The Ricoh KR-5: SLR Minimalism.

feel the love for the KR5

The resurgence in film photography, especially with younger photographers has led to a sharp increase in the price of old film cameras.   In 2008 I bought a mint Nikon L35AF for a measly £3 . With the ascendancy of DSLRs and Mirrorless systems, people couldn’t get rid of their film gear quickly enough.

10 years on and classic compacts, SLRs, rangefinders and medium format cameras go for premium prices, although only for certain cameras with a certain cachet.  Cameras like the Canon AE1, Olympus MjuII, Pentax 67, Mamiya 7, anything Contax or Leica all seem to be a costly camera of choice for the affluent young blogger or YouTuber.

I however grew up on a Praktica MTL3 and whatever cheap M42 lenses I could get, and even though I progressed to the heights of Praktica B mount and aperture priority exposure, I still have a fondness for a more budget approach to film photography.

So while looking on the EBay for a 28mm lens to go with a battered but working Pentax K1000 rescued from impending landfill, I managed to obtain for the princely sum of a tenner:

  • A mint Ricoh KR-5 with 50mm  f2 Riconar lens
  • A Sirius 28mm lens
  • A Sirius 135mm lens
  • An olive green Miranda bag
  • A wee sync cable
  • A blower brush (essential for negative scanning)
    I don’t think I’ve ever felt as pleased with myself.

The KR5 it should be said is a basic beginners camera of the most utilitarian order. But my god it’s beautiful.  A solid mix of metal body and plastic casing  – the name and model is cut into the plastic, none of your sticker nonsense here – it has a solid, unfussy design.

It’s jet black – front, back and top with minimal controls.  You get a shutter dial, film speed dial, lever advance and shutter release button (threaded for cable release).  A self-timer on the front and that’s your lot.   Even the shutter speed dial keeps it basic.  No wide range of speeds either..

Complex state of the Art controls

A modest fastest speed of 1/500th is complemented by a slowest of 1/8th with B the only setting below this. So any milky water shots, you’re on B and counting.  In reality of course if you’re street shooting or doing a photo-walk, this is going to cover most situations unless you’re using Ilford Delta 3200 on a bright summer day.  Equally in the studio under flash – sync of 1/60th, lens at f8 and set the lights accordingly.

Exposure is measured through a simple CdS exposure meter powered by two G13/SR44 batteries.  A useful feature is that the meter only works when the lever is half-cocked to show the red dot as seen above.  Unlike the Pentax K1000 whose meter is always on and needs a lens cap on to stop battery drain, the exposure is only read when the lever is in this position.

Simplicity is extended through to the viewfinder screen.

Ricoh viewfinder
Underexposed Rhein and bridge

It’s big, bright and has a needle that moves up and down.  No LED’s or even +/-  indicators.  When it’s in the middle you’re good to go.  Even the focussing circle in the centre is unfussy and is clear to see when you’re in focus.

And that’s the KR-5.  Next step is to load film and shoot.


Kentmere 100 using studio flash.  50mm lens
Drummer, Grafton Street. Dublin
Grafton Street, Dublin.  Tri-X 400.  135mm lens
dublin larkin
O’Connell Street, Dublin.  Tri-X 400.  28mm lens
Kaiserswerth, Germany.  Kentmere 400.  50mm lens

And that’s the Ricoh KR-5 in all its wonderful simplicity.  You may ask what’s the difference between it and any of the numerous other manual SLR’s of the 1970’s and 80’s and there’s undoubtedly more sophisticated, desirable cameras out there, cameras with greater versatility and even ones with more than 7 shutter speeds.

It’s strength is in the simplicity of use and its limited options and functionality which puts the onus on the photographer.  It combines Eastern Bloc utilitarianism with a bit of Japanese reliability and sleeker design.  It’s not too heavy, the shutter’s not too loud and the solid black look and stripped back functionality make it the Johnny Cash of cameras.

And you can pick them up for next to nothing.

Olympus Tripped.

When the meter finally goes….

Trippy.  Meter no more
Meter no more

The inherent risk of bringing your 40 year old film camera on holiday is of course that it decides to call it a day.  Before loading the Trip, I always give it a quick check to ensure that it responds reasonably appropriately to light – particularly that the wee red underexposed marker appears in the viewfinder.  Day 2 of a trip to Tokyo and before the Fomapan was loaded, it was clear that the Trip meter had finally given up the ghost.  However, before putting it back in the suitcase and relying on the Nikon F60, I remembered the manual aperture settings – a quick check showed these to be responding.

So, a pretty useless 1/40th constant shutter speed in a bright summer Tokyo day and it was Sunny 22 to see how the Trip would go on manual only.  F22 for the bright outdoors and guess for the shade and indoors.

And…  it went ok.  Fomapan 100 is pretty forgiving anyway and with the bright harsh sunlight and deep shadows, I couldn’t really complain with the results from a 40 year old malfunctioning compact and a £3.50 roll of budget Czech film.

asakusa girls1
Kimonos, Asakusa – a great range of detail captured by the Trippy

It would have been a challenge getting any sort of shadow detail here given the contrast between the umbrella and background.

asakusa posing

Of course, with an aperture setting now to consider on the Trip,  there was the added risk to forget about adjusting the zone focussing from “mountains” to “2 blokes“.

tokyo books
Bookstore.  Blur unintentional..
orange street
Orange Street. In black and white
asakusa incense


asakusa lady
Simultaneously shot on her own phone and my dodgy Trippy

The Trip of course, is a great street camera, all you have to remember is to set the zone focus.  My immediate reaction when the meter went was to retire the Trip and have a look on The Bay for a replacement.  But doing a quick Sunny 16 setting of the Aperture is no problem, and you can learn to live with the constant 1/40th shutter.  The lens is as sharp as ever (after remembering to check the focus) and frankly there is no better looking 35mm compact out there.  My meter-less Trip hasn’t had its last holiday just yet.

More Trip/Foma100 photos on the Flickr.