- Produced 196- to 197- Ricoh Co., Ltd., Japan
- Film type 135 (35mm)
- Picture size 24mm x 36mm
- Weight 1lb, 2.7oz (530.1g)
- Lens Ricoh Kominar 40mm 1:2.8 (4 element)
- Filter size 49mm
- Focal Range 1.5m to infinity (?)
- Shutter Seikosha
- Shutter speeds variable? or one, close to 1/125
- Viewfinder coupled rangefinder (Ricohmatic), bright line finder (Auto 35 V)
- Exposure meter selenium with match needle
- Hot shoe and PC sync
- Film counter
- (Auto 35 V only) Self-timer
These sleekly-designed cameras look like something out of a late 60s science fiction movie, certainly more Soviet-looking than Japanese. That may help to explain why KMZ made a near-exact copy of the Ricohmatic 35 and its little brother the zone-focus Ricoh Auto 35 V as the Zorki 10 and 11, respectively. The KMZ version has actual f-stops rather than a Guide Number system for determining aperture, making it possibly a little more usable in the present.
They are fascinating and enigmatic little cameras. Simple controls like on a low-end snapshot camera, yet high build quality and coupled rangefinder (on the Ricohmatic) as on a higher end model. Mostly made of bakelite and full of interesting features: amber-coated lenses; Seikosha shutter; both hot shoe and PC sync; also accepts a cable release. Oversized shutter release mounted on the lens, and sporting a unique left-hand bottom-mounted wind lever with a flip-down handle (as found on the Ricoh 35 and Ricoh 500) which is suprisingly easy and fun to use.
The selenium meter appears to be coupled to the aperture, resulting in a no-battery, fully automatic, autoexposure rangefinder. Say what! It’s entirely credible as these have all the signs of a midrange to higher-end market model. Now that I have come into possession of an Auto 35 V as well, I’ve discovered I was correct about the strange matching sockets on either side of the camera, which have red & blue stripes on them, and look like female electrical plugs. They are receptacles for a strange kind of interlocking removable strap lug, missing on my Ricohmatics. Note that the collars screw out to allow the chrome top (and attached film door) to be removed. The everready cases are well-made out of hard leather with plush velvet linings that I’ve seen on few other higher-end cameras of the time.
Another unusual thing about the Ricohmatic is the sticker inside the film chamber that says ‘use Anscochrome 135’. Why is that strange? Well, Ansco was an American company, and there were certainly Japanese film makers at the time, notably Konica with its ‘Sakura Color’ film. In every other camera I’ve seen, the camera maker implores you to use their own brand of film (Kodak: ‘use the film in the yellow box, it gets the picture’ Agfa: ‘use Agfa B-2 Plenachrome’ Konica: ‘Sakura Color’ etc. etc.). What was Ricoh’s relationship with American Ansco, who did have a partnership with Germany’s Agfa into the 60s, and why were they touting a brand of film that even in the 70s was relatively obscure compared with Kodak film?
Wait, one more question! Ricoh, formerly Riken Optical Industries, was quite a lens-maker, with its superb Rikenon lenses which it made even for other companies and sold also for Sears. So why do these cameras have Kominar lenses, which is AFAIK the then-defunct Walz Camera’s lens formula, and why does it say Ricoh Kominar? Come to think of it, I’ve seen old Minolta cameras with a Kominar. Did Minolta make Ricoh’s lenses? Did Ricoh make the lenses for Walz? Maybe Ricoh made the cameras for Walz! Is the Walzflex really a Diacord? Are both really Autocords?? Is the moon really made of green cheese? Wait… I think we know the answer to at least one of those questions. At any rate, the sharp little 2.8/40mm was as good as you could get in a compact rangefinder then and still beats about any compact on the market today for speed if not clarity. (f5.6 — give me a break.)
FOLLOWUP: Now that I’ve had some more time and distance I have a little more info – Kominar was the name of the Tessar-style lens made by Komine of Japan, an OEM lens maker that also made lenses for Vivitar among others. Who all they were OEM for I’m not sure, but I know Minolta and Ricoh both used Kominar lenses at some point. And also at some point Ricoh was Ansco’s new Agfa, meaning they manufactured some cameras that were sold in the US under the Ansco brand, as Minolta was to Argus at one point. It’s just all such a big mishmash that it gives me a headache trying to figure it all out…!
Nice shape except a little schmutz in the viewfinder, which was easy to clean by removing the chrome top, held on by two screw lugs on the sides of the camera. Also the meter needle trap arm was a little hesitant, causing the meter needle to stick… I put a drop of lubricant at the pivot point and *slightly* loosened the screw. Manually moved the meter needle (gently!) to make sure it could, and what I thought was a dead meter is actually working!
Tips & Tricks
Aperture on the Ricohmatic is set with the Guide Number lever which is marked A-1-2-3. A is for Automatic operation. I’ll hazard a guess at the respective values of the other marks: 1 is f4, 2 is f8, 3 is f16. The aperture stops down a little more when you begin to press the shutter. The guide number wheel on the back of the film door is color coded and corresponds to the color that appears in the ‘Flash’ window on the lens barrel, which changes as you move throughout the focal range. Transfer the information to the aperture lever based on the color corresponding to the film speed and guide number, a kind of kludgey way of determining your flash range/aperture setting that is not anywhere near as elegant as the Flashmatic system found on contemporary Konica and Minolta cameras.
GN setting is completely different on the Ricoh Auto 35 V, where the GN is set by lifting and turning the focus wheel to select one of 3 choices: 200ft (60m), 100ft (30m), 50ft (15m). The color coordination is the same however, and the green-red-yellow-A (auto) switch is the same. The Auto 35 V also has a self-timer while the Ricohmatic 35 has an empty slot where one would have gone. Focusing on the Auto 35 V is done with the semi-standard head & shoulders – person – mountain symbols for near, medium, and long distance subjects.
Both: to wind on, flip the lever under the lens down, and push the lever out and away from the camera to the left (from the back). Pretty easy to get used to. The frame counter is underneath the camera, counts forward as usual and resets automatically. Film door release is a tab near the rewind lever. The unique shutter release is large enough and the stroke long enough that it introduces some torque to the camera, meaning it’s a little hard to hold still at first while shooting. The dense weight of the bakelite helps steady it.