This is a Minolta A5-1000 35mm rangefinder camera equipped with a 4 element Rokkor-TD 45mm f/2.8 lens and a Citizen leaf shutter capable of speeds as fast as 1/1000th of a second. This was an uncommon speed for a leaf shutter and meant that this relatively simple camera could shoot speeds as fast as many focal plane shutters of the day. The A5 was the last of Minolta’s meterless, all mechanical cameras. While modest in specs, it’s clean lines and lack of any sort of electronics means that many are still in good working condition today. Many Minolta enthusiasts list this as one of the most underappreciated cameras of the 1960s. It was a good looking camera which was smaller than most other rangefinders of the day, had an easy to use rangefinder, an extremely capable lens, and a shutter with a wide range of speeds.
Film Type: 135 (35mm)
Lens: Minolta Rokkor-TD 45mm f/2.8 coated 4-elements
Focus: 3 feet to Infinity
Type: Coupled Rangefinder
Shutter: Optiper Citizen MLT Leaf
Speeds: B, 1 – 1/1000 seconds
Exposure Meter: None
Flash Mount: Coldshoe and M and X Flash Sync
Minolta was a Japanese company founded in 1928 by Kazuo Tashima in Osaka, Japan. Tashima enlisted the help of German camera technicians Billy Neumann and Willy Heilemann to help him design Japanese made cameras, but utilizing German expertise. The company was originally known as Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shōten which translates to “Japanese-German Camera Shop”. In 1929, Nichi-Doku released its first camera, a folding 6 x 4.5 cm camera known as the Nifcarette which was inspired by similar German folding cameras of the time.
In 1931, the company changed its name to Molta Gōshi-Gaisha. The word “Molta” is an acronym of a German translation meaning “Mechanism, Optics and Lenses by TAshima”. Shortly after this time, both Billy Neumann and Willy Heilemann left the company to form their own company simply called Neumann & Heilemann.
In 1933, Molta Gōshi-Gaisha applied for a trademark for the name Minolta which would be used as a brand name for their forthcoming cameras. After World War II, much of the information regarding the history of the company was lost or destroyed, so it’s hard to know for certain if Minolta was also an acronym like Molta. Some sources say that Minolta stood for “Mechanism, INstruments, Optics and Lenses by TAshima”, but others state that Minolta is taken from the Japanese term “Minoru ta” (稔る田) which means “ripening rice fields”. Ripening rice fields are commonly used as symbolism in Japanese culture for signs of health and prosperity. In addition “Minoru ta” is pronounced exactly the same as the name “Minolta”.
Throughout the 1930s, the company saw great success in Japan and started releasing other lines of cameras and photographic equipment. In 1937, the company changed its name once again to Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō K.K. which is often abbreviated as “Chiyoko” and released its first Twin Lens Reflex known as the Minolta-Flex.
In 1940, Chiyoko introduced the Rokkor line of optical lenses for military use only. During the early part of World War II, Chiyoko produced cameras both for military and civilian use, but in 1943 stopped all civilian production. Chiyoko was heavily involved in the Japanese war effort, but by the end of the war, 3 out of the company’s 6 factories were destroyed by US bombings.
In 1946, Chiyoko resumed manufacturing of consumer cameras and optical equipment and continued to expand its line of cameras. In 1947, a highly successful line of “Leica-inspired” 35mm rangefinder cameras known as the Minolta 35 was released. The Minolta 35 was the first mass produced 35mm rangefinder built with Leica specifications. It sold very well and was in regular production until the early 1960s. One unique aspect of most Minolta 35s that although they used standard 35mm film, it produced negatives that were 24mm x 32mm, compared to the international standard of 24mm x 36mm. This gave exposed images from the Minolta a more square look, and because the negatives used less space on the roll of film, you would get a few extra exposures per roll. A standard 36 exposure roll of film would yield 40 exposures.
The Minolta 35 would receive 8 revisions throughout it’s production run, and only the very last revision, the Minolta-35 Model IIB would shoot normal 24mm x 36mm exposures. Although the Minolta 35 was an ambitious camera that proved the Japanese were capable of making cameras that approached their German competitors in terms of quality, it was still an expensive camera that many could not afford.
In 1955, Minolta would release a new line of budget rangefinders known as the A-series. The first in this series, the Minolta A was a 35mm fixed lens rangefinder with a much smaller body than that of the Leica inspired Minolta 35. Although considered to be an economy model, it was well built and came with a good Rokkor 45mm f/3.5 lens and a large and bright viewfinder. While the Minolta 35 continued to be the brand’s top of the line model, the A-series sold in much larger numbers.
Minolta would release a second model, called the A-2 a couple of months after the A with a faster f/2.8 lens, faster shutter, parallax correction, and revised rangefinder. These two models would be sold concurrently, until 1959, when Minolta would release the all new A3. Containing a more traditional and modern shape, the A3 came with the same excellent shutter and lens, but lost parallax correction which was available on the A-2. The A3 would replace the original A as the entry level camera, and then a year later, in 1960 the A5 would be released using the same body as the A3, but regaining parallax correction.
The A5 could be had with a variety of shutter and lens combinations. Some models were sold with a 6-element f/2 Rokkor lens, but most of them had the 4-element f/2.8 lens. There was also the A5-1000 model which is being reviewed here which had a different Citizen shutter with a top speed of 1/1000th second. My example comes with the 4-element f/2.8 lens, but I am not sure if the A5-1000 could also be had with the 6-element f/2 lens. The ad at the right from the June 1960 issue of Modern Photography lists the A5 with a price of $59.95 without the case. The ad lists the A5 as having a top shutter speed of 1/1000, but doesn’t specifically refer to it as the Minolta A5-1000. In any case, when adjusted for inflation, $59.95 is just under $500 today.
By 1962, the original Minolta 35 had been in production for over a decade and the rest of the industry was starting to embrace more advanced rangefinders with meters. As a result, Minolta would replace the Minolta 35 with their all new Hi-Matic. The Hi-Matic came with a selenium cell light meter which was capable of aperture priority automatic exposure. It was a larger camera than the A-series and it came with a 45mm f/2 lens. For the next two years, the Hi-Matic and A5 would be sold together, but by 1964, the A5 would be replaced by the new Minolta AL series which was larger and contained a light meter.
Both the Hi-Matic and AL series cameras would be highly successful throughout the rest of the 1960s and the Hi-Matic models would eventually morph into completely electronic compact cameras by the 1970s.
Today, Minolta rangefinders are generally highly regarded as quality examples of 1960s Japanese rangefinder design. The Hi-Matic models definitely steal the spotlight with most collectors and often sell for higher prices than the earlier A-series, however the A-series have their following too. I’ve read on a number of websites and on photo.net of people with very fond memories of A-series cameras. The A5 in particular was the best of the bunch, and it’s handsome, yet simple design, all mechanical operation, good shutter, and even better lens make for a heck of a value.
I can’t really say that I had a lot of thoughts about this one prior to buying it. There are cameras that you know about and want to eventually add to your collection, and then there’s others that just somehow ‘appear’. This is one of those cameras. One day while browsing eBay, I sorted by lowest price first and noticed that this camera had an opening bid of $4.99 so I put in a minimal bid not really thinking I’d get it, but no one else bid, so for less than half a sawbuck, I had this fancy little camera.
When it arrived, I was impressed with it’s physical condition, but upon peering through the viewfinder, I noticed that the rangefinder patch was completely missing. It wasn’t just dim, it was not visible at all. Coincident image rangefinders like this use something called a beamsplitter inside of the viewfinder which is a semi reflective angled mirror that allows light to pass through it while simultaneously reflecting light. The coating on the beamsplitter is very fragile and if someone tries to clean it, this reflective layer can easily be wiped off, rendering it completely useless. I thought that perhaps some previous owner had destroyed the beamsplitter, but then as I was handling the camera, I could hear something rattling around inside of the viewfinder.
I had a problem on a Kodak 35 Rangefinder in which one of the mirrors inside of the viewfinder had simply fallen off from it’s mount causing the rangefinder patch to not be visible. These mirrors are usually just glued into position, and it is certainly plausible that after 50+ years, the glue has hardened and broken away causing the mirror to fall off. Thinking I had nothing else to lose on a $5 camera, I took the top plate off.
I didn’t take any pictures showing how to remove the top plate, but it is incredibly easy. First, remove the rewind handle by sticking a screwdriver through the fork inside of the film compartment to keep it from moving and simply unscrew the handle by hand. Then remove the wind lever with a spanner wrench on the two slots around it’s perimeter and lift off. Remove the two screws inside of the wind lever and set aside. Finally, remove the one screw to the right of the wind lever, and then lift off the top plate.
The inside of the viewfinder is very nicely designed. The Minolta A5 has one of the easiest to access and clean rangefinders of any camera I’ve disassembled so far.
When I removed the top plate, I had expected to see a loose mirror or some part that was causing the rattling sound I had heard. At first, nothing seemed to be out of place, but then I saw the problem. The rangefinder on this camera works by having a moving lever which is connected to the back of the lens via a hole in the body of the camera. This lever is what moves the mirror which you are supposed to see in the center of the viewfinder. There is a large spring that is supposed to keep tension on this lever to keep it in position when changing focus on the lens. Somehow, this spring had fallen out of position causing this lever to just flop around. This was the noise I was hearing and is why I could not see the rangefinder patch.
I had initially tried to reseat the spring myself, but it is located in a very awkward position underneath the rangefinder, sandwiched between it and the inner body of the camera. It became quickly evident that I would have to remove the rangefinder to gain access to this spring. Thankfully, the ease of disassembly of the top plate, carries over to the rangefinder as well, as there are only 3 screws holding the entire thing in place. Look at the first picture below and I have 3 arrows pointing to 3 black screws which need to be removed.
Upon unscrewing the 3 screws, the entire rangefinder assembly lifts out of the camera. The second image below shows the camera with the rangefinder removed. You can now easily see the holes where the three screws were. You can also see the hole into the body which reveals the backside of the lens.
The third image below shows the underside of the rangefinder. The large black spring is what maintains tension on the rangefinder mirror. In this picture, the spring is properly seated in it’s correct location. I drew a dotted yellow line to indicate the path of the spring. Prior to reseating this spring, it was just flopping around.
After getting the spring back into it’s correct location, I did a light cleaning of all of the glass elements and the mirrors of the rangefinder. The beamsplitter is the large diagonal piece of glass which is visible in the first image above. The semi-reflective coating on this piece of glass is extremely fragile and you must do everything possible to not touch it. If there is dust on the beamsplitter, just try to blow it off. If there is any remaining debris on it, its better to just leave it alone, rather than risk damaging it by further attempts at cleaning it.
Once I was happy that everything was clean and the rangefinder was moving as expected, I put everything back together in the reverse of how I took it apart. It’s worth noting that this entire repair, including taking the photos took me maybe 15 minutes. The Minolta A5 was one of the easiest cameras I’ve never taken apart for a repair like this.
After confirming the camera was in good working order, it sat for a short while before I had a chance to shoot a roll of film in it. That first opportunity came when I attended a family reunion in Eau Clare, Wisconsin this past June. I loaded in a roll of Fuji 400 and shot some random candid pictures. I also brought along a Yashica Minister-D which would have been a competitor to the Minolta A5 in the early 1960s. Both were small mid-range rangefinders with fixed 45mm f/2.8 lenses. The Minister-D differs in that it has a CdS light meter and it’s top shutter speed is only 1/500, but otherwise is very comparable to the A5. Being able to do an apples to apples comparison, I honestly can’t say that I liked one over the other as they were both a pleasure to shoot.
Aside from the light meter and LV scale on the Yashica, shooting with both cameras was nearly the same experience. Both had large and bright viewfinders with parallax correction. Both cameras were nearly the same size and weight and had excellent shooting ergonomics. The Yashica might lose a point or two in the cosmetics department due to the bulbous “eye” from the light meter in the corner, but otherwise both cameras are handsome examples of early 1960s Japanese rangefinder design.
My collection of rangefinders is quite diverse, and it can be hard to pick a reason to shoot with cameras like these over more advanced models like say, the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, Yashica Lynx 14, Electro GSN, or my interchangeable lens Canon P. All of these models are superior in many ways, yet the biggest appeal to models like the A5 and Minister-D is in their simplicity and value. The fact that both of these cameras still work well, are small, easy to use, and reliable is their greatest asset. But there still has to be a downside to using them. Perhaps the biggest con is the “inferior” lenses on them. Surely, a 4-element f/2.8 lens should render shots with less clarity or sharpness than the more superior 5 and 6-element f/2 and faster lenses, right?
Each of these 6 shots represent how the entire roll through the A5 looked. The images are extremely sharp. These scans were done by Willow Photo Lab in Willow Springs, MO. This roll was done as part of a second batch of film I had sent to them. That first batch returned scans that were very high quality. The images were all 3000 x 2000 and no signs of post processing. For some reason, this second batch returned images that were scanned at 1544 x 1024 and had significant sharpening or edge enhancement. I emailed the lab and asked what the difference was between my two sets of scans and am awaiting a response.
So while I think I should be able to get better results from a better scan of the negatives, I still feel like some meaningful conclusions can be drawn from what we have here. For one, the Minolta A5’s 45mm f/2.8 lens is in no way an inferior lens. The Rokkor reputation is definitely upheld here as color reproduction is good, sharpness is excellent, and exposure is spot on. All of these shots were done using nothing more than Sunny 16 almost entirely in tree cover on a bright sunny day.
I never once needed to use the top 1/1000th shutter speed so for this reason, I see no advantage to owning the A5-1000 model over the A5 with it’s max 1/500 shutter speed. In my mind, the lens, and the overall design of the body are the biggest pluses to this camera.
I am absolutely impressed with these results and feel like the A5 is a camera I’ll use again. It’s relatively compact size and simple operation are definitely an asset, and it’s lens is as good as they come. I am like many photographers out there who is impressed with state of the art cameras with amazing specs on paper, but when it comes down to it, even a simple camera like this is capable of excellent shots. I’m not suggesting that I will abandon my Canon P or Nikon SLRs, but when I can get results like these from such a simple camera, it does make a compelling argument that I’ve already reached the pinnacle of what a mechanical 35mm camera is capable of.
The Minolta A5 will never enjoy the reputation of some of the more prestigious models out there, but it is an excellent performer that offers everything a photographer needs. It’s an incredibly well designed camera with great optics, great ergonomics, and a great viewfinder. Assuming you can get one in good working condition, its worth way more than what you’d likely pay for it. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with this camera, and I loved the results I got from it. I cannot wait to shoot with it again!
|My Final Word
||The Minolta A5 isn’t a camera thats discussed very often these days. It’s a forgotten example of early 60s Japanese rangefinder style. On paper, it might seem like it’s not very interesting, but in your hands, its a very comfortable and relatively lightweight camera. All of it’s controls feel logically placed and comfortable in your hands. The modest 45mm f/2.8 lens is extremely sharp and renders shots as good as many more technically impressive lenses. The lack of any electronics, even a meter, mean that there’s very little to go wrong with this camera. Assuming the camera has been taken care of throughout it’s life, and the shutter is not stuck, this camera should continue to provide you with an excellent shooting experience with no fuss. After my first use with this camera, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the whole package worked together. I cannot wait to shoot with it again, and if you find one for sale, I absolutely recommend picking it up.|
|Images||Handling||Features||Viewfinder||Feel & Beauty||History||Age|
|Bonus||+1 for the complete package, this camera is great to use, looks great, and makes amazing photographs|