5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

By Stuart Jenkins

I wanted to see how effective this mid-Eighties body and lens combination would be as a walkabout camera. Theoretically, the wide zoom range and program mode would enable me to capture images near or far at a moment’s notice, and the auto-wind would make me ready for the next shot immediately.

This is from an era when development of 35mm SLRs went from evolutionary to revolutionary. Some had autofocus. Buttons and LCD displays started to replace dials. Built-in powerwinders started to replace manual wind levers. Ricoh were still flogging the last of the KR and XR series of conventional cameras. They needed to move their range to another level, in the same way that Canon had done in moving from the A-series to the T-series.

The result, in 1987, was the XR-X (XR-M in the US market). It was a completely new and ergonomic design in dark grey plastic. The whole of the front of the pentaprism hump is a tinted clear visor, reminiscent of the ED-209 robot from the RoboCop movie (which came out in the same year).

It retains compatibility with all Pentax K lenses. Ricoh didn’t (or couldn’t?) licence the Pentax PK-A system of electrical contacts on the mount, that enable aperture control for full-program operation. Instead they came up with their own ‘Ricoh pin’ contact in a different position on the mount, and a range of lenses with a ‘P’ setting on the aperture ring. Just don’t try putting one on a Pentax autofocus DSLR, because the Ricoh pin is at the same position as the focus screw-drive coupling. There’s a risk that you won’t be able to get it off again.

One of the better contemporary lenses was this Vivitar one-touch zoom from their premium Series 1 range. It’s relatively fast, but not so much as to make it uncomfortably big and heavy. Like some other vendors, Vivitar hedged their bets and put both the PK-A contacts and the Ricoh pin on some of their lenses.

The camera works best in bright daylight, because the LCD display inside the viewfinder is backlit naturally from the light coming through the prism hump. In dark conditions, pressing the button to engage depth-of-field preview also turns on a viewfinder backlight bulb for a few seconds.

I loaded it with Kodak Gold 200 and took it out for a trip around North Norfolk a few weeks ago, starting with steam trains at Weybourne Station. The focal length range was ideal, and being a one-touch zoom it was quick and easy to compose and focus. I left the exposure controls on Program, but the three-position slide switch in front of the LCD display shifts the program between three modes: PD Program for a greater depth of field, normal P Program, and PA Program for faster shutter speeds. It adds just enough versatility to make you feel you’re still in control. For some shots of a locomotive chuffing past, I put the power-winder on ‘Continuous’ mode for the full Duran Duran Girls On Film sound effect. This was fun!

After a while I checked the frame counter so I could plan where to go next. 33. Oops. It’s quite easy to get carried away. Perhaps I’m a little too used to being able to rattle off a thousand shots a day with a DSLR. Change of plan then. I finished the roll at the station, and once it had taken the 36th frame it immediately power-rewound the film. Suddenly it sounded more like a Moulinex blender and the whirring noise is loud enough to turn heads.

Here’s the pictures:

 

My conclusion? Yes, it’s a great walkabout combo for the times when versatility and fast reactions are more important than being able to fit the camera in your pocket. Plus, it’s worth remembering that pre-set manual focus can get you the shot faster than all but the best autofocus systems.

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About The Author

By Stuart Jenkins
Camera & lens collector, restorer, and tinkerer. As a photographer I'm trying to wean myself off digital and back onto film. IT Business Analyst by trade, and formerly a vintage aircraft engineer / restorer. Norfolk, UK.
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Comments

Stuart Jenkins on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 06/01/2024

I used to shoot Kodachrome 64 myself, and really miss it. If you've still got a compatible Nikon camera body, perhaps you could dig the lens out and give it another go.
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Greg on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 06/01/2024

That Vivitar lens was permanently attached to my Nikon FE for many years. Took that combo all over the world shooting rolls and rolls of Kodachrome 64, producing very pleasing images. Still own the lens. It’s fast, not too heavy, great for travel as you so nicely demonstrate here.
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Jon Crow on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 31/12/2023

Nice, I remember this camera being 19 in 1987, only film camera I have now is a Yashica gt electro 35 black and silver, but film was fun
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 31/12/2023

Thanks Jon. Keep using the Yashica - film is more fun than ever!

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Philip Boreham on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 20/12/2023

Lovely views of Weybourne there. I do like to loiter awhile when I'm in the area. That combo with Gold 200 gives a vintage look that suits the location.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 20/12/2023

Thank you Philip. :-)

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Paul Quellin on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 20/12/2023

Great article Stuart. I have a soft spot for the aesthetics with cameras of this era. The excessive noises become appealing somehow. I ran a film through an 1985-6 Minolta compact and each auto wind sounds as though its eating the film, yet the results were great. I recently added a Nikon F501 mid eighties autofocus to my collection and I am hoping to have the same sort of fun with that. Keep enjoying the Ricoh, its quite a thing to behold from that picture on the bridge.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 20/12/2023

Thanks Paul, much appreciated. I've also got a Minolta 7000AF and a Pentax SFX, and its nice to leave 'beeps' switched on for the full effect. The Ricoh may not have autofocus, but unlike the other two it has depth-of-field preview. That's possibly the more useful feature.

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Neil Mitchell on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 20/12/2023

The perfect blend of the right lens, the right film stock and the right subject. Fab photos Stuart, they give you a real feel for the place. Thank you for sharing.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 20/12/2023

Thank you Neil. :-)

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Michael Avison on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

Great photos, well done.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

Thank you Michael. :-)

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Steviemac on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

What you have just described is the fun that can be had with cameras such as this. Auto everything bar focus, and manual override should you wish. The technology involved was mixture of innovation and decades of development. Best of all, these cameras are the last bargains of the film world.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

It's certainly a bargain, and a good choice for younger people wanting to try film for the first time because the design of the film door doesn't require foam light seals. So, it can be used straight away without requiring any restoration.

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Russ Butner on 5 Frames with a Ricoh XR-X and Vivitar Series I 28-105mm f2.8-3.8

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

That lens is made by Cosina, for Vivitar. It delivers very nice results.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

Yes, and Cosina is definitely an underrated manufacturer, for both their cameras and their lenses.

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Shubroto Bhattacharjee replied:

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

And guess who makes the vaunted Voigtlander lenses [and some other exalted brands as well]...:-)

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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 19/12/2023

Yup, good old Cosina: https://www.35mmc.com/11/10/2019/cosina-ct-1-and-its-lengthy-legacy-by-ben-okeeffe/ I never did understand how removing the mirror & prism from a CT-1 would make it worth ten times the price. But then I suppose less is more, and well done to their marketing team.

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