Advanced Compact

Minolta TC-1 – On Loan and in Love – By Robert

September 10, 2021

A little while ago during the summer I organised a Beers and Cameras Photowalk through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. It was a really nice walk with a beautiful bunch of people, all carrying a diverse range of gear. There were the ubiquitous FujiFilm rangefinders, some SLRs and a wide range of compacts. All pretty interesting in their own way but Isa stole the show with his massive Pentax 67.

The walk went well, it was quite collaborative and the attendees really seemed to get on. We stopped at a restaurant on the River Lea and sat down to some beers and pizza. Inevitably we all arranged our cameras on the table for the obligatory “sex pile”. It was at this point that Isa produced a gem rarely seen in the flesh. A Minolta TC-1. A sleek little compact with the build quality of a tank.

Isa must have seen the look of awe on my face because there and then he offered to let me use it for a week. I didn’t know what to say. At first.

There’s a scene in the original Jurassic Park film when the kids are in the car with the lawyer and they start playing with the night vision goggles. The lawyer turns to them irritably and asks “Are they heavy? Then they’re expensive put ‘em back!” I’ve had hundreds of compact cameras but none have felt as solidly built as this beautiful slab. The proportions were perfectly chosen and I couldn’t stop looking at it. I really like 35mm compacts and was happy with my soft edged Pentax Espio 120 SW which itself is a beautifully laid out camera: stylishly finished in white silver but the TC-1 with its gun metal, and unyielding corners was a bit intimidating. I must admit to opening and closing the lens cover for a solid 5 minutes marvelling at how smooth, quiet and quick the movement was. It moves like the blast doors are on the Death Star, that quick.

Isa had already started on a roll of Ektar and left 12-15 shots left in it. It was summer: lovely bright white overhead light and gin clear skies. Without enough time to book a model or plan a trip to Iceland I had to make do with a walk around Hackney!

I used the Minolta TC-1 like an SLR for this image. To get the shallow depth of field I manually selected the maximum aperture of f/3.5 and then set the camera to aperture priority which was super easy. I’m amazed at the auto focus on this tiny lens.

The layout and operation of the features on this camera could not really be more intuitive. After a few minutes of learning the order of the menu and using the jog dial I found the TC-1 almost telepathic to use. Immediately I was in love!

The tiny flash easily punched above its own tiny weight but didn’t bleach out the colours or blow out the details. I was very impressed.

These two shots had about a full second shutter speed. Half way up the gate to the left the highlights have been blown out but in the darkest areas there is plenty of detail.

Late one evening I took I was out and about with the TC-1 and wanted to see how it handled low light situations.
While I was out I wondered how it would handle 100 ISO film in a dark alley but I didn’t bring a tripod with me that night. I carefully placed it on walls and cardboard boxes, turned the flash off and activated the self timer.

Long exposure with the TC-1. I rested the camera on a traffic light button case and set the timer.

The readout in the viewfinder gives more information than I’ve ever seen in a compact and in quite bright figures too. There’s data on shutter speed, ISO as well as distance. I really was not expecting that. It seemed quite accurate too. 

As I mentioned before I’ve had a lot of compacts but none of them are as beautiful to hold as they are to behold. This combined with the easy to navigate menu makes using it a joy. Then there’s is the image quality. I could not ask for more. The pictures came back sharp, well focused and the colours beautifully rendered. I have not edited any of these images.
The f/2.8 is fast enough to get some shallow depth of field shots like portraits and other close ups. I would love to put a roll of Lomo 800 through the TC-1 to see how well it handles low light without a tripod.

With absolutely no objectivity whatsoever I’ll stick my neck out and say that this is the best compact camera I’ve ever used. A massive thank you to Isa Maiden for generously letting me have this little gem for the week. It was a beautiful gesture from a wonderful man and is another example of how wonderfully giving and compassionate the wider film shooting community is.

You can read Hamish’s review of this camera here

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  • Reply
    September 10, 2021 at 9:26 pm

    Great user review of this gem of a camera. I’ve had the pleasure of owning a TC-1 that I regretfully sold years ago. Just a heads up that all TC-1’s were equipped with a with a 28mm, 3.5 maximum aperture rokkor. Unless your version had a 2.8 aperture lens, I’d like to know! Thanks again for you review.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2021 at 3:06 pm

      Mike thanks for your kind words. You are most probably right about the lens. I’ll have to borrow it again to have a closer look!

  • Reply
    September 12, 2021 at 8:40 am

    The rendering of this lens looks lovely indeed. Especially the out of focus areas.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2021 at 3:02 pm

      Thank you Mats. It’s amazing how sweet that little lens is. You can almost use it like an SLR.

  • Reply
    Isa Maidan
    September 14, 2021 at 9:58 am

    No worries, Rob, glad you enjoyed using it – some lovely images there! Given the work you put in to the London film community you’re due a freebie or two!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      It’s gone to the top of my Christmas list!

  • Reply
    September 14, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    I’m confused. In one of your photo captions, you say that you open up the lens to its max aperture of f/3.5. But at the end of the article, you say that f/2.8 is fast enough for some shallow depth of field shots. The lens on the TC-1 does not open up to f/2.8, but it is a 28mm lens.

  • Reply
    September 21, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    Lee. Don’t be confused. You clearly have a much more observant eye than I do! Thanks for pointing it out. I reckon I made an error with the stats. Have you tried one? It’s a lovely bit of kit.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2021 at 6:20 am

    I have one and like it but it’s so loud – the frame advance and lens retractions noise.

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