Adventures Of The Wide Eyed Wonder #1

My recent return to Pentax K mount has included the rediscovery of the excellent Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens.

I featured it as my latest love in the Lens Love series a little while back, and it fared very well against stiff competition from Pentax and Chinon in the recent five way PK 50mm shootout.

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In particular the Rikenon’s performance wide open at f/2 has delighted me.

So I got to thinking about a series of adventures and hopefully a few memorable photographs as a result, all shoot close up and wide open.

34389960045_6cd56b3b6c_bThese are the highlights of the first adventure. 

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All photographs in this post were made with my Sony NEX 3N with the Rikenon 50/2 at f/2, plus a LightRoom preset.

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More adventures of the Wide Eyed Wonder to follow…

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Lens Love #3 – Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 PK

Lens Love is an ongoing series of posts about the vintage lenses I’ve used and loved most.

The dry technical data and 100% corner crops of brick walls can be found elsewhere. What I’m more interested in is what specifically about a lens makes me love using it, and why I believe you should try one too.

Today’s lens –

Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 Pentax K Mount

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

When I first held a Rikenon 50/2 I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

A lot of plastic, “only” f/2, “only” full stops on the aperture ring, and a minimum focus of “only” 0.6m.

Against the likes of the lovely SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7 and almost as lovely Auto Chinon 50/1.7 – both of which are faster, better built (plus more metal) and focus to 0.45m – I didn’t expect the Rikenon to hang around long.

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But then I shot a roll of film with it.

And was highly impressed with the photographs.

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Pentax ME, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film 

Then I tried it on my NEX, and got a lucky “right place right time” shot of a robin with the Rikenon wide open at f/2 that remains one of my favourite ever images I’ve made.

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What initially seemed weaknesses turned into pluses.

The plastic aperture ring is actually the smoothest plastic aperture ring I’ve tried, way better than a Pentax-A 50mm. It’s perfectly usable, and always slots in reassuringly to the next stop.

Intentionally I think, and very cleverly, Ricoh enhanced the assured feel by making it only full stops.

Plastic aperture rings with half stops I’m often over shooting where I intended to turn the ring too then going back and forwards (you know like when you almost bump into someone, then both move one way, then both the other way, until finally four or five sways later, the improvised stranger dancing ends, and you pass your separate ways) before finding the right setting. Yes I’m talking to you again Pentax-A lenses!

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

The full stops actually make it lovely and simple to use (again I wonder if Ricoh intended this in the design).

I hardly ever use f/11 or smaller, so the most I have to click is four stops from f/2 to f/8 or vice versa. Meaning it’s very easy to remember where you are on the scale even if you’re not looking at it. My SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7, for example, needs eight clicks to go from wide open to f/8.

The expansive use of plastic make it very light – around 135g.

The smaller version (there are two sizes, to my knowledge) is very compact too, protruding less than 30mm from the camera when focused at infinity.

It’s approaching what you might call a Pancake, for a 50mm lens. The so called Pancake Pentax 40mm f/2.8 is only 25g lighter and 12mm flatter, and by all accounts is not a great performer.

That “slow” speed of f/2 virtually disappears as a barrier when it’s makes such pleasing photographs wide open.

The first photograph in this post, the robin photograph, and the tap shot below, were all shot wide open at f/2.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

I really, really like the bokeh of these lenses wide open, and the sharp areas are plenty crisp for my needs.

Most 50s need stopping down two or three stops before they really perform, negating their f/1.4 or f/1.7 advantage, and losing the shallow depth of field and round highlights you get shooting wide open.

Whilst the focus ring is not quite as smooth as a runny honey dripping from hot toast, it’s silky enough that you never think about it.

The short throw from minimum distance to infinity of around a third of a turn, will please some who like to adjust focus quickly.

Finally, for the skinflints like me, these Rikenons can be had for less than £20 all day long, if you’re patient, less than £10.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

Are there any downsides? 

That minimum focus of 0.6m is a bit disappointing for someone like myself who loves shooting up close.

But if you really need to shoot nearer than 0.6m, you could use close up filters, an extension ring or a macro reversing ring. I used the latter with a 50/1.7 Rikenon with excellent results, and have no doubt the 50/2 would be at least as good.

I’ve had four or five 50/2s and two 50/1.7s. The f/1.7s are very good, but the f/2s really stand out, and I’d much rather have one of these.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

Overall I’d highly recommend the Rikenon 50/2, not just if you’re looking for a Pentax K mount 50mm lens, but if you’re looking for any 50mm lens to adapt to digital too. 

Very light and compact, a simple to use and navigate aperture ring, and very good performance from wide open at f/2 onwards.

Plus as they’re Pentax K mount, the film and digital body options made by Pentax alone are vast. Widen the net to Pentax K mount film bodies by other brands (including Ricoh themselves) and digital options (Pentax DLSRs and others via adapters) and there’s a winning combination out there for all of us.

Don’t hesitate to add one to your collection if you have the chance!

Have you tried a Rikenon 50/2? What lens would you recommend in Pentax K mount?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Resurrection Of Razor Ric(oh)

The trouble with 80s plastic fantastic compacts is once the electronics die, they’re fit for nothing but the dustbin. Right? 

That’s what I thought until a recent and simple DIY experiment opened my eyes to the wonders of just one little compact that’s been given life after death and is thriving gloriously.

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It started when, wanting to thin down my compact collection to less than half a dozen, I browsed my old albums on Flickr to find the ones I liked best .

A handful of photographs that really caught my eye were taken with a Ricoh TF-900, an unassuming dark grey chunk of rubberised plastic from the late 80s.

Behind its synthetic yet ordinary veneer, the TF-900 proved to be not only full of the essential features the discerning enthusiastic amateur needs, but had a pretty sweet 35mm f/2.8 lens. Which also, at the press of a button, became a 70mm f/5.6 lens.

I sold this model on long ago in one of my great purges, but inspired by these “lost” photographs, set about finding another example.

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Off to the auctions, and after a quick haggle over price, I soon landed one in supposedly full working order.

When it arrived and I inserted the battery, all was not well, and it wouldn’t do anything it was supposed to.

After apologies and a full refund from the seller, I asked if they wanted the camera returned. They said not.

I was about to throw it in the bin, then remembered something about Hamish Gill having lenses extracted from old compact cameras sent away to Japan to be remounted for one of his Leicas.

So I wondered if the lens was salvageable from my otherwise next to useless TF-900.

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The removal of a dozen or so miniature screws later, and the tiny purple coated gem like lens was free.

Next, how to make a mount that would mean it was usable on a camera. 

When I’m not shooting film, I play around with a Sony NEX 3N, and have adapters so I can use and test my vintage 35mm film lenses on it.

One of these adapters, with the Ricoh lens stuck to the front, might do the trick.

First I tried a slim M39 adapter, plus some hastily sculpted blu-tack. The lens mounted fine but the focus was too far for what I wanted, some 10m away maybe.

So I needed to rethink, creating a mount that affixed the lens further away from the NEX’s sensor, and therefore allowed closer focus.

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An M42 > NEX adapter was up next, and again with a little creative reshaping with blu-tack, I mounted the lens and its immediate housing on to the adapter, then attached it to the NEX.

The focus was now approximately 0.25m away, ideal not only for the kind of close proximity shots I like, but also at such distance (and with the lens – minus the shutter behind it changing the aperture as it did in the TF-900 – being fixed at its maximum aperture of f/2.8) that would force a shallow depth of field.

Off I set to the local flora and fauna (ie, our back garden) to experiment.

The outcome I was pretty stunned by. 

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The humble little Ricoh 35/2.8, which measures barely a centimetre across, has produced impressive sharpness, lovely colours and delicious smooth bokeh, straight out of the camera.

It helps that with the NEX’s APS-C sensor being 75% the size of a frame of 35mm film (full frame), the central part of the lens is optimised, and any distortion at the outer edges you might experience when shooting film in the original TF-900 is in effect cropped out.

But even so, this miniature marvel, wide open at f/2.8 and shooting closer than it was ever designed for (around 0.25m compared with the minimum focus of around 0.9m of the TF-900) has delighted me.

The resurrection of this razor sharp Ricoh has proved to be an excellent idea.

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Now I’m wondering if there’s a way to adapt it somehow to shoot with a film SLR… Maybe an old broken SLR lens could be disassembled and the Ricoh lens inserted inside instead?

Whilst I further ponder that, in the meantime I’ve located another TF-900, hopefully fully working this time, and given the results from this lens salvaging project, I’m very excited at using the compact as it was originally designed in the next week or two.

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This is how the lens looks on my NEX. Note that I managed to mount the surrounding housing upside down, and, blu-tack sculpting perfected, I didn’t want to unstick it all again to flip it round!

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Though the camera and lens combo looks something of a Frankenstein’s monster, it’s super light and compact, and as you can see from the other photographs, very capable. I love the deep purple coating of the Ricoh glass too…

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Have you ever rescued a lens from a broken camera to use in another?

Disclaimer for the film diehards: Whilst this blog is mostly about my adventures with 35mm film cameras, all of the photographs above were taken with the rescued Ricoh lens and my Sony NEX 3N digital camera.

Despite them not being made with film, I wanted to share them here, along with this project, partly because I was so impressed with the lens and wanted to encourage others to try the same kind of resurrection of otherwise defunct old cameras. And partly because, as it’s a 35mm lens, from a 35mm film camera, I think it can squeeze inside the general remit of 35hunter.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.