One of the reasons I love going to the thrift shop is its unique finds. This Ricoh 35 EFS is one of them. So I added it to my collection of vintage cameras and decide to take it for a whirl.
Ricoh 35 EFS: Cold Hard Facts
Produced by Ricoh in 1980, the 35 EF is a part of the company's long-running series of rangefinder film cameras. The Ricoh 35 EFS, in black, is the same, only with a self-timer built into it. Partly metal and partly plastic, the camera weighs in at around 390 gram without batteries, which is on the heavier side of the point-and-shoots in my opinion. Although, it hardly feels heavy at all if you compare to typical SLR cameras.
The camera features a manual zone focusing which allows you to choose a distance of between 0.9m - infinity. Its shutter speed is automatically set to 1/125, and exposure is also fully automatic. This means the camera can adjust exposure automatically according to the brightness and film speed. All you need to do is load the film and adjust the film speed accordingly by turning the film speed selector ring. You have the options of choosing a film speed of either 25, 50, 100, 200, and or 400.
The camera is built in with a manually-operated flash that requires one AA battery to function.
I have never actually ventured into the dark side myself to be needing the flash, but it is a comfort knowing that it's there as an option. Simply push the flash switch to its "on" position and the flash will pop up automatically. Once the flash is ready you will see the Neon Ready Lamp right next to the viewfinder lights up and you're ready to shoot.
The camera also needs another battery to operate its light meter. According to the camera's manual, the required battery would be a 1.35v mercury one. But considering mercury batteries have long since been banned across countries, this is just not an option anymore in the modern days. With a bit of research I found a replacement that seems to be recommended by a lot of people: the LR44 1.5v battery. The manual did mention that using a different type of battery might give incorrect exposure, but unfortunately, in this case it just doesn't do anything. Fully functioning, the light meter needle should move up and down to indicate the exposure, but instead, the viewfinder is dim and the needle is stuck at the bottom, not moving regardless of where I aim the camera.
One possible cause is that the light meter is simply broken. After all, I did get the camera from a thrift store, and it was originally released in 1980. So the camera might very well more than four decades old.
Another possible cause is of course that the battery I inserted was in fact not the right one. To my defense, though, I have used practically the same battery in another one of my cameras which also specifically asked for a 1.35v mercury battery, and it worked! So my bet is on a faulty light meter here.
While this does slightly impact my experience using the camera in a negative way, the camera is far from useless just because its light meter is not functioning. It just means that you need to be careful with your exposure, knowing that the camera isn't going to help you figure out the appropriate one.
Ricoh 35 EFS: Ease of Use
Taking photos with the Ricoh 35 EFS is fairly simple. First, you just need to adjust the focus range. Then it's just to aim and shoot.
It is, however, quite challenging to properly adjust the focus manually on a range-finder camera, which can unfortunately result in a few out-of-focus photos. It's one thing to do this on an SLR film camera, where you can actually see how the camera focuses for yourself, and know exactly what the camera will capture. With a range-finder, you would have to make an appropriate guess for the focus range. Even if you're incredibly good at measuring distances, it would still be difficult to focus on smaller objects. Like many other range finder cameras, the Ricoh 35 EFS also has quite limited coverage (85%) on its viewfinder, which in combination may not be ideal if you are a beginner.
I must say I am also not impressed when it comes to loading the film. I have loaded films into this camera and others many times, but I find it especially tricky with the Ricoh 35 EFS. There is something in the way the film take-up spool and sprocket are built that makes it difficult for the film to latch on. And once it does latch, closing the cover of the camera often unlatches it altogether.
In addition, I have also often seen instances from other people's experiences where the back cover of the camera breaks, which makes it impossible to close fully. Fortunately, this never happened to me. But if you are one of the unlucky ones then I suggest you get to taping.
On the bright side, although a good portion of the Ricoh 35 EFS is made of plastic, the camera feels quite sturdy. You get a sense of this when advancing and rewinding the film, both of which can be done manually. The lever feels solid and not fragile as it may feel with other cheaper-built point-and-shoots.
Ricoh 35 EFS: Image Quality
With Ricoh's very own Rikenon lens, the 35 EFS produces good image quality that is comparable to other mid-range range finder cameras. As you can see from my photos below, there is not much vignetting as well.
Ricoh 35 EFS: Final Verdict
Overall, I have enjoyed shooting with the Ricoh 35 EFS. It is simple to use, yet it also leaves enough room for learning. With the point-and-shoot Olympus AF-1, for example, pretty much every feature is automatic. Meanwhile, the Ricoh 35 EFS has some additional knobs and wheels to turn before shooting an image, which can be a good learning opportunity for beginners. This, however, can be a double-edged sword.
While it's all fun and games when I'm trying out different cameras from this and that thrift store, at the end of the day I find myself unable to fully recommend the camera for either a beginner or an intermediate. For a beginner, I think the camera has just one too many settings to tinker with before you can shoot your shot, and also not the "right" kinds. It is not beginner-friendly enough mostly because it can be quite a challenge to approximate the focus range, especially on a range-finder camera. Sure, overtime it can help you better approximate distances, but I'd say a better way to do that would be to use an SLR camera instead. With an SLR camera, you'd be able to see the distance at which the camera focuses instantly as its viewfinder is developed to do so.
For an intermediate, in the meantime, the camera doesn't have enough setting to tinker with to really adjust each shot to your liking. The shutter speed is automatic, and the focusing system pretty much leaves you in the dark just like any beginner.
So, will this be a camera you use for years on end in your journey to keep film alive? Most probably not. But if you are not on a tight budget and you happen to stumble upon it somewhere, I would never advice against trying it out.
You can be prepared for some potentially blurry photos, but hey, it is these "happy accidents" that add to the reasons to shoot with film right?