the appeal. Shooting street requires more of a journalistic approach, usually with a wider angle of view allowing for more details in the scene to tell a story.

When I allow myself to let go of feeling like I need to tightly crop in for the perfect framing and just capture the bigger picture- the Ricoh R1s can deliver some excellent images, snapshots, and memories.

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