Back shooting with the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

_MG_2579

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.

20200702_113012-ANIMATION
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.

IMG_20200702_111717320_HDR

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). 

IMG_20200708_114140908

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:

20200702_112913-ANIMATION
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.

 

New Photography page on my website

I’ve updated this website a little bit, and added (reinstated, actually) a ‘portfolio’ element to display some photographs.

I’ve stuck to albums/sets as these are the most sensible way of displaying them, and I’ve added a simple but neat little lightbox plugin to make it a bit nicer to look at. (This looks pretty good on desktop, but on a mobile device the lightbox isn’t so well-suited. I will need to see if I can get it to play nicer on mobile, or simply put up with it because mobile devices aren’t the best for browsing photographic galleries outside of purpose built apps like Instagram, anyway.)

This is what it looks like at the moment: a selection of recent-ish galleries, including the very recent latest set of photographs taken just last week on my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, which I love using, and on Ilford XP2, which I also love using. (It’s a black and white film, but it is developed using the colour C41 process, which makes things a bit easier and more economical for developing. It’s got great contrast, seems pretty versatile and, paired with the Minolta’s sharp 45mm f1.8 lens, produces really great-looking black and white images.)

I’ve added a few others – mostly trips away – partly because I gravitate towards these at the moment, in times of lockdown. In fact, four of the currently featured albums have also been made into photobooks, so they immediately seem like obvious choices for presenting here.

This is also, hopefully, an alternative (whether in place of, or alongside) to Flickr. I use Flickr still, and I browse Flickr daily. I follow loads of folks on there, and still vastly prefer it to Instagram in terms of delving into someone’s archive, or finding photographs of particular things, place, or taken on particular equipment.

I’ve been posting to Flickr in fits and starts – mostly because I have let my subscription lapse, and I am now limited to 1,000 uploads. I took the difficult decision to remove the vast majority of photographs I’ve had on Flickr, starting in 2005, as I am now more interested in posting new, fewer shots, than having vast archives online which are less relevant or representative of me now.

It was a difficult decision to do that, and I tried to preserve images or albums which have become sort of ‘classics’ of Flickr, by virtue of being discovered by enough people, or featured somewhere. But mostly I stripped away what was largely a sort of should-be-private photographic archive which felt anachronistic in 2020. What’s left is a collection of fewer images, but still quite a representative selection going back a decade or so. And I am keen to continue adding to it, including the new Minolta film, which is already online here via my new photography page.

I have some wider thoughts on Flickr, but I wanted to get this update up, and it made sense to talk a little bit about Flickr here now.

I hope the new galleries look okay at your end – feel free to offer me some advice if they could be improved. And I’ll continue to add to them in the near future.

Minolta Hi-Matic 7s – Ilford XP2 Super 400

2020 weeknote 7 – Hastings, a new camera lens, and The Lighthouse

Recent radio and podcast listening: Radio 3’s Saturday Breakfast and Unclassified with Elizabeth Alker; Giles Coren and Esther Walker’s podcast Giles Coren Has No Idea; Late Junction.

I think I’ve set myself an accidentally high bar when it comes to Weeknotes as I seem to be writing a thousand words or more and sometimes there just ain’t enough notes for the week. This week is one of them.

Trying to summarise office-based workmadness is getting beyond me, but I’ve noticed it’s taking up more and more of my mental energy which is in some ways good and in more ways quite bad. I keep having (or needing) little things that provide context and help me to separate work life from life life.

I went to see The Lighthouse this week and it was batshit crazy, and very enjoyable. It’s always so fun to watch a film that seems to have such a good grasp on what it’s trying to achieve, and it feels like it was all hands on deck. There’s a lot of questionable nonsense in there too, but not everything has to make sense. I really enjoyed it.

I seem to have made it this far knowing little to nothing about the director or producers/studio – possibly because some of their other output has been (afaik) horror, which I don’t tend to go for. But I find that I like media that sets itself restrictions and works within them (or, I suppose, watching old stuff that had what we now know of as restrictions but which were, at the time, simply the norm). So I may check out some more in this vein.

On the subject of films, I use Letterboxd to log the films I watch. Do you?


I picked up a new camera lens on a recent visit to St Albans – an old SLR 35mm f2.8 thingy from the 70s or 80s I think. I already had an adapter for putting M42 lenses onto my Canon dSLR, and I am happy to report that I’ve been enjoying using this new one.

It is extremely manual, and obviously focus is an issue as, with a modern dSLR, there isn’t a frosted glass focus aid or similar, so you’re just doing it by eye through the viewfinder. Or you can use zone focusing, which I don’t think I really understood before, but which I do now (to a degree), and it has helped me achieve some nice results.

On top of this it’s just a nice object – all-metal, solid construction, etc. It’s nice to have in my collection of lenses.


At the weekend M and I popped down to Hastings – oddly enough a repeat of a trip five years earlier, and somewhere we’ve felt drawn towards on a couple of other occasions since. We had a nice (if rainy and stormy) couple of days down there and I’m intending to write separately about our weekend.

I took my new lens and took some pictures with it.

One draw was the Hastings Parkrun course which is a fast, flat, out-and-back along the sea front. I’ve run that course twice before, so this time went for a third. Being on the front and out-and-back (and in the beginnings of storm Dennis) meant for a particularly fast out and a running-face-first-into-the-wind back. Fortunately what this meant overall was that I broke my PB for a standalone 5k*, which was unexpected and very nice.

* Strava tells me I’ve run a faster 5k before, but in the middle of a 10k run, which figures as that would make it a 5k with a rolling start and finish which you’d expect to be faster.

strava5129684779054075517-5990018-2148481

Anyway, being at the coast is nice and being at the coast in a winter storm is also quite nice (with the usual caveats). We ate good food and as much as we got soaked and windswept, we also found lovely cosy little places to warm up and dry out.

There we are, you see? I only wrote 700 words this week. Let’s see what next week inspires.

Stuff I’ve seen and read recently: January 2020

I read a lot of stuff on the web, and while a lot of it flies by, some of it sticks or leads me onto other things. From time to time it’s nice to go back through the links and tabs I’ve saved and share the good ones.

It wouldn’t make sense to just publish my Pocket queue. Some things exist only in my phone browser. Some goes to Pocket where it may languish for months. Others get sent straight to my Kindle* to be read before I go to sleep.

Here’s what’s been occupying my mind and eyeballs in recent weeks.

  • Amelia Tait wrote this great piece on her electronic diary. It struck a chord because I too have the majority of my diaries from 2002 to present in an electronic form and it means I can instantly look up places, people, moods… And it’s a blessing and a curse. This kind of article would have been invaluable when doing my university project, and reading things like it always makes me want to return to that area of study.
  • Dan Milnor’s blog is very frequently updated and he talks about cycling, photography, environmental issues, books and whatever else is on his mind. He works for Blurb so he also often has interesting things to say about photobooks and similar projects. As an unstoppable force, he recently announced his latest project/collaboration: AG23.
  • Adam Elkus’ blog was yet another nice one I found on my recent trawl of Kicks Condor’s HrefHunt or that Hacker News thread. I enjoyed a few of his posts, but one that held my attention was this recent one about the videogame DOOM. Something about these sort of very in-depth posts is so enjoyable to read. One person giving their thoughts, impressions, insight and expertise on a (sort-of but not-really) niche subject.
  • Very related, Sophie Haskins‘ website pizzabox.computer (god I am actually starting to love these new TLDs when they’re used well) documents her quest to investigate slim workstation computers (in a so-called pizzabox form factor :3!). I had Sophie’s blog in my RSS feeds from a while back and I was so glad to see a new post for the first time in over a year. Her latest post covers setting up NeXTstep on a HP machine in enjoyably verbose detail – in a very chilled, conversational style which I loved. Even better, she also made a video of this process presented in a similar style which, she teases, should be the first of more to come. Bring it on.
  • I’ve already mentioned Frank Chimero’s blog covering his website redesign ‘in the open’. This recent post which is basically on the subject of website headers and footers is long, sprawling, and thoroughly readable. He writes so entertainingly but also knowledgably. Which is definitely a word.
  • Another find from my latest descent into the hypertext mines is Roy Tang’s website. He writes posts about the state of the/his world, and web and software development past and present.  He also actively writes weeknotes. A recent post about burnout was very interesting, and older posts on redeveloping his website – use of WordPress and Hugo etc – have kept me delving into his extensive (and beautifully-represented) archives.
  • This New Yorker piece on device addiction struck a chord. It was sent my way by Sean Bonner and his excellent email newsletter. The initial mentions of life in north west London were interesting, and the wider concepts discussed tend to make for an fascinating subject. Really interesting to read about the century-old book which explored similar themes of disconnection from human touch. I’m afraid I didn’t know much about the piece’s author, Oliver Sacks, and so it was especially poignant to learn at the end that this had been published posthumously.

*Some such items, like this recent longform piece on Instagram which I didn’t love but didn’t hate, lead to my Kindle’s screensaver having the most incongruous/weird/soothing/serendipitous images displayed on my bedside table:

img_20200201_120411-1-5378400-3040389