Ricoh FF-1s Compact 35mm Film Camera Review
A Hidden Gem of a Lens in a So-So Body8 min read by
Ricoh FF-1s is a compact full-frame 35mm film camera with foldable lens bellows. It features a fast (for its size) 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens and automatic exposure mode.
This camera is small enough to belong to this list of the smallest full-frame film cameras ever made — though it doesn’t break the top three. Nevertheless, it weighs a mere 227g/8oz without film and measures 110mm × 65mm × 40mm, making it a truly pocketable device.
The version I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing for this website features a red-coloured leatherette and red aperture markings on the barrel. Its previous owner may have modified it. For what it’s worth, they did an excellent job: I was convinced this was an ultra-rare special edition until I came across the Ricoh Japan website that listed no such runs.
Your version will almost certainly be all-black, though you could change its look also.
Ricoh FF-1 vs Ricoh FF-1s and other variants of the camera.
Ricoh FF-1 was released in December 1978 in two colours: an all-black and a silver top. Despite being a relatively unknown camera today, it was quite popular and fairly expensive forty-five years ago, fetching ¥33,600, which is equivalent to 400 USD in today’s dollars.
As time went by, Ricoh discovered a trend that’s still prevalent today: photographers prefer black-paint cameras. And so their next iteration of FF-1, FF-1s no longer featured a silver trim option.
Launched in September 1980, the new version cost ¥37,000, which is the same 400 USD. But there’s more to it than just one less colour in the line-up: the newer camera would lock up if the battery power is not available. Apparently, the older version caused some film waste as it would still make a shutter sound and let you advance the film to the next frame — even though no exposure could be made without a cell.
The updated design also brought a minor visual improvement: the FF-1 logo, printed on the lens cover, wore off quickly on the early version and thus, the “s” moved it to a small print to the left of the viewfinder window.
There were no other changes in terms of electronics, lens quality, weight, dimensions, or mechanics between Ricoh FF-1 and Ricoh FF-1s.
Ricoh FF-1s controls and ergonomics.
FF-1s is a tiny, light camera. It can slip into most pockets and purses, which I greatly appreciate as most of my outings with a camera include two dogs who like to pull me in separate directions.
The camera controls are plain and easy to grasp: insert two LR44 batteries, load and wind the film, set the film ISO/ASA, unfold the camera, set the lens to “A” for auto, and dial in the distance using the zone focusing method. Nothing seems out of place or hard to control — other than, perhaps, the settings on the lens if you have large fingers.
The viewfinder is decent on FF-1s, though not particularly impressive: it covers 83% of what the lens sees with a .46x magnification factor. It has an OK eye relief (thus, usable with glasses), but there are no parallax marks, so there’s some danger of top-of-the-frame cut-offs when taking pictures up close.
Some features that I’d expect on a camera of that age are missing:
Ricoh FF-1 cameras can only use film with ratings between ISO 25 and 400. You can not advance film while the camera is in the closed position. The aperture control on the lens only works with a flash — otherwise, you can only shoot while it’s set to “A.” And despite having a leaf shutter, FF-1 can only sync with flash at 1/30th of a second (it’s max shutter speed is 1/500 and min is 2s). There’s also no exposure lock and thus you’ve got to trust your camera’s meter at all times.
That’s quite a few limitations. Perhaps it’s just a well-made point-and-shoot? Something has to justify this camera’s steep price tag on release date and its subsequent popularity.
FF-1s uses a combination of plastic and metal components in its body with some trade-offs and advantages. It’s well-built, generally on par with other miniature foldable cameras of the era, but it’s not perfect. The film rewind crank is housed in a metal jacket, the colour of which is slightly off-black, making the plastic top plate appear somewhat more awkward than it already is.
The door that extends the lens on the bellows — an identical action to that of Minox 35 cameras aside from the “handles” being on either side of the door instead of a single one at the top. It appears to be sturdy though the mechanism feels a little stiff. This may be age-related, of course, though all Ricoh FF-1 cameras are “aged.”
My FF-1 cameras happened to come with dead electronics on two occasions, fixing which was not worth the effort at this point (though I’m sure that may become lucrative in the future as these gadgets become more of a rarity). But if you aren’t shopping as foolishly as I was — I bought cameras that weren’t tested — you shouldn’t have issues.
If you’re picking between Ricoh FF-1 and FF-1s, you may want to get the “s” version — if you care about appearances — as the initial release had its branding painted on the film door that rubbed off on all but very few copies. Alas, the “s” is a somewhat harder-to-find variant.
Overall, I’d say this camera has a decent build quality; it won’t win any awards, but it’s certainly not a plastic toy.
FF-1’s Color Rikenon lens, however, elevates this camera to the next level. Housed in an aluminum barrel, it feels like a premium component and performs accordingly.
Ricoh FF-1s lens and image quality.
FF-1’s Color Rikenon lens with four glass elements in three groups is this camera’s redeeming feature. It’s sharp, with only minor softening in the corners when the aperture is wide-open. Chromatic aberrations are only visible in the fringes in some images. And there’s absolutely no vignetting.
The quality of the lens is apparent not just from the images but from the barrel construction as well. Aside from the aluminum chassis, I found felt material pasted inside the barrel when looking from the film side. This extra effort is meant to reduce internal reflections and, in turn, produce images with higher contrast. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s working. The coating takes this further by reducing flares, which I am yet to see in any of the photos taken on my FF-1s (they exist, just not nearly as pronounced as I’d expect them to be).
Note the star-shaped specular highlights in the bottom-right corner of the image above. They are the result of the triple-blade aperture diaphragm, which you’ll see render triangles in out-of-focus areas.
With the right film, light conditions, and close focus, you may get this lens to render lovely bokeh. It’s smooth yet modern-looking without much swirling.
Color Rikenon lens is very good. Being of a 35mm focal length, I feel it’s more versatile than the more common 50mm size found on most mid-century cameras — which may be part of the reason these cameras were so pricey at launch time. Other than that, it’s close focus is .9m/3’, which is decent, and the smallest aperture is 𝒇16 — a near-standard for most photographic glass.
How much does Ricoh FF-1s cost, and where to find one.
Ricoh FF-1 and Ricoh FF-1s can still be bought for under $200. That feels like a deal, despite the above-mentioned usability drawbacks, considering how much these cameras were valued at launch. Being a relatively unknown camera, its prices remained stable during the past few years; thus, you still have a chance to snag one at a decent price.
The lens alone is worth it — but it’s up to you to decide whether the ergonomics that come with it are sufficient for your photography. I hope this review was helpful and informative enough to make that choice; feel free to ask any questions or share your experiences with this camera in the comments below.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Ricoh FF-1 or Ricoh FF-1s camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!