Waiting for lunch Minolta Hi-Matic 7 Kodak Tri-X 400 2018
Margaret and I ate al fresco one Saturday afternoon, at a restaurant overlooking Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis. While we waited, we sipped these gingery gin gimlet things that were not as tasty as we anticipated. The light was delicious, though, and I especially like how it illuminates all the glasses in this photograph.
You can see my wife’s new Sony RX-100 there. It’s the Mark I, which you can still buy new out of old stock. It is a simply brilliant camera of the small point-and-shoot type. If my Canon S95 ever dies, I’m buying an RX-100 straightaway. The only bummer about it is that it doesn’t zoom quite as deep as the S95. But otherwise it gets shots the S95 can only dream of.
I have been walking a lot more. It’s my favorite form of exercise. I dislike exercise for its own sake. But I like to work in the yard, and to walk, and to ride my bike; those things have their own rewards and exercise just happens when I do them.
My wife measured a two-mile path around our neighborhood, and it passes by a retention pond. It’s still most of the time, and it’s remarkable how well the houses along it reflect into it.
This Minolta Hi-Matic 7 was one of the first cameras I bought when I restarted my collection in 2006. I had decided to collect 35mm rangefinder cameras, and this was the first one I found at a price I was willing to pay. I happily kept buying rangefinders right up to the day someone gifted me a 35mm SLR. Right away, through-the-lens composing charmed me and my rangefinder predilection went right out the window. But I’ve kept this camera nevertheless.
I’ve shot it but twice before: once Sunny 16 without a battery, and once with a PX-625 battery inserted to take advantage of its onboard metering. That metering couldn’t be easier: twist the aperture and shutter-speed rings to A and the camera chooses both aperture and shutter speed for you. It does so on a linear scale from 1/30 sec. at f/1.8 to 1/250 sec. at f/22 — this camera biases toward the greatest depth of field possible. This was a mighty advanced system in 1963 when this camera was new. Here’s a photo from that latter session, on Fujicolor 200.
I’d never shot black-and-white film in my Hi-Matic 7 so I loaded some Kodak Tri-X and headed out on a full-sun June day. Right away there was trouble in paradise. Inside the viewfinder a needle points at the exposure value (EV) the meter calculates, from 5.6 to 17. On that bright day I expected to see that needle point at EV 15 or maybe 16. Instead, the needle was in the red zone above EV 17, meaning it was underexposing by a stop or two. Drat! At least the meter functioned — they often don’t in cameras this old.
What I didn’t do, but should have: set the camera to EI 200 or 100 to compensate for the underexposure. I don’t know why I always think of such things only when I sit down to write about my experience with a camera. Sigh. Fortunately, Tri-X’s incredible exposure latitude — up to 4 stops in either direction — mostly covered for me. Where it didn’t, a nip and a tuck in Photoshop usually did the trick.
Despite being large and heavy, the Hi-Matic 7 is pleasant to use. A lever on the focusing ring is well placed; my finger always found and moved it without me needing to move my eye from the viewfinder. The rangefinder patch is bright enough even for my middle-aged eyes (and was probably even brighter when it was new). I was able to move fast enough with it to capture my son playing a game at the dining table with the family.
The Hi-Matic 7 is a lot of camera to carry. Mine has its original leather “everready” case so I slung it over my shoulder, camera inside, as I carried it around. Or at least I did that until the leather shoulder strap broke.
I finished the roll at Rick’s Cafe Boatyard, a seafood restaurant on Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis. It was the site of one of Margaret’s and my early dates, so we like to go back sometimes and reminisce.
We always sit on the outdoor deck. Therefore, we only dine at Rick’s in the fair-weather months.
One finds few opportunities to make dockside photos in landlocked central Indiana. The Hi-Matic 7 was up to the task. These photos needed little Photoshoppery to look good.
I had a hard time deciding whether this camera would stay or go. I’m emotionally attached to it as one of the first cameras in my collection, I enjoy using it, and I love the images it returns. But I can’t escape the fact that I’ve put only three rolls of film through it in 12 years. I’m unlikely to use it more than that in the next 12. As I shrink my collection to just the cameras I’ll actually use, I have to let pragmatism win over sentimentality.
I’ve had a lot of fun shooting my new old cameras this year, but I also got out a couple old cameras I’ve had for a while and loaded some film into them, too.
When I first wrote about my Kodak Tourist several years ago, I said I’d probably never run film through it because its lens was so unremarkable. But I had a roll of Plus-X sitting here doing nothing, and I thought maybe if I used my tripod and my GE PR-1 exposure meter I might get some okay results.
Not so much. I had a dreadful time with this camera. I kept setting up shots only to have the exposure meter tell me there wasn’t enough light. Because the lens’s maximum aperture is a tiny f/12.5, this camera needs gobs of direct, blazing sunlight to make an image. Ghosting ruined a few images, and then I managed not to advance the film on a few frames leading to double exposures. This double-exposed shot is the best one on the roll, sad to say. I uploaded three other shots from the roll to Flickr; see them here.
I was so unimpressed with the Tourist that I demoted it. It had been displayed on a shelf in my living room, but now it’s in the box of unloved cameras that I keep under my bed.
I had a much, much better time recently with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7. It was one of the first cameras I bought when I started collecting again, but I had only ever put one roll of film through it. It felt like high time to try it again. This time, I had a battery for it and would be able to see whether its autoexposure system worked. In went a roll of Fujicolor 200 and out went I.
I got great results with my Hi-Matic. It’s not surprising – its f/1.8 lens lets in more than 32 times as much light as my Tourist’s lens. And the autoexposure system worked fine.
I just noodled around, shooting whatever felt good. As I drove to work one morning, the just-risen sun was casting long shadows. I stopped by Second Presbyterian Church for a snap.
A few days later as I stopped at Costco to drop off a roll of film, I spotted a 1941 Buick in the parking lot. I moved in close to shoot its grille.
I uploaded several other shots from this roll to Flickr; see them here. There you’ll also find the photos from the first roll I put through this camera four years ago. When I compare those shots to these, I’m delighted to see how much I’ve learned and how much my work has improved.
When I started collecting cameras again I thought I might build a rangefinder collection. This Minolta Hi-Matic 7 was the first one I bought. When I picked it up, the first thing I thought was “brick outhouse.” If I were to put a neck strap on it and hide it under my bed, if someone broke in I could swing this sucker around and knock them out cold.
The Hi-Matic 7 started rolling off Minolta’s assembly lines in 1963, offering not just the aforementioned robust construction but also a six-element 45mm f/1.8 Rokkor-PF lens set in a Seikosha leaf shutter with a top speed of 1/500 second. It takes film from ISO 25 to 800. It also offers manual exposure and shutter-priority autoexposure. All that makes this a mighty useful camera even today. The cold accessory shoe is the only throwback, but the Hi-Matic 7 offers an X-sync flash contact; just connect your flash via cable.
This is a mechanical camera, but the meter needs a dreaded, banned 625 mercury cell. I use a PX625 alkaline cell, different voltage be hanged, and always get fine exposures on negative film.
The first time I shot this camera I didn’t have a battery, so I taped a Sunny 16 chart to the back, loaded some Fujicolor 200, 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, the estate donated all 80 acres 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.
All sorts of fun details await at The Ruins, like this column topper that now serves as a bench.
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 next time I shot the Hi-Matic 7 I had a battery, so I installed it and relied on the meter. It seemed accurate. I got wonderful exposures, again on Fujicolor 200.
It was my time to find some old parked cars while I had this roll in the camera.
Second Presbyterian Church is always a willing and lovely subject.
Normally when I show you photos I took with an old camera I tell you all about the camera’s quirks and failures. Not this time — the Hi-Matic 7 was a pleasure to use. 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. My Sunny 16 shots were uniformly underexposed, but I helped them look better in Photoshop. When I relied on the meter I got perfect exposures. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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.
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.