Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ricoh KR-5 Super

I'm getting back into shooting film more and more, so I'm at the stage of deciding which 'brand' to settle with. As per usual, I'm looking to go with the biggest bang for my buck - trying to find a system that has a great range of manual lenses for the cheapest price possible.

Unfortunately, the 'golden age' of getting great manual lenses dirt cheap on auction sites has passed, as digital photographers are now snapping these manual lenses up to shoot video with, or to use on their new micro/retro digital bodies with an appropriate adapter (curse you damn digital shooters)!

If I'm going to shoot film, I really want to get the full manual experience. One of the great things about shooting with a film camera, for me, is that it slows me down and makes me really think about my photography. And while shooting with a big 'pro' film camera like a Canon EOS 1V or Nikon F100 is definitely appealing, they are just too much like today's digital offerings for it to be an attractive prospect at the moment. Maybe later.

I've always loved the Canon FD range of cameras, and I already own a T70, T50 and 50mm f1.8 FD lens (with a little fungus thrown in for good measure). So I could go that way - get a few more FD primes, and maybe an AE1 or F1 and jump back into the Canon camp. But remember what I said earlier about digital shooters snapping up all those manual lenses. This is more true of Canon that any other brand, so there goes the 'bang for buck' option.

And anyway, I actually shoot with Pentax digital bodies now, so it would really make sense to head in the Pentax direction. In fact, it makes even more sense when you consider that the Pentax K mount hasn't changed in over 50 years, so any manual k-mount lens I buy today will work (in manual mode) with my Pentax digital cameras. Bonus!

Pentax lenses (Takumar) are some of the sharpest (and smallest) primes ever made. And fortunately, they are still reasonably priced on the used market. So Pentax/Takumar it is then. Let the search begin...

Research on-line quickly led me to discover another exciting spin-off with my decision to head in the Pentax direction... they weren't the only camera manufacturer using the K-mount. Other brands like Ricoh and Cosina licensed the bayonet K-mount system from Pentax, so it seems that I would have even more gear to choose from, at even cheaper prices! Yay

I started watching a couple of very cheap auctions for some Ricoh manual camera bodies, eventually pulling the trigger on a very clean KR-5 Super with Riconar 55mm f2.2 lens.

The Ricoh KR-5 Super is an all-manual camera, with a battery used only for the match-needle metering system, It's a 'classic' 70s designed, chunky camera with a very simple layout and basic operation. The 'Super' version is superior to the standard KR-5 in that the shutter speed goes up to 1/1000th (instead of only 1/500th in the KR-5), and the maximum flash synch speed on the Super is 1/125th.

 ISO/ASA is set on the large ring around the film crank (top left), and then you simply set your aperture and shutter speed in a combination suitable for the subject you are shooting. Line up the two needles on the right hand side of the large, bright viewfinder, and press the threaded shutter release to take the picture. Couldn't be simpler.

"But why", I hear you say, "when I push the shutter button down, does nothing happen?"
That's a very good question. And I will tell you why. Unlike the Pentax K1000 (I bleieve), which has a battery operated through-the-lens meter which is always 'on' (unless you put the lens cap on, which basically turns the meter off), the Ricoh KR-5 Super (and other variants), turns the meter off when the film winder arm (on the right side of the camera) is snug up against the body in the 'off' position. Move the winder arm out to about 35 degrees - where an orange dot appears on the camera body (hidden by the arm in the 'off' position), and the camera is now turned 'on' and the meter and shutter will now work, allowing you to take a picture. Quite a simple 'on-off' switch - you just have to remember to bring the crank arm out to turn it 'on'. I found it comfortable to shoot with in either the vertical or horizontal orientation, and is a well balanced, yet light camera to use - especially with the 55mm Riconar prime attached.

Ricoh KR-5 Super with Riconar 55mm @ f5.6
I used the camera last week, with a roll of Kodak TMax 400 B&W film, and I have to say it was a joy to use. I'm an aperture priority shooter normally, and although you don't have the option to shoot in automatic aperture priority mode on a camera like the KR-5, this isn't really an issue. Just dial in the aperture you want to use on the lens manually, and then match up the needle in the viewfinder by changing the shutter speed dial on the camera. Make sure the resulting shutter speed is hand-holdable, and bingo, you're off and racing :-)

The mechanically controlled metal shutter curtain gives a nice solid feel to the camera, with a beautiful 'thunk' to the shutter release that certainly lets you know you're taking a photo (not like the asthmatic 'snip' shutter sound you get from many modern digital slrs).

The Riconar lens itself is nice and smooth to focus, and the optics are ok - nothing stellar, but nothing disastrous either. The same can't be said for a 28mm prime I got for the camera in another auction though. It was a cheap brand I'd never heard of (Vitacon), but it only cost me $4.50NZ so I thought 'what the heck'. I needn't have bothered. Even $4.50 was too much to pay for this rubbish. Looking through it was like looking through goggles underwater - and the images came out looking like that as well! Lesson learnt - I'll stick to Riconar, or better still, Takumar lenses only in the future - no matter how cheap the others may be going for. You don't always get what you pay for with old manual lenses - but sometimes you do.

Ricoh KR-5 Super with Riconar 55mm @ f5.6
Anyway, long story short, the Ricoh KR-5 Super is definitely a keeper. A simple, straight forward, solid little camera that I know with the right lenses will produce beautiful photos. I will be on the lookout for more Ricoh bodies in the future (a KR-10 or KR-20 would be nice), as well as lenses to go with them. I also hope to grab a couple of Manual Pentax bodies as well; a cheap LX or MX would be nice :-) But in the meantime, the Ricoh KR-5 Super will do me nicely.

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Wayne