It was the first week of January 2020 and I was down for the count with a cold. “A perfect start to a new year”, I thought to myself, not realizing what would be in store just a couple of months later. I was home and bored, and for some reason I decided that this downtime would be a perfect opportunity to give film another shot. I’m a Gen-Xer, so I grew up with film but hadn’t shot anything with it since about 2004. Over the years I went through a few digital point-and-shoots, but most of my photos had increasingly been taken with my smartphone. I had taken some good shots (at least I hoped), but there’s not really a lot of “fun” holding an iPhone 8 to capture an image. Friends of mine were into shooting film, why not give it a try?
Deciding to shoot film again is the easy part, figuring out the first camera to get is a bit tougher. What kind of camera do I want? I wanted something that would give me control over focus and exposure, so that ruled out most compact point-and-shoots. An SLR seemed like an obvious choice, but I was drawn more to the aesthetics of a rangefinder, more specifically a fixed-lens Japanese mid-century one. I immersed myself in websites like this one and sought out the top-recommended ones on eBay. Even those were more than I wanted to start with. So I dug deeper. What would be a quality rangefinder that checked all the boxes and didn’t break the bank?
I don’t know what exactly tipped me off, but I started digging into the Minolta offerings, seeking out a dark horse. (But not Dark Horse.) The Minolta Hi-Matic 7sii came up a bunch, but prices were spendy. However, it seemed like an earlier version, the Hi-Matic 7s was also a good camera without the high prices. I found one on eBay and in a few days I had my first film camera in over fifteen years.
The Minolta Hi-Matic 7s was released in 1966. It was (confusingly) the third camera in the Hi-Matic series, a successful line of consumer cameras that spanned 20 years. It boasts a sharp six-element 45mm f/1.8 Rokkor lens, Minolta’s own CLC (Contrast Light Compensation) metering via cadmium sulfate cell, aperture range from f/22 down to f/1.8, shutter speeds from 1/4 to 1/500 second plus bulb, self-timer, and hot-shoe. Pretty standard stuff for a rangefinder of this era and built like a tank.
I loaded some Kodak Gold 200 and tested it out. Manually setting focus and exposure was a lot different than I was used to, but it was fun getting the feel for it. I could have let the Hi-Matic set exposure (the camera switches between full auto and full manual) but I figured the best way to learn exposure is by manual control. Exposure Values (EV) are shown on the right side of the viewfinder, and this EV can be matched to a window between the shutter and aperture rings, much like a slide rule would work. (Yeah, I’m old.)
I didn’t know if I’d get any results, so I was appropriately awed by the prints that I got back from my local lab. The lens was nice and sharp and gave off a “vibe” that I couldn’t get with my iPhone. Yeah, some shots were out of focus, but over the months the keeper shots outnumbered the duds. The Minolta Hi-Matic 7s became a constant companion, strapped around my shoulder as I walked or bicycled the streets of Portland, Oregon.
The film photography bug had bitten me. Over the next year and a half I’d acquire many more cameras, even dipping into compact point and shoots and SLRs. But the Hi-Matic 7s held sentimental value, as it’s the one that started me off on the journey. I thought I might give up the camera after I got an Olympus 35 RD, but I still loved the Minolta too much to part with it. It feels good in the hand and the shutter release feels and sounds so satisfying.
Since I like to take care of the things I love, I dropped off the Hi-Matic 7s at Advance Camera in February for a CLA (clean, lube, adjust). Besides a few minor things (loose-feeling lens barrel, Safe Load film indicator not working) there was nothing wrong with the camera. I just wanted to ensure this almost sixty year old machine would work for another decade or two.
I picked up my camera in mid-May, right before my partner Emee and I high-tailed it to Lost Lake, deep in the Cascade Mountains northeast of Mount Hood. The Minolta Hi-Matic 7s would be a good way to record the majesty of the area. While Mount Hood was not visible from the lake due to overcast skies, it was still beautiful.
After returning home, instead of getting scans from the developed film, I decided to do something special: I decided to go all analog.
One of the quandaries of this nouveau film era is there is usually digital somewhere in this analog process. For digital partisans it’s the “Gotcha” moment meant to prove what we film shooters do is ridiculous and pointless. “You digitally scan the negative after development? That’s like writing a letter by hand, then scanning it and emailing it to your recipient. How silly. Why not just use a digital camera instead?” Whatever. An end result in ones and zeros is fine, you still have all that natural grain on your negative.
Nor do I subscribe to the “The only real photo is a printed photo” dogma from some film shooters. One of the biggest benefits of scans for me has been seeing photos on a large computer screen rather than squinting for detail on a 3″x5″. When I saw my first Hi-Matic photos on my laptop, I was amazed at the sharpness and quality. (It doesn’t hurt that I use professional labs instead of the pharmacy.)
Despite what I said above, I do like prints. I have made prints out of many of the photos I’ve taken over the past year and a half. But those are usually from online services, the prints from digital JPEGs. Even if I decided to get prints instead of scans from my local lab, the prints will still be from scans. This is been the standard with minilab machines at least since the ’90s. If I wanted true optical prints, prints made from shining light through the negative onto light-sensitive paper, I’d need to either print myself or find a lab that does it “old school”. And there seem to be very, very few labs that will do it all analog.
Thankfully, Portland has Blue Moon Camera, which still makes traditional optical prints! I biked the twelve miles (20 km) up to the St. Johns neighborhood and dropped off the couple rolls of Portra from the trip. (Hey, if I’m going to be fancy with optical prints, might as well go with fancy film!) A week later, I got the prints back and was again awed. The color and detail put the online printmakers to shame. I opted to get what Blue Moon calls “sloppy borders”, giving these prints even more of an analog feel. I like it. It won’t be what I do all the time, but when I want to treat myself again I’ll opt for optical prints.
Here are a few of the photos I got from that Lost Lake trip. Yes, I realize that these images are scans of the optical prints. (Dastardly digital strikes again!) But it’s not like I can invite all of you over to my house to check them out in person. Enjoy!
Thanks for reading! -Shawn
For a full set of photos from this Lost Lake trip, check out this flickr album. All my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s photos can be found in this flickr album.
Check out my blog and me elsewhere on the internet here.
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28 thoughts on “Minolta Hi-Matic 7s and A Sentimental Journey Discovering True Optical Prints – by Shawn Granton”
Did you tell them what camera you were using? The prints appear to have a very 60s appearance to them. Low contrast? Or is it just the camera?
No, I didn’t tell them which camera I used. Would I need to?
I don’t feel like these pictures have “low contrast” to them. Then again, looking at these pics on the internet isn’t like looking at them in real life.
So that’s what sloppy borders means! In my day it meant not aligning the easel properly.????
I’m of the school that doesn’t understand why someone would shoot film and then only view the result from a scan on a monitor. Of course, there are scanners, and there are scanners, so the results can be variable. When I first raised this with Hamish some time ago, he told me it gave him another option to use different films’ characteristics in addition to his digital images. A fair point. And of course, my opinion doesn’t take into account the haptic pleasure simply using and loading a film camera can give. I agree with this, as I no longer use my film cameras, 35mm and 6×6, and even my Fuji X-Pro 1 can’t replicate the feel of my M6, for example.
As for prints, having done 40+ years of DIY D&P, I do agree that inkjet prints can’t compete with a traditional photographic print, but some digital prints come very close if not equalling or bettering them, especially where 35mm film is concerned. It all depends on the paper used. I’m not sure what paper labs in the US use, but a local UK lab uses Fuji Crystal Clear Archive and which is a paper with silver halide crystals, as does normal paper. The difference being it is exposed via lasers, not a conventional light source.
Out of curiosity, I had some digital 6×4 inch prints made of the roll of images from which 5 were extracted for my article “5 Frames in Ferrari Heaven” posted here on 35mmc just over 2 years ago. Despite my scans being at just 2820 dpi, when I compared the results with the original prints from way back when, I couldn’t tell the difference.
I hope you continue to get pleasure from your Minolta 7S. Many of the better cameras from that era had cracking lenses, so enjoy.
Thanks! It is true that some digital prints can be really good in quality. But on this particular occasion I wanted to see what a full analog optical print would look like.
Bought a Minolta Hi Matic 7S a few months ago from an antique dealers in my local town. I ran Ilford HP4 through it to check out the workings. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the photos. Out of all my film cameras, this is now my go to film camera. Having just acquired a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex super from another antique shop, that could change. I’ll know when I have the film developed.
Or “Dark Horse” https://store.georgeharrison.com/collections/vinyl/products/dark-horse-lp
Another good article, Shawn. Keep it up!
I did all the photography for our high school yearbooks in 1972 and 1973 with a Hi-Matic 7s. Stellar camera!! Personally I think the lens on that camera is just as sharp as the Leica 40mm Summicron. I have a 50mm Summicron and would put the prints from a Hi-Matic 7s up against anything shot with my Leicas.
I couple of years ago I was gifted a Hi-Matic 7s as my old one somehow got lost over the years. Can’t wait to get it out! You have inspired me!!
Thank you Eric, glad I inspired you! Indeed, that Rokkor lens is sharp.
Brilliant writing..! Made me genuinely lol.
It warms my heart to read things like that. Because for me, returning to film (Minolta X-700 and XD-11) after three decades was due mostly in part to falling in love with my Fuji X-T2. I have also fallen in love with Kodak Pro Image 100.
Thanks for the tip about Blue Moon Camera. I see that they do ECN-2 development as well, which will be useful for when I shoot my next roll of Kodak Vision3 250D.
Thanks for your reflections on the Minolta Himatic 7 ! Have a look in your Flickr stream regularly. Nice bike journeys ! ( I use a Hercules Alassio Eco by the way. )
Like your diary drawings very much.
For my opinion very interesting Minolta SR-T 101 Pictures in your stream too.
Thank you for the kind words, Jens!
Hi Shawn! I missed this when posted. I was on a break from film photography – ironically due to me breaking my own Hi-Matic 7s. In trying to replace that one, I decided to analyze the things I didn’t like about it: Namely size / weight, and difficulty in focusing (which could have been particular to my example, but the patch is known to be on the dim side). Since then, I’ve been shooting a lot more film, and growing my skills. And with that, learning what kind of photographer I want to become. I’ve realized I wish I had more time with my own 7S. So I’m now on the hunt for a replacement, which led me to your fantastic post here. While I can’t credit you for rekindling my interest in the Hi-Matic (but a review on your own blog was instrumental in my first acquisition), I want to say that you’ve inspired me to begin blogging. It’s really encouraging to learn from someone with a background not dissimilar to my own (I think I switched to digital one or two years before you did, all else could be my own story). I want to write, and I’ve done some things. Why not put it out there, and see what sticks? Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing your approach to B&W developing, and the results thereof.
Thanks, Wilson! Look forward to seeing your blog!
And I hope you do find another Hi-Matic 7s, they seem to be fairly plentiful and not expensive. I would disagree about the focusing patch being renowned as on the dim side–mine never was. But a CLA should help out with dim viewfinder patches on any rangefinder. I’d suggest budgeting a CLA into the purchase price. As for the size and heft, well, it is what it is!
Absolutely right. I probably expect too much from a neglected 60 year old device (especially when it’s of Japanese origin). Then again, I’m one of the fools looking for that one perfect camera, which many wise people acknowledge does not exist. The important thing for me is to spend more time in interesting places, to provide photo opportunities.
It is indeed hard to find the “perfect” camera. After lugging around the Hi-Matic 7s, I saw the appeal of those high-spec’d fixed lens rangefinders. But then I got my hands on one of them, my Olympus 35 RD. It is a very nice camera that I like a lot, but it is not perfect. And even though I thought I might get rid of the Hi-Matic 7s after getting the 35 RD, I still couldn’t part with it. I wish there was a way to combine the things I like about both cameras–the nice feel of the shutter and winding and the ease of use in the Hi-Matic 7s, the small size and shutter priority of the 35 RD. But until then, I’ll keep both.
In the Quixotic fashion in which I live, I want to hurry up and find that ideal camera… so that I can stop searching for cameras!
Here is where I want to list out where I am, and how I got here, equipment wise. But I know that’s best reserved for my own blog. Thanks as always!
Yes, please get started on that blog!
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Nearly 50 years ago I purchased a Minolta 7s as my first real camera. It was an adequate camera, but it had several limitations as compared to an SLR. First, the lens was slightly wide angle at 45 mm, which was not good for portraits. Second, because of the lens and it being a rangefinder, it could not do closeups very well. That is, an SLR could get within two feet of a subject while a rangefinder could only do three feet. Third, I soon discovered I needed a telephoto or wide angle lens to get a photo, which of course the 7s could not do. Fourth, I don’t think the lens was as sharp as an SLR (Nikon) lens. After several years I was able to afford a Nikon (FM) system which I liked very much.
The 7s did have some good features. As a rangefinder, it was simple and light to carry. It of course was half the price of an SLR. I believe the electronic flash synced at all speeds. The meter and manual settings (EV number) were very easy to do which was important to me. Indeed, most often I wanted to set it myself, such as a high shutter speed to freeze motion or a low shutter and small aperture to maximize depth of field.
I miss shooting in film, but buying film, processing, and printing, became too expensive and cumbersome. With digital, a major feature is automatic light source correction, so no longer do I need to use a light-hogging filter for fluorescent or tungsten lighting. No more of that ugly green cast on my slides. And I often share my pics via email which is easy with digital. Basic editing with simple software is easy on the computer with digital. With film and color slides, you got what you got. (But cue Paul Simon and “Kodachrome”).
I don’t believe I ever shot b&w prints with the 7s. I suspect it would’ve done a good job with that since b&w prints can be enlarged and cropped. In later years with my Nikon, I did a little with Kodak’s Plus-X, a slower film than Tri-X, and got excellent results.
Tyler, thank you for your comment. I’m glad that you owned and (possibly) enjoyed your Hi-Matic 7s, and am guessing that you googled it for sentimental results which landed you here.
But I’m also wondering what you are trying to get at.
Yes, a fixed-lens rangefinder isn’t going to be as versatile as an SLR that has interchangeable lenses. That’s besides the point. One of the great things in my opinion with any fixed-lens camera (non-zoom), rangefinder or otherwise, is the lens you have is the lens you have. You work with the constraints. There’s no “Oh no, I only have my 50mm prime and I really want an 85mm portrait lens!” With SLRs. You’ve got just a 45mm lens, deal with it.
As for “Is a Nikkor Lens sharper than a Rokkor Lens?” I don’t know. I’m sure Nikon and their marketing has pushed the angle that they’re better than others, but: So what? And the Rokkor lens on the Hi-Matic 7s is plenty sharp for me.
Yes, film costs money, especially in comparison to digital where you can shoot multiple thousands of frames without thinking about it. But again, so what? I mean, this is a website dedicated to FILM photography (despite several recent posts), let us have our fun. And most people get their film scanned nowadays, so it’s easily as shareable and correctable/fixable than stuff shot on digital. There’s no real disadvantage to film other than cost and physical materials.
So maybe pick up that old Hi-Matic or even the FM and give film another shot. Yes, it’s going to cost a little bit. But you said you missed shooting on film. So try it. Maybe you do really miss it and you’ll find a way to make it work. Or maybe digital is right for you.
Thank you for your clarifications. The Hi-Matic 7s is indeed a good starter camera, but is also a good camera in general. I still use mine regularly! Yes, it’s not as versatile as an SLR, so I’ll pull out my SR-T 101 when I need a range of lenses. And thankfully nowadays we have faster color films and can use digital editing programs for cropping.
Oh yes, the 101 was a good and popular SLR.
Your suggestion of splurging for some real film is a good one. As soon as the heatwave is over I’m gonna dust off my old camera and try a roll or two.
Thanks for your response. Yes, I definitely enjoyed my 7s, and you guessed correctly–I discovered this nice website out of sentimental feelings.
To clarify, while I did enjoy my 7s and it was a good starter camera, I did want to note that it did have some limitations and generally I did like using an SLR better.
And yes, in many ways film offers a superior image to digital. I believe a high quality traditional film has a higher resolution than digital. Less contrast, too. Too bad Kodachrome was discontinued. Also, in my area, Kodak developing of print film was discontinued some years ago.
One last observation. An earlier poster mentioned using their 7s for yearbook pictures. Presumably that was done in b&w with a darkroom. Now in that application I can see the 7s being an excellent camera yielding excellent quality photos. The lens was fast enough with Tri-X to get good results in most existing light situations. For interiors lit with fluorescent lighting, higher contrast printing could add some zip to the image.
Having a darkroom would allow enlarging and cropping to compensate for being unable to get close up.
In 1972 color was somewhat rare in yearbook photography, but the 7s was good at taking slides or prints, whatever they used. I once used Vericolor print film and got sharp prints. But with color in those days good films were generally slow and interior shots would need a flash. For me, getting a decent flash photo was difficult. I think a large flash unit was less specular, and an off-center camera mounting gave some depth.
Thanks for the article, I love my old Hi-Matic 7s… I do not mind neither the cost or the wait(the latter is magic to me), love getting prints and scanning my negatives.
Anyways I rather like the 45mm lens, it has a very nice character and it is plenty sharp, if not something else is wrong!
I also do not mind how rangefinders work, no you cannot get up close or all of that, you can take very nice photos if you want.
It is for different work than a slr camera.
I use slr’s and a TLR plus one P&S and the rangefinder, they are all fun to use in their own way!
Also shoot digital, mostly with old lenses on an adapter, I use that for other stuff as I prefer using film.
Thank you for your comment, Niels! I agree, one of the things I like about film is the “waiting for scans/prints” aspect. It’s definitely an antidote to the instant gratification of digital. And yes, the Rokkor 45mm f/1.8 lens has a wonderful character. Enjoy your film cameras!
The Hi-Matic 7s is one of my all time favorite cameras to shoot with. When you use the Wein cell 1.35v battery the EV meter is spot on. The glass is outstanding on this lens. I don’t shoot much color film but do a bit and do shoot slide film. This camera with some black and white film will become your best friend. I love mine so much that when I had a strap break and the camera hit the ground I lost the light meter in it. I immediately got on eBay and bought another. You will fall in love with the quality of your photos and the build of this camera. I’m glad to see this little gem getting its due. I lipid hope nobody reads about it so they don’t shoot up in price!!