I wanted to enjoy using my Kodak Retinette IA, I really did. But using it turned out to be like a bad date, the kind where you are glad to be home alone at 8:30 p.m. My old-camera thirst remained unslaked, so I got out my almost-forgotten Minolta Hi-Matic 7.
I bought this camera shortly after I started collecting again. Having just received an eBay win that had problems the seller did not disclose, I had learned the hard way that what a seller tells you about a camera is as important as what they don’t tell you. So I asked this seller some questions. Is the lens clear? Does the winder work smoothly? Does the shutter fire at all speeds? Does the light meter work? The answers: Yes, yes, yes, and I don’t know. I wasn’t too keen on having another broken camera, but the bids remained modest and the camera looked to be in almost mint condition, so I bid and won.
I was new to Japanese rangefinders, and the photos on the eBay listing made me think that this would be a lightweight, compact camera. The photo below even makes this camera seem smaller than it is. But check the scan at right from the camera’s manual – this thing is half the size of the woman’s head! And when the package arrived, it was heavy – this is a well-made instrument with all the heft that goes with its quality components. When I picked up this camera, the first thing I thought was “brick outhouse.” You hold it with both hands. If I were to put a neck strap on it and hide it under my bed, I could swing this sucker around and knock intruders out cold. Its square corners would leave quite a dent!
The Hi-Matic 7 is not much to look at. Photos I took at other angles aren’t very interesting, showing flat surfaces and acres of brushed aluminum and black leatherette. I suppose it was meant to look serious, to attract the serious amateur photographer.
I don’t know what year my Hi-Matic 7 was made, but the camera went into production in 1963. Its rangefinder is coupled and projects inside the viewfinder, meaning you frame and focus the shot in one place. The light meter is not coupled; its scale appears inside the viewfinder, which seems like it would be inconvenient to use. A mechanical self-timer is on the lens barrel, and although a cold accessory shoe sits up top, any flash with a cord can connect to the synchro terminal that’s on the lens barrel. Its Sheikosha shutter goes to 1/500 second, and it has a six-element 45mm Rokkor-PF lens at f/1.8.
The light meter calls for a PX625 mercury battery, but you can’t legally buy mercury batteries in the United States anymore. Tons of light meters were made to use the PX625 before they were banned, and so the vintage-camera community has come up with several workarounds so they can keep using their classics. Some people buy the mercury batteries in Canada or Mexico. Some buy Wein cell (zinc-air) batteries, which are available in the 625 size and carry the voltage the light meter expects. Unfortunately, they must be ordered specially and have a reputation for not lasting long. Others make or buy an adapter that lets them use inexpensive silver and silver-oxide button batteries available cheaply in every drug store, but in some cases this requires recalibrating the light meter to read accurately with the battery’s voltage. The common caution is not to use an alkaline button battery in the Hi-Matic 7; it doesn’t hold a constant voltage, which the light meter relies on to give accurate readings.
I was pretty busy when the camera arrived and didn’t have time to deal with the light-meter battery hoo-hah, so I put the camera on the shelf. When I became desperate for vintage photographic satisfaction, however, I got it down, taped a Sunny 16 chart to the back, and headed to the park.
Holliday Park is on Indianapolis’s Northside. John Holliday founded The Indianapolis News in 1869 and, with the fortune the newspaper brought, built his estate on this land along the White River. After he and his wife died, all 80 acres were donated to the city to be used as a park and a place to study nature. Today, the park has expanded to 94 acres and includes a large playground, hiking trails, picnic shelters, a nature center, and these ruins.
The Western Electric Company owned one of New York City’s first skyscrapers, the St. Paul Building, built at 220 Browaday in 1898 to 26 stories. It came down in 1958 to make way for an even taller building. Its entrance facade, with its statues of Indiana limestone, was moved here. A reflecting pool was built before it, but it is in poor repair and is no loger filled.
This photo shows the facade from behind. The columns came from a local convent when it was demolished.
A few of these little benches stand around the ruins.
Four statues of Greek goddesses that once stood above the facade of the old Marion County Courthouse were moved here, as well. Only two have survived vandalism and the elements.
The ruins are in a section of the park called Constitution Mall. Three large “stones,” one for each branch of government, stand at the far end. The first words of the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution are engraved in them.
Normally, when I show you photos I took with an old camera I tell you all about the camera’s quirks. This time, I’ve been telling you about Holliday Park instead because this Hi-Matic 7 was a pleasure to use, working almost flawlessly. The shutter fired smoothly, the film advance worked easily, and the focus and aperture controls moved with precision. This camera yielded photos limited only by my skill and ability as a beginning photographer and by my unfamiliarity with the camera. I underexposed a couple of these photos (fixed with photo-editing software), and I didn’t frame close shots very well (because, I found out later, I was trying to manually compensate for parallax error when the camera does that for me automatically). I will be ordering a zinc-air battery for the light meter, I will be reading the manual I downloaded, and as soon as the weather improves I will be shooting another roll of film with this delightful camera.
Post script: While at Holliday Park, a fellow shooting with a vintage Leica camera approached me, interested in my old Minolta. An immigrant, he barely spoke English, but our wide smiles were all the communication necessary as we looked each others’ cameras over.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!