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.
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.
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
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:
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.