In Part 1 of my quest, I started to identify what I was looking for in a classic compact film camera. In Part 2, I found a camera that was very easy to love – except that you can’t get film for it any more and the batteries it uses have been banned.
The third camera I came across on this journey was the Minox 35GT. Minox is mostly known for their sub-miniature ‘spy’ cameras – tiny little things you’d expect to see in a James Bond movie. Their 35mm line is not as well-known, but seem to be quite popular among the sub-compact enthusiast crowd.
Unlike the two Rolleis I looked at earlier, the Minox is a real lightweight – it’s made of a dense plastic, possibly ABS. Like the Rollei 35B, the Minox lens collapses into the camera body when not in use. Unlike the 35B, the Minox has a fold-up door which covers and protects the lens (and the front of the viewfinder) while the camera is closed.
One of the features that attracted me to the Minox 35 series was that they use aperture-priority AE. This was the mode with which I first learned about automatic exposure, and it remains my favorite kind of AE. With aperture priority, you select your desired aperture and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed. This allows you to control the depth-of-field of your shot.
Another feature was that the camera certainly lived up to its reputation as a small and lightweight camera. I think it’s smaller than the Rollei and maybe half the weight. It slips easily into a pocket, and is an easy camera to carry around with you.
I found a few drawbacks however. The first being that the Minox 35 series were designed to use the now-banned PX-27 mercury battery. One can improvise with four LR44 alkaline cells, but this results in a slightly different voltage, and a different discharge curve. Some cameras can manage acceptably with the alkaline cells, other cameras, not so much.
Another drawback is that setting the aperture and focusing the camera are both somewhat fiddly – the lens barrel is small and partially blocked by the front door and its folding arms. This makes adustments a little bit slow as you have to stop and concentrate on the camera rather than your subject. Focusing is achieved by distance-scale and guesswork, by the way.
My usual solution to both of these quirks is to set my aperture ahead of time and set my focus at the hyperfocal distance, then I generally don’t have to think about it while shooting.
Unfortunately, in using the camera, I found there were some real disappointments. The first and most noticable was that the viewfinder was badly fogged. It was very difficult to see through and this simply made using the camera a painful and unhappy experience. Ultimately I ended up disassembling the top of the camera to clean the thing out, and I got the viewfinder about 90% clear. There is still some cloudiness in there, right in the middle, but I cannot get in deep enough to clean that.
The second and in the end, fatal disappointment, is that I just haven’t been able to get any really good photographs out of this camera. When I started writing this series, I searched the blog for Minox photos, and discovered that I had posted none at all. Reviewing my logs and files, the reason became clear: there really weren’t any photos worth posting. I had to grasp a bit to come up with the ones I’ve posted here today.
One final detail I noticed was that the shutter releases on the Minox 35 series seem to have a hair-trigger. If you just brush it while the lens door is open, the camera will take a shot. I wasted a few frames per roll due to this quirk.
Details: Minotar 1:2.8 f=35mm lens. Battery, PX27 mercury. Shutter, 1 second to 1/500th. Aperture, f/2.8 to f/16. Standard tripod socket, standard cable-release socket.
Pros: Small. Light. Aperture priority AE. Standard hot-shoe. Lens & front viewfinder protected when closed.
Cons: Battery required to function. Battery unavailable. Small fiddly controls. Hair-trigger on shutter release. Unsatisfactory results.
Summary: 2 out of 5. I wanted to love this camera, I really did. The fogged viewfinder just made it really hard to enjoy using, and the poor results were the nails in the coffin. These problems may be isolated to my individual camera but they’re enough to dissuade me from trying another Minox. This is definitely not my ideal compact camera…
Stay tuned! Part 4 is coming soon!