Minolta-35 Buying Experience: A Dud, a Head Fake, and a Gem

I’ve just had a complete eBay buying experience. It began with an effort to buy a Minolta-35 rangefinder—Minolta’s Leica-inspired rangefinder. The Minolta-35 was manufactured from 1947 until 1959 and proved to be a capable Leica competitor during its run. Eight models were produced—models A-F, II, and IIB. While the Minolta-35 is an excellent camera, it’s known to have shutter issues. Often, the shutter no longer works or the curtain has deteriorated, so finding a fully working model can be difficult. Minolta offered standard 45mm and 50mm lenses for the Minolta-35, but many of those lenses seem to have been consigned to collectors’ shelves, meaning that many cameras are sold without lenses. Naturally, I decided to throw caution to the wind, jump into the market, and buy one.

For the last few years, I had only briefly glanced at Minolta-35s because they approach Leica prices and those that work were almost exclusively in Japan. Camera bodies without lenses sell for 200.00 or more, most of which are sold “as-is” for parts. I don’t have this kind of cash to spend on a “for parts, not working” camera. Working camera bodies with Minolta lenses easily sell for 4-500.00. Those prices kept me away from the Minolta-35. However, I have been blessed to shoot nearly every major Minolta film camera, and the Minolta-35 started calling my name.

Being a cheapskate and wanting a working camera, I started searching eBay, hoping for a bargain, and that is where my adventure began. Knowing the shutter problems these cameras have, I closely questioned each seller. Only three sellers gave me assurances that their Minolta-35 worked. I asked each seller whether they would accept a return if my testing proved otherwise, and all said yes.

The first arrival was a Minolta-35, Model F (a rare model, as are most alphabet models). When the camera arrived, the shutter would only fire sporadically, and even then, the second shutter curtain would not close–a total dud. No way he ever tried firing the shutter. The good news is it came with a lens (45mm f2.8), which initially seemed full of fungus. When I contacted the seller to return the camera, he offered a partial refund. The refund was generous, and since I had planned to send the lens away for cleaning, I accepted. These lenses are expensive (300.00 or more in good condition). A few days later, on closer inspection, I discovered the lens was clean, so I had a lens but no working  camera.

The next seller offered a Model II without a lens, insisting the shutter worked. Well, the shutter worked only at speeds from 1/8 to 1/50 of a second. Faster, and the second shutter curtain would not close—two duds. I had no use for a second dud body. While testing the camera, I had fired the shutter maybe 50 times or more. Then, satisfied it did not work, I put it back in the box. The next day, when I got ready to start the return, I opened the camera’s back to take a picture of the faulty shutter curtain—the camera worked better. Only the 1/500 speed still resulted in a stuck second shutter curtain.

I contacted the seller, telling him that the shutter was erratic, and I would test with film the following week, then start a return if the faster speeds were still unreliable. He offered to refund 1/2 of the money to avoid a return. By that time, I had contacted a few repair shops, and a CLA was in the 175.00+ range. Buying a working Minolta-35 with a lens would cost more than I would have paid for the CLA, so I accepted a second partial refund.

Model II, 1/1500

A week later, I decided to shoot 12 frames with the Model II so that I could give an accurate description of the problem to the repair shop. Using my hand-held meter, I selected three scenes that required 1/100, 1/200, and 1/500 speeds for correct exposure. Each frame came out fine! My story should end here, except during the time before accepting the partial refund on the Model II and testing it with film, I panicked and jumped at a nearly 40% off offer for a Model IIB. I know, I know…but US listings for working Minolta-35s are rare, and failing to act when a listing appears could result in having to wait months, if not longer, for the next listing. This IIB was the only remaining listing for working models in the US.

IIB test shot, metered for highlights.

The Model IIB, the last version of the Minolta-35, has significant changes from earlier models and, having been made in limited quantities, is somewhat rare. Getting a working copy is a major find! The seller insisted that the camera worked perfectly. Keep in mind, at the time, I had already put the Model II back in the box to return it, so I planned to return the Model II and then use that money to cover the cost of the Model IIB. But, while the IIB was in transit, I accepted the partial refund for the Model II–hedging my bets if the IIB was a dud. Why??? The Model II only needed a CLA, and if the IIB required a repair (250-375.00), I would be better off paying for a CLA than a repair—not an unreasonable hedge. If the IIB was a bust, I could return it and stick with the Model II.

When the IIB arrived, it was in beautiful condition, as if it was barely used. Carefully, I tested every shutter speed on the IIB—all seemed to work fine. After a few more days, I loaded a roll of film and fired away. All frames came out nicely!

So now I have three Minolta-35 cameras. One is a dud, one is erratic, and one works fine. Because of the refunds and offers, my working combo of Minolta-35 Model IIB and 45mm f2.8 lens still costs much less than if I had bought a nearly pristine IIB with the lens straight up from Japan. It is definitely a keeper combo.

The Model F is somewhat rare, and the refund made the lens a considerable bargain, so it can stay for now. The Model II, I’ll sell. It needs a CLA, and for someone who wants to try Minolta’s Leica-inspired camera, the cost of a CLA plus my budget-friendly selling price should not be too much.

For me, the Minolta-35 is the final chapter in the VMLP (I’m done buying, but many more user experiences are on the way). I never thought I would own one, and now I own a rare-ish one that works perfectly! Not bad!


    1. Author

      Perhaps I could have stated this better. I’m done buying gear for the VMLP because there are no more significant items to track down. Now, I will shift to writing about my collection. As best I can tell, about 45 user experience reports are still to be completed.

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