Ricoh’s interest in the imaging business becomes very clear if one were to trace its origin. Ricoh started out as Riken Kogaku Koguyo which, translated from Japanese, means the Riken Optical Company. Riken initially began in 1936 as a manufacturer of photo sensitive paper. The first camera was built in 1937 and like other Japanese cameras of that time, was a copy of a Leica design. Post the Second World War, the company made a number of cameras, including miniature cameras which became very popular. Ricoh entered the 35mm SLR business only in 1964 – initially with the Ricoh 35 Flex, which was very quickly replaced by the Ricoh Singlex. The Singlex was produced by Rioch using production tools from Mamiya. The Singlex used the Nikon F mount, thereby indicating a collaboration with Nikon as well for lenses.
In 1967, Ricoh introduced the Singlex TLS which featured an instant return mirror, TTL metering and a Pentax thread mount. The Singlex series of models continued until 1976 and the last Singlex II featured a hot-shoe, auto reset frame counter and a shift of the shutter dial to the top of the camera. In 1978, Ricoh introduced the XR-1 which for the first time featured the Pentax K bayonet mount. The XR-1 was available with a load of features including depth of field preview, self timer, battery check, multiple exposure provision, shutter lock and eye piece blind.
The XR-2 came in 1978 and the 2S in 1980. The 2S featured an auto winder and a dedicated flash unit. The XR series gave up on numbers for identification and moved to alphabets with the Ricoh XR-S and XR-P. The XR series continued right until 1987 with the launch of XR-M in 1987. The XR-M had an amazing number of features, including multi mode-metering and auto film transport.
Simultaneously with the XR series, Ricoh launched the KR series in 1979 with the launch of the KR-5. The KR series was cheaper than the XR series and therefore did not carry as many features. The last in the KR series was the KR 30SP which was launched in 1985 and was essentially a strip down version of the Ricoh XR-P. Ricoh did make an attempt to continue with manual focus even in 1990 with the short lived KR-10M which had an array of features, but no autofocus.
With autofocus taking over the SLR market, Ricoh abandoned SLRs and focused on high end compacts. With the digital revolution, Ricoh digital compacts in the GR series came in for a lot of critical acclaim. However, Ricoh remained a fringe player with a limited range of models. It was, therefore, not surprising that when Pentax was available for purchase, Ricoh swooped in and bought over this iconic brand. Fully exploiting its muscle as an MNC, Ricoh has used its international network to launch Pentax in countries where it was not present.
The Ricoh brand of cameras was highly respected in Japan and the US where it was distributed by the Sears Corporation, and the Ricoh SLR cameras like the Singlex series were extremely popular in their heyday.
H. S. Billimoria