But what is Minolta? For those of you who’s never heard of Minolta, it was one of the great camera companies which merged its imaging division with Konica (forming Konica-Minolta) in 2003. In 2006, Konica-Minolta was acquired by… Sony.
How great was Minolta in its heyday? The Minolta XD-7 made photographic history by giving us PASM. The Minolta 7000F was the first camera to integrate autofocus in the body (instead of in the lens). Minolta also used a new lens mount system, the A (Alpha) mount.
It was the same A-mount Sony used for its first DSLR, the Sony Alpha A100, giving it instantly a whole lineup of Minolta Alpha lenses ready to use. That’s how Sony started designing and building cameras and, with improvement and evolution to the E-mount and mirrorless, Sony proved that an electronics company could gain a foothold into the camera industry and then conquer it. Without Minolta’s vast camera and lens design and know-how, Sony would probably not be where it is today.
‘Nuff said. Now, let’s go back to our original programming.
Minolta SR-T 101
The Minolta SR-T 101 is a classic film SLR camera and is the most successful SLR model at the time. It competes with the Nikon F at a much more affordable price. I love the proportion of the camera, the slightly odd pentaprism, the dimunitive film advance lever, and the Diaphragm Stop-Down Button at the base of the lens mount.
Minolta Pocket Autopak 50
The Minolta Pocket Autopak 50 uses a 110 16mm drop-in film cartridge that makes loading and unloading a camera with film child’s play. It is small enough to carry in a pocket of purse. It also has a bright and large viewfinder. I like the simplicity and clean design of the Minolta Pocket Autopak 50. The green shutter release button adds an element of fun to the design.
The 110 film was introduced by Kodak in 1972 together with the Kodak Pocket Instamatic 100 camera. The latter was hugely popular and more than 50 million of Instamatics were produced. The shape of the 110 cameras followed the shape of the film cartridge: a long rectangular box. Some are made of metal body, and some look like a spy camera.
Almost every camera manufacturer of the day (Nikon and Leica being two major exceptions) made 110 film cameras: Kodak, Agfa, Canon, Chinon, Cosina, Fuji, Hanimex, Mamiya, Minox, National (Panasonic), Pentax, Petri, Rollei, Vivitar, Voigtländer, and Minolta. Pentax and Minolta even made a SLR version. Quick, how many camera companies did you recognize? Only 3 of the 16 I mentioned (and there are more) survive to this day still designing and making cameras: Canon, Fuji (rebranded as Fujifilm) and National (rebranded as Panasonic).
Interestingly enough, the 110 film (13 x 17mm) is almost the same size as the Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) sensor (13 x 17.4mm), which begs the question, Ïsn’t it time for OM System to design a compact camera in this form factor using the MFT sensor? With a number of mirrors, it could even add a fixed zoom lens. If not OM System, then perhaps Sony (using a 1-in. 13.2 x 8.8mm sensor)?
Leitz Minolta CL
Believe it or not, but Leica was not able to compete against the SLR cameras that photographers were preferring over its rangefinder cameras. Leica tried to compete with its own SLRs, but was not finding much success. It then decided to collaborate with Minolta (one of the many camera manufacturers it would form a close partnership with down through the years) and they together designed two models: the Leitz Minolta CL, pictured above, and the Minolta XE pictured below. Those two cameras were instant successes and set Leica firmly back on track.
The Leitz Minolta CL looks very much the type of luxury-looking camera that Leica would design. It’s classic beautiful Leica design. (Later, Leica would rebrand Panasonic digital cameras and give them its own distinctive classic Leica look.)
As mentioned above, the Minolta XE (silver XE-1 in Europe, black XE-7 in North America) was designed in collaboration with Leica. Leica would then license the XE and bring it out under the Leica brand as the Leica R3.
The pentaprism of the Minolta XE-1 reminds me of the Nikon F2 Photomic finder. Here, the little window is the Scale Illumination Window, and it allows light in to display the shutter speed in the viewfinder. Another window under the finder looks down onto the aperture ring of the lens and displays the aperture in the viewfinder. The Minolta XE-1 is just a beautiful camera and probably my all-time favourite camera design.
That’s it! What are your favorite Minolta retro film camera designs?