Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta Autopak 470

Church

I find it hard to love 110 film and cameras. That tiny frame and the craptacular plastic lenses most of the cameras used never led to great results. But the Minolta Autopak 470 is one whale of a 110 camera, with a 26mm f/3.5 Rokkor lens of Tessar design, and exposure controlled by a CdS cell with shutter speeds from 2 sec. to 1/1000 sec.

Minolta Autopak 470

I got this camera from my friend Alice’s father. He sent me all of his cameras from a lifetime of photography, great gear including a Certo Super Sport Dolly, a Yashica-D, and an Olympus OM-1. This Minolta was by far the least of his cameras, but I liked it when I shot it last time. Check out the candylike color I got on Lomography Color Tiger film on that outing. That roll yielded the sharpest 110-film images I’ve ever seen.

GMC Truck

Today the only source of fresh 110 film is Lomography, so I bought more Color Tiger. That film’s backing paper is infuriatingly flecked with pinholes, so I protected against light leaks by sticking a square of electrical tape over the frame counter. I then dropped the cartridge and two LR44 batteries into the Autopak and carried it in my cargo-shorts pocket, sans flash attachment, on a fun long weekend with my wife. It’s so light I barely knew it was there.

Downtown Indy

There’s not much to using this camera: focus and fire. Except I frequently forgot to focus, as I usually do with zone-focus cameras. I don’t know what my mental block is. On several shots nothing was in focus.

Out of focus

I think the Autopak assumes that when you focus close, you want a blurred background. I deliberately focused on the sign in this shot, and everything behind it is out of focus. It’s a pleasant enough look, but I really wanted Margaret to be in focus.

On the bridge

When I did remember to focus I was always fazed by the scale, which places closest focus on the right and farthest on the left. That’s backwards to the way I think of focus. Some of its zone symbols are unusual, too, and I never got the hang of them. I kept having to check the focus guide on the camera’s bottom to know what to do.

Tyson UMC

Even when I focused correctly, many photos were very soft. I don’t know what went wrong, given how impressed I was with sharpness the last time I used this camera.

Moon-Lite Motel

I was also not impressed with the quality of the scans. I didn’t say anything about it when I reviewed my Rollei A110 recently, but I was disappointed in those scans so much that I used a different (and more expensive) lab this time. I was more disappointed with these scans. Several frames entered the scanner crooked and required straightening in Photoshop. I also had to crop some of the frame mask out of every image. Perhaps poor scanning contributes some to the images’ softness.

Broadway Hotel

But this is a camera review, not a lab review, and so back to the camera. The Autopak handled well in my hands, at least; my only complaint is that the winder was stiff.

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta Autopak 470 gallery.

I don’t need any 110 cameras in my collection, especially given how expensive it is to process and scan 110 film for such meager results. The lab charged me a whopping $23! But I want to honor my friend and her father by keeping his lovely cameras. Fortunately this little Autopak 470 doesn’t take up much space.

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Rollei A110

Sunburst

So much about this tiny camera is compelling, first and foremost that it is, as I said, tiny. Super tiny. It’s barely larger than two stacked rolls of 110 film which, not coincidentally, is the kind of film it takes. It feels like a single, solid piece of metal with a silken finish. You feel like CIA or MI5 as you expand the body to reveal the viewfinder, touch the shutter button to make a photo, hear the shutter’s seductive “snick” sound, and compress the body again to wind to the next frame.

Rollei A110Rollei A110

The Rollei A110 packs a Tessar lens, 23mm at f/2.8, to wring every possible bit of performance out of the wee 13x17mm frame 110 film offers. Check out the sharpness and resolution this lens delivered on expired Fuji Superia 200 film the last time I shot my A110. If it weren’t for the odd aspect ratio of 110 film images, you might believe me if I told you I took this with one of my 35mm SLRs.

West Park Christian Church

For this outing with the A110 I bought some fresh Lomography Color Tiger film. I tip my hat to the Lomography people for keeping this old format alive. I shake my fist at the Lomography people, however, for a fault in the backing paper that allows light to leak onto the film. It appears as red splotches on images, as below. I should have covered the film-counter window with electrical tape. I hope they correct the problem as they manufacture the next batch.

Home

My A110 isn’t perfect. It has a few minor nicks in the paint. The winding mechanism moves a little roughly — I’ll bet it was buttery smooth when new.

Park road

Also, its lens cover is loose. It’s supposed to slide out of the way when you open the camera and cover the lens when you close the camera. On mine, before I make a photo I have to tilt the camera to move the cover out of the way. I usually forgot to do this and got eight black photographs for my error.

Orange

Finally, even at moderate distances parallax is a problem. Standing 15 feet or so back from this entryway I centered the scene in the frame. This is what the camera saw.

Orange entrance

But none of this is so bad as to make my A110 a pain to use. It was easy as a breeze to carry in my pocket as my wife and I took a long hike through Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.

Eagle Creek Reservoir

That Tessar lens is pretty sharp, as the carvings in to that tree trunk show nicely.

Carved

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Rollei A110 gallery.

Despite this camera’s charms, as I worked my way through this 24-exposure film cartridge I soon wished it would be over with already. I didn’t hate using the A110, but I didn’t find joy in it either. It was a novelty, and the novelty soon wore off.

Verdict: Goodbye

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The Athanaeum

The Athanaeum
Minolta Autopak 470
Lomography Tiger
2016

Photography
Image
Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Minolta Autopak 470

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I admit I’m not a huge fan of 110 film and cameras. I haven’t been in 30 years, since my deep disappointment over the lo-fi images from my once-in-a-lifetime all-summer trip to Germany. I shot a $15 Keystone 110 camera with a plastic lens. It was all I could afford; paying for the trip had tapped us out. And then every image was grainy and soft. Bleagh. So today I won’t look at a 110 camera unless it offers something special. That’s why I’ve shot a 110 camera from Rollei and a 110 SLR from Minolta. And that’s why I shot this Minolta pocket 110 camera, the Autopak 470. I guess I want the format to prove its worthiness!

Minolta Autopak 470

The 1977-79 Autopak 470 was Minolta’s top-of-the-line pocket 110 camera. Only the 110 Zoom SLR sat higher in Minolta’s 110 hierarchy, but it wasn’t pocketable. The 470 featured a 26mm f/3.5 Rokkor lens, said to be of Tessar design, with a slide-out plastic close-up adapter. It focuses from 3 feet to infinity across four focus zones, selected with the red slider atop the camera; extend the close-up adapter and choose the 11-foot zone to focus down to 1.6 feet. The manual recommends taking most snapshots with the camera set to the 11-foot zone.

Minolta Autopak 470

Two SR44 batteries power the Autopak 470. To check the batteries, press the red button next to the strap lug. If a red light appears in the viewfinder, the batteries are good. When shooting, that red light means you need to turn on the attached flash. You’ll need a single AA battery to power that.

Minolta Autopak 470

The flash detaches, making the Autopak 470 even easier to pocket. I shot it this way except for one photograph I took just to test the flash.

My hat is off to the Lomography people, who started offering fresh, new 110 films a few years ago. Before these films, when a 110 camera fell into my hands I always bought expired film for them, and then could never be sure whether poor image quality was the camera or the film. Fresh Lomography film lets me remove one variable from the image-quality equation.

I bought a cartridge of Lomography’s ISO 200 Tiger color film and dropped it in. The Autopak 470 automatically adjusts for ISO 100 and 400 film, so I figured every shot would be a misexposed. Nope! Every shot was well exposed. Here’s my favorite shot. The candylike color is startlingly pleasing, and sharpness is pretty good given the graininess you can’t avoid with such tiny negatives.

GMC Truck

I shot a corner of my living room with the flash on. I’m not a big fan of built-in flashes because they tend to bluntly overlight things. But this flash lit evenly with little washout. Not bad. You’ll notice my screw-mount Pentax SLRs and my Yashica TLRs on the shelf.

In my living room

But pretty much every other shot reveals some challenge or limitation with the camera or the film. When I framed this photograph, I had positioned the open door much closer to the frame’s lower right. So clearly the lens sees a larger area than the viewfinder. This is a common challenge with viewfinder cameras, though. The shadow detail isn’t anything to write home about, either. There I go being too hard on old 110.

On Mass Ave

I framed this photo with a lot less street before the building, and a lot less dead space left of it. I remember being careful to frame this so I didn’t cut the top of the building off, either. It drives me crazy when a camera’s viewfinder isn’t reasonably true to what the lens sees.

Mass Ave

Sadly, a handful of photos had this speckling. The pattern varied from photo to photo. Was it a fault on the film? In the processing?

Galaxie

It’s too bad, because the speckling spoiled some otherwise delightful photos. I love the vintage feel of the colors on this photo. They remind me of a 1950s color slide.

Chevrolet

The Autopak 470 struggled mightily with the setting sun reflecting off this pale building. The original scan was heavily washed out. I darkened it as much as I dared in Photoshop, but so much detail is still lost. In real life, it’s very easy to read “Sears, Roebuck and Company” above the doors.

Sears

My biggest challenge with this camera, however, was focusing. I usually plain forgot to adjust focus for my subject, despite the in-viewfinder focus display. I guess I just want my point-and-shoot cameras not to make me think too much. In this photo, notice how soft “Stout’s” is, but how sharp “Oldest” is at the bottom of the image. But my lab (props to Old School Photo Lab!) sent me a few gratis prints, including one of this image. The prints show a tiny bit of softness, but it’s not terrible. The prints were fine, really. There I go, expecting too much of this format again.

Stout's

In 110’s heyday, who made enlargements anyway? This format was aggressively about easy snapshots. So let this Jeep be a little soft, too. It would look good enough on a print. I would be happy to get such cheerful colors in my prints.

Fuzzy Rubicon

See more photos from this camera in my Minolta Autopak 470 gallery.

I had fun shooting the Autopak 470. And I loved the color the Lomography Tiger film gave me; I’d shoot it again (and hope for no more speckling). But next time, I’d just leave this camera at its 11.5-foot focus setting and avoid close shots. That’s what 110 cameras were made for anyway.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

 

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