Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
How often have you heard those words? And how often have you ploughed on anyway and assumed something must be right, because there it is, on the screen?
I can’t remember what set me off going down the 1960s chunky rangefinder rabbit-hole, but after a few hours spent comparing reviews of various models – the Konica Auto S2, Canonet QL17/19, Yashica Lynx and others – I spotted a Minolta Hi-Matic 7S going for a reasonable price on a well known auction site. All in good condition, might need the light seals replacing, but I am handy with a scalpel and sticky-backed foam, so my interest was triggered.
Add to that the review I found, where the main focus of the article was the fact that this camera could operate in four modes. Set both the shutter speed and aperture dials to “A” and the camera is fully automatic, picking suitable values for both depending on the light. Set the shutter speed yourself, and leave the aperture on “A” and you have a shutter priority camera. Or leave the speed on “A” and choose your aperture for aperture priority automatic. Or set them both yourself and it’s fully manual. As the author pointed out, there are very few cameras that do that, and no other rangefinders that he knew of.
So I bought it.
Except…50% of that paragraph isn’t true at all. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I tracked down the manual. It talked about the fully automatic option, (which uses a sliding scale of values from 1/15 at f/1.8 to 1/250 at f/22), and the fully manual mode, but made no mention of the two semi-automatic ways of working. Odd, I thought. Surely not an undocumented feature?
No. The manual was right. When the camera arrived, I was pleased to see that it really was in good condition, shiny in all the right places and firing correctly. A few minutes with the back open however, watching what happened in the various modes, confirmed my suspicions. Let’s say for example, with both dials set to “A”, the camera decides that the current light needs 1/125 at f/8. Now if you decide to set the shutter speed yourself to 1/500, and leave aperture on “A”, the camera still uses f/8. Change it to 1/4 of a second – still f/8. Similarly, if you put the shutter speed dial back to “A”, and choose any aperture at all, it fires at 1/125 – not as easy to confirm that, but my money is on it.
Either the author of that review never actually used the camera, or he just got very lucky when he tried those in-between modes, and picked values close to the camera’s own preferences.
Anyway, I had a camera to try out, so in went a roll of HP5, and away I went, armed with a dog and a camera, for a lockdown exercise walk around the footpaths and fields we have got to know so well.
The camera was easy to use – even without my glasses I had no problem seeing the values on the shutter speed and aperture dials. The rangefinder diamond wasn’t the biggest, but was clear enough, and all in all it felt good and solid. The light meter visible in the viewfinder gives EV values, and these in turn appear in a cut-out on the aperture dial, which changes as you alter your settings, so if you don’t trust your Sunny 16 skills, you can go with whatever the meter is suggesting.
With the results back from the processing lab, I am pretty satisfied with what it can do. I think the first three of these were taken on full auto, and the next three using Sunny 16. There is a faint scratch showing on some of the images not shown here, but whether it is the camera or the processing which has put it there will only be proved after the next film. And there will be a next film, because despite it being not quite the camera I was expecting, it has done enough to avoid the “straight back on eBay” route.