1970s Ricoh Compacts, part 1: the Ricoh 35 ZF

The Ricoh 35 ZF is a zone focus, shutter priority (and full manual) 35mm camera from 1976. With a 40mm f/2.8 lens, shutter speeds from 1/500 to 1/8 (plus B), and an ISO range of 25-800, there isn’t too much to worry about: set the shutter speed (1/250 or 1/500 in daylight), put the aperture on ‘A’ and pay some amount of attention to the focus pictograms. It’s pretty much ideal for a walk-around, happy snapper-type camera and I’ve been (mostly) happily snapping away with mine for many years now.

The 35 ZF is a Taiwan-made variant of 1972’s 500 G, and it has a sibling, the 35 ZF ST, that includes the self timer from the 500 G, but is otherwise identical to the ZF. It retains the lens, shutter, meter, and soft-touch shutter release of the 500G, and while it’s missing the rangefinder, it has a redesigned rear door that greatly simplifies seal-removal and replacement, and is slightly lighter, probably owing to the loss of the rangefinder box and perhaps the addition of some plastic components.

It’s fairly comfortable and steady in the hand, or in my hands, anyway, but the lens protrudes a bit too far to comfortably fit into a pocket. That said, this one has been into the front pocket of my jeans or slacks on more than one occasion.

Like many cameras of this vintage, the 35 ZF was designed to take old 1.3v Mercury batteries (PX635 in particular) and you can use fancy Wein cells (1.35v) or zink air (1.4v) batteries just fine, but Wein cells are a bit expensive and both types run down horribly quickly. LR44 and SR44 batteries (1.5 and 1.55v) also work fine if you stuff a small bit of foil in the battery compartment—SR44 battries are a bit smaller, thinner, than the old Mercury batteries—but the meter may run a bit hot. With color print film it doesn’t matter much, with black & white and slide film, you may want to set the ISO a stop or so lower to compensate.

Honestly, I don’t bother, but then I’ve never shot slide film with this camera, and didn’t worry about it with the few rolls of black & white I put through it.

This camera came to me from my step-dad’s estate, and he scratched his phone number or something into the bottom of it at some point in the 1970s. It has a few dings and scratches from over 4 decades of on-and-off use, but it’s in great shape otherwise, and capable of making great pictures.

I’ve had the most success with medium- and infinity focus landscapes and street-type stuff, though I’ve also had a couple of winners in the close-focus range. The color transmission is great and the lens is sharp enough, assuming, of course, you’ve remembered to set the focus.

It’s great in black & white too, though I think it overexposed this Street Pan by a stop or so. For this walk around the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens with my darling, adorable wife, I shot the 35 ZF alongside a Lomo LC-A, and shots from the LC-A are consistently darker (reflecting the overcast, rainy day) and more contrasty (probably reflecting the lens), but the 35 ZF still did an admirable job.

So. The Ricoh 35 ZF. My only complaints are with the zone focus (and, really, any failures there are my fault alone) and the aperture ring can be a bit hard to turn by feel, if you’re into manual exposure control—this is solved in later 500G descendants with the addition of a little tab—but those are minor issues, and, really, it’s a competent little camera. This one needed new seals (I used an interslice kit, but would re-do it with sticky-backed felt in a heartbeat), and I thought the meter was failing until I figured out the aluminum-foil-shim-in-the-battery-compartment trick, but both are about on-par for cameras of this vintage.

Overall, though, it’s a great little camera. The 40mm Rikenon lens is sharp and renders beautifully, and the exposure range is fine for most purposes.* I like the silver top and bottom and black fake leather cover, and has a nice feel in the hand, with softly rounded edges and an excellent, wide, smooth shutter release button.

Purpose
Price
Craftsmanship
Ease of Use

Overall, I’d give it a solid 3.8 stars.

The Ricoh 35 ZF is a fairly common camera on the ‘bay and other third parties. In 2018, I wouldn’t pay more than $40 or $50 for one, and most seem to sell in the $35 range. (I looked several years ago, and they were in the $15 range… Film photography is on the rise, Alhamdulillah!) If the idea of a zone focus, shutter-priority or full manual camera appeals, you could do way worse, and not much better at that price. It’s a great little camera, if somewhat overshadowed by its rangefinder-bearing predecessors and cousins.

*You’re not going to be pushing HP5 to 6400 in broad daylight with this camera, but for most daylight and indoor purposes, it’s fine with any 100-400 speed film.

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