The world is apparently getting warmer, but the hottest summer in my lifetime was surely the summer of 1976, a blisteringly warm period in a so-called troubled year. The prime minister Harold Wilson resigned seemingly out of the blue. We had been at war with Iceland over fish. Britain was also bailed out by the International Monetary Fund after the pound fell from over $2 to $1.6 by September (in 2017, it is way below $1.6). I was not ten years old, and that summer seemed to go on for the cliched forever.
The lawns turned brown and cracks appeared in the earth wide enough to wedge the toe of your trainers in. I spent many an afternoon in the park with my brother Paul, him messing around with an OM1, both of us dodging swarming bees and walking our grandad’s cairn terrier Archie.
Now that’s over 40 years ago, so marvel I do at my Ricoh 500GX, complete with pristine case and plastic lens cap, which looks like it has just left the production line in Taiwan and been zipped forward 4 decades by Doctor Emmett Brown in his DeLorean to my local post office depot. I can only assume this camera was bought, and then seldom used, before being stuffed away at the back of a sock drawer and eventually forgotten about, the light seals slowly and silently turning into that all-too-familiar black sticky goo that Bostik should market.
The Ricoh 500GX to me looks half rangefinder, half cigarette advertisement; evoking the black, silver and red livery of Marlboro Mclaren’s formula 1 racing car in which James Hunt won the 1976 drivers’ championship. This was back in the day when smoking, drinking and womanising seemed easy bedfellows with professional sport. How the world has changed. How utterly dull in comparison our sporting heroes are now. Bjorn Borg looked just as much a weed toking guitar man as a professional tennis player; so cool and human when set against some of today’s racket wielding automatons.
Misogyny has no place in the world, but we now have sugary drink purveyors and mass produced fast food makers sponsoring major sporting events instead of cigarette manufacturers. We’ve swapped the sponsored spectre of lung cancer for diabetes and heart disease. Elite sportsmen and sportswomen now have to be inscrutable under the constant media glare (or is it surveillance?). I am not sure if all this constitutes progress.
But I am getting off track. I don’t want this article to be all about some middle aged grumpy bastard’s rant about the world today. I want to celebrate a chunky, boxy, yet brilliant little camera, well suited to street photography.
So, apart from looking like a miniature fag advertisement the Ricoh 500GX is a small fixed-lens rangefinder camera with full manual control and shutter priority options, as well as a multiple exposure feature which I am looking forward to trying. You have to work within the limitations of a 40mm f/2.8 mm Color Rikenon lens, a top shutter speed of 1/500th second, and a small and awkward aperture ring tucked in too close to the camera body and obstructed by the self timer lever. The fiddly aperture ring encouraged me to stick to shutter priority, and operating in this mode there are no frustrations.
Shutter priority on the Ricoh 500GX is engaged by turning the aperture ring to a green letter ‘A’ and leaving it there. The camera is now in charge of choosing the correct aperture based on the film speed (set by a dial at the front of the lens with ASA numbers in green and DIN in red), the CdS metered exposure, and the shutter speed set by the photographer on the shutter speed dial around the lens barrel.
The viewfinder is bright enough with a distinctive yet small diamond shaped rangefinder patch and a very good cream and red aperture scale running up the right hand side of the screen with a match needle indicating the camera’s chosen aperture. Unfortunately, shutter speed is not displayed, but there are only seven clicks from 1/500th- 1/8th to memorise.
Metering power is provided by a 303 silver oxide battery, a cell with a slightly higher voltage than the original PX675. Be sure though to turn the shutter speed dial to the ‘B’ setting when not in use, or the camera will greedily eat away at the battery power with relentless metering while apparently dormant. There is no ‘Off’ switch as such.
Out and about in Redcar and Middlesbrough, with new light seals, I discovered the Ricoh 500 GX to be an enjoyable camera to use. The shutter is quiet enough for the street, and I found the shutter lock a reassuring and handy feature. I am delighted with the camera’s output. However, the combination of the small rangefinder patch and 50 year old eyes made focusing a bit on the slow side. For the black and white Middlesbrough shots I preset focus and exposure and just pointed and pressed.
Get yourself a Rioch 500GX, if you can find one. They seem as scarce as water in 1976.
No, 1976 wasn’t all bad. Read a bit of history. Draw your own conclusions. Compare it to 2017. As Harold Wilson’s successor, James Callaghan said, “a lie can go halfway round the world before the truth gets its boots on”.
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31 thoughts on “Ricoh 500GX Review – Spirit of ’76 – by Chris Pattison”
Great set of pics Chris, thanks.
Oh, and were your trainers Hi-Tec?
Hi Stephen, and thanks. Ha! Yes, I know the trainers of which you speak. They were very popular weren’t they? I think though that my 1976 trainers pre-date those. They were a pair of red suede unbranded trainers that were bought via a neighbour who ran a boxing club. They had three or maybe four stripes down the side, but were definitely not Adidas. Provenance unknown, but quite likely made in England. Oh yes, when new they left some nice red marks on my socks and feet.
Wonderful blog entry! I am of the same age group and believe you’re not a grumpy middle aged man but one whose witness enough to distinguish good from bad. I, too, wonder everyday if the analog days were much better than today. It was a slower, more methodical time instead of our rushed around missing the moments time we have today. Oh… I will be looking for one of these little gems after this read.
Hi Wayne. Thanks for the positive comments. Yes, life was at a more favourable pace back in the day. Film photography is definitely one way to change down a gear in this frenetic world.
I really like this little Ricoh, one of my favorite rangefinder, I have two of them !
The only thing I miss is some slower shutter speed, but it’s not that important !
Hi Mika. Thanks for commenting. You have two? Excellent!
Saturday morning (9/9) here in the US. Hurricane Irma is about to grind it’s way through Florida. Houston is has turned into a drying mud puddle. I’m worried about friends bugging out of harms way. I can’t believe those poor residents of the Caribbean once more need to rebuild.
And yet, an article on a camera and a recap of the years from ’76 to 2017 has put a smile on my face. Good photos, nice recap of a journey and a bright future.
In no way do I want to minimize the weather dangers, but thanks for a timely article.
Hi Dan. Thank you for the heart felt sentiments. We are blessed with relatively benign weather here in the United Kingdom and I have been aghast at the devastation wreaked by Irma. I am please the article brought a smile to your face in difficult times. I could ask for no more.
Excellent post — and photos.
Thank you very much Arko.
Fantastic shots and a very enjoyable presentation. I had the 500G (essentially same camera minus the double exposure feature) and I loved the results, but didn’t really like the dinky feel of the camera, particularly compared to the Olympus 35 RC which is almost identical in specs. Anyway, when I decided to sell it, I set a ridiculously high “buy it now” price (in excess of 50 £ if I remember correctly) and to my surprise somebody snatched it up in almost no time, presumably its proven working status and new light seals (replacing them was no small feat) were stronger selling points than I thought.
Hi Christos. Thank you. I know what you mean about the camera’s dinkiness (is that a word?). For me, it’s part of the charm of the thing, but yes, as I say in the article I found the aperture ring fiddly. I am not surprised at the price it fetched though, as all rangefinders seem to be increasing in value on the auction site.
I would very much like to try an Olympus 35 RC (I have the DC and SP).
Nice, I have a Ricoh 500RF, bought just over a year ago from eBay. Was in pristine condition (probably never used) and only £18. Just had to change the light seals. I love it and it’s a great camera to have in your pocket or bag, i usually switch between using that and the Canon Demi EE17. But I’ve been slacking a little. Such a great rangefinder, not many people think about the Ricoh rangefinders. But they were one of only a few that had full manual controls, and a really good lens.
A lot of people complain about the small rangefinder patch, but i find it’s just right, considering i have to guess with the Demi due to it being a viewfinder camera.
Hi Stuart. You are right about the Ricoh rangefinders. The GR cameras steal their thunder too. Very good cameras, but they go for ridiculous prices.
i love all the samples from both films and your explain-recommendation 🙂 and even found it already on eBay just the price is a little bit high for this camera but i will continue searching
thank you very much
Thanks Victor. I hope you find a reasonably priced Ricoh 500.
Thank you very much for this enjoyable article. I’ve acquired recently a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII, which looks like sons of the same inspiration and, according to some articles on the web, is closely related to Konica s3, Ricoh 500 and many others (Chinon, Prinz, Vivitar,…). Anyway, I agree on two things: 1) these little gems offer a superb compromise of high quality lenses and good mecanical shutters with Auto modes and/or manual modes, that are all what you need in your pocket or in the rear slot of your Digital Super Mega Camera for just-in-case. And 2) Yes, that ’76 was sooo god!
Hi Fernando. I am pleased you enjoyed the article. Enjoy the Hi-Matic 7sII with its excellent lens.
Hola Amigo acabo de comprarme una Camara Negra RICOH 500 GX estoy feliz de haberla encontrado aquie en Bogota , el anciano que me la vendió si era gruñon y mala Gente, pero que se va hacer no me dió el Manual y lo tenia , estoy entre molesto y feliz , me gustaria mostarte algunas fotos que voy a realizar con esta camara.
Hola Fernel. ¡Espero que todavía disfrutes de Ricoh!
Hi Chris, I really enjoyed your Ricoh review and images. It was my first introduction to 35mmwhen my dad abandoned the Kodak instamatic and appeared with a 500G that a work colleague had recommended . I was 14 and very quickly purloined it and became the family photographer. I still have it 41 years later and it has regular outings. My 19yr old daughter took it to Thailand backpacking last summer. It’s door seals are sticky but still light proof!
When I saw your photos I first thought they were of New Brighton on the Wirral which has a similar melancholy run down vibe, which was my stomping ground growing up.
From my teenage Ricohing experience,I saved up and bought myself a Pentax mx 50mm as an 18th present to myself. I still use it as well. I do digital but in recent years have increasingly returned to film, developing black and white and then scanning the negs.
I have got into MF with a trusty 1954 Rolleiflex 3.5mx and various vintage folders. Really enjoy trying out old gear and making it work again.
Meanwhile if I want something quick and light to take out the Ricoh still delights me with the images it produces.
Hi Paul. Thanks for commenting. It’s good to hear your Ricoh is still going strong. You’ll no doubt be aware of Martin Parr’s New Brighton images. Redcar had a bit of a face lift a few years ago, but with closure of the steelworks is up against it.
Hi Chris, thanks for this write up on Ricoh 500GX. I have so much to learn and I love the shots you took!
I have recently purchased one online (i 90% believe it still works), and loaded it with a roll of ISO400 B&W film. I am no way of a professional photographer – far form it, I haven’t messed with film photography since my college years. Even then, it was straight forward enough to not mess up too much.
I bought a fuji x100t about a year plus ago for all shooting purpose use, but mainly to increase my photography knowledge. It did but I am hoping with stripping it down to film, it will help even more. But with this Ricoh, I found myself scratching my head a little esp with the dials and some of the functions. So I hope you could help explain to me with some of these qs which may seem silly to you..
1. Even after loading my cam with ISO400 film, the DIN ASA still remains at 100/21 – is that normal, shouldn’t it be at 400/… ? To clarify, i did not put in the battery as my first intention is to check if this camera is still working properly without a battery. Could no-battery be the problem? Or is there a way for me to change the settings?
2. Could you pls explain to me how does the “Multi” function work? I have tried to understand it from the manual i found online, I think I get it but at the same time I’m not sure if I do.
Sorry if this is a bit long winded. This is my first vintage camera. And I hope with this camera (if it works), it’ll help improve my photography knowledge. Thank you in advance! Much appreciated.
Hi Mandy. Welcome to the world of film cameras! I am pleased you like the images I took with the Ricoh 500GX. To answer your questions:
1. There’s a ribbed dial on the front of the lens just inside the lettering which you turn to change the ISO. It can be a bit fiddly, but you will see the ISO numbers change when you get it moving.
2. Take a photo. Pull the multi button in the direction of the arrow. Hold it there and push the film advance lever. This should cock the shutter without advancing the film. Take another photo. That’s it, you now have a double exposure.
Thanks for a great review. I really enjoyed your take on the world.
I fondly remember 76 and managed to nearly break an ankle in one of those drought cracks at our local recreation ground while trying to kick a football some distance.
I started to get into film and rangefinders probably about 7 years ago, just before the prices went through the roof and own 2 very nice Ricoh rangefinders. Lovely cameras.
Please keep writing your reviews. I’m enjoying your humour immensely.
Hi Andy. Thanks very much for your comments. I am pleased you are enjoying my take on things. Yes, the cracked earth was definitely a hazard back then!
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Hello Chris!!, thank you for that great review, I’ve enjoyed a lot.
I’ve recently bought a Ricoh 500GX, and I didn’t tested yet, because I’m having a hard time to understand how the lightmeter works. Looking on the user’s manual of the camera, I read this (quote):
“Look into the viewfinder and you will observe two red zones (one at the upper right-hand corner and the other lower right-hand corner) and lens opening numbers in between. The upper red zone is the warning mark for overexposure and the lower red zone is for underexposure. If the exposure meter needle is in the upper red zone, set Shutter Speed Ring at a faster speed. If you find the needle in the lower red zone, use a slower shutter speed.”
At this point I understood everything. But then I kept reading, and things become…odd:
And I quote: “If the needle stays between two red zones, this indicates correct exposure (obviously) and the number such as 2.8 or 4 or 5.6 indicated by the needle tells you the lens opening at which you are going to make exposure”.
So, this is what I don’t understand: the light meter show me when I’m under or over exposing the shot, and when I am correctly exposing the shot??, or only indicates the aperture and doing that is not a lightmeter??..I’m totally lost right here, because I can’t figure out how read the light meter.
If you or somebody that read this can help me, I will be very grateful!!
Sorry if my English has some issues, I’m native Spanish speaker 🙂 .
Thanks a lot!!!!!!
Hello Fernando. I am pleased you enjoyed the review.
Yes, the exposure control can be confusing.
In ‘A’ mode, you select the shutter speed and the camera selects the aperture. This is regular shutter priority mode. The needle in the viewfinder indicates the aperture that the camera has chosen for you. If the needle is in the upper or lower red zone, you need to change the shutter speed to move it out of the red.
I never used the camera in ‘M’ mode, so I am not sure of correct usage. I suspect that that the aperture values in the viewfinder are no longer relevant.
Hey Chris! Beautiful pictures. What film did you use for the colored pictures? Thank you
Thank you! The film was Agfa Vista 200, bought back in the halcyon days when it could be acquired for one pound. That was cheap, but the price of colour film now is ridiculous.