Full Circle

Minolta Super-A 1957 35mm camera.

Toronto. In 1957, I started the big adventure of my life. I joined Bell’s Tropospheric Scatter project which would bring telephone communications to remote areas of Northern Quebec and Labrador. Training was based in Montreal in the old Salada Tea building. For the first time I had the money, stores and initiative to buy a decent 35mm camera.

I chose the newly designed Minolta Super-A with an interchangeable f/2 50mm Rokkor Lens and a selenium cell exposure meter that clipped into the flash shoe and linked to the camera’s speed setting dial. I was impressed by the lens since I was in belief of the opinion back then that Japanese Camera makers could imitate but not design.

Once on the Tropo site, I spent hours discussing cameras with other technicians. The strongest push was for an Exakta with the Leica (screw mount) a second choice. The Leica’s tiny viewfinder vs. the SLR viewing quality offered by Exakta made the Exakta first choice.

Years later My eyes were not able to easily focus the Exakta in low light and the Leica M4  became my next 35mm camera. I was happy with the Leica and bought many lenses and accessories over the years. When digital began to be more prominent and a lower cost, I moved first to a Chinon ES-3000.  The Chinon had a minuscule sensor (640×480 pixels) and a terrible user interface. Windows only, the camera forced you to download every image to see a later image. Stop sooner and you had to start downloading once again from the beginning and always at a glacially slow speed. For its time it was very good. Its form  was like a video camera. A zoom lens was built in. A compact flash (CF) card gave added memory.

I migrated to a couple of Nikon coolpix cameras next. Wonderful images, easy to use, but rather poor construction and delicate manufacture. The first a coolpix 900s took just over a 1 megapixel jpeg image. The second, a coolpix 990 took a 3.3 megapixel jpeg. I began to  photograph our monthly meetings, initially using a chair back as a tripod. The next coolpix looked to be a winner too but its ergonomics were bad. One of the camera strap posts stuck into my palm when I used the camera. And both of the earlier coolpix models had to go  back to Nikon for repair. Both models used a fragile plastic hinge to hold the four pack of AA batteries against a strong spring. Yep, the hinges broke disabling the cameras.

A review of the Sony F828 prompted me to look at that brand just at the end of life for the F828. It had a gorgeous Zeiss zoom lens and was well built. It took jpegs as well as RAW images but the use of the RAW format meant a long wait as the buffer emptied to memory after every few shots. It was the top of the line Sony model. However, the day of the DSLR was growing ever brighter. Sony made one last F828 style camera – the R1. To get up to speed on DSLR design, Sony bought Kyocera’s camera line. A few years earlier Kyocera bought out Minolta and used Minolta’s SLR design as its own. Sony used Minolta’s SLR design for its new Alpha line of professional level cameras. The lens mount would accept Minolta lenses.

I continued to use the F828. At one of the PHSC fairs, I bumped into the late Fred Warner. He had an Olympus 4/3 mirrorless digital camera with him. The electronic view finder was amazing and sold me on the concept. I read about Sony planning to make a mirrorless camera and waited patiently. They came out with the NEX-3 and NEX-5 cameras. Sony went with a larger APS-C sensor (1:1.5 vs. 1:2 for the 4/3 sensors) and their own design of a lens mount called an E Mount (vs. the A mount which  was used for full size sensors and accepted Minolta lenses).

I moved to the NEX-5 and found it a delight to use in spite of the carping (well earned) about its menu system. All that was missing was an eye level view finder. And that came in the current model I have been using for a while now: the NEX-6. The camera uses a plastic body material so it has worn down faster than the NEX-5 and its all metal body.

So now we come full circle. I started with a 35mm rangefinder Minolta and today I use a  Sony, the current owner of Minolta camera designs. And using an adaptor, my NEX-6 takes my Leica lenses and bellows too! Note that  at 1:5 ratio, my Sony mirrorless uses a 35mm 3.5cm  lens as a 5cm lens; a 5cm lens acts as a 75mm lens; a 9cm as a 13.5cm; a 13.5cm as a 20cm, etc).

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