Camera makers tried for decades to create systems that made loading film foolproof. Kodak’s 126 and 110 cartridge formats won the race in the 1960s and 1970s. But 35mm SLR photography took off with pros and advanced amateurs in the 1970s, giving 35mm the cachet of quality. As the 1970s came to an end, camera makers figured there was a big market for 35mm cameras that operated as simply as an Instamatic. They were right. The 1981 Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 is one of the early point-and-shoot 35mm cameras and is a big step toward foolproof operation.
The Hi-Matic AF2 lacks three key features that came to define the genre: motor wind, automatic film loading, and automatic ISO setting. Lacking these things doesn’t make the Hi-Matic AF2 a bad choice today, however. It comes with a good Minolta lens, 38mm f/2.8, of four elements in three groups. It offers a limited range of film speeds, from ISO 25 to 400. You set ISO by turning the knurled wheel around the lens.
Its active infrared autofocus bounces infrared light off a subject and gauges distance by how long it takes the light to return. It appears to offer two focus zones, one for closer subjects and one for farther subjects. It focuses no closer than 3.3 feet, and the camera bee-bee-beeps when your subject is closer than that. This is a nice feature most point-and-shoots lack. The viewfinder includes close-focus marks for when your subject is between 3.3 and 4 feet. The focus point is in the center of the viewfinder, marked with an oval. To focus, place the subject in the oval and press the shutter button halfway down. Then compose and press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the photo. 2 AA batteries power the camera’s automatic functions and flash.
If you have earlier Hi-Matic cameras in mind when you pick up the Hi-Matic AF2, you’re in for a disappointment. This camera is nowhere near as well built. It feels light and plasticky in the hand, and it creaks as you handle it. The controls feel flimsy. When you press the shutter button, the camera coughs a sickly wheeze as it stops the aperture blades down and then activates the shutter. The winder, though it has a delightful short throw, feels like it could break right off. When you turn on the flash, thwack! — the strobe pops up.
Film loading may not be automatic but it is foolproof: stick the leader in the slot on the takeup spool and wind. The film takes right up, no fuss. And winding and rewinding follows the 35mm SLR idiom, with all the controls where you’d expect. Press the button underneath the camera, pop the rewind lever out, and crank, crank, crank.
I haven’t figured out how its autoexposure system works. My theory is that it chooses the narrowest aperture it can for best depth of field. When light is low and it can’t do a shutter speed faster than 1/40 second, it beeps continuously to tell you to turn on the flash.
The camera is also large, at 5x3x2 inches. Within a few years, the 35mm point-and-shoot would start to shrink, eventually to pocketable sizes.
If you like point-and-shoot cameras, also see my reviews of the Kodak VR35 K40 (here), the Yashica T2 (here), the Canon AF35ML (here), the Pentax IQZoom 170SL (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus mju Zoom 140 (here), and the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
We were still locked down thanks to COVID-19 when I shot this camera. So I loaded it with Fujicolor 200 and took it on walks to places I could get to and back during my lunch hours while I worked from home.
The nearby shopping centers are full of in-your-face color. They make a surprisingly good place to test a camera with color film.
The parking lots are mostly empty thanks to COVID-19, making it easy to approach the subjects. This also makes it far less likely for me to be accosted by shopping-center security.
Red, blue yellow, orange — the Hi-Matic AF2’s lens rendered them all bold and true on Fujicolor 200.
Look at the lovely dusky colors I got as the sun went down outside my back door!
I shot the rest of the roll around my neighborhood, starting on my front stoop. The too-close beep really helped me make this photo: I backed up until the camera quit beeping.
One pet peeve I have with point-and-shoot cameras is inaccurate viewfinders. I centered this car in the viewfinder, but it is shifted left in the image
To make this photo, I placed the backboard in the viewfinder’s center oval and pressed the shutter down halfway so the camera would focus on it. Turns out it was unnecessary, as with this much light it chose a narrow enough aperture that everything was going to be in focus.
The Hi-Matic AF2 was a pleasant enough camera to carry despite its size. It was light enough to be unobtrusive. And these results are fine: sharp and colorful, with no distortion.
To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 gallery.
This Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 once belonged to my father-in-law. I found it in the garage while looking for something else. I shot it with Margaret’s permission. My father-in-law chose a simple camera that delivered reliably good results. But for the collector and user today, many point-and-shoot choices offer equally good lenses in smaller packages with more amenities.