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

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

Minolta Autopak 470

I’m not a huge fan of 110 film and cameras, not since my deep disappointment over the lo-fi images from my once-in-a-lifetime all-summer trip to Germany in the 1980s. 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 shot this Minolta pocket 110 camera, the Autopak 470.

Minolta Autopak 470

The 1977-79 Autopak 470 was Minolta’s top-of-the-line pocket 110 camera. It 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.

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For a guy who doesn’t like 110 this isn’t the first 110 camera I’ve reviewed. See also the Minolta 110 Zoom SLR (here) and the Rollei A110 (here). 110’s older cousin is 126; see my review of the 126 Imperial Magimatic X15 here. Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

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

Sadly, a handful of photos had this speckling. The pattern varied from photo to photo. Turns out the Lomography film’s backing paper is known to have pinholes in it.

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

On another outing with more Lomography Color Tiger I taped over the back window so any pinholes wouldn’t spoil my shots. That didn’t save me from forgetting to focus, however. Good lord, this camera should just have been fixed focus.

Out of focus

When I remembered to focus, things still usually turned out a little soft. This is the Tyson United Methodist Church in Versailles, IN.

Tyson UMC

This vintage motel is in Versailles, too, right on the Michigan Road.

Moon-Lite Motel

I made this photo in Madison, IN, on the Ohio River. I wore some cargo shorts this day and the Autopak 470 slipped right into the big side pocket with no fuss.

Broadway Hotel

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. But next time, I’d just leave this camera at its 11.5-foot focus setting and avoid close shots so I never whiff focusing again. That’s what 110 cameras were made for anyway.

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If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Rollei A110

Leave it to the Germans to build the ultimate over-engineered camera for the world’s crappiest film format.

And good heavens, is 110 film ever crappy. Kodak had to develop an entirely new film technology just so that the tiny 13mm x 17mm frames on the negatives could yield usable images. And then camera companies worldwide puked forth legions of plastic 110 cameras with plastic lenses that rendered Kodak’s good work moot.

Part of what makes the Rollei A110 brilliant is that it packs a mighty fine lens – a Tessar. It’s hard to beat a Tessar; it brings out any film’s best performance. But then Rollei upped the ante, wrapping that lens in a wickedly delightful little package.

Rollei A110

The Rollei A110 cribbed its design from tiny spy cameras of the 1960s, such as the Minox and the Minolta 16. It’s a shade under 3½ inches long; it weighs just 6½ ounces. It’s made of steel (though I gather some of the internal bits are plastic) and its finish is velvety. Grasp it at both ends and pull, and the camera not only opens to reveal a viewfinder, but winds the film, too.

Rollei A110

The A110 is simple to use: frame the photo, slide the orange lever under the lens to focus, and give the orange button a light press. The A110 focuses from 3.5 feet to infinity; as you slide the lever, a green line moves across a scale within the viewfinder. The 23mm f/2.8 lens gives a slightly wide view, at least to my eye. From here on out, everything about the A110 is automatic. Its onboard light meter drives the aperture and shutter speed, from f/2.8 to f/16 and from 4 sec. to 1/400 sec., respectively.

Rollei A110

Rollei introduced the A110 in 1975 and issued about 200,000 of them before production ended in 1981. Rollei’s German factory built them until 1978, when production was moved to Singapore. My A110’s film door says “Made in Germany.”

The A110 came in a velour-lined clamshell box with a flashcube attachment and a little leather case that fits the camera like a glove. (Mine was missing the box and the flashcube attachment.) If all of this sounds expensive, it was – the A110 retailed for around $300. That’s almost $1,300 in 2013 dollars.

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I’ve owned but two other 110 cameras, and have reviewed only one of them: the Minolta Autopak 470 (here). The other was a crappy Keystone camera I bought new in 1984; I documented East Berlin with it that summer (some photos here). But I’ve reviewed dozens of other cameras; see all of my reviews here.

The A110 takes an odd battery, the 5.6-volt PX 27. That’s a banned mercury battery, so I bought a same-size 6-volt silver S27PX at Amazon and hoped for the best.

My first film through the A110 was Fujicolor Superia 200, expired since 1996 – problematic because the A110 “reads” a little tab on the film cartridge to set ASA in one of two ranges, 64-100 ASA and 320-500 ASA. I had no idea how it would handle this ISO 200 film.

Sure enough, all of the photos were overexposed. I used a little Photoshop trickery to rescue them. I got good color and decent sharpness (for the format), though. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll, of the Monon Trail bridge in Broad Ripple.

Reflected Monon

I walked around Broad Ripple for an hour, my dog, Gracie, on the leash, looking for things to shoot. The A110 was easy enough to shoot one-handed, though a few times when I squeezed the shutter button the shutter wouldn’t fire. I found that it always worked when I backed off and tried again.

The Vogue

The A110 did its best work in evenly lit situations, unlike those of the photos above and below. That’s an old Willys Jeep parked there. I should have photographed it more extensively and written it up for Curbside Classic, the old-car blog to which I contribute.

Brugge Jeep

The A110 was easy enough to take everywhere. I loaded film into a late-60s Canon SLR before I loaded the A110, but I finished shooting the A110 first because it slips into my pocket and the SLR doesn’t. This is my church on a Sunday morning.

West Park Christian Church

On another outing I loaded some Lomography Color Tiger film. I forgot that the backing paper leaks light; that’s what the red splotches are.

Home

There’s nothing to using this camera. I adapted to its controls readily. When it hits, it hits big.

Sunburst

The A110 was in my pocket on a sunny-afternoon walk through a big city park. It was the perfect companion — until I needed it, I forgot it was there.

Park road

See more photos in my Rollei A110 gallery.

I have two complaints about my A110. First, the focusing scale inside the camera reads 1.5 ft, “person,” 6 ft., “group,” “mountain.” I figured “person” must be about three feet and “mountain” must be infinity, but I wasn’t sure how far out “group” was. I guessed right every time I used it, though, because all of my images came back crisp. My other complaint is probably just a quirk of my camera. A little metal lens cover hides behind the front panel, and it’s loose on this one. I kept forgetting to make sure it hadn’t slid out to cover the lens before I took a shot, and I have blank frames on my negatives as a reward. D’oh!

I was incredibly lucky to pick up this little gem for $10; they usually go for $50 and up on eBay. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 110 camera at any size that delivers results this good.

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