A flurry of budget e-bay purchases since my imagination had been captured by the film photography revival had brought me a prized ragbag of treasures. Amongst them, three items that had been part of bundles or hasty mis-purchases: an untested Minolta Dynax 500si Super SLR whose badly yellowed viewfinder looked barely usable, a Truprint 400 film (to be developed within 24 months according to the foil wrapper in which it was still sealed) and a Minolta 35-80mm 1:4 (22) – 5.6 autofocus zoom lens. These misfits of my small new collection of late-model 35mm kit somehow belonged together, and I was curious to see what could be made of them.
In particular, the lens seems to be universally derided; forum contributors have suggested that it would be useful only as a paperweight (were it not so light) and that it ‘may be the worst zoom with a Minolta logo ever made’. ‘Easily the worst lens I have ever tested’ declares one reviewer. The criticisms generally relate to its softness at most apertures and focal lengths, and to its cheap feel. Opinion is divided on its USP – an integrated lens cap that closes like the doors in a 1970s sci-fi film. How bad could it be? Could it still capture the timeless essence of Launceston, just off the main A30 through Cornwall, but still off the tourist-beaten track?
First, a note on the film, which came bundled together with the camera. Truprint stopped supplying film some years ago, and I can find no definitive information on the date (or source) of manufacture of Truprint 400. The foil outer pack advertises it as a new product, this presumably being at some point after the 1995 launch date of the Minolta Dynax 500si Super. The general advice seems to be to overexpose expired stock by one stop per decade after expiry date, but I conservatively set the ISO to 200 on the Minolta. It seemed to work fine.
In general, I was more than happy with the way things turned out. The elaborately carved granite exterior of St Mary Magdalene Church is its unique and celebrated feature, and I think the graininess of the expired film really adds to the sense of its weathered texture. The sun’s unforeseen reflection on the streetlamp was a plus.
I also like the way the film rendered colours, particularly in the rather seasoned-looking figure outside the service station.
Yes, the image has grain, and the colours are shifted, but this just seems to nicely accentuate its air of being out of time.
The reds particularly have a sort of rich mutedness in the flower arrangement at the foot of the War Memorial in the market square, and in the rooftop photo.
I bracketed some shots at three different apertures to see if stopping down had much effect on the sharpness of the lens, and used focal lengths down to 35mm to see if I could detect its supposed dire softness at wide angle settings, but there was little discernable difference; all results were acceptable – in the context of the shoot – to my eye. Granted, the graininess of expired film might obscure any variations in sharpness and in performance compared to other lenses. The innovative lens cap arrangement did feel flimsy, and inconveniently jammed itself securely half-open at times.
Would I shoot with expired film again? Absolutely, and, as for the lens, this just might be its speciality. As for the yellowed viewfinder – well I might just draw the line there. It was reminiscent of looking at a window display through a 1970s shop window fitted with a yellow PVC shade (anyone?); one retro experience too far.