Scale Focus

The Minox 35GT, Ilford HP5 and the streets of Berlin – Guest post by Jean-Christophe Wiart

When I think about Berlin, there are tons of things that cross my mind; there’s the famed subculture of this city, and places like the Kunsthaus Tacheles, the wall, the wastelands to the east, or the architecture of Alexanderplatz.  Enough talk, let’s go for a long, long walk : Berlin is only 347 square miles wide!  In a way, I feel like Leonard Cohen is here with me, singing “first we take Manhattan” (… then we take Berlin).

berlin-3

The Minox 35GT: a small, light camera, perfect for travel

I just hate being weighed down by camera gear when walking around, a feeling I’m sure many of you share.  That’s why I decided to bring along the smallest pocket camera of its generation (according to the ads from the 1980’s) : a Minox 35GT.  And I have to say that it keeps its promise of compactness, certainly when compared to other cameras that I own.

It settles in the hollow of my hand during the afternoon, and it is still there when night falls.  I’m reminded of it when I see an interesting subject, and then I totally forget about it. It might be the only camera in my collection with an in-built meter; no need to carry my old Lunasix to measure light.

berlin-2

berlin-1

How to be a versatile photographer

The Minox 35 is really well made and is very pocketable. In my opinion, the 35mm focal length of its Color-Minotar lens is ideal for street photography, some landscape photography, and travel photography in general. The lens is lovely and has a special rendering quality, producing contrasty pictures that are sufficiently sharp. I feel that the Minox has a distinct photographic signature. Some people say that it delivers really saturated colors but I can’t comment, since I’m a black-and-white shooter.

tacheles-4-685x1024

tacheles-3-685x1024

tacheles-2-685x1024

how-long-is-now-1

For this trip, I chose one of the photojournalists’ favorite films : Ilford HP5. What is interesting about this film is its capacity to produce clean images even if pushed, which allows shooting in every type of light.  One roll was exposed at 400 ISO, another at 800 ISO.  The Minox’s meter is limited to 1600 ISO, which, for most circumstances with available light, is perfectly adequate.

sony-center

A potential challenge in using that Minox 35GT is that it’s a zone focusing camera. Given the size of this camera, it must have been impossible for Minox’s engineers to add a rangefinder to the 35GT.  Were I richer, I would have bought a Contax T, a contemporary competitor of the Minox with a rangefinder.  Never mind, I soon got used to thinking about hyperfocal distance, varying aperture size for desired depth-of-field, and estimating distances – the focusing process is part of the Minox charm.

collage-basket

sony-center-3-733x1024

Lens hood? Be ingenious and do it yourself!

When I bought my Minox, I invested in a dedicated lens hood. Very quickly, I learned about my mistake – trying to use a folding camera while the hood is attached to the lens; there is no way now to fold the optical block and close the camera back to its compact form.  It’s far better to use the lens cover/flap as a lens hood, by positioning it between the sun and the lens – given the camera’s small form and simple ergonomics, this is quite easy to do.  And there is no need to carry a separate lens hood.

panneau-757x1024

The battery

The Minox uses old Mercury cells which are now discontinued.  There are several ways to still use the Minox – for example, an expensive adapter sold by the German brand, as well as some cheaper hacks using more easily available batteries.  Personally I went for the adapter but I still remain afraid with this camera that the battery will go flat at any moment, rendering it useless.  This is probably an irrational fear that comes from the fact that all my other cameras are purely mechanical without any electrical needs.

plateau

checkpoint-682x1024

entree-musee-mur-676x1024

berlin-street-679x1024

My verdict on the Minox 35GT

It is not my best camera, but it has the advantages of small size and low weight.  Having reviewed some of the pictures taken in Berlin 5 years ago, I feel the urge to take it out again!  I think that the small Minox is so simple to use that it allows me to focus on my creativity.

Advertisement

east-side-gallery-3-1024x676

east-side-gallery-2

Now … a few words about Berlin

I’m quite sure that I’ve lost some of you with my ramblings about the Minox 35GT.  We should talk about Berlin now. What I felt during my trip in the German capital, is that it still smells of its history.  This city does not have a typical historical district – there is Mitte, but it lacks some of its former architecture, which has been cleared and rebuilt.  Imagine the way Berlin would have looked like before and after 1945; and subsequently as it experienced communism, division, the wall and reunification (and this is only in the last century!).  The city’s rich and dramatic history becomes tangible when you walk the streets.

Tourist trap

As soon as you visit a major city, it can be difficult to avoid tourist traps; in Berlin, there is the Traban tour or Checkpoint Charlie – the kind of places everybody wants to see, and which lose any kind of soul.  The Mauermuseum is another place where tourists abound, but which remains interesting as it is rich in testimonies about life during the Soviet era.

dmitri-vrubel-1-676x1024

I also really wanted to see the Tacheles.  What can I tell you about the “artists” in residence in that place ?  In my opinion, they have become just traders of their wares, putting up “NO PHOTO” signs everywhere, and watching like hawks anyone who might try to take any pictures of their artwork.  This is a place where I was reminded about Johnny Rotten’s “This is not a love song”:

I’m going over to the other side
I’m happy to have and not to have not
Big business is very wise
I’m inside free enterprise

What you should see in Berlin

Berlin is a wonderful city : there are so many amazing things to do and see!  I recommend the excellent Berlin Museum of Photography.  An interesting feature of this place is that it houses the Helmut Newton Foundation, and regularly features temporary exhibitions about him and his work.

east-side-gallery-friche-1-677x1024

Another place I recommend is the Hamburger Bahnhof.  If you are mad about modern art, here you’ll find a lot of interesting stuff to see.   For those who are more interested in classical painting, head to the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin’s art gallery.

Berlin is also a place where it’s fantastic to just walk around.  Mitte district houses the museum island, on the river Spree’s bank.  Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg are lively and bohemian districts.  You can also walk through the socialism ruins in Freidrichshain, over the Karl Marx Allee or along the East Side Gallery where you’ll find the remains of the wall.

architecture-est-838x1024

 

A footnote the Rolleiflex

Here are a few final images from Berlin made with my Rolleiflex, a well-known friend that needs no batteries to work.  Even if it is a “little” heavier than the Minox, I had the pleasure of using it near Karl Marx Allee and Tacheles.

rollei4

rollei-1

rollei2

rollei3

Original blog post written by Jean-Christophe WIART, on June 24th, 2016, available here in French.
Thanks to Raj who helped edit this post.

Do you enjoy reading 35mmc?

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of this website. The more people chuck me a small amount of cash each month, the more time I can spend building and improving upon it - simple as that!
Or, for $2 a month you can get access to my behind the scenes micro-blog over on Patreon!

Either way, want to help out, become a patron of 35mmc here:

Become a Patron!

Alternatively, if you just enjoyed this post, or like the odd post here and there, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko fi here:


Write for 35mmc: read more here, about how you can help build upon this ever growing resource
Subscribe/Follow: click here, to discover all the ways you can follow 35mmc

You Might Also Like

14 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    George Appletree
    November 20, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Interesting talk about that graffited city. And beautifully contrasted pictures

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Ian
    November 20, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Can’t wait to see Berlin, excellent shots. HP5 is my favourite film.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Jean-Christophe WIART
      November 20, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you Ian. There a lot of Time I didn’t use HP5. I’m more comfortable with triX or Tmax now.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Alex Hakimi
    November 20, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    an enjoyable read! i’m not particularly fond of the minox output, but I can certainly appreciate the quirkiness and benefits of size. the architectural shots from the rolleiflex are fantastic!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Jean-Christophe WIART
      November 20, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      I shoot both medium format and 135mm film. For sure a rolleiflex or any serious 120mm camera ‘ll afford to get better and more detailed negatives than the minox. You can also like the minox “signature” for itself … Difficult to compare two very different things.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Rob
    November 20, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I love these shots, Jean-Christophe, and the Minox certainly has its own vibe. Pity about the battery. I probably couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, although I like what it does. The Rollei shots are really excellent too. Beautiful renditions. I like your photographic style.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Jean-Christophe WIART
      November 20, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      I’m pleased to read that. I also got a blog and a Facebook page : don’t hesitate to follow me (of that I also would be very pleased too) :). See you and thanks again.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    christian
    November 20, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Great article and good pictures!
    I am from Berlin , so normally pictures from here are of less interest for me. Yours are very well captured and in the context of your article very captivating.
    One great tip for things to do here: c/o Berlin has a Gordon Parks exhibit, that is awesome!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    James
    November 21, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Superb work! Never been to Berlin before so definately want to go there now with one of my film cameras 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Terry
    December 3, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Great work J-C !
    I recently aquired a Minnox ML, having lost my much loved original version many years ago. Amazing photographic potential in such a small camera. Im not familiar with the 35GT, but the ML version uses easy to source batteries and has aperture priority. I also really like the simplicity of pre-setting focus on the distance scale.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    ecdy
    December 11, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Very interesting story about both the Minox and Berlin, but I wonder about the sharpness of the Minox pictures. The Rollei pictures seem much sharper on-screen, and I think that that cannot only be ascribed to the larger negative size. Maybe the author has to perfect his focus-estimating eye for the manual-focus Minox. The Minox is a super-compact camera with, actually, a very good lens. But the battery availability is a problem. For reasonable compactness, no dependence on batteries, and a CRF, why not a Leica IIIc with a collapsible Elmar, Summicron, or even Summitar? This equipment is amazingly cheap these days, and can fit into a pocket easily. Except for the weight. . . .

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Richard B
    March 4, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    When I got my first camera, a Yashica MF-3, I remember an older gentleman buying one of these. He allowed me to take a look and told me it was one of the few cameras he used while climbing Everest as it was small enough to tuck away to keep warm, and didn’t instantly freeze up on taking it out. Fantastic stories for a young teen buying his first camera with a head full of potential trouble-spot jurno photographer or Couture Fashion shooter (depending on how angsty I was feeling that day I guess!).

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Pin It on Pinterest

    Share This

    Thank you for commenting

    ...now share the post with your friends?