N. K. Hurst Co. Reto Ultra Wide and Slim Fujicolor 200 2022
On the southeast edge of Downtown Indianapolis, in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium, stands the original home office of N. K. Hurst Company. You might know Hurst best for their 15-bean HamBeens soup kit. If it’s not available in your local grocery store, you can buy it and all of their other products at their Shopify site.
Hurst’s home office actually isn’t in this building anymore. They moved it to an industrial park on the east side of Zionsville, a suburb northwest of Indianapolis where I live. I drive by it on the way to Aldi, which does not carry HamBeens products.
I remember there being quite a kerfluffle when the land was purchased to build Lucas Oil Stadium. The N. K. Hurst Co. was on the south edge of the overall site. The authority that built the stadium wanted the land to complete a huge parking lot, but N. K. Hurst Co. did not want to give way. I’m sure billable legal hours ensued, but an agreement was reached that saved the building. After all that, a few years later N. K. Hurst. Co. moved its headquarters to Zionsville. The building is now used as an event space called The Heirloom, despite still bearing its N. K. Hurst Co. branding.
I made this photo with the tiny Reto Ultra Wide and Slim. The building’s corner has a slightly upturned look in real life, but something about the camera’s lens or how the film happened to be laying strongly exaggerated the effect.
A Chinese company called Sunpet has had this little 35mm point-and-shoot camera in its catalog for more than 25 years now. Several companies have slapped their names on it and sold it. The best-known company is Vivitar, who may have been the first to sell it back in the mid-late 1990s. So branded, it became a well-loved, almost cult classic. That’s certainly why so many other companies have sold this camera — they’re trying to cash in. Most recently, the Reto Project in Hong Kong has reissued this camera as the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim.
Reto’s release of this camera created quite a buzz in 2022, especially given its $29 list price. That’s barely more than the cost of one roll of film and processing these days. I’m not normally one to jump on bandwagons, but I bought one of these the moment I could. Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy does terrific work with his Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (see some of it here), and I wanted a piece of that action.
But I’ve buried the lede. What sets this inexpensive, fixed-focus, plastic camera apart is its extremely wide lens: 22mm at f/11. It’s set in a 1/125 second single-blade leaf shutter. The lens has a surprisingly sophisticated design, given this camera’s price, with one acrylic element in front of the shutter and another behind it. Also, baffles inside the camera’s film door forces the film to curve. This combination results in remarkably low-distortion images. The lens delivers some softness and vignetting in the corners, however.
At 3 7/8″ x 2 1/4″ x 1″, the Ultra Wide and Slim is about the same size as the tiny Olympus XA. But the XA is a heavyweight compared to the feather-light Ultra Wide and Slim. This all-plastic, all-mechanical camera weighs just 2½ ounces!
The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is available in five colors: charcoal, cream, pastel pink, muddy yellow, and murky blue. I went with the murky blue.
I’ve shot a number of point-and-shoot cameras over the years. Check out my reviews of the Canon Snappy 50 (here) and Snappy S (here), the Kodak VR35 K40 (here) and K12 (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), and the Olympus Stylus (here) and Trip 500 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
My first roll of film in the Ultra Wide and Slim was some expired ISO 200 Ferrania color negative stock with Kroger branding that I picked up cheap. The images showed the grain and color shifts consistent with expired film. But just look at how much of the scene the Ultra Wide and Slim captured!
Here’s a look down Main Street in Zionsville. It took me a couple of rolls to start to get the hang of this wide lens, and avoid having so much uninteresting foreground in my images.
Just look at how straight all the lines are in this straight-on shot.
I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 400. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen HP5 Plus or Tri-X for the huge exposure latitude they offer. Several of the images I made on this film were badly misexposed.
The winder is the cheapest-feeling aspect of this camera. It makes quite a ratchety noise when you use it. On this roll of film I felt it tearing sprocket holes as it wound the first five or so frames.
The film counter is hard to read. It’s not just that the numbers are small and my eyes are more than 50 years old. The plastic magnifying bubble over the numbers does more to distort those numbers than to magnify them. That bubble also reflects light, which further obscures the numbers. Finally, the numbers are printed in a faint red.
My next roll was some fresh Fujicolor 200. Some say that this camera can struggle to wind toward the end of a 36-exposure roll. I did not find that to be the case at all with this 36-exposure roll, or the 36-exposure roll of Fomapan that I shot.
The Ultra Wide and Slim’s viewfinder isn’t accurate — when I framed this yellow Pontiac, the cars on either side of it were barely in the frame. But then, hardly any point-and-shoot viewfinder is accurate. I don’t know why I expect better after all these years. The viewfinder also has a fisheye effect that the lens itself does not.
This simple image does a great job of showing how sharp this acrylic lens is. Reto recommends using ISO 100 or 200 film on sunny days, and ISO 400 film on cloudy days, to accommodate the camera’s fixed exposure.
Despite the lens’s ultra-wide angle, I still had to tilt the camera to bring some subjects fully into the frame. However, I don’t think I could have managed this image with the 35mm lenses that are common to point-and-shoot cameras. I would have hit the building behind me before I backed up enough.
I had trouble rewinding the first two rolls I shot in this camera. I thought I heard and felt the film leader pass into the cartridge, but when I opened the camera I found a little film was still wound on the takeup spool. A few frames on each roll were ruined because of this. On my third roll, I discovered that the rewind crank had wiggled down a little bit. I pushed it all the way up before I rewound. This time upon rewinding I heard the same steady clicking noise as when I wound the film. When the film came off the takeup spool and was fully in the film canister, the clicking stopped. Aha! So if you rewind this camera but don’t hear that clicking, press the crank/spool firmly back up into the camera.
I am deliberately not showing you the many images I made that featured one or more of my fingers. The lens is so wide that if your fingers are on the front of the camera at all, you are likely to see them in your image. By my third roll I had built a habit of holding the camera only around the edges, to eliminate all chance of getting my finger in the lens.
The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is a blast to use, especially after you learn how to work around its quirks. It’s the kind of camera you want to keep loaded at all times, and slip into your pocket wherever you go. On a full-sun or cloudy-bright day, load this camera with your favorite everyday color film and be ready for some fun shooting.
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I spooled a 36-exposure roll of Fomapan 400 into the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim and took it with me everywhere I went for a couple weeks.
I get mixed results from Fomapan 400. It’s a real hit-or-miss film for me. This roll missed bigtime, delivering results that were both faint and muddy. I had to do considerable Photoshopping to breathe life into these images.
On this roll I made a lot of photos in portrait orientation — and in all but one portrait image, I got my finger in the frame. I was able to crop it out in most cases. I was very careful to keep my fingers away from the lens, so I’m puzzled and frustrated. But I’ll keep trying with this camera, because it’s surprisingly fun to use.
We had an unseasonably warm and sunny day here recently, so I loaded some film into my new Reto Ultra Wide and Slim and took it on a lunchtime photo walk.
This small, light, all-plastic camera has good structural rigidity — it doesn’t bend or flex in the hand, and under use it makes no squeaking or creaking noises. I can’t say that for some other more advanced and expensive point-and-shoot cameras I’ve owned.
The shutter button feels sure. The winder feels thin and cheap, however.
The general experience of the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is similar to a single-use camera.
I wanted to shoot ISO 400 color film in this camera, but I was out. I have heard that 36-exposure rolls can jam up, at least in the original Vivitar version of this camera. So I turned to some 24-exposure Kroger-branded ISO 200 color film I recently bought. It’s expired Ferrania stock. It was supposed to have been stored properly, but the images I got back all showed the hallmarks of expired film.
Images from the Reto show some vignetting and softness in the corners, kind of like an old box Brownie. Otherwise, the lens gives good sharpness.
I find it remarkable that the lens displays little to no distortion. I’d love to know how they got what’s probably a single-element plastic lens to do that.
The viewfinder isn’t perfectly accurate. When I framed the photo below, the alley on the right wasn’t so much in the frame. This is normally a pet peeve of mine, and something that causes me to pass on a camera. But the inaccuracy isn’t terrible on this camera. I want to keep experimenting with the Reto. Perhaps I’ll learn how to compensate for its inaccurate viewfinder.
This expired Kroger film didn’t show much exposure latitude. A few photos were so underexposed as to be useless. This one shows classic signs of underexposure — on this full-sun day, I shot a subject in the shade.
I very much enjoy how much context my photos from around Zionsville all have in the Reto’s lens.
None of these photos is going to win a prize. But I can tell that I’ve yet to find my groove with this camera. I have some Fomapan 400 in it now, and will keep shooting it for a while. A full review will come later, perhaps in the spring or summer.
Roberts Camera, the camera store in my town, received a batch and priced them at $29. It was easy to say yes at that price.
I’m surprised by how small and light this camera is. At 3 7/8″ x 2 1/4″ x 1″ and 2 1/2 ounces, it is easily the smallest and lightest 35mm camera I own.
It also joins a small, select group of film cameras I’ve owned from new, which includes the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 I reviewed last year, and a couple snapshot cameras I owned as a kid.
I chose the “murky blue” body color. The all-plastic body has a very slight texture to it. A previous Ultra Wide and Slim clone by Superheadz had a rubberized body. I’m under the impression that the original Vivitar’s body was smooth plastic.
The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim features a 22mm lens (hence, “Ultra Wide”). It’s barely thicker than a 35mm film cartridge (hence, “Slim”). If it is an exact clone of the Vivitar camera, its lens is f/11 and its shutter is a fixed 1/125 second. There’s no meter and there’s no flash, so this camera calls for fast film (such as ISO 400) with wide exposure latitude.
Conventional wisdom with the Vivitar version is to stick with 24-exposure rolls of film, as that camera jams on 36-exposure rolls. I’ll assume the same is true of this clone. 24-exposure rolls of color film are becoming hard to find as manufacturers are shifting production entirely to 36-exposure rolls. I have some 24-exposure rolls of ISO 200 color film on hand so that’s what I used. I wish I hadn’t used up the last of my 24-exposure Kodak Ultramax 400 recently.
Loading film into this all-plastic camera highlighted how flimsy it is. It was a little challenging to fit the film cartridge over the film rewind prong as the space for the film cartridge is snug. The winder feels plasticky and turns roughly, with a loud click when it locks the frame.
I’m sure I’ll be able to shoot the roll in this camera quickly, as I’ll easily be able to bring it with me everywhere I go. Look for a review here soon.
The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim was so influential that it has now been remade at least twice.
This camera, which the cognoscenti call the VUWS, is an all-plastic 35mm fixed-focus point-and-shoot camera. It’s the kind that, when new, you found packaged in a blister pack and hanging on a hook in the photo aisle at Walmart.
Two things set it apart. First, it was barely thicker than the 35mm film cartridges that it took. Second, and far more important, its 22mm f/11 lens delivered surprisingly wonderful results. There was a little vignetting and softness in the corners, but everything else was tack sharp.
Photoblogger Mike Connealy (check out his site here) gives his VUWS frequent exercise and regularly shares incredibly pleasing images like these:
If you’d like to see more from Mike’s VUWS, this link will show you everything he’s published from this camera.
The VUWS has achieved cult status and prices reflect it. This camera probably cost under 20 bucks when it was new, but you can’t touch one for under $50 today on eBay, and prices are much more typically $60 to $75.
A company called Powershovel was first to remake the VUWS as the Superheadz Wide and Slim. Reviews around the Internet (like this one) say its lens is almost as good as Vivitar’s, but its rubberized body becomes tacky in time. The Vivitar’s body is non-rubberized plastic and remains smooth under use.
A toy camera company called Reto is in pre-production with another VUWS clone. You can pre-order one right now (here) for just 30 bucks.
Like the original, it packs a two-element 22mm f/11 acrylic lens set in a 1/125 sec. single-blade mechanical leaf shutter.
If you don’t like it in blue, you can also get it in charcoal, cream, pink, or yellow.
Unfortunately, shipping to the US is a whopping $25, making this camera not that great of a bargain. Patient and persistent eBaying will net you an original VUWS for not much more.
I’ve been impressed enough with Mike Connealy’s VUWS work that I’ve considered buying one, or a clone, for myself.
I think I’ll wait for a good price on an original. There’s not much to go wrong with these, and I’m sure to get original VUWS goodness rather than roll the dice that a clone is exact enough to capture the full magic.