Ricoh 500G (1972) – excellent high contrast f2.8 Rikenon lens

Ricoh 500G 35mm film camera

I’ve had this little Ricoh 500G camera for quite a few years and have shot a lot of film with it. The results have always impressed me. If you have been thinking about getting one of these my advice is to go ahead and take the plunge! You won’t be disappointed.

The Ricoh 500G is an excellent little 35mm film rangefinder. The 40mm Rikenon lens is outstanding being very sharp and with good contrast. The camera is a solidly built compact rangefinder camera made in the early 1970s. At just 420g it is also one of the lightest and best featured. If you are looking for a small rangefinder to fit your coat pocket when walking or cycling the Ricoh 500G fits the bill nicely.

This camera has both shutter priority automatic and manual. The meter operates in both manual or automatic modes. The only way of switching off the meter is to move the shutter speed ring on the lens barrel around to the B setting. Otherwise, you will be running the battery down needlessly. On the subject of batteries, the Ricoh 500G runs on alkaline LR44W 1.55v button cells. The correct original batteries were 1.35v mercury cells but these are not made anymore. The slight difference in voltage doesn’t matter that much if using negative film because there is at least a stop or so of leeway when the film is processed.

Ricoh 500G light seals before replacement. Removing the old remaining sticky rubber is a slow but satisfying process.
Ricoh 500G light seals after replacement. You can buy the inexpensive 2-3mm thickness flat foam needed from craft stores.

If you like to shoot transparency film then an accurate meter reading is more important. The voltage of the readily available LR44W alkaline cells tends to drop off as they discharge. On these 1.55v alkalines voltage starts at 1.55v then gradually falls below 1.35v as they run down. The main advantage of these cells is that there are very cheap; something like $NZ2.00 for ten button cells in discount stores and they typically last for 12 months or more. There are several other options available.

The second option is to get some Wein Cells MRB675. These are the only mercury-free, exact-voltage replacements for discontinued 1.35-volt mercury button cells. Wein cells are more expensive. There needs to be a hole drilled in the screw cap for the battery to breathe. Once the tab has been removed from these batteries they run flat fairly quickly. Though you can remove the battery from the camera when you are not using it and stick the tab back on to conserve the charge!

Your third option is to get 357 (SR44, PX675S) silver oxide button cells. Although these are 1.55v the advantage is that the voltage output remains the same as the battery discharges. This means you can compensate by setting the ASA film speed indicator at a lower value. On the Ricoh 500G, you would set the film ASA to 320 if using 400 ASA film in order to prevent underexposure from the higher voltage.

Another option if you are using transparency film and want an accurate meter reading, you can simply use a separate hand-held meter, or take a meter reading with another camera, say a modern digital, and then adjust the Ricoh 500G in manual mode to match the reading. Admittedly this option might be a pain but it is a good option that will suit some photographers.

The viewfinder on the Ricoh 500G is very bright compared with many of these old rangefinder cameras. It is perhaps not quite as good as the Canon Canonet QL19 but then the Canon is a bigger camera with a bigger viewfinder. The frame lines are bright yellow as is the central diamond-shaped rangefinder spot.

There is no parallax correction for close focusing. Instead, there is a second fine line inside the outer frame to assist with closer focusing. Lack of parallax correction is not unusual on the very small rangefinders like the Ricoh 500G and Olympus 35RC. Perhaps it was simply difficult to include parallax correction into these very small camera bodies. Its absence has never bothered me. Rangefinders are generally not the best option for close-up photography anyway. If taking product shots for example I would opt for the most accurate framing afforded by a single-lens-reflex camera.

One thing to note when looking through the viewfinder is that if the meter needle goes beyond the limits of the aperture scale into the red zone at the top or bottom, the shutter will still fire but the exposure will be incorrect. So even in automatic, you have to keep an eye on the needle to avoid blank frames. Some rangefinder cameras like the Canon Canonet QL19 lock when the needle enters the red zone to prevent these wasted frames.

Ricoh 500G Light Seal Replacement

The one thing you are sure to find wrong with a Ricoh 500G is that the foam around the door which prevents light from entering will have to be replaced. Typically this turns into a sticky mess over time. We are talking about a forty-year-old camera! Replacement with 2mm foam is a simple enough job to do. Though most camera shops will either do the job for you – or send the camera to a technician to have the foam replaced.

You can get the 2mm foam from hobby shops for a few cents. This is cut into strips and glued in place with a fine smear of contact adhesive. However, before you can glue the new foam on you will have to get rid of the old sticky stuff. This is quite straightforward but will probably take you an hour or so. Getting the old foam off is a matter of soaking with nail polish remover and scraping with wooden sticks. Repeat until all sign of the old foam and glue is removed. Don’t use anything metal to do the scraping because you don’t want to scratch the camera in the process. When you have glued the new foam in place the door should close snugly without rattling.

The Ricoh 500G also came out in a completely black version with white writing. I have not seen one of these in New Zealand. Though no doubt they exist. In the 1970s and 1980s, black cameras were seen by photographers as being for professionals. There are black enamel painted versions of many of these old rangefinder cameras including the Yashica Electro 35, Canon Canonet QL17 GIII, Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, and others. The black examples always sell for more money on the auction websites than the run-of-the-mill silver ones! If you spot any of these old rangefinders in original black enamel at a good price in your travels my advice is to buy it. You are certain to make a profit on it.

The Ricoh 35FM although zone focus has the same 40mm f2.8 lens. Some of the parts are interchangeable making it an inexpensive parts donor for the higher-spec 500G.

Another interesting final point about the Ricoh 500G is that Ricoh also made similar inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras using this same 40mm f2.8 Rikenon lens such as the Ricoh 35FM. The lenses appear to be the same which makes them a potential source of spare parts, particularly for a front lens element. These often get scratched by incorrect and overly enthusiastic cleaning. If a camera lens has a badly scratched front element the photographs will be milky and lacking in contrast.

Ricoh must have produced millions of these particular lenses back in the 1970s as they were used in a whole range of their film cameras.

Price of Old Ricoh Film Cameras

Ten years ago you could easily pick up these old Ricoh film cameras from op-shops and recycling stores for as little as a dollar but I no longer see them nowadays. Perhaps many have already been thrown away!

The Australian Photography Directory 1978-79 shows the new price of the Ricoh 500G to be A$123.00. By way of comparison, the same publication at that time gave the new price of the Canon Canonet G-III as A$275.00 and the Canonet 28 as A$178.00

Specifications: Ricoh 500G

Type: 35mm Rangefinder Film Camera
Lens: Rikenon 4 element 40 mm f2.8. Accepts 46mm filters. The focus range is from 0.9m to infinity. Marked in both feet and metres.
Mark on a motorbike. Ricoh 500G.
Viewfinder: Viewfinder combined with the rangefinder. Bright frame with no parallax correction. There is a second bright yellow frame line to assist with framing at close range. Aperture scale, exposure indicator needle, and under/over exposure red warning marks. Unlike some rangefinder cameras of this vintage, the shutter will still fire even when the shutter and aperture combination are outside the range for correct exposure of the film. Diamond shape rangefinder spot in the centre of the frame which is very bright and easy to use.
Film Speeds: ASA 25 to 800 / Adjustment on the ring at the front of the lens.
Battery: 1 x 1.3v mercury button cell battery (no longer available). Works with an LR44W alkaline cell or equivalent. PX675 replacement. The LR44W is readily available and cheap. However, it starts out at 1.55v and then decreases below 1.3v as the charge runs down.
Self Timer: Yes. Runs for 8 seconds.
EE Mechanism: Built-in exposure meter with CdS cell for fully automatic exposure control. Shutter speed priority system.
Flash Contact: an Accessory shoe with direct contact plus conventional flash socket. Flash Auto Mechanism for other flash units

The electronic flash operation works at any speed from 1/8 second to 1/500 of a second. There are no additional contacts on the hot-shoe. The automatic flash setting is determined by the flash unit depending on ASA of the film used.

Manual Control of Aperture: Possible at any aperture by rotating the aperture ring from the A (automatic) position together with the shutter speed ring to any combination that falls within the range for correct exposure. When set to manual mode a yellow letter M appears in the viewfinder.

Shutter: Leaf Shutter. Speeds range from 1/8 second to 1/500 of a second plus B. Automatically sets aperture, self-cocking combined film/shutter wind.
Film Advance: Single stroke approx. 170 degrees.
Film Counter: Resets automatically.
Size: 110 x 75 x 56mm
Weight: 420g

Photographs taken with Ricoh 500G

Anglers at the mouth of the Rakaia River, Canterbury, New Zealand. Cropped from previous image. Scanned by a high resolution scanner direct from the 35mm film negative. The scanner created a 58 MB BMP file. The BMP file has been significantly reduced in size to 100 KB to fit on our website without taking too long to load.
Anglers at the mouth of the Rakaia River, Canterbury, New Zealand. Fuji colour negative film. Scanned to create a 58 MB BMP file. The BMP file has been significantly reduced in size to 103 KB to fit on our website without taking too long to load. The quality of your 35mm film scanner makes a big difference regarding how much information can be extracted from the negative. This applies not just to resolution but also to colour reproduction.
Whitebaiter’s trucks at South Rakaia, Canterbury, New Zealand. Photograph taken with Ricoh 500G on Fuji Superia 400 ASA film. Negative scanned with Epson 2480 flatbed scanner. Copyright © Allan Burgess – Rangefinder-Cameras.com 2012
This is a crop of the previous image. The BMP file has been significantly reduced in size to 106 KB to fit on our website without taking too long to load.

Ricoh 500G Quick Video Review

3 Comments on “Ricoh 500G (1972)”

  1. This was a fun read. The Ricoh 500G was my first 35mm camera. I bought it new in the summer of ’76 with money from my first job. I seem to recall it was $120CDN. It was a great camera.

  2. Hey I’ve recently come upon a Ricoh 500g and I’ve put film and a new battery in it and the m sign appears in the viewfinder I think it’s called. But the numbers aren’t moving if it’s over exposed or under exposed when on automatic? Could you please help!

    • Hi Dianna, I assume you have the right battery LR44. Try cleaning the battery terminals with very fine sandpaper or the rubber on the end of a pencil. I assume you have turned changed the shutter speed/aperture combination to one that would be in the range of the meter. If you have tried all of these and the meter still isn’t working the wires that run to the battery compartment might be corroded and need replacing. But even without the meter you can still use it and take great pictures. Refer to https://rangefinder-cameras.com/camera-light-meter-not-working/ to see how to do it. Cheers Allan

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Allan Burgess

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  • Hi Allan, I recently bought a Ricoh 500 GS off trademe in NZ, do you know where i can get those battery needed here in Auckland? Loved the article, cheers.

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    • Hi Simon, fortunately the Ricoh 500GS uses an LR44 button cell. There are probably the easiest batteries to find. Supermarkets, The Warehouse, Noel Lemming will all have them. A lot of those Two Dollar Shop places sell a dozen, or so, on a card. These will be much cheaper. Let me know how you get on.

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  • Hi Allan, just discovered that it uses the same battery as my Ricoh Kr-5. Unfortunately the light meter and autoexposure system doesnt seem to work even with new battery in it. Oh well still a solid camera and I'll look forward to shoot with it in manual mode, just need to find a external light meter now.

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    • Are you sure you have the battery the right way up with the writing facing outwards when the battery is in the camera. Also be sure to check the battery isn't flat (exhausted). You should be able to use your Kr5 as a light meter.

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  • Had one of these for years - think it is still in a drawer somewhere. Fantastic little camera. Took thousands of photos, neg and pos, and virtually always was spot on. Loved it. Even used it as a backup at a function I was at. And yes, I am a Kiwi.
    Must dig it out and replace the felts and GET ME SOME FILM and use it again.

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    • Hi George, yes the little Ricoh 500G is one of my all time favourites too. The metering system always seems to be spot-on.

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  • Thank you for this page - I had a Ricoh 500G back in the '70s in the UK - used it often, taking this photo -
    https://goo.gl/DUHAQm
    it won a competition - entered by a friend unbeknownst to me!

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  • Hi Vincent, I really like the little Ricoh 500G. It's one of my all-time favourites. Up until the mid-70s I was still at school. Living in Christchurch at the time, I could have taken heaps of pics with it of buildings and other landmarks that were lost in the big 2011 earthquake.

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  • I like your website. Nice and clean, with cool old cameras and actual images from the camera. I will read your articles as I have time. Photography has become an almost obsession with me. It's the pastime I enjoy the most. Keep up the good work.

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Allan Burgess
Tags: Ricoh 500G

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