Old Meets New: The original VUWS and the Reto UWS

Or How not to do a head to head Review

The cult plastic legend that is the VUWS (Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim) rides again in the form of the Reto UWS (Ultra Wide and Slim). And this got folks really excited so I decided to take the orginal out with the new kid

But how does the Reto UWS compare to the VUWS ?
It would help if I had loaded the same film

Bridge Du Jour II. Reto UWS 2022
Reto UWS with Expired Truprint FG+200. Dumfries 2022. Click on image for full sized

In the Beginning there was the VUWS

The VUWS is a legendary lo-fi camera that’s origins are almost as much a mystery as how good it’s lens is. No one knows when this camera was actually launched exactly. Collectiblend is the first reliable page on this camera and shows an auction sale of one of these in Feb 2003 and notes the camera was made in the 1990’s.

Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim
The VUWS arguably still more stylish than the clones although they are all the same underneath.

This would fit its styling with that 2 tone silver and black look. It’s often talked about never being sold directly so example started life as gift or promo items. Some say left over stock was sold in Poundland in the UK and/or US dollar stores although those mentions are very much 3rd part of the “I heard you could” variety.

It became a lo-fi classic due to the lens and the unique effect (sharp centrally with some vignetting and some colour shifts. Frequently described as “the poor man’s lomo”. I only disagree about on the poor point. It has been sought after at points and you could buy a LC-A for less. The 2003 auction sold for $88USD that’s over $130 in today’s money. Luckily mine cost a more reasonable £28GBP last year.

Boat. VUWS + HP5+. 2022
VUWS with HP5+. Glencaple 2022. click on image for full size

But the camera has been resurrected more times Elizabeth Taylor’s Marriages.

Vivitar so Far ?

Vivitar never made it’s own gear. It started life as Ponder & Best in 1938 essentially been run from a 1936 Oldsmobile. Escaping from Nazi German Max ponder & John Best set up to sell Photographic equipment from that car and the business grew and for a while they were the Key US distributors for some of the Big Japanese and European makes in the post war period. Later the company began to work with japanese companies to produce 3rd party lens (and later flash units) that could rival the SLR makers own efforts.

From the mid 80’s onwards the company moved through various owners. In the 1990s, the company’s focus began to move from lenses to point and shoots. And this takes us to the era of the VUWS one of several plastic fantastic cameras marketed at the turn of the century. The company as we knew it folded in 2008 -although it lives on as a digital camera brand name.

But throughout the history, Vivitar didn’t make their own gear. And in the case of the VUWS a HK manufacturer called Sunpet industries Ltd did. And it never left their catalogue.

Attack of the clones – the resurrection of the VUWS

And if you wanna buy in bulk Sunpet will happily make this for you. there have been several rebranded launches probably as the cost of a VUWS went astronomical for a while.

Superheadz Wide and Slim
Superheadz Wide and Slim. Bit grubby after years of use due to rubberised coating. Yellow Peace variant

Most famous is was by those Japanese retro Lo-fi enthusiasts at Powershovel Ltd., who gave us the Superheadz Wide and slim. Like the Reto these came in a range of colours with names like Yellow Peace and Pink Dress and the legendary Black slim Devil. Two series of the the cameras were made. They notably feature a rubberised coating which made the cameras easy to grasp for a few weeks then turned sticky !!

Powershovel only did a run of these and ironically you can now buy a VUWS for a fraction of a mint Superheadz.

Love at the end of the Pier ? Superheadz Wide & Slim. 2017
Superheadz Wide & Slim with Expired BW400CN. Blackpool 2017. Click on Image for full size

Other makes followed and went. The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim flickr group has a list

Jelly Lens promotional image
Jelly Lens promotional image

At the moment 2 are being sold the Reto and the lesser known Jelly Lens UWS which is actually being sold by Sunpet under their smartphone accessory lens brand.

Wiggle The Moment II – Reto is back

Reto UWS
Reto UWS or is that RUWS ?

I’ve bought a Reto camera before. This HK based team launched a Nimslo style 3D camera via Kickstarter in 2019. the Reto 3D was enjoyable lo-fi Fun

Reto3D press image
Reto3D press image

This feels like a fairly logical move for them and put them up against the likes of the Kodak M35/Dubblefilm Show clones.

Reto adds nothing really to the design. The retail pack comes with a wrist strap and a instruction sheet linked to how-to videos by QR codes (a 2022 touch). The camera comes in 5 colours

  • Charcoal
  • Cream
  • Pastel Pink
  • Murky Blue
  • Muddy yellow

Can’t help think things got lost in translation for the last 2

I went charcoal due to my experience with the Superheadz. I also warned my fellow bloggers os exxpect to see mainly charoal ones being reviewed.

Turns out no plastic coating 😃

Linea. Reto UWS. 2022
Reto UWS with XP2. Carlisle 2022. Click on image for full sized

Core spec & Build

All these camera share the same fixed focus 22mm 2 element plastic lens backed by a fixed 1/125 shutter and f/11. They are built from almost only plastic with the odd screw and metal spring.

The 2 element lens gives it better optics than other cameras in the class. focus is aided by the old trick of curving the film plane.

The f/11 aperture helps. If this was a proper 22mm SLR lens that aperture would give massive depth of Field. So on paper if a 22mm lens @f/11 focused at 1.45m (the hyperfocal distance – that’s 4’3″ in in old money) would have acceptable focus from 0.78m (~2’5″) to infinity

Viewfinder coverage of Reto UWS
Viewfinder (approx red box) is pretty central but as you’d expect only shows about a 70% of the frame. Reto UWS with XP2. Carlisle. 2022

And the lens matches up to that

It’s plastic and flimsy. I’m personally surprised my VUWS still works as they do seem to wear out (winding issues). But mines is very minty. My Superheadz which I’ve used for years is showing it’s age and you feel the strain towards the ends of the rolls. It’s been a mantra of VUWS to avoid longer 36exp rolls and Superheadz even put that in their manual. Reto UWS doesn’t.

The rewind system is a bit flimsy and likely to be the point that breaks as are the advance sprockets by most accounts.

The camera is a tiny little box essentially and is the smallest production full frame camera ever made to my knowledge. It’s smaller than the Olympus XA, Rollei 35 and the Minox 35 series camera. It is only beaten by the Tessina but that has a square format.

Tubular Bridges. Reto UWS 2022
Reto UWS with Ultramax 400. Dumfries 2022. Click on image for full size

Comparing the models

Yup they are the same. The only differences other than colour is the original VUWS has some mould marking on the inside of the rear door a a small China embossed on the outside of the rear door. My VUWS & superheadz features a serial number on the inside of the door that the Reto doesn’t have. But that’s about it

Visually the original is most striking with four different shades of plastic used on the front (all these have black rears and insides).The reto’s front is almost a solid block of colour but retains the chrome front inset and shutter button. This leave the superheaz the dullest of the 3. Not to mention the the stickiest.

VUWS (b), Superheadz Wide and slim and Reto UWS (t)
The 3 plastic amigos.

These are identical. The only differences I could find comparing these was that the original had the word China embossed on the film door and slightly different mold marks on the rear door and the superheadz one had a serial number on the inside of the door

On Test VUWS V Reto UWS

In use

I chose to leave the Superheadz at home. I know that camera inside out and it’s a bit durty for these fine boys.

And they all feel the same. there is no difference in using them.

To load ’em you need to flip the switch on the rear door. Pro-tip do that with the door pointing down as it’s fiddly. Trust me having gravity to assist makes a huge difference. I loaded both my cameras with 36 exp film. If I did that to my worn Superheadz it would be a tad nerve wracking. But both my VUWS and Reto were fine out which makes me think the VUWS was pretty minty.

When using you need to watch out for getting your fingers and the strap (unless on wrist) in shot as below.

Rosefield Mills II. Reto UWS. 2022
Finger in shot !! Reto UWS with Ultramax 400. Dumfries 2022. Click on image for full size

You need to judge the weather a bit. 400ISO film is the safest to use as the latitude allows you to work on sunny days or dull ones. With colour films there is a little over exposure washout in bright conditions but that’s the price for flexibility.

But on bright days you can get away with 200 and even 100 ISO film.

About the film well…..

Muppet Moment

I am a muppet – I decided to shoot one roll side by side and went with B&W not colour. Yup perhaps not best choice but where I was shooting it made sense. Worse still I loaded the VUWS with HP5 but the VUWS with XP2. Same company but 2 massively different emulsions with the XP2 giving finer grain…

VUWS & HP5+. Carlisle 2022. Yup more Grainy than the XP2. I am an idiot. Click on image for full sized version

I did load up the Reto with 2 more rolls of colour but not the VUWS. Colour film is not cheap and this wasn’t a review I felt I could wait out.

So I goofed. James Cockcroft didn’t and shot his Reto head to head with a VUWS. And he used Fujifilm Superia 400 in both, arguably the more correct test film. Check his blog post out as he notices subtle changes although I’m not so sure looking at his shots.

Results

Any differences if any are small. You get similar results as far as I can tell (using different B&W film types Doh !!).

Below a series of shots taken of same subject. The VUWS HP5+ are much grainier as you’d expect and the XP2 in the Reto has just that bit more latitude

All these images and more can be found here if you want to look at full sized ones

Carlisle 2022. Reto on left VUWS Right. Drag to compare
Carlisle 2022. Reto on left VUWS Right. Drag to compare
Glencaple 2022. Reto on left VUWS Right. Drag to compare
Glencaple 2022. Reto on left VUWS Right. Drag to compare
Carlisle 2022. Reto on left VUWS Right. Drag to compare

Optically both are pretty sharp centrally. They do fall off to the edges and there is a smidge of vignette (more obvious on colour shots.

Given the focal length and simplicity you actually get only a smidge of radial distortion. And whilst there are some chromatic aberrations, they add to the look.

The focus is pretty good from from the recommend close 1.5m to distance centrally. Below a meter things suffer.

The cameras occasionally fling of soft unfocused shots which I put down to shake with a 1/125shutter speed. They both flare although I would agree with Jame Cockcroft that the new one has more noticable flare. I suspect that is down to variability more than any lens changes. You’ll either love or hate it.

Flare Saver. Reto UWS 2022
Flare on the Reto (expired Truprint FG+ 200). Dumfries 2022. Click on image for full sized.

Reto UWS Cost and rivals

Buying the camera direct from Reto costs $29.99USD but postage can be hefty. Luckily plenty of resellers exist from eBay, Etsy to major film suppliers such as Analogue wonderland (UK) & B&H (US).

It’s obvious rivals are it’s mother the VUWS on eBay (last few sold between £15-31.50GBP before postage) and the Jelly Lens version. That is being sold for $28USD with free UK shipping although I suspect you run the gauntlet of possible import charges. And it’s only available in white.

Dubblefilm Show
Dubblefilm Show

Reto are entering a quite popular market and are keenly priced against the Dubblefilm Show clones and the Lensfayre Snap LF-35M. these come with Flashes but lack that iconic ultra wide lens. The same is true of the reloadable disposable class of cameras. Of course if budget is a limit there a host of plastic fantastic basic cameras to try as alternatives. This site maybe lists one or 2 … I’d highlight the Halina 1000 (retro cool look with adjustable aperture and a hotshoe) or the more minor cult classic the Halina Panorama. But both don’t optically compare.

Moving up the obvious link is to the LC-A and the new LC-A+ family but these are proper cameras with a Lomography vibe

Reto UWS with Ultramax 400. Dumfries 2022. Click on image for full size

Final Thoughts on the Reto UWS

Tl:dr “The King is dead long live the king

The VUWS is back in slightly more colourful form with nigh on identical performance. One of the best plastic fantastic cameras ever made is back and not sticky this time.

It is just a joy of a simple camera. It’s so small you can chuck in your bag with your F6 or EOS R and not know it’s there. granted it’s a fair weather friend but it produces images that belie it’s cheap plastic shell. It just works and for the price of a 3 pack of 400CN lomography film it’s not to pricey. The best lens in the class by some margin and that lens brings something magical. It is one of the few cameras to try even if you have no interest in Lo-Fi working.

Granted it will probably die at some point but none of it’s rivals are likely to last heavy usage either. It just isn’t quite as stylish as the original but better looking (and not sticky) than the Superheadz.

Still can’t work out if it’s the Reto UWS or RUWS.

Get one. It will put a smile on your face.


Other reviews/sources

I’m a bit late to the game. James Cockcroft as I mentioned did what I did a proper head to head of these two. Toby Van de Velde did a mini take over on Emusive. Jim Grey of Down the Road fame, took his out with expired Ferrania film . And Random Photo blog also covered this. They’re all pretty positive but have different takes.

4 thoughts on “Old Meets New: The original VUWS and the Reto UWS”

  1. Lomo Sardina is also a very wide angle. For an SLR a film model that takes a 4/3 lens, Pentax MZ series takes 18 – 55 with interesting results.

  2. I got some astonishingly good results with my Superheads UWS a few years back. If only I could remember where I put it?
    (and all my other plastic lomography-esque jobbies)

    I just looked at the Reto on the auction site – some serious price gouging going on there. I could(have) buy a couple of decent mirrorless bodies for some of the prices I’ve seen.

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