A Camera – The Ricoh 500GX

One chilly morning of car boot sale in the region of Paris, I stumbled upon a small camera that turned out to be a really serious rangefinder: the Ricoh 500GX. And it’s been love ever since!

Introduction

Sold from 1976 to 1980, the 500GX is a really compact and robust camera, made out of metal. Its reasonable weight, 420g, makes it easy to handle, while its slim size makes it easy to carry away and even drop inside a large jacket pocket. My specimen is all black, but Ricoh also sold a more common silver version.

The lens is a Color Rikenon f/2.8 and focal length is a versatile 40mm, even if I would dream it a bit shorter for street photography. Focusing is done through a coupled rangefinder and goes as close as 90cm from subjects.

The default aperture priority mode is easily disabled to get the Ricoh 500GX into full manual mode.

Shutter speeds go from 1/8 s to a comfy 1/500 s that enables the use of the widest aperture. Long exposure is possible by using the Bulb position. Flash sync is supported at all speeds. Things are getting serious when you start looking at auto exposure: the default exposure mode is a very convenient aperture priority. The selected aperture is shown facing the meter needle inside the viewfinder. Note that the meter is located just above the lens, and is covered by whatever lens filter you may need. More importantly, this default mode is easily disabled to get the Ricoh 500GX into full manual mode.

The viewfinder displays a clear but tiny rangefinder patch. On the right side, the metering needle runs through the different possible apertures. A light press on the shutter release locks the selected aperture and lets you compose your frame with the desired exposure. Over and under-exposure do not prevent the camera from taking the picture, as would a New Canonet 28. It is too bad, though, that the lens barrel had to take so much space in the viewfinder!

Tormented ergonomics

Inside our viewfinder, a small capital “M” reminds us whenever the auto-exposure mode is disabled. However, nothing indicates the selected aperture in this situation. Actually, either in manual or auto-exposure modes, the 500GX does not display anything about the speed: be careful not to select slow speeds! This only foreshadows all the oddities this camera has with ergonomics.

In my previous post reviewing the Nikon F-501AF, I was unveiling the evolutions of modern autofocusing systems. While at the time Ricoh released its camera there already existed consumer grade rangefinders with advanced designs, such as the Canon P, the 500GX has hard times integrating the new accessories in a body still more compact. It actually shows how uncertain makers were when they integrated the new electronics and creative mechanisms in their cameras.

So, the 500GX is a small very regular black brick, on top of which a mad designer decided to put, here and there, wherever it pleased him, funny buttons and levers.

A mad designer decided to put, here and there, wherever it pleased him, funny buttons and levers

First, the shutter release is quite long. The button actually looks a lot like the end of a cable release transplanted on this small camera. OK, why not? But the lump it creates ensures accidental release whenever you’ll carry the camera with you!

In order to bypass this issue, that came up with the parent iteration of the small Ricoh, designers introduced a new shutter lock lever that users have to turn 45 degrees to get the camera ready. Unfortunately, without any reminder of this shutter lock in the viewfinder, you will undoubtedly curse as I did numerous times against this curious design.

Finally, filling the remaining space on the top cover, a small red blister acts as a battery checker. And in case you ever forget what this red thing does, there is a giant sign with big capital letters saying “BATT CHECKER”. Trust me, you’ll remember what this is.

Because not everything is all black, note the actual good idea: two red/green indicators that tell you quickly if there is film inside the camera (next to the rewind knob) and whether the shutter is cocked (next to the advance lever).

Another novelty since the parent iteration: the 500GX comes with a multi-exposure mechanism. It was fine to separate it from the main cocking system. But was it necessary to place it so far from all other commands, on the complete opposite? Oh, and since this slider button is already unreachable, was it a reasonable idea to pair it with still another type of button, round and flat and so not manipulable that you have to crush it with your finger in order to make it turn a few degrees? Well, at least rest assured, dear Mr. Designer, that no one will ever activate multi-exposure by mistake.

Yet I still love it

Despite all these design flaws, the tiny Ricoh knows how to make itself lovable.

It is very easy to get ready to shoot: use one PR44 battery to bring it to life, the exact same I was recommending in Type 100 Polaroid cameras. But even without battery, you can shoot in manual mode at all speeds, only the light meter won’t be available. If needed, the rangefinder is easily adjustable from outside, under a tiny rounded cap next to the accessory shoe. Do not hope to get your hands inside the beast so easily though, leave this arduous task to professionals.

All the issues mentioned above will only be avoided by the means of a complete and practical learning process using this camera. And the Ricoh 500GX, with the ability to carry it everywhere and anywhere, offers the keys for fulfilling this training. And eventually, this work will be rewarded with high quality pictures.

Some pictures

I’ve been walking around for about a year with the Ricoh 500GX. You will find below some pictures shot in various situations, various light conditions and on various film types: Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 400, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, and Ilford FP4 Plus 125.

Do not hesitate to ask in the comments if you have questions about the Ricoh 500GX, and please share your pictures shot using this camera with me on Instagram. Have fun !

More info

Check out the new releases on Collection-Appareils

You probably know the website, but what you may not know is that it is continuously improving: Sylvain Halgand’s collection-appareils.fr is fed about twice a year by volunteers who add their own cameras to those already listed. By the end of february 2017, there will be 11466 cameras registered and thoroughly documented. This year’s first shot of new content added more that 100 new cameras to the list!

You can browse all the new releases on the dedicated page.

I myself added two of mine: a Fujica 35-ML F/2 and a nice travel chamber Photo-Hall Perfect Pliant n°9.

Glisy event

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to go myself, but the association linked to the site Collection-Appareils organises an annual event in Glisy, near Amiens in France, where you’ll find a great second-hand market of cameras and photographs. Located in the north of France, its less than a two-hour ride from Calais once you’ve crossed the Channel. This year event will take place on March 4th, 2017.

Glisy 2017 poster

A Camera – The Nikon F-501 AF

That was Santa’s surprise present this Christmas: a really nice Nikon SLR, the F-501 AF.

Introduction

It is a thirty-year-old camera (1986, just like me) mixing vintage looks and a nostalgia bonus (just like me) in a body that is quite heavy (just like… nevermind) but is also offering a firm and steady grip.

More importantly: the F-501 AF is the first customer grade Nikon SLR to offer a modern TTL (Through The Lens) autofocus system. It was sold in the US under the N2020 AF denomination. Former systems in the same grade of cameras used specific lenses containing the focus motor. High prices led makers, first of them Minolta one year before the F-501, to build their motors inside the body of their SLR.

Twist of fate, modern DSLR would switch back to motorized lenses once prices go down, for efficiency and low volume requirements.

Good to know: the batteries required to run this camera are 4 simple AAA cells, located on a support in the shoe. Easy to find, including rechargeable models (planet Earth will thank you).

Another then-new feature, the F-501 has automatic film advance, thus the absence of winding lever. This also eases film loading, and sensibility is automatically set thanks to DX code reading on the roll. As always in photography, improvements come one at a time, and the advance motor does not provide rewind capability.

Along with the camera debuted the AF Nikkor lenses, still sold today! I’ve been spoiled with two of the standard lenses, the 50mm f/1.8 lens and the 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 zoom. The latter seems to receive mixed reviews and I do not have tested it yet. I grabbed the 50mm first, and that was the best choice: it’s a renowned lens, bright and precise, producing a really nice bokeh.

Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8 : it’s a renowned lens, bright and precise, producing a really nice bokeh.

It was really easy to get my hands on and use this camera. I grabbed it naturally on a couple of occasions for a test roll, without ever thinking about the light conditions or anything. On sunny days as well as evening light, it’s been really confortable to use. The firm grip and steady shutter even allowed some twilight shots without much motion blur.

Automatic exposure modes are CPU controlled with preference for high or low speeds. The aperture priority mode will be your best friend. Manual exposure will allow to shoot using compatible lens. Only speed priority mode may be missed by its admirers. Some ergonomic oddities can be forgiven: the power-on switch has a tendency to remain in-between two modes, the AF-L and AE-L buttons are unreachable.

The viewfinder is bright. On its right, the selected speed is displayed, along with an exposure guide when necessary. However, it is missing a reminder of the corresponding aperture, like on the Canon A-1 SLR. This is something you can be accustomed to. Below the image, there is a focusing guide, displaying the direction you should manoeuvre your lens barrel: useful when in manual focus!

In low light situations, the autofocus system performance is disappointing.

Because in low light situations, the autofocus performances is disappointing, and you can then sense the giant steps the makers have made to get to modern autofocus systems. When the autofocus system does not manage to focus properly, the focus guide is not of a big help, and the standard focusing screen does not offer any clue useful to manual focus. An optional focusing screen, Type J, is the only hope of getting support from microprisms.

Everything in balance, the F-501 is a very good SLR camera for making good use of the excellent compatible lenses.

Some pictures

Here is a galery of some shots from the test roll: Ilford HP5 Plus at 400 ASA. Every picture has been shot using the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Do not hesitate to ask in the comments if you have questions about the Nikon F-501 AF, and please share your pictures shot using this camera with me on Instagram. Have fun !

More info

  • The F-501 AF on collection-appareils.fr
  • Another deep review of the F-501, among other Nikon SLRs, that coincidentally was published on the same day as this blog post 🙂 on mikeeckman.com

Replace the battery in a Polaroid type 100 camera

Back in July, I made the near perfect discovery of a Polaroid 230. Brand new, in its box, with its original invoice dated from 1969 in djiboutian francs.

If you do not know this line of bellowed cameras (Polaroid 100, 200, 300…), think of them as massive devices shooting instant pictures the size of small postcards. Here is the beast, below, compared to a Canon SLR.

Here is my latest finding – a Polaroid Land Camera model 230. With its original box, its manual, and even its 1969 invoice in Francs Djibouti ! This camera uses pack film and produces 10,8×8,3cm pictures. Thus the size of the monster – compared to the EOS camera beside. Pack film has been recently discontinued by its last manufacturer, Fuji. But stocks are still available – including on Amazon. Also other manufacturers are studying new production of pack film. Avon, Île de France, Fance #vintage #camera #Polaroid #LandCamera #PolaroidModel230 #film #packfilm #instantcamera #lomography #staybrokeshootfilm #ishootfilm #filmisnotdead #analogue #collectibles #carbootsale #fleamarket #instagood #picoftheday #photooftheday #chasinglight #justgoshoot #acertainslantoflight #makemoments #toldwithexposure #acolorstory #France #Fontainebleau

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The challenge with this type of cameras consists in replacing a battery type that does not exist anymore in retail. The Eveready 531 or 532 was a quite large cylinder with snap connectors at both end. You can still find high priced substitutes, min. 10€, named A19PX.

Numerous times, I encountered tutorials on the web that demonstrated how to replace the 3 or 4.5V battery with respectively 2 or 3 AAA batteries. The idea is appealing, batteries found everywhere. But these specific mods require you to irreversibly destroy parts of your camera using cutting pliers and other instruments of torture.

Please be aware the following pictures show explicit content:

I’m now making a call: STOP! Do not butcher your cameras any more! Here is one solution, among others I’m sure, that will allow you to finally shoot packfilm for little money.

The required arsenal

Here starts the long list of the tools and items the substitution will require.

Batteries

You’ll have to find a substitute for a 3 or 4.5V battery. This requires 2 or 3 1.5V batteries. Among the smallest available, there are LR44 button cells.

Alcalines have major drawbacks when it comes to photography, we’ll probably address the issue in future posts. What is required here is an important capacity, much more than what standard LR44 can deliver. That’s what draws people to use AAA batteries instead.

The solution stands in zinc-air LR44 equivalents: PR44 coin cells. They can provide up to 6 times their sisters’ capacity. Voltage is a bit lower, 1.35V. It is not significant in our case.

The price? Hold on tight. In most cases, less than 1€ per unit. Even less if you catch a bundle, I paid 26 cents per unit for a 60 pack.

Connectors

The smartest of you will have already looked up the original Eveready battery with Google and they will have noticed that the snap connectors look the same as those from a 9-Volt battery. They are the same.

You’ll find these snap connectors for 25 cents max (e.g. at Selectronic). Pay attention to get a flexible connector, it will help with the camera’s large plastic connector holders.

Battery holder

That’s the tough part, you’ll have to use your imagination.

You can try to maintain the 2 or 3 batteries together using tape or strap band. It’s not optimum, it will probably fall apart at the wrong time. On the other hand it costs nothing.

If you want a more secure setup, you’ll have to find a dedicated support. They are available on the web, sometimes with high shipping costs. You can also try DIY. I’ve not tried it myselif but I like the idea!

Eventually, I used a 3D printed holder. Designs exist, by fellows on the web, and they can be ordered or downloaded if you’re the proud owner of a 3D printer. I’ve designed mine myself, and took advantage of another Sculpteo order to save on shipping costs. 6€, more expensive than scotch tape, but more secure.

The result

Tie your wires to the battery holder, place the batteries, snap the connectors in place. Et voilà !

Final setup

STOP MUTILATING POLAROID CAMERAS! I've found numerous tutorials online, describing horrible steps consisting in cutting, scrapping, even soldering in these vintage jewels. Enough! With a simple 9V battery clip, either a custom battery holder like mine or one you can find online, fitting inside the camera, no need to break anything anymore! Voltage is 4,5V in my camera. Some are 3V only. The batteries used are cheap Zinc-Air MR44 batteries, delivering 1.45V. The difference is of 0.15V here. It would be 0.1V in 3V cameras. It's insignificant because old original batteries were alkaline, with a constantly dropping voltage. Price should be around… € 4 max, including batteries. I'll see if I can post a tutorial soon. #vintage #camera #Polaroid #LandCamera #Polaroid100 #Polaroid250 #PolaroidLandCamera #PolaroidModel230 #PolaroidLand230 #PolaroidLand250 #LandCamera340 #LandCamera250 #LandCamera230 #polaroidlandcamera250 #polaroidlandcamera230 #polaroidlandcamera100 #polaroidlandcamera101 #film #packfilm #packfilmcamera #instantcamera #lomography #staybrokeshootfilm #ishootfilm #filmisnotdead #analogue #collectibles #diy #savepackfilm #fujifp100c

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If you’re clever enough, no need to solder, to cut or dismantle anything, let alone slash the interiors of a precious camera.

Have fun with your Polaroid type 100 and send me the pictures of your setups and scans of your photographs!

A Camera – The Kodak Beau Brownie

Hello English-speaking readers! I’ll showcase some of my favorite cameras in these articles, whether they are technically, esthetically or even historically worth of mentioning. First of them: the Kodak Beau Brownie. This is a (manual) translation of my original blog post in french.

Introduction

Most simple doublet lens optics, a large choice of two apertures around f/11 and f/16, a unique shutter speed approaching 1/50th of a second, plus timed exposure capability. These mind-blowing specs are those of the Kodak Beau Brownie series. Let’s be honest, I won’t write about technical revolution today.

On the contrary, the Beau Brownies were as simple as any box camera when they were released in 1930.

They were, however, part of a list of cameras conceived starting around 1927 by the american designer Walter D. Teague. One can have an idea of his work by browsing Teague’s patents list in this field.

Walter Teague had a challenge to take up: turn a big bloated soap box into a luxurious and attractive item. And he did! He drew a most appealing Art Déco front face. Geometry and colors, lined with chrome on an enameled faceplate. The leatherette covers a wood, cardboard and metal made body, and takes a similar tone as the facade.

Beau Brownie Patent
N°2A Beau Brownie design by W. Teague – click to access the original patent

The series consist in two models, N°2 & N°2A, corresponding to image formats 6x9cm and 6.5x11cm respectively. The two models thus differ by their size, N°2A being a bit taller.

But mainly, this camera wore magnificent colors, the most frequent association being black & burgundy.

Four other wonderful but more rare coats were blue turquoise, pastel pink, aqua or tanned brown.

Some pictures

I am the happy owner of a black & burgundy model in perfect shape, near mint, as well as a blue model showing more signs of wear. Here are some pictures.

More info