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Minolta Interchangable Lens Rangefinder Cameras
Minolta Interchangable Lens Rangefinder Cameras: The Minolta-35

minolta_35_1_a.jpg
Minolta-35 Model I A - first model of 1947

Some Minolta History:
 
Minolta was started in Osaka 1928 by Kazuo Tashima who was born in 1900, and who remained the central figure in Minolta until 1972.  Minolta's original name was 日独写真機商会 or "Japanese-German Camera Workshop", and his initial cameras in fact used lenses imported from Germany.  His first cameras used the Nifca brand name, and his first camera, the Nifcalette (a folding camera taking 127 film) was launched in 1929.
 
In 1931, Tashima renamed the company Molta, and for the first time, the Minolta brand was used on cameras.  Six years later in 1937, this Osaka company was renamed 千代田光学精工 "Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko Kabushiki Kaisha" or "Chiyoda Optical Spirit Manufacturing Corporation", sometimes referred to simply as "Chiyoda".  (Note: "Chiyoda" refers to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the district around the Imperial Palace, and means "field of 1000 ages" which is a reference to the famous wish of the Japanese people that the Emperor's reign may last "1000 ages".)  The Minolta name continued to be used as a camera brand. 
 
Minolta-35 Innovation:
 
The Minolta-35 rangefinder was Minolta's first 35mm film format camera, and was designed by Hajimu Miyabe.  The Minolta-35 was introduced in Japan in February, 1947. The Minolta-35 remained in production with surprisingly slight variations until late 1959. 
 
The Minolta-35 had a number of innovations that make it an interesting design.  The rangefinder-viewfinder was integrated with reasonably good visability.  The Canon S-II, introduced in October, 1946 featured an integrated rangefinder-viewfinder, and the Contax II of 1936 had a rangefinder spot in the center of its viewfinder, with a much longer rangefinder base.  Leica, however, did not take this step until the M3 of 1954.  Another viewfinder advantage of the Minolta-35 was the inclusion of a diaptor adjustment, an aid for those who wore eyeglasses.
 
The Minolta-35 had a major advantage over most other 35mm rangefinders in its back which opened wide for easy film loading, compared with the bottom loading of Leicas, Canons, etc.  Size was also compact at a width of 137mm × height 76mm× depth 62mm.  Weight was initially 730 grams.
 
Another innovation was the inclusion of a flash synchronization connection for a flash bulb in the accessory shoe of the camera (illustrated below), a feature not included in most other 35mm cameras for a decade. 
 
It also featured the first self timer of any Japanese 35mm camera.
 
The Minolta-35 had a rangefinder base of 40mm (compared with the Canon S-II base of 39mm and the Leica IIIg base of 39mm).  The reversed Galileo viewfinder optics provided an effective magnification of 0.33 times real life, providing the effective rangefinder base of only 13mm, relatively short for longer focal length lenses. 
 
This continued until the Model F in 1952.  With the Model F, magnification was increased to 0.7X, giving an effective rangefinder base of 28mm.  Finally, in the Model II-B, the viewfinder magnification was increased to 0.8X, giving an effective rangefinder base of 32mm.
 
Minolta-35 Film Image Size:
 
One of the interesting aspects of the Minolta-35 were the variations in film image size.  The Minolta-35 was designed originally for the 24x32mm image format, sometimes referred to as "Nihon size" or "Nippon Format".  This negative size was in fact something of a standard for Japan at the time.  It was used, for example by the Nikon I of 1948, by the Olympus 35 I, also of 1948, the Minion 35 of 1949 (the Minion's exposure counter went to 44, because of the smaller images). 
 
To read more about this interesting history, click the "Nippon Format" or "Nihon size" link here "Nippon Format" or "Nihon Size" image format.
 
The table below documents the evolution of Minolta-35 negative sizes from 1947 to the introduction of the Minolta-35 II B in 1958 with the now standard 24x36mm format.
 
Evolution of Company Name and Camera Labeling:
 
Minolta previously manufactured some innovative larger format cameras.  At the year of the Minolta-35 introduction, and all during the Minolta-35 production, the company name remained "Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko Kabushiki Kaisha".  From this, the first Minolta-35 Model I A of this camera series was labeled "CHIYODA KOGAKU OSAKA" on the top plate, as well as the indication "MINOLTA-35".
 
The "MINOLTA-35" labeling continued on late models, but the company name was abbreviated to "C. K. S." (for Chiyoda Kogaku Seisakusho) on the Model I B through Model I F top plate, without any indication of Osaka.
 
With the introduction of the Model II in 1953, the "C. K. S." was used briefly, and then was replaced by "CHIYODA KOGAKU".
 
This continued with the final Model II B, introduced in 1956, but with the "Minolta-35" changing to "minolta-35", all in lower case letters of the new stylized Minolta logo introduced in that year.
 
The Minolta-35 Model II came in three versions.  Model II (a), released in 1953 as indicated above was labeled ""C. K. S." was used briefly, and then was replaced in 1954 by Model II (b), labeled "CHIYODA KOGAKU".  The Model II (b) can also be identified by its reduced size viewfinder window.  Then, in 1958, the substantially modified Minolta-35 Model IIB was introduced in May, 1958.
 
Innovations of the Minolta-35 Model II B:
 
The Model IIB added a film advance lever, and offered the 50MM f1.8 Super Rokkor as its standard lens.  The Model IIB still had a rotating shutter dial, split at 1/25 with a slow speed dial on the camera front, no longer competitive with Canon, or for that matter Leica, who both had introduced non-rotating shutter speed dials, with all speeds on one control.  Canon had already introduced a trigger winder built into the body of the Canon VT in early 1956 and a film advance lever on the Canon L2 late in 1956.
 
The Minolta "Sky":
 
In 1957, according to HPR's excellent reference volume "Leica Copies" (CCP Press, 1994), Minolta developed the Minolta Sky rangefinder, featuring a Leica M type bayonet lens mount, a multifocal combined rangefinder and viewfinder with projected, parallex corrected projected frames.  The camera would have featured a suppor Rokkor 50mm f1.4 lens.  However, it would seem that by this time, Minolta and Kazuo Tashima had concluded that the market was moving away from rangefinder cameras and toward the single lens reflex. 
 
The Leitz CL, Leitz-Minolta CL, and Minolta CLE:
 
The last Minolta-35 rangefinder was produced in 1959, and that same year, Minolta launched its first SLR, the Minolta SR-2.  However,  Kazuo Tashima's ongoing personal links to Leitz eventually lead to the Leitz-Minolta agreement to produce a lower cost, compact rangefinder camers, the Leica CL.  This camera body, produced by Minolta and introduced in 1973, featured the Leica M lens mount, with TTL spot metering.  The design was light, compact and convenient, with both the shutter speed and light meter needle shown in the viewfinder.  It had projected, parallex corrected framelines for the normal 40mm f2.0 lens (always visable), as well as framelines for 50mm or 90mm lenses which appear when these lenses are mounted.  Minolta sold this camera branded as Leitz-Minolta CL in Japan. 
 
In 1976 after only 3 years, Leica discontinued the Leica CL, but Minolta continued to produce it as the "Minolta CL".  During the late 1970s, Minolta extensively redesigned the CL, resulting in the new Minolta CLE.  This camera, introduced in February, 1981, was another innovative design.  Added to the Leica M lens mount was the first aperture priority automatic TTL exposure control in a rangfinder camera, and as well as TTL flash metering, another first.  Its rangefinder base was also somewhat lengthened.  The rangerfinder featured a more versitile combination of 28mm frameline (always visable), and 40mm and 90mm framelines when these lenses were mounted. Minolta provided 3 excellent multi-coated M-Rokkor lenses of those focal lengths (the CL lenses were single coated).
 
Other Minolta Rangefinder Cameras:
 
Besides these interchangable lens rangefinder cameras, beginning in 1955, and continuing through the 1060s and 1970s, Minolta produced a series of 35mm rangefinder cameras with non-focal plane shutters, and mostly with fixed lenses, some (such as the Hi-Matic series) having innovative features.  And, starting even with the 1955 Minolta Memo, most all of these value-oriented designs produced photographs of reliable quality.
 
A comment on the Minolta-35 Focal Plane shutter:
 
Overall, the Minolta-35 cameras were well designed and in certain areas, innovative.  However, one area where the Minolta-35 has not held up well over the years is in its shutter.  This horizontally traveling rubberized cloth focal plane shutter, and particularly its mechanical design, was not of a particularly robust construction.  Also, the focal plane curtain fabrick used in the Minolta-35 cameras has not held up well over the years.  Most Minolta-35 cameras today, if the shutter has not been repaired, particularly with replaced shutter curtains, are not in reliable functioning order.  
 
All my examples of Minolta-35s had broken focal plane shutters when acquired, which were later repaired.  At the same time, most of the bodies were recovered, so the leatherette in the photographs shown here is often not the original.

Click here to read about the "Nippon Format" or "Nihon Size" image format

Model
Year
Film image size
Model I A (a)
March, 1947
Serial numbers to about 0800
The viewfinder image is a magnification of 0.33 X actual.
The base length of the rangefinder is 40mm, and with the 0.33 magnification, the effective base length is therefore 13mm.
 
Shutter speeds 1, 1/2, Z, 1/5, 1/10, and 1/25 sec.
Latch on slow shutter speed dial
Labeled "CHIYODA KOGAKU OSAKA"
 
Dimensions: 137mm × 76mm ×62mm, weight 730 grams.
32mm x 24mm
Model I A (b)
Late 1947?
Serial numbers from about 08xx - about 15xx
 
Shutter speeds 1, 1/2, Z, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/25 sec.
Latch on slow shutter speed dial.
.
Labeled "CHIYODA KOGAKU OSAKA" on top.

32mm x 24mm

Model I B (a)
1948
Serial numbers from about 15xx - about 36xx
 
Approximately 2100 units manufacturered.
Labeled "C. K. S." on top plate.
33mm x 24mm

Model I B (b)

Mid-1948
 
Serial numbers about 36xx to about 5xxx. 
(change to larger frame at about 3600 to 3800?)
Approximately 1200 t0 1400 units manufactured
 
Labeled "C. K. S." on top plate.

33.5mm  x 24mm by about 4xxx

Model I C

minolta_i_c.jpg
Minolta-35 Model I C top

later 1948
Serial numbers 5xxx to 9xxx
 
Labeled "C. K. S." on top plate.
33.5mm x 24mm

Model I D

1949
Serial numbers 9xxx - 11xxx
Also, body loops for a camera strap were added for the first time.
Labeled "C. K. S." on top plate.

iminolta-35_strap_loop.jpg

34mm x 24mm
Model I E

minolta-35_model_e_top.jpg

Introduced November, 1951
 
Serial numbers 10xxx - 18xxx
 
Dioptor adjustment on viewfinder.
For the first time, on the Model I E, the model number was engraved on the camera body front plate as "MODEL-E"
 
According to D. & J-P. Francesch, the viewfinder image is still a magnification of 0.33 X actual, giving an effective rangefinder base length of 13mm.  
model_e_engraving.jpg
34mm x 24mm
Model I F

minolta-35_model_f_top_plat.jpg
Minolta-35 Model I F top

Introduced April, 1952
Serial numbers 20xxx - 26xxx
 
Also, see the self timer lever, below with 1, 2, 3 markings in red now added, and retained on Models II and II B.
 
Labeled "C. K. S." on top plate.
"MODEL-F" engraving on face of Model I F body
 
According to D. & J-P. Francesch, the viewfinder image is now increased to a magnification of 0.7 X actual. This more than doubles the effective base length of the rangefinder to 28mm. 

minolta-35_model_f_engravin.jpg

34mm x 24mm
Model II (a)

minolta_iia_41848_top.jpg
Minolta-35 Model II(a) top

Introduced February, 1953
Serial numbers from about 35xxx to about 60xxx
 
"MODEL II" engraved on front plate of camera. 50mm f2.8 lens standard.  The Minolta-35 Model II had no screw in the center of the slow speed shutter dial, unlike the earlier versions of the Minolta-35.  The rear eyepiece of the viewfinder also has a rotating ring to adjust the dioptor setting for an individual's vision.
 
The less common Model II (a) still had C.K.S. engraved on top plate.
Some sources say about 9000 units manufactured.  Other sources say that about 20,000 units of each Model II (a) and Model II (b) were produced.  Other sources say 35,000 of each were produced, but this seems too high, and reflects only the theoretical range of serial numbers for the series.

model_2_engraving.jpg

34.5mm x 24mm
Model II (b)

minolta_ii_shoe_bw.jpg
Minolta-35 Model II(b) top

Introduced May, 1955 with 50mm f2.0 lens as an option.
Some sources say this model was introduced in April, 1954, but the number of production bodies of Model II (a) would indicate the 1955 date to be correct. 
 
Serial numbers from about 70xxx to about 101xxx
 
The somewhat more common Model II (b) had Chiyoda Kogaku engraved on top plate.
 
Also, the camera body is changed in subtle ways.  The chrome top body work (with the rangefinder - viewfinder) is redesigned to be cleaner in layout, and it covers more of the body, extending lower.  Similarly, the chrome base body work covering the camera bottom extends upward and covers more of the camera body.  Also, the body width is slightly reduced.
 
Viewfinder image size is also reduced, compared with Model II (a).
Often provided with Super Rokkor 50mm f2.8 lens.
34.5mm x 24mm
Model II B

minolta-35_iib_top.jpg
Minolta II B top 1958

Introduced May, 1958
"MODEL IIB" engraved on front plate of camera.  50mm f1.8 lens standard.
 
Serial numbers from about 100xxx to about 119xxx.
 
New style "minolta-35" brand logo in lower case engraving on top plate.
Also has "Chiyoda Kogaku" and body serial number, but in smaller font, engraved on top plate. 
minolta_ii_b_label.jpg
First Minolta-35 with the full standard negative size of:
36mm x 24mm
Minolta Sky

minolta-sky.jpg

1957, but not launched
36mm x 24mm

minolta-35_model_c.jpg
Minolta-35mm Model I C - 1948

minolta_model_i_f.jpg
Minolta-35 Model I F - circa 1952

minolta_c_vs_minolta_ii.jpg
Base Plates of Minolta-35 Model C (top) versus Model II

minolta_35_w_tele.jpg
Minolta-35 Model II (b) - 1954 shown with Rokkor 135mm f4.0

minolta_iib_f.jpg
Minolta-35 Model II B - 1958

minolta_sky_1957.jpg
Minolta Sky Prototype - 1957

The original Minolta-35 was also a pioneer in having a flash hot synch in the flash shoe, as shown below.  This continued until the Minolta-35 Model II, which had an not synched accessory shoe, but with a circular flash synch connection socket located directly below the accessory shoe, as shown below.
 
The flash synchronization speed was marked by  a red X between the 1/8 and 1/25 speeds on the slow speed dial.
 
As can be seen in the photographs below, the Minolta-35 self timer, an innovation from the start in 1947, can interfere with the mounting of some 39mm L mount lenses with an infinity stop which may hit the self timer lever, preventing such a lens from properly mounting on the Minolta-35 body.

Minolta-35 Model A to F flash vs Model II flash
model_e_synch_vs_model_ii_s.jpg
Flash connection in shoe (Models A to F) Flash socket below accessory shoe (Model II and IIB)

model_i_f_-and-model_ii_shu.jpg
Model II slow speed shutter (right) added X shutter synch

minolta_model_iia_blackdial.jpg
Minolta Model II a showing black slow speed dial

Minolta-35 self-timer 1,2,3 markings added
minolta-35_f_vs_ii_timer.jpg
Added first in Model I F (left), and revised in Model II and II B (right)

Click here to see Minolta rangefinder lenses

minolta_45mm_f28_1948.jpg

Click here to go back to rangefinder cameras

Key Reference Sources:
 
Dechert, Peter. 1985. "Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-68": Hove Books Ltd, Small Dole, UK
 
HPR, 1994.  "Leica Copies": Classic Collection Publications, London
 
Francke, Harald. 1991. "Canon Modern Classics": Hove Foto Books, Channel Islands
 
Small, Marc James. 1997. "Non-Leitz LEICA Thread-Mount Lenses": Wittig Books, Hückelhoven, Germany
 
Rotoloni, Robert. 1983. "The NIKON Rangefinder Camera": Hove Collectors Books, Hove, UK
 
McGloin, Joe. 2006. "Minolta Viewfinder Cameras" at the excellent Minman website "THE WORLD'S PREMIER WEBSITE DEDICATED TO FILM-BASED, STILL, NON-AUTO-FOCUSING MINOLTA CAMERAS'
 
Another seminal source, superbly documented is the "Histoire de L'Appareil Photographique Minolt de 1929 à 1985" by Dominique & Jean-Paul Francesch, Dessain et Tolra, Paris 1985.
This excellent source is unfortunately now out of print.
 
As to Web sources, Mr. D. Colucci has collected abundant data on Minolta-35 models and serial numbers.  A valuable aata collection:
 
For Nikkor lenses, the Nikon official website has a wealth of historic information:
 
Another interesting source, but in Japanese is Kitamura's camera museum
 
Some interesting pictures and commentary  are in Nekosan's page at cameraguild.jp.  This includes including the indication that the Minolta-35 was originally designed "...for 24x32mm format but the format(Nihon size) was banned by the GHQ..."  Presumably this was Gen. MacArthurs' HQ during the occupation.
 
YoungSang Camera Shopping Mall sometimes has interesting information.
 
Olympus official site has history of early Olympus rangefinders:
 
Official Konica - Minolta History at their website

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