A few years ago, I went through a second-hand camera eBay phase. Unfortunately this phase coincided with my post-graduation unemployment phase, which had a drastic effect on the budget I had for such equipment. I would tend to spend £10-30 on a camera, shoot a roll of film with it, be unimpressed and then sell said camera for £10-30. Hardly a great business model. One camera though that surprised me and earned a place in my permanent collection however, was a £20 Minolta Hi-Matic G.
Untested for years, and with the description of ‘flash ring broken, lens very wobbly,’ this particular Hi-Matic G was not a camera that filled me with excitement. As I waited for its delivery I regretted my rash decision of not reading the description properly and wondered if it was even worth putting a roll of film through it as it had all the hallmarks of a camera I’d dislike; zone focus, no aperture or shutter speed control and I assumed probably some light leaks.
I was wrong. The feel of the Hi-Matic G in the hand is perfect. Aside from the wobbly lens (more on that later) the body is light yet study, the focus ring has a very subtle click to each zone and the wind on and shutter are both precise and quiet. When you look through the blue tinted viewfinder it feels nostalgic like every photo you take will be cool, and the something oddly satisfying about the needle vaguely wandering up and down the shutter speed/aperture scale like it’s never really sure what it’s going to do.
I loaded a roll of XP-2, screwed on a red filter (which handily the metering sits behind) and the Hi-Matic G came everywhere with me for the next week. Whilst the shots were just snaps, they put the Minolta through its paces in a variety of environments, and the results were far better than I imagined. The lens was crisp and the metering excellent, with no evidence of light leaks.
I decided that I would attempt to fix the Hi-Matic G lens that night, as the wobbliness was the only element that was detracting from its aesthetics. Whilst actually having to break the lens off in order to refix it more securely was somewhat nerve- wracking, its initial price tag allowed me to do it with a clear conscience. Some large amounts of Loctite later, the offending screws were held in place and have remained so through a further 6 rolls.
I’ve read reviews of the Hi-Matic G before which have described it as somewhat bland, and without quirks, and whilst I see their point I find myself thinking the opposite when I use it. As opposed to other cameras I use, I enjoy the lack of creative control when shooting, as it forces me to concentrate on the composition and just hope the shutter speed is correct. The zone focussing quickly becomes second-nature and the ability to use a coloured filter without looking through the world in a red ‘james bond credits meets horror movie’ haze is undeniably handy.
I’ve also found the Hi-Matic G to be particularly at home in a city environment. The 38mm lens is a little more cropped than a traditional 35mm, although in practical use I’ve never felt this to be a hindrance and the f/2.8 aperture is fast enough for all daylight usage. One thing that the camera does lack however is the ability to lock the shutter release, meaning I tend not to leave the camera wound-on in case of an accidental fire.
On the 6th roll I put through the Hi-Matic G which was some time ago, it started to show evidence of light leaks. This coincided with me being lent a Nikon 35Ti, possibly one of the best compact cameras ever made. This has resulted in the Minolta earning itself some shelf-time while I consider its future. I imagine re-sealing the camera will work out more expensive than simply acquiring another, which may even feature a working flash guide-number ring, although I doubt that I would use it.
I cannot fault the Hi-Matic G though in the time it was at its best. It provided great shots and value for money, and was a pleasure to use throughout our relatively short time together. Sure, you have no guarantee that it shot at the right shutter speed or that you even had the focus correct, but therein lies what I love about this camera. It’s the simplest a camera can be. In a world of filters and unending specification lists this camera has one feature; it takes pictures.