The Rikenon 40mm f/2.8 is one of my favorite lenses. It’s sharp enough, with good color transmission and not too much vignetting, and I love the field of view: it’s never too wide like a 35mm can sometimes be, and it’s never too tele like a 50 sometimes is (especially if you shoot with a 35 all the time). It’s almost perfect for general use:  ok for landscapes, decent for portraits, and just about perfect for walking around. 

My only problem with it? I can’t use it on any of my SLRs, as it’s only available on a whole bunch of Ricoh compacts from the 1970s…

The Rikenon 40mm f/2.8 lens first appeared on the Ricoh 500 G in 1972, and had a nice 8 or 9 year run, through 1980’s 500 ME and its various lesser models. It’s a fairly simple lens, I think, just 4 elements in 3 groups, but it’s plenty sharp, and a 40mm at f/2.8 is fairly forgiving at all but the closest distances. The four-blade aperture goes from 2.8 to 16 in full stop clicks, and still somehow manages to produce decent, if rather swirly, bokeh.

On most models, a built in CdS meter sits inside the filter ring, with sensitivities from ASA 25-800, and needle readout in the finder, and the whole thing sits in front of a Ricoh-made shutter with full stops from 1/8th-1/500th plus Bulb.

It’s really a marvel of Japanese engineering (and, in most models after 1976, Taiwanese manufacturing…).

My first experience with the Rikenon 40mm came in 2012, when I inherited my stepdad’s Ricoh 35 ZF, a zone focus compact from 1976, but the lens first appeared 1972’s 500 G and it had a nice run, appearing on Elnica F in 1974, the 35 ZF and ZF ST in 1976, the 500 GX in 1977, and the 500 ME and its numerous offshoots in 1980. 

I’ve been trying to work out a timeline, and between Ricoh’s (Japanese only) model history and Sylvain Halgan’s collection   (especially the chronology of Ricoh Cameras) (in French), I think I have it worked out:

  • 1972: The Ricoh 500 G, a compact rangefinder and it’s Sears-branded twin (the 35|RF)
  • 1973: Ricoh 500 GS, a slightly redesigned 500 G
  • 1974: Ricoh Elnica F (aka the 800 EES in some markets), incorporating the electronic shutter from the Elnica 35 and 35M (which had 40mm f/1.8 lenses in a 6 element, 4 group arrangement)
  • 1976: Ricoh 35 ZF and ZF ST (self timer), Taiwan-made variants with redesigned rear doors, but otherwise identical to the 500 G
  • 1977: Ricoh 500 GX,* the last Japanese-made version . It was pretty much a 500 G with (perhaps) some new coatings on the lens—the GX lens, and those on all later models, has “Color” appended to the name—and a bunch of fancy bells and whistles: a multiple exposure switch, battery check button, and little flags that pop up to indicate that the shutter is cocked andfilm is loaded.
  • 1980: Ricoh 500 ME—with the redesigned rear door from the 35 ZF, a little tab on the bottom of the aperture ring that makes changing the aperture very easy, and a new top featuring more plastic, but otherwise identical to the 500 GX—and its offspring: the 500 RF and it’s Sears-branded variant, the 35rf (missing the battery check and fancy flags); the 500 ST (zone focus, with self timer); and 500 ZF (zone focus, no self timer);
    • Ricoh EF and EFS, with a flash sort of glued onto the side, and the FM, all have fixed 1/125th shutters, but are otherwise identical to the ZF and ST models. 

And that was the end of the 40mm f/2.8.**

So how did I come to be so interested in the Rikenon 40mm f/2.8?

Well, about two years ago, I started lusting after a compact rangefinder. I researched for months, and considered many different models (mostly various fixed lens cameras from the 1970s). I wanted something close to the size of the 35 ZF, but with a rangefinder and maybe a faster lens. Fixed lens rangefinders with faster lenses tend to be much larger than these, and many of them have major issues that make buying and using one a nightmare.

I didn’t want a 500 G, purely because of the back, and didn’t want to drop the money on a GX or ME, so I passed them over, until I found out about the Sears-branded variants. A 500 G in decent condition runs about $70 on eBay (at time of writing), but a Sears 35 R|F runs about $30 (assuming you can find one), and I found the Sears 35rf for less than $20, shipped.

Granted, it’s the 1980, mostly plastic version, but still. I figured I had scored a good deal.

Alas, it arrived with a broken rangefinder and non-functional meter, so I got to work trying to take fix it. I managed to get the top off, and figured out how to align the rangefinder, but only after taking the lens apart too. I managed to get it all working again, but about halfway through, filled with anger and frustration, I bought a 500 ME.

The 500 ME is a marvel of late 1970s engineering. My model arrived much more well-used than the photographs in its Etsy listing indicated: gotta love how high-intensity flash fills in all the shadows that might indicate dents and scuff marks… Despite the condition, it works very well, well, after I tightened up the retaining ring on the front of the lens. It was loose when I got it, and after a couple of rolls the little fork that connects the meter to the shutter speed selector disengaged. Thankfully, I had all the experience from disassembling the 35rf, and fixing it was easy.

So then I had three of these lenses: one zone focus version from 1976, and two rangefinders from 1980.

I started making plans to write reviews of the three Ricohs, and in preparation, published 5 frames with the 35 ZF on 35mmc.  (I made a couple of errors in that article: the 35 ZF is from 1976, not the mid 1960s, it’s not really a clone of the 500G, and there are some woefully egregious grammatical errors. Oh well.) But I kept making comparisons to the original 500 G that I couldn’t verify without having one in my hand, so…

And now there are 4.

I can’t very well write four reviews, so here we are. Ends up, I reviewed all of the variants I had back in 2018… The Sears 35 R|F, Ricoh 35 ZF, Ricoh 500 GX, Ricoh 500 ME, and Sears 35 rf.

If I had my druthers, I would combine all the features of the 500 ME (including the conventional rear door) with the original version of the lens and the great shutter release from the 500 G and 35 ZF. The thin plastic shutter release on the later models is fine, but the wide, slightly rounded, metal release on the early versions is vastly superior, and I think the original lens is a wee bit sharper than lenses on the later models.

Hummm… I wonder if I could disassemble the four cameras and make a sort of uber-Ricoh? I’m sure I could swap the lenses out, but I’m not sure about the shutter release, as the tops are so completely different, and I think the barrel on the original shutter release is slightly wider than the shutter release on the late models.

Eh. Naw. I’m happy enough with the cameras as they are. I just have too many of them.***

So enough with that. Let’s look at some pictures.

Back when my employer still kept a proper office, I went in early enough to have my pick of parking spots, and I picked the same one every day… one that gave me the quickest possible exit. I became somewhat fascinated with the long-disused guard shack parking attendant hut, and shot it many times, so I have two shots from roughly the same position (one standing outside the car; the other from the driver’s seat), with two different Ricoh’s (500 ME on the left; Sears 35 R|F  on the right), and shot with two different films (Ektar at EI 50; Kodak Gold 200).

Don’t worry, I don’t have two many more like that… but I think you can start to see some of the Rikenon’s strengths, or at least it’s usefulness. As I said before, it’s good-enough for just about anything. Please enjoy some random shots, taken on random films, with each of the 5 Ricohs in my possession:

-the 35 ZF, with some Imation Scotch Color 100, de-redscaled Ultrafine Red Dragon, and Kodak HD 400.

And with some bulk-loaded Konica Pro 160.

-the 500 ME, with some Hawkeye 500, and some Ektar at EI 50. You can see here that the lens (sadly) doesn’t quite focus close enough for a sefly, but I think the picture works anyway.

-the Sears 35rf (Ricoh 500 RF), with some Konica Pro 160, Kodak Hawkeye 400, and more Konica Pro 160.

-the Sears 35 R|F (Ricoh 500 G), the camera that started it all, with some Lomography Color 100.

So, just to wrap up, I love the Rikenon 40mm. There are people out there who take lenses out of old fixed lens and disposable cameras and found ways to mod them into various mounts for use, mostly on m-mount cameras. I expect something could be done with the Rikenon too… though I’m not the man to do it, not at this point in my life anyway, and I’d want it in f-mount for use on my Nikons anyway.

I put 3 of the Ricohs on my for sale page more than a year ago, but no takers so far. All have some problems, and are priced accordingly, and all work perfectly in manual mode. I’ll probably end up putting them on the ‘bay, then donating them to charity, but I’d rather get them in the hands of someone directly, so if you’re interested in the Ricoh 35 ZF, 500 GX, or Sears 35rf, please drop me a line. The Rikenon 40mm is worth $30 or $40 just by itself. It’s a brilliant little lens, and the fact that it generally comes attached to functional cameras is a huge bonus, imo. If you come across any of the 1970s Ricohs, pick one up! You won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a year or more and finally decided to just finish and post it. I expect there are some errors in it, so if you see something, save something, and thanks in advance!


Notes:

*Halgan puts the GX together with the 35 ZF and ZF ST and has all appearing in 1976, but Ricoh has the ZF and ZF ST coming out in October 1976 and the GX appearing in March 1977. Given that the cameras don’t share bodies (as they will in the 1980 versions) and were made in different countries, I suspect Ricoh has it right.

**In 1981, the EFL appeared, sporting a redesigned 40mm f/3.8 lens. Ricoh claims it was a 2.8, but all pictures I’ve seen and Hagland indicate a 3.8 aperture. These are mostly plastic and don’t seem to have aged well. Most appear in online auctions with dead electronics.

***More on that in another post.

Links:

Ricoh Film Camera list shows 6 cameras with this lens.

1972 500 G http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/ricoh500G.html

1973 500 GS http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/ricoh500GS.html (redesigned front plate)

1974 Elnica F http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/elnica_F.html (full auto or aperture priority, with a Seiko shutter and a slight body redesign)

1976 35 ZF http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/ricoh35ZF.html (rangefinder removed, back design changed to a standard door, and the first to be made in Taiwan; some models lacked the self timer; some had it (verify))

1977 500 GX http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/ricoh500GX.html (MX switch, battery check button, shutter lock, and shutter lock and film loaded indicators)

1980 500 ME  http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/ricoh500ME.html (made in Taiwan again, with a redesigned top plate featuring some plastic, but otherwise identical to the GX)

1981 35 EFL http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/ricoh-filmcamera/cameralist/ricoh35EFL.html, a completely different sort of camera, with fixed 1/125th shutter and built in flash, so I don’t count it.

And there’s another, perhaps better history on http://www.collection-appareils.fr/Timeline/frise.php?Marque=Ricoh 

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