Wide and Wonderful : The Minolta Autowide

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Jun 19, 2015.

  1. An interesting camera that arrived a week ago, the Minolta Autowide, together with an unusual Kisei rangefinder.
  2. The Autowide appeared in 1958, a product of the Japanese manufacturer Chiyoda Kogaku Seikō, K.K. The advertising made the dubious claim that it featured the first "automatic" exposure system; in reality it has a coupled light meter with the potential to lock aperture and shutter speeds together, and I'm not sure that it was even the first of this genre. What is patently obviously is that Minolta set out to prove that they could produce a camera of as high a quality as the best from Europe, and the result is a superbly-finished and totally over-engineered camera that would have given the designers at Voigtlander, (renowned for their design excesses), a run for their money. The thing is weighty, with that sort of "ingot" feel that only pure metal cameras have, and the 35mm f/2.8 lens is one of Minolta's fine creations, again curiously advanced for what is in essence a zone-focus point and shoot camera. Here's the lens info from the instruction manual.
  3. The selenium meter is linked to both aperture and shutter controls, the settings for which are displayed in a window on the top deck.
  4. The exposure is adjusted by using two milled wheels set one inside the other, on the back just below the top deck. The recommended procedure involves setting the shutter speed by revolving the outer wheel, then depressing and turning the inner aperture wheel until the red arrow in the meter meets the white light-measuring pointer. When the inner wheel is released the two wheels will move in tandem, maintaining a constant exposure.
  5. Zone focusing is by click-stopped letters of S (Scenic), G (group) and P (portrait), though there is a conventional distance and DOF scale marked on the side of the lens assembly. I guess there just wasn't room left to fit an internal rangefinder; I've seen photos of the camera with the top removed and I just wouldn't want to go there. The bottom of the camera has both the winding and rewinding handles, the latter being a seriously heavy component that pops out of it's recess when the tiny sprocket release button is depressed. The overall attention to detail is excellent; note the little polished collar around the tripod thread. The back hinges open in conventional fashion.
  6. The shutter is a very quiet Optiper MVL with speed from 1 to 1/500th plus B. There's a large bright viewfinder with floating frame and parallax correction marks, and an oddly-place shutter release in the top of the selenium meter cell, adding to the overall eccentricity of the camera. It is, however, a very convenient and smooth release.
    A word about the Tasei rangefinder. It seems to be a very fine copy of the short-based Leitz Fokus rangefinder, with detachable pillar and shoe; it was apparently made for those Leica owners who found the original item a little pricey. There's little information available regarding this very usable accessory, and it seems to have a certain rarity value.
    Anyway, we've had a very wintry, grey week but I managed to put a roll of Ilford FP4 through the Autowide, establishing that the Rokkor is indeed a very nice lens. I attach some samples, all rather mundane. Processing through PMK Pyro, scans from an Epson V700 .
  7. Really enjoyed these images!

    "lovingly crafted", "over-engineered"... both are great descriptions.

    Why did camera designers try so hard in the late 1950s and early 1960s to over-engineer everything? Did they think it looked modern and 'clean' to put the advance levers and rewind cranks on the bottom? Did the Japanese designers want to prove that they could over-engineer as much as the Germans at Balda, Werra, and Agfa?

    Oh, sure, grasping a knurled ring around the lens barrel to adjust aperture, shutter speed and focus was alright scientifically for the primitive early 50s. But by 1959 it was the space age, and all this had to be done by means of a thumb wheel or concentric dials on the back, and the process would preferably be complicated by a confusing auto-exposure system relying on a selenium cell.

    I also had fun figuring out how to use the space age Minolta Wide and the rare earth lens.... and wondering about those engineers :)
  8. I'm envious. But seriously, great find and nice images. Minolta took a risk that a wider than normal fixed lens camera would sell, but they did it right as your results show. I don't know if any other manufacturer offered a 35mm lens on a fixed lens camera, except possibly Olympus. Great post and thanks.
  9. Rick,
    Interesting post. I suppose in 1958 a 35mm lens would be considered really wide. You have put it to good use.
    I found a short test in Modern Photography.
  10. I also found a full page ad.
  11. I have one of these in my collection, without the separate rangefinder, but have never used it. Olympus had a meterless fixed lens RF camera with a 35/2 lens which was quite good. I used one which I found in a drawer in the science lab of my in High School. At that time I mostly used a Konica Autoreflex T2 and my 35 was an f/1.9 Vivitar. I have many 35mm Minolta wide angle lenses. They are all good. Some are excellent.
  12. Thanks for the comments. Pleased you enjoyed the post, John, and I'd agree with your comments about the compulsion to "improve" technology. Though I do like the thumbwheel focusing that Voigtlander and Fuji used on many of their models; it does take one task away from an over-worked left hand! Thanks, Marc, great additions to the post, and thank you Mike and Jeff for your input.
  13. Bit late coming in here but I have been on the road for the last 10 days, finally stopped for a few weeks in the Adelaide Hills with some Internet access.
    You seem to turn up a lot of unusual cameras for us to see, and the little Minolta is no exception. I agree with John in the statement that these early Japanese cameras were really well engineered. Those Rokkor lenses are always top shelf too....really love the shot with the limbs...made me laugh!

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