All my cameras, 4 : Minolta Autopak 700

February 24, 2009

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A couple of years ago I started to take an interest in Instamatic photography, particularly the 110 and 126 formats. Essentially 126 is square and from the 1960s & 110 is rectangular and from the 1970s. Until recently I never thought about using these formats as I was happy enough with 35mm and bigger; also I was probably a bit of a film snob & saw them as somehow inferior. One thing that has sparked my interest is what seems to be their imminent exctinction. I can happily ignore something for decades until I hear it is about to be discontinued or demolished.

2005 was a big year for my feelings about traditional film based photography. This was the year that Kodak ceased production of B&W paper and also when Agfa Photo went into liquidation. Products that I took for granted were no longer available. I think it was also the year that the big Fletcher’s shop on Pitt St, Sydney suddenly closed. In the ’90s I used to visit the back room at Fletcher’s to look at all the stock in their film fridge. They carried every film that was available in Australia. Sometimes I would decide to explore all the slow films & would buy a couple of rolls each of Kodachrome 25, Ektar 25, Royal Gold 50, Agfa Ultra 50. All no longer manufactured. Once I’d had enough with the slow films I would try all the fastest films & I remember buying Scotch Chrome 1,000 & Konica 3200 neg film (still have a few unexposed rolls of each in the freezer, probably time for a clip test).

None of the big manfacturers is making 126 format today. Ferrania, the Italian film company was producing it as recently as a few years ago under the Solaris brand (also sold in some markets as Adox). I bought my film via the net from a site based in Canada called the Frugal Photographer. I believe they bought a large quantity of the last Ferrania run. I did some research into cameras, wanting to explore two approaches to the format; first with as much control as possible and secondly with a basic point & shoot approach. For the basic approach I bought a Kodak Instamatic 104. This camera has fixed focus & one aperture & shutter speed, basically set for sunny days.

The Minolta Autopak 700 I bought for the ability to manually focus & have a range of apertures and shutter speeds. I think I paid about $20 on ebay, always a bit of a gamble but I got lucky with an example that works well. It’s a rangefinder design which means that framing & focusing is done through a viewfinder rather than through the lens. The viewfinder is nice & clear although the focusing patch is a little faint. This is common with older cameras & I’ve been told it’s easy enough to have cleaned for a brighter patch. I can focus perfectly well as it is so I haven’t done anything about this.

Also in the viewfinder is a readout from the light meter indicated by a needle that points to exposure values between 8 and 17. The meter is powered by a PX625 mercury battery & these are no longer made for environmental reasons. I had one that was in a Super 8 camera so I put it in the Minolta & the meter needle works fine. I wasn’t sure how accurate the battery or meter would be so I have always used my Soligor spot meter to set exposure. If you did use the camera meter, the EV number displayed in the finder is transferred to the EV scale on the lens. The lens has rings for setting the aperture & shutter speed and these are connected to the EV scale. So if I set the EV scale to 15 I can get an aperture of f/11 and a shutter speed of 1/250, or f/16 @ 125, or f/22 @60, which all makes sense to me.

The aperture range is from f/2.8 to f/22 and the shutter speeds go from 1/30 sec to 1/250 plus bulb. To make it clear, there are only 4 shutter speeds on this camera, not much compared to a modern SLR but still 3 more than most instamatics. Combined with the 7 apertures & bulb you should be able to get a good exposure in any lighting conditions. There is also a full auto mode, set by turning both aperture & shutter rings to their respective A settings.

The lens is a Rokkor 38mm & I like the results it produces. I’ve only put a few rolls through it so it’s hard to say too much. I wish I could get some B&W film to expose in it & then print in a darkroom as that is when I tend to really see what a lens does. Apart from the above it’s a pretty simple camera with a hot shoe & PC socket for firing flash. I haven’t given much thought to using flash with it but it might be interesting to try in a studio sometime. Overall, it’s a nicely designed, solid metal camera that sits well in my hand, is straightforward to use & produces results that I’m happy with. Not bad for $20. It’s also enabled me to explore the square 126 format & discover some new looks.

Minolta produced this model from approx the mid ’60s to the mid ’70s. Of course they are totally out of the camera business these days. There were also other manufacturers producing high quality 126 cameras, notably Kodak & Rolleiflex. I would have been interested to buy any of them but happened across the Minolta first.

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4 Responses to “All my cameras, 4 : Minolta Autopak 700”

  1. Dean Says:

    I have one of these myself. I have a Rollei SL26 SLR as well, so I never use the Minolta. I loved the square format of 126. Luckily I still have some Solaris in the freezer.

    • whystoptime Says:

      You’re lucky if you’re in Canada as the Frugal Photographer is based there & they had good stock of 126 solaris the last time I checked. That’s where I bought mine from.

  2. Jef Price Says:

    Very cool. I just picked one of these up at a thrift store today for $.50. Seems to in near perfect shape.


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