Minox 35 GT-E
Scale Focus

Minox 35 GT-E Review – Scale Focusing a Pocket Camera – By Anton Yakovlev

February 2, 2021

I want to tell you about one of my most beloved cameras. So small, so delicate, so powerful. My precious Minox 35 GT-E. This might sound like a clichéd addict introduction to a support group in American movie – but I suppose that’s what it is. I started with just a couple of film cameras I now have twenty of them. And I can’t stop, as they are all different, all offer different capabilities and provide different ways to have fun! And they all look cool as well. Addiction indeed…

Why?

In my “digital days” speed and precision of autofocus were the main ways to measure camera and lens quality. As I dived deeper into this hobby, I found out that “sharpness” and “bokeh” are not equal to “beauty”. Then I slowly switched to old manual lenses on my digital cameras, as I liked the resulting images much more.

At first I was terrified of losing autofocus. But then I realized that for my subjects it was not that important. Old good tricks like focus traps or focusing with camera movement, work just as fine – just as they did half a century ago. Then there was the next step. I switched to film completely and it felt so good that I’ve never looked back – you can read my previous article about my conversion to film here.

For a long time after conversion to film I still believed that shallow DoF and precise focusing were critical. But one day I browsed my photos, looked at the subjects and compositions. And I felt that this limitation may also be an illusion, just like the others.

Half of my photos were at infinity. No need for focusing at all.

25% were focused with such focal length and distance combination where precision is not required. I could focus half a meter closer or further and my subject would still be in focus.

20% more required some precision but that could easily be avoided by stopping down. And the picture, despite of loss of some separation/bokeh, would actually look better.

Only 5% of the photographs I take actually require the feature I thought was most important. 1 out of 20. Two per roll. Close-ups or indoor portraits. Well, I have some cameras and lenses chosen specifically for portraiture and macro. Why not to find a camera for the rest of my photography now?

Typical Subject

What?

So what camera do I need? What features should It have? First of all it must be portable. I missed plenty of shots when I didn’t have my camera with me. And about as much opportunities were lost when I thought it would take too long to take my camera out of bag and set it up. So it must be not just portable, but pocketable.

The second thing is related to the first. It is strange to hear from me, but I must say it. It must include some form of auto exposure. Manual metering is not hard at all, and it is much more precise than any automatic system, including modern ones. But it takes time. I need that precision much less often than I need to make the shot quickly.

The camera must not be too expensive either, as everyday usage is everyday risk. And it should be pretty hard wearing too.

So, pocketable and relatively inexpensive camera with auto exposure. And, for the first time ever, scale focus is a viable option for me.

Autoexposure works fine

Alternatives?

There are plenty of contenders checking all the boxes.

Should I go back to digital? Something like Micro 4/3 or even Nikon 1 come to mind. Or maybe a good smartphone camera, like the latest Huawei or Apple?

No, never. First of all I actually believe that aesthetics of film images cannot be reproduced or even reliably emulated by digital sensors and RAW processing. And it takes longer to tune RAW than to scan a negative.

“Computational photography” of smartphones is even less attractive. Their Artificial Idiot always produces the results it wants, not those I want. And when I disable all the bells and whistles, I am back at square one: tiny sensor, infinite DoF, etc. No, I want a real camera, not three holes drilled through a boot sole.

Half-frame? Well, that was a tempting idea. Olympus Pen or soviet-era Chayka are fine cameras. But I love high resolution and film with fine grain is so expensive nowadays… I might try half-frames one day, but now I want a full size 135 format camera.

Small autofocus compacts, like Olympus Mju? Big No. Those ancient autofocus systems miss all the time, aiming at infinity when target is close and vise versa. I have no idea why and I don’t really care. And you can’t see that until you scan the roll. Even scale focusing is more precise.

This left me with two main options: The Rollei 35 and Minox 35. The Minox is cheaper and easier to obtain, so it was my obvious first choice.

Film Look: Silberra Color 50

Is the Minox 35 GT-E good?

Oh yes it is. The Minox 35 GT-E lens is sharp from f/5.6 to f/8. Very sharp. It clearly out-resolves most of the consumer-grade monochrome film and all the cheap color film. It is only slightly softer at f/2.8-4, so you can use it in low light situations with ISO400 film with no issue.

Under the very bright light you may close down to f/11, but loss of sharpness is more obvious there. Try to avoid f/16 at all costs.

Auto Exposure works like a charm, even with scenes of high contrast. It fails where all they do: in low or bright uniform light. But you can’t do anything about that.

The 35mm focal length is very comfortable, viewfinder is big and bright.

My favorite film to use with the Minox 35 GT-E is Ilford Delta 100, as it has just enough resolution and still has plenty of character, unlike finer-grade films. And is not prohibitively expensive.

Sharpness is here!

Sharpness all the way!

And plenty of detail!

Is it bad?

What’s bad about the Minox 35 GT-E? Nothing really. Just avoid pressing too hard on the back of the camera. It’s plastic, so it bends easily. You won’t break it, but you can actually bend a pressure plate on the inside. I’ve seen quite a few complaints of soft images from Minox cameras, and I’d bet most of them were because of bent pressure plates. In most cases I could repair them by bending them back against a hard surface.

Shutters and diaphragms are also said to be prone to damage, but I think that claim is exaggerated. Just avoid ML model. It has P-mode, so its shutter is more complicated, as it doubles as a diaphragm in this mode. And it has a normal diaphragm too, for aperture-priority, so the risk is twice as high as with any other Minox.

Soft spot in the middle

Tips and tricks

I’ve tried quite a few ways to measure distance to a subject. The most straightforward is a dedicated rangefinder. Russian ‘Blik’ is easy enough to use, tiny and costs next to nothing. Try it.

Another option is to train your eyesight. The human brain is surprisingly good at this, you can do it instinctively. Try the following: measure distance in your own heights, or any other real units well known to you. I measure in umbrellas, for example.

Portrait

Verdict

Try a Minox 35 GT-E, or at very least try scale focusing, if you haven’t already. It’s not as scary as it seems.

And if you want to see more of my work, with this camera or some other, welcome to my Instagram.

See you there!

– Anton

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Gabriele
    February 2, 2021 at 11:59 am

    Same approach here: I follow the lens in my decisions and I can completely relate to what you wrote here.
    I own a Minox 35GT that belonged to my father and that documented a good part of my youth during our family vacations. The little critter needed some care to de-block her shutter but I can’t honestly complain (no vintage camera I have is exempt from flaws).
    It’s not only sharp, it renders colours just differently, I tested it against Canon EOS optics and the Minotar is consistently warmer.
    It’s the perfect pocketable film snapper, on a par with the other tiny performer I own, an Agfa 1035, but somewhat it manages to be more characterful.
    In the end, photography is a challenge but one must have fun with it, it’s nice to stretch the capabilities of these cameras.

  • Reply
    Jonathan
    February 2, 2021 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the review – great little camera. I was wondering if any of the Olympus XA series camera models made it on to your list of contenders? Love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 2, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Yeah, i simply forgot about this one. Original XA, being a rangefinder, is outside the scope. But I’ve tried it, yes. To me it was just an unwieldy rangefinder. I didn’t like the controls, i didn’t like the viewfinder… I don’t know. It just felt wrong for me and my hands.
      XA1 uses selenium=long dead meter, so RIP. I haven’t tried XA2/3. But it is zone-focusing, so it’s also not a direct competitor. If I feel like shooting a portrait with Minox, I can measure distance with a clip-on RF, open the lens to 2.8 and nail it. With XA2/3 that would be a problem, I’m afraid… And XA4 is just too wide for me. I struggle with anything wider than 35.

  • Reply
    Huss
    February 2, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    Excellent pics!

    Glad you found one that works. I gave up on Minox 35 cameras as every single one I looked at had shutter problems. Unfortunately they are notorious for it. A superb alternative is the Ricoh FF-1 and FF-1s (only difference is the FF1-S has a selftimer). Tiny, very similar form as the Minox, superb lenses, excellent exposures. Single wind lever to advance the film. I like them so much I now have three!
    Thing to know about the Ricoh is there is a little switch in the hotshoe than activates the flash sync speed. So if you put anything on the hotshoe the camera will set the sync speed. Some reviewers have been caught out when they put a GoPro there and wondered why the exposures were off..

    The Minox looks so cool though!

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 2, 2021 at 4:53 pm

      Haven’t seen a single Ricoh FF around. Wrong place, it seems 🙂 But I’ll definitely try it if I catch one! Thanks for the idea!

      • Reply
        Huss
        February 3, 2021 at 12:38 am

        No problem! I’d love to give the Minox another try.
        Here I took the lens out of a broken one and adapted it to a digital camera:

        https://flic.kr/p/2khE23L

  • Reply
    JAMES LANGMESSER
    February 2, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    I bought a Minox GT-E new in 1988 when it had been a short time on the market. It has been with me everywhere. I use it with black and white as my wife shoots color in her white Minox AL. bot cameras are still in use. Never had any problems with them through many, many rolls of film. Only one issue occurred on the steps of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A friend wanted to see the AL; he dropped it. The back came off and the small latch assembly on the outside, well, disappeared. Used electrical tape the rest of the trip. Years later on ebay bought a black assembly, disassembled it and repaired the AL.

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 2, 2021 at 6:54 pm

      Thanks for the reply!
      The more you shoot with it, the better. Machines are designed to work, not to stand still.

  • Reply
    James
    February 2, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    I attempted to buy a Minox 35 and each one I received was defective and needed a CLA. All were returned. I finally bought a very nice Rollei 35S. It is not as compact, nor as light as the Minox 35, but it is much more rugged and has a lovely Zeiss Sonnar 2.8 lens. I have no doubt that the Minox is a great performer, but I think it is a tad delicate.

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 2, 2021 at 8:59 pm

      For me it worked the opposite way. Rollei 35S died on me on the first roll. Minox is still fine.

      • Reply
        James Evidon
        February 3, 2021 at 7:15 am

        The hazards of old cameras.

  • Reply
    Albert Smith
    February 2, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    I bought the Minox ML (same lens and design) in the mid 1980s and it followed me around the world as pocket camera to my Nikons with full lens arsenals. Many of my favorite shots exist because the Minox was in my pocket and my Nikons were not with me.

    As for “tricks”, I used 5 or 6 frames and trial and error arrived at the exact minimum focus distance on a piece of string that was tied to a threaded tripod screw. If I wanted to shoot close and a wide apertures, I screwed in the tripod screw, held the string forward of the camera (about 2.8ft) touching the subject and then maintaining that distance pulled back the string and shot. This allowed me to overcome the lack of focusing and get nice close-ups in focus.

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 3, 2021 at 8:37 am

      Wow!
      I already have a length of cord tied to a tripod socket screw that I use as a “monopod” of sorts (do you know that trick ?) .
      So I will only have to mark MFD on it and that will become a photographic multi-tool 🙂 Maybe even a set of marks for different cameras…
      Great! Thanks!

      • Reply
        Phil Snaps
        February 3, 2021 at 9:51 am

        The Olympus XA4 has such a trick built-in: the strap has two positions. Normal position is 30cm, and if you unclip it, it becomes 50cm long. Conveniently, these are the closest steps on its focusing scale.

  • Reply
    Ian R
    February 2, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    Great pics. I have the GT, the PL and the dreaded ML. Purchased in that order before I started to hear not so good reports on the ML. The one that gets most use of my 3 is the PL. Cracking little camera. (I don’t take many people pictures so program mode works for me)

  • Reply
    Josh Foster
    February 2, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    Great piece Anton. I love my GT-E my only (tiny) complaint is the shutter is so quiet I find it hard to hear I’ve actually taken a shot! I feel like my brain has been trained over the years to hear a big clunking shutter. Still a daily carry for me for its perfect compactness.

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 3, 2021 at 8:42 am

      Haha, true!
      Meter needle falls all the way down after taking the shot and activates again after film advancement. That helps!

  • Reply
    Robert
    February 3, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    If your Minox 35 is defective you can get an adapter to mount the lens on a Sony, makes a tiny walkabout lens.

    • Reply
      Anton Yakovlev
      February 3, 2021 at 2:47 pm

      Yeah, they are available for Fuji too.
      But there is a problem. I somehow managed to repair and sell both broken Minox cameras I had 🙂 And the GT-E that I use now works just fine…
      Fixing stuck shutters and apertures of world’s smallest cameras is quite a feat I believe 🙂 I have no fear anymore! 🙂

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