One year I took a 110 camera to the Mecum auction. I’m not crazy about the 110 format for its itty-bitty negatives. But I’m also a curious man, and I wanted to see what that Minolta 110 camera was capable of.
I got the best photos I’d ever made on 110 film from that camera. That’s not to say the photos were particularly sharp or detailed. Maybe it’s better to say that I got the least bad photos I’d ever made on 110 film from that camera.
This 1913 stone-arch bridge carries the Michigan Road over Big Creek in Ripley County, Indiana. I’ve written about this bridge a bunch of times: here, here, here, here. It’s one of my favorite bridges.
In 2018 my wife and I followed the Michigan Road north from Madison and paused here to explore. She’s out on the deck with her camera. I made this image on 110 film using a Minolta Autopak 470 camera.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That Tessar lens is pretty sharp, as the carvings in to that tree trunk show nicely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I remembered to focus, things still usually turned out a little soft. This is the Tyson United Methodist Church in Versailles, IN.
This vintage motel is in Versailles, too, right on the Michigan Road.
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.
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.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.