Minolta Autocord CDS
Medium & Large Format

Minolta Autocord CDS – History & Review – By Dan Cuny

November 10, 2020

I had purchased my Minolta Autocord CDS cameras about three months ago. The previous owner didn’t know if it was working, even after giving them some tips to check. However, I took a chance and bought it. To my surprise, when it arrived, the shutter worked great, and the aperture moved as it should. A good friend told me the focus was notorious for hanging up, but It moved smoothly and focused well. The meter didn’t have a battery, so I purchased a battery for the light meter. When I installed the battery, it took some time for it to react to light. Eventually, it did and seemed close to accurate. My wife and I planned a few days away so I was excited to take it for a test drive.

A little background.

Kazuo Tashima founded Minolta in Osaka, Japan, in 1928 as Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shōten, which means Japanese-German Camera Shop. In 1931, the company updated its name to Minolta, which stands for Mechanism, Instruments, Optics, and Lenses by Tashima. In 1937, the company reorganized as Chiyoda Kogaku Seikō, K.K. At this time, they introduce their first Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera, the MinoltaFlex, based on the German Rolleiflex cameras. The MinoltaFlex was only the second TLR introduced from Japan after the Prince Flex by Neumann & Heilemann. In 1947, Minolta introduced rangefinder cameras like the Minolta-35, and in 1959, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) SR-1 camera. In later years they sign agreements with Leica and come out with the first autofocus SLR, The Maxxum 7000.

Minolta Autocord CDS

Front view

The Camera.

The Autocord line from Minolta was their take on competing with the upper end of TLR cameras. In the 1950s, the TLR market was getting saturated with several different manufacturers. There were some features that Minolta had, which was unique. Their system had a crank wind advance with a shutter cocking mechanism, a tremendous four-element Rokkor f3.5 lens which competed with the similar Zeiss Tesar lenses, and a button on the side which allowed the winding lever to move backward, allowing the camera to cock the shutter. By doing this, it allowed the Minolta Autocord CDS to offer double exposures.

Minolta Autocord CDS

Right side

Another unique feature is the way the Minolta Autocord CDS focuses. It focuses by sliding a bar under the lens instead of a dial to focus on other TLR cameras. I like this from the standpoint of holding the camera. You slide the bar to focus, and the camera sits cupped in your hand.

The winding lever also has a hinge at the top so you can tuck away the crank handle when not using it. The camera opens from the top-down as opposed to from the bottom up. Other TLR cameras like Rolleiflex/Rolleicord cameras open bottom-up. A button you pull on the top left side opens the back of the camera.

Minolta Autocord CDS

Left side

Shooting the camera

Taking the Minolta Autocord CDS out and shooting with it was fun. I wasn’t too sure if the meter was accurate but relied on it when shooting. Let me explain how the meter works.

Minolta Autocord CDS

Battery compartment (L), Meter setting (R).

On the top left of the Minolta Autocord CDS as you’re holding it is a tunable dial. The meter setting is Off, Hi, and Low. On the side of the dial is a button to push for “battery check.” I turned the dial to “Hi” for the majority of the images during daylight. Looking down at the meter, it gives you a number. On the left of the lens is a movable arm that points to corresponding numbers from the meter. By doing so, you are shutter/aperture settings.

Minolta Autocord CDS

Exposure control

The same component also controls the shutter speeds, which you see in the window on top. A similar arm on the right side of the lens sets the aperture setting. I did have an opportunity to use the “Low” setting on the meter during a very shadowy and dark situation. It, too, seemed accurate, so I was delighted by the accuracy of the meter in this Minolta Autocord CDS.

Images from Minolta Autocord CDS.

Pacific Beach

Old Tree Roots

Rusty Truck

Lake Quinault

My Experience

I’d have to say; I enjoy shooting with the Minolta Autocord CDS over any of the Rolleiflex, Rolleicord, Mamiyaflex, or other TLR cameras I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with over my career. The camera fits nicely in my hand. The focus is smooth, and once I got used to where the focus slider was, it felt more natural. The meter was easy to use and accurate. The case fits well, and there’s even a cap for the meter area. It looks like I’ll be purchasing a strap and putting this gem in the rotation for shooting. It’s an excellent camera. Pick one up if you’re looking for a good TLR to use. To view my images and camera posts, you can go to my website here.

You can find my other reviews and articles on 35mmc here

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    November 10, 2020 at 10:23 am

    “Minolta introduced rangefinder cameras like the Minolta-35, and in 1959, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) SR-1 camera.”

    You are correct that the SR-1 came out in 1959, but slightly more notable was their introduction of the SR-2 the previous year – It was the SR-2 that was their first 35mm SR mount SLR.

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    November 10, 2020 at 10:32 am

    Very interesting review – I’d not realised how different the Autocord was in comparison to the Rolleiflex/Yashica ‘standard’ layouts for TLRs.

  • Reply
    Dennis
    November 10, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    I have an Autocord sans the meter. My father bought it for me in 1963 on a trip to Japan. I love the focus mechanism and especially the window on the top for the aperture and shutter speed. Mine still works and I have the original leather case. Just missing the original lens hood lost in numerous moves in the US.

  • Reply
    Jeremy Keller
    November 10, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    You might also have mentioned that this fine camera, which I have used on and off since the 1980s, has a film pressure plate to ensure that the film lies flat across the focus plane. The camera’s common competitor, the Yashica 124, does not have this important feature.

    Line two: I doubt that the prior owner would be offended by “him” or “her;” “them” is now common, but cringe-worthy.

    Very fine photos!

  • Reply
    Adam Singer
    November 10, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    Good article, and totally agree. The Minolta Autocord is a TLR gem. That Autocord lens is amazing, can’t discern the difference between it and the Rolleiflex 3.8 Tessar and IMO much better than the Yashicamat 124G .

  • Reply
    Peter Kornaukhov
    November 11, 2020 at 3:08 am

    Fundamental review, congratulations! Am goin to get one of these and think the LMX is better for me. Anyway, the user can download the Exposure app for android easily and have a joy to use it cause the light meter not CdS is completely dead on every camera like this.

  • Reply
    Clive Williams
    November 11, 2020 at 10:08 am

    One more thing about the numbers: if you have an external meter that reads in EV (my Autocord has no meter, so I use a Weston hand-held) then setting the shutter and aperture sliders to add up to the metered EV will give the correct exposure. So, for example, combining 6 (for f/8) with 8 (for 1/250) gives an EV of 14 – as will 5 with 9, 7 with 7 and so on.

    In practice, the Weston’s calculator dial does all this anyway, so I tend to use the familiar values in the speed and aperture windows, but it’s a nice throwback to a time when taking pictures required more mental agility than it does today.

  • Reply
    Louis Sousa
    November 12, 2020 at 2:52 am

    Nice review and images. The bane of many of these cameras is the autofocus lever. They are made of cast aluminum and tend to develop stress cracks leading to eventual breakage. There is a specialist in the US who services them and replaces the cast arm with a new aluminum one that works perfectly. I owned one (donated it to another photographer) and am sad that I did. The lens was superb.

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      November 12, 2020 at 3:02 am

      Louis,

      Thank you for your comment. Do you remember the name of the person or repair facility?

      Regards,
      Dan

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