Ricoh 500 35mm Rangefinder Camera
January 1967 found a very young, nineteen year old Sergeant of Marines in Vietnam. Me. When I departed CONUS (Continental United States) I left my 5-year old Yashica-D TLR behind (too big and bulky, and too heavy). Arriving in-country without a camera was immediately disappointing, and I vowed to rectify the situation as soon as I could. Within a few weeks I was able to buy a very used (beat up) Ricoh 35mm rangefinder for just a few bucks from a fellow Marine.
It had adjustable aperture, shutter-speed, split-image manual focus and a primitive match-needle in-camera light meter. I shot Kodachrome 25 35mm transparency (slide) film. Kodachrome 25 would be equivalent to ISO 25 today (very, very slow film indeed). Anything but the brightest sun was difficult to shoot in. But shoot I did. I took it with me when I visited the villages of An Tan and Ky Xuan, and also shot all around the base.
Later when I was running MEDCAP patrols (Medical Civil Affairs Program) into Dong Binh II village, a few kilometers south, I got a lot of shots of the doctors and corpsman working on the villagers, as well as shots of the local PFs (Popular Forces) and my buddies (even a few of me). The little camera worked pretty good, and I got some acceptable images that I sent back home. Unfortunately, none of those photos survive today—my ex-wife decided one day, in her infinite wisdom, to trash all of my Vietnam photos. I guess she didn’t think they were important, and maybe they weren’t (but I would have liked to make that decision myself).
I really wanted one of the new Nikon F SLRs that was on the market for about $300 USD, but on a Sergeant’s pay I couldn’t afford one. The combat photographers, both civilian and military, I ran into all had them (and a few Leica M3s). Eventually, years later, I would have two of them (the best manual 35mm SLRs I ever owned), but first I bought a Yashica J-7 SLR in Japan. More about that camera later. The Ricoh I sold to another Marine, the Yashica J-7 I still have in my collection (but the match-needle light meter hasn’t worked in years).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler