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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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