Ricoh SLX 500

This is a no-frills camera from 1975 by a smaller Japanese camera maker. In the 1970s, Ricoh was not as well known as its compatriots Nikon, Canon, Pentax et al but they have been in business making cameras since 1937. They now own the Pentax and Hoya brands.

This is my second Ricoh camera, my other one being the Ricoh 35 Flex. The camera is basic in its functionality but is very sturdily made. The body is die-cast aluminium with aluminium top and base plates. The top and base are painted with a very textured black paint the the body and back are covered with black leatherette. The shape is very angular with no curves at all. The camera measures 143 by 82 by 50 mm and weighs 800g with the kit lens attached.

Top plate layout is standard for Japanese SLR. On the right is the film advance lever which is black painted aluminium with a plastic top. This moves through about 180º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and so must be moved in one motion.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. In standard Japanese fashion, this is reset to -3 – or S – when the back is opened. Only the even numbers are displayed, the odd numbers being represented by a dot (the exception is the number 1 at the start and the absence of 2). The frame counter counts up to 37 and then stops but it is possible to keep winding the film should there be more than 37 frames in the cassette. Frames 12, 20 and 36 are in red was these were the common film lengths at the time that this camera was made. The rest are in white.

Beside the frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Next along is the shutter speed dial. This has speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds plus B. 1/60 is in red with a red X to signify that this is the flash synch speed. Changing shutter speeds is a simple matter of rotating the dial. This dial also sets the film speed for the light meter. This is set by pulling up on the dial and turning. Available speeds are from 25 to 800 ASA with 1/3 stop settings possible.

focus screen

In the centre of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is a hot-shoe accessory shoe. This just has the large central contact so is not intended for any proprietary flash system. The viewfinder eyepiece is on the back of the pentaprism hump. The focus screen consists of a Fresnel lens screen with a plain ground glass disc in the centre – and in the middle of this is a micro-prism disc. There is no split-image focus aid although these were normal by 1975. On the right hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout. To set the exposure you centre the needle between the + and – by altering the shutter speed and the aperture.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is the usual small, fold-out crank the Japanese made ubiquitous. On many SLR cameras, this crank double as the catch for the hinged back but not here – the back has its own catch on the left edge of the body.

As with all cameras, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This mount is the M42 screw mount introduced by East German Zeiss Ikon in 1949. M42 is also known as the Pentax, Praktica or Universal thread. The big advantage of the M42 mount is the vast number of lenses that have been made for this mount and most are still available today secondhand.

Inside the mount, at the bottom, is a bar that comes forward just before the shutter fires which closes the iris diaphragm in the lens. At the top of the mount, again just inside, is the focus screen. On the front edge of this screen is a strip of foam which acts as a soft buffer for when the reflex mirror snaps up. This foam buffer has now degenerated to a sticky mess and will need replacing before the camera is used.

The lens mount is fitted on a raised portion of the front. On the right hand edge of this raised part is a black lever. Pressing this towards the camera body does two things. Firstly, it moves that bar already mentioned to close the iris diaphragm to its set value and, secondly, it switches on the light meter. This is essentially a shutter priority system. To use it, you set your required shutter speed, hold this lever in and then adjust the aperture ring on the lens until the needle in the viewfinder is centred. This is exactly the same as Asahi introduced in 1964 with their Pentax Spotmatic.

On the left edge of the body are two things to note. At the top of the edge is a PC socket for a flash connection. Using this instead of the hot-shoe allows off-camera flash to be used. At the bottom of the edge is a chrome catch that releases the back.

Opening the back reveals a bog-standard SLR. The film cassette goes on the left. There is a cut-away on the base to ease the insertion of the cassette. In the centre is the film gate. This is quite large – 65 mm – which helps to keep the film flat. In the film gate are the shutter curtains. These are cloth and run horizontally. As mentioned earlier, the maximum shutter speed is 1/500 seconds. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft which counts the sprocket holes in the film as the film moves and ensures that the correct amount of film is advanced. Next is the take-up spool which rotates clockwise and so winds the film emulsion side outermost.

On the inside of the hinged back is a large, 65 by 40 mm, pressure plate which keeps the film snug against the film gate. By this is a sticker advertising the retailer – Peter Hall of Ilkeston, Derbyshire. When closed, the back fits into a groove on the body. This groove is filled with a foam light seal which degenerated and needs replacing. Luckily, this is a straight forward job and replacement foam is readily available on that auction site.

The base has the usual three items.Most prominent is the battery compartment. When new, this used a mercury cell producing 1.3 volts. These are now banned internationally but 1.5 volt alkaline cells fit – there might be a bit of over-exposure as a result of using the alkaline cell. Next to the battery compartment is a 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket (I am assuming the UNC thread as this would conform to ISO 1222 which dates from 1973 and lays down the usage of the UNC thread). The third item on the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. This only needs to be pressed in at the start of rewinding and then stays in until the film advance lever is moved. This is so much more convenient than having to have one hand holding the camera, one hand holding the button in and one hand winding the rewind crank which is the case with so many cameras.

For once, the camera came with its kit lens. This is Ricoh’s own make, an Auto Rikenon with 50mm focal length and a maximum aperture of ƒ/2. The ‘auto’ part of the name indicates that the lens aperture remains fully open until the camera’s shutter release button is pressed. There is a small pin by the screw mount which is pressed by the bar mentioned earlier. This auto system has got the advantage that the viewfinder image remains bright while you focus.

Apertures with this lens range from ƒ/2 to ƒ/16. Not an astounding range but very useful. Focusing is from 0.6m to infinity. There are two distance scales, metres in green and feet in white. Being an older lens, there is a depth of field scale by the focus scale – something I think all lenses should have. using this scale, I can determine that the hyperfocal distance at ƒ/16 is 5 metres giving a focus range from 2.5 metres to infinity.

The lens is sturdily made from aluminium with a rubber focusing grip. According to the Interweb, this lens has 6 elements in 5 groups. I could only find positive comments about the performance of this lens, but my test film might say otherwise.

One comment

  1. Pentax 35mm cameras surpass the durability of digital by decades. 35mm negs. the ideal
    storage medium. More importantly 35mm negs. don’t crash. Digital a branch of photography,
    images look quite the same. 35mm film cameras have their own distinct personality, offer
    warmer superior tones than digital. Each format has its uses, but film remains superior.


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