Ricoh YF-20

A Hackable Point-and-Shoot With a Flash and Motorized Film Transport

6 min read by Dmitri.

Ricoh YF-20 is a plastic body focus-free point-and-shoot camera with a built-in flash, motorized film transport, 1/125s fixed shutter and a 35mm Ricoh 𝒇4 coated glass lens with three-elements in three groups. It has a film ISO selector, though all it does is sets the aperture for something like LV13 and occasionally shows an underexposure warning light. This camera requires two AA batteries to work.

It’s an odd set of features for a $50 35mm film shooter. So who is this camera for?

Point-and-shoot cameras are expected to be easy to carry and easy to shoot.

The premium ones, like Minolta TC-1 and Contax T3, come with a fantastic lens and even let you control aperture and exposure. But they cost more than a thousand dollars.

Vintage pocketable cameras, like Revue 35XE, Rollei 35B, Olympus XA, and Chinon Bellami, are affordable though they lack autofocus, built-in flash, and motorized film winding features.

Cheap point-and-shoots, like Olympus Infinity Zoom and Rollei Prego, deliver on most of the same features, short of some image quality and focus/exposure controls.

Finally, the Dianas, IC 101s, and many other junky cameras with little to no control over exposure, focus, or shutter speed may also be used as point-and-shoots.

The appearance of Ricoh YF-20 suggests that it belongs somewhere between the junky and the cheap. The camera looks rather plain and, indeed, it does not cost much. It lacks coupled autoexposure and autofocus; however, it has a motorized film transport and a decent lens. What really sets it apart is its hackable access to full exposure and some focus control.

Portra 400 with Ricoh YF-20. Sorry about the film scratches and dust. It was scanned hastily.

Hacking Ricoh YF-20.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money but want to have full control over the exposure in a point-and-shoot camera, this may be it.

YF-20’s lens aperture is weirdly yet very predictably controlled by the film ISO dial and the flash switch.

Controlling Ricoh YF-20’s lens aperture with flash and ISO selectors.

Because the camera’s shutter speed is constant, you may choose an aperture to expose some scenes the way you like. Just dial in the film speed and 1/125s for the shutter into your lightmeter to see which of the five apertures available will give you the desired exposure.

𝒇5.6-𝒇8 would probably be the sharpest settings for this lens. You will have to turn your flash on to get that sweet 𝒇4 action, though, with a 35mm lens, I would not expect any bokeh.

You may also control the focus of this camera with the tab across from the film ISO selector. Typically, it releases the plastic sliding door that covers the lens open. But if you continue holding it down as you take your photograph, it will keep the lens in its infinity focus position. 

Taking your finger off that tab will readjust the lens back into its default portrait distance of one to ten metres.

The ergonomics of Ricoh YF-20.

YF-20 does not feel very fancy, but it’s reasonably sturdy and comes with some heft due to the motor and the batteries required to power it. YF-20 is not a difficult camera to use in “newbie mode,” but a seasoned hacker wishing to take advantage of all five 😏 apertures will need to spend some time practicing that skill.

Portra 400 with Ricoh YF-20.

The hackable focus and exposure are accessible via three tabs: flash at the top, focus next to the lens, and the ISO toggle. However, there’s also another tab that opens the film door on the camera’s side, which I accidentally triggered — twice.

I enjoyed the film winder feature on YF-20. It’s convenient, and it guarantees that the camera is ready to shoot quickly. The default portrait distance on the lens makes sense, though I forgot to set it to infinity a few times while shooting, which felt rather annoying.

This camera can produce nice pictures when tamed, but it’s no good as a backup shooter. Ricoh YF-20 hacking skills can be easily forgotten and need to be practiced.

Lens quality.

Despite its odd set of features, strange exposure controls, and cheap materials, YF-20 does come with a decent lens. The camera seems to have a good amount of contrast and plenty of sharpness at its portrait distances. It flares rather unpleasantly but not excessively; for me, it happened just once when I pointed directly at the sun.

Lens flare.

This Ricoh glass looks to be creating images a notch sharper and slightly less distorted than most cheap point-and-shoots. It’s not even that soft in the corners, and there’s very little vignetting. Given the camera’s appearance, its appreciable performance is somewhat unexpected, though, of course, it doesn’t quite measure up to the premium category.

There are effectively just two focusing distances and a minimal number of apertures available. The flash adds to the camera’s versatility — if you’re comfortable with that look. There’s undoubtedly some potential in this Ricoh package if you’re willing to work for it and its limitations.