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Ricoh XR-2
The Ricoh XR-2 (All pics: Paul Friday)

By Paul Friday

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth I was young and fancy-free with money in my pocket. My best friend had a camera and took photographs and I wanted to learn to do the same.

He had a Praktica but his advice was to buy something that took Pentax lenses. At the time it looked like the K mount was going to take over the world. So I read every magazine review and blew my hard-earned on a mighty Ricoh XR-2.

There were plenty of the KR-10 models about, but this was a bit better. That or the salesman wanted to shift it – the XR-2 was an older model brought out in 1977 while the KR-10 was new for 1980.

Our pal Frank had a Canon and told me that these cheap plastic cameras wouldn’t last. Never mind; I could learn with it and one day I might afford a proper Pentax. So the Ricoh went everywhere and did everything and one day Frank will be right.

I bought it back in 1980 and it’s still working. I had to replace the light seals on the back in around 2015 – I had noticed a light leak before then but a bit of strategic Blu-Tack kept the dark in for a few more years.

You may notice from the photo that the camera is dirty. I am afraid it has led a very unsheltered life. It has been underwater in a Ewa ‘plastic bag’ housing, up mountains, baked in the sun and frozen in snow. It has been dried-off in the airing cupboard after heavy rain. It has always been completely dependable.

Cemetary, Basingstoke

The metering is match-needle with the lens aperture visible through a small extra window on the front of the camera. If it gets too dark to see the needles you can switch it to automatic and let the camera handle the exposure. Yes, automatic: it’s a cheat’s camera. It will do full manual and the vertically-run shutter syncs with flash at 1/125, but it is also an aperture priority automatic.

This has been a shot-saver. Many times I’ve been shooting in places where I can only spare one hand to hold and aim the camera and don’t have the time or convenience to meter through the viewfinder. It’s often a case of a 28mm lens set to the hyperfocal distance and the camera on automatic. The Ricoh copes pretty well, even though it’s a simple centre-weighted system.

Bonfire night, kids in silhouette against bonfire on playground.

The joy of owning a K-mount camera is the range of lenses you can fit. There are obviously all the Pentax ones, plus all the lenses made by the clone-makers. With a simple adapter you get to use all the M42 lenses as the register distance is the same.

I’ve also got a couple of Arax adapters for my Pentacon breechlock medium format lenses. This means I can use big tele lenses like the Olympic Sonnar 180mm f2.8. Basically, this camera is a lens tart.

For a K-mount clone it’s well featured. The body is metal but the top plate is plastic, so it looks cheaper than it feels. From the front view you can see that it has both a hot shoe and a PC socket for flash. There is a stop-down button on the right side just above the lens release. I don’t think I have ever used this.

The wind-on lever locks the shutter button when closed and switches on the meter when it is pulled part-way out. This is a really convenient and quick feature.

On the back right side, under the wind-on lever, is a multi-exposure button. Hold this down and you can re-cock the shutter without moving the film. It’s in an awkward place and needs two hands to work it, but it works well for the few occasions I’ve used it.

Rally car at night, sparking as it lands at the bottom of a hill

The rewind release button on the base of the camera has a small dot of colour on it. This means that you can see the button rotating when you rewind a film. When it stops rotating the film is free of the take-up spool but has not yet disappeared inside the cassette. This is very useful for swapping films mid-roll.

The viewfinder eyepiece has a shutter of its own. This is used to block the viewfinder if the camera is being used on a tripod and incoming light through the eyepiece might affect the metering.

The film speed setting dial is on the left with the usual plus and minus override. There was a nice little collar around the release button for this dial, but mine seems to have fallen off.

The camera relies on its battery – you get a single shutter speed of 1/90 without the battery (plus X and B). Twist the collar around the shutter release while looking through the viewfinder and the meter needle will show you the state of the battery. Thankfully it uses a pair of simple batteries that you can get in supermarkets and not some mercury-based obscurity.

Nun spectating in the crowd at the Pope’s visit

The lens I got with it is the 50mm f1.7. It’s sharp enough. Put it this way, until I heard of bokeh and resolution it was just the lens I used on my camera. I’ve never thought to look at how it renders out of focus areas, but the in-focus bits are plenty sharp enough. It has also lasted well – I have a Pentax 135mm lens of about the same age with seriously gummed-up aperture blades while this baby keeps on going.

My only complaint? The shutter is noisy. I have a Pentax MX (dream attained) and it makes a discrete kerlopp noise. The Ricoh makes a loud metallic kling-kling noise like hitting a saucepan with a spoon. Not so good at weddings, funerals or for sneaking up on politicians. I should point out that the Pentax is about the same age and the shutter-speed readout in the viewfinder has got out of sync for the second time. The Ricoh soldiers on.

Do I regret buying it? Not yet.

Type: 35mm aperture-priority automatic exposure SLR with electronic metal focal plane shutter.

Lens mount: Pentax K-type bayonet lens mount.

Shutter: Copal CCS-E shutter with speeds of up to 8 seconds under AE control and down to 1/1000. The manual speeds available are 4s to 1/1000 with B and X (1/90). Flash sync at B, X and 4s to 1/125.

Viewfinder: Magnification of 0.88x and shows 93% of the picture area.

Focusing: Diagonal split-image prism surrounded by a Fresnel area.

Metering: The exposure meter comprises three CDS photocells to give a centre-weighted average. The exposure coupling range at ISO100 with an f1.4 lens is EV0 to EV17. Film speeds available are ISO12 – 3200.

Batteries: Powered by two 1.5v silver oxide cells type LR44/ SR44 or equivalent.

Weight: 560g for body, around 880g with lens, hood and strap as shown.

The view through the camera’s viewfinder

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