I did not expect much from the Minolta A. I bought it because, having decided to try Minolta rangefinders, I figured why not start with the first member of the modern 35mm fixed-lens line. The Minolta A is the oldest child in the family of cameras that ended in the 1960s with the Minolta AL-F. In between, there were plenty of models as Minolta experimented with different apertures, shutter speeds, and two interchangeable lens models, the A2-LT and the Minolta Super A. There is a third rumored model, the Minolta Sky, but the Sky models seem to belong to Nessie, Big Foot, and the Abominable Snowman.
Unlike the VMLP, for which I sought out every major SLR released by Minolta, with rangefinders my goal has been much less ambitious. Where feasible, I decided to try each line’s first, last, or most significant model. “Feasible” is the guiding principle because the Minolta Model 35, The A2-LT, and Super A are collectibles that often cost a few hundred dollars or more. The remaining models can be challenging to find in working condition, and I only want cameras that work. With cost and availability as constraints, I immediately excluded the Model 35 (cost), the A2-LT (cost and availability), and the V2 and V3 models (cost and availability).
Scans of eBay and Etsy turned up enough copies of the A-line and Hi-Matics to wade through, so it was worthwhile looking for working copies. Thus far, I have acquired the Minolta A (first), Super A (interchangeable lenses), and Hi-Matic 7sII (considered the best Hi-Matic).
As one might expect, the first copy of the Minolta A I got from eBay was stated to work fine but didn’t. After asking many sellers if they had a working model, I finally got a believable answer. Surprisingly, when it arrived, it actually did work! Looking at eBay since that time, I see that my working copy remains unusual. I have seen 100.00 listings in which the seller admits that not all shutter speeds work (I did not pay anywhere near that amount—patience and asking questions helps).
Historical Perspective & Technical Specs
There is very little lore associated with the Minolta A. It seems to have been a practical model for the everyday user—a camera aimed at the average family. Since acquiring my copy, I have seen only one review of the camera (Mike Eckman, who has done a tremendous job). According to Camerapedia, the Minolta A was launched in 1955, and by 1956, three versions had been made. I have the second variation with the 45mm f3.5 Rokkor lens and an Optiper MX shutter.
Inspection and Appearance
When buying old cameras, especially 67-year-old models, one has no idea what to expect. The seller’s images may look good, but who knows? On opening the package, I was shocked to see such a well-preserved camera–even the leather case was in good condition. The usual marks and scratches one expects to see were absent, and the metal was not marred. The lens was clean with a small amount of dust, and the shutter blades showed no signs of oil.
I was surprised when the back of the camera came off but later learned that was by design. The interior was clean; not even any noticeable dust was present.
The top of the camera shows the usual controls. The shutter speed dial is toward the front of the camera, which according to Mike Eckman, is a result of the shutter facing backward! The shutter speed dial moved smoothly. Shutter speeds are B, 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 300. Film advance and shutter release operated as expected. I was surprised that even the slow speeds worked.
Oddly, the film counter is on the bottom of the camera and has to be set manually. Aperture controls are at the very front of the lens assembly and click into place for f3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, and 22. The aperture control moved freely. Focusing is done using a coupled rangefinder without parallax correction, and the minimum focus distance is 2.7 feet. A cold shoe is present, and M and X flash modes are supported.
Overall, the camera was in very good to excellent condition, especially considering its age.
Function and Handling
Weight-wise, the Minolta A feels solid but not heavy. Using the Minolta A without the case was unwieldy, especially after handling SLRs. The camera is wider in the middle than the edges and reminds me of holding an overstuffed sandwich. Usually, I shoot without using a camera case, but that did not feel safe with this camera. Later, I noticed there were no places to attach a camera strap, so a case is almost required.
Looking through the viewfinder, I found an issue—the rangefinder was not properly aligned vertically. Using the misaligned rangefinder at times felt like having double vision. My first reaction was to return the camera, but having spent a while looking for a working model, I decided to shoot with it first. I shot a 12-exposure roll of UFX 400 and used DF96 to develop. The first shots were done quickly using subjects that would tell me whether I could focus reasonably well with a less-than-accurate rangefinder. The images were fine. You can see one here.
Loading film was quick. I forgot to set the film counter, so I had no idea when I reached the first frame. Since I was using a 36-exposure roll of Lomo 100 and wanted to use the last 12-15 frames in another camera, that slip-up caused a little anxiety. I guessed the start of the first frame, set the counter, and kept going. In the end, it didn’t matter. I got 20 frames with the Minolta A and 12 with my SR-T SC II.
Using a camera with old shutter speeds of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 100, and 300 was jarring. My metering app was set up for modern shutter speeds, so the readings never matched the camera’s. Since it was a sunny day with intermittent clouds, I soon decided that fussing with the app was too much trouble. If the sun was out, I shot at 1/300; if it went behind a cloud, I used 1/100. Film is forgiving.
The added thickness of the case made holding the camera less cumbersome and having the neck strap made me worry less about dropping it, so I’m glad I used the case.
The viewfinder is small but sufficient, and it was less difficult than I expected to see the patch and deal with the vertical misalignment. However, I found in many instances that I was shooting at infinity, making the rangefinder less of an issue. The camera manual suggested setting the aperture at f11 and the distance at 15ft for carefree shooting, and after looking at the app readings, f11 was appropriate 80% of the time. On realizing that, I just shot and relied on the film’s exposure latitude.
I did sharpness shots using a light box at f3.5 and f8. Then later, I did a few interior pictures where light permitted. I expected problems with flare, but the lens performed well. Images taken from 3 feet away show some distortion when shot from an angle. Shots taken with the camera parallel to the plane of the subject look fine at close range, as can be seen with the sharpness shots.
The Atlanta Beltline is a pedestrian walkway that circumnavigates the city. The Beltline is usually busy but not crowded and has a neighborhood ambiance. I forgot I was using a rangefinder, so my finger covers the bottom of the first Beltline frame.
From where we were, one could see the midtown skyscrapers above Atlanta’s many trees. Being unsure about focusing accuracy, I took pictures of things close by (flowers, sign, bench) and of the things far away (Atlanta Midtown building tops).
The Beltline passes over Ponce De Leon Avenue near the historic Sears Roebuck retail and warehouse distribution center built in 1925. Sears closed the center in 1989. The city purchased it and used it as a satellite of the central city offices, dubbed City Hall East. In 2010, the city sold it to developers who turned it into Ponce City market, a hugely popular retail, office, and dining spot. I wanted to get a decent shot of Ponce City Market from the section of the Beltline above the street, but I forgot that mesh blocked the area directly above Ponce De Leon Avenue. As a result, there is a shot through the mesh and a couple over the bushes that grow along the Beltline.
Despite the rangefinder issue, the only real misfocus occurred with the yellow flowers. They were shaded, and it was difficult to find a spot I could see well enough to focus on and still get the desired composition. Overall, it was a pleasant first outing with the Minolta A.
Although my initial test with the UFX proved I could focus the Minolta A, I was worried about taking the camera out in the wild to shoot. I should not have been concerned. Between Sunny 16 and shooting at infinity, I only had to use the rangefinder a few times. Even then, I was able to hit the focus except for the flowers. Aside from that and my finger photobombing a frame, the shooting experience was fine. This was my first time using Lomography 100. I will have to try a few more rolls before deciding whether to buy more.
As a curiosity, the Minolta A is fun. The top shutter speed of 1/300 is limiting for certain types of shots. But used as intended to take family photos and around-town pictures, it’s fine. The next time I take it out for a stroll, I will load 200 or 400 ISO film and do as the camera manual suggests and set the aperture at f11 and the distance at 15 feet. With the shutter at 1/300, I should be able to fire away.
I ran the first roll through the Minolta A to see if the camera worked as promised. The second roll let me know I could take an unmetered camera with a max shutter speed of 1/300 into real-world shooting situations and get useful images. Having passed those tests, the Minolta A is a keeper—it grows on you.
Shooting experience aside, I am shocked that a 67-year-old rangefinder bought from a random eBay seller works and looks great. If I can find a shop on the repair list that will take a chance on a backward shutter, I will send it in for a CLA. It has another 67 years in it—at least.