Friday, January 15, 2010

Vintage Camera #3 - Minolta Miniflex

The third vintage camera I was given was the Minolta Miniflex. This is a much newer camera than the other two, made in 1959, however I find it the most fascinating cameras of the three, because of the twin lens reflex system, much like a hasselblad.

This camera is in pristine condition - probably because a), it looks like it didn't get that much use, and b), it's was sitting at the top of the wardrove since the 1970's!

The Minolta Miniflex can take twelve exposures in 4×4cm square format. The film is advanced by a knob on the photographer's right, at the bottom, engraved with an arrow and the word WIND to indicate the turning direction. The film runs from the upper chamber to the lower chamber. This method reduces film distortion compared with the reverse travel direction.

The film advance automatically stops at each exposure and is unlocked when the shutter release is pressed. There is a round window on the advance side for an exposure counter. The position of the first exposure is set via a red window on the right of the back, protected by a large spring-loaded rotating disc, marked CHIYODA KOGAKU OSAKA JAPAN. Then the exposure counter is reset to "1" by pressing a button near the advance knob. This button is hidden in a slot and can be pressed with a fingernail or a coin; it has this shape to avoid accidental action.

The back is hinged to the top for film loading, and locked by a small rectangular key at the bottom. The tripod thread is integrated in the body casting and is not part of the back.


There is a big focusing wheel on the photographer's left, turning 120 degrees and driving a heart-shaped cam moving the front standard back and forth. This wheel contains a film reminder, and there is an additional plate with depth-of-field indications. The distance scale is engraved either in metres or in feet, depending on the intended market. The minimum focusing distance is either 1m or 3.3ft.

The viewfinder is integrated into the body casting, unlike most other TLR cameras. This construction allowed to reduce the cost of the viewfinder part. The viewing hood has a peculiar three-fold, specially designed to avoid the side plates going deep into the body and to prevent the entry of dust. It contains a square magnifying lens hinged to the top but no sportsfinder. It also has a logo at the front, showing the letter M in silver on a deep red background.

The nameplate is made of translucent plastic, with the name minolta miniflex written in gold letters in the typical 1960s Minolta font. The body number is inscribed on a small metal strip above the nameplate. There are strap lugs on both sides of the body, for use with spring-loaded clamps on the strap itself. These strap attachments were specific to the Miniflex at the time it was introduced. There are two accessory shoes, one on each side, buried in the body casting in the space left free by the special viewfinder construction. Each contains two spring-loaded spheres to hold the accessory on the shoe. The right-hand shoe has an indentation at the bottom, whose purpose is unknown. This shoe is used to attach the accessory sportsfinder (see below). Unlike most other TLR cameras, the Miniflex is held horizontally when using the sportsfinder.

The shutter release is at the bottom of the front standard and protrudes towards the right; it was specially thought to make it comfortable to trip both in the vertical position and in the horizontal position. The button contains a screw thread for a cable release. The shutter is an Optiper Citizen MVL (B, 1–500). It is cocked by a small lever at the bottom. The self-timer lever is on the same side as the release button and is painted green. The opposite side has a red painted M/X selector and a PC synch socket. The shutter name is inscribed between the two lenses: OPTIPER on one side and CITIZEN MVL on the other.

The speed scale is on the left side, as seen from the front, and there is a Light-Value scale in a window below the taking lens. These two scales are inscribed on the same disc, moved by a lever placed near the release button. The aperture scale is engraved on a second disc placed above, and appears opposite the speed scale. This second disc is directly turned by hand, and has a small index moving along the Light-Value scale and indicating the Light-Value corresponding to the selected settings. The two discs move freely and are not interlocked, unlike other Light-Value systems.

The taking lens is a four-element Minolta Rokkor 60mm f/3.5, and the viewing lens is a three-element View Rokkor 60mm f/2.8. Both have a seven-digit serial number and a three-lug bayonet attachment.

The camera has two-tone blue finish: medium blue hammertone paint for the body shell, back and moving front standard, and light blue lacquer for the viewing hood and the casing surrounding the lenses. Original documents from the company call the darker colour "greenish blue" and the lighter "silver grey". The sides and the back have a matching blue-grey leatherette covering. With time, this leatherette covering tends to change colour and get a brownish tint on many examples.

The Minolta Miniflex was announced in Japanese photography magazines dated May to July 1959. The Miniflex was briefly advertised in Japanese magazines in October and November 1959. The October advertisement in Camera Mainichi presents the camera along with the Minolta A3, and does not mention a price. The November advertisement in Shashin Kōgyō, mainly devoted to the Minolta 16, makes some room for the Miniflex and indicates the price of ¥12,700 (case ¥1,800 extra).

Body numbers are confirmed in the 100xxx, 102xxx, 103xxx, 104xxx and 105xxx ranges, and lens numbers are known in all thousands from 1100xxx to 1105xxx. The body, viewing lens and taking lens numbers usually do not match, sometimes by a wide margin.

The highest known numbers are body no.105258, taking lens no.1105178 and viewing lens no.110504. Various sources say that the production did not exceed 5,000,but the available data seems to show that a few hundred more were made.

With only 5000 worldwide, the camera is one of the rarer ones and could possibly be worth much more than the first two vintage cameras on my blog.


Christopher Lehfeldt said...

Rare, eh? I'm sure that if you listed it for sale in Japan's eBay, you might fetch premium prices for it. Of course, you'd need to get a professional appraisal.

It's amazing that the first appraiser said, "Worthless." The idiot!

Did you pick up your love of taking photographs from your mother or your father? Were one or both of them avid photographers?

Anonymous said...

There was one listed on Ebay in USA for $1000 usd - not sure if it sold - and like I said - it's only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it.

My love of photography came from my father I think. My mother was never a photographer hence these cameras sat in a wardrobe unused for so long. They came from her Uncle Bill who died tragically from a broken leg (clot) in the late 60s/early 70s.

My dad once used to shoot weddings for a living while at university and although he took excellent photos, and was the keeper of records of family events, he never did anything with it in a professional sense. Shame as he was good. I still have boxes and boxes of slides to go through! Another project for me when I get 'time'!


Anonymous said...

There are actually 3 listed on ebay at the moment, one for $1000 USD, one for $1020usd, and one for $1606USD. From what I can see, mine looks in better condition from all of them.

Hmmmmmmmm $1600 usd could buy me my brand new Canon 7D!

I'd like to get my hands on some 127 black and white and colour film to try the camera out though!

Konica-Minolta 2400 toner said...

the classic Konica Minolt cameras have always been able to catch my eye since I was a kid. I can remember seeing many Konica Minolta cameras in storage at my grandmother's house.

Ion Myke said...

Wow, thanks for the info, apparently these don't come up for sale often. If yours is in better condition then one that they were trying to get $1600 for, then I REALLY wonder what mine could go for.. It looks practically unused. Any more recent developments?

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