3other Ricoh cameras in my collection

1960 - Ricoh Auto 35 Viewfinder

1970 - Ricoh TLS401 SLR

1972 - Ricoh 500G Rangefinder


JapanRicoh Hi-Color 35 [1970 - 1973*]


1968 to 1973 Model Range

The first Ricoh Hi-Color was introduced in 1968, as the successor to the similar but Selenium metered Auto Shot. Its little die-cast aluminium body contained an automatic exposure setting system and spring powered motor drive.

Ricoh Hi-Color modelsThe original 1968 model can be identified by a front-of-body mounted shutter release and a cold shoe.

Date information is hazy, but the camera was subsequently modified to become the Hi-Color 35, with the shutter release button moved to the top plate, and no accessory shoe. These were offered with a few different leatherette trim patterns, and had the Hi-Color logo in green.

There was also a 1970 Hi-Color 35 S (S for self-timer). A virtually identical model lacked the self-timer, but had a hot shoe, and was called the Hi-Color 35.

A final variation was the 1971 Hi-Color 35 BT, which seems to have only cosmetic changes to give it a more trapezoidal shape, and all black finish.



My Hi-Color 35 is the later variant that has a hot shoe.

The body is very like that of the 1972 Ricoh 500G; a solid core (painted black), which is covered by front and back plates, such that the film door completely wraps the perimeter of the camera body. The light seal between the two is thin and wide, and usually deteriorates into a stick mess.

The exposure system is the shutter speed priority type. The user sets the aperture dial to Auto, selects a preferred shutter speed, and the CdS meter determines and sets a corresponding aperture for the prevailing light conditions. The shutter speed dial is linked to a set of masks that cover the CdS cell: a simple but effective system. A white dot in the upper centre of the viewfinder serves as an adequate light level indicator, and turns red when there is insufficient light. Aperture values can also be set for manual exposure control.

All Hi-Colors have a clockwork motor drive (with a clutch system that stops the mechanism being over-wound). One winding is sufficient for 15 exposures, which can be taken in rapid succession at the rate of one frame per second. The film transports right to left, so is exposed upside down. The Hi-Color was neither the first nor the only camera to feature a spring driven motor drive (Canon, Fujica, Kodak, Minolta all made spring powered models), but the feature was not commonly adopted for 35mm, and remains fairly unusual.

Focusing is accomplished through setting a specific distance or one of three zones, and this can be done while composing the shot thanks to a Judas window image at the foot of the finder view. A chart on the camera back details the distances that correspond to each zone icon. The viewfinder is not a simple direct vision reverse telescope; there are two objective lenses, an eyepiece, and two prisms in a double Porro† formation, as found in binoculars. The clues to the Hi-Color's finder complexity lies in the front and back windows being out of alignment and very tiny.

A geometric prism with right-angled triangular end faces, such that light enters the rectangular face of the prism, is reflected twice from the sloped faces, and exits again through the large rectangular face. Because the image is reflected twice, it is not left/right reversed.

A final unusual feature is the arm on the rewind crank engages the rewind shaft only when unfolded. When folded, the drive between the shaft and rewind knob is disengaged.

advert* In 1972/3, Ricoh advertised this Hi-Color 35 as an underwater camera. It was sold with a waterproof capsule, sports finder and underwater flash. The focus and exposure had to be pre-set, as adjustments were not possible once it was loaded into its capsule. To this end, the Hi-Color has a number of green settings: AUTO (aperture), ◉ (focus zone @ 2.5m), and 1/125th.

I haven't been able to find any trace of the model beyond 1973. I have therefore assumed - in the absence of other information - that the final version of the Hi-Color 35 was made between 1970 and 1973, by which time the 500G style of camera had become hugely popular.

I've no idea of the UK cost of a Hi-Color 35 when new.



Viewfinder: Double Porro type (folded binocular) with no bright-line or parallax. About 0.3 x magnification.

Focus: Best guess or click-stopped 3 zone focusing with distance in feet/metres and zone icons visible in viewfinder.

Lens: 35mm f/2.8 Color Rikenon, comprising 4 elements in 3 groups.

Close Focus: 7' (2m).

Diaphragm: Stops down to about f/22.

Shutter: 2-blade Seikosha made 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/300th.

Cable Release: Standard socket in shutter release.

Meter: CdS cell - permanently on.

Exposure: Automatic shutter speed priority with manual override.

Film Speed: 25 to 400 ASA (15 to 27 DIN).

Filter Size: n/k.

Flash: Hot shoe and PC terminal. X-sync at 1/30th.

Film Advance: Spring driven, with maximum 1 fps for 15 exposures.

Frame Counter: Count-up with automatic reset and advance.

Rewind: Via crank and tension release button.

Back Opening: Via a catch.

Battery: Mallory RM-675R mercury cell.

Size: 113mm x 74mm x 54mm (W x H x D).

Weight: 450g.


My Camera

When I began collecting cameras, I never imagined I'd own a single Ricoh. I thought they just made cheap versions of other manufacturers' popular models. However, this Hi-Color is my forth, and I've bought each because the early designs have quirky features. This camera cost me £20.99 on New Year's Eve 2017. I didn't really want to pay that much for a point and shoot, but they are not very common in the UK, and the camera was advertised as being in FWO.

This camera is designed to work with a film loaded, so testing it requires a little fiddling dexterity. The shutter is tensioned by a film driven sprocket wheel (Vito style), so this needs to be manual turned. The metering system can then be tested by firing the camera with the back open, and watching for diaphragm change size in differing lights. The viewfinder red flag can be invoked by lowering the film speed setting, or simply blocking the meter cell window. The winder normally turns the film spool until the shutter is tensioned, at which point the drive disengages and further turning then winds-up the motor spring. So, to wind/test the motor without a film present, the shutter must first be manually tensioned; then the spring can be wound. When the shutter is tripped, the motor runs to exhaustion because there is no film to turn the sprocket wheel and tension the shutter, thereby disengaging the drive. Keeping the counter reset switch depressed while winding and firing the shutter (with the back open) confirms whether the counter is incrementing.

My Hi-Color appears to be in good order, but I noticed that some of the diaphragm blades are misaligned or sticking, which causes the aperture to be misshapen at anything other than f/2.8. But, that's OK, because I am unlikely to choose this camera for shooting film.

The external condition is very good, but the light seal is a sticky mush. All-in-all, it's a nice and curious little thing.



Ricoh Hi-Color 35

Ricoh Hi-Color 35

Ricoh Hi-Color 35

Ricoh Hi-Color 35

Ricoh Hi-Color 35

Ricoh Hi-Color 35