1970s Ricoh Compacts, part 3: the Ricoh 500 ME

The Ricoh 500 ME is the last of the line, with all of the advancements of previous models, and all of the bells and whistles Ricoh could cram into it, while still being pretty much the same fixed lens, shutter priority rangefinder that started the line.

When the 35rf arrived, and after a couple of weeks of messing with its non-functional meter and misaligned rangefinder,* on night, in a fit of desperation, I ordered a 500 ME from etsy.

I’ve bought 3 cameras from Etsy now, and I don’t think I’ll do it again. The descriptions are much less accurate than those found on the ‘bay, and the pictures are generally much more doctored. This 500 ME has some obvious signs of use that the description didn’t mention, but it arrived functional and light tight, so I that’s win, I guess.

Anyway. The 500 ME is the top of the line version of the 500 RF (and Sears 35rf, reviewed last week). Like the 500 RF, the ME was made in Taiwan, and has the same design improvements (like the rear door) and flaws (like the shutter release), but has a fancy Multiple-Exposure switch, a battery check button, and little flags that pop up to show when film is loaded and when the shutter is cocked. It’s pretty much a Taiwanese version of 1977s 500 GX, the immediate successor to the 500 G (1972) and 500 GS (1973).**

Ricoh 500 ME top panel, showing film not loaded (little yellow box next to the rewind crank), battery check button, and shutter cocked (little red box next to the shutter release)

Like every other camera in the line, the 40mm Rikenon is the star. It’s sharp, with good color reproduction and contrast, and this camera is a joy to use. My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is the tiny little shutter release. Why they changed that from the beautiful, comfortable, lovely one on the early models, I’ll never know. This is definitely a case of early globalization, outsourcing, and cost-cutting gone wrong.

But it’s still an absolutely excellent camera, as are (almost) all of its siblings and predecessors.

For it’s first roll, I took it for a walk around the office.

I had some worries after that (note the light leak and strange flare a couple of those), but the issue was with the film, not the camera. I believe it got twisted somewhere, either in loading onto the reels, or in manufacture. Subsequent rolls have been just fine, as the photos from this walk in Arlington’s River Legacy Parks show.

As the last, top of the line camera featuring the 40mm Rikenon, the 500 ME is just about the best of the bunch. Sure, it functions almost identically to all of the others, but it just has a few extra touches that make it a little bit special. The ME rarely appears for sale online, and I don’t think many were sold, so the prices are a bit dear, as my darling, adorable wife would say.

I would just call them overpriced, really.

Purpose
Price
Craftsmanship
Ease of Use

Overall, I’d give the 500 ME 3.8 stars. It’s a great camera, for sure, but has few little bothers that take its score down a bit, for me, namely the shutter release.

If you need a 1970s era shutter-priority rangefinder, and you spot a Ricoh 500 ME for less than $100 (in 2018 dollars), buy it. You’ll end up with a great camera that might need new light seals (this one didn’t), but will otherwise make a great walk-around camera for you.


*The rangefinder was an easy fix; the meter should’ve been easy, but I didn’t know how it worked until I took the lens assembly completely apart and messed around with it too much.

**I’m keeping my eyes open for a 500 GX, and when I find one, I’ll probably sell off this one and my Sears 35|RF, as the GX has all of the plusses of the ME (minus the back door) and retains the original lens and body of the 500 G, including the excellent shutter release. And note that, at time of writing, my 35 ZF and Sears 35rf are for sale at very reasonable prices.

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