Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta XG 1

Garrett at the bridge

Minolta SLRs and I have not gotten on well. They are unfailingly delightful to use and return great images — when they work. Which, in my experience, is seldom. I’ve owned two X-700 bodies that developed the well-known stuck winder problem. The fix involves soldering new capacitors. I’ve owned two Maxxum 7000 bodies that developed the common failure of the aperture-control magnet, meaning every photo was taken at f/22. There’s a fix but it involves major disassembly and considerable luck. Even the SR-T 101 and 202 I’ve owned had issues, though less catastrophic. The one reliable Minolta SLR body I’ve owned is this one: an XG 1, from the late 1970s.

Minolta XG-1

This was an advanced amateur camera in its day, chock full of electronics to make the photographer’s job a breeze. It’s an aperture-priority camera, too, which is my favorite way to shoot. Mine came with a 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X lens, a good lens with interesting characteristics. Here’s one of my favorite shots on this kit, of my son in his room, on Fujicolor 200.

Garrett, down the hall

For this outing I mounted my 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens. It came with the first X-700 I owned and I’d shot it just once before that camera bricked. I’ve kept meaning to shoot it again, so onto the XG 1 it went. I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 but shot it at EI 100. It did lovely work. Minolta’s manual-focus lenses are just so good.

Phlox

My sons were together over my birthday weekend and we took a hike through Starkey Nature Park in Zionsville, where we came upon this old railroad bridge.

Bridge

There are some lovely trails inside Starkey. Zionsville really is a lovely place to live, with a charming downtown and amenities like this middle-of-nowhere getaway right in town. The rents are not for the faint of heart, however. Or the taxes. My inner skinflint wants to run right back to much-less-expensive Indianapolis.

Trail

The camera and lens handled nearly perfectly. The shutter button is electronic — placing your finger on it activates the meter, and a light touch fires the shutter. It’s so light that twice I accidentally fired the shutter and wasted a frame.

What is this?

I sure do love my sons. They’re both back in college now. I really miss the years they were still in public school because I got to see them all the time. They’ve got some of the growing-up troubles typical of entering your 20s, but I think that the big picture looks bright for both of them.

Boys

I carried the XG 1 to work a few days. The building going up next door to my office looks like it’s starting to wrap up. It was hard to frame things in the viewfinder — a line of black schmutz obscures the view in there. I’m not sure when that happened; I don’t remember it being that way the last time I used it. I’m sure it wasn’t that way when I got it. The mirror is clean so it’s got to be inside the prism. I wonder how hard it would be to get in there and clean it up.

Construction

There were just a few shots left on the roll when Damion and I made a quick trip to Thorntown. I wanted to tell him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket here largely for being young and blonde and beautiful. It was good to share a happy memory of his mom with him, from a time before he was born. I’m not sure we would have had that moment without “taking a photo walk” as an excuse to get out.

Welcome to Thorntown

Here’s a gallery of the photos I’ve shot with this Minolta XG 1. Check it out!

Standing on Thorntown’s mean streets, I extolled the XG 1’s strong reliability to Damion when the meter stopped responding. I was at the end of the roll; could that have been why? Or was it a weak battery? I’d used those two LR44s in several cameras before. When we got home I swapped in fresh batteries and the meter still didn’t respond. I rewound the film, dropped in a fresh roll (Ultrafine Extreme 100, photos to come). The meter came right to life and was strong through the roll.

Even though I’ve already decided to focus on Nikon and Pentax SLRs, I thought I might keep this XG 1 in case I came upon good Minolta Rokkor glass in my travels. But then I inventoried just those Pentaxes and Nikons and counted fifteen bodies. While doing that I came upon my two Olympus OM-1 bodies and the great set of lenses I have for them, all donated to me by the father of one of my closest friends, and knew I could not part with those either. I just don’t have room for Minoltas after all.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews

Yashica-12

On my short list, in my inner circle, of favorite cameras is my Yashica-D, a medium-format twin-lens-reflex camera. It is such a joy to shoot! And it delivers excellent sharpness and contrast with buttery bokeh. What’s not to like?

Except that it offers no onboard light meter. I wished for one. I like the Yashica-D so much I shoot it often anyway, but I’ve always wished I didn’t have to guess at Sunny 16 or fumble with an external meter while doing so. So I’ve had my eye on metered Yashica TLRs.

Yashica-12

Recently I bought this Yashica-12. I paid more than I’ve ever paid for a camera in my life: about $135, shipped.

Longtime readers will remember my soft $50 upper limit for any camera. But my motives are changing. I want to have a handful of go-to cameras that deliver great results, and are mechanically reliable over the long haul. I’m now willing to pay more for a camera in that select group.

So why this Yashica-12 when there are so many fine Yashica Mat 124Gs out there? Two reasons: (1) I like to be different, and (2) this one had already undergone a CLA (cleaning, lube, and adjustment) by Mark Hama, the well-known Yashica repairman who long ago built Yashica TLRs at the factory in Nagano. That CLA probably cost as much as I paid for this Yashica-12 — which made this camera a real bargain. I love a bargain! So there’s a third reason.

Yashica-12

The Yashica-12 offers an 80mm f/3.5 Yashinon taking lens and an 80mm f/2.8 Yashinon viewing lens. These are said to be four-element lenses of Tessar design. The taking lens stops down to an itty-bitty f/32 and is set in a Copal SV shutter that operates from 1/500 to 1 second. The camera takes film from ISO 25 to 400. Those relatively low top ISO and shutter settings do limit what this camera can comfortably shoot to things that aren’t moving. But it’s not like you’d want to photograph racing cars or running quarterbacks with a heavy TLR.

The one thing I didn’t enjoy much about my Yashica-D was its slow, clunky knob film winder. The 12’s crank is fast and sure. And it cocks the shutter for you; the D has a separate cocking lever.

Using the coupled light meter is a breeze. It’s match-needle all the way. Opening the lid turns it on. It takes a dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery, but I just dropped in an alkaline 625 cell. Everybody says that messes with your exposures but that’s never been my experience.

Yashica-12

The meter needles are just north of the viewfinder on the top of the “Yashica-12” plate, which is perfect because as you prepare to take a photo you’re already looking in that direction. To set exposure, first turn the dial on the camera’s upper front corner, on the right as you peer down into the viewfinder, until your film’s ISO appears in the window. Then twist the aperture and shutter-speed knobs (on either side of the lenses) until the needles match.

Like any Yashica TLR, if you press in the plate in the middle of the lid, a magnifying lens pops out. It’s indispensable for my middle-aged eyes. That lid section also locks in place so you can use the square in the lid as a viewfinder.

The Yashica-12 makes 12 square photos on each roll of 120 film. The better-known Yashica Mat 124G takes both 120 and also 220, which is the same film as 120, but there’s twice as much of it on a roll. I don’t think I’m missing out by not being able to shoot 220.

By the way, if you’re into Yashica cameras also check out my reviews of the Electro 35 GSN (here), the MG-1 (here), the Lynx 14e (here), and the T2 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and went shooting. My favorite thing to do with a new-to-me old camera is take it on a road trip. Margaret and I explored the Lafayette Road while the 12 still had shots left on this roll, so it came along. This photo is in Lebanon, Indiana, across from the Boone County Courthouse.

Please be seated

And here’s that courthouse. It was completed in 1911. The top of the dome, above the clocks, is made of stained glass.

Boone County Courthouse

And what would a trip up the Lafayette Road be without at least one photo of this great sign? This junkyard has been out of business for many years now, but I had one adventure buying parts for an old car here before it closed.

Wrecks

Later I took the 12 out to make portraits of my sons on Kodak Ektachrome E100G. I like this one best.

Damion

I also took the 12 on a short road trip to Thorntown. This continues the Lafayette Road theme because the road’s original alignment ran through Thorntown, right by where this now-vintage Marathon service station would eventually be built. Kodak Ektar was inside the 12.

Marathon

I did have some unfortunate fogging and light leaking on this roll.

Thorntown Police

Concerned that something might be wrong, I loaded some Ilford Pan-F Plus 50 and shot one more roll. It had no difficulties.

Available

I shot this film because I never liked it much and just wanted to burn it testing this camera for leaks. Yet this film really performed behind this Yashica glass. I’ll remember that for the future.

3151

See my entire Yashica-12 gallery here.

Me and Yashica-12

I loved shooting this camera. I look forward to many, many years of enjoyment with it. But it did have a couple quirks, a couple things I wish were better.

First, I sort of miss the winding and focusing controls being on the same side of the camera, as with my Yashica-D.

Second, the ASA (ISO) scale is odd: 25, 40, 80, 160, 320, 400, with dots between the settings. For ISO 100 film, such as Ektar, I set it one dot right of 80, but I wish this were more sure. Or maybe I should just shoot Portra 160 in it!

Finally, the f-stop scale is labeled with yellow numbers, which my middle-aged eyes struggle to see in dim light.

I can adapt to the first two quirks. The last one…well, it’s not the only thing my eyes don’t see as well anymore. Soon I’ll need to carry cheaters with me everywhere I go. At least the Yashica-12’s viewfinder magnifier lets me focus with ease.

And I’ll do a lot of focusing with this delightful camera. I look forward to many years of pleasure and great results with it.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Stories Told

Welcome to Thorntown

State Road 47 is a winding and lovely drive in western Indiana. It begins in the wild terrain around Turkey Run State Park. As it heads east, those steep hills become the rolling terrain of quiet farmland. The road curves frequently around old farm boundaries and around terrain challenges. But the fun ends at Thorntown as the road straightens out for the rest of its route to Sheridan, thirty minutes north of Indianapolis.

Thorntown, a well-kept small town lined with tidy homes, churches, and shops, is at the center of what was briefly the 64,000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve, where the Eel River Tribe of the Miami Indians lived. Thorntown gets its name from the Miami name for the place, Kawiakiungi, which means “place of thorns.” Here’s what you see as you swing across the bridge and enter Thorntown from the east. At any moment, you expect it to start snowing, and Jimmy Stewart to come running through town shouting, “Merry Christmas you old broken-down Building and Loan!”

Welcome to Thorntown

As much as I have always liked State Road 47, I used to dislike Thorntown because its 30 MPH speed limit interrupted my swift progress. When my ex-wife and I were dating many years ago, she and I passed through Thorntown on our way to a camping trip. We needed both of our small cars to haul all the gear; she followed me. As usual, I didn’t see the speed limit signs at the edge of town, but this time the law was ready for me. A police car pulled out of somebody’s driveway with lights flashing and siren blaring. I pulled over and the officer, a big Sheriff Buford type with the buzz cut and the mirrored aviator sunglasses, began to give me a chewin’ out. His face pinched, he was wondering with considerable volume if I had skill enough to read speed-limit signs when my now-ex, who by the way was lovely and slender with blue-grey eyes and a big mess of blonde hair, pulled around in front of me and stopped. Sheriff Buford seemed annoyed and waddled purposefully toward her car. He was gone for quite some time, but when he came back, he was chuckling and smiling. He told me to just take it slow through town and wished me a good weekend!

Since this happened before everybody had cell phones, I had to wait about two hours until we reached our campsite to ask just what the heck happened. She said, “When he came up, I rolled down the window, batted my eyelashes at him, and said, ‘If you give him a ticket, you have to give me one too, because I was following him!’ He laughed and laughed and I guessed when you drove off that he let us off the hook.”

This did not do anything to improve my opinion about Thorntown.

I’ve matured considerably since then. I’ve also become much better at noticing the speed limit signs at the outskirts of small towns, so I’m much less likely to attract police attention. So now I not only bear no ill will against Thorntown, but I find its entrance from the east to be quite lovely. You swing around this little curve and over a small bridge, and then suddenly the town unfolds before you, as if it had been folded snugly into the pages of a pop-up book. Just be sure to be going 30 MPH by the time you cross that bridge.

I’ve told this story twice before, in 2007 and 2010.

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