5 frames with...

5 frames with a Minox 35EL & Agfa APX400 – By Bob Janes

November 28, 2020

Ah the Minox 35EL..

I am conflicted over this camera. I’m generally tolerant of camera ergonomics, but the Minox tends to be a bit of a pig.

It is awkward to load: the release for the back is stiff, you have to wedge the film leader under a strip of metal on the take-up spool. The single sprocket transport is prone to ripping film. The wind-on lever is stiff. Early copies suffered from light-leaks through the glass reinforced plastic. There are no focusing aids. The batteries are not made any more. The battery compartment is awkward to access. The rewind crank is badly angled and may score the plastic top-plate if you are not very careful in rewinding. The EL model has no backlighting button, so you need to adjust exposure via the meter settings, which will only take films up to ISO800.

Then there are the mechanical faults they can develop. My own copy will only cock the shutter if I wind on while the lens is deployed – winding on with the camera closed gets you a blank frame.

So:

  • You get to be very careful in loading, checking that the rewind knob is revolving on each thumb-shredding wind-on.
  • You don’t keep film in it too long and keep it hidden away in a pocket to keep it away from light.
  • You wind carefully and put up with the stiff wind-on.
  • You get used to guessing distance and remembering to set the focus on the lens.
  • You stack Silver Oxide Batteries to try to approximate the depth and voltage of the original, or you fit an S27PX silver oxide battery, which is the wrong voltage (6v) but which seems to give correct exposures (suggesting that the camera has a bridge circuit).

A single sprocket drive that shreds film; a wind-on that shreds skin (I’m amazed there is no blood visible); a rewind that sits on an angle and scores the top plate, stack up against a diminutive camera and that lens…

Ok so it does have the plaudit of being the smallest full-frame 35mm camera ever, but something like the Olympus XA actually manages to pack in much improved usability while having a pleasant wind-on and being, in pretty much every way, just as pocketable.

The credit side for this camera is quite short: the Color-Minotar 1: 2,8 f=35mm lens (good lord they don’t even spell Colour right!)

This credit may be a single item, but it is overwhelming. That a lens so small and simple should be so good beggars belief.

All. Is. Forgiven.

Rochester Castle, Agfa APX400

Eltham Palace, Agfa APX400

Thames footpath bridge near Erith, Agfa APX400

Jetty at Erith, Agfa APX400

Greenwich Yacht Club, Agfa APX400

You can find my other articles on 35mmc here

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Michael J
    November 28, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Good Lord, they didn’t even spell ‘minotaur’ right either. No respect for the Classics!
    I lusted after these when they came out when I was a kid- they looked so cool. Still do. Those photos look excellent (which might of course be due to the photographer) but sounds quite hard to live with.

    • Reply
      Bob Janes
      November 28, 2020 at 1:42 pm

      Well that lens is worth putting up with quite a bit for. Remember the EL was the first of many versions – since writing this piece, I’ve actually been using a 35 MB, which fixes a lot of the annoyances I have with the Minox 35 EL – better wind-on, backlight button, redesigned rewind crank and commonly available battery (still need to see what the pictures look like at the end of the day though…)

  • Reply
    Huss
    November 28, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. I’ve looked at has been broken. Shutter failure. What is cute it makes all the right noises as if it took a pic – push button down, click sound, wind on, rinse, repeat. But blank film. Online searches reveal this Achilles Heel, nay, Leg..

    But the lens is fantastic, and I’ve taken mine out and put it into a rudimentary LTM mount so I can use it in other cameras.
    Your photos attest to the quality of the lens.

    p.s. I’ve replaced the Minox 35, and any desire ever of getting another one, with the Ricoh FF-1 and FF-1S. I like them so much I now have three! The lens quality matches the Minox, the shape/size/form is very similar. It is very easy to use. And it works.

    • Reply
      Bob Janes
      November 28, 2020 at 5:20 pm

      I’m intrigued by the Minotar conversion to Leica thread – how have you fixed it in place?

  • Reply
    Cheek Wendell
    November 28, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    As a TV news photographer in the 80’s, I carried the Minox in my fanny pack for several years. Had none of the problems related in the article, but switched to the Olympus XA, which was more suited to my hands. Still have the XA, though it is semi-retired. For me, both fit the bill of recording people and places I encountered on the job. Both produ ed excellent results.

  • Reply
    Patrick Abe
    November 28, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    Once upon a time, when Popular and Modern Photography magazines were battling for the hearts and minds of photographers, the “smallest (full frame) 35mm camera” question came up. The Minox 35EL was held as the smallest, but then this contender popped up: https://www.cameraquest.com/petri35.htm
    The Petri Color 35 was even compared against the Rollei 35, since these cameras featured full manual control of 35mm cameras of the time. Automatic cameras were regarded with suspicion, since a dead battery turned it into a doorstop. I’d expect this camera to show up at Mike Eckman’s website someday, unless Kuribayashi’s spotty mechanical reliability was in full force. (Candidate for Cameras of the Living Dead?)
    Does it take good pictures? That is something yet to be answered.

  • Reply
    martin
    November 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    I have to agree with you Michael. I bought a 35GT new back in the mid 80s and still use it. It was the only camera I took when travelling for at least 4 years and it never let me down. 400ISO film and the push on ND filter coped well in all outdoor lighting and the 1 stop compensation helped indoors. Zone focusing isn’t a problem if you understand the basics of hyperfocal distance and it was only ever tricky close up at wide apertures. Maybe this apparently simple camera required a bit more knowledge and understanding than the average snapper has but I’ve met several seasoned pros who swore by their minox, even as a back up for their Leicas.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    November 28, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    I was tempted by the Minox in the late ‘70s when I wanted a pocketable 35mm camera to take on TV filming assignments. I settled on a Rollei 35 instead. It has a pullout f3.5 lens, something like the early Leica Elmar.
    Mine was made in Singapore, and it still works perfectly although I dropped it once years ago when the wrist strap came unscrewed. I still have the Rollei 35 and photos taken with it but I haven’t used it for a while.

  • Reply
    Richard Parkin
    November 29, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Bought mine in 1974 when the came out. It worked perfectly, none of the problems mentioned I the article. It was replaced by Leitz at 12 months due to peeling “paint”. The shutter stopped working years later (though I think the battery still tested OK) but revived when I found the new silver oxide batteries which I (probably wrongly) ascribed to the slightly higher voltage, maybe it just felt like having a rest. Still working.

  • Reply
    Eric Norris
    November 29, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    I tried several times to buy a working Minox via eBay. All were non-working in some way, and I finally decided to give up, not wanting to pay a premium price for one that probably would have functioned correctly. I did get photos out of one camera when the conditions happened to match the exposure the camera was stuck on, and they did turn out quite well.

    On to the next camera!

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