The Mighty Ricoh GR Is The Perfect Walkabout Camera

Only a few feet away with the Ricoh GR and the subject could not even hear the camera shutter capturing the scene.
Only a few feet away with the Ricoh GR and the subject could not even hear the camera shutter capturing the scene.
While not the newest or fastest version in the market, the 28mm equivalent lens still delivers when it counts.
While not the newest or fastest version in the market, the 28mm equivalent lens still delivers when it counts.
The Ricoh GR is most famous for its black & white renditions, but it still delivers great color photographs under natural light conditions.
The Ricoh GR is most famous for its black & white renditions, but it still delivers great color photographs under natural light conditions.
No camera is totally invisible, but when it comes to stealth shooting, the GR comes about as close as you will ever get.
No camera is totally invisible, but when it comes to stealth shooting, the GR comes about as close as you will ever get.
Even indoors, when the light is far from perfect, the Ricoh GR comes through to render the scene about as good as any other DSLR.
Even indoors, when the light is far from perfect, the Ricoh GR comes through to render the scene about as good as any other DSLR.

I’ve written about the Ricoh GR before, but the little wonder just never ceases to amaze me.  This “backup camera” is simply one of those technological feats that when paired with its natural street photography habitat, could easily challenge any DSLR out there.  Not that it will necessarily give you any more dynamic range or sharpness, but rather that when you consider what the little rocket brings to the table, its shortcomings are easy to forget.  You see, when you are out and about trying to record everyday life and scenes on the street, the GR is almost unparalleled in its ability to silently move in, snap that photograph, and capture that scene.  Quick, silent, and covering enough photographic real estate to make sure nothing is left out of that picture.  With its snap mode and ability to quickly compensate for available light, this little camera and its large APS-C sensor will be about as close to ideal as you’ll ever get in the street photography arena.  Perfect?  Nope.  But when I leave my Leica M240 at home for the day to hang out with the Ricoh GR, that’s telling you something.  Will it replace the incredible Leica out on the street?  Absolutely not, but it will surely be in my pocket when every time I venture out to capture bigger photographic game.

Historical Fire Station Remains As Relevant As Ever

Historical Fire Station #201 continues to watch over Old Town Alexandria and the adjacent coastal waters.
Historical Fire Station #201 continues to watch over Old Town Alexandria and the adjacent coastal waters.
The single-engine station, with it's ATV mini-ambulance is also responsible for sections of the Mount Vernon trail.
The single-engine station, with it’s ATV mini-ambulance is also responsible for sections of the Mount Vernon trail.
An old fire engine dating back to the 1860's royally sits inside Alexandria's Fire Station #201.
An old fire engine dating back to the 1860’s royally sits inside Alexandria’s Fire Station #201.
While the firefighting equipment is certainly modern, the inside of the building retains its historical charm.
While the firefighting equipment is certainly modern, the inside of the building retains its historical charm.
The old fire engine stored inside the station is a constant reminder of the long and distinguished tradition of local firefighters.
The old fire engine stored inside the station is a constant reminder of the long and distinguished tradition of local firefighters.
With today's modern firefighting equipment taking up most of the limited space, the old must cohabit with the new in the small fire station.
With today’s modern firefighting equipment taking up most of the limited space, the old must cohabit with the new in the small fire station.
You can just imagine how comfortable the ride must have been on dirt and cobblestone roads during the  late 19th Century.
You can just imagine how comfortable the ride must have been on dirt and cobblestone roads during the late 19th Century.
A firefighter's work is never done, as evidenced by the need to maintain the equipment in tip-top shape.
A firefighter’s work is never done, as evidenced by the need to maintain the equipment in tip-top shape.

I have walked by Fire Station #201 in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia many times before.  After all, Prince Street is somewhat of a well-known street in Old Town, specially during spring when some of the best looking tulip plantings in the area can be seen barely a block away.  Never had I seen the station doors open, though, or seen any of its personnel hanging out outside like they do in the movies.  I guess this is a good thing when you think about it, because when firefighters are not busy putting out fires it means that some level of human and property suffering is being avoided.  But today, as I decided at the last minute (and for no particular reason) to take the long way to where I was headed, I was pleasantly rewarded with the opportunity to visit the #201 Station by some of the nicest people I’ve met in a long time.  The folks at the station were extremely friendly, informative, and obviously very proud of the work they are doing to keep the rest of us safe.  For this roving photographer, what started as a quick walk on a sunny Sunday morning turned out to be a lesson in history, a walk of discovery, and a realization of how thankful we all must be for the professionalism and sacrifice of our great firefighters (of which my brother-in-law is one).  I guess no day, no matter how ordinary it may look, is really ordinary.  I met some great Americans today at a place that is both part of America’s past and of its present, and I am glad to report that we could not be in better hands when it comes to our safety and wellbeing.  So, a big thank you goes out to the great folks of Fire Station #201 for their generosity and the great work they do together with firefighters from other stations to keep the rest of us safe and secure.

Working Out With A Camera

The Ricoh GR, with its small size and incredible capability, is the perfect camera to carry with you when working out.
The Ricoh GR, with its small size and incredible capabilities, is the perfect camera to carry with you when working out.

I have started working out.  Well, not working out as an olympic hopeful would work out, but rather something more like going for a walk with the intent of detecting any degree of perspiration.  I even get to look the part, with my Pearl Izumi jacket, my New Balance walking shoes, my long-distance runner’s cap, and a great Timex triathlon sports watch.   I’m definitely all decked-out, if you know what I mean.  But while all of this is fine, what really makes my workouts so valuable is that I get to carry a camera with me to  capture the unexpected photo.  Of course, stoping to photograph every interesting scene I come up to does break my exercise rhythm (what rhythm?), but it is crucial that I try to avoid the post-exercise depression that could ensue if I miss the infamous photo every photographer misses when they don’t have a camera with them.  My choice of camera for these cardio outings: the legendary Ricoh GR (read about this little wonder here).  The problem is that even after a couple of times out on my way to becoming a mean, lean, fighting machine, I have kind of forgotten about the exercise part.  Photography is just that enticing for me.  Light, bracketing, composition, and all things photographic seem to conspire against muscle tone development.  Definitely a tough going, but I guess no one ever said that this exercise thing would be easy.

How Often Do You Share?

One of the most powerful activities anyone can engage in is the simple act of sharing.
One of the most powerful activities anyone can engage in is the simple act of sharing.

Think of last month for a second.  How often did you share anything you’ve learned or own with anyone?  I have no doubt that answers to this question will run the gamut, as we all engage in some form of sharing at one time or another, even without realizing that sharing is what we’re doing.  Not that I’m advocating for anyone to give away the fruit of their labor, as this is surely the best way of guaranteeing that you’ll be out of business in a hurry.  This is specially the case in photography, where most folks continue to bear incredible pressure to just give away what they have worked so diligently to create (not to mention the expense they incur to create those photos).  However, in every trade there are many things that can be shared without having to worry about lost revenue or market infringement.  In fact, some goodwill could go a long way in putting money in your pocket down the road.  Don’t believe me?  Then check out people like Scott Kelby, Vincent Laforet, Chase Jarvis, and Steve Huff, to name a few.  All extremely generous professionals who like to share their knowledge and are rewarded by a loyal group of followers.

A Quiet Place

In this crazy, fast-paced world we live in, you have to enjoy those quiet spots wherever you can find them.
In this crazy, fast-paced world we live in, you have to enjoy those quiet spots wherever you can find them.

I was fascinated by this scene when I bumped into it at the Javits Center in New York City.  An oasis of quiet in a city that is not known for being quiet.  The woman simply owned the spot, and from what I could tell, no one dared to occupy any of the empty chairs next to her.  A perfect display of momentary solitude and territoriality.  An unintended, silent commentary that no one dared to disrupt.  I wonder if she knew she was saying so much with her silence.

Something Happened Before I Clicked

Lady acts quite surprised after turning the photo book page at the 2013 PDN Photo Expo at the Javits Center in New York City.
Lady acts quite surprised after turning the photo book page at the 2013 PDN Photo Expo at the Javits Center in New York City.

Some photographs just speak for themselves.  This is one of those.  After seeing a group of people perusing photo books for sale at at the 2013 PDN Expo in NYC, I decided to take a photo with my Ricoh GR just to make up for what otherwise was a slow photography day.  What I was not expecting was for the woman in the photo to suddenly turn the book page and be shocked by whatever it was she had just seen.  I could’t quite make out what exactly she was looking at, but it had obviously caused quite an impression on her.  Sometimes, that’s just how it happens.  Just when you are about to press that shutter, someone within the frame of view will do something that will produce a much more interesting photograph.  That’s what happened on this day, and it obviously transformed what was just an ordinary scene into one not so ordinary.  That worked for me.

Pilgrimage To Chili Heaven

There is simply no other Washington institution like Ben's Chili Bowl Restaurant.  Ricoh GR.
There is simply no other Washington institution like Ben’s Chili Bowl Restaurant. Ricoh GR.
Ben's Chili Bowl is a beehive of activity at all hours of the day.  Ricoh GR.
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a beehive of activity at all hours of the day. Ricoh GR.
Leaving Ben's hungry or unsatisfied is simple impossible, so be ready for some real eating when visiting.  Ricoh GR.
Leaving Ben’s hungry or unsatisfied is simple impossible, so be ready for some real eating when visiting. Ricoh GR.

Yes, like all our recent Presidents and entertainment celebrities, I must confess that I too have succumbed and gone to Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant for a little 1,000 calorie snack.  I wasn’t going to talk about it, but I started thinking that if I came out clean and made a full confession, that this somehow would help me with my caloric redemption.  Since 1958 Ben’s has been serving some of the world’s greatest chili from its 1213 U Street NW, Washington, DC location, and to say that Ben’s knows chili would be a gross understatement.  Get it in a bowl, over a whole selection of dogs, over fries, you name it and they have it.  And the cheese covered fries?  No comment, and I’m afraid that I must invoke the 5th Amendment.  Total calories consumed during my short visit?  Talk to my attorney, but if you have to ask, then you can’t afford it.  All I know is that I’m headed back to Ben’s as soon as possible.  Just need to do some prep work before I cross that U Street threshold again on my way to chili heaven.

The Well-Kept Secret That Is Shaw

Shaw's colorful murals alone are worth a trip to the neighborhood.  Ricoh GR.
Shaw’s colorful murals alone are worth a trip to the neighborhood. Ricoh GR.
The revitalization of this old Washington, DC neighborhood is heavily influenced by the local art scene.  Ricoh GR.
The revitalization of this old Washington, DC neighborhood is heavily influenced by the local art scene. Ricoh GR.
Ethnic restaurants are a big part of what makes the Shaw neighborhood a good food destination.  Ricoh GR.
Ethnic restaurants are a big part of what makes the Shaw neighborhood a good food destination. Ricoh GR.
Every neighborhood needs a popular watering hole for the locals and Shaw's Tavern takes care of those special needs.  Ricoh GR.
Every neighborhood needs a popular watering hole for the locals and Shaw’s Tavern takes care of those special needs. Ricoh GR.
A wall is not just a wall at Shaw, but rather a reflection of the local character.  Ricoh GR.
A wall is not just a wall at Shaw, but rather a reflection of the local character. Ricoh GR.
Shaw's library is a fantastic example of modern architecture blending with the neighborhood's historical buildings.  Ricoh GR.
Shaw’s library is a fantastic example of modern architecture blending with the neighborhood’s historical buildings. Ricoh GR.

Ever heard of the Shaw neighborhood in Washington, DC?  Can’t blame you if you haven’t.  Most locals haven’t either.  And judging from my recent visit to Shaw, it doesn’t look like it’s one of the tourism hubs in Washington, DC either.  But if you think this somewhat low-keyed anonymity means that you should ignore this part of town, you will be sadly mistaken.  This wonderful neighborhood is home to Howard University and the incredibly popular Art All Night DC  event, which takes place at the imposing building that was once home to the Wonder Bread Factory on S Street NW.  And if the “Big Easy” label were not already taken, it would fit Shaw like a glove.  Laid back, friendly, and not totally gentrified, Shaw is one of those places that once you visit, you’ll be asking yourself why you had never been there before.  Not that the neighborhood can match its richer and more famous U Street neighbor a few blocks away, but rather that if it were noise and rowdy crowds I was intent in getting away from, then Shaw is the place I would head on out to.  This is specially the case starting next month when the Right Proper Brewing Company opens its doors at T Street NW.

Memento Park, Budapest, Hungary

The communists were quite fond of large-scale sculptures.  Ricoh GR.
The communists were quite fond of large-scale sculptures, now relegated to the non-descript Memento Park. Ricoh GR.
At the entrance of Memento Park, Lenin still keeps his eyes over the masses that are no longer there.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
At the entrance of Memento Park, Lenin still keeps his eyes over the masses that are no longer there. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Very few figures glorifying the communist struggle remain, but those still standing are not exactly high art.  Ricoh GR.
Very few figures glorifying the communist struggle remain, but those still standing are not exactly the epitome of high art. Ricoh GR.
Just in case you didn't know where you were, the communist Red Star is planted at the center of Memento Park.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Just in case you didn’t know where you were, the communist Red Star is planted at the center of Memento Park. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

This is a post that I was not planning on writing, but someone asked me to post a few photographs from my trip to that great relic of the communist era in Hungary, the infamous Memento Park, so here it goes.  For starters, getting to Memento Park is quite an adventure.  You’ll hear that it is in Budapest, but it will take you a few bus transfers before you actually get to its remote location next to a dusty concrete factory of sorts.  Your first reaction after being unceremoniously dumped at the small bus stop is confusion as to where exactly you have landed in Hungary.  That’s because the bus stop is a few hundred yards from the park, and the somewhat industrial feeling of the place (even though there are houses around) is kind of disorienting.  Only after spotting what seems like the top of a brick wall over some concrete-dusted trees behind you and across the street, do you realize that you’ve found the place.

The Hungarian people could not have done a better job in hiding all these relics, and the world could not have done a better job at ignoring them.  While a mere 45 minutes away Budapest is a beehive of activity and excitement, the dusty Memento Park sits alone, desolate, and forgotten.  Sure, a few curious souls do manage to trek there out of curiosity, but this communist resting place doesn’t appear to rank very high on most visitors’ to-do lists (on the day four of us visited, there was only one couple there taking pictures).  When you think about it, though, Memento Park with its sun-drenched, sterile landscape and grotesque statues, is perhaps the right memorial for a failed ideology that enslaved millions of people a short generation ago.  It is a graveyard of sorts–the last resting place of the symbols of coercion and subjugation by a political system long relegated to the ashes of history.  That the people of Hungary endured and survived such historical catastrophe with such a positive attitude towards the future, is nothing short of remarkable.  What surprises me is that Memento Park exists at all.  Maybe the Hungarian people need a point of reference by which to measure how far they have come since those dreaded communist days.  Whatever the case, this park is part of a Hungary that no longer exists.  Today’s Hungary is enjoying itself by the Danube with its eyes firmly gazing at an Europe that not too long ago seemed like a far-away mirage.  It is remarkable how times change.

The Ricoh GR And The Art Of Candid Photography

Colorful participant at the 2013 PRIDE Parade in Washington, DC.  Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
Colorful participant at the 2013 PRIDE Parade in Washington, DC. Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
Some street scenes are so generic in character that they could come from anywhere in the world.  Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
Some street scenes are so generic in character that they could come from anywhere in the world. Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
The Ricoh GR is perfect for capturing street scenes up close.  Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
The Ricoh GR is perfect for capturing street scenes up close. Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
Sometimes there is simply no time to ask whether it is OK to take that photograph.  Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).
Sometimes there is simply no time to ask whether it is OK to take that photograph. Ricoh GR, 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent).

We keep hearing that monumental changes are taking place in the world of photography today, and were we to judge these assertions based on the new breed of APS-C sensor small cameras making their market appearance lately, it would seem impossible to disagree.  I certainly couldn’t after spending one day with the darling of street photographers everywhere: the new Ricoh GR camera.  Small and totally inconspicuous, this computer-in-a-pocket wonder is not just fast, it is amazingly audience-friendly–a major plus when it comes to street photography.  With an APS-C 16.2 megapixel-sized sensor (the size of what you typically find in most DSLR’s out there), this little camera delivers, and in a big way.  Sure, the fixed 18.3mm (28mm equivalent) may be somewhat limiting if you want to cover all your photographic bases, but for what it was intended to excel at, the Ricoh GR may arguably be the best there is out there.  From the ground up, this camera was brilliantly and unapologetically designed with one single purpose in mind: street photography (see Steve Huff’s great review here), and to say that Ricoh delivered would be a gross understatement.  Will it replace the trusted Nikon or beloved Leica in my camera bag?  Don’t think so, but it will never be left behind when I step out the door with its larger and more expensive siblings.  Thank you Ricoh.