Ricoh Auto Shot

This is a fairly small point-and-shoot camera from Ricoh. Small – but surprisingly heavy. The camera is made form die-cast aluminium alloy. Introduced in 1964, the widespread use of plastics was still in the future. This camera measures 73.5 by 113 by 56.5 mm (dimensions provided by Ricoh) and weighs 480g.

I have three other Ricoh cameras in my collection. Two are 35mm SLRs, one called the Ricoh TLS 401 and another is the Ricoh SLX 55. The third is a fixed lens SLR similar to the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex called the Ricoh 35 Flex.

  • lens: Rikenon
  • focal length: 35 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal leaf
  • speeds: 1/30 or 1/125
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

Exposure is controlled by on-board electronics. There is a selenium light meter around the lens to measure the light. The electronics then alter the aperture to provide a good exposure. The shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 second. If there is insufficient light for a good exposure, there is a red flag at the top of the viewfinder image.

Selenium light meters do not require batteries of any sort which is a big plus. The downside is that they are very insensitive to low light levels. As this camera has a fixed shutter speed and cannot take pictures in low light, this restriction of selenium meters does not matter much.

Another putative defect of selenium meters which gets quoted rather a lot on the Interweb is that the selenium sensor loses sensitivity of time. My camera collection includes 70 to 80 selenium meters dating back to the mid 1950s. All work well enough to agree with my modern digital cameras. It is true that selenium sensors do deteriorate with time but this is when exposed to light. No one keeps cameras or light meters exposed to bright light all day every day so this deterioration is mostly theoretical.

If there is insufficient light for the automatic exposure system, you can switch to a quasi-manual system. This is intended for using flash but works without using flash. You switch from auto to one of eight apertures. This changes the shutter speed to 1/30 second and the aperture to the selected value. This is a very slow shutter speed for a hand-held camera but fine if using a tripod or steadying the camera against a solid structure.

The layout of the camera is very unusual. Most cameras have the controls either on a top plate or around the lens. This camera has just one control on the top but has two controls on the base. This is not unique to this camera or to Ricoh but is very unusual.

Now for a detailed description. As mentioned above, there is little on the top plate. On the far right is an ISO hot flash shoe. This conforms to the ISO standard with no additional proprietary contacts. On the left of the top plate is a selector dial for film speed. Rather unusually for a Japanese camera, this film speed selector has scales for both ASA and DIN. For my younger readers, ASA was an American speed system (American Standards Association) and DIN was a German speed system (Deutsches Institut für Normung). Both have been incorporated into the modern ISO system (ISO is not an acronym – the organisation is called the International Organisation for Standards which would be IOS in English but would vary between different languages so they decided on ISO for all countries. See http://ISO/about us). If you use a modern film in this camera that is rated 200/24 ISO, you need to set the film speed either as 200 ASA or 24 DIN.

There are red arrows for setting the film speed and white arrows for when you need to adjust the automatic exposure such as when using a lens filter. In-between the flash shoe and film speed selector is the name of the camera in capitals: “RICOH AUTO SHOT”.

Turning the camera over, on the base at the right is a large knob. Turning this knob anti-clockwise winds-up the clockwork mechanism that powers the film advance mechanism (this only works when there is a film in place in the camera). This knob only turns one way but in case you cannot work this out, there is an arrow on top of the knob to help you. It takes ten complete turns to fully wind the mechanism. This is good to advance the film fifteen frames.

In the centre of the winding knob is a small button. Pressing this does two things. First, it causes the clockwork mechanism to rapidly unwind. Second, it allows the film to be rewound.

At the other end of the base is the rewind crank. This is the usual folding crank, but smaller than many. Beside this is the window to the frame counter. This counter is reset by opening the camera back – the counter resets to S which is -3. The frame counter has every fifth frame as a number while the rest are represented by dots. These are in black except for frames 20 and 36 which are in red.

The front of the camera is dominated by the light meter/shutter/lens assembly. This assembly is 60mm diameter. The shutter part is 43 mm diameter. Between these two is the light meter sensor. This consists of a ring of knobbly glass. Beneath this is a ring selenium sensor. Right at the top of this ring is a fairly small rectangular window which is the front of the viewfinder. The viewfinder image is very small – 1/3 of life size. This is OK for snapshots which is what this camera is intended for. If there is insufficient light for a good exposure, there is a red flag at the top of the viewfinder image. The light meter sensitivity is from LV10 to LV17.

The shutter mechanism lies inside the light meter ring. The shutter was made by Copal and has two speeds. In normal use, the shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 second and the light meter chooses the aperture. There is also a manual mode, intended for flash use, where the user selects the aperture and the shutter speed is fixed at 1/30 second. The available apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22. Only four of these are presented on the scale with numbers, the in-between values being dots. There are click-stops at each value.

In the centre of of the assembly is the lens. This is a Rikenon lens. I don’t think the name has any significance regarding design as all Ricoh cameras seem to have Rikenon lenses. This lens has four elements (pieces of glass) in three groups which sounds like a Tessar copy. The lens focal length is 35mm which is slightly wide angle for 35mm film.

The closest focus is a bit less than three feet. The focus scale has three different scales: feet in black, metres in red and icons in black. There are four icons: head and shoulders at about three feet (one metre); sitting at about six feet (two metres); standing at about fifteen feet (five meters); landscape at infinity.

To the right of the shutter/lens assembly, on the front face of the camera, is the shutter release. This is a vertical slide rather than a button. I find using this a bit disconcerting because as soon as the shutter fires the rewind crank rapidly turns as the film advances automatically. Given the small size of the camera, your hand is very close to the rewind crank (in my case touching it).

On the left hand end of the camera is a tripod socket. This is a strange place to have a tripod socket – this is the usual 1/4 inch UNC thread. Given the position of the tripod socket, putting the camera into portrait orientation, this would only be used for flash portraits – or, actually, never used at all. Above the tripod socket is a PC socket for flash. This is in addition to the ISO hot shoe and allows for the use of off-camera flash.

On the other end of the camera is a wrist strap. Above the wrist strap is the sliding catch to open the back of the camera. If you slide this down, the back snaps open.

In the centre of the back is the pressure plate . This is not particularly big but is about the size you would expect in a compact. On the catch end of the back is a chromed metal spring to keep the film cassette snuggly in place. at the hinge end of the back there is a flange that renders the hinge light tight.

The most striking thing about the back is the foam light seal. Usually, the Japanese put the light seal in a groove that the edges of the back fit into when closed. Not here. The foam seal is quite wide and is placed around the edges of the back. On my camera, the foam has almost completely broken down and will need to be replaced before I use the camera. The position of the seal means this will be very easy to do.

Inside the body, everything is much as you would expect. The film cassette goes on the right and the take-up spool is on the left. The film is held on the take-up spool by threading the film leader under a chrome metal spring.

There is no sprocket shaft in this camera – this helps to keep the camera compact. The sprocket holes are counted by a toothed wheel below the film gate – eight holes equals one frame.

On the bottom edge of the the body, near the rewind crank, is a small protruding tang. When the back is opened, this tang pops out and resets the frame counter. When the back is closed, the tang is pushed in and the frame counter can start counting again.

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