Ricoh Ricohflex VII
Updated: Mar 11
A basic Japanese Twin Lens Reflex that performs better than expected
I've had the Ricohflex on display for some time, it's a very pretty camera, but not very high spec. It's a mass-produced, stamped steel camera with a very simple shutter and basic operation much like a box camera. The film is loaded by pulling out the wind knob and removing the film holder inside. There is no double exposure prevention and frames are counted through a covered red window. The shutter has to be cocked manually by lifting the lever and then released by pressing it down. The nine-blade aperture is adjusted with a stopless tab on the side of the shutter. Turning either of the lenses allows you to focus on the ground glass viewing screen. Altogether it's a well-made, basic camera with coated triplet lens.
The Ricohflex VII is one of a series of simple twin-lens reflex cameras made by Ricoh in the 1950s, 1954 in this case. It has a coated three-element Ricoh Anastigmat lens with f stops ranging from 3.5 to 16. It's coupled to the viewing lens by external gears for focusing. The three-speed Riken shutter ranges from 1/25 to 1/100 plus B. There is an optional insert that allows the use of 35mm film and there are frame lines on the ground glass for 35mm.
I had read some good things about the lens, so I decided to give it a try. Once you decide on a procedure, it's pretty straightforward to use. I wind the film immediately after every shot to avoid double exposures. I take a meter reading with a handheld meter or a metering app I have on my phone. After setting the speed and aperture I set the shutter by lifting the lever. Then it's time to focus. The screen is a little dim, but I usually use the flip-over magnifier which is very effective. Then I flip it back and compose the shot. Finally, a slow press on the shutter to minimize shake. It's a slow process, but it gives you plenty of time to think about the twelve shots you get on a roll.
It does have a rather unique feature, that might speed things up with practice. The sport finder has a slotted frame instead of the typical opening on the hood. It is used by keeping both eyes open which creates a superimposed bright frame in your field of vision. I found it worked best for me by looking through the magnifier. Combine that with scale focusing and sunny 16 metering and you could speed things up considerably.
I shot the camera on an overcast day, so my choice of Ilford PanF Plus ISO 50 meant I wouldn't be using the best apertures and speeds for sharp photos. The shots of machinery were all taken at f5.6 and either 1/25th or 1/50th. The shots in my backyard were taken at f3.5 and 1/50th.
I am very happy with the results given the circumstances. Off-center sharpness in the plane of focus is quite good as shown in this close-up, and the grain is almost non-existent with the PanF.
Overall, I had a good time shooting a TLR for the first time and got pretty good images despite using less than optimal apertures. It's a good solid camera with no frills, and I'm sure it would do better with faster film or more light.