While the Ricoh 126C-FLEX looks like a normal 35mm SLR, it is in fact far from the ordinary. First of all, it takes 126 format film instead of 35mm. According from what I found on the Internet and reader’s comment (see end of post), there are only a few different makes/models of 126 SLRs in the world and the 126C-FLEX is of course one of them (Other examples: Kodak Instamatic Reflex, Rollei SL26 and Zeiss Ikon Contaflex 126). SLRs that take 126 films are very rare mainly because 126 film is mostly associated with box-type low-cost point-and-shoots and the low quality enlargements produced from these cameras. The demand of a high quality 126 format camera such as the 126C-FLEX is very low because taking 126 film doesn’t make the SLR itself economical. According to Internet sources, it was sold for $119.95USD in 1969 which is approximately equivalent to $715USD as of 2011! This is already more expensive than an entry-level DSLR plus a kit lens!
The 126C-FLEX provides shutter-priority automatic exposure with full manual override. While the A-mode in the aperture settnigs requires battery to operate, the other settings and the shutter itself are mechanical and thus the camera will work with the full range of apertures and shutter speeds without battery. It could be because many of the 126 format cameras use flash-cubes, the 126C-FLEX has a flash-cube socket on the top-left of the body (where the rewind knob of a 35mm SLR should be) beside a hotshoe and a PC-sync terminal for electronic flash. While flash-cube sync speed is only 1/30 seconds, electronic flashes can sync at any speed with the camera. This is because unlike an ordinary SLR, the 126C-FLEX does not have a focal plane shutter. From what I have experimented with the camera, the mirror itself also serves as the shutter (see photo below). In the same photo, you can also see the dual-battery compartment (the extensively corroded portion below the flash-cube socket) which houses two mercury batteries: a 1.35V PX-675 for the meter and a BIG 15V PX-74 to power the flash-cube.
Beside the supplied 55mm f2.8 Rikenon lens, there are also a 35mm and a 100mm lens. Since both the shutter and the aperture diaphragm are in the body, all three lenses above only contain the glass elements and the focusing mechanism. The photo below shows the lens detached and the “screw mount” of the camera body. There is no lens element in the body and the reflection you see from deep inside is actually light entering the viewfinder and then reflected from the mirror.
Beside the use of 126 format film and using the mirror instead of a focal plane shutter, the Ricoh 126C-FLEX has another inordinary property. In the photo below, I hold the shutter openned at bulb to show the strange shape of the aperture diaphragm. What kind of odd-looking bokeh will this diaphragm produce?
The Story behind My Ricoh 126C-FLEX…
This camera was given to me free of charge along with two others. There are water damages but it is not as extensive as the Motormatic 35 and the Instamatic 804 in previous posts. The degree of corrision in the battery compart leads me to believe the electronic circuit is no longer functional. However, since the camera works fine without battery, it is still basically functional. The problem to try out the camera is actually finding film for it. 126 films are basically all sold out from known online retailers and unless I can find a used cartridge to load some 35mm film into it, the camera is going to be sitting on the display shelf for the rest of its days.