Back shooting with the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

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It’s been about eighteen months since I last used my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s.

The last roll of film I shot with it was mostly in Cyprus. I had learned about Ilford’s XP2 film, which is black and white, but is developed using the colour ‘C41’ process, meaning it is cheaper and easier to get developed than ‘full’ black and white film.

The images I got back from Cyprus – mostly in bright, December sunshine – came out so satisfyingly that I knew I would use XP2 again. 

Fast forward to the middle of 2020, the world is somehow different, and yet my photographic bug hasn’t gone away – in some ways it has stepped up with more time to devote to photography across a smaller range of locations and subjects, and the time spent looking at other people’s photographs and editing techniques has led to me having as strong an urge as ever.

I picked up a new roll of Ilford XP2 from Snappy Snaps and popped it into the Minolta one Friday a few weeks ago, and started shooting with it. It’s a rangefinder camera, and as such is a little heftier than some other film cameras. It has a fixed lens, and you look through a viewfinder which is separate to the lens itself – unlike with an SLR camera which uses a prism to allow you to see through the lens you are shooting with.

It’s a satisfyingly manual camera to use, and yet it can be used fully automatically (apart from focussing). That is – it can be, if it has a fresh battery installed. The battery powers a simple light meter which is visible inside the viewfinder, and gives a reading which can be used to set specific apertures or shutter speeds as you wish – or it just reveals if a fully-automatic shot is likely to be under- or over-exposed.

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The lightmeter inside the Minolta’s viewfinder

It’s on the right hand side – see how the black needle on the yellow bar moves from about 10 to about 14? These are ‘EV’ readings and correspond to settings on the lens which are shown when adjusting aperture and shutter speed manually. 

I’ve seen differing opinions on this: some say that this camera can only ‘do’ shutter priority; others say only aperture priority. One source states that it only works when setting both – i.e. fully manual.

The camera’s manual implies that all three are possible: page 18 says you can set any combination of shutter speed and aperture; page 19 talks about setting the shutter speed first, then using the light meter to set aperture; it goes on to say that alternatively you can set the aperture first, using the light meter to set a corresponding shutter speed.

The system is simple: compose your shot, check the meter for lighting, then rotate the barrel for either shutter or aperture so that the EV number shown on the lens is the same, and your picture should be properly exposed. Or just set both barrels to ‘A’ for automatic, and check the light meter and focus. If the above needle is in the red zones at the top or bottom of the range, the picture is likely to be under- or over-exposed. This is particularly important when shooting fully automatically.

I digress. This all relies on the light meter functioning correctly, and for that the camera needs a working battery. To my surprise, I found that the one in mine was dead. The needle on the lightmeter had just stopped responding to light.

This was odd, as I was sure it had been functioning eighteen months ago – it must have been for me to obtain usable images, right? But of course little, old batteries don’t live long when you go years between uses.

I noticed that the dial where you set the film’s speed in ASA/ISO also has an ‘off’ setting. Presumably if I’d set this, the battery would be disengaged? The manual doesn’t confirm,  but does suggest that if the camera is not being used for more than a month that the battery should be removed. This is probably more to do with avoiding battery leaks than anything else. Either way, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the battery was dead.

Being from 1966, the Minolta takes slightly strange batteries… Batteries that have since been banned from production. But fortunately there is a close equivalent which is fairly readily available. When my replacement battery arrived, I popped out the old one.

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And indeed it was an old one… In fact, knowing these batteries were banned from production in the EU in 2000 already made it a certain age, but, on closer inspection – Made in W. Germany – mine had to be, what, pre-1991…? Something like that, anyway. Weird. 

So maybe it was in the camera that whole time, mostly switched to the ‘off’ position and not draining charge, and it worked for the last film I shot? Or I just got very lucky and the light meter wasn’t working at all, and the shots just somehow worked. No idea. Thank goodness it hadn’t leaked.

Anyway – once the battery was swapped out, the light meter was responsive again. I wanted to get back into the swing of things nice and quickly, and I shot the roll of 36 exposures over the course of a week or so.

For this film, I wanted to check if the camera was functioning as expected – the first few frames were shot without the new battery, and either guestimating the settings, or using my dSLR as a sample or simply as a light meter. 

I noted down the settings I used for each frame (and the location/subject, to help me identify each one later on). 

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It turns out I seem to have accidentally invented the Photomemo notebook!

As I’ve written previously, the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s is a bit bulky to carry around, but it also fits nicely in my hands. It feels nice to use – perhaps familiar? And the focussing system is nice and intuitive – and ensures tack-sharp images.

To focus an image, point the yellow diamond at the centre of the viewfinder at the edge of what you’re trying to focus on, and then turn the lens until the two translucent images align:

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The Minolta’s rangefinder focussing system

When the ‘two’ images are aligned, that confirms your image is in focus.

And with that, one can head out with the Minolta and snap away. I loaded the XP2 while sat on a bench in Regent’s Park, and within a few days I had filled the film. And it produced some really lovely results!

The whole film can be viewed here, but below are a few highlights.

I’ve already picked up a new roll of XP2 – as well as a roll of Fomapan 200 having seen a few others using this stuff. That wil be my first pure B&W film, so I’m excited to try it out.

 

Shooting film with the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

A few years ago, when hunting high and low for a specific camera, I picked up a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s.

Here it is:

It wasn’t the Ansco Autoset I was looking for – that’s a long story for another day, but this is in fact a slightly later evolution of that camera, and much more user friendly.

It’s a lovely 35mm film camera produced in Japan in 1966, with a few really nice features. It’s not the most attractive camera, though it isn’t unattractive, and it’s a touch on the heavy/boxy side. But as someone who has shot several films with a Zenit E, this is a wee bit lighter.

While clearing out my storage locker recently I came across the little Minolta, all tucked away in its hard-wearing leather case. Strange, I thought, as I got rid of most of my film cameras a few years ago. But I couldn’t resist taking it out for a spin last weekend. It already had film in, with 3-4 shots taken, so I took it along for a day-trip to St Albans.

One thing that’s great on this camera is the battery-powered light metering which actually enables it to be run fully automatic – save for focusing. I ran fully automatic for all these shots. Luckily, the focus system is quite nice, too. Rather than the split-circle style found in some cameras, this one uses a small smudgy area in the middle of the viewfinder, through which one sees two images. Align the two overlaid bits of the image (ideally on an edge, or some other contrasting feature), and that is what will be in focus.

It turned out really well – a mixture of shots indoors and out, from the glaring sunshine of that sunny bank holiday we had, to the dark crevices of a thousand-year-old cathedral. Another neat feature is how quiet the shutter is. I’m more used to the hefty CLUNK of an SLR, and this is more of a quick click.

The below were taken on bog-standard Pound shop Kodak 200 film (most likely approximately six years old, too). I’ll be picking up some new film for the Minolta, as I really enjoyed using it.

Bambi (1942) / Pinocchio (1940)

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“Man is in the forest…”

Over the festive period, M and I watched Bambi and Pinocchio. Have you ever seen those films? Jesus, they’re brutal.

Forgive me if this is common knowledge to all sentient beings other than me, but I was not expecting such darkness on a cosy winter’s morning.

I’d picked up Bambi as it went hand-in-hand with another gift for M of cute Bambi-brand pyjamas. There’s Bambi, all cute with a butterfly on his nose. But God, nothing had prepared me for the onslaught of terror and crushingly dark imagery that Bambi contains. I think I’d remembered that Bambi had a weirdly dark twist, but I didn’t actually know the nature of it until the other day.

And Pinocchio! That cute fairy tale about a wooden boy coming to life? Who remembered the bit where he’s carted off to a grotesque funfair full of naughty boys smoking cigars and shooting pool before being turned into donkeys? I had no idea Spirited Away had taken such inspiration from this film. Admittedly, I found the images of little boys smoking hilarious, but also completely at odds with what I’d expected from these classic, early Disney films.

We were both so shaken from these viewings – the gunshots from Bambi still ring in my ears – that we watched Silver Linings Playbook to cheer ourselves up afterwards.

Hard Eight (1996)

Hard Eight (IMDb / Mubi) was a bit of a surprise. It shouldn’t have been – I came into it knowing I’ve enjoyed every Paul Thomas Anderson film I’ve seen.

It all started with the majestic There Will Be Blood – one of my favourites, and one which I’m so glad I saw on the big screen with its widescreen panoramas and all-encompassing sound production.

And then every year or so I’d happen to put another P.T. Anderson flick on – maybe it was a weird Netflix suggestion, or Matthew Culnane wouldn’t shut up about Boogie Nights, or I was mourning the death of the singular Philip Seymour Hoffman.

What I’m trying to say is that Hard Eight shouldn’t have been a surprise, but boy was it. I loved it.

I suppose knowing it was a wunderkind director’s début picture could have given me reason to doubt it would be any good, but it needn’t have. There are very few elements of this film that even suggest that this is an early production, let alone a début. There are just too many great locations, solid performances, and glorious tracking shots that Anderson has since become famous for. On top of that, the music choices feel vital, and considered – not thrown together at the last minute due to budget constraints.

There’s some uninspired dialogue here and there, but not enough to take away from the likes of Philip Baker Hall absolutely smashing it out of the park with his performance. On which note, John C. Reilly is perhaps the film’s biggest surprise – he’s brilliant. But then, that’s another thing P.T. Anderson has a weird knack for: extracting great performances from surprising casting choices.

My voyage into Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography continues, and the standard remains high.


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Gilda (1946)

Gilda (1946)

The next film I watched on Mubi after The Golem was Gilda, a noir-ish casino-based thriller from 1946.

It’s typically melodramatic and peppered with shots like that shown above which just ooze class and mystique. There’s nice attention to detail, although some lines/roles feel a bit wooden. It’s the first Rita Hayworth film I’ve watched and by crikey is she something else. The central relationship is an abusive one, which is a little hard to swallow nearly seventy years on, and the ending is a little abrupt and less credible than the rest of it, but it doesn’t get in the way of what is a very enjoyable film.

Gilda was also packed full of people who make smoking look incredibly cool. Casinos, too. This theme was to continue in the next film I watched…


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