I have owned a Leica Minilux for more than 20 years. The truth, though, is that I am not a compact camera kind of guy. The Minilux was the antithesis of my then shooting philosophy. It is a fixed lens, fixed focal length, metal skinned, compact camera, and I loved my interchangeable lens, almost always plastic cameras. Back then I mostly shot with a Minolta SLR and the kit standard zoom it came with. I sometimes even changed up to the kit telezoom with all its glorious chromatic aberrations that was so satisfying to look through, and so disappointing to get back from the minilabs. It is probably why I shot one roll through the Minilux on a 10 week road trip and about eighty rolls through the Minolta. That one roll through the Minilux though was amazing. I still remember how shocked I was by how sharp those images were. And then the Minilux went into the cupboard, well looked after as neglected cameras often are.
My film revival came about 18 months ago. The Minilux was not forgotten in this, but once again I neglected it. I checked the battery, shot the shutter, then put it back in the cupboard. In this case it wasn’t simply a prejudice against compact cameras. A little thing called the Internet seemed to have been invented between when I purchased my Minilux and when I took it out of the cupboard with a purpose earlier this year. And said Internet has a tendency to scare folks with information. In this case much has been written about my little red dot camera and the E02 error of doom. It seems that simply using the little bugger brings it closer to death because of an inevitable wear and tear on a lens flex-cable, and when that cable breaks it bricks up the camera with a notorious “E02 error” message. If I ever shot this camera again I must be careful with this camera, very careful.
By early 2019 I had been shooting film for more than a year, and had taken at least two whole overseas trips with nothing but film. I was feeling confident. If not now, when would I shoot the Minilux? In March I ran a roll of Tmax 400 through the camera and the camera was superb. The f/2.4 maximum aperture was put to the test and the images that came back were well exposed and sharp as get out. The problems of an inconvenient flash mode (always on as a default with a clunky flash off button pressing routine), and a ridiculously small viewfinder were rediscovered, but accepted. I even deliberately used the zone focus and manual aperture settings. I captured one of my favourite urban blue hour photos on this roll. Maybe I could be a compact camera shooter after all. Just stay alive little guy, stay alive.
In the mean time I had taken a courageous step and submitted an article to 35mmc that I was thrilled to have had published. Chasing the dragon I started looking for something else to write on. Not finding much about the Minilux on 35mmc I sensed an opportunity. I loaded the Minilux with Acros in early October with view to a “5 Frames With” piece. I shot half a roll in a meeting in a city, and mucking about with an attempted macro (that is not worth trying, by the way). Today I had planned to finish the roll. My first shot was on a train platform. My brother in law looked admiringly at the Minilux and I proudly stated that this was a 21 year old film camera still going strong. Flash off, set aperture to f2.4 and gently push on the exposure button. Fizz. What the…? E02, E02, E02… Batteries out, batteries in. E02… The camera was still able to rewind the roll. But the shutter would not open and the E02 error repeated.
The first half of the roll photographed normally. I developed the Acros in Ilfosol 3, and scanned it on the Epson V600. Contrast was tweaked in lightroom.
Replacement lens flex cables are available for purchase on the ‘Bay, but it is very difficult to find any information on do it yourself repairs. There are no instructional videos. There is a Korean language step-by-step guide, but the instructions seem about as clear as in an Ikea flat pack. Doing it myself with two left feet for hands and no soldering skills is a pipedream. I am not sure that I will find a repairer in Sydney or that I will want to pay for it. Bellamy Hunt writes about converting the lens to an M-mount, but I am not sure that I want to rip the lens from its body either. For now it is decorating our display table as an ornament. It certainly is a gorgeous beautiful shiny red dot brick.