1970s Ricoh Compacts, part 4: the Sears 35|RF

The Sears 35|RF (not to be confused with the Sears 35rf) is a black only, Sears-branded clone of the Ricoh 500 G. This is the camera that started it all, it being the superlative 40mm f/2.8 Rikenon.

It arrive to me in desperate need of new light seals, so 20 minutes, a sharp pair of scissors, and some sticky-backed felt later, I had an all black Ricoh 500 G.

After months of making notes and drafts and false starts of my series on Ricoh Compacts, I realized I needed to actually use an original model, to see how it compared with the others. And, boy, I’m glad I did.

The Sears 35|RF is functionally identical to the later Sears 35rf, but functionality aside, the form is just so much tighter. It’s slightly smaller, and slightly heavier than the later model, but it just feels tighter, finer, more finished, so what changed?

Well, in 1972, Ricoh made the 500 G and Sears 35|RF in Japan. The 500 GS (1973) and 500 GX* (1977) were also made in Japan. Ricoh changed the rear door and outsourced the 35 ZF (and ZF ST) to Taiwan in 1976, and redesigned the body, and moved the entire production of the 1980 line to Taiwan in 1980. The ZF lost the rangefinder, but gained a more conventional rear door; the 1980 cameras lost the great shutter release and various refinements of the earlier cameras, becoming cheaper and easier to make.

They’re all great cameras, for sure, and there are only a few tiny differences between them. Most importantly, they all feature the 40mm Rikenon, which is an excellent lens, just perfect for a walk-around thing. They all have leaf shutters with speeds from 1/8 to 1/500th (plus B) and ISOs from 25-800. They’re fairly small and unobtrusive, with great styling, and they’re all comfortable and easy to hold and use.

But this isn’t a Rikenon love fest… save that for a future post, maybe.** This is about the 500 G/35|RF.

As mentioned, my copy needed new seals, and boy does that full back door need a friggen mile of seals. Usually, I trim about a 1/16th of an inch of sticky felt off the sheet, and that’s plenty for a conventional rear door. This camera took almost a whole inch, but once it was sealed up, it was fine.

I took it to work, back when I still had an office to go to. RIP.

I took it to the carwash.

I carried it around with me.

I took it to the neighborhood barbecue.

And it performed brilliantly, in A mode almost the whole time, even with the wrong batteries in place.

This really is a fine camera, and since it’s the Sears version, you can pick one up for about half (or less) of what the 500 G runs. (A search of the ‘bay at time of writing had 500Gs in the $35 range and 35|RFs at $15-20. They’ve come down a huge amount in recent months.)

Purpose
Price
Craftsmanship
Ease of Use

Overall, I’d give the 500 G (at least in this Sears 35|RF skin) 4.3 stars.

Again, any one of these 1970s Ricoh Compacts will make a great photo buddy, and every one I’ve seen (4, now, from almost every series) still works fine,*** so jump on one.


*As mentioned last week, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a 500 GX, and one popped up on ebay for a ridiculously cheap price and I jumped on it. I expect it needs seals, and it’s likely there are some issues with it, but I’m confident I can fix any that pop up. Look forward to a review of it in the coming weeks… and some more cameras to appear on my Gear for Sale page.

**There’s a draft in progress already. I’m sure you’re just thrilled.

***Well, except for the one I broke trying to fix it… I bet I could take it apart and get it working again too. I think it has something to do with the order of the leaves on the shutter… that, or I yanked too hard on the wires and they came loose from something deep inside that will be somewhat harder to fix.

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